Posted by: Mike Ferruggia | June 17, 2009

Advanced Tai Chi and Spontaneity

A good tai chi teacher will encourage you not to change the tai chi form in any way, to practice it as it is handed down to you, as it was handed down to them, allowing for minor adjustments or amendments due to athletic ability. This is good advice. If we play with the form, it will eventually be lost, a situation which many tai chi enthusiasts already see happening or as happened. Even the story of Yang Lu Chan not wanting to teach the imperial guard all the secrets of yang family tai chi implies that because the most widely practiced form in the world is that form, that we are practicing a watered down version of tai chi. But don’t be too alarmed, beac use with diligent study and practice, your tai chi is useful and wonderful.

The highest levels of tai chi are attained when one has a chance to spar and even actually fight, because it is in these situations that tai chi goes beyond form and one can be or has to be spontaneous and no mind. So, the question I’m posing here is, for the practitioner that may have an opportunity to practice push hands, but does not have the opportunity or desire to get into a few actual fights now and then, is there no recourse?

My feeling is this: when I was learning to play the guitar with the eventual hope of playing gigs, I played what I knew till 2 or 3 in the morning, practicing and practicing every day, watched as many people as I could to pick up stuff, but eventually you have to begin to improvise and be creative and be spontaneous. So many times the creative spark would come in the early morning hours and you would discover a new riff or a new chord progression, or lyrics to a new song would pop into your head while driving your car. My point is that the creative, spontaneous process is the same in all art. So, while I encourage tai chi practitiioners to practice the forms in a disciplined manner, there is also a place for experimentation and creativity and spontaneity. You know the chords and notes of tai chi, you know the parameters of tai chi principles–so once in a while, let the spirit move you. I believe it is in Wong Kew Kit’s book on Kung Fu in which he offers many kung fu movements, and then it is up to the practitioner to put together a “song” with the notes, to string the moves together. (As an aside, here’s an interesting forum discussion from kung fu magazine on wong kew kit)

To engage in this kind of creative spontaneity is a highly spiritual experience. And you may actually come up with new moves that you can then codify(be careful who you tell, there are orthodox extremests who will berate you for having the gall to claim to have created something new), but it is this experimentation and exploration that I think is the mark of any person who excels in an art.

So, should you be excoriated for fooling around with your brushknee twiststeps and feeling yourself going into cloud hands, and maybe find yourself doing something more akin to pakua than tai chi? No, just remember to stay within the principles in order for your movement to have legitimacy and go for it.

As for self defense, I don’t think there’s any substitute for having a real life partner to work out with. You know, as an example, I was practicing cloud hands with a long time student of mine, and almost by accident I discovered a beautiful chin na. But my student has been trained to be soft and cooperative in push hands and sparring. I then tried to do the move on a good friend who does not practice tai chi and he stiff armed me and the chin na technique didn’t work for squat. I almost began to muscle the move to make it work, but realized that was not the point, and if I were going to pursue the moment, would have had to go on to something else(a person becoming stiff in a confrontation gives you an incredible advantage).


  1. Thanks for sharing this info 🙂 Will be linking to your site! Cheers! =)

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