Taiji and Time

by Khamserk on 2010/07/26

The relation between Taiji and the Taoist concept of time is a topic which Master Chen has emphasized as extremely important, but I am only starting to understand the concept and I know I am still missing  important points.  If any of Master Chen’s students can help me fill in my understanding from his teachings that would be great.  Here are some of the points he has explained to me:

Taiji is much more than just learning to fight or push hands or get healthy.  Taiji is the physical experiment of Taoism. The ultimate force in Taoism is time.   So Taiji is an experiment in the manipulation of time. Taoist philosophy of time explains that only time can understand time, humans cannot understand time.  It is hidden or sealed from us. We cannot access the past as it has already happened, we cannot see the future, and even the present is not available to us because it is always changing: as soon as we reflect on it it is already gone. So in the same way Taiji is hidden from the opponent like time is hidden from humans.  There is “no indication” of action in relation to the contact point.  It’s a matter of how many levels can act separate from that point.

Time has a sequence meaning it cannot go backwards.  So we practice sequence.  We practice the sequential movements of each part of the Taiji machine.  We cannot practice the whole motion because there would be no sequence.  Eventually when we have the sequence and we perform it faster in time, it is perceived as one motion because the gaps between each motion become imperceptible.

In Taiji we “steal from the future.”  For instance, if your wrist makes contact with the opponents wrist, the opponents wrist acts like a demarcation line between the present and the future. It seals access in the same way that the time is sealed.  You cannot go through at the contact point, so you only pretend to fight there.  When the opponent fights back at the demarcation line  you might use, for example, your elbow to bypass the demarcation and move into the “future.”  This way the elbow can pull the “present” (contact point) into the “future,” thereby “stealing from the future.”  Every time we practice “elbow in, hand out” we are practicing this ability.

About Khamserk

Edmonton Instructor for the Practical Method Academy. Kham Serk studied with Master Chen Zhonghua at the age 15 and thorough many full time courses and other learning methods, became a disciple in 2012 on Daqingshan in China.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Todd Elihu July 28, 2010 at 8:27 am

Thanks for your post! It give me food for thought as I delve deeper into this concept.

Although many of the things Master Chen talks about go right over my head, I always try to replay his utterances verbatim within my mind. Eventually, through training and contemplation some of them begin to make sense. In hopes of spurring further dialogue on this subject I offer my limited insights below.

During push hands exchanges, I sometimes feel as if I am moving very slow in application. My opponent, however, feels as if I am moving with great speed. Since the space has been squeezed out, he and I are one. I own the center and he occupies the periphery. Time seems to stand still at the center. In relation to the non-moving center, the periphery seems to moving at an accelerated pace. It is an oddly disorienting, yet satisfying feeling.

The Taiji maxim “Protect the center, use the center” may have something to do with this phenomenon. The opponent is not able to synchronize his sense of time with the that which is felt at the center which I control, in effect “sealing” or “hiding” it from him. The more that the periphery is stretched away from the center, the greater this desynchronization. The center must be firmly established to initiate this multi-directional stretch.

I suppose you could employ this physical phenomenon as a metaphor for approaching the world at large. Through this manipulation of time perhaps immortality can be accessed.


Timbalasian July 28, 2010 at 5:12 pm

I can’t help but relate this to the theories found in Quantum Physics. I happen to know a professors of this subject, and I am seeking what his take on it would be.


Khamserk July 28, 2010 at 5:37 pm

Thanks for contributing, I’m really excited to hear what everyone has to say, although it’s still “over my head”.

I recall an explanation about speed and time given by Master Chen many years ago that went something like this: “I’ve heard of race car drivers who describe their perception of time when they crash. They say that while they are spinning out of control at incredible speeds it feels as if they are in slow motion, as if time slows down. They are moving very fast but observing everything moving very slowly around them. Taiji trains for the same sensation.”


Gheorghe Firicel February 2, 2016 at 10:47 am

Great post Khamserk.
The next question is: our three way split includes time?


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