Lao jia yi lu (老架一路, lǎo jià yī lù), translated word by word, means ‘old frame first form’. This form, called the 75 form because it consists of 75 different postures, is the oldest known Taiji form and sometimes called the jewel of the Chen style. I am regularly surprised by how practicing this form slowly and meticulously creates a deep sense of calm and a feeling of connection within me.
The form takes between 20–50 minutes. Currently, I practice it very slowly, taking about 50 minutes. It feels like flowing with a wide, old river. I am moving through time and space, but inside, I feel like I am on a raft, yet somehow completely still at the same time. My mind calms, I feel a deep connection, and my thoughts become fewer and fewer until they dissolve completely, as if the divide between the inside and the outside has disappeared. In its place, a space emerges, a ‘something’ that is outside of time and space. And in that space, everything is good the way it is. And it feels very, very good.
Practicing Taiji daily gives me confidence, hope and energy in these uncertain and anxious times. That might sound a bit corny, but it brings me incredible happiness and I am grateful for it. I hope that over the course of my life so far, I have already helped a number of people find that space themselves as well.
How does this even happen and what’s going on?
Before you can practice this form with intent and concentration, your mind needs to be calm. First, there is wuji (无极, wújí): ‘Wuji can be translated as “without limits”. As a philosophical term, better translations would be “primordial state”, “primordial ground” or “peak of nothingness”. Wuji is the primal state of the cosmos without order. It is a state with no polarity, that is, without Yin and without Yang.’ (Martin Bödicker; translated from German)
When Yin and Yang separate, Taiji happens – the eternal change.
To approach the state of wuji, we practice a form of meditation called the ‘standing pillar’. This is why it is often recommended to meditate while standing before practicing Taiji forms. We need a quiet mind to be able to practice the form slowly and intently and to recognise all inaccuracies. That is why we first enter stillness, approaching wuji. Taijiquan then develops out of this wuji.
However, we can also flip it around: If I am already still, I can go through a form first and then finish with the standing meditation – simply because I want to, not because I want or need to achieve anything. Or maybe I can only find a certain stillness through the first form of the day, and then, I feel ready to start the standing meditation. After standing for a while, maybe I will get so curious about how this day’s second form will feel and to what experiences it will lead me that I immediately undertake another form. This way, I might end up practicing one form after the other.
That is already a more advanced form of practice. First, we need to go through the basic exercises (the ‘reeling silk’ exercises) and the standing meditation. Through this, we get to know the principle of wai san he (外三合, wài sān hé), the three external unions:
- The shoulders and hips are connected.
- The elbows and knees are connected.
- The hands and feet are connected.
In his book ‘The Five Levels of Taijiquan’, Chen Xiaowang recommends that first, we become and stay aware of these connections in our movement, and then, we focus on the nei san he (内三合, nèi sān hé), the three internal unions.
The 3 internal unions:
Jan Silberstorff, in his book ‘Chen – Living Taijiquan in the Classical Style’, describes the three internal unions – which he calls the three inner containments – as follows:
- Xin yu yi he (心与意合, xīn yǔ yì hé): The heart and mind are connected
Xin yu yi he means conducting ‘will, emotion, mind feeling, i.e. our entire inner life, towards union. In this way 100 per cent of mental power and force can evolve. […] In the ideal case, a consciousness of only one direction will evolve, concentrated without any distraction, a consciousness not only controlling the movement, but being the movement itself’ (p. 58).
- Qi yu li he (气与力合, qì yǔ lì hé): Energy and force are connected
In qi yu li he, the inner energy, our Qi, is ‘maintained in a way that connects to our muscles […], it merges with the muscles […] to improve their actions’ (p. 58–59), which allows us to use our muscles in a much more refined way.
- Jin yu gu he (筋与骨合, jīn yǔ gǔ hé): The tendons and bones are connected
Jin yu gu he means ‘that the tendons and the bones not only stand for themselves but for the entire connective tissue, for nerves and organs and the rest of our anatomy’ (p. 59).
Over time, this creates the flow of energy that I described above, which feels good through and through. In the flow, I forget myself. My self fades into the form. It flows by itself. Jan Silberstorff describes it as providing ‘a deep, permeating sense of being whole and complete. In addition to the effects upon energy and health, this results in a condition where worries and fears are absent; a condition of genuine release’ (p. 59).
As stated above, form practice is already relatively advanced. We cannot get there without basic practice first. There are no shortcuts, as they say. Trying to take a shortcut always results in a detour. And I realise now more than ever that not taking shortcuts is worth it.
First and foremost, practicing Taiji regularly supports our wellbeing. The standing meditation alone has helped me feel more and more centred. We perceive ourselves. We fill the space inside us. We learn to fill our bodies with awareness. As we stand, our centre and our stability are strengthened, as are we ourselves. Practice gives us confidence. We stand in this world more securely. And the more secure we feel, the better we can relax, which helps us move through this world more safely and calmly. Or let ourselves be moved. Softly, without wasting energy.
Letting go of intentions, letting go of ourselves, free from fear and fervour.
Taijiquan as an art of living offers us a wonderful chance to do something good for ourselves. It helps us find calm, find our centre and thus stability, and weather the adversities of everyday life. Especially during challenging times, Taijiquan offers an invaluable treasure.
(You can only experience Taijiquan in its full depth through practice. It is a long process, though you can already feel its soothing effects within the first few hours.)
(I have commented elsewhere, in German, on the different ways of spelling Taiji.) Quellen:
- https://taiji-forum.de/glossar/wuji, by Martin Bödicker (in German)
- ‘Chen – Living Taijiquan in the Classical Style’ by Jan Silberstorff. English version translated by Michael Vorwerk. Published by Singing Dragon. 2009.
- ‘The Five Levels of Taijiquan’ by Chen Xiaowang. English version translated by Christina Schulz. Published by Singing Dragon. 2012.
translated from German into English by Qwir text + design