The Third Rep: 2000-04-18
by Jerry Karin
This week we published a short essay by Yang Zhenduo with his commentary on the Twenty-Character Motto. I think this is a very good tip for Tai Chi players – it really works! For those who have not heard this explained by Yang Zhenduo himself at one of the seminars, I thought I would add a few remarks of my own to help clarify (I hope) the meaning.
When Yang Zhenduo explains this at a seminar, he usually does a move such as right ward off. He then takes his left index finger and points it at the inside of his right elbow. The finger points in the same direction as the right elbow. He then mimes using the finger to push the elbow outward, and seminar participants can actually observe the elbow moving outward and downward, maybe an inch or so (it’s hard to quantify this but you can definitely see the elbow move outward). You can see the right shoulder relax downward too as the elbow goes outward. He sometimes turns and points to show that the same movement has opened up a space under the armpit. It seems to me that the movement outward is a combination of relaxing the shoulder downward and opening up the shoulder and elbow joints, so that the upper arm seems to grow in length. In any case, it’s just that easy. Anyone who practices tai chi can try it. When you do it correctly, there should be an immediate, noticeable sensation, which Yang Zhenduo describes in the essay. Try it!
Excerpt from Yang Zhenduo,
Yang Shih Taiji, 1997 (Requirement for upper limbs)
Translated by Jerry Karin;
Copyright Yang Zhenduo, 2000
Extend the elbows outward; leave a hollow in the armpits. The elbows pull down the tops of the shoulders, connect the wrists and carry along the fingers.
The Twenty-Character Motto is very brief, yet its meaning is very profound and worth pursuing. Although only the various parts of the upper limbs are mentioned, following this motto can set in motion a chain of causality in which changes here affect the other parts of the body. This connection is not just mental, but you can actually feel that precisely this movement of the upper limbs causes you to ‘hold the chest in’, which in turn induces ‘pulling up the back’, leading to ‘relaxation of waist and hips’ and ultimately bringing about ‘(movement proceeds) from feet to legs to waist’, so ‘all the joints are working interconnectedly as a whole’. You can get an internal sensation of the integration of all these principles and how they support each other. The sense of energy (jing4 gan3) created by this, and the sensation of the whole-body working together are things which every player must work toward and actually experience. This is crucial to successfully learning taiji. From this we can see that the Twenty-Character motto separately relates to every individual posture of taiji and as a whole determines the connected completion of the entire form. I hope that students will diligently seek to understand this, and experience the ‘sensation of energy’ induced by this ‘extend’,’hollow’,’pull down’, and ‘connect’. This will aid your overall level of training as well as the practice of connecting the internal and external.