At the Autumn River School we teach the Tai Chi of Professor Cheng Man-ch’ing. Following his example we study the art through practice of three main disciplines; Tai Chi Ch’uan Form, Push Hands and Sword and to a lesser degree the Sabre.
The most recognisable feature of Tai Chi. The ‘hand form’ involves a series of postures related to self defence linked together by flowing graceful movement. It is performed at a slow even pace with a minimum use of physical strength. Practised in a relaxed manner with the quality of awareness one would afford a meditation, progress is made through the release of physical tension. The practise of the form is beneficial to health, improving balance, flexibility and strength and assists in the reduction of stress. Exercising and awakening an awareness of the body’s intrinsic energy known as ‘Chi’ it ultmately offers the prospect of a more harmonious approach to living (Tao/ Dao). The coreography of the form usually takes between nine months and a year to learn and like all arts can then can be practised and refined over the course of a lifetime.
In addition to the Form, most schools of Tai Chi teach Push Hands (also known as tuishou). Push Hands is partner practice which can bring greater depth to our study of T’ai chi principle. At Autumn River, push hands plays an important part in our syllabus as working with a partner can provide us with a measure of feedback on our success in applying the lessons the form has to teach us about structure, balance and most importantly relaxation.
At Autmun River we again follow the lead of Cheng Man-ching in concentrating our practise of Push hands on what is known as the ‘P’eng’, ‘Lu’, ‘Chi’, ‘An’ Form or ‘Grasping the Sparrow’s Tail’. Based on four of the postures (Wardoff, Rollback, Press & Push) which make up the ‘chorus’ of the hand form it allows us to focus on developing sensitivity to the actions and energies of others. Partner work is one of the most enjoyable aspects of studying Tai Chi and can be equally fascinating and frustrating by turns as one tries to abandon the use of force without compromising one’s own balance and stability.
In martial terms the lessons available through the study of push hands are manifold. By integrating these ideas of sensitivity, structure and balance we aim to develop what Cheng Man-ching calls shr jung (shih chung) which can be translated as ‘correct timing in the centre’. An idea so important he named his school after it. At this high level of skill, the tai chi player can use a small amount of energy to neutralize the far greater external force of an attacker using strength, giving rise to the maxim that “four ounces can deflect a thousand pounds.”
In a sense the form teaches us to be more relaxed and centered and Push Hands teaches an approach to being with other people and responding to them in a more balanced way. Applied in a philosophical sense the lessons Push Hands teach us manifest a more appropriate means of responding to all kinds of conflict. Instead of reacting to the challenges life offers with resistance and tension Push Hands encourages us to act from this place of balance, allowing us to become more authentically ‘ourselves’.
Sword Form & Fencing
The Sword Form allows us to develop greater understanding of how to move with and use objects such as weapons or tools, and in particular asks us to employ the sensitivity we develop in Push Hands and Form to listen to the object (in this case a Sword) allowing it to teach us its nature and the learn most efficient manner of channelling that nature.
After learning the Sword Form and gaining a degree of sensitivity for partner work in Push Hands, students can begin Fencing. At Autumn River Tai Chi fencing takes the form of free swordplay (not sword fighting) allowing us to study fighting distance, footwork and how to close the distance on an opponent. Fencing adds another dimension to our practise of each of the other disciplines offering fresh insights into timing and deepens our understanding of Yin and Yang.