Tai Chi Classics
Although there are innumerable variations
The principles that pervades them remain the same.
From familiarity with the correct touch
One gradually comprehends intrinsic strength
From the comprehension of intrinsic strength one can reach wisdom.
Without long practice one cannot suddenly understand Tai Chi Chuan.
Tai Chi Classic III
By Master Wang Tsungyue
TAI CHI CLASSICS I
TREATISE BY MASTER CHANG SANFENG (1391-1459 AD)
Translation & Commentary by Waysun Liao
Once you begin to move, the entire body must be light and limber. Each part of your body should be connected to every other part.
The internal energy should be extended, vibrated like the beat of a drum. The spirit should be condensed in toward the center of your body.
When performing Tai Chi, it should be perfect; I allow no defect. The form should be smooth with no unevenness, and continuous, allowing no interruptions.
The internal energy, chi, roots at the feet, then transfers through the legs and is controlled from the waist, moving eventually through the back to the arms and fingertips.
When transferring the chi from your feet to your waist, your body must operate as if all the parts were one; this allows you to move forward and backward freely with control of balance and position. Failure to do this causes loss of control of the entire body system. The only cure for such a problem is an examination of the stance.
Application of these principles promotes the flowing Tai Chi movement in any direction: forward, backward, right side, and left side.
In all of this, you must emphasize the use of the mind in controlling your movements, rather than the mere use of the external muscles. You should also follow the Tai Chi principle of opposites: when you move upward, the mind must be aware of down; when moving forward, the mind also thinks of moving back; when shifting to the left side, the mind should simultaneously notice the right sides, so that if the mind is going up, it is also going down.
Such principles relate to Tai Chi movement in the same way that uprooting an object, and thereby destroying its foundation, will make the object fall sooner.
Besides clearly separating the positive and negative from one another, you should also clearly locate the substantial and insubstantial. When the entire body is integrated with all parts connected together, it becomes a vast connection of positive and negative energy units. Each positive and negative unit of energy should be connected to every other unit and permit no interruption among them.
In Long Forms your body should move like the rhythmic flow of water on a river or like the rolling waves of the ocean.
In the Long Form, Ward Off, Rollback, Press, Push, Roll-Pull, Split, Elbow, and Pluck are called the forms of the Eight Diagram (Pakua), the movement encompassing the eight directions. In stance, moving forward, backward, to the right side, to the left side, and staying in the center are called the Five-Style Steps. Ward Off, Rollback, Press, and Push are called the four cardinal directions. Roll-Pull, Split, Elbow, and Pluck forms are called the four diagonals. Forward, backward, to the left side, to the right side, and center are called metal, wood, water, fire, and earth, respectively. When combined, these forms are called the thirteen original styles of Tai Chi.
In Tai Chi practice, the entire body should coordinate into one complete unit. Once you begin to move, the entire body should move, and not just the hand, leg, elbow, and so on. As a beginner you should observe this principle at all times. The universe moves and exercises its influence in a coordinated manner. For example, when the earth rotates the entire planet moves. Imagine what would happen if only part of the earth rotated while the rest of the planet remained stationary. As the system of balance and harmony was upset, drastic changes would occur throughout the universe. Tai Chi was created as a system of mental and physical discipline which human beings could understand and follow, and which is based on universal principles of balance and harmony. When you practice Tai Chi, the first basic principle that you follow is: “Once you begin to move, the entire body must move as one.” Merely moving an arm or a leg is not practicing in a Tai Chi manner. The body must be coordinated, relaxed, comfortable, peaceful, and mentally alert. In this way you will be able to maneuver the body in any direction, at will; when the mind wishes to move, the body will instantaneously follow its command. A mistake often made by students who are new to the art of Tai Chi is that of allowing the various parts of the body to move separately, in an uncoordinated manner. This is due to the fact that the parts of the body are not connected. When the hand moves, the rest of the body should respond in a totally coordinated manner. This will result in a well-controlled movement and help in the development of internal energy, which will eventually lead to the process of internal power projection.
Let us review here the important factors involved in the exercise of chi when practicing the Tai Chi Form. You should drive your internal energy outward from the center of the dan tien and extend it with sufficient pressure (not too much and not too little) so that the tension upon its surface is like that on the head of a drum. The chi will then vibrate like the beat of a drum when set in motion. The most important principle in the cultivation of chi is that you should extend your chi to the maximum margin of allowable pressure. Cultivating your chi will also stimulate the power of your spirit, which should be drawn inward toward your center point and condensed into the bone marrow. Stronger chi will help to elevate the power and the amount of the spirit. Do not let the spirit extend outward and get lost. Rather, let it be condensed inward and recycled.
When you consider Tai Chi as a discipline art and yourself as a martial artist, your attitude should be that of looking for perfection which means that you continue to improve your study and practice until there is no defect. The Tai Chi meditative movements must be very smooth and even, just as if you were trying to draw a perfect circle without the aid of an instrument. You begin with a rough draft and try to draw as evenly and smoothly as possible in every direction. Although a perfect circle may only be possible in theory, as you continue working toward this goal you will be acting in a manner that is close to the required smoothness and evenness.
Master Yang Chienhou (1839-1917), son of Master Yang Luchan, liked to remind his disciples of this principle many times during his daily Tai Chi instruction. After achieving some success in chi awareness practice, the Tai Chi student should learn how to lower his chi feeling down to the ground and then project it upward from his feet through his legs. Therefore, in Tai Chi practice, always keep your knees bent slightly to allow flexibility; never straighten your legs completely. This will allow the vibration of your internal energy to be transmitted from your feet through your knees to your waist. Note that the Tai Chi Classics use the term root, which emphasizes the importance of the feet. Both feet must always stay firmly attached to the ground, as strongly as the roots of a big tree. Also, the feeling of internal energy must penetrate deep into the ground, instead of merely being attached to the surface. After projecting the chi upward, your waist serves as a transmitter; it controls, guides, and distributes the direction and amount of internal energy. Keep your back and your entire torso in a vertical position, to allow the vibrations to travel freely upward through your back to your shoulders. Keep your shoulders completely relaxed to allow the transmission of chi down to your elbows and up to your fingertips. Always keep your elbows dropped and relaxed; your wrists are relaxed, but not limp.
Chi carries tremendous amounts of vibration, requiring a high degree of coordination of the entire body. Your torso and limbs, your hands and legs, must be coordinated both physically and mentally with every other part of the body. All the parts should relate to each other as one inseparable unit, especially when you transfer your chi from the root upward. Success in this will allow you to maneuver your entire body-forward, backward, upward, downward-at will. You will be able to control any situation. If the body is not coordinated, you will not be able to control your body system. According to the advice given in this Tai Chi treatise (added at a later date by an unknown Tai Chi master), “The only cure for such a problem is an examination of the stance.” Just as a weak foundation is unable to support a tall, strong building, a poor stance in Tai Chi form will lead to poor coordination of the entire body, and this will prevent the student from being able to maneuver his body as one integrated unit.
When you perform your Tai Chi movements in a totally coordinated manner, your body is light and limber, and each part of your body connects to every other part. Your Tai Chi form is very smooth and continuous, your chi vibrations are extended, and your spirit is condensed and centered. The chi transfers from your feet upward through your legs to your waist, and eventually through your back to your arms and fingertips. This allows you to develop your mind to guide your body, so that you can move in any direction at will: forward, backward, to the right or left, up or down.
Tai Chi emphasizes the development of the mind rather than the muscles, since the mind can be developed infinitely, beyond any limits of time and space. In Tai Chi practice you allow your mind to follow the Tai Chi principle of opposites: the principle of Y in and Yang. Physically, your body can move in only one direction at a time for example, a move to the right side. Yet in such a move there are other possibilities: moving to the left side, upward, downward, backward, forward. Thus, when you move in one direction, your mind should be simultaneously aware of the other possibilities. When you have achieved the practice of yielding and totally relaxing yourself, your body will be able to respond freely to the direction of the mind. Theoretically, this type of training will allow the physical body to move as rapidly as the body’s mental processes. Although in actuality limitations on physical movement may exist, the discipline will result in a body that is more limber and movements that are more controlled.
In the practice of Tai Chi movement, Uprooting Power follows the principle presented previously: the most efficient method of destroying an object’s foundation is to uproot it. Tai Chi masters have widely emphasized this principle in relation to Push Hands practice. By allowing the mind to focus downward, the opponent will resist in an upward direction and therefore allow you to uproot him easily and efficiently.
Since the Yin/Yang theory is the main principle of Tai Chi philosophy, when you perform Tai Chi movements the entire body must separate clearly into the positive and negative portions. For example, when your weight is placed more heavily on your right foot, the right side of your body will be substantial (positive, or Yang) and the left side insubstantial (negative, or Yin). When you are moving forward, the front side of your body will be Yang and the rear or back portion of your body will be Yin. Conversely, when you are moving backward, your back will be Yang and your front will be Yin.
If your hand is moving forward, with the palm facing you, the back of your hand will be Yang and the palm will be Yin. In relation to your arm, the entire hand would be considered Yang and the arm, as it followed the forward direction of your hand, would be Yin. In relation to your other hand and arm, the entire moving hand and arm would be Yang while the other hand and arm would be Yin. The same principle can be applied to the entire body. The body consists of a large number of positive and negative energy units. Each small unit of Yin and Yang must connect to every other unit in a coordinated manner, with no interruption among them, in order to maneuver the entire body in a balanced Yin/Yang manner. Connecting to each other also means coordinating with each other: neither the Yin nor the Yang can act independently, without regard for the other’s motion. In Long Forms your body should move like the rhythmic flow of water on a river or like the rolling waves of the ocean. When you study Tai Chi, each meditative movement is a complete unit within the Tai Chi system. As you combine your forms into a larger and longer system, you should regard all of the forms as having become one long form, just as, if you were to pour many cups of water into a large container, you would then have one container of water, instead of many separate, smaller units. When you perform the forms you should also allow your internal energy to drive your entire body to flow, so that it moves continuously, like water flowing in a river or like the rolling waves of the ocean.
The Tai Chi Form originated as the thirteen postures of meditation. These are the eight postures, or directions-the Ward Off, Rollback, Press, and Push forms comprising the four cardinal directions, and the Roll-Pull, Split, Elbow, and Lean Forward forms, comprising the four diagonal directions-in combination with the five different ways to maneuver the eight meditative postures: forward, backward, to the left side, to the right side, and staying still in the center. Through observation, the ancient Chinese defined the nature of human life according to five categories: metal, wood, water, fire, and earth. Metal represents hardness and penetration; as you move forward you act with the character of metal. Wood represents flexibility combined with strength; it is yielding and growing. When you move backward, your action has the character of wood. Fire and water act in opposite directions, but both are characterized by aggressiveness and pliability. They are yielding, piercing, uncertain, and powerful. When you move to the right or left side, you embody these attributes. Earth represents stability, immobility, motherhood, the center, the calmness of the origin. When you remain in the center, you adopt the nature of earth.
TAI CHI CLASSICS II
TREATISE BY MASTER WANG TSUNGYUE (1733-1795 AD)
Translation & Commentary by Waysun Liao
Tai Chi is born out of infinity. It is the origin of the positive and the negative. When Tai Chi is in motion, the positive and the negative separate; when Tai Chi stops, the positive and negative integrate.
When practicing Tai Chi, doing too much is the same as doing too little. When the body is in motion, it should follow the curve to extend the movements.
If your opposite side is hard, change your own side to make it soft. This is called following. If your opponent is moving and you adhere to him while following in the same direction, it is called sticking. Then you are attached to your opponent: when he moves faster, you also move faster; when he moves slower, you move slower, thereby matching his movement.
Regardless of your opponent’s actions, the principle I of your response remains the same. Once this type of movement has become your own, you will understand internal power.
After coming to an understanding of the internal power of movement, you can approach the theory of natural awareness. Natural awareness is developed through practice over a long period of time; you cannot reach a sudden understanding of natural awareness without proper practice for an extended length of time
When you practice Tai Chi, you should relax the neck and suspend the head, as if from a height above you. Internal power should sink to the lower part of the abdomen. Your posture should keep to the center. Do not lean in any direction. Your movements should be constantly changing from the substantial to the insubstantial. If your left side feels heavy, you should make your left side light. If your right side feels heavy, you should make your right side disappear.
Make your opponent feel that when he looks upward, you are much taller, and when he looks downward, you are much lower. When he moves forward, he should feel that he cannot reach you, and when he retreats, he should feel that he has nowhere to escape to.
Your body’s sensitivity should be such that you are aware of the tiniest feather brushing against your skin. Even the mosquito finds no place to land on you without causing you to move. Then there will be no way for your opponent to detect or control you, but you will be aware of your opponent and control him.
If you achieve this level of sensitivity, there is no force that will defeat you. There are thousands of methods and techniques in the martial arts. Regardless of the techniques and postures employed, most depend on physical condition (strong destroys weak) and speed (fast defeats slow), so that the weak must fall to the strong and the slow must lose to the fast. This, however, is dependent on physical ability and does not relate to the discipline that we now discuss.
Look into the technique of using four ounces of energy to control the force of a thousand pounds. Such techniques as these do not depend on brute force to overcome.
Observe the ability of the old man who can I successfully defend himself against many opponents at once. This proves that speed does not determine victory.
When you practice Tai Chi, you should stand with I your posture balanced like a scale. When you move, your movements should revolve as effortlessly as the turning of a wheel.
Following the changing situation, you move as is necessary. If you are unable to respond in this way you will become double-weighted. Often martial artists who have practiced for years still cannot move properly and so cannot follow the flow of their opponent’s movement. This is essentially because they are hindered by their mistake of double-weightedness.
To avoid double-weightedness you should further understand that positive and negative must complement each other. Then you will understand the flow of internal power, and, having repeatedly practiced and refined your technique and explored your own awareness, you can use and control your internal power at will.
The Tai Chi principle is as simple as this: yield yourself and follow the external forces. Instead of doing this, most people ignore such obvious and simple principles and search for a more remote and impractical method. This is the so-called inches mistake, which, when allowed to develop, becomes the distance of thousands of miles. All disciples of Tai Chi should be aware of this and study diligently.
It is believed that this classical Tai Chi treatise was written by Master Wong Chungyua, who was the master of Chen Chang-hsing, the originator of the Yang system. Approximately four hundred years ago, Master Wong described Tai Chi using the Yin/Yang theory. He believed that the Yin/Yang principle originated from not-being, and that everything in our universe follows this principle. Neither Yin, the negative, nor Yang, the positive, can exist independently. When these equal but opposite energies separate, the Tai Chi is in motion. When they unite, the Tai Chi is in stillness. According to modern knowledge, everything is fundamentally constructed from atoms. To manifest in material existence these atoms must combine negative and positive powers in order to balance opposing energies. This forms a stability so that matter can exist. Such principles were discovered and emphasized at the dawn of Chinese civilization, as Tai Chi philosophy. Books such as the I Ching (Book of Changes) sought to describe and explain the nature of the universe, including human life, as the interchange of the essence of balanced but opposite powers. When studying Tai Chi, it is important to understand the dynamic relationship of the Yin and Yang energies.
The Yin/Yang theory also emphasizes the principle of harmony balance. Too much Yin or too much Yang will destroy the harmonious balance of energies. Whether performing the meditative movements or practicing two-person Push Hands, doing too much is as bad as doing too little. In the practice of Tai Chi, it is important to follow the principle of moderation. In some forms it is required that your posture be lowered or your arms be stretched to some degree. Practicing these forms correctly is a way of developing harmony in your entire body system: if you stretch your arm too much or not enough, or lower your body too far or not far enough, you will lose the meaning of being in harmony, whether with yourself or your opponent. Similarly, any unnecessary movement, or failure to move at a critical time, is considered too much or too little.
Since the most harmonious and natural line between two points is a graceful and evenly rounded curve, your entire body should follow such curves. This is a guideline for how to extend your movements. Your body movements should be not too fast, not too slow, not too rigid, not too limp. This is the Tai Chi principle of not too much and not too little.
Master Wong emphasized the principles of following, sticking, and attaching. In two-person practice, these different but related internal powers are developed through sensitivity discipline. Following Power. In two-person practice, when you sense that your opponent is putting pressure on you, adjust and change your own side to make it soft, and yield to him. Your response is in the Tai Chi manner: not too much, not too little. When your pressure has adequately adjusted to your opponent’s level, this kind of sensitivity and controlling ability is called Following Power. Sticking Power. When you constantly increase your sensitivity and ability to follow your opponent and are able to adhere to his pressure in whatever direction he moves, you will then develop the mental ability of controlling your body and its movement to act in accord with your opponent. This ability, known as Sticking Power, acts and feels like magnetic power. Sticking Power is required for Free Hand practice in martial arts, in order to be able to contact and control the opponent during the initial actions. Attaching Power. After having developed Following Power and Sticking Power, you can learn to further respond to and match your opponent’s moves, whether fast or slow. This ability is known as Attaching Power.
In addition to developing and cultivating awareness of the internal energy, chi, it will be helpful to understand internal power, jing. Initially, you should develop Sticking Power; then develop Following as well as Attaching Power. After achieving this, regardless of your opponent’s actions, you will follow him and match him in perfect harmony; you may control your opponent at will. The principle of your response to your opponent remains that of Yin/Yang balance and harmony.
The Tai Chi system is based on the natural law of harmony and balance. Through the development of internal power you can obtain a full understanding of its character and properties, which will serve as a bridge to the stage of natural awareness. According to Master Wong, the important point is that the natural awareness stage requires a long period of practice in Tai Chi. After proper practice for an extended length of time, even though you may not be able to feel the gradual progression in your conscious mind, the accumulation of internal power will suddenly turn into a higher level of achievement, known as natural awareness. As an analogy, when heating water to its boiling point, it does not boil up gradually, but slowly accumulates heat and then suddenly begins to boil after reaching the proper temperature. Proper practice means practicing under the supervision of a qualified master; practicing for an extended length of time means continuously practicing without interruption. As in the analogy of heating water to a boiling point, one’s development requires constant, uninterrupted “heat.”
Tai Chi practice involves the development of chi, which serves as the energy to propel the internal power. Therefore, in any process of projecting your power, it is very important to keep your head suspended upward and your neck relaxed. Your neck will then serve as a cushion, filtering the vibrations to your head. In addition, this technique will allow the spiritual power to develop more rapidly. Chi originates from the lower abdominal area (dan tien). Without proper discipline and cultivation it declines before you reach adulthood. Either through the use of imagination or through the aid of inhalation exercises, bring feeling down to the lower part of your abdomen. This will help increase the development and awareness of your chi. The Tai Chi meditative movements will allow your chi to flow and vibrate freely. You should keep your posture in the center, and in vertical alignment. Leaning in any direction will cause blockage of your chi. According to the Yin/Yang theory, Yin constantly changes to Yang, and Yang constantly changes to Yin. Your Tai Chi meditative movements should follow the same principle: substantial changes to insubstantial, and vice versa. When one part feels heavy, make it feel light or make it disappear.
In two-person practice (Rolling Hands, Free Hands, Moving Steps, etc.), besides applying Sticking Power, Following Power, and Attaching Power, you should also observe the Yin/Yang theory. Mentally follow your opponent’s moves and react in the opposite direction or in the opposite manner from what he expects. When he looks upward, you are responding as if you are much taller than he expects; when he looks downward, you are acting as if you are much lower than he anticipates. Similarly, when he approaches, make him feel that he cannot reach you, that you are further away than he expects. When he retreats, make him feel that he has nowhere to escape to, because you are faster and longer than he anticipates. To achieve this ability one should practice a great deal of Hands Attaching, Moving Forward and Backward Steps, Attaching Steps, and the Five-Style Steps.
When practicing the Tai Chi Meditative Movement, try to develop an ultimate sensitivity toward and awareness of your mind and the natural conditions surrounding you. To achieve this you should understand the theory of Yin/Yang harmony and balance, as well as the philosophy of yielding and neutralizing. Constant practice in this direction will cause you to achieve a high level of sensitivity to external stimuli. This achievement is described in the Tai Chi Classics as the ability to detect even the tiniest feather or the smallest mosquito touching your skin. In addition to developing Sticking Power, Following Power, and Attaching Power, you will then be able to understand and fully control your opponent. And there will be no way for your opponent to detect and control you. For a beginner, the best way to develop this ability is through either meditation practice or Push Hands practice with a higher level student or an instructor.
Accomplishment in the level of sensitivity just discussed will help you to develop the internal power that will guide your body to respond properly to your opponent. This energy will yield to force and control the attack. There will be no way for the opponent to defeat you. However, since this accomplishment requires long periods of practice and the theory behind it is a paradox to our commonsense logic, this type of training has tended to be ignored, and a more physical type of conditioning has been emphasized. But training that depends solely on physical ability has nothing to do with the discipline and development of the mind.
“Four ounces of strength to defeat one thousand pounds” is a traditional way of describing efficiency and superiority in martial art systems. Obviously, such an efficient use of energy requires highly sophisticated techniques, so that the four ounces are repeatedly increased and accumulated, as described in chapter
Besides the ability to properly utilize internal power, proper timing also serves as an important factor in overcoming the opponent. This is illustrated here with the example of an old man who is able to defend himself successfully against many opponents at one time, proving that speed does not determine victory. Proper movements at a slow speed make more sense than faster movements improperly executed. In Tai Chi terminology, speed refers to pacing, to moving slow or fast or not at all. It involves anticipation and awareness. So-called faster speed is only measured relative to the change of pace.
In Tai Chi practice, the entire body must be coordinated as one complete unit. Your body will then be able to follow your mind, moving in any direction you wish. In addition, to ensure that your movement is totally harmonious and balanced, you must keep your standing posture as balanced as a scale. This will allow you to instantly detect any change of balance, either in yourself or in your opponent. Your movement should also follow a graceful curved line, to allow your chi to flow freely. Let your movement revolve as smoothly as the turning of a wheel. In other words, your movement should circulate ceaselessly and evenly, without interruption or imbalance.
When practicing Tai Chi, doing too much is as bad as doing too little. This principle also applies to making an adequate response to your opponent. When the situation changes, you should follow the change adequately. You only move when it is necessary; then you can be in harmony with the changing situation and in control of it. For example, when your opponent moves rapidly, the situation may call for you to respond slowly. It is unnecessary for you to respond quickly, even though your opponent’s initial action was at a fast speed. Or, when a changing situation does not require any movement from you, it is necessary for you to remain still. Failure to respond to the opponent properly will result in awkward mobility, known as double-weightedness. This means you are constantly distributing your weight evenly on both feet, due to your hesitation to respond properly. If you practice Tai Chi for years and still encounter difficulty in allowing your movements to flow freely with those of your opponent, you should observe the above principle. Single-handed Push Hands practice and the forward and backward movements of the Five-Style Steps practice with a senior student will help you to correct these problems.
Master Wong regards the principle of Tai Chi to be a simple one: yield yourself to the forces of the universe. This may appear to be a paradox, because we are born to grow and expand. Certain degrees of ego and aggressiveness propel and motivate our lives. It definitely is difficult to comprehend the idea of yielding ourselves to the universe. A simple analogy will help to illustrate this basic principle. If a sealed bottle of water is thrown into a lake, the water in the bottle does not change. But if you pour the water from the bottle directly into the lake, it becomes the water of the lake, instead of the water of the bottle. In your life, if you yield yourself and follow the universal natural power, you soon will be part of the entire universe. The same principle applies to Tai Chi martial art practice: after you yield to your opponent you will soon become more powerful than him, because your opponent’s force will be under your control, and you will be able to utilize his force as if it belonged to you.
A beginner of Tai Chi should practice the meditative movements and, under the supervision of a qualified instructor, study a great deal of two-person practice methods and techniques, constantly correcting and adjusting even minor mistakes. Otherwise, after a long period of development, the practice will lead to total error.