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.