Master Wang’s Creative Interpretation and Application of Some Taijiquan Principles in Self-defence
Master Wang makes it a point of emphasis and has set an example to his students of how one should use one’s mind and learn from experience of success and failure after having studied carefully the theories set in the Taijiquan classics, listened earnestly to his teacher’s or anyone else’s interpretations, and watched attentively their ways of applying these principles in practising or combating. The following are a few examples:
(I) There is a principle (a sentence of eight Chinese characters) set in the Taijiquan classics attributed to Wang Zongyue of Ming Dynasty, with a note that it had been handed down by Zhang ‘Sanfeng, a Taoist on the Wudang Mountain in the Song Dynasty. The first half in four characters may be translated into English as “No excess, no insufficiency”, and the generally accepted interpretation is ‐when doing Taijiquan, whether in solo practice or in pushing-hands exercise, or sparring with a partner, or in actual combating, you should use only the very necessary amount of force, not a bit more or less; and any movement you make should be just right in position. But the second half, also in four characters, are explainable in two ways: more generally as “stretch out as your opponent bends in ” , and some would also supply the natural reverse “and contract as your opponent expands”; and less generally as “follow the bending. adhere to (or follow) the stretching.” Which is correct, or more adequate? What is Wang’s opinion?
Basically, Master Wang prefers the second one, but he would add something to it, as summed up from his long years of experience: “follow your opponent’s bending without letting him have any chance to turn to stretching; and adhere to his stretching without giving him any. opportunity to turn to bending, he will then be found in an awkward position ready to be handled easily.”
(2) There is a sentence in a known Taijiquan treatise that may be rendered into English as: If you fail to catch a good opportunity or to gain an advantageous position, your body will be in a state of disorder and the cause of such a fault must be sought from the waist or legs.
Evidently this is a very important teaching, and as there is nothing abstruse with the language, we can just do according to the advice given. But why and how? The general view is that: to a human body the legs form the foundation of every posture taken and the waist acts like the axle of the moving parts, so if there is anything wrong, fundamentally there must first be something wrong with the waist or legs, or both, so the way to correct the fault is by adjusting the waist or legs. So far so good. But what if your waist itself senses some discomfort? Adjust the waist? And what if your legs sense some discomfort? Adjust the legs? Master Wang says no, and advises: if your waist senses some discomfort, forget the waist and adjust the legs; if your legs sense some discomfort, forget the legs and adjust the waist. Try it out yourself and see- if it works.
(3) In the “Chant of Pushing-hands”, there is a sentence with seven Chinese characters, the first four meaning ‐ entice (your opponent) to advance and fall into emptiness (failing to reach his target); the last three, meaning ‐ when all conditions are met, issue energy instantly. The principle is obviously sound and clear, but what are the necessary conditions, and how to catch that very moment instantly? To those who have had some basic knowledge and training in Taijiquan, the first part of the question is not difficult to answer, the following conditions are generally taken as the necessary conditions: your opponent’s slight loss of balance, the moment he gets into an awkward position, and his centre of gravity together with the most effective line through which to attack him all being sensed and located. But the second part presents real difficulty, many may have practised for years and have not yet found a sure way of catching that very right moment. If that is the case and energy is issued at the wrong moment, all the conditions may be instantly changed to your disadvantage. Now let me offer you Master Wang’s simple and reliable way for your reference ‐ The moment your opponent comes into contact with you, you should apply the Taijiquan principle and technique of “adhering, joining, sticking to, and following” to his every move, with no letting go and no resistance, while keeping an acute awareness of what is sensed from the point in touch with ‘ your opponent. Should he refrain from making an initiative, you could expose a point of weakness purposefully and entice him to take advantage of it During the whole course of pushing-hands if a sense of heaviness is felt , at the point of contact with your opponent, do not issue energy or restrain yourself instantly if you are about to issue; but at the moment when that sense of heaviness turns into lightness, lose no time to issue energy. Of course, to be able to catch the very right moment instantly, you must first have developed a keen sense of touch and a quick reaction through years of pushing-hands practice. Nevertheless, Master Wang’s teaching offers a simple to follow rule in judging whether the right moment is there or not. That surely is a thing of importance, and I hope Master Wang’s advice will prove useful to you.
(4) As is generally known, the cardinal principle of Taijiquan is “using the mind (thought), not strength.” Actually, in doing any physical movement, it is impossible not to use strength at all. Thus, in so saying, it is but to emphasize that the art of Taijiquan relies more on the use of one’s mind than strength to overcome an opponent. Such a principle could be more easily apprehended and better appreciated today, for it is common sense now that whatever we do are controlled by our nerve system, with the cerebral cortax of our brain as the control centre. So the really important issue regarding this principle is not why it should be so, but how it should be done.
An answer seems to have been provided in another well known classic entitled “The Mental Elucidation of the Thirteen Postures”. However, owing to the terseness and abstruseness of the original text in classical Chinese, it has been interpreted in different ways, such as:
1st – When the mind directs the qi, the mind must be calm, so the qi could permeate the bones. When the qi circulates through the body, the qi must flow freely and naturally, so the qi could be dictated easily and efficiently by the mind;
2nd – when the mind directs the qi, the qi must sink deep and steadily, so as to premeate the bones. When the qi moves the body, the body must be submissive, so as to be dictated easily and efficiently by the mind;
3rd ‐ when the mind directs the qi, the directing must be calm and steady, so the qi could permeate the bones. When the qi circulates through the body, the circulating must be free and natural, so the body could be dictated easily and efficiently by the mind.
There might still be a 4th, 5th . . . From the above, we can see that in studying a Taijiquan doctrine, it is sometimes hard to catch its exact meaning by merely studying the wording in a classic; and in listening to the interpretations offered, there might be big differences of opinion that make it difficult to follow. So do not be disturbed if you find such difficulties and differences. Test what you have learned in your practice and application, sum up your experience of success and failure bit by bit, and form your own opinions one by one as Master Wang has done and advised.
Master Wang is highly praised for his subtle, varified, accurate, and effective movements employed in pushing‐hands practice and in free sparring. He often cites a well known old saying: “How to use one’s kungfu relies totally on one’s mind-intent.” I have particularly asked him about how he uses his mind to direct his movements, and have finally focused on “What to concentrate his mind on and how to shift his points of attention in directing his movements so as to perform a certain posture or to execute a certain combative technique accurately, efficiently, and effortlessly.” The following are the summerized points:
1 ‐ Just before making any movement, think first of uplifting your head lightly and loosening the joints, especially the shoulder ioint and the hip joint. This is a necessary prerequisite to make possible your facing the opponent with an attentive spirit and keeping the limbs in a fully relaxed state, so as to be able to respond quickly to any change and do the stretching or bending to the required extent.
2 ‐ When y0u are doing Taiiiquan in its solo form, you should have in mind a picture of meeting an opponent and that you should use a certain posture or Taiiiquan technique that deemed fit to neutralize his attack or to set him off balance while he is in a certain imagined position. Thus you must first have the knowledge of the combative use of every movement of every posture as told by Master Wang in this book, or by other competent Taiiiquan masters. Only by practising Taiiiquan with such a picture in mind could you have the possibility of making actual use of it in combat.
3‐ Whatever the form and number of movements used in a certain posture, there is a general principle, also a basic requirement, that your arms and legs should move, coordinately, that the shoulder should come into unison with the hipioint, the elbow with the knee, and the hand with the foot. To meet such a requirement, Master Wang’s way is to think of letting the three vital points on y0ur arm meet with or separate from the three corresponding vital points on the leg, those on the right arm in correspondence with those on the left leg and those on the left arm in correspondence with the right leg, one after another in succession in the course of the movement. Let them unite with each other when doing a “closing” movement, and separate from each other when doing an “opening” move‐ ment. All such uniting and separating should be led by the “insubstantial arm” and- one’s mind should chiefly be concentrated on it. The “insubstantial” arm is one on the same side, of your “substantial” leg (one that bears the greater part of your bodyweight). Between the arms and legs, their “insubstantiality and “substantiality” coincide with the opposite party on the other side of the body, i.e. if the right leg is “substantial”, the left arm is “substantial”; in this case the left leg is “insubstantial”, as is the right arm. The three vital points on the arm are: the Jianiing point at the indented part of the shoulder girdle, near the neck; the Quchi point at the outer side of the elbow; and the Laogong point at the centre of palm; the three vital points on the leg‘are: the Huantiao point at the outer side of the hipioint; the Yangling point at the outer side of the knee; and the Yongquan point at the arch of foot. (See Appendix I I I : Diagram of Vital Points Mentioned in this Book) .
Thinking (focusing and shifting your points of attention) in such a manner achieves two things: one is to let the mind direct the movement of the body via the movement of “qi”, since the “qi” moves through a path along which are spread the vital points (as already known and made use of in acupuncture); another is to bring about a unison of the respective parts in a more precise and quicker manner, and to reach a stronger state, since a point on a limb is much finer than a part of the limb, a thought of unison comes quicker than the act of unison, and an external unison actuated by an attentive thought in the mind is stronger than a merely superficial external expression of unison.
4 – As the point of your opponent’s weakness is shown, his being in a disadvantageous position or his slight loss of balance is sensed, and you are to send him off his feet, issue the energy from the bottom up by pressing the heel of your rear foot with a snap against the ground and at the same time think of the palm of the hand that is placed in the rear and is in line with the centre of gravity of your opponent. Do not place your focus of attention on the contacting point (or the fore contacting point, if there are two or more points contacted), nor on the object or the direction your eyes are looking at. Some may raise a question or have a doubt of whether this is in harmony with the general principle “at the instant the mind thinks of something, the eyes should be looking there, and the hands and feet should have reached there.” Still some others may find that on this point Master Wang’s way is even somewhat different from his teacher, Yang Yuting’s. Yes, they are different asMaster Wang has told me, and not without reason. According to Master Wang, in actual application, at the point of issuing energy, your eyes are looking at the direction toward which you are to issue your energy, and you yourself and your opponent should be linked together into one, so the contacting point should not be shifted at all, and therefore needs no more attention. But to enhance the effectiveness or to multiply the forcefulness of your energy sent out upon your opponent, no energy should be sent forth from the contacting point by you, but energy should be sent from bottom up and from the rear end to the foremost end, and that requires your full attention to ensure its being correctly done. And only when you and your opponent have been formed into one at the moment of operation, the energy you are sending out could then reach the target you have set on your opponent’s body instantly.
Try out Master Wang’s way, see if it works, at least he has offered us’something that has made his art of Taiiiquan outstanding in combative use.
Reference: Wu Style Taijiquan by Wang Peisheng & Zeng Weiqi p. 3-8.