What is the 10 essentials of tai chi chuan?

Following are the Ten Essentials of Tai Chi Chuan Orally transmitted by Yang Chengfu Recorded by Chen Weiming Translated by Jerry Karin

  1. Empty, lively, pushing up and energetic
    ‘Pushing up and energetic’ means the posture of the head is upright and straight and the spirit is infused into its apex. You may not use strength. To do so makes the back of the neck stiff, whereupon the chi and blood cannot circulate freely. You must have an intention which is empty, lively (or free) and natural. Without an intention which is empty, lively, pushing up and energetic, you won’t be able to raise your spirit.
  2. Hold in the chest and pull up the back
    The phrase ‘hold in the chest’ means the chest is slightly reserved inward, which causes the chi to sink to the cinnabar field (dan1 tian2). The chest must not be puffed out. If you do so then the chi is blocked in the chest region, the upper body becomes heavy and lower body light, and it will become easy for the heels to float upward. ‘Pulling up the back’ makes the chi stick to the back. If you are able to hold in the chest then you will naturally be able to pull up the back. If you can pull up the back, then you will be able to emit a strength from the spine which others cannot oppose.
  3. Relax the waist
    The waist is the commander of the whole body. Only after you are able to relax the waist will the two legs have strength and the lower body be stable. The alternation of empty and full all derive from the turning of the waist. Hence the saying: ‘The wellspring of destiny lies in the tiny interstice of the waist. Whenever there is a lack of strength in your form, you must look for it in the waist and legs.
  4. Separate empty and full
    In the art of Tai Chi Chuan, separating full and empty is the number one rule. If the whole body sits on the right leg, then the right leg is deemed ‘full’ and the left leg ’empty’. If the whole body sits on the left leg, then the left leg is deemed ‘full’ and the right leg ’empty’. Only after you are able to distinguish full and empty will turning movements be light, nimble and almost without effort; if you can’t distinguish them then your steps will be heavy and sluggish, you won’t be able to stand stably, and it will be easy for an opponent to control you.
  5. Sink the shoulders and droop the elbows
    Sinking the shoulders means the shoulders relax open and hang downward. If you can’t relax them downward, the shoulders pop up and then the chi follows and goes upward, causing the whole body to lack strength. Drooping the elbows means the elbows are relaxed downward. If the elbows are elevated then the shoulders are unable to sink. When you use this to push someone they won’t go far. It’s like the ‘cut off’ energy of external martial arts.
  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 Yangtze 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 stopping 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 cinnabar field (dan1 tian2) 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.  

    Reference: yangfamilytaichi.com

    1 comment

    1. Overall not a bad set of hints. You could do worse. But it’s not exactly correct either.

      For example take this part: “Use Intent Rather than Force”.

      We all use intent. Even those who use force do so via intent. To say that force is unintentional or that it’s something other than or in addition to intent is to introduce a deluded thought into your mind. Even if I don’t move at all, I use intent. Intent has no beginning or end, and intent is not something that visits only the experienced tai chi practitioners.

      So then, what is the problem?

      The problem is that our intent is conditioned by our conceptual networks. I say networks, because concepts do not exist in isolation. Therefore, depending on how intent is conditioned produces wildly different experiences.

      The problem with traditional notion of “force” can be said to be twofold. First it’s the conception that action opposes a resisting force. Second, there is an opinion that tension is a necessary component of force. In weight training and in gymnastics there is even a term for it: “high tension techniques”. So, because of this, people who hold these limiting notions of force cannot intentionally create an experience of effortless accomplishment.

      This problem arises from materialistic thinking. Scientific materialism is a very widespread way of thinking about experience — and it’s a very limiting way of thinking. It’s surprising that Yi Chuan guys embrace this nonsensical and limited way of thinking about life. In materialistic thinking modality there is a very deep rooted belief that things exist in an of themselves, seemingly eternally. Secondly there is a belief that all things are separate. Since things are separate, the must interact through action only. Since things are seen as separate, intention has limited scope (for example, partial scope over your own body, but not anything else that’s thought to be outside the body). Because intention has limited scope, the notions of conflict arise. From conflict arises the idea of overcoming resistance and its attendant pressure.

      A truly spiritual person doesn’t hold a materialistic mindset. They don’t think of experience as either separate or unified things. They don’t conceive of boundaries as anything other than imaginary. Therefore their conceptual networks do not have the power to limit the scope of intention. Since the scope of intention is not framed in any way, it is endlessly whole. There is no action/reaction duality. There is no proponent and opponent. There is no struggle. Instead there is a dance. What’s dancing is not a person and it’s not a non-person either. It’s not nothing and it’s not just imagination, but it’s not anything concrete either. When phenomena are seen in this light, it becomes possible to train oneself to manifest just about anything. Strong arms wrapped in silk is a tiny insignificant fraction of what can be done. You can fly around. You can breathe water and eat mud. You can split your body in 10 pieces and join it back together again and so on. Even imagination is limited compared to the full array of possibilities.

      What tai chi people practice is bending the experience at the far edge of convention. They pick a tiny little corner of experience and bend it just a little bit. It’s not a profound change, but it’s enough change to see that previous thinking modality was not all-encompassing truth. It’s enough to get a hint of what else may be possible.

      The way to move forward is not to adopt formulaic advice, such as “don’t use force, use intent”, but to cultivate mindfulness, introspection and contemplation as a permanent lifestyle. No amount of formulas, no matter how clever can substitute true, alive, authentic, spontaneous, fresh contemplation and mindfulness. No religion and no school of thought can give you access to truth. At best they give you a hint there and a hint here, but you are on your own. For every hint you get you get 3 deluded ideas bundled with it, even in the “best” conventional spiritual paths. Be careful.

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