Experiencing the First
Stage of Hun Yuan Tai Chi
Chief Instructor Brett Wagland
In the last couple of trips to China, Chief Instructor Brett Wagland was
very glad to have the opportunity to meet Chen Xiang. Before
training in the Hun Yuan system, Chen Xiang trained in Chinese
wrestling. He is now a senior disciple of Grandmaster Feng Zhi Qiang,
founder of the Hun Yuan system. Chen Xiang is an inspiration. He is
accomplished in free fighting yet he is gentle and humble. Through his
internal training, his hands, to the touch, seem as soft as cotton. He
is deeply immersed in the philosophy of Lao Tzu.
In one of their meetings, Chen Xiang talked about the
five stages of development with one’s Tai Chi form. The first stage is
most relevant to students at present.
Feeling Comfortable and Natural
Learning Tai Chi or anything worthwhile involves effort
and time. The effort involved requires a more patient or gradual
approach rather than an all-or-nothing attitude. In Chinese
culture, the concept of “kung fu” is important in terms of self
development. Kung Fu is the idea of applying a continuous effort
over a period of time until one has understood and eventually mastered
task. It is more of a journey or process rather than an outcome.
During the process, besides learning a skill, we are affected by what we
learn. We are gradually transformed by the learning of that skill.
In the case of Tai Chi, most students will feel initial
frustration about learning and remembering the form. They are not used
to the idea of practising regularly. At first, the mind and body are
not accustomed to the requirements expected of them. It is common to
feel awkard and unnatural at first. These experiences are completely
Our minds and bodies become more at home with the training
and we begin to enjoy the process. Once we are able to enter into
a state of calm and feel the qi
energy) in our bodies, we begin to enjoy the
We feel like a fish swimming with the ocean currents or as if we are
swimming in the air. Our bodies are enveloped by qi.
In the Hun Yuan Tai Chi form, each movement
flows into the next in an endless circle of energy. The
first stage of learning involves remembering the individual movements
which are all based on the following Tai Chi principles:
Keep the spine straight and relaxed - not tense.
Bend your knees to enable weight transfer.
Let your weight sink down to the soles of the feet - not
held in the upper body or
the thighs. Develop natural weight transfer –
from ground to ground.
Legs are the foundation. Each movement starts from the
legs, to the waist
(which also enables the spine to rotate) and then to
the arms. The waist
controls the upper body. Avoid leaning with the
Distinguish between empty and solid. Control your centre
of gravity. Step out
empty with no weight, so that you may be able to
retrieve your step if necessary.
Be aware of relaxing the shoulders.
Use minimum amount of strength to move the body.
Anything more is tension.
Relax, relax, relax .........
Coordinate the lower and the upper body.
Distinguish between open and close within the movement.
Feel your back and
chest. Avoid leaning.
Use your mind, that is, your intention, to lead the
Chen Xiang said, “When you watch someone
Chi who has reached the first stage, it is very pleasing to the eyes.
There is a sense of enjoyment being expressed by the practitioner.
is relaxed, coordinated and full of energy. The practitioner looks
very comfortable. Each movement is expressed clearly without
into the next, with the mind (intention) and qi finishing with each
posture. However, continuity in movement, in intention and in qi
is maintained throughout the form. It might take one twelve months
Once one has finished the Hun Yuan 24 form, it is good to
practise the form continuously for three rounds daily. This will enable
your whole body to change quickly. Then, you will understand what it
means to feel comfortable and natural in the form. I am sure that you
all will be able to reach this level.
The second stage is to know all the applications of each
movement. When we talk about the martial applications of Tai Chi, we
are referring to the eight major forces: pung, ju, ji, an, tsia, li, jou,
khor (ward off, roll back, press, push, uproot, split, elbow,
The practice of Push Hands (Tui Shou) helps the
practitioner to understand the forces. This is sensitivity and
coordination training. Through Push Hands, one learns the meaning of
using only four ounces of strength to deflect a thousand pounds. In
other words, it is not the training of brute strength or force, but of
skill, sensitivity and timing. Through contact with awareness, one
becomes familiar with another person’s strengths and weaknesses, as well
as one’s own. Gradually, through practice, one will become familiar
with the eight forces and how they are applied.
Tai Chi is not simply a system of health exercise. It
also develops internal strength and skills which are used at the martial
level. In the traditional Chinese culture, health, medicine, philosophy
and self defence are all interrelated. The Yin Yang symbol depicts the
interdependence of seemingly contradictory forces. So, to know only the
health aspect of Tai Chi without its martial application is like knowing
the yin without the yang. The knowledge gained from the applications of
the movements not only helps one in one’s individual quest for self
development, but also opens doors to higher levels of the art.
Be patient and kind to yourself. Listen to your heart.
Be mindful to avoid imposing limits or unrealistic expectations on
yourself. Practise and you will naturally reap the benefits. Let go
and enjoy the Tai Chi journey!