There are five parts to the Tai Chi Forest system of internal martial arts, which are best described using a tree analogy. The practices and their study can be understood by looking at how a tree flows from the roots and up the trunk to the branches, leaves and fruit. This tree is you and Tai Chi Forest is here to assist you in becoming the truest natural expression of yourself – in your body, in your life and in your community. Let’s take a closer look at the five components as well as their philosophical correspondences.
1. Roots The roots represent the foundational practices. Learning about correct alignments and posture has to happen in the beginning for you to progress smoothly on your path. This also includes standing post, the stabilizing practices that provide you the platform to truly discover what is going on inside your body. Connecting to the grounding earth with your roots creates a stillness and strength that become the basis of your strength.
2. Trunk The trunk is what delivers the energy from the earth to the rest of the tree, nourishing all its parts and supporting it by giving life through a network of energy pathways. This is the qigong and neigong aspect of the Tai Chi Forest system, where you learn internal cultivation practices to improve and increase your flow of energy in order to transfer it to the all aspects of your daily life.
3. Branches The branches are what really defines a tree – its shape, size and direction. The primary branches are the main practices of Tai Chi, Ba Gua and Xing Yi. Each branch is split into several more which can be viewed as secondary branches, such as weapons training (Tai Chi Sword, Ba Gua Axes, Xing Yi Broadsword etc.), Yi Quan (Intention Boxing), pushing hands and martial applications.
4. Leaves The leaves represent all expressions of the arts. Each leaf is unique but together form a oneness. They represent the higher understanding of principles and energy work found throughout all the aspects of the internal arts branches. Your practice becomes your art, and just like a leaf goes through its cycles from spring to winter, you too will find that your practice changes with time.
5. Fruits The fruits of the tree are what you create for yourself through the growth process of the tree. It is what you harvest from your practice, from all the work you have put in. How well you are able to connect to the earth below and heavens above and how you share and express this emobodiment to the world determines how tasty your fruits are. Ultimately, the fruits you offer contain seeds that may help others to develop their own tree, continuing the natural cyclical process.
The Philosophical Aspect
One can also view the tree as an analogy to the philosophical aspects of your life, your belief systems and behaviours. The roots can be seen as where you come from – not just your family and environment, but also anyone who has influenced you on your path as well as life experiences are all part of your roots.
If you think of the trunk as something that delivers nutrients from below to above, it is good to ponder on how this relates to you. What is it that enables you to support and uphold the various aspects of your life? It could be your talents or principles deriving from your roots, traits such as integrity or passion for something, or even a lifelong dedication to an ideal or some form of practice.
The branches can be looked at as the main aspects of your life. Maybe you have a branch for work, another for family and another for your social life as all of them are important to you and together form what makes you. When seen from this point of view, one can reflect on how the branches look and feel in the whole scheme of things. Are some branches bigger or prettier than others and are some no longer serving you but still taking up a lot of space, perhaps?
The leaves are the expression of everything that happens below, but they are also your main connection to the forces from above. For a tree it is sunlight, but for you it is everything that is outside of you. Whether you use your leaves to gather inspiration for yourself like photosynthesis, or just radiate your own beauty for others to enjoy is totally up to you. The leaves are your contact to the world and as the seasons change the colours of leaves, so too your being changes its vibration from time to time.
The fruits are your offerings to yourself, your family, your community and the world. Whatever it is that you have cultivated from your roots, through your trunk, the branches and past the leaves peak in something that can be enjoyed or shared. Question is, what type of fruits do you want to give to the world and what are the seeds inside these fruits that you want to plant and leave behind?