The Northern Wu Taijiquan Research Institute is dedicated to the study of human health, longevity and spiritual development through the practice of traditional Northern Wu Style Taijiquan, Qigong and Chinese medicine. In this section, you will find articles relevant to the correct practice of Northern Wu taijiquan. New articles will be added continuously, so check back often.
Comments are welcome.
Board Members (China)
• Prof. Liu Xinqi
• Prof. Jian Qihua
• Duan Xinhua
• You Shaosheng, PhD
• Bei Yanjing, MA
Board Members (USA)
• Gary Galvin
• Laurence Stern
• Stephanie A.H. Divo, PhD
• William Banick
Research Institute Articles:
Translated by Stephanie A.H. Divo, PhD
Edited and adapted by David F. Dolbear
Additional commentary (in italics) by David F. Dolbear
There are many summations of people’s experience regarding the effects of practicing taijiquan (longevity, health preservation, emotional stability, etc.) already available to the interested reader; therefore, this essay will not dwell on these aspects.
I believe that at this time the most pressing problems related to the perpetuation of taijiquan involve the means for teaching the art and the methods for explaining taijiquan theory; moreover, these problems also relate to people being taught.
In order to popularize and advance taijiquan, it is necessary to discover the reason for lack of success in the past, and then work out a solution to that problem.
It is frequently observed by practitioners of "hard" martial arts such as Taekwondo or Karate that Taijiquan is ineffective as a fighting art . As it is generally taught and practiced today in the West it must be conceded that this is indeed so. As with any martial art, the fault lies not in the substance of the style but rather with the lack of combat realism employed in training methods. The rationale of any kind of training is that one will become skilled at what one practices. If the emphasis in training is on kata, then one will develop skill in form work. if the focus is on fixed-step push-hands, then that is the skill that will emerge after long training. If you break many bricks, you will become a great brick breaker. Nonetheless, there are those who believe that by simply persisting in the practice of solo forms in Taijiquan, over time will come high skill in employing the concepts and techniques of Taijiquan in practical application. Vague and mystical references are made to "internal energy" and "chi"; the lack of any combat realism in training is excused on the basis of Taijiquan's supposed superiority as an "internal" art, and it is claimed that by simply practicing the soft solo exercise, "extreme hardness" will develop. This sort of faith may be admirable but it is quite unrealistic. More importantly, it is based on a faulty premise. In reality, Taijiquan is rarely taught in the West as a fighting art OR as an internal art.
by David F. Dolbear
Most serious Taiji students eventually find that their studies lead them to explore the various weapons that have traditionally been associated with the martial art of Taijiquan. When one begins training with either the jian (straight sword) or the dao (saber) one frequently starts off with a wooden sword. After a period of time, most players move up to a steel sword. Generally, this will be a reproduction piece made in China, often a "longquan" or dragon well sword. Most of these are very poorly made, frequently with incredibly flimsy blades or with improperly balanced "combat steel" blades. These blades are mounted with thin, cheap sheet brass fittings. The thin, whippy "wushu" blades bear no resemblance to a real sword. I suspect some people believe that when they execute a sword technique with fajing and the sword blade wobbles and ripples, that this is some measure of their internal energy. Alas, If you hand the sword to a completely untrained person, they will instantly achieve the same results. Buying a so-called "combat weight" sword is no solution, as the cheap fittings make the thing an ill balanced nightmare to wield. The medium weight blades are somewhat better, but the tip section is still unrealistically thin, limiting one’s ability to learn and apply authentic sword techniques, and the fittings are still no good. Even the best of these reproductions are no match for even a mediocre antique weapon, designed for actual usage.
By Liu Changjiang
(Translation by Stephanie A.H. Divo, PhD; edited and adapted by David F. Dolbear)
(Additional commentary (in italics) by David F. Dolbear)
This essay discusses the relevant connections between correct skeletal posture and the pursuit of a sense of “centeredness” (zhongxin), “emptiness and solidity” (xu shi), and “void” (wu) through taijiquan practice.
Each of the 205 bones in the human body fulfills its own responsibilities and the bones’ collective function is to support and preserve the correct position of and protect the internal organs and soft tissue. However, all of the myriad types of motion of which the body is capable are the result of muscle flexion and extension co-coordinating with the skeleton to produce various leverage effects. All types of motion (i.e., bending, twisting, rotating, extending, contracting) can be explained and understood both scientifically and from the standpoint of practical application in taijiquan. Thus, taijiquan manifests its scientific and practical nature in the same way.
Taijiquan is both a science and an art. The particular demands of taijiquan practice and the complex associations made in the process of deepening one’s understanding require many and varied details in the process of teaching and training. These cannot simply be understood from a strictly scientific standpoint but must be inspired and understood through oral teaching. Otherwise, one’s practice will degenerate into outer appearance without content and in the end lose the artistic qualities which make taijiquan unique.
By David F. Dolbear
The basic internal work of Northern Wu Taijiquan (NWTJQ) begins with the training of kaihe (opening and closing) in the deep core body cavities. The gradual development of correct postures and body attitudes coincides with this core training; in other words, correct postures emerge from the inside out. That is why it is futile to try to simply copy the appearance of the postures of an expert in this style of taijiquan.
The actual internal process has both yin (mental) and yang (physical) aspects. The mind wills the internal movement, and the physical body gradually learns to respond. Very specific training methods are used to develop these skills. Moreover, there is a logical progression in the training that allows one to improve developmentally. As each internal skill is mastered, complex associations among all the parts of the body are clarified.
Specific training methods are not given out casually. In the past as well as the present, a master might not reveal the “secrets” due to jealousy, or fear that a student might surpass him or her in skill. As a result, many styles of taijiquan have lost valuable training techniques when a master died. In my own experience learning from Chinese experts, information is given at the point when the student can benefit from it. When one has mastered a particular technique, one is then given a new skill to perfect and understand. If one does not receive sustained instruction from a given teacher over a long enough time, one will not be given the more advanced training techniques. Of course it is also true that some teachers simply do not have the information themselves. Some techniques need to be closely supervised by the teacher. In this way injuries or incorrect application of the methods can be avoided. This is important for developing a logical, sustained sequence of teaching/learning.
At first, some degree of force may be required to open and close the joints. This is acceptable for a period, since at least there is some movement in the joints. However some degree of caution and supervision is necessary so as not strain deep connective tissue causing injury. At this stage one is using outward li (force) to produce inner change.
After a long period of correct supervised training, one sees that complete opening and closing in the joints can only be gained through active relaxation, guided by one’s conscious intention. As one gradually learns to let go of residual tension in the muscles, the ligaments, tendons and fascia begin to stretch. If tension remains in the muscles, the potential for the connective tissue to stretch is limited. At high levels of skill, every change in movement is initiated by the relaxed elastic extension and contraction of the connective tissue (tanxing jing). At this level, the opening and closing is a purely internal process.
The first and most difficult joints to be addressed are the sacro-lumbar joint and the sacro-illiac joints on either side of the sacrum. In many people these joints may be functionally fused, showing very little movement. Limited range of motion in these joints can result in susceptibility to injury and stiffness. Movement of the lower extremities begins in the sacrum and pelvis. If these areas are capable of relatively big, relaxed movement, the legs and trunk can be trained to follow. If range of motion is limited, the legs and torso must be moved by forcefully engaging various muscle groups. This results in stiff, awkward movement. Think about how you could move your lower extremities when you were a child. Climbing trees was no problem because you could easily swing a leg up over a tree limb. Over time most of us stopped climbing trees and such. We gradually lost that flexibility in the sacrum and hips. This may be a result of too much time spent sitting in a chair. Also, most people spend almost all of their upright time walking or standing on level surfaces. The strength and flexibility of the muscles and joints are not consistently challenged.
Let me digress for a moment. When I first went to Beijing in 1989 to study NWTJQ with Liu Changjiang, I would practice in the early mornings at a park near Liu laoshi’s home. Every morning a man practiced his own unique Qigong there. He spent about an hour every morning climbing around in the trees like a monkey. He must have been 70 yrs old or so, but he was amazingly agile. His trunk, legs and hips were as limber as a 10 year old tree climber.
Voluntary internal manipulation of these joints is a requirement for developing the unique correct postures of NWTJQ. Many individuals have very limited voluntary control of these body areas. Most people don’t even know exactly where they are. This should have you diving for a copy of Gray’s Anatomy to see exactly what you look like in there. It’s obviously difficult (impossible?) to control a body part if you are guessing at its location.
The internal work of NWTJQ encourages you to find and gain voluntary control over these “hidden” areas of your body. The postures and transitional movements ceaselessly challenge and expand the range of movements in these joints. Over time, one can gain the skill of xu dong (empty movement). Here the relaxed changes in the body’s core allow one to use the mind to guide the movement of the limbs and torso with no overt force. This skill develops very gradually with correct supervised practice. The deep core openings are conducted incrementally through all of the body’s joints to the very ends of the extremities. Closing the core joints reverses the process, as closing is conducted back to the core. The active mind guides these changes without recourse to physical effort.
To better understand this idea, hang a towel over the end of a broomstick. Rotate the broomstick. The towel moves as the broomstick is turned. The towel represents your muscles. The broomstick is your skeleton, and your hand represents the deep core openings and closings in your body. Qi, guided by your intention to move your skeleton, moves the bones while the muscles relax and follow.
It must be noted that some versions of taijiquan being practiced today do very little to develop these areas of the body. In many cases, the postures have been simplified and made so easy that the joints are not challenged to any degree. NWTJQ recognizes the importance of developing and maintaining range of motion in these often neglected areas of the body. Obviously the training will be more difficult and perhaps more uncomfortable than with some other styles of taijiquan. The rewards, however, are many. Maintaining youthful control of your body for as long as you live is one reward for the effort expended. Or you could of course start climbing trees again.
Mr. Liu Chang Jiang - Executive Director of the NWTRI ( China )
- D.O.B. 25 July 1934
- Mr. Liu's lineage :
Yang Lu Chan - Quan Yu - Mang Mao Zhai - Yang Yu Ting - Wang Pei Sheng - Liu Chang Jiang
Yang Lu Chan - Quan Yu - Guo Fen - Dong I Chen - Liu Chang Jiang
- Mr. Liu began studying with Master Wang Pei Sheng in 1957
- Mr. Liu began studying with Dong I Chen in 1974
Currently, Mr. Liu is actively involved in the following organizations :
- Director of Theory Division of Standing Committee of Wushu Assoc., Academia Sinica
- Member of Beijing Wu Taijiquan Institution
- Council Member, Oriental Human Body and Culture Institution
In addition to his official functions, Mr. Liu has a thorough knowledge of Taijiquan theory complemented with exceptional skill in the execution of northern Wu style Taijiquan - including its practical usage as a martial art. His outstanding teaching abilities have benefited many practitioners. Mr. Liu has an extensive background in human physiology and traditional Chinese medicine and is recognized by his peers as an expert in the matter. Mr. Liu has also published a number of manuscripts pertaining to the theory and practice of northern Wu style Taijiquan.
In addition to the above qualifications, it must be noted that Mr. Liu Chang Jiang has significant experience in providing instruction to visiting foreign students from the US and Japan. He has recently traveled to the US for the express purpose of initiating the creation of NWTRI.
- D.O.B. 31 January 1948
- Began studying martial arts 1970
- Orange sash, Li Seong Royal Kung Fu, 1978
- Began studying Northern Wu Taijiquan, 1979, with Prof. Leng Xin Fu, student of Master Wang Peisheng
- Invited by Academia Sinica, Beijing to study Wu style Taijiquan in China
- Began studying Northern Wu Taijiquan, 1989, with Liu Chang Jiang, student of Master Wang Pei sheng and student of Dong I Chen, who was a student of Guo Fen
- Studied with Lu Sheng Li and Master Wang Peisheng, 1993
- Studied Wu style Taiji jian and dao with Zhu Xilin, student of Master Wang Peisheng, 1996
- Mr. Dolbear has also studied Chen and Yang style Taijiquan with Jou tsung hwa, Xu Kong Wei and Ren Guang Yi and others.