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Li Family’s Tai Ji Quan

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The Tai Ji Quan of Li Fang Chen, who was a friend of Du Xing Wu, is a ancient boxing style whose founder was Yang Lu Chan (1799-1872).

Yang Lu Chan, forced to teach his art to an imperial court that he abhorred (the Manchus), transformed it so as to pass on his personal form only to his family.

Yang Lu Chan had three sons and the youngest , Yang Jian Hou (1837-1917) who had Li Fang Chen as a disciple, learned the ancient form of boxing which remained alive but hidden.

On his part, the third son of Yang Jian Hou, Yang Cheng Fu (1883-1917), popularized a health exercise based on the movements of the family art.

What differentiates them is quite simple:

In the modern form, you learn a choreography of martial inspiration that no longer relies on Nei Gong (internal energy training), but only on the movements themselves.

In the old form, as in all the internal boxing styles, many Li Gong (strength training), Nei Gong (internal strength training) and combat exercises were practiced before seeing the form.

The health aspect of the form comes essentially from the practice of Nei Gong and it is important to know that the martial aspect is not contained in it.

There are 3 levels of study in the Li Family Taijiquan:

– Learning the movements linked with the 13 postures,
– Practicing the  linking exercises and the fast  forms,
– Mastering the “long boxing”.

There are 4 combat principles and 4 support techniques:

– Peng: occupy the space,
– Lu: pull,
– Jie: crush,
 – An: push.

And the forces of:

– Elbow: the usage of  the elbow for fighting,
– Shoving: “walk through the opponent”,
– Grabbing: catching and twisting,
– Separate: throwing off and breaking.

These 8 concepts of fighting are expressed in the 5 directions (13 postures).

Each principle, such as Peng, has a dozen Nei Gongs, Li Gongs and two-person exercises to be understood and used.

Having understood and practiced the basic exercises for a few weeks (…), we normally move on to the linking exercises and fast forms.

There are 16 linking exercises which are made of combat principles and seek to develop the force of impact in different angles :

– Pushing back
– Carrying
– Lifting
– Creasing
– Sealing
– Sticking
– Piercing
– Drilling
– Smashing
– Wrapping
– Intercepting
– Clawing
– Breaking
– Leading
– Hindering
– Shaking

The 12 fast forms are small forms composed of 3 to five movements which test strength and understanding of the fighting concepts in speed and movement:

– Fast strikes
– Linking elbows
– Powerful pushes
– Fast throws
– Clawing and Creasing
– Changing palms
– Go with
– Go against
– Destructions
– Controlling and Breaking
– Leading and Piercing
– Provoking and Sticking

Then, and only because we have acquired the knowledge of all the practices quoted above, we move to the acquisition of a form which is used as a summary of everything that was learned: the Long Boxing.

The moves taught in this form are a way to practice the whole style, if it is known, of course:

– The way of moving of the Li Gong,
– The intention of the Nei Gong,
– The slowness of the structure exercises,
– The speed ​​of the fa jin exercises,
– The boxing lines of the combat combinations,
– The linking sets of the small fast forms.

There are three distinct forms of Taijiquan in the Li family:

– The “Long Boxing”,
– The “Spiral Boxing”,
– The “Cannon Fist”.

The Long Boxing is a long form which is practiced very slowly in the learning process, but which must be worked at all speeds when one has acquired the basics. Acceleration and rhythm changes will develop the footwork qualities for fighting.

The Spiral Boxing is the “hidden” particularity of the Yang family Tai Ji boxing. It is a form which develops martial skills and “chi wrapping” to develop a strong and healthy body. This is the form which teaches the Fa Jins of the school.

The Cannon Fist is the fighting form of the style, a form which combines the internal forces and the footwork for a practical usage. It is with this form that we use the fa jin in combat applications.

There are three stages of development in the learning and practicing process of the long form:

– The basics: forming the structure,
– Learning: learning the form,
– Practice: gaining freedom.

In the basics, it is important to pay attention to five points:

– Relaxing the body and calming the mind,
– Keeping your body straight,
– Paying attention to every technical detail,
– Keeping the body light, agile and balanced,
– Being relaxed, natural and flexible.

In the learning process, there are three points:

– Coordinating movements throughout the body,
– Moving gracefully, softly and naturally,
– Moving each part of the body during each movement.

In the practice phase we distinguish three points:

– Leading the body through a conscious sensation,
– Making a clear distinction between empty and full (conscious body positioning),
– Nourishing the body with chi and combining internal and external power,
– Letting the body go into a united movement in the Shen (spirit).

In our school there are ten important points for the practice of Li family Tai Ji Quan:

– Keep the head up, be calm and natural,
– Keep shoulders and elbows down,
– Stretch the arms and empty the armpit strength,
– Release the fingers and free the wrists,
– Relax the chest and occupy the space with the back,
– Relax the waist and straighten the spine,
– Release  hips and buttocks,
– Maintain the feeling of the perineum and of  the center,
– Keep the  knees bent and the hips loose,
– Keep the knees soft and feet rooted in the ground.

Tai Ji Quan is a complete boxing style which requires no addition, it is an internal arts family style, not to be confused with “soft” arts…