Flowing River Tai Chi Chuan

Flowing River Tai Chi Chuan

In Flowing River Tai the teachings of the classics are followed. From the very first teachings the image of stillness and flow have been alluded to. The legendary originator of Tai Chi, Chang San-feng, suggested that “Tai Chi Ch’uan [practice] is like a great river rolling on unceasingly”. Later the great teacher Wu Yu-hsiang suggested in the art of Tai Chi we “Be still as a mountain; move like a great river”.

Stillness in movement seems like a paradox. But it is valuable advice for the modern age. Movement and change is inevitable, but if we are not to be swept away with the energies of this impermanence internally and externally we need a still point. An anchor. A clarity. A balance.

The Five Elements and Yin / Yang Balance

Tai Chi is the ‘Way of Harmony’, the interplay of yin and yang, softness and hardness, flow and stillness, expansion and contraction. The Five Elements or Phases are an expression of yin and yang. Mindfulness in Tai Chi brings in all five elements or phases. Working in the form awareness may touch each of the five. The following associations are to help nourish the expression of each element:

Fire: Let the heart-mind be calm and awake

Earth: Let your weight and energy be rooted; your centre steady

Metal: Let your breath and Qi flow naturally

Wood: Let movements be agile; full and empty defined

Water: Let softness and power be present in movement and stillness; spine upright no force

The Ten Essential Points of Flowing River Tai Chi Chuan

(These ten points are adaptations of the ten principles of Yang Ching-Pu : 1883-1936)

The practice of Tai Chi is constantly evolving, its principles discussed and elaborated, the styles proliferate, but the original principles must remain for it to be Tai Chi. For this most teachers value their lineage, the learning undertaken from one living teacher to another. The practice is holistic, it is a kind of knowledge that is ‘seen’ and ‘felt’ and not easily comprehended from books, word or images. Yet the classical writings have grown and often are in concise formulations unpacking the principles of yin and yang and the 5 Elements. Such is the list below:

  1. Head Suspended: Without force the head, entire spine and body should feel that it is suspended by a thread from above to the crown of the head. The eyes look forward with soft focus, at horizon level. No stiffness.
  2. Breathing and Chest relaxed, Upper Back raised: As the spine lifts up and back, the chest softens down naturally, the breath flows freely with no effort. This brings intrinsic strength to the spine and postures.
  3. Loosen the Waist and Droop the Tail Bone: The area from the floating ribs to the pelvis is a key area in all movements of Tai Chi form. This must be free and soft, but not weak. Its core is the spine which is upright.
  4. Distinguish between Full and Empty in the form: Once the above 3 features are in place the flowing movements of the form rely on knowing where your leg and foot weighting. The weighted leg is Full the unweighted is Empty. This is essential for having a root and grounding your Qi and spirit.
  5. Relax the 4 Limbs: The shoulders should settle and soften, the elbows loosen and drop, the palms open and soft. The legs as if filled with soft fluid in each joint and limb, not too straight not too bent.
  6. Apply your Intention Mindfully in movement, not force: Movement in the form is relaxed, the mind and body move as one which activates your energy / Qi. With the Qi grounded and the spirit lifted to the crown, the mind is awake to the stepping and direction of postures. Feel the earth beneath the feet!
  7. Coordinate the Upper and Lower Body movements: Body as one unit. All movement is rooted in the feet , developed in the thighs, directed by the waist and expressed in the arms, hands and fingers.
  8. Unify your Internal and External Movements: The spirit and body are trained in Tai Chi. Correct body stance and posture help lift the spirit and strengthen the intrinsic energy. When the spirit is lifted the movements will be light and nimble. Soft and hard, expansion and contraction is perceived and felt by the mind, Qi and spirit.
  9. Continuous Flow: With the mind calm , the spirit lifted and qi grounded the will directs the form like a Long River or the single thread of silk reeling from and cocoon. Unbroken.
  10. Seek Calmness in Movement : The slow movements of the Tai Chi form is conducive to deep, long and regular breathing. Allowing the Qi to gather centrally in the tan-tien and the spirit to animate the mind and the heart be calm.

Stance and Stepping

In the Flowing River Tai Chi, the foot is always placed down empty and soft, the weighting is then achieved based on the needs of the stance and posture, these are shown in the film. The key stances (not to be confused with the postures, below) of the Tai Chi form are:

Horse-riding Stance (ma bu – opening posture)

Retreating Steps (tui bu – back step as in repulse monkey)

Advancing Steps (jin bu – and forward step as in single whip push)

Bow Stance (gong bu – brush left knee and push)

Empty Stance (xu bu: heel lifted and toe lifted variations – lifting hands/ needles at sea bed)

Cross Step forward (gai bu – intercept and parry)

Open Step to the side (kai bu – cloud hands)

Feet drawn together (ding bu – one foot empty, as in cloud hands)

Side Facing Bow Stance (che bu – bend bow to shoot tiger)

One leg stance (du li bu – golden rooster)

Half-step (ban bu – back foot advances up as in play lute)

Lively Stepping (huo bu – when practicing in reduced space/ paired forms)

(Note the list of the 42 short form postures follows below.)

Yang Style Short Form

  1. Attention
  2. Opening Form
  3. Ward off left
  4. Ward off right
  5. Roll Back
  6. Press
  7. Push
  8. Single whip
  9. Lifting hands
  10. Shoulder stroke
  11. White crane spreads wings
  12. Brush left knee and push
  13. Play guitar
  14. Brush left knee and push
  15. Step forward, deflect downward, intercept and punch
  16. Withdraw and push
  17. Crossing hands
  18. Embrace tiger, return to mountain
  19. Roll back
  20. Press
  21. Push
  22. Diagonal Single Whip
  23. Punch under elbow
  24. Step back to repulse monkey (R)
  25. Step back to repulse monkey (L)
  26. Step back to repulse monkey (R)
  27. Diagonal flying
  28. Cloud hands (R)
  29. Cloud hands (L)
  30. Cloud hands (R)
  31. Cloud hands (L)
  32. Cloud hands (R)
  33. Cloud hands (L)
  34. Single whip
  35. Squatting single whip/ Snake Creeps Down
  36. Golden rooster stands on one leg (L)
  37. Golden rooster stands on one leg (R)
  38. Separate right foot
  39. Separate left foot
  40. Brush left knee and push
  41. Needles at sea bed
  42. Iron fan penetrates back
  43. Turn body, chop and push
  44. Step forward, deflect downward, intercept and punch
  45. Kick with heel (R)
  46. Brush right knee and push
  47. Brush left knee and punch downwards
  48. Ward off right
  49. Roll Back
  50. Press
  51. Push
  52. Single whip
  53. Fair lady weaves shuttles (L)
  54. Fair lady weaves shuttles (R)
  55. Fair lady weaves shuttles (L)
  56. Fair lady weaves shuttles (R)
  57. Ward Off Left
  58. Ward Off Right
  59. Roll Back
  60. Press
  61. Push
  62. Single whip
  63. Squatting single whip / Snake Creeps Down
  64. Step forward to the seven stars
  65. Step back to ride tiger
  66. Turn body and sweep lotus with leg
  67. Bend bow to shoot tiger
  68. Step forward, deflect downward, intercept and punch
  69. Withdraw and push
  70. Crossing hands
  71. Conclusion
  72. Attention

Once repetitions are discounted there are 42 postures.

Gratitude to my teacher John Kells (1940-2017) and his lineage, via Chi Chiang-tao (and other masters), Cheng Man-ching to Yang Cheng-fu. Gratitude also to Master Deng and Master Chen Xiao Wang.