"Training in transformed state of consciousness or learning of psychomotor complexes"

"...Jin energy originates in the feet, goes through the legs, then is directed by the abdomen and appears in the hands and fingers...; if the abdomen is completely unbraced, it generates Qi...".


Over the last two thousand years in the cultural traditions of China there was successfully created extensive system of psychophysiological training of people. The foregoing extracts give us the approximate idea of the ornateness and mystical inaccessibility of the language, which was used by the mentors to describe the methods and instructions within the system. For a Westerner the understanding and interpretation of the metaphorical structure of such descriptions can remain a deep dark secret due to many objective reasons. Nevertheless, the followers have to have the clear idea about the subject for the forming of correct and effective Kung Fu techniques and practices. The matter of our little research is Taolu, Form, and Kata. Let’s try to lift the veil of mystery and answer the questions: What is Taolu? How does it work? How to practice it?

What is Taolu?

Formal definition. Taolu is one of the ways of training in Wushu, which is expressed as performing the formalized technique complex of different difficulty levels. The origin of Chinese forms can be found in ancient ritual dances. The first information about the formation of formal complexes by way of transmission of knowledge about the techniques, tactics and spiritual traditions dates from the 14th – 15th centuries. At the same time, there appeared manuscripts to the question, including not only descriptions of the techniques in the form of recitatives and chants but also the great number of drawings. The Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). Practically, all the modern schools in the martial arts have the complexes of the formal exercises. In the Chinese martial arts these are Taolu, in the Japanese - Kata, the Korean martial arts have Tul and Poomsae, the Vietnamese ones — Quyen. Tao Lu (in translations there are sometimes two words making one word Taolu): Tao is for “a set, complex”; Lu is “a file, lane”. Taolu is a complex of formalized technical movements restricted and oriented in space and time. It concentrates in it itself the principles of this school and style.

How does it work?

The question is, perhaps, most difficult to answer, and new questions will appear to discuss. Indeed, overlearning and numberless repetitions of the same movements may seem a bit strange and unproductive. Isn't it better to arrange sparrings with partners at the same time with learning the basic techniques of “the school”, gradually bringing the situation to a real fight? By the way, many commercial types of school do it that way. Not so fast and not so easy, dear friends!

Let’s get back to Kung Fu and remember that the art is not just the ability to fight. It's a way of life in all its diversity, meant for the realization and expression of your personality as “Self” during the long course of life. It is the thing which you use to create your life as well as any other occupation, science or creative activity. The fighting aspect of Kung Fu is the highest form of demonstration of this art and you have to be very serious towards combat, there is no room for indulgences and retreats. It is here and now. You don’t have the chance to correct or change something! That is why wasting your life and reducing it to fist confrontation is silly and, of course, impractical. Because outside the gym, regardless of time, given for practising Kung Fu, you’ll meet much more unexpected, insidious and unpredictable situations and enemies. Bad thing, if you have no weapon, but you can fix it. Start from the very beginning and, thanks to your persistence, Taolu can play a crucial role in the question where to go and which road to choose.

Taolu is one of the techniques of practice (or in other words “training”) in Kung Fu, so it is reasonable to conclude that its goal is pre-arranged changes. That is, a person with his own abilities after using the Taolu methods leaves the same person, but reaches others desirable abilities (after quite a long time). It takes the part of the transformer with encoded and inverting algorithm. The main matter of Taolu is a natural (innate) ability to respond to external and internal burdens. The path of Kung Fu practice is the path of adaptability! Practicing Taolu, you participate in the process of change in the system “Person”. The results can be most surprising for you, because, in the end, regular exercise will increase your ability to adapt. The foregoing parameters show the best correlation with the proficiency levels and sequence of practising Taolu. When decoding the allegorical language of the old descriptions in more modern parlance, you can see them in the following areas:

1. Biodynamic. Describing the body movement’s mechanics. Generally, this level is associated with training the force Jin.

2. Energetic (both the man and the outward things). Describing the sources, paths, displacement vectors and productive application of the forces involved in the movements. In the Chinese phraseology it is so called “the work with the internal energy Qi” (this is a separate matter to discuss).

3. Psychological (holistic mind). Describing the mental state of the follower and, most importantly, the realization of changes in mental state when achieving the desired results. In the Chinese sources this level is associated with the concept of Shen.

4. Effective. Combining all the foregoing levels and describing the fullness of inner work — Neigong. Thus, we have reached the fundamental nature of Taolu, which has lay in the surface from the very beginning and has been repeated many thousands of times without proper comprehension. Taolu is nothing more than psychomotor techniques. There are two components: psychological and psychomotor, combined in one complex, which applied in the transformed state of consciousness. Just as the surgeon's scalpel, the one Taolu instrument “cuts” the physical body of a man and refers to the motor center and related to the deep tendon reflex (somatic), locomotor reflex (orthostatic) and vestibular reflex. At the same time, Taolu refers to different areas of the human psyche, causing the unification of the reflexes work. The reflex response of the human body leads to the emergence of integral material or the forming of psycho-motor complex of a person. In virtue of the extreme psychological matter of Kung Fu, where the question of life and death is raised, we can assume that Taolu releases the very ancient reflexes (such as survival and motor reflexes), transmitted from generation to generation and which we have since birth. The unquestionable wisdom of the complexes consists in the fact that a formalized form of movements creates the system access to these unconscious reflexes. They start the essential changes in the human body and help him to follow the road of individualization and appearing of “Self.” Let’s set aside this matter for professionals.

How to practice Taolu?

The formalized systems are amazing and various. Each style and school offers their versions, in accordance with its own philosophy of combat, the motor principles and technical features. They practice one-man complexes; forms that are performed in pairs; with the arms and various items. However, despite obvious differences, they can find some common moments.

1. Formalized complexes are multi-functional. Each of them can be aimed to perform simultaneously some tasks: transmission of knowledge from generation to generation, raising the desired psycho of the follower, the forming of the necessary physical and mental qualities of the follower, targeted to using specific equipment and other smaller goals. There are also regulatory forms that determine the level of a student training.

2. The complexes of movements are structured. Many Kung Fu schools set a strict spatial orientation, leading the follower to the North-South-West-East. Others seek harmony in symmetry, fulfilling each movement to the left and right sides. Other structures are built from “blocks” which can be taken as situations, where each group of movements solves some virtual combat mission. The internal structure can be also seen in the logical actions of the follower, where the subsequent element follows naturally from the previous one.

3. The content of the forms monochromatic. The forms are based solely on the techniques inherent in this school.

4. The forms are arranged to study in a certain hierarchical order, from easy to difficult. This applies to schools, practicing multiple complexes.

5. Forms have “a rhythmic pattern” that is associated with muscular tension and relaxation, a combination of explosive action and pauses, different types of breathing and semantic accents.

6. Typically, the external appearing of the state of the spirit (Shen) when you do the forms is the view (Jing Shen).

7. Adaptability of a form (transformation) is usually expressed in some special “overtone”, which is given by the follower. Personal interpretation occurs usually for two reasons: the follower reached the level of excellence and has moved beyond the form, or the age-related changes affect the Taolu.

8. The highest sense of the forms is in the overcoming of the very forms by way of systematic and scrupulous practice. Based upon the foregoing sentences, we can develop practical recommendations to study and practice Taolu. It is logical to follow the four levels of the complexes described above: biodynamic, energetic, psychological and effective.

1. Start learning with geometric structure of the forms.

2. Set aside the technical elements and work them out.

3. Get back to the beginning, combine the elements into a single unit, and review the whole mechanics of your actions.

4. Find and feel the triggers of each action. Having mastered “the choreography” of Taolu, go on to its semantic content.

5. Every technique element associate with fulfilment of a concrete combat mission. Find possible semantic options for the same movement.

6. Think about which source gives energy to this movement, what is the way of the force from this source in your body and where the energy stays in the end.

7. Achieve the free transmission of the energy efforts from beginning to end without breaking the previously built “choreography”.

8. The next step is to come to certain psychological state, which is required by the form of Taolu. This work with your “inner” partner is delicate and connected with your mentor’s (a teacher, instructor, teachers) recommendation. Depending on the school, you may be asked to get into a character of some animal or imitate a certain state. Often the student gets a specific combat task that he must implement in the process of Taolu. At our school “the Shadow of the Southern Praying Mantis” of the club “Rif” we rely on the use of canonical metaphors of “the Five Elements”, setting the psychological background of the form implementation in accordance with the character of one of the elements. Thus, the adjustment for the element “Water” transforms the consciousness of the student to perform techniques in soft, relinquent way, with the maximum use of the incoming energy from your partner.

9. If luck and patience accompanied your approximation to the fourth integral level of the Taolu practice, you don't need more recommendations. Work with your mentor, having the true knowledge, undoubtedly, can have a significant impact on your progress. However, the majority of the Western Kung Fu followers are deprived of the traditional communication between the student and his teacher. The positive moment in this situation is the acute need of self-inner work, understanding, and circumspect plan of practices. Think about Taolu as much as it is possible, because it is not enough only to learn the forms. Use the method of ideomotor training (visualization), pose new problems. Fulfil the complexes, not only in the gym, but in public places too, use video equipment to monitor and correct your actions.

Upgrade your skills using the ancient methods of Taolu.

Originally, this article was published in magazine "Martial Arts" at 11.2014:

Igor Messing

Translated by Ekaterina Pryamova

Club “Jook Lum”, St. Petersburg, Russia

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