Characteristics of Sun Style Taiji

Sun Shi Tai Ji was created by Master Sun Lu Tang. Sun Lu Tang is, of the general opinion, one of the greatest Masters in martial arts of recent times. In his youth, Mr. Sun mastered Xing Yi Quan and Ba Gua Quan. It was only when he was 53 years old that he began the practice of Tai Ji. His basic idea was that Xing Yi, Ba Gua and Tai Ji have the same theoretical base: that of the “Internal” martial arts (nei jia quan) in opposition to “external” martial arts (wai jia quan) which is founded on harnessing maximum muscle strength and striking force. According to a different way, the “Internal” martial arts aim at reaching effectiveness in combat by the harmony of the body and the optimal circulation of vital energy (nei gong). It is while being based on this idea of coherence between Xing Yi, Ba Gua and Tai Ji, that Sun Lu Tang created Sun Shi Tai Ji, synthesizing these three preexistent arts. Many of the postures from Sun Shi Tai Ji, have the same names as the postures of other Tai Ji, but are actually radically different from the latter, owing to the fact that they come from Xing Yi or of Ba Gua. It is the case of San Tong Bei, Lan Zha Yi, Ti Shou Shang Shi, Lou QI Ao Bu, Cad Nian Hou, Ye My Fen Zong, Yu Nu Chuan Suo, Yun Shou Xia Shi, Jin Bu Lan Chui, Jin Bu Zhi Dang Chui, etc.

The first characteristic of Sun Shi Tai Ji: The natural position of the body. The position of the body is more natural than in other forms of Tai Ji. The basic position – San Ti Shi – comes from Xing Yi. It differs from the traditional basic position – Hun Yuan Zhuang. The position of the body is higher (angle with the knees of 135°), the axis head – centre of gravity falls on only one foot and not with equal distance of the two feet, the feet are positioned one compared to the other according to an angle of 45° and not in parallel or are aligned like usually used in other schools of Tai Ji. All these characteristics respect the natural positioning of the body with two consequences. Initially a practice more favorable to health, without excessive wear (of the knees in particular). Then, a good balance between stability and flexibility.

Second characteristic of Sun Shi Tai Ji: Flexible and fast movement. The movement of the feet is flexible and fast: as soon as a leg advances or moves back, the other leg follows immediately. One does not find in Sun Shi Tai a horse riding stance with feet equal distance apart or the bow and arrow posture of traditional Tai Ji. In Sun Shi, one uses the free steps coming from Xing Yi and of Bagua. The centre of gravity always falls on one leg; a foot supports all the weight of the body, the other follows, free. The steps forwards are the steps of Beng Quan, and backwards the steps of Pi Quan. The steps of rotation correspond to the steps of Ba Gua. Sun Shi is light, fluid and fast. It is compared with the water which runs and with the clouds which slip into a windy sky.

Third characteristic of Sun Shi Tai Ji: The specific figure of Kai He. Sun Shi Tai Ji has a very specific figure; Kai He (to open – to close) which is found neither in other forms of Tai Ji, nor in Ba Gua or Xing Yi. This Kai He appears with each connection and transition. It makes it possible to control and adjust breathing and to accumulate the Shi (energy potential) in order to prepare for the next change.

Fourth characteristic of Sun Shi Tai Ji: It is an art which aims at effectiveness in combat. Sun Shi Tai Ji is truly an art of combat. The amplitude of the gestures is limited, the course of the hands are direct, natural and aims to be effective. . It is not the force of the arms which strike, but the sum total of the elastic force of each movement carried out on a correct and uniform axis of gravity.

Sun Style Free Style Push Hands

Once you have practiced the single, double and stepping push hands you can begin to learn how to use Sun Style Taiji, Xing Yi and Bagua using the freestyle method.

When I first when to Teacher Lei Shi Tai in 2005, this is how he taught me by using the freestyle push hands as a base. Then trying to use techniques from the form or the 5 Element Fist at first, then introduce other techniques getting progressively more difficult and potentially dangerous for your partner. As the Bagua has a lot of trips and throws as Lei Laoshi demonstrated many times introducing me to trees and bushes as well as the floor on many occasions, but it was always done in a good way with no anger or outward showing of force and it was a very enjoyable experience.

Training the push hands with Chen Laoshi is completely different he can make his energy disappear so you feel nothing. Then he gives it back to you with your own and his energy combined, truly inspiring and an honour to have him teach me.

Double Push Hands Sun Style Taiji

This is a little more complicated as you are engaging two hands but once mastered you can start to add elbow and shoulder strikes once your partner is off balance.

One partner has his right arm extended and left hand touching his wrist, the other partner has one hand on the wrist and one on the elbow of his partner and is in roll back.

Making an anti clockwise circle reverse the position and continue, be careful not to over extend on the press and try not to use force but just relax and feel through the movement.

As in all Sun Style Tui Shou (Push Hands) it is non competitive so you work with your partner for mutual benefit. It is good if you can work with someone more advanced than you as you will learn more in touch and the advice they give.

To add footwork we just step forward three steps on each circle, then three steps back when your partner makes the techniques.

To add elbow and shoulder strikes you need to seek tuition from a teacher as these are potentially dangerous techniques and need supervision.

Sunstyle Single Push Hands

This starts to train the basic sensitivity and also teaches ward off, roll back, press and push.

As you are only using one hand then you can concentrate more on correct technique and relaxing into the movements.

Stand opposite your partner both hands touching at the wrists. Your partner pushes gently towards the middle of your chest, you ward off by gently moving the arm outwards then roll back to draw your opponent forward. They feel when the push is complete and you gently press down, they relax and you initiate the push and the exercise continues.

It is important to keep both feet relaxed but rooted and do not use speed or force, but try to feel the opponents weakness in root and body weight.

Sun Style push hands is done relaxed and slowly as it is non competitive, but working with different partners to adjust to varying strengths and weaknesses. The training is mutually beneficial but ultimately to know yourself.

Sun Style Ting Jin (Listening) Training

This is part of the Tui Shou within Sun Style Martial Arts, the idea is to listen to your opponent through touch only and disrupt their root.

It is difficult at first as you try and use strength instead of feeling.

Standing opposite your partner place a palm on their stomach area they can put a hand covering yours. Try and feel where the body weight is and so push gently to disrupt their root if they counter by moving listen with your touch and alter where you push, do not use force or quick movements just feel.

As you progress you can listen and lead your opponent to disrupt the root, it can be frustrating at first but don’t be put off persevere with this training and your push hands will also improve.

Interview with Bob by Peter Farrell

This interview was written by my good friend Peter Farrell, it was written for a magazine originally but was never printed.

PF: You have studied Chu Gar Hung Kuen for many years with Grandmaster Chu Siu Woon and became one of his senior students, why did you become interested in Sun Style Taiji?
BM: During the 90s, I was diagnosed as being diabetic and was prescribed insulin quite quickly, my health deteriorated and I looked around for an art that was different but would enable me to get back to full health gently. Fortunately, I found Dave Martin in Leicester and as Dave was a disciple of Madame Sun Jian Yun I could not have wished for a better introduction to Sun Style. The training consisted of elements of Taiji, Xing Yi and Bagua which I found beneficial and fascinating on many levels.

PF: How does Sun style training compare to your training in Hung Kuen?
BM: The training is very similar as they are both traditional arts. A lot of time is spent working on the basics especially in Xing Yi, but in Sun style the body should be used more naturally, not holding or forcing the breath but allowing the body to find its way naturally. The aim is on self development through using the mind to move the body, while keeping alignments correct and natural so that less stress is  put on joints.

PF: You mentioned that training incorporates Taiji, Xing Yi and Bagua. Do people need to learn all these systems to gain health benefits or is it sufficient just to do the Taiji?
BM: I believe that to progress to the highest level in Sun style then all three arts need to be studied, as this will give martial as well as health benefits, but as there are elements of Xing Yi and Bagua in the Taiji form it can be used to train effectively for health. My teacher says that we learn Xing Yi for root and power, Taiji for concentration and relaxation and Bagua for speed and agility. Coupled with the push hands training it gives us an understanding of how to use Sun style.

PF: Is it important to learn the martial side of Taiji in order to gain health benefits?
BM: I think if you learn and practise the form in the appropriate manner then both the martial skill and health benefits will develop because they both rely on the same principles, for example, alignments and power development. So to answer the question, no, it is not necessary to learn the martial arts to gain health benefits as they are available in the form for all to develop. However, just as the concept of health is relative, the extent to which individuals wish to practice Sun style Taiji for health is also relative and I would encourage its practice at any level.

PF: Do people need to train in all 3 systems for martial purposes or is it acceptable to concentrate on one style, for example, Bagua?
BM: No, I think to understand Sun style completely, all three arts need to be studied. Many people like to learn a specific martial art and as Sun style is quite rare then obviously with the reputation of Sun Lu Tang  people think that they can just study the Bagua or Xing Yi but the three arts are linked and are meant to compliment each other. Clearly, some practitioners do train in an individual art for a variety of reasons and find it suitable as a martial system in its own right; I am specifically talking about Sun style in a holistic sense. However, commonly, the three “internal” arts are taught in progression, so just as my teacher does I would tend to teach all three arts as “Sun style martial arts” but it is important to remember that although we teach them separately they each give a specific attribute and come together in the Taiji form.

PF: Could you explain the importance of the three systems from a martial view point?
BM: As explained by my teacher, we practise Xing Yi for root and power development (Fa Jin), the Bagua is for speed, agility and nimbleness and lastly the Taiji gives us relaxed concentration. Together with Tui Shou (push hands) they give us attributes to use the art.

PF: We often refer to Hung kuen as an external or hard system of Gung Fu and Taiji as an internal or soft system. Apart from the obvious physical and stylistic differences are there any differences in the effectiveness of the two systems from a martial viewpoint?
BM: I think a lot of things come down to the individual not the system, as a system is only as effective as the person using it. If the basics are learned and practised, then skills built on a solid foundation can be effective. From a internal point of view, using the body more naturally over a long period of time the body suffers less damage to the joints and ligaments and so can function for longer in good health. I think an ideal balance would be to study an external art first then to move onto an internal art when in your 30s or 40s. This is only my personal opinion and of course there are many examples of hard external martial artists living a long and healthy life.

PF: Pushing hands is considered to be an essential aspect of Taiji. I understand that it might be difficult to elucidate in a couple of sentences but could you say something about how this training relates to martial technique?
BM: When I first went to my teacher master Lei Shi Tai he said he could teach me how to use Sun Style through push hands, and over the past 3 years we have practiced many hours of push hands and he has shown me how to use the techniques including Fa Jin. These techniques have also included Xing Yi and Bagua. We first learn Da Lun to train the four corners and get used to ward off, rollback, press and push. We then progress to stepping and lastly to freestyle push hands where the techniques can be trained effectively and safely.

PF: You have trained to a high level in other systems such as Hung Kuen and Escrima. Does your knowledge of these systems enhance your Taiji and perhaps vice versa or are they completely different systems that have little bearing on each other?
BM:
I think I have been lucky in that all my teachers have been at the top of their art and as such have complimented me as a martial artist. Each one has contributed to my development and added to my skills, knowledge and experience. Whilst the art is important and will undoubtedly have particular relevance for particular individuals, I feel to use the art effectively is down to me as an individual, so everything I have learned becomes part of me and internalised. I teach Sun style martial arts in the way I am taught by my teacher but use them in a way that is best for me using the skills and knowledge he has imparted to me. I think that is something that comes from many years of training.

PF: Many systems have particular basic training methods to develop strength, root etc, for example Mabu in Hung Kuen, does the Sun style emphasise any particular basic training or are such things inherent in the forms?
BM: In Xing Yi it is San Ti and the five element fist; in Bagua it is single and double palm change; in Taiji it is open and close hands. These things are all in the Taiji form in various guises but are essential and, importantly, complimentary elements within all three.

Intent

It was always explained to me that in Sun Style the mind is the most important thing, 75% is intent in doing the movements and 25% physically performing them, I think this is a very difficult concept to understand unless you break it down in other ways for example, doing the Taiji with 25% effort but 75% concentration.

The most important movement according to teacher Lei Shi Tai is Pi Quan and this should be done slowly and softly but with 100% concentration on every movement. If you feel something different in the movement you should examine it with your mind, adjust it to what it should be and continue. Some days I just did Pi Quan for an hour nothing else! I maintained this routine, just teaching the form and other Xing Yi and so practicing it. The benefits from just doing Pi Quan on the rest of the Sun Style was amazing it improved everything.

This is really cutting down to a base movement no other movements needed just one fist to make all others.