The above video was filmed at my school Red Jade while I was asked to start really delving into the the ideas, theories and principles of taijiquan by one of my most advanced students. We decided to start at the beginning and as such I am planingj to film more videos like this one for people to reference. Below is a brief overview I write a couple of years ago on the same subject. Although it does not go into much depth I hope it might be of some help or cross reference for people hoping to study taiji in a deeper way.
I felt inspired to write a little about the way I see taiji and its levels. First off I have to give so much credit to my teachers without whom I would have nothing but especially much credit to my gongfu brother Shug Puto. Now I know Shug is not a ‘name’ in taiji and if all goes his way he never will be, he wants none of it, but Shug and I have trained together for 20+ years now and I am thankful to him for his forward and innovative thinking about taijiquan – he is a true renegade and lucky for me I became one with him. The last 20 years I have done taijiquan with different people have been all cross referencing information in order to make sense of this beautiful, complex and clever art. What follows is how Shug and I have codified taiji training between us over the past 20 years, I thought it might be of interest to some if I shared a bit about it, a short overview of how I see it.
Taijiquan 9 Levels
Advanced < Intermediate
Intermediate < Intermediate
Beginner < Intermediate
Level 1 Taiji training is the basics and foundations of the art, in the chart above it is: Beginner/Beginner level (working form the bottom to the top of the chart). This is the place where a choreography is learned be it Yang, Chen or another of the taiji styles and posture or verticality is worked on. In the classics this is generally referred to as being suspended from above as if by a string. Training on Sung Jin (relaxation like the string of a bow or the branches of a pine tree) is begun.
Level 2 training begins when the player has at least a good chunk of the choreography or all of it (ideally) in the case of a long form. Here the multitude of corrections and theory begins, Dantien moves first and the six harmonies follow, the first look at the seven stars of the body, full and empty, substantial and insubstantial, yin and yang in the legs and cascades of movement.
Level 3 training (Beginner/Advanced) begins work on the big sphere under the legs as a support system for the torso – this is the time where the roundness of the dang is worked on and the opening and closing of the kua are focused on. The differentiation between the Yao (waist) and the Dang (Hips) begins here though the torso is generally informed with the “stone tablet” method where the waist and hips are working together rather than in concert.
Level 4 is the beginning of Intermediate level practice and here the theory and metaphors for the hen fa (body methods) become more in depth and of more consequence. The big sphere on the chest is discussed and put into practice along with the study of the four cardinal jins – peng, lu, ji, an and are trained to be manifested. With the big sphere above and below Peng Jin can be manifested and the power which was vertical (up/down), Axlular (left/right) can become more round if not spherical. The first Bow of the body is also worked on here creating potential in the spine for not only verticality but potentiality (jin) in its state.
Level 5 (intermediate/intermediate) adds more the players body methods with the introduction of the small balls in the four big joints which act as support for each of them as they close and open creating potential at all times. An open joint wants to close and a closed joint wants to open and the state of potentiality from pressure on the spheres both big and small allow for the fang sung jin (relaxation) of the body to move from the cultivation levels of external to internal to pure internalization of the movement. This process begins here. The second and third bows of the body are introduced one at a time here – the bow across the shoulders and the bow across the arch of the legs. Rooting and grounding and their differences must be understood and worked on throughout practice be it solo or in two person work.
Level 6 training is the conclusion of the body methods (shen fa) before going into the more esoteric advanced levels 7-9. Although this is just a brief overview and I am not writing down every single thing on the list it should be apparent that the cultivation of the jing (flesh) and integration of the mind in to the flesh (shen) creates a powerful relationship (qi) between them. As the flesh is tamed and understood the relationship to the mind and the flesh loses any duality it may have had in the previous training and the gap between thought and action begins to dissapear until at advanced levels there is no thought any longer. All the small spheres of the body should now be worked on, one in every joint that can rotate and support the joint and lend it potential at any angle as well as the small bows in the body which empower the yao (waist) and allow the stone tablet method to be changed to a iteraction and concert of movement between the dantien and tan zhong (middle chest or middle dantien). Stone tablet has empowered the player with good structure and axular force and now the differentation between the wasit and the hips allows for a more powerful cascade of muscular contraction from dantien through the spine to tan zhong before reaching the limbs. At this point we have all the bows big and small, all the spheres big and small, the eight jins (peng, lu, ji, an, kao, lieh, zhou, cai) coordinated and working. There is more than this here but for the sake of brevity and not a book I will digress.
Level 7 training is the advanced/beginner level and here everything in the lower levels should be functioning well and without much effort. Here the training which has begun heavily with Jing (training the flesh) has transformed into more esoteric territory and deals more with yi (mind) and shen (spirit) than anything else. As such moving from level 6 to 7 is the longest time period generally and needs to be taken seriously as the advanced training needs to have a solid foundation to stand on in order to work. At my brothers request I cannot write in detail about the advanced levels of training publicly and as he is my elder brother, my most important taiji teacher and my great friend I must respect his wishes. Save the names of the levels. Level 7 training is called “Iron Shirt”.
Level 8 training is called “Nameless method”
Level 9 training is called “Harmony”
I think the more people are open about their arts and share information freely (as freely as they can) the better the arts will be understood in the west and indeed all over the world. This is by no means every detail of the levels we use but I have written this as a simple example of how we think about it. Perhaps it will be of some use to others working to codify their systems in order to preserve themselves