What the Spirit Takes On (a Question)


PREFACE:  Within many martial art styles, the practitioner “becomes”… “takes on” the characteristics of something apart from oneself.  Some examples would be the: strength and power of the tiger, the grace and balance of the crane, the quickness of the snake… and the list goes on and on.  In Xingyiquan the cornerstone of its practice is to take on the spirit of said creatures to enhance the emotional cord and the effectiveness to the movements.  Taijiquan is different, but the feeling we have while we are doing the form can be likened to …. something… and it can be different for anybody.  So here’s my question (in two parts)::

  • WHEN YOU PRACTICE (please state martial art discipline), WHAT CREATURE/OBJECT/BEING DO YOU EMBODY?
  • IF YOU DON’T FEEL THAT YOU RELATE TO ANY, WHAT DO YOU THINK THE ART OF TAIJIQUAN (or any other art) BEST REPRESENTS?   (i.e. Sumo may be a rhino, Hung Gar Kung fu may be a Tiger, Baguazhang may be a dragon, etc)
ONCE ALL YOU GUYS AND GALS RESPOND… I will venture my opinion.  Fair enough?  Okay, get thinking!

~ by chencenter on May 8, 2008.

16 Responses to “What the Spirit Takes On (a Question)”

  1. In theory, our “animal” if you will, the one whose movements we emulate, is the taiji diagram (taiji tu) itself. Outwardly, the pattern of movement can be seen in the circles and curves that exist throughout the various taiji forms. Inwardly, we follow the change from yin to yang as our center of gravity shifts on both a physical and mental level (thus the phrase from the poem of the thirteen torso methods – distinguish yin from yang).

    The reality, of course, is that many of the greatest taiji fighters were illiterate mercenaries that didn’t know yin from yang in the philosophical sense. They made a living with their skills and didn’t concern themselves with much else. Too, nearly all forms of kungfu, both internal and external, make use of circles. Taijiquan didn’t originate the idea. Even xingyiquan renowned as a mostly linear art, uses circle techniques with extreme economy of movement.

    Nobody knows for sure how far back the idea of using the taiji diagram as a pattern of movement goes. Much of the Daoist theory behind the idea wasn’t written about to any extent until the Republican era, when prolific authors such as Sun Lu Tang began producing works that provided great detail into the relationship between taijiquan, the taiji diagram, the Yijing, and Daoism itself.

    There are forms of taijiquan (depending on your definition of taijiquan) from Chinese history stretching back as far as the 7th century, that talk about possessing “eight trigrams in the hands, and five elements in the feet.” Unfortunately, there are no examples of these systems today.

    Today, not only do the taiji forms emulate the taiji diagram, but many aspects of ji ben gong (general conditioning work) found in various schools, echo the circular pattern of movement found in our “animal.”

    …………..this is what you get when you ask an Irishman his opinion:)

    Best wishes to the group,

    Jim Donnelly

  2. 1) Golden Dragon

    2) Golden Dragon

  3. I’m coming from an I-Liq Chuan background. Though things like bear waist, tiger back, eagle claw, etc. are mentioned, they’re mostly used as analogies for understanding body and movement patterns. We are not any of those creatures and should not try to emulate them outside of using them as examples to further our training. Ultimately, we are just human beings, usually with two arms and two legs attached to a torso. Learning the fighting aspects of a martial art is all about learning to use those arms, legs, and body for defense, offense, and generating power.

  4. I come from a Combat HapKiDo background but I train only Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Muay Thai Kickboxing now. I squeeze like an anaconda, kick like a kangaroo, and move like a lemur. Have you ever fought a lemur? It’s not easy, talk about unpredictable…
    Ok Seriously now, I really fight like an overprivileged, upper class, white,male teenager with ADHD, 18 years of suppressed anger, and all of the all of the neurosis of someone who tripped acid and thought they were a lemur for 24hours. Now, have you ever fought someone on acid who thinks that they are a lemur? Talk about unpredictable.

  5. @ JIM: Interesting. Thanks for the post Jim. So you teach your students to envision “the diagram”… or do you instruct them to not use imagery at all. As “the animal” concept helps to invigorate the spirit… we know Taijiquan as to be embracing of the “calming brook” that bends and follows and ceaselessly flows. So, “Irishman”… what says you. 🙂

    @ ANDREI P: wonderful. i shant scuffle with you then. Dragons can be quite ferocious and I’m sure I’d taste pretty good. 😉

    @ ADAM: wow. one of the best comments I’ve ever read, honestly. And yes, you DO squeeze like an anaconda (I would have ventured that remark if you hadn’t). Strangely enough, the lemur is my second favorite animal of all-time (besides the otter). But I just think they are adorable and well worth cuddling… never tried to fight one. You? Might I remind you not to be toooo unpredictable. It’s like the monkey that peed on lion. Completely unpredicatable, but eventually the monkey got his arse stomped in. Great follow-up!

  6. The tanooki best represents the art of taijiquan.

  7. i got this tattoo on my right foot. it’s the chinese symbols for water and earth right on top of eachother. in my practice, i feel that is my practice defined.

  8. Honestly, Michael – this one has me without words. Astonishing! The always vocal Daisy is left without an opinion, a thought, an answer. I am working on it…

  9. well, see it’s a very interesting and thought-inspiring topic, but since i happen to be one of the most non-graceful looking fools doing wushu (for now, at least 🙂 i couldn’t really explain it. or least not like someone who has dedicated their life to the martial arts could…

    but what i do know, that since i was about 4- i have always very drawn to wolves…and i guess its because they are dangerous but vunerable at the same time… i hope one day, if i ever get past my lack of grace and beauty i can sort of kind of embody that. i guess.
    it all just sounds weird when it’s written out like this…hehe i sound like a dork (hence the warning)

  10. Animals, animals where to begin…

    I’d say it’s very important to think and understand the characteristics behind the animals to effectively apply their ‘energies.’ Though all strikes are not animal strikes, they can be applied in such a manner that reflects the mind set/ characteristics of a specific animal.

    First and foremost I think this should only be taken into consideration only after the practitioner understands the single movements in themselves, then upon their own discretion can label their own repertoire with animal energies.

    For example, I must learn the finger strike at it’s most basic, after I have experience in throwing it I can decide how my body will best throw it, then I make it applicable by where and how fast I will strike. This will determine my strategy and mindset, then I can choose which animal this would reflect. Should I whip it out with speed to strike vital areas I may consider it to be a snake strike, I could also throw it very circular in it’s approach and coil it to immobilize a limb and then strike a vital area which would also reflect a snake strike. However, the finger jab may also be used in a more defensive manner or possibly set up for a joint lock or following strike, in which I would personally label it a crane strike. Again this is only based on my personal strategy of how I would use such a strike. Such a strategy may reflect my overall mindset, but I cannot say that limiting myself to one animal makes me any better.

    I think it is very important to apply all energies at necessary times, though we may feel that we connect most with one. To limit oneself to someone else’s ideals is to give up our strengths and spoil in our own weaknesses. I would seriously suggest find which strikes your body likes to throw first, then think of your strategy in a combat/attack situation, then you can modify the art to become you…

    This is how I understand the animals and their energies, I feel that depth in such subjects enriches us and immerses us into the limitless aspects of our arts. I wish not to step on anyones toes or ideals in making this statement. I hope this opinion will help someone else build depth to their art.

  11. Hello,
    In regards to your question; I study Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu. In this art we try to embody or use not really animals but forces of nature. Like the Earth, Water, Fire, Wind.

  12. Circles everything moves in circles..

    Water cutting stone

  13. I think I would embody an animal from the canine family, from wolves to family pets. I love to play, sleep, and eat without working! 🙂 Plus i love to be taken cared of and have lots of affection.

    Or I would embody a wild horse. I love their free spirit and the beauty they poses is enough to make me envy.

  14. …Agreed, K-

    A little late, considering the other responses 🙂 : Coming mostly from Taekwondo, I think I have to go with snake.

    In most of my training, I feel that is the way associated closest to my style- the speed, powerful extension, loose fluidity, and calm intimidation that all go associated with the snake.

    ‘sides, it’s my zodiac sign XD!

  15. […] few possibilities come to mind. The mythical Qilin can walk on grass without bending the blades; similar stories were […]

  16. Baguazhang

    whirlwind, ghost, gyroscope, sphere

    “Circles everything moves in circles..

    Water(wind) cutting stone”

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