A Taiji hedgehog or a Taiji fox?

From The Master

A Taiji hedgehog or a Taiji fox?

by Yang Yang, Ph.D.

You may have heard the Greek story of the hedgehog and the fox. In this story the fox knows many small things whereas the hedgehog knows one big thing.

When I read this story, I thought of the pair: a taiji hedgehog or a taiji fox. In my mind this pair is about an issue of achieving depth and quality in our taiji practice.

Taiji practitioners all want to find an effective way to practice and enjoy their art. For different reasons, taiji practitioners often practice their art in very inefficient ways.

One of the mistakes practitioners make is equating the number of forms they know, or even the number of styles they practice to their understanding or level of Taiji. There end up being too many taiji foxes and not enough hedgehogs.

Being a taiji fox will generate certain benefits, but being a taiji hedgehog will definitely produce broader benefits at deeper levels.

The fox/hedgehog story basically conveys the same lesson as one old Chinese saying: 不怕千招會, 就怕一招精 (Bu pa qian zao hui, jui pa yi zao jing – I am not afraid of someone who knows a thousand forms (techniques); I am concerned with the person that does one form (technique) very well).

Being a hedgehog is traditionally thought more effective in our taiji practice than being a fox. Here are some tips for becoming a taiji hedgehog or switching from a fox to being a hedgehog:

  • Micro approach: pick out one form (it doesn’t matter which style you practice) and focus on the following key elements:
  • Tranquil mind: translate the tranquil mind and body from wuji practice to the taiji form. This is why we do wuji practice.
  • Happiness: smile while you practice. It is a joy and not a labor. It is an opportunity to apply the happiness cultivated from your wuji qigong to moving qigong–taiji form.
  • Energy: are you playing it slowly enough so that every repetition of this form is a process of Qi cultivation/accumulation.
  • Imaging: are you applying the image of water (not mud, it is heavy and generates tension), are you thinking about flowing water while you are both still and moving.
  • Posture: are you having an upright posture? Are you having a biomechanically sound posture? Do you feel awkward or even pain in your knees, have you opened your kua?
  • Foot work: have you had your toes turning outward slightly when you are in a neutral standing posture? A stance with strictly parallel feet may cause pain in your ankles or knees.
  • Core strength: are you initiating all of your movements from your Dantian: the core of your body? Are you allowing unlimited opportunities for dantian initiation/movements in your form practice?
  • Is your whole body moving together like a harmonious, non-combative family instead of moving in different or even opposite directions?
  • Silk-reeling energy: do you have constant silk reeling throughout your body when you move? If not, practice some basic silk-reeling exercises and see if you can incorporate reeling into your forms.
  • 13 postures of Taiji energy: Peng/ Liu/ Ji /An, Cai/Lie/Zhou/Kao, Jin/Tui/Gu/Pan/Ding. Start with the first four energies: Peng: up; Liu: side and back; Ji: forward; and An: down; Actually, a taiji form generates unlimited possibilities of motor movements.
  • Pushands: each single taiji form can have many, sometimes unlimited applications. Play with it and see how the improvement of each single component helps you to enhance your pushhands. Pushhands is one of the ways to test whether you are gettng the fundamental elements of a form.
  • Macro approach: after working on the many micro-elements of some individual component of a form, you can focus on one single element while you do the whole routine (the EBT, Essential 48, Paocui, Yang 108 forms, or a whole routine from another style). Then you can focus on another micro-element while doing the routine until you have gone through all major elements with the whole routine.

Everything is an matter of degree. There is no pure fox, there is no pure hedgehog either. Actually, being a hedgehog with some fox characteristics may not be a bad idea, and can better help a hedgehog discriminate which big thing to concentrate on, as well as what micro practices enhance the big thing.

The point is to remember that quality is more important than quantity.

There is nothing new under the sun. There is no mystery in traditional practice; it is all common sense from ancient wisdom.

[Yang Yang was born in 1961 in Henan province near the Chen Village in China. At the age of 12, he began studying Taiji because of a congenital heart defect. He credits his practice of Chen Style Taiji with curing his heart condition and allowing him to pass the physical exam required in China to enter the universities. Master Yang’s Taiji studies now span 30 years. With both Law and Engineering degrees earned in China, Master Yang practiced business law for several years before coming to the United States to study for a Master’s Degree in Economics at Illinois State University. He is currently the Director of the Center for Taiji Studies in Champaign, Illinois, and has recently completed a Doctorate Degree in Kinesiology at the University of Illinois. His research focuses on the benefits and mechanisms of Taiji practice.]
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One Response to A Taiji hedgehog or a Taiji fox?

  1. Daniel Fennick says:

    As a tae kwon do student for years, I witnessed this issue. In many schools there is an emphasis on advancing to the next belt by taking promotion tests. Each promotion is met with, “what forms do I need to learn now so I can take the next test?” This puts the school’s owner in a difficult position, because many students, particularly children, will not be happy unless they are constantly “advancing” to the next level. If the Master discourages testing he/she risks losing the students. If the promotions are allowed, the school ends up with many foxes and few hedgehogs.

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