THE 10 BASIC PRINCIPLES OF TAI CHI CHUAN
Dictated by YANG CHENG-FU*
Written by CHEN WEI-MING **
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1. Being empty, agile and keeping energy at the top of the head.
Keeping energy at the top of the head means holding your head straight, in such a way that spiritual energy may be at the top of your head.
Not using muscular strength which could cause your neck to be rigid and thus make the circulation of blood and breadth difficult (3).
Thinking must be spontaneous and agile because, without agility, and without keeping energy at the top of your head, vital force (4) cannot move.
2. Pulling the chest in and stretching the back .
Pulling the chest in means pulling it slightly so that your breadth may go down and be concentrated in the dan-tien (5).
Abstaining from bending your trunk; otherwise, if breadth is compressed at the upper part of the chest, this upper part would be heavy while the lower part would be light, and feet would tend to float.
Stretching the back consists of sticking the breadth to your back. Bending your chest implies naturally stretching your back, which allows you to apply a force from the spinal chord axis.
3. Relaxing the Waist.
Your waist commands your whole body. Your feet can only apply force and your pelvis can be a firm foundation if you are able to loosen your waist.
Going from “full” to “empty” can be done through spinning movements of the waist. This is why it is stated that “The source of command is the waist”. The lack of strength comes from the waist and the legs.
4. Being able to differentiate “full” from”empty”.
In the artof TAI-CHI-CHUAN, the first principle is to be able to differentiate “full” from “empty”. If all of your body weight is supported by your right leg, we can say that the right leg is “full” and the left one is empty. The turning movements of your body will take place lightly and effortlessly only if you know how to differentiate “full” from “empty”; otherwise movement will be heavy and clumsy, your body will lack stability and it can easily be destabilized by an enemy who is pulling you .
5. Lower the Shoulders and let the Elbows Fall Freely .
Lowering your shoulders means relaxing them and letting them fall; if your shoulders are not relaxed, they will be up, and this would cause the breadth to go up. Therefore, all of your body would lack strength.
Letting the elbows fall freely along the body means relaxing them. If they are up, the shoulders cannot be down, so the enemy cannot be rejected and sent far away. The technique then used approaches the one of the exoteric school that uses an internal non-continuous force.
6. Using Creative Thought Instead of Muscular Strength .
The TAI-CHI-CHUAN treatise states the following: “Everything is reduced to the use of thought instead of force”. (6)
During the practice of TAI-CHI-CHUAN, the whole body is relaxed so that not even the slightest rough energy remains stagnant in the bones, muscles and veins; otherwise you would be tying yourself.
Only then you will be able to pass from one exercise to the next lightly and easily, and to practice the turning movements naturally. Some people doubt that it may be possible to have lasting strength without the use of muscular force, but the human body has channels for circulating the breath, just like the Earth has its own furrows. If there are no obstructions in the furrows, water can flow freely; likewise, if the veins are not obstructed, breath circulates. When rigid energy fills these channels, blood and breath are hindered and unable to flow, turning movements lack agility and the simple pulling of a hair is enough to take the body off-balance. If creative thought is used instead of muscular force, breath can get where thought can get. This way, blood and breath circulate continuously without stopping even for an instant.
With long training, true inner energy is achieved and, as the TAI-CHI CHUAN treatise states: “extreme agility and flexibility produce extreme resistance and rigidity”.
Those who are familiar with TAI-CHI CHUAN and have good command on the technique have arms like iron wrapped in cotton; their strength is deeply inside, while the disciples of exoteric schools show muscular strength in action and seem to be floating in a sea of no-action. This proves that their muscular strength is nothing but superficial energy. When muscular force is used instead of creative thought, the adversary can easily provoke them to move, which does not deserve their consideration.
7. Link what is high with what is low, what is low with what is high, according to the principle stated in the TAI -CHI-CHUAN.
“Energy is rooted in the feet, developed in the legs, directed by the waist and manifested in the fingers”. From feet to legs, passing through the waist, a perfect unity is necessary (8).
Every hand movement goes together with a waist movement : when feet move, the spiritual energy of the eyes (look) follows the feet. In this case, one can say that the high and the low are united, but if there is any part of the body not harmonized with the rest, there will be disorder and lack of union.
8. Joining the Inside with the Outside.
The work of TAI-CHI-CHUAN is spiritual energy work, so it is stated that: “Spiritual energy is the lord, and the body is its servant “. If we start moving our vital force, movements are spontaneous, light and agile. The chaining of the movements follows the alternating principle of ”full” and “empty”, opening and closing. When we mention opening, it does not only mean the opening of hands and feet, but also the opening of thought and spirit. Likewise, the closing does not only refer to hands and feet but also to thought and spirit. Everything is perfect when the inside and the outside can be united into only obe breath (9).
9. Chaining the movements without interruption.
In the fighting arts of esoteric schools, the energy used is the rough energy of the “back sky” (10). There are exits, stopping, chaining and interruptions. It is the precise moment in which the old force ends and the new one has not arisen yet, that one may be more easily defeated.
Like in the TAI-CHI-CHUAN, thought and muscular force is used, everything is linked without interruption from beginning to end; when a revolution ends, another one begins; the circular movement is developed towards the infinite.
In the original Treatise, there is a statement: “Slow boxing is similar to sea waves or to the waves or a large river moving continuously and endlessly. Also: “Making energy move like a silk thread obtained from a cocoon”. These comparisons suggest that everything is linked through one breath.
10. Searching for calm in the middle of movement.
In the martial arts of the exoteric school, the ability to jump is deemed to be very important. Muscular strength and breath are used to exhaustion. This is why after exercise the boxer is still out of breath. In TAI-CHI-CHUAN, movements are directed by calm; even if the boxer is moving, he remains calm. Therefore it is better to link the movements as slowly as possible. Thanks to this slowness, breathing turns long and deep; breath is concentrated in the dan-tien, and therefore, the boxer does not have his pulse altered. Adepts must make an effort to understand this, but only a few are able to understand it.
*Yang Cheng-fu, (1883-1936) extended TAI-CHI-CHUAN throughout China , from North to South. At thid time, TAI-CHI-CHUAN changed its nature, from being a fighting technique to become a therapeutic one, and it was extended quickly.
** Chen Wei-ming, was one of his best and more erudite disciples.
3. Breathing is CHI o KI, it is energy, the vital breath, the air principle and the body YANG.
4. These are two separate notions and designate the “TSING” essence (liquid principle and body YIN) and the “SHEN” spiritual energy.
5. Spot located three fingers under the navel (gravity center of the human body).
6. Treatise attributed to CIIANG SAN-FENG.
7. It may be the Wang Tsong-yue Treatise.
8. Quotation of the Treatise on TAI-CHI-CHUAN by CHANG SAN-FENG.
9. This expression is used in modern Chinese to designate perfect unity, the meaning of the CHI (breath) character is weakened. But in a Taoist context this generally designates “The breath of the One”, the unifying breath, which is also the unified or original breath.
10. This is an energy acquired through everyday work and training, and it is considered less refined than innate energy.
Yang Chen Fu Chen Wei Ming