The Ten Essentials of Tai Chi Chuan, Part 2

Orally transmitted by Yang Chengfu,

Recorded by Chen Weiming,

Translated by Jerry Karin

 

6. Use Intent Rather than Force:

The taiji classics say, “this is completely a matter of using intent rather than force’. When you practice taijiquan, let the entire body relax and extend. Don’t employ even the tiniest amount of coarse strength which would cause musculo-skeletal or circulatory blockage with the result that you restrain or inhibit yourself. Only then will you be able to lightly and nimbly change and transform, circling naturally. Some wonder: if I don’t use force, how can I generate force? The net of acupuncture meridians and channels throughout the body are like the waterways on top of the earth. If the waterways are not blocked, the water circulates; if the meridians are not impeded the chi circulates.

If you move the body about with stiff force, you swamp the meridians, chi and blood are impeded, movements are not nimble; all someone has to do is begin to guide you and your whole body is moved. If you use intent rather than force, wherever the intent goes, so goes the chi. In this way – because the chi and blood are flowing, circulating every day throughout the entire body, never stagnating – after a lot of practice, you will get true internal strength. That’s what the taiji classics mean by “Only by being extremely soft are you able to achieve extreme hardness.” Somebody who is really adept at taiji has arms which seem like silk wrapped around iron, immensely heavy. Someone who practices external martial arts, when he is using his force, seems very strong. But when not using force, he is very light and floating. By this we can see that his force is actually external, or superficial strength. The force used by external martial artists is especially easy to lead or deflect, hence it is not of much value.

7. Synchronize Upper and Lower Body

In the taiji classics ‘Synchronize Upper and Lower Body is expressed as: “With its root in the foot, emitting from the leg, governed by the waist, manifesting in the hands and fingers – from feet to legs to waist – complete everything in one impulse.” * When hands move, the waist moves and legs move, and the gaze moves along with them. Only then can we say upper and lower body are synchronized. If one part doesn’t move then it is not coordinated with the rest.

8. Match Up Inner and Outer

What we are practicing in taiji depends on the spirit, hence the saying: “The spirit is the general, the body his troops”. If you can raise your spirit, your movements will naturally be light and nimble, the form nothing more than empty and full, open and closed. When we say ‘open’, we don’t just mean open the arms or legs; the mental intent must open along with the limbs. When we say ‘close’, we don’t just mean close the arms or legs; the mental intent must close along with the limbs. If you can combine inner and outer into a single impulse *, then they become a seamless whole.

9. (Practice) Continuously and Without Interruption

Strength in external martial arts is a kind of acquired, brute force, so it has a beginning and an end, times when it continues and times when it is cut off, such that when the old force is used up and new force hasn’t yet arisen, there is a moment when it is extremely easy for the person to be constrained by an opponent. In taiji, we use intent rather than force, and from beginning to end, smoothly and ceaselessly, complete a cycle and return to the beginning, circulating endlessly. That is what the taiji classics mean by “Like the Yangtse or Yellow River, endlessly flowing.” And again: “Moving strength is like unreeling silk threads”. These both refer to unifying into a single impulse. *

10. Seek Quiescence within Movement

External martial artists prize leaping and stomping as skill, and they do this till breath (chi) and strength are exhausted, so that after practicing they are all out of breath. In taiji we use quiescence to overcome movement, and even in movement, still have quiescence. So when you practice the form, the slower the better! When you do it slowly your breath becomes deep and long, the chi sinks to the dantien and naturally there is no deleterious constriction or enlargement of the blood vessels. If the student tries carefully he may be able to comprehend the meaning behind these words.

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[*] Literally “one chi”. This could also be rendered as “one breath”.

 

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