Small Circle Tai Chi
By Erle Montaigue
September 1997

I really like to give what I have been given but often this is impossible because of the relative levels that my students are at. When I discover something that I thought I knew about but which was not then internal and which now is, I become excited and want to call in my students and show them this new revelation so that they too can receive the treat benefits that I feel. So I hold a class and sprout forth of this wondrous thing and I see blank faces bar perhaps one or two. The reason of course is that in my zeal to teach others, I have not taken into account the fact most are simply not ready to accept this advanced area of training, So to them, it seems like not much at all. It's a bit like trying to fit a very small bolt into a huge hole. This beautiful thing of precision, which perhaps is designed to hold an entire building together is lost when it is used incorrectly. Taijiquan and all internal systems are really quite amazing in what they actually teach you. Yo not only get an extremely effective way of self defence and a way of healing oneself and others, you also receive a way of knowing exactly what to do. So what does that mean? It means exactly that. When we do not know what to do, when we are confused, our art will let us know what to do about it. For instance, perhaps we have been practicing for several years and the level of competence has risen to the level where it has become sub-conscious competence. I.e. we no longer have to think physically about what we are doing when practicing Taiji or Bagua etc.

Perhaps we have not practised for some time for any number of reasons. So things simply begin to go wrong, we feel out of sorts, become angry easily, eat too much etc. This imbalance grows until it becomes unbearable and perhaps at 3 a.m. we wake and for some weird reason just have to perform the Taiji form. Then everything falls into place; we know exactly what to. It's like you have something that is alive inside of your and it is guiding you in your daily life. It can become a bloody nuisance sometimes when you just do not want to do anything but you know you must. It's like this all the time in my own training, I'll come to an impasse where my teaching is concerned and I just so not know how to transmit a certain area to my students. The classes become to me boring and I feel as if I am just not getting the message across. This feeling will grow until I am so out of balance even after performing my morning ritual of training that I am woken up at exactly 3.a.m one morning in particular, when the lungs are just beginning to kick in (as far as Qi is concerned). I perform either Yang Cheng-fu or Yang Lu-ch'an's form and an idea will come; exactly what I needed to teach what it is that I needed to teach or to write etc. I have been meaning to write an introduction to our Camp 1997 training workshop for some weeks now and this is as a result of exactly what I have been writing about. It is in fact now 4.20 a.m. and I have been practising since 3 a.m. I have in fact become so used to this that I set up a small tape recorder that has one of those voice activated microphones. When I get something I talk it through while doing the form and the recorder starts automatically.



For years now, I have been trying to find a way of teaching my students about the 'Small Circle' way of performing the Taijiquan form. I have tried everything and still only a few advanced students are only beginning to get it. So now I think that I have found a way to teach this wonderful area. And I am again excited about teaching because I know that I can again see those smiling faces when my students also feel the great things that I experience when I practice at the 'Small Frame' level. The small circle level of Taijiquan has been talked about ever since this great art became popular back in the late sixties in the West. But not many have actually understood what this actually meant. Many simply performed the form smaller, making every movement proportionately smaller. But this was nothing different as everything was still basically the same, only smaller. The BALANCE was the same! So if we are out of balance, (and most of us are), causing the form to be smaller will do nothing but perhaps give you less exercise value. In order to change your 'Balance' so that all of the treat benefits that we are supposed to receive from Taijiquan happen, we must have the relative sizes of the movements in proportion to what the relative parts of the body are doing.


Do Not Wave Your Arms in Small Circle Tai Chi

Take a look at your steps and what your hands are doing in proportion to what your weight is doing. You will probably find that your hands and arms are doing much more movement than what the movement dictates. This is 'Large Frame Form'. Your Qi is not concentrated; it is large and flapping, waving. In order to make a movement with your arms that is the same as your step, the arms must move and inappropriate amount. But the upper body and lower body are not the same as far as Qi is concerned, or physically. The upper body is Yin relative to the lower body and it moves less. I mean that it moves over a lesser stroke. So we must cause the upper body movement to only move with what the internal Qi is doing and then coordinated all of this with the weight changing and turning of the waist. The waist is the 'RULER'. The waist tells us where to go and how far to go; it is the head of the column, the flag bearer. The waist does not move much at all. So when we take the waist movement and the weight changing, then co-ordinate this with the arms, we see that the arms actually do not move much at all. We have this very powerful force (the waist and legs) being concentrated down into something very small, the hands. When the Qi is concentrated into the hands in this manner, we finally realise the power of Qi. "Balance' does not mean and equal amount of movement; it means an appropriate amount of movement for each member of the body. When the movement of the hands are 'Small Frame/Circle' and move in accordance with what the waist is doing, rather than what the feet are doing, the power felt in the hands is incredible.

When one learns how to perform the Small Frame form, others watching will not even know that you are doing Taijiquan as it will be so different to what they are used to seeing. For instance, you will not even forma fist and an onlooker will think that you have not done and important move. But you have of course and this is another important area of 'Balance'. The balance between what the mind thinks and what the body does. In order to have complete balance (this is the most important area of one's training), we must also have balance between mind and body. If you 'think' about doing something then you do exactly what you have thought about, the mind is already onto the next movement. This is an imbalance. Once you have thought about it, it has been done! This is the way of the mind. What you think about, you do, as the mind cannot distinguish between what is real and imagination. So if you think about a punch for instance, book, it's done, very small. So you must adjust your movements to accommodate this 'smallness'. Only then will your internal and external be balanced naturally; the Qi will be balanced with the movement in total harmony. And it is simply amazing what you can do when you are in perfect balance. Even when you are almost there, things begin to change. For years I have been showing students small circle tai chi but have always stressed to not attempt this level until you are ready. And this is still true for the beginning levels. It is important for beginners to perform only the very basic building block method of form. For those beginners it is however, also important to see the advanced levels, otherwise they will not have anything to strive for; nothing at all in their mind's eye for the years to come when Taijiquan begins to teach them. However, for those students who are getting somewhere, who have entered the first doors to Taijiquan, I am now teaching the Small Frame/Circle form. I now believe that this is crucial in learning Taijiquan and the internal arts. Otherwise the out of balance way of performing will become entrenched and will be very difficult to change.


Small Circle Push Hands

Small Circle Push Hands is also a way of balancing the body and mind and also about how to transfer Qi. When push hands is learnt correctly with absolutely no thought of competition is an amazing teacher of not only self defence and healing but also of life. Here we learn to coordinate not only internal but also with the Qi of another person. In this way we learn sub-consciously to coordinate with the Qi of an attacker, for instance, or with the Qi of someone that we are trying to heal. It then does not matter what the attacker does to us, we have already moved as we are connected with his Qi. This is the real way of push hands, not some stupid physical competition to see who have pushed the best! Push Hands actually has nothing at all to do with pushing!

Many have tried and many have failed in teaching or performing small frame form. This is because their own level of competence has just not been up there. Small Frame form can only be taught or demonstrated by someone who has reached such a level which is gained only after many years of practice. You simply cannot take the big open form and teach it smaller! This is NOT small frame form. Small frame form only comes when the internal Qi is in total balance which then causes the external movement to also be in total balance. Once someone understands the basic principles of Small Frame Form, it is a relatively easy task to take that idea and put it into the whole form. Finally after many years I am seeing many of my long term students who regularly attend our annual camps getting the idea of Small Frame Push Hands and Form. This method of Push Hands is the real thing; no more pushy pushy or pully pully. This way of push hands really does teach you how to defend yourself at a sub-conscious or reflex level. And that is the level that we all try to get to in our self defence. However, if we continue to practise at a purely physical and logical level, we will never get there. Purely physical logical techniques can never be learnt! That' all they will stay forever. We must have some way of learning the movements of self defence in an abstract manner so that the sub-conscious brain is able to convert those images into realistic self defence methods.

Small circle push hands is that method. We are continually defending ourselves against abstract attacks, which in the real world become real attacks. If we push or pull during push hands, that's all we will do in the real world and we will be defeated. And no matter how many so-called masters there are who claim some kind of super-natural power, they are only fooling us and worse, making idiots of their students. IT is impossible to control someone's body using your Qi! It is impossible to throw someone great distances without touching them! And this is easily tested; just ask them to do it to you! Their answer will be something like "Oh I cannot because my Qi will kill you as you have not been trained in my system"! This is the stock standard answer from these charlatans. And there are more and more emerging every year, those who just don't have the real method and cannot teach it so they revert to circus tricks.