Sun Style Taiji The Internal Trinity
Born in 1861 in Hebei province and named Sun Fuquan by his parents, his Bagua Zhang teacher, Cheng Tinghua, later gave him the name Sun Lutang. As a boy, he was educated in the classics and was an excellent calligrapher. He also studied Shaolin martial arts and was an excellent student. Later on, he studied Xing Yi Quan with Li Kui Yuan, a disciple of Guo Yun Shen. Sun was such an exceptional martial artist that eventually Li taught him everything he knew, so he introduced him to his teacher, Guo Yun Shen. Sun eventually became the formal inheritor of his Xing Yi Quan.
Already an accomplished martial artist Sun traveled to Beijing when he was almost 30 to study Bagua with Cheng Tinghua. Sun studied with Cheng for three years and became proficient in bare hand methods, sword, and spear. In addition, he took notes of his teachings that later became the foundation of his book on Bagua. Sun left Cheng in 1891 and returned to his hometown to marry. Initially, he began teaching in Hebei Provence, but he later moved to Beijing and setup several schools where he taught.
In 1914, Sun met Hao Wei Zhen in Beijing. Hao became ill while there. Sun took him to his home and found a doctor to take care of him. Out of gratitude, Hao taught him Hao Style Taiji. Being intelligent and a dedicated student of the internal arts Sun mastered Hao style Taiji.
Sun eventually published several books on martial arts: in 1915 his first book, The Study of Form-Mind Boxing was published followed by The Study of Bagua Boxing in 1916. Later he published a third book called The Study of Taiji Boxing.
Sun Combines Three Styles
After years of research, study, and teaching, Sun developed a new style of Taiji Quan. Of the four common schools of Taiji, his style is the youngest. Sun Taiji fuses together Xing Yi, Bagua, and Taiji into one. This is not the same fusion as the wushu combined form where a small section of each style is practiced in sequence. In Sun’s style, the qualities of each method become synthesized into a unique style. Sun understood that the fundamental principles of Xing Yi, Bagua, and Taiji are the same; he referred to these as belonging to one family of martial arts, which is the internal family.
Xing Yi influences on Sun Taiji is its penetrating footwork, advancing with quick, powerful stances and devastating strikes. Unlike most other schools of taiji, with long and low horse and bow stances, the stance in Sun taiji is seldom wider that shoulders-width. The knees stay crouched, ready to spring forward or backward.
Bagua's influence lays with its emphasis on agile footwork and dexterous hand techniques that can be combined into sixty-four arrangements of attack. The footwork requires precise weight transitions that alternate emphasis between the heel and the toe; Sun Taiji employs this method of weight transition and thus the essence of the footwork is the same.
Sun style bases qi flow as in Taiji, where it emphasizes the harmonious blend of thought, qi and movement. Movements are fluid and flow like water, with an emphasis on softness. For instance, the sequence of moves known as open and close hands is for cultivating the qi, allowing the practitioner to center and harmonize their movements with their breathing. This is a variation of a taiji practice that visualizes the " energy ball," sensing qi in the hands. During open hands the energy ball is expanded with the inhalation, and during "close hands, " the energy ball is compressed. Single whip expands the energy ball once more, allowing it to engulf the entire body. Although, Sun style contains movements with the same name as in other Taiji systems, they may appear quite different to those who look at form only. The movements do remain true to the spirit or to their intention.
The style is typically practiced at a normal pace, utilizing the toe-in and toe-out step and a natural shuffling of the feet that is similar to other combat arts such as western style boxing. It is also practiced in a typically upright stance, employing a natural exchange of weight between legs. This allows the practitioner to develop balance and flexibility without forcing the movements. The upright body posture when combined with proper alignment allows for movement in all directions and possesses the potential for a variety of techniques.
A Renaissance Man
Beyond his remarkable martial skills, Sun Lutang was an expert writer and calligrapher. All together, he wrote five books on the martial arts, one on each of the three internal styles, one on boxing and one on Bagua sword. Additionally, he allowed his daughter, Sun Jian Yun, to teach. Although, she passed in 2005, during her lifetime she campaigned to promote and sustain her father's teachings.
The Long and Short of It
Sun laid out his bare hand form in a sequence of 98 movements. The Chinese Wushu Association condensed the form into a 73-movement competition routine to capture the essence of the art and eliminate some redundancy for the sake of competition. There is a short form consisting of 35 movements that is more popular among casual practitioners as it allows them to gain an introduction to the style. Some, wishing to remain true to the original teaching, might argue that much of the discipline is lost in the short form. That the new short form omits critical elements and that endurance and prolonged concentration required of the discipline are lost. However, the short form makes the system available to a wider audience, which helps spread the teaching further and everyone benefits.
For additional reference information consult, A Study of Taiji Quan by Sun Lutang and translated by Tim Cartmell; published by North Atlantic Books, Berkeley, California, 2003.