Slanted FlyingJournal of Tai Chi Chuan


The Cultural (Wen) And The Martial (Wu) Aspect In Taijiquan

Wen and wu in Taijiquan

The twin concept of wen and wu is also a highly important feature in Taijiquan and is an explicit topic in various works of the classical literature. In Taijiquan, wen is endowed with the qualities of yin and wu with those of yang. In line with the theory of the taiji, Taijiquan endeavors to unite yin and yang or, in this case, wen and wu. This has been part of the practice of Taiji masters since ages past, but for Chinese society it is certainly out of the ordinary. Thus one finds Sun Lutang reflecting in 1915, “There was a prejudice in the old days. Literates despised martial arts as martial arts were short of literary learning.” (Sun p. 60)

In Taijiquan, wen is applied in a narrower sense to physical education (tiyu) and in a wider sense to classical Chinese or, later, modern education. By virtue of their education, Taiji masters not infrequently attained posts as state officials or became university lecturers. Li Yiyu, a nephew of the founder of the Wu (Hao) style, Wu Yuxiang, is an example, rising to the post of Governor of Henan; another is Ma Yueliang, who was a pioneer in the establishing of laboratories for blood tests. The wu aspect would come to light mainly as military service and this mostly as an officer or in a post as martial arts instructor for members of the armed forces. Masters such as Chen Wangting would apply their skills in battle, or, like Wu Jianquan, to train the higher generals in the army. Table 2 offers a summary of the professional profiles of some taijiquan masters.

Table 2

The end of Imperial China in 1911 and the introduction of modern Western weapons technology meant that traditional combat techniques would no longer be as relevant as they had been. At this turning-point in the history of martial arts, it was the achievement of several masters of Taijiquan to have modernized what had been until then a secret martial art. “In 1911, the head of the Research Society for Physical Education in Beijing, Xu Yusheng (1879 – 1945) was already supporting traditional techniques of physical training. In 1912 he issued invitations to renowned Taiji masters to teach at his institute in Beijing. That was Taijiquan’s ‘coming out’ – its first emergence out of a restricted private sphere into the public at large.” (Boedicker, Sievers pp. 47 f). With its wider dissemination, the practice of Taijiquan was changed. Fast movements were replaced by slow ones and complicated positions were simplified.



Along with this development, the art of Pushhands (tuishou) as an application of the combative was also given new prominence. Thus a tenet in modern Taijiquan says, the (Taijiquan) form is the foundation (system, body; ti) and pushhands is its application (yong), and therefore the martial. In this way Taijiquan has succeeded in preserving its roots and in establishing them in the modern era.

Table 3It is the reciprocal stimulus between the form and pushhands that gives Taijiquan such an appeal both as a form of physical training and as a martial art. The term ‘martial art’ itself conveys the fact that its concern is not self-defense alone, but that it requires an art that is founded on China’s cultural heritage. The name Taijiquan implies the challenge to apply to martial art the idea of the taiji, i.e., to develop in Taijiquan a mutual penetration of yin and yang. If wen is the yin aspect of Taijiquan and wu its yang aspect, then the practice of Taijiquan in its ultimate form will consist in the interpenetration of these aspects. Ma Yueliang elucidates:

“A characteristic of the movements is that they are a manifestation of slowness without the use of force. This is the exercise of the cultural (wen), the cultural being the foundation (ti). In this respect the basis points to the manner of activity of body and heart/mind (xin) and to the regularity of the circulation of qi and blood. To practice the foundation simply means the acquisition of elementary skills. This seems obvious enough, but in practice the path is long. Only training can make it part of one’s own nature. Thus to train the foundation is to train self-knowledge. The martial (wu) is its application (yong), i.e., its use against someone. Thence to learn push hands is to train the knowledge of others. The cultural without the martial is like the foundation (body) without application. The martial without the fundamental of the cultural is like having a theory but without a body. It is asking overmuch of a single beam to be a support and a single hand will not resound.’ (Ma, Xu p. 12)

Ames Roger, Sun-tzu: the art of war, Ballantine Books, New York 1993
Laozi, Hunan People’s Publishing House, Changsha 1999
Liu Da, The Tao and Chinese Culture, Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd, Henley-on-Thames 1979
Liu James J. Y., The Chinese Knight-Errant, Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd, London 1967
Ma Yueliang, Xu Wen, Wushi Taijiquan Tuishou, Xianggang Shanghai Shuju Chuban, Hong Kong 1986
Schwarz Ernst (ed.), Laudse, Daudedsching, dtv, Munich 1985
Smith Richard J., China’s Cultural Heritage, Westview Press, Boulder 1983
Sun Lutang, Xing Yi Quan Xue – The study of Form-Mind Boxing, Unique Publications, Burbank 2000
The Analects, Hunan People’s Publishing House, Changsha 1999
Weggel Oskar, Die Asiaten, Beck, Munich 1990
Wu Yinghua, Ma Yueliang, Wushi Taijijian, Renmin Tiyu Chubanshe, Beijing 2001
Yates Robin D.S., Five lost classics: Tao, Huang-Lao, and Yin-yang in Han China, Random House 1997

Below are two books by Martin Boedicker. Click on the images to see more
information about these excellent books!

– Slanted Flying

Continue to page 1…




Martin Boedicker

About Martin Boedicker

Martin Boedicker (born 1965) lives in Germany and studies Wu Tai Chi Chuan since 1986 with Ma Jiangbao, the son of Ma Yueliang and Wu Yinghua. He is an East-Asia-Scientist and publishes regularly articles and books about Tai Chi Chuan. More information about his work:

View all posts by Martin Boedicker →

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *