The Ten Essentials of Taijiquan Theory

Dictated by Yang Chengfu, recorded by Chen Weiming

1. An intangible and lively energy lifts the crown of the head. This refers to holding the head in vertical alignment, with the spirit threaded to the top of the head. One must not use strength; using strength will stiffen the neck and inhibit the flow of qi and blod. One must have the conscious intent of an intangible, lively, and natural phenomenon. If not, then the vital energy ( jingshen ) will not be able to rise.

2. Contain the chest and raise the back. “Containing the chest” means hold in the chest slightly to allow the qi to sink to dantian. One must avoid rigidity in the chest; thrusting out the chest will cause blockage in the chest cavity. One will be heavy above and light below; the heels will float up. “Raise the back” means the qi adheres to the back. If one is able to contain the chest, the one will naturally be able to raise the back. If one can raise the back, the strength will be able to issue from the spine, and you will be undefeatable.

3. Relax the waist. The waist is the body’s ruler. If you are able to relax the waist, the two feet will have strength and the foundation will be stable. The changes of insubstantial and substantial all come from turning the waist, hence it is said, “The source of meaning is in the region of one’s waist.” If there is a situation in which you are unable to attain strength, you must seek the cause in the waist.

4. Distinguish insubstantial and substantial. The art of Taijiquan takes the distinction between insubstantial and substantial as the first principle. If the weight of the entire body is placed over the right leg, then the right leg is substantial and the left is empty. If the entire body’s weight is placed over the left leg, then the left leg is substantial and the right leg is empty. If one is able to distinguish empty and full, the body’s turning motions will be light and agile, and there will be no wasted strength. If one is unable to distinguish, one’s steep will be heavy and sluggish, one’s stance will be unsteady, and one will easily be unbalanced by an opponent’s pull.

5. Sink the shoulders and drop the elbows. “Sink the shoulders” means the shoulders are relaxed, open, and allowed to hang down. If one is unable to relax and allow the two shoulders to hang down, the will rise up, then the qi will also follow them up, and the whole body will lack strength. “Dropping the elbows” means relaxing the elbows downward and letting the hang. If the elbows are drawn up, then the shoulders will be unable to sink, and you will not be able to push an opponent far. Isn’t this similar to the short energy of the external martial arts?

6. Use consciousness, not strength. This is spoken of in the “Taijiquan Classics.” This is entirely the use of mind/intent (yi), not use of strength (li). In practicing Taijiquan, the entire body is loosened (song) and open; avoid the use of the slightest bit of crude force (zhuo li), which causes blockage in the sinews, bones and blood vessels, and causes one to be bound up. The you will enable a light agility in the changes, and the circular rotations will come freely. Some doubt: without using strength, how can one increase one’s strength? Now, the human body has meridians – as with the Earth’s watercourses, when the watercourses are unblocked, the water flows. When the meridians are unblocked, then the qi passes through. If the whole body is stiff, the jin fills the meridians, the qi and blood become stagnant, the turning motions are not nimble. If one hair is pulled, the whole body is moved. If one does not use strength but instead use mind/intent (yi), then where the yi arrives, the qi follows. If the qi and the blood flow fully, daily threading and flowing through the entire body, there will be no time when there are blockages. After a long practice, one the attains genuine internal strength. Hence, the statement in the “Taijiquan Classics”: “Arriving at the extreme of of yielding softness, one afterward arrives at the extreme of solid hardness.” The arms of those who are proficient in the skill of Taijiquan are like iron within cotton, and extremely heavy. When practitioners of external martial arts use strength, the their strength is evident. When not using strength, they are light and floating. It is obvious that their strength remains an outward energy, as surface energy. When not using mind/intent (yi) but using strength, it is very easy to be led in – this is not worthy of respect.

7. Upper and lower follow one another. Upper and lower follow one another is what is referred to in the saying from the “Taijiquan Classics”:”It is rooted in the feet, issued by the legs, governed by the waist, expressed in the fingers. From the feet, to the legs, then to the waist, always there must be complete integration into one qi.” With the movements of the hands, waist, and feet, the focus of the eyes also follow their movements. When it is like this, only then can it be called “upper and lower follow each other.” If there is one part that does not move, then the form is scattered and confused.

8. Internal and external are united. What one trains in Taijiquan is the spirit, therefore it is said, “The spirit ist the leader, the body follows its order.” If one is able to raise the spirit of vitality, one will naturally be able to deport oneself lightly and with agility. The form is none other than empty, full, open and closed. What is called open is not only the opening of the hands and the feet – the mind/intent also opens with them accordingly. What is called closing of the hands and feet – the mind/intent also closes with them accordingly. When able to unite inner with outer as one qi, then there is complete continuity.

9. Linked without breaks. With practitioners of external martial arts, their strength is contrived and crude force (hou tian zhi zhuo li). Therefore it has it starts and stops, its duration and cessation. When its old strength is already depleted, its new strength has not yet been born. At these times it is most easily overcome. Taijiquan uses mind/intent, not strength. From beginning to finish is is continuous without ceasing, a complete cycle back to the beginning, circling without end. In the original teachings it is said: “Like the Long River, it flows smoothly on without ceasing.” It is also said, “Move the jin [energy] as though drawing silk [from a cocoon].” These words refer to its being threaded together (guan chuan) as one qi.

10. Seek stillness in motion. The External martial arts view leaping and stumbling as ability. They employ exertion of qi and strength, so that after training they are invariably gasping for breath. Taijiquan uses stillness to manage movement. Even when there is movement there is stillness. Therefore, in practicing the form, the slow the better. When practicing slowly, the breathing deepens and lengthens, the qi sinks to the dantian. One avoids the harm of straining the blood circulation. Students should carefully contemplate this, so as to attain its meaning.

Reference: Master Yang Style Taijiquan by Fu Zhongwen translated by Louis Swaim
ISBN 9781583941522

P. 16-19