He’s the ‘Marmite‘ of the Tai Chi world (well, one of the Marmites anyway, you could argue the Tai Chi world is made up of Marmite personalities all the way down 🙂 ), but this free article is a nice neat summation of Scott Phillips’s theory of Taijiquan as dramatic storytelling.
It’s easy to dismiss Scott as “he’s just a dancer”, but to me those Chen style movements he’s talking about look so stylistic and deliberate that they’re clearly not just martial movements. If you’re arguing that Tai Chi is just a martial art and nothing else then I think you’ve got a lot of explaining to do. It’s pretty easy to see what fighting looks like these days, since sport fighting is on TV every weekend.
I think the idea that ‘Ok, this might be true, but does this matter?’ has much more validity. If Scott is right and he’s tracked down the origins of Tai Chi, then it clearly been forgotten over time, and Tai Chi these days has become something else.
In fact, it had become something else over a hundred years ago. China has gone through several major political and cultural shifts over that time that changed their society completely (often resulting in the deaths of millions of people and associated trauma). The Boxer Rebellion, the 1912 Chinese Revolution, the Communist rise to power, the Cultural revolution and the current rise of nationalism under the guise of Communism, etc…
Anyway, the article is in-depth and it’s worth a read if you have an interest in the possible origins of Tai Chi:
“The Zhang Sanfeng Conundrum Taijiquan and Ritual Theater”— from The Journal of Daoist Studies at Academia.edu.
You can still buy the paper version from Three Pines Press.
The article is on page 98.
Want more? Scott writes books…
…and makes videos too.
3 thoughts on “Tai Chi Marmite man: Scott Phillips on Taijiquan as dramatic storytelling”
What has Zhang San Feng got to do with Taijiquan? That story was started by Yang-family loyalists as a way of saying that their Taiji didn’t come from Chen Village. Everyone with a modicum of knowledge about Taijiquan already knows that. Using postures like “Play Pi Pa” (a Yang TCC posture with a name corrupted from the Chen style) as examples of “theater” is absurd and shows someone with only a thin understanding of the history of the Taijiquan styles.
The thing I notice about a lot of these people with exotic theories is that they have no real understanding of the movement method in Taijiquan (and it’s the same as in a number of other CMA’s). When I question people with some of these off-the-wall theories, I get all sorts of odd replies, but the general thrust is something like “well, none of the people I studied with told me any different, so my theory is as valid as anyone else’s”.
The origin of Taijiquan is the same as the origin of most Chinese martial arts … it is an origin based on the movement methods of the Daoyin, the qi-channel theory of the Jingluo, and the breath-training methods of TuNa. That’s why all the CMA’s rely on dantian movement and qi and jin skills. Most westerners who have other theories about the origins simply don’t have the skills in those forms of movement.
Here’s a comment from Stanley Henning about the Zhang San Feng nonsense, but anybody with an adequate knowledge of Taijiquan should have already know this, years ago:
“The myth surrounding the origins of taijiquan appears to date
back no earlier than the early 1870s,and was the product of
practitioners of the Yang style of taijiquan, who seized on the
story in Huang Zongxi’s Epitaph to claim ancient Taoist origins
for their style of boxing, Actually, the style of Chinese boxing
which became known as taijiquan evolved from a boxing set
practiced in the village of Chenjiagou, Henan Province, which
Chen Changing (1771-1853)taught to Yang Luchan (1799-1872). “
Some really interesting stuff, regardless of anyone’s personal opinion of Scott’s theory.
The link between older ritualistic, or dance based, interpretation and modern movies is great – I hadn’t thought of this but the older performances would have been the equivalent to us watching a big screen fight scene.
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Wonderful to see. Thanks, Scott.