Taiji: Stand Alone Therapeutic Art and/or Integrating Aspects of Taiji into other Therapeutic Arts

Since I became interested in Taiji and Massage Therapy I have heard comments like Taiji is the best form of medicine and you should study Taiji it will improve your therapeutic art many times. Yet none of the teachers or authors I have heard that from have ever gone into any real discussion about the how or the why of those comments. I have been intrigued by those statements for many years and as a result I took it upon myself to figure them out on my own.

While these 2 comments are inter-related they are definitely different. The first implies a stand alone therapeutic art while the 2nd suggests that you integrate the appropriate theories and practices of taiji into your particular therapeutic art. Actually to use Taiji as a fully functional therapeutic art you need to be quite knowledgeable about movement, touch, massage, energy work, relaxation and meditation including the theories and philosophies behind all of them.

The following is an introduction to Taiji and the 13 skills as I know them. It is the 1st of a series of articles and videos that I intend to do. Taiji is a system that develops power which can be used in a variety of ways. My focus has been the therapeutic arts. Taiji as we know it today is the theories and practices of the Shi San Shi (13 skills). I prefer the term Taiji over Shi San Shi because in many ways the physical practices of the Shi San Shi are a physical embodiment of Taiji/Yin-Yang/Dao.

The 13 skills of Taiji include the Bamen (Hand Skills), Wubu (Foot Skills) and Tui Shou (Partner Training). Each of the skills have multiple layers of meaning but I will focus on those meanings that relate to the therapeutic arts. Taiji has many different styles and dependent upon the style you will see variation in training methods and skills. The physical practices of the Shi San Shi that I use primarily come from Chen Style Xinyi Hunyuan Taiji. The Taiji I practice today I call Dantian Hunyuan Taiji to differentiate it from the style that I originally learned. I will discuss Dantian Hunyuan Taiji in more depth at a later time.

Bamen means 8 gates. The 8 gates are Peng, Lu, Ji, An, Cai, Lie, Zhou, Kao. The Bamen are divided into smaller groups of 4 called the Si Zheng and Si Yu. The Si Zheng are Peng, Lu, Ji, An and are considered Taiji’s primary hand skills.

Peng means supportive strength. Peng is about using your power to support the conscious or unconscious goals of your client. Peng has components that relate to physical power, energetic power, emotional and spiritual support. I have come to believe that Peng on some levels relates to the tensegrity (tensional integrity) of the body. Tensegrity can be seen as the elastic quality of the body that is comprised of the fascial matrix and the spinal column and allows for the body’s alignment. I have learned much from Zen Shiatsu and its derivative forms to translate what Taiji knows about supportive strength as it relates to therapeutic massage. I will discuss my thoughts and observations about Taiji and Zen Shiatsu in later posts.

Lu means Yield/Receive. In context of massage therapy think specifically of palpation skills. I think to be more accurate though Lu is about advance active sensing skills to while doing massage so your techniques will be highly accurate.

Li and An are inter-related terms. Li means press and An means push down. Both are relatively self-explanatory in relationship to massage therapy. In my studies I have found that An can actually mean compression and more generally means massage.

The Si Yu are Cai, Lie, Zhou, Kao and are secondary skills that you have to learn because you fail in the primary skills. The Si Yu can help you re-establish your primary skills especially when practicing Tuishou. In massage and other complimentary therapies the Si Yu are essential aspects to raise your skill to advance levels.

Cai means uproot. In Tuishou it really is about training methods to develop and bring balance to yourself and your partner. In massage therapy Cai is very much about working with the body’s alignment and tensegrity.

Lie means to spiral. In the solo and partner practices of Taiji Lie is about learning how to move in circle and spirals. In massage and complimentary therapies Lie can be used as particular massage techniques such as kneading and vibration. Lie can be used to open up the joints of the body and increase their range of motion.

Zhou means inch. I prefer to look at Zhou, in more general terms, as accuracy. To learn how to perform your therapeutic techniques in ever increasing accuracy to the individual you are working with. Kao works hand in hand with Zhou. Kao means bump. Kao is a training method and therapeutic method to allow a therapist to go back into accuracy when their technique is lacking. I like to say Kao is Bumping back into accuracy.

Wubu can be translated the 5 steps. The Wubu is stepping training. It teaches you how to move over distance as a stand alone practice but as you become more skilled you learned how to integrate the hand skills with the foot skills. The Wubu are Tui Bu, Jin Bu, You Pan, Zou Gu and Zhong Ding.

Tui Bu and Jin Bu means step forward and step back. They are straight line walking drills. You Pan and Zou Gu have at least 3 meanings. The first is walking drills in diagonal lines, circles and spirals. Second, You Pan & Zou Gu mean open side turning and close side turning. To be more specific to learn how to move the hip joints in very specific ways. Third, to look or to gaze right and left. Once you are comfortable with the training you can start adding hand skills to the movements.

Zhong Ding means central equilibrium or central stabilization. It is about working with the body’s alignment through soft tissue techniques, static postures, increasing range of motion and flexibility. Taiji is a meditation of stillness and movement. Taiji’s movement is all about learning how to move in circle and spirals.

Tui Shou means Push Hands. I prefer to call Tui Shou, as an over all training method, Taiji Hands because the training methods are a physical embodiment of Yin & Yang. I have come to believe that Taiji Hands has 4 overlapping levels. Tui Shou is the first level. The purpose of Tui Shou is learning body awareness, the mechanics of movement and the mechanics of applying pressure. The 2nd level is Jue Shou meaning sensing hands. The purpose of Jue Shou is to develop advance level palpation and sensing skills. The 3rd level is San Shou meaning three hands or expert hands. 3 hands is an old idea that skilled practitioners are experts because they have a 3rd hand. San Shou is about integrating the skills of Tui Shou & Jue Shou to an advance level. The 4th level is Jie Shou meaning connecting hands. The purpose of Jie Shou is to learn how to engage with your partner or your client with your advance skills.

Jie Shou is an active and ongoing process while working with a client/partner. Jie Shou is a new level that I have just recently (earlier this year) begun to understand as a level and am currently working on developing my skills. As a result I am seeing Taiji and the therapeutic arts in a whole new light. I will discuss my observations and thoughts in later posts.

In later posts I will discuss in more detail the theories and practices of Taiji as a stand alone therapeutic art and how to integrate the appropriate aspects of Taiji into such arts as Western Massage Therapy, Zen Shiatsu, Thai Massage, Reiki, Tui Na and other therapeutic arts. I will also discuss how Taiji develops power, the Taiji Classics and other topics related to Taiji and the Therapeutic Arts.