Maier B.O. On the philosophy of the taijiquan motions

  • Опубликовано в журнале:PHILOSOPHY OF EDUCATION. — Novosibirsk, Praha: The Research Institute of Philosophy of Education at Novosibirsk State Pedagogical University, Univerzita Karlova v Praze, Pedagogicka fakulta, 2008. — Special issue N 1. — P. 174 — 182.
  • A Russian Scholar on the Philosophy Thoughts of Tai-chi // Journal of PLA Institute of Physical Education — Guangzhou, China: Guangzhou Institute of Physical Education, 2009. — v. 28. — No. 4 . — P. 29 — 30.

A new kind of Olympic sport, Wushu, has entered the competition program of the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. This fact has considerably raised the attention of the sport community and experts to the research of the Wushu phenomenon, and also to an opportunity of its interpretation in the system of concepts which have been developed for the «European» kinds of sport. At least two different approaches are possible in the research and interpretation of the Wushu phenomenon. First, there is a description of all the movement patterns of Wushu within a category matrix of the «European» sports. In the framework of such approach, Wushu is no different from usual kinds of sport, with the exception of special movements simulating «fight with a shadow». The system of the Wushu movements is described as a specific combination of five physical qualities: dexterity, flexibility, speed, force, and endurance. Secondly, there is the traditional analysis of the Wushu phenomenon as a complex system of development and management of such «Chinese» entities as «Energy» (Chi), «elastic force» (Jing), «spirit» (Shen), and «reason» (Yi). Here, the physical qualities are not important in themselves. They are demonstrated only as an addition or indicators of the development of organism’s powers and the skills to operate those powers. There is some standing apart culturological research of the Wushu phenomenon, for example, dissertation [1]; where Wushu, in particular, taijiquan, is considered as a ritualizing flow of the culture serving the Chinese self-identification. However, as a rule, this kind of research does not deal with the movement basis of the Wushu phenomenon.
Thus, in the analysis of the Wushu phenomenon, there used to be a contradictory situation, when the research was conducted in the fragmentary and not mutually conjugated directions. The approach of the «European» sport is that Wushu is a sport and nothing beyond sport. On the other hand, the approach of «the Chinese power» is that Wushu is not a sport system of person’s motor development. In the easiest way, this contradiction can be substantiated through the fundamental distinction of philosophies that organize human life including the motor activity: namely, the modern «analytical» and the eastern «traditions». For example, Chinese wise men compared mankind to a beggar who asks for alms at the gate, having forgotten about the super force with which he is endowed by the Universe. According to the eastern views, the movement activity of Wushu is also devoted to the development or comprehension of the above-mentioned force. On the contrary, as a competition, sport in the modern society has a quite concrete axiology, distinct from the search of «super force of the Universe ». We observe two types of society, two cultures, and two various approaches to the movement activity, which seems to have similar patterns of exercises.
At the same time, such explanation of the fundamental distinctions between the movement activities in the «West» and «East» does not deal with the essence of the problem. Indeed, the ontology and axiology of the person’s movement activity displays not only its cultural and philosophical features, but also an expression of the archetype features that organize the vital activity. Actually, in the structure of person’s movement activity and its representation in symbolical systems, there are exhibited the features of not only the conscious structures of mentality but also subconscious archetypes and implicit knowledge.
For example, for the person of the «West» it is the most difficult to reconcile the contradiction between his (her) own conscious and subconscious, since these forms of the mental life are governed by absolutely different laws. The «empire» of consciousness is the intelligence and the will being developed in the modern culture in the direction of increasing «technological effectiveness»; and the subconscious is intuition and feelings which are badly formalized. As a matter of fact, everything in the so-called «Western civilization» is connected, first of all, with the increasing verbalization, formalization, and algorithmization of the conscious structures, with the introduction into consciousness of some not-recognized-before structures of mentality, etc.; and (not less important) with projecting of the formal-algorithmic thinking to the world around, to the natural and social worlds. Thus, there arises an understanding of the modern sport as a social motor activity described in terms «victory», «success», etc.
On the other hand, the «Eastern» world, notwithstanding its economic integration into modernity, is still keeping the movement tradition containing the developed ontology and praxiology of the informal aspects of human life, including also integration of the subconscious structures of mentality into the social reality through the Wushu phenomenon.
In my opinion, to overcome the «West-East » dichotomy in the analysis of the Wushu features as a sport and as a phenomenon of tradition, it is necessary to abandon both the framework of the sport «phraseology» and the framework of the «super force of the Universe» «phraseology» in the description of the Wushu motor activity features. For this purpose, it is necessary to consider the person in a complex manner, as a hierarchically ordered system of mental and physiological, instinctive and conscious processes focused on preservation of own integrity and domination in the environment. It allows studying psychological, physiological, and archetypical features of the Wushu phenomenon, and also the reflection in the Wushu motor activity of the implicit knowledge of the person which has been accumulated during all the history of development of the «East».
In my articles [2, 3], some results of the epistemological analysis of the concept system describing the «internal» school of Wushu, taijiquan, were given. The choice of the taijiquan school for the analysis was not random, but it was due to the following reasons:
— All the schools of Wushu are aimed at the development of the Chi « internal energy »; however, only the taijiquan is primary directed to the development and management of this “energy”.
— Taijiquan is the farthest from the «standard» sport interpretation, because from the very first stages of training there is there the demand to eliminate the «rough» physical strength.
— Chinese themselves consider the taijiquan as the «supreme» martial art.
— The taijiquan is included as one kind of Wushu in the international competitive program and it is described in the «sport» interpretation by the physical qualities mentioned above.
— The sport interpretation of taijiquan is extremely far from the traditional Chinese concept about taijiquan as a «body’s calligraphy».
It is the standard knowledge that the system of taijiquan was created on the basis of the Taoist alchemical concepts about the methods of «inner» work with the person. There is a branch of the modern psychological literature which investigates in detail the alchemical methods and has developed a conceptual device for the description of similar methods. It was K.G. Jung’s analytical psychology that was engaged in the regular research of the medieval alchemy methods. As a result, K.G. Jung developed the concept of collective subconscious and archetypes of human mentality. It is possible to show that the system of traditional metaphors of taijiquan is built by the principles described in K.G. Jung’s psychology as a process of Individuation; and, by such considerations, the system of taijiquan is a psycho-motor system of working with the projections of person’s complete mentality to his (her) own body. Indeed, the traditional sequence of the taijiquan studying methods – «method of hands», «method of body», «method of consciousness», and achieving the integrity in the «method of swimming in air» — is isomorphic to Maria’s axiom that forms the classical sequence of individuation in the European alchemy: «the first gives rise to the second, the second gives rise to the third, and the third gives rise to the fourth as the whole». Thus, the leading archetype is the Individuation process, which manifests itself in person’s consciousness, in particular, as the symbols of a circle, sphere, or other similar figures, so-called «mandalas».
Let us list the basic requirements of taijiquan:
— Slowness and «fluidity of movements»,
— Formation of the pattern of a complete movement from the body’s center of gravity,
— Conducting the movement by the sight, the limbs movements being along the surface of an imagined sphere or spiral,
— Formation of an elastic «force» unlike the «rough» muscular force, etc.
A prominent feature of taijiquan is a practically complete absence, both in the semantics of the description and in the patterns of movement, of the kinetic attributes of shock actions by hands and legs: the limbs are carried out due to the power dispersion. It is possible to state that taijiquan, both in the verbal description and the movement patterns, is a contrast to the shock techniques of both the European boxing and Japanese karate.
A specific attribute of taijiquan, performed by old masters, is the presence of a sufficiently deep “changed consciousness condition” (CCC). Beginning from the first movement of taijiquan, the person enters into the pattern of movement in CCC and keeps it till the termination of the exercises. Thus, an essential difference of the taijiquan from the «European» methods of work with the person in CCC is in the available formalized motor activity. It enables the trainee to keep communication with the surrounding reality, to observe it (quality of martial art) and also to adjust independently the depth of immersion in CCC. Besides, since the person in CCC is essentially introspective, the application of the «internal style» metaphor to taijiquan is quite justified. Moreover, in such context this metaphor directly points out to the necessity of being in CCC while practicing taijiquan (as well as other «internal styles» of Wushu).
The most main aspect of taijiquan is the concept of eight « Jing forces », which corresponds to the Pakua system of diagrams and in conformity with which the dynamics of all taijiquan movements is constructed. It was shown in my previous work that these eight basic « Jing forces » of the taijiquan are, in fact, the biomechanical modes (own modes of dynamics) in the model of elastic structure of the human body. To these modes (the types of dynamics) there correspond well defined psychomotor images which are subjectively felt as various «forces» or «energies» and which are consequently referred to according to various paradigms: in the Chinese, as kinds of « Jing force »; in the European, as patterns of movement. Thus, a chain of concepts is built: types of « Jing force » => patterns of movement => psychomotor images => biomechanical modes. The conformity of biomechanical modes and patterns of taijiquan movement in CCC allows using, in the long term, the biomechanical modes identified in taijiquan outside of this system as well, in particular, for the purpose of general description of the movements in CCC.
There are eight biomechanical modes — patterns of taijiquan movement in CCC, arising from the combinations of three elementary conditions of movement described as follows: compression — expansion in a horizontal plane, compression — expansion in a vertical direction, and turning to the right — to the left. Unlike in the biomechanical modeling, the representation patterns of real movements resulted from the expert observation can be precisely described semantically as: «pushing through» along a horizontal surface of support or the opposite; «pulling through» along a horizontal surface or the opposite; «twisting to the right — to the left around a vertical axis». The analysis of the video data and the obtained semantics of movements shows that, according to the combinatory rules, it is possible to get the description and also the patterns and metaphors of eight basic « Jing forces » of taijiquan from three conditions: «pushing through», «pulling through», and «twisting», each of which has two opposite ones. Thus, there is an isomorphism of a set obtained from three basic conditions of movement isolated as a result of the biomechanical modeling analysis, and a set originated from three conditions of movement of the traditional masters which have been found out from their observation by experts.As a result of the epistemological analysis of the entire semantics of the movement patterns of taijiquan, a model which consists of three basic components has been constructed. These are the psycho-physiological, algorithmic, and linguistic components [4].
1. The psycho-physiological component
The psycho-physiological component of the model consists of two blocks: somatic and regulation blocks.
The somatic block is based on the obvious distinction of patterns of skeletal muscles and enteric nervous system connected with the smooth muscles of the organism. The patterns of taijiquan movements are organized in such a manner that during the motor activity the person has an opportunity to operate the enteric nervous system (ENS). As a result of training the ENS reflexes during the «fight with a shadow» in taijiquan, there arises a «titanic» component of the muscular contraction, significantly increasing the force of muscles contraction in the body.
The regulation block is based on the representation of the set of ENS reflexes in person’s mentality as the « energy », whose origin is not represented by consciousness. Thus, in the considered model, the set of semantics of the « energy » is determined by the specificity of display of the sensations connected with ENS reflexes.
2. Algorithmic component
Algorithmic component of the model describes a set of «shadow» movement patterns, the collection of which essentially distinguishes taijiquan from the «European» sports. The set of «shadow» movement patterns of taijiquan is hierarchically ordered and isomorphic to the hierarchy of evolutionary movement patterns, namely:
— The Pattern of movement (navigation) of an invertebrate organism in a water environment.
— The Pattern of movement (pushing through) of an invertebrate organism in a dense environment.
— The Pattern of movement of a snake creeping on the surface of the ground.
— The Pattern of movement a four-footed animal, in which the movement vector is parallel to the backbone.
All these patterns form the movement base and are constantly present in the motor activity of taijiquan in such a manner that their combination provides an access to the organism resources which are a kind of evolutionary «archive» of the person.
Revealing and reflection over these «shadow» patterns have allowed transforming the system of traditional training metaphors of taijiquan to a system of the description on the basis of positioning of joints and ligaments of the person. Such system of description in terms of restriction of mobility of joints and ligaments allows mastering the skills of taijiquan patterns in an objective fashion, very quickly and effectively.
3. The Linguistic component
The Linguistic component of the model is a system of linguistic representation of the psycho-physiological and algorithmic components. The development of the linguistic component has allowed creating an algorithm of effective explanation and training of the movement patterns of taijiquan; when, instead of the traditional metaphoric approach, a sequence of direct verbal instructions accompanied by the display of exercises is used.
Efficiency of such approach to the development of movement activity is illustrated by the following example. There was chosen for taijiquan training a 40-years old man, who had not been actively engaged earlier in sports but who was in a good general physical shape. He was training 4 — 5 times a week during one and a half years. Then, he participated in a regional taijiquan tournament with the participation of more than 120 sportsmen. He got the second place having conceded to a young sportsman (20 years of age). The judges noted that the second-place man had shown high-quality patterns of taijiquan movements, and the first place was given to the young man since the latter had appeared more physically prepared. Thus, this example shows that the developed three-component model of taijiquan is effective not only as the means of the description and modeling, but also as a tool of sport preparation in the « internal » Wushu schools. In more detail, the described model is expounded in my web-blog [5].
Moreover, the constructed model of movement activity of such a leading school of internal Wushu as taijiquan allows « constructing the bridge » between the « western » and « eastern » descriptions of Wushu. Indeed, the reference during the construction of the model to the hierarchy of evolutionary movement patterns and obvious division of movement patterns of skeletal muscles and ENS allows overcoming the « physical qualities — super force of the Universe » dichotomy. As a matter of fact, the physical qualities of sport and the « super force » of the East lead to two orthogonal descriptions which form mutually incomparable « coordinate lines ». As a result, there is « a semantic plane » of the Wushu descriptions, where each point corresponds to a mechanistic mixture or external product of « western » and « eastern » semantics according to the principle: a little bit of this and a little bit of that.
Unlike this, my model establishes « the third dimension », which is orthogonal to the semantic plane of either the « western » sport or « eastern » power. My model introduces the « dimension » of evolutionary hierarchy of the movement patterns. Thus, it considers that the entire set of evolutionary hierarchy of the movement patterns in the person breaks up into two subsystems. One of them is (evolutionary more ancient) enteric nervous system (ENS); and the second, more modern one which is connected with the movements and reflexes of the skeletal muscles. A valuable feature of my model is that it allows « to project », if necessary, the obtained description of the taijiquan movement activity both to the sport description and to the « eastern super force » description. I hope that the developed approach and the constructed model of the taijiquan movement activity will be useful for all engaged and interested in taijiquan, and also to the professionals — sportsmen, trainers, and philosophers of sport.

1. Frank A.D. Taijiquan and the search for the little old Chinese man: ritualizing race through martial arts // Dissertation for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy. — The University of Texas at Austin in Partial, 2003.
2. Maier B.O. Epistemology of taijichuan // Pohyb Ve Vychove, umeni a sport. – Praha, 2005.– P. 124-132.
3. Maier B.O. Epistemology of “inner style” of Wushu: Experience of demystification // Nasilive ve vychove, umeni a sportu. – Praha, 2006. – P. 82 – 88.
4. Tkachev A.V. Calibration of the efficiency of taijiquan model //
5. Maier B.O. Web-blog on taijiquan //

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