Missing Links

There are a number of major styles in Tai Chi Chuan with Chen, Yang and Wu being the most prominent. This isn’t to say that one style is better or worse than another style, it’s simply a case of style bringing out or highlighting different aspects of the parent style.

This is most easily seen in the Yang and Wu family styles. Not the Beijing approved forms but the proper family styles. Yang and Wu both have a forward inclination although the Wu inclination is generally much more pronounced. Some varieties of the Yang style are perfectly upright but this is a modern misinterpretation of the texts. The Yang and Wu forms are very similar in pattern with the Yang form generally having a touch more content and a few more subtle moves whereas the Wu form tends to be a bit more direct in application.

Wu Quanyou learnt the Yang form from Yang Banhou alongside Yang’s own children. When Wu Quanyou taught he would have been teaching the Yang style. It was Wu Quanyou’s son, Wu Jianquan, who is credited with creating the Wu style. Thing is Wu Jianquan would have learnt and been teaching Yang style. It is possible to watch a Yang style form and a Wu style form and almost exactly match the sequence even if the moves look different. Thing is, this new Wu style wouldn’t have just sprung into existence. It would have been an evolution of the existing style that was being taught, the Yang style, and that is why there is so much in common.

Simply by looking at the forms alone it is possible to make a direct connection between the Yang and Wu styles. Things get a lot more interesting when we get to see the transition forms. I call these the “missing links” after Human evolution. With the Yang and Wu styles we have two endpoints the “missing link” forms connect these two forms together and here is a brilliant example.

This particular form is clearly being performed Yang style but the sequence is Wu and I find that really quite fascinating.

Everybody does the form in a slightly different way and over time these variances can become sufficiently different to be called a new style. The forms containing these variances are what I think of as “missing link” forms. People generally practise the major styles and these transition forms get lost along the way. Given that the Yang and Wu families studied and taught together in the early days and the Wu style was only recognised as a distinct style much later on I’m reasonably happy with the idea of a Wu form being perform in a Yang style and I think it’s brilliant that this form has survived to this day. It’s a genuine treasure.

What bothers me is that we can’t see something similar for the Chen to Yang transition. I have issues with the whole Yang Lu Chan Chen village thing but the fact I can’t see any common ground between the Chen and Yang forms bothers me. Granted, there are some names in common and some positions look vaguely similar ( Single Whip ) but I, personally, find it incredibly hard to relate Chen and Yang. I see a lot of commonality across most other styles but Chen to Yang… I just don’t see it.

If Yang Lu Chan took something from Chen Village and taught his sons and students the same form that he leant I would expect some of their students to hold onto the transition forms that should exist between the Chen style and Yang style. The Yang fast forms that exist don’t look like Chen style tai chi to me and they’re probably the oldest Yang forms around. If they don’t look like the Chen styles then that means, to my mind, there’s a transition form or two out there or the original Chen stuff didn’t look like it does now. It would be nice to know which one is right. Although with the retro-fit of Chen village into tai chi lore I’m not sure we’ll ever really know for sure.

Parting The Wild Horses Mane – Part Two

So after catching up with everybody at Horsham, things weren’t much clearer. The consensus was that we should be looking at the leading upper hand ( palm up ) but this only works if the form is small and round, big expansive motions don’t seem to work, not to me anyway. We do it in, what seems to me anyway, a very Yang style way with the body fairly square to the front and the hands approximately 45˚ to either side with the palm up hand slightly higher than the palm down hand. To me it always seemed like it should be a big move.

The authoritative white book ( Complete Tai Chi Chuan ) says look left ( towards the hand facing down ) but the picture shows the raised hand ( palm up ) as the focus. A misprint maybe… The blue book ( Wutan Tai Chi Chuan ) has both the text and images focusing on the lower ( palm down ) hand. As I’ve said before – things change. It’s the reason for the change that matters. Looking at the application in class the technique is a throat strike but it just seems a bit pointless, well, that or I just wasn’t doing it right, which is most probably the case. It seems pointless because there doesn’t seem to be much opportunity to follow through or do anything useful after the initial strike. Maybe it doesn’t matter if it’s done right, I mean smashing somebody’s windpipe would probably stop a fight rather quickly but it just doesn’t seem right…

Changing the technique to more of a “normal” Wu style posture ( where the body is angled more towards the palm down hand and the palm up arm is less outstretched and more bent ) there seems a stronger opportunity to strike to the neck. Maybe it’s not as “immediate” as smashing a trachea but it seems a lot more solid as a technique. There seems to be more to work with but my problem there is that the focus seems wrong. I’m not terribly keen on facing one way and applying a technique in another, but again, it’s just not quite right.

Changing things yet again to the “old” Wu way of doing things ( http://brennantranslation.wordpress.com/2012/05/08/wu-jianquans-taiji/ ) works for me really well. I like the idea of getting in close and controlling the opponent. It works for me. So technique-wise I’m really happy with it. Problem there is that for me to be happy with the technique in the way I’m happy to use it I kind of need to have the form reflect the technique, after all, isn’t that what the form does? Form follows application so if I’m doing the application one way but the form in a completely different way then there’s a mismatch. I suppose having the choice is a good thing but knowing that one technique works and one doesn’t it make sense to build the working technique into the form. So that’s kind of what’s happening. I think over time I’m moving to a form that actually looks more like the Wu JianQuan form above for certain postures which I’m finding rather interesting.

It’s not kosher but it’s working for me at the moment.