It is common among martial artists to discuss their skills. The same is true of Tai Chi Chuan practitioners. We have seen a competition match where an older man defeated a younger man; we heard from our teachers and read from books how the Yang Family members’ kung-fu was so good that they defeated hard style practitioners without any difficulty. When a young man is defeated by an older man, we say that the young man’s kung-fu is not as good as an older man’s. You may wonder how to measure kung-fu skills in Tai Chi Chuan. The following is my understanding and interpretation of how to measure different levels of Tai Chi Chuan kung-fu with my sixty years of practical knowledge.
Tai Chi Chuan kung-fu is divided into ten levels. The first three levels are called lower level or what some people call the level of “entering the door” for this is the beginning of a journey of Tai Chi Chuan training. If a student has achieved the third level, he is considered to have entered the door of training. Fourth to sixth levels are called the middle level or what some people call “enter the door and go into the room”. It is so-called because the student is no longer a beginner and all his instructions are taught in a closed space. Seventh level is the level for a Tai Chi Chuan practitioner to master. Eight to tenth levels are the higher levels and are commonly referred to as “reaching the peak and summit.” Eighth level means one has reached the peak but not the summit. Throughout the history of Tai Chi Chuan, the number of people who achieve this level is very few, so few that we can count them without fingers. People who have achieved this level must have spent decades of diligent practice. For now, anyone who has achieved eighth level will be very famous not just in China but throughout the world if he wanted to show his skill to the public.
The following is a more detailed discussion on the ten levels of Tai Chi Chuan kung-fu. We all know that Tai Chi Chuan is an internal martial art and it is based on the philosophy of yin-yang (that is soft interacting with hard). The whole process of Tai Chi Chuan training is to break down the stiff and rigid body into a soft and relaxed body and then assemble this soft and hard body into a hard and solid body like steel. The Classics say that one should first seek the familiar and then try to understand the jing (internal power). From beginning to understand the jing, with practice the practitioner develops enlightenment. With the term “familiar” the Classics refer to the concept of transforming the hard and rigid body into soft and relaxed body through push hands and the knowledge of these concepts is also called “entering the door” kung-fu. Therefore, it is taught orally. Of course, if one practices Tai Chi Chuan just for health, one does not need to practice push hands. However, if one practices Tai Chi Chuan as a martial art, one must practice push hands. Otherwise one is never considered to have entered the door. From push hands exercise, one slowly understands the jing. These are the first three levels of Tai Chi Chuan kung-fu.
From push hands exercise standpoint, the first three levels of kung-fu are the yielding or neutralizing of the opponent’s energy. The Classic of Tai Chi Chuan Circle says that the retreat circle is easer to do than the advance circle. The first three levels are also called the retreat circle. In level one, most of the movements are composed of stiff and rigid energy, very little of yielding energy. In the second level, yielding energy increases and rigid energy decreases in all movements. This is the result of understanding the concepts of push hands exercises and getting familiar with the opponent’s energy and movements. In the third level, all the movements are controlled mainly by the yielding energy and one begins to understand the jing. At this time, one does not just understand and know the jing but is able to maneuver in a circular motion to neutralize the coming energy.
The first three levels is for a student not familiar with the concept of circle to become very familiar with the concept of circle and can use this circle principle to adhere and follow the coming energy. When one understands how and when to use this circle to retreat, one is beginning to understand jing.
Fourth to sixth level kung-fu is working with the advance circle. Therefore, it is also called the advance circle training. When I speak of advance circle, it is not simply a response after retreat. It is in the process of retreating that your yielding energy adheres to the opponent’s energy at all times and under this condition you are forced to advance. For in this situation, your advance maneuver threatens and can cause your opponent to lose balance and get defeated. Your offensive maneuver can be a strike or just fa jing (release energy) and can send the opponent flying. At this time, the student begins to develop fa jing or one inch fa jing techniques. Therefore, if a practitioner does not possess these fa jing or one inch jing techniques, one is considered not to have achieved the fourth level and has not entered the door.
In this fourth to sixth level kung-fu, training involves collecting all the limber body parts and beginning to form firm body parts and from one inch fa jing into even smaller unit of fa jing techniques. Common people generally withdraw their arms one or two feet to reserve power and then punch forward. This is called one foot fa jing technique. At the fourth level, one does not need to withdraw the arms and hands. At this level, a simple fa jing technique cause the opponent to fly. This is the sign that he has entered the door and begins to go into the room. At this time the practitioner should feel the legs and feet are much stronger and are rooted. After one has achieved the fourth level and higher, one is at a very delicate time. The classic calls this as one day’s worth of practice and one day’s worth of skill. This is also the time when the practitioner has entered the door and has gone into the room. The classic also calls this the time of “no rest and keep practicing.” The classic says that in order to learn correctly, one must begin by oral transmission. When a student has achieved level four, he has completed the oral transmission period. Although the student does not practice push hands exercises this time, practice of the solo form can improve Tai Chi Chuan kung-fu. Of course, with a teacher’s guidance, the student’s progress is much greater.
When a student has achieved level six, he has entered the room and understands the knowledge. Now he is beginning to understand how to let oneself go and follow the opponent’s energy and apply energy any way he likes. From my sixty years of practical experience, level seven is the key level in which one is going from middle kung-fu into higher kung-fu transition. It is the level of using the mind to control all movements any way one likes. When a student completes this level, the student has also completed the advance circle. The next step is no circle. It is also for the student to practice one inch fa jing technique to small units of fa jing techniques. At this time, one should find that part of the body is soft and every part of the body is solid. Every part of the body can yield and every part can fa jing. Therefore, depending on which part of the body is in contact with the opponent, that part of the body will strike the opponent.
From push hands application standpoint, the first three levels are outer circle yielding while fourth to fifth levels are inner circle yielding. The sixth level is yielding with the body. That means one leads the opponent’s energy close to the body and then maneuver the body for yielding. This technique is called “separation of the flesh.” Level seven is no circle strike. Besides the three ways of yielding as described above, one can lead the opponent’s energy to come close to the body and counter strike without yielding. This technique is called “point strike.” At this time, you cannot see the hands move because when the hands touch, it is a strike. When the hands stick, it is also a strike. In this point of contact, it is composed of strike and fa jing and it can be either soft or solid, it can be yield or fa jing. You can say that it is soft and you can say that it is solid.
Levels eight to ten are advanced Tai Chi Chuan kung-fu. Because I have not achieved this yet, I cannot define what it is. From what I heard from my teacher and sixty years of practical experience, anyone who has achieved this level can do wonderful things. This is what the classics commonly refer to when it says, “the opponent does not know me but I know the opponent.” The body is so sensitive and light that one cannot add one feather, fly and mosquito cannot land on the body. When an opponent punches the body, the opponent is already injured and is flying backward but you did not see my improvement. Any movement can cause the opponent injury and bleeding. Of course, in martial arts training, There is no such thing as the end state. The more you practice, the better the skill. Skill is infinite. Tai Chi Chuan practitioners past and present have achieved skill that most people do not believe was humanly possible.
Fang Ning On Tai Chi Chuan Kung-Fu by Fang Ning, translated by Master Vincent Chu.
By Wee Kee Jin
Taijiquan is no different from any other exercise or martial art if it is practiced without understanding the principles and without putting the principles into the movements. Regardless of the various different Taiji styles or Taiji forms, they are all based on the same set of Taiji classical texts. They are: The Chang Sang Feng Taiji Classic, The Wang Ts’ung Yueh Taiji Classic, The Song of Thirteen Postures, The Understanding of the Thirteen Postures, The Song of Substance and Function, The Song of Push Hands and, in the case of the Yang style, The Ten Important Points of the Yang Family. Practitioners should put the principles into the movements, rather than going into the movements to look for the principles. To put the principles into the movements, the practitioner must constantly read and understand the classics and, when practicing, the mind must ‘ask’ and the body must ‘answer’ (respond).
The foundation of Tajijquan practice is in the Taiji Form. By neglecting the Taiji Form and only focusing on push hands, it is like working on the function (application) without the substance (body). By knowing yourself and knowing your opponent you will excel in push hands. Knowing yourself comes from the practice of the Taiji Form, where you learn to be relaxed, balanced, connected and synchronised without any external forces affecting you. The relaxed force of Taiji is cultivated and developed in the practice of the Taiji Form.
In the Chang Sang Feng classic it is stated, “At the moment of movement, the body should be light, agile and most importantly connected (synchronised)”. To achieve this, the central equilibrium must be maintained in position, in transition and in the release of the force, both in the Taiji Form and in push hands. To maintain the central equilibrium the practitioner has to keep in mind the following principles: The Song of Thirteen Postures”, Tuck in the tailbone and keep a consciousness on the crown of the head (pai hui meridian point),the body will be agile if the head is held as if suspended from the top. ”The Wang Tsúng Yueh Taiji Classic, “Do not tilt or lean. Stand like a level scale”. Only when the central equilibrium has been achieved, can one talk about changes and relaxation. The central equilibrium is the foundation of Taijiquan. It is one of Taiji’s ‘Thirteen Postures’ and all the other twelve postures must have the central equilibrium within them.
The practice of the Taiji Form is not about whether you know the whole Form, nor is it measured by the number of different Taiji Forms or styles you know. It is about putting the principles into the Form and understanding the movements in the Form. The Taiji Form is only a tool for you to transfer the principles from the Taiji Classics into your body, and eventually the Form should become Formless because any movement you make should have the principles within it.
Besides having the Taiji principles, the practitioner must also understand the movements in the Form. After learning the whole Form the practitioner must seek to understand the sequence of changes that creates the movements and get the sequences to change in relation to each other, and in so doing, achieving the principle that is stated in the Understanding of The Thirteen Postures, ”Remember, keep this in your heart, when you move every part of your body moves, when you settle every parts settles”. In different postures in the Taiji Form, the arms, the legs and the body might be in different positions and you might face different directions, but the sequence of changes and what happens in it is the same. That is why the great Taiji teachers of the past always say, ”when you understand one movement, you understand all the movements”. In fact the most effective way of practicing the Form is the single posture practice.
The changes within any movement always begin from the base (feet, ankles, knees and hips joints) and the letting go of excess tension from the calves and thighs muscles. The base creates the body (trunk) movements – the relaxation of the chest from within, the melting sensation of the body muscles and the letting go of excess tension from the upper, middle and lower back, creating movements in the back. The body creates the arm movements – the sinking of the shoulders and dropping of the elbows. The movement of the body comes from mind cultivation, so the mind awareness must be in the body to imagine and visualise the body’s movements happening. After prolonged cultivation the movements will materialise. The base and the arm movements will only be connected if there are movements in the body, otherwise they are only coordinated.
Relaxation in the Taiji Form: there is a difference between relaxation and being ‘soft and floppy’. “Fang Sung” (relaxation in Chinese) means to ‘let go’. To let go what?, to let go any unnecessary tension in the posture (body) and movements. In Taiji we use the minimum amount of tension to sustain postures and movements, anything more than is necessary we call it tension. As our awareness of our body increases so does our ability to let go of unnecessary tension. When the upper body becomes lighter and the base become heavier, it is the sign of relaxation taking place. In the end, the upper body becomes yin and the base become yang and, when the practitioner reaches the highest level, only the feet are yang the rest of the body is yin.
Sinking: Sinking is a mental process and it is very important in Taiji practice. It can only come after the practitioner is able to relax. Sinking develops the root in Taiji, to enable the practitioner to ‘borrow the energy from the earth’. Sinking is also a training to take any incoming forces into the ground (internal neutralising) in push hands. The sinking should start from the Pai Hui meridian point (crown of the head), and this is to ‘swallow the chi of the heaven’. It should go through the body, legs and feet, through the bubbling well into the ground.
To borrow the energy from the earth, the practitioner must visualise the sinking awareness rebounding from the ground, traveling through the bubbling well, up through the legs, the body and the arms, past the Lau Kung meridian point and to the fingertips. When the practitioners master the Taiji Form, then they will have a structure to receive the forces in push hands.
Push Hands: In the old days it was known as an exercise of ‘sensing and feeling’, but somehow it was later called push hands. Push hand s is a very misleading phrase because actually it has nothing to do with pushing and nothing to do with the hands. Most Taiji push hands we see is just like a wrestling match, or like two goats locking horns, using brute force and thus deviating from the Taiji principles. The reasons are that one person wants to push, the other doesn’t want to be pushed. The bigger one use his body weight and strength, while the smaller one tries to dig in to hold his ground. It always take two hands to clap!
We have to look into the principles, understand them and then proceed into the practice. One of the Ten Important points of the Yang family says, “Use your mind ,not your brute force”, as long as you use your mind the door to Taiji push hands is open for you to enter; if you still want to use brute force it is just like locking the door and try to get in again. If you still want to use brute force, don’t come to learn Taiji because even you have ten lifetimes you cannot achieve the essence of Taiji.
In the Song of Push Hands it says, “Let him use immense (brute) force to attack me” and “Lead his movements with only four tael to neutralise a thousand katty of force”. This clearly shows that a greater force will not stand a chance if it is dealt with using the Taiji principles.
The foundation of Taiji push hand is receiving, not pushing, and the highest form of Taiji force is the Receiving Force (jie jin), and so therefore the practice of receiving should start from the beginning. Professor Cheng Man Ching said that “If you are not prepared to receive (incoming force) do not come to learn Taiji because you will be wasting your time in your lifetime you will not get the essence of Taiji”. In the Wang Tsúng Yueh Taiji classic it is stated, “A feather cannot be added, a fly cannot settle” and in the Ten Important Points of Yang family it says, ”I am not a meat rack”. All of these points emphasise that you should receive and accept the forces, not resist against them.
In the practice of Push hands the body should have all the elements that are experienced in the Taiji Form. The key to receiving is to throw away self (ego) and invest in loss. “Invest in loss; small loss small gain, big loss, big gain”, what beautiful words spoken by professor Cheng Man Ching. It seems that by receiving (yielding) you are losing but that is not the case because the person pushing is actually giving you “Taiji money”. As he keeps pushing he gets poorer and as you keep receiving you get richer. When the day comes that he can no longer push you (that means he is Taiji bankrupt), then perhaps you could give him some interest on the “Taiji money” he gave you! In the beginning the practice of receiving can be very frustrating because you get pushed over all the time. As you progress you start to realise where you get stuck, and why, but you will still get pushed over because you can’t yet do anything about it. Gradually though, you learn how to ‘unstick’ yourself and take the force down into the ground. Receiving must be done with total acceptance, in the process of receiving if you have even the slightest intention or thought of countering, then it is receiving without total acceptance. When you master the art of receiving, you will able to perform the principle that is stated in The Song of Push Hands, “Draw him into emptiness, gather the force and send it out”.
Receiving (yielding and neutralising) is not to receive the oncoming force on to the body as the body has only a limited capacity to absorb the force, but to take it into the earth, which has a relatively limitless capacity. The process of receiving the force into the earth is similar to the sinking process in the Taiji Form except that it starts at the point of contact[, rather than the pai hui].
The upper body is yin and the base is yang, so any adjustment to incoming movements and forces must begin from the base and, as in the Taiji form, the body and arms follow the changes of the base. The hands are used only to stick to the opponent, and at any chance to release your force it should be released through the legs with the feet remaining firmly grounded to the earth. As it is stated in the Chang San Feng Taiji classic, “The root is in the feet, discharged through the legs (relaxed force), controlled by the waist (direction) and expressed into the fingers”. No matter how big or small the issuing is, the hands never extend more than a space of one inch (the extension is only the result of sinking the shoulders).
In push hands, you do not go into it to look for a push or plan to set up a chance to push, you just follow the changes of your opponent and let the push happen by itself. If there is a will to push, then there will be intention and desire. ‘In the principle everything is base on the principle of yin and yang. When the yin reaches its extreme it will become yang and vice versa. So whenever you think you are in the most advantageous position you are actually in the process of going into a disadvantaged position and whenever you are in a most disadvantaged position you are in the process of going to an advantageous position. It is always better to change from a disadvantage to an advantaged position, rather than the other way around. When you reach the highest level of push hands, there are no pushes
from you. Your body structure is an empty void and any force that comes into contact with it travels into the earth and rebounds back, returning to the person issuing the force. This is the highest level of Taiji force, the Receiving Force, where the practitioner neutralises without neutralising and issues without issuing. To attain this level one must be able to “Forget yourself and follow the other without your own opinion, follow the heart and mind and let it be natural”.
To borrow the words of professor Cheng Man Ching when speaking about push hands, “It is an idea without motives, an act without desire. What a wonderful art Taiji is; it has nothing to do with pushing, it is all about receiving”. As practitioners of Taijiquan we should be true to the art, not only preaching the principles, but also practicing and adhering to them. Taiji is not only an exercise for health or a martial art for self defence, it is most importantly the Dao (philosophy) of life.
Wee Kee Jin, 2006
What is Taiji pushing‐hands? What should one pay attention to when learning and practising pushing‐hands? The solo form sequence practice and duet form pushing-hands exercise are the two component parts of the art of Taijiquan. Doing sequence practice enables one to learn the substance of Taiiiquan, while doing pushing-hand exercise trains one to apply the art to actual self-defence. Therefore, after having learned how to do well a complete sequence of Taiiiquan, one should proceed to learn pushing-hands. Only when one has become proficient in both, can he be counted as being possessed of the substance as well as the application of the art of Taiiiquan.
Pushing-hands is a form of exercise to sharpen the sensitivity of one nerve endings to the degree as sensitive as that of the feelers of a cricket. The feelers are not only very quick in sensing out what the cricket is facing against, but are also very quick in directing the insect to dodge nimbly an attack with the slightest necessary shifting movement, or to be fully attentive in locating and taking advantage of any of the opponent’s weak points. Such kind of exercise will enhance one’s interest and arouse the spirit of enquiry and analysis in the process of learning Taiiiquan.
Pushing-hands is a technical term used in Taiiiquan, and it is sometimes called Joining-hands, or Closely-attached‐hands, or Kneading-hands. There are similar kinds of practice adopted by different schools of Chinese martial arts for practising the methods of getting into close contact with one’s opponent and making good use of some combative device and technique.
“Knowing how to interpret energy” is looked upon as the gist of mastering the art of Taiiiquan, and the primary step toward the knowing is to sharpen the sensitivity of the skin through pushing-hands practice. For that, the fundamental way is to let one’s elbow, wrist, palm or fingers get attached to a certain part of the opponent’s body while doing pushing, pulling, or other movements, to learn to sense out the forcefulness, direction, speed as well as the substantiality or insubstantiality of the opponent’s energy to be issued. After a long time of such kind of practice the sensitivity of nerve endings will be greatly sharpend, and the pair will know how to advance or retreat, and how to issue energy or neutralize it aptly. Then, at the opponent’s slightest stir, one will know instantly the direction, the forcefulness, the speed as well as the substantiality or insubstantiality of the energy he is to issue. Such ability is known as “knowing how to interpret energy.”
After one is capable of “knowing how to interpret energy”, one’s art will become more and more refined through further practice. In an encounter with an opponent, taking an accurate measure of him is of utmost importance, and the basis of an accurate measure is knowing oneself and one’s opponent. There is an old Chinese saying: “Knowing oneself and also one’s’ opponent will make one a hundred times victorious in a hundred battles.” Sensitive feeling is the meduim for knowing the self and the opponent. So the fundamental theory of pushing-hands is actually not very complicated. Of course, from the point of keeping one’s body centered and in equilibrium, it is harder to be so with the duet form pushing‐hands than with the solo form sequence practice, for the latter calls for keeping balanced in doing different sorts of movements by oneself only, while the former demands keeping balanced under an opponent’s every measure to set him off balance, and losing no opportunity to set the opponent off balance. The often cited saying “Seeking to know one’s own energy through the sequence practice, and the other’s energy through pushing-hands exercise” shows that the two actually serve the same purpose of knowing oneself and knowing one’s opponent.
Only through constant practice can one obtain true knowledge. Whether in doing pushing-hands exercise or sequence practice, one must observe the prescribed way of doing them, and must try one’s best to do every posture and to apply any method as correctly as possible. In pushing-hands, the insubstantiality and the substantiality of the two legs must be clearly differentiated. For instance, the foreleg must bend to the required degree when taking the “archer stance”, and one must sit back firmly on the rear leg when assuming the “sitting stance.” Also, one’s trunk must be kept centered and in equilibrium as in doing the sequence practice. The. eight forms of hand‐ methods: warding, rolling, pushing, pressing, pulling, splitting, elbow‐striking and shoulder‐striking should be practised one by one again and again, to obtain accuracy. Therefore, a beginner is asked to devote his full time and attention to “rotation-practice” which is a system of exercise done cooperatively by two persons. When A does warding, B counters it with rolling aside then A changes to pressing, B overcomes it with pushing, or vice‘versa.‘ Going on this way in rotation round after round till tired, it is not unusual to do up to a few hundred rounds at a practice session. In the older days, some had done up to a few thousand rounds, and even to ten tho‘usand rounds! When the above four forms of hand‐methods are mastered, the pair should proceed to four more forms: pulling, splitting, elbow-striking and shoulder-striking in the training system called Da Lu. Only after one has become proficient in the use of these eight hand-methods, should one start to make enquiry (to test) the opposite party’s energy. In pushing-hands, the movement of eyesight generally follows that of the hands.
Form a habit of doing all these in a correct way. When a good foundation is laid, it will be easier to reach the advanced stage of development. It is necessary to observe the rule of gradual progression. Avoid any hasty desire for success. Kungfu (skill developed through a long time of hard training) is an accumulation of improvement day by day and bit by bit.
There are quite a number of diferent forms of pushing-hands exercise. The basic four hand-methods practice on fixed stance, the same practice with moving steps, and Da Lu are the chief ones; while the so‐called “Rib-reaching”, “Folding up” and “Old Cattle Energy” are more advanced auxiliary exercises designed to develop a certain skill or power; and finally there is “Free-flower-picking” as a form of free sparring. However, pushing-hands on fixed steps is fundamental to all. Therefore, it is necessary to start with it in learning the art of pushing-hands.
When starting to do rotation practice, all the movements should be done to the required degree and it is advisable to gradually enlarge the movements and make them more and more rounded, avoiding any appearance of bumps and holes in one’s posture, any severance and discontinuity in one’s movement, and any defectiveness in the methods employed. Pushing-hands on fixed stance allows no moving of the rear foot, and any such moving is usually counted a loss of one point in a contest. Therefore, in the practice one should increase his reach only by extending the movements of his arms and trunk and his Counterpart should evade the closing in by sitting back on his rear foot as far as needed, and then neutralise the on-coming force at the apt moment. It is not allowed to resist or to ward off it with force. Only when one is so closely pressed by the on-coming force that any neutralising movement is no more possible, will he be allowed in practice to move a step backward, and if only half a step is needed, then just retreat half a step, not any more. Whether advancing or retreating, the two should maintain attachment to each other. Practising in such a manner, a kind of adhering and sticking energy will be gradually developed as time goes by.
The next step is to take up folding up practice and Da Lu to develop further the flexibility and tenacity of the waist and legs, and for the training of advanced skills. One important thing to remember is not to let your self go into inquiring (testing) your opponent’s energy too early. The common saying “Practice makes perfect” is most suitably applied to pushing-hands. Just concentrate your effort and attention on doing your daily practice, by and by, there will develop in you the sense of knowing how to “interpret energy.” When you really knows this you will be able to make use of the technique of overcoming hardness with pliability, and to use “four ounces to deflect a thousand pounds”
The sentence “Use four ounces to deflect a thousand pounds” in the “Song of Pushing-hands” denotes a method with the highest efficiency employed in pushing‐hands. To achieve this, the primary demand after getting into contact with the opponent is “no letting go and no resistance”. Though the phrase “no letting go” surely denotes not getting separated from each other, but in fact it is not that simple. One should let some part of his arm, by his keen sense of touch, get adhered to the opponents. And in this state of adherance, one should follow the opponents movement, at the same time, issue a very slight amount of energy to try to drive the opponent into a disadvantageous or unstable position. At this juncture, if no counter-acting energy is felt (that is, at the moment when a sense of lightness appears from a sense of heaviness), one could use any hand-method that deemed fit to send the opponent off his feet. And if a sense of heaviness is felt at the attached point, one should slightly loosen the attachment to let opponent have a sudden feeling of emptiness, and follow with an attack immediately. That will send the opponent away much farther. Such is the effect of first making use of the principle of “no resistance”, to leave ones opponent in a state of being suddenly lifted from his root, and then immediately followed with the technique of “no letting go” to set him of balance. The phrase “no resistance” may be understood from the wording as not to use any strength and let oneself be handled in any way by the opponent, however, it is not entirely so. To be handled in any way by, the opponent will place oneself in a passive position, while “no resistance” embodies an active spirit in making one’s movement suited to any of the opponents. Therefore, in pushing‐hands, while it is necessary to be able to receive whatever comes from the opponent, it is also imperative to use ones keen sense of touch to find out the substantial and the insubstantial part of the opponent’s body, and to discriminate the real and the fake of his offensive or defensive movements so as to be able to adapt ones own movements to that of the opponent’s.
To counter an opponents forceful attack with forceful resistance is a commitment of the most serious fault in Taiiiquan, the double-weighting (this term will be explained in detail later). To hit back at any on-comming stroke right away is but a kind of natural reaction and not the way of Taijiquan. The way adopted by Taiii pushing‐hands is “to neutralise the oncoming force first, then to follow with a counter attack”. And its also necessary to get oneself into a superior position, and one’s opponent, an awkward position before making the counter attack. Thus, one will be able to gain victory without spending much effort. This is in accordance with what is said in the Taijiquan treaties: “To meet hardness with softness is termed getting away”; “to get oneself into a superior position, and one’s opponent, an awkward position, is called adhering to.” One should take any on-coming force, big or small, as a hard one, and not to resist it with force, but to meet it softly while evading from the attack. This is what is meant by “getting away.” To create a superior position before making the counter attack, one must catch the right opportunity and make use of the advantageous situation, or try to get out from an awkward and disadvantageous position in time.
It is naturally uncomfortable in an awkward position, and to transfer from being uncomfortable to comfortable, one must also do as pointed out in a Taijiquan classic: “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.” That is: in pushing-hands, if the waist senses some discomfort, adjust the legs and the trouble will be gone; and when the legs are not properly placed, hard to bare one’s weight and feeling uncomfortable, adjust the waist, and the problem will be solved. We must also see that when one‘s own body is in a comfortable state, there is no question that the other party is in a state of discomfort, and vice versa. And when one is in a superior position, this is the time to issue energy to upset the opponent. And remember: not a split‐second’s delay; any delay, the opportunity is lost and the situation is changed. Thus the aim of pushing-hands training is not to improve our natural reaction, to make it quicker and more forceful, but to inhibit and remould it. And it does not mean “not to use any force”, but to use a necessary amount of force at the right moment and with much greater effects.
The principle “no letting go and no resistance” is one of prime importance in pushing‐hands practice. The relationship between advance and retreat could be made more interrelated. The two persons engaged in this practice should neither stick together too closely, nor get separated, but to be linked into one in the continuous rotation practice. The procedure of practice is to let one party take up the role of an attacker, the other the defender, and then have the two changed around later. If the attacker advances one inch, the defender yeilds one inch, if one foot, also one foot, not a bit more or a bit less. Yielding less will result in resisting, while yeilding more will result in letting go. And one must remember that all advancing or retreating most take a curved path, not a straight one. Another important point is that to practise “no resisting”, it is necessary not only to yield with the hands, but to turn the waist and sit back at the same time. Otherwise, because of lack of coordination between one’s own hands and the trunk, should the trunk stay unmoved while the hands are already retreated, it will offer the opponent an opportunity of discarding the hands and reach directly for the trunk. That is why in pushing-hands, it relies chiefly on one’s waist and leg-work. To train the waist and legs, aside from laying emphasis on fundamental training, such as the practice of the various forms of foot stance: the archer stance, the riding stance, the insubstantial stance, the resting stance and the sitting stance, etc., as well as the various forms of turning and twisting the trunk, one must take note of the training procedure of “seeking first for extending and opening; seeking later for closing and compacting.”
Formerly, speaking of pushing-hands, there is one way called “getting the gate tightly closed”, and another, “leaving the gate wide open”. The idea of “getting the gate tightly closed” is that as a defensive measure against any offensive move, one should block the entrance leading toward one’s own body. It is generally correct but not always so. If one has in his command good waist and leg-work, it is all right for him to leave the gate wide open, enticing the opponent to come in. On the contrary, if one only pays attention to closing the gate in his daily practice, and has no experience in leaving the gate wide open, then, at the instance of actual encounter, should the gate be opened by his opponent, he will find himself in great alarm and not knowing what to do. Therefore, in daily practice, one should first seek to make one’s postures more and more open and extended, and later on, more and more close and compacted. It is quite the same as in learning calligraphy.
To be good at writing small size characters, one generally starts with writing big size charcters to build up a strong foundation of penmanship. When one is already good at writing big size characters, one can achieve success in writing small size characters after a comparatively short time of practice. As it is harder to extend one’s movement when one is already accustomed to compacting, the training of Taiiiquan demands extending one’s movements first to increase the reach in applying the techniques of “adhering, connencting, sticking and following, without letting go and with no resistance”, so as to make possible “With the upper and lower parts acting in unison, it will be difficult for the opponent to come in”, no matter how far-reaching is the opponent’s movement. It is required that one’s movements be more and more compacted later, so one can be quicken,and nimbler in making any change of movements which will be harder to be sensed by the opponent. This is the training method designed for reaching a higher level of accomplishment: to make one’s sense of touch more sensitive one’s “hearing” (sensing) of the on-coming energy more precise, one’s “answer” (response) to an “inquiry” (the opponent’s testing move) more adequate and to discriminate the insubstantial and substantial more clearly.
Finally, a detailed exeplanation of “double-weighting” and the way to avoid it is given below.
Generally speaking, double-weighting means that substantiality and insubstantiality are not clearly differentiated. It is said in the Taiiiquan classics, “The Insubstantial and the substantial should be clearly discriminated. Each single part of the body has both an insubstantial and a substantial aspect at any given time, as does the body in its entirety.” Therefore, in every posture taken, and in the way of issuing energy, there should be differentiated aspects of the substantial and the insubstantial. In pushing‐hands one must first seek to find out the insubstantial and the substantial aspects of the opponent’s postures and movements, as well as in his way of applying a defensive or offensive technique and in issuing energy. Then one should make good use of the opponent’s insubstantiality and substantiality found by attacking the insubstantial and evading from the substantial, and at the same time, one should make subtle and varified changes of the insubstantial and substantial aspects of his own, so as not to let them be found out by his opponent, or to puzzle and mislead the opponent by feinting. If one could not have the insubstantiality and the substantiality either of his own or of his opponent clearly discriminated, or to meet substantiality with substantiality, he is bound to be defeated in the pushing‐hands. Therefore double‐weighting is the most serious fault that must beavoided in pushing-hands. It is said in the Taiiiquan treaties: “Many people have spent years in practising Taijiquan, yet are often seen unable to apply it for practical use but to be generally subdued by others as the result of not having perceived the serious fault of double-weighting.” This shows that double-weighting is not only like an unnoticeable pitfall that one is liable to fall into at any time th is also like a sickness that could not be easily diagnosed and got rid of.
Letting both feet exert force against the ground to bear the weight of the body equally is certainly double-weighting. If both feet are exerting force but letting a greater part or the whole of one’s body weight be borne by one foot, with the other foot bearing a lesser part of body weight or just for the sake of balancing the body, that is not double-weighting. This is the generally accepted view. However, in actual practice, many Taiiiquan lear‐ ners are not quite clear about how to be in the state of non-double-weighting.
More often than not, they will think that it is not necessary for the insubstantial foot (leg) to exert any force. They fail to see that only when it is also exerting some force, can the body be kept in equilibrium and the centre of gravity stabilized. However, the force of the insubstantial foot should not be exerted against the ground, but in the emptiness just for balancing. If the insubstantial foot exerts force against the ground, one’s centre of gravity will tend to move out of the base; or if the insubstantial foot does not exert any force, he will be easily set off balance by the opponent’s slight push or pull. This is why we find such a statement in the Taijiquan classics “To be insubstantial is not a state of totally devoid of effort.” And we must also study and make good use of its counterpart, “To be substantial is not a state of being totally fixed onto the ground”, the gist of being in such a state is rather simple: think of your head as if being lifted upward by a string suspended from above.
If one has no understanding of both sides of the same issue, he may have no more trouble with double-weighting, but he may be again involved with a new fault of letting all the weight dropped down and all the force exerted at one side.
In all, double-weighting denotes the stereo-form of not having the insubstantial and the substantial differentiated. To avoid double-weighting, one must be capable of making rapid and subtle changes from being insubstantial to being substantial, or vice versa, related to any part of his body or to what is on his mind. At the moment when any of the substantial part on his body is about to be shaken, one should think of letting it become insubstantial immediately and vice versa. The training procedure is to make such changes going along from a bigger part to a smaller and smaller part of one’s body, up to the size of one square inch or a single finger. Of course, such kind of refined training and high level of achievement is beyond the reach of beginners. The beginners should only follow a course of gradual progression. They should, in their rotation exercise, try to make their movements more and more open, extended and rounded at first, and more and more closed and compact, but still rounded later on. The circular form is the ideal form for smoothly neutralizing any on‐coming force at any point of contact and for quick change of movements at any time. And having one’s movements well rounded is a prerequisite for attaining a high degree of harmony and continuity. There could be in one’s outer movements, many different forms of circles: the regular, the semi, the vertical, the horizontal and the oblique circles, as well as the ovals for one assortment; and the hand, elbow, shoulder, chest, abdomen, hip, knee and foot circles for another assortment. As to one’s inner activities, there should also be some sort of circular movements, one should think of his internal organs making some slight turning and inter-massage with the assistance of deep abdominal breathing. This will aid the sending out of inner spiralling energy from Dantian (a point about two inches below navel). This will also help making ones Circulation system, ones main and collateral channels (a network of passages, through which vital energy circulates and along which the acupuncture points are distributed) unimpeded. With proper guidance and ceaseless endeavour, the beginners will eventually become masters of the art of pushing-hands.
Reference: Wu Style Taijiquan by Wang Peisheng & Zeng Weiqi p. 188-196.
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.
No shape, no shadow. Entire body transparent and empty. Forget your surroundings and be natural. Like a stone chime suspended from West Mountain. Tigers roaring, monkeys screeching. Clear fountain, peaceful water. Turbulent river, stormy ocean. With your whole being, develop your life.
無形無象。全身透空。 忘物自然。西山懸磬。 虎吼猿鳴。泉清水靜。 翻江鬧海。盡性立命。
When practicing taijiquan you must let go of everything. Your mind must be clear and centered. No concepts (preconceptions) should cloud your vision, and no thoughts should hinder your action. The body must be relaxed and stable so that you can be light and agile. Forget your surroundings and just do what needs to be done. West Mountain is a famous mountain. “Like a stone chime suspended from West Mountain” means your mind must be clear, your head held as if suspended from above, and your body as stable and rooted as a great mountain. Sound is important in taijiquan because it is linked to your qi and the emission of power. Your sound must be as powerful as a tiger’s roar and as penetrating as a monkey’s screech. If you lift your spirit (shen) and guide your qi throughout your body, your mind will be as clear and pure as a fountain full of spring water. If you practice taijiquan for a long time, cultivating your qi, your qi will fill your body and circulate peacefully. But, like water, it can move powerfully and quickly so that nothing can stand before it.
“No shape, no shadow.” This means that when you have approached the higher levels of taiji meditation, you find your physical body seems not to exist—you feel that you are a ball of energy, part of the natural world and inseparable from it. Your actions and self are part of the natural order of things, fitting in smoothly and unobtrusively, seeming to have no independent shape of their own, cast- ing no shadow;
“Entire body transparent and empty.” When you feel you are only a ball of energy, there is nothing in your mind, no desire or intention. Since your mind and ego are not there to interfere, you can see clearly and respond correctly.
“Forget your surroundings and be natural.” Once you are transparent, you will easily forget your surroundings and your energy flow will be smooth and natural.
“Like a stone chime suspended from West Mountain.” This implies that your mind is wide open, free, and unrestricted. Like a stone chime suspended from the mountain, all things are clear under you, while your mind is still controlled by you just as the thread suspends the stone chime.
“Tigers roaring, monkeys screeching.” When you move the energy you have cultivated, it can be as strong as a tiger’s roar and reach as far as a monkey’s screech.
“Clear fountain, peaceful water.” Even when your energy is strong, your mind is clear, still, and peaceful.
“Turbulent river, stormy ocean.” In taiji, if you have to use your energy, it can be strong and continuous like a turbulent river or the stormy ocean.
“With your whole being, develop your life.” During all your practice and meditation, you must concentrate your whole attention in order to develop the highest level of the art.
Reference: Tai Chi Chuan Martial Power: Advanced Yang Style by Yang Jwing Ming 2015
Historical background of Yang style Taijiquan as passed down by late Wang Yongquan
For more than half a century people in China and other countries have learnt about and to a certain degree understood Taijiquan, while health aspects of Yang style Taijiquan attracted special attention all over the world.
However very few people know that during the transmission of Yang style Taijiquan, its true essence has almost been lost and forgotten because old masters kept it secret.
Happily, the lineage that has been secretly passed down from Yang Jianhou in Beijing, has fairly completely preserved the practice methods and Kneading Hands (Rou Shou, i.e. Pushing Hands) techniques of original Yang family boxing. This is because of all the energy and efforts that Mr.Wang Chonglu and my teacher Wang Yongquan poured into as well as subtle inspiration that cannot be forgotten.
The origins of this art should be traced back to the end of Qing dynasty (1644-1911). At that time Mr.Yang Jianhou was summoned to the residence of Bei Lei and Bei Zi to teach Taijiquan to the members of the imperial family. Since at that time the Qing dynasty imperial family members and aristocrats enjoyed high positions and lived in comfort, it became fashionable to pay attention to good health. Most “bigwigs” learnt Taijiquan only because of fashion and considered it just another entertainment to divert themselves from boredom and did not really practice hard.
Only the oldest grandson of emperor Xuanzong, Pu Lun Bei Zi had become extremely interested in the skill that Mr.Yang Jianhou was occasionally revealing during the classes, and was often inviting Mr.Jianhou to his residence asking for guidance, paying very high salary and showing special favor to him. Because of dept of gratitude for Pu Bei Lun Zi’s recognition and appreciation as well as special treatment, Mr.Jianhou gradually passed to him secret art of Yang family Taijiquan.
At that time there was a servant at Pu Bei Lun Zi’s residence called Wang Chonglu, who was very interested in martial arts. Wang was receiving waiting upon Mr.Jianhou when he was coming to Pu Bei Lun Zi’s residence to teach boxing. Wang, already skilled in boxing, when listening to Mr.Jianhou’s very clear explanations of boxing principles, realized this art was out of ordinary and contained the ultimate principles of all times, heaven and earth, all things of creation; moreover, Wang noticed that the practice method taught by Mr.Jianhou was utterly different from everything he had seen before, and truly was the best martial art he had been yearning for day and night. For this reason he was particularly venerating Mr.Jianhou, very careful in all respects all the time, showing him every consideration.
After some time Mr.Jianhou was moved by Mr.Chonglu’s sincerity and often taught him one or two boxing postures in free time. After few years Chonglu became very skilful at Taiji, and since he was honest, sincere and kind-hearted, Mr.Jianhou thought high about him and gladly accepted him as indoor disciple.
Wang Yongquan, Chonglu’s son, was interested in martial arts since childhood and when seven started to study Buku (“wrestling” in Manchu language) and became very sturdy and his movements were strong and vigorous. At the age of eight he often accompanied father to Yang’s house. Mr.Jianhou liked Yongquan as he was a very bright kid and allowed him to learn martial art of yang family. Mr.Jianhou ordered him to accept Yang Chengfu, Jianhou’s third son, as his master. Since then father and son often went to Yang’s house in the western part of the capital to study martial art.
Yongquan was also often sent by his father to Yang’s house to help manage household affairs and could often hear Jianhou’s and Shaohou’s (father and son) discussions on boxing techniques. Sometimes in the height of his enthusiasm Shaouhou would call Yongquan to come and cross hands to feel his strength hence prove his point; since Yongquan had good basics in “Buku” and knew how to fall and was not afraid of it, every time he was hit by his gongfu uncle’s (i.e. Shaohou’s; since Yang Chengfu was Wang Yongquan’s master – Shifu, gongfu father – and Shaohou was Chengfu’s older brother, then Shaohou was Wang’s Shibo – gongfu uncle; word “uncle” used later in the translations should read as Shibo – gongfu uncle; note from translator) swift and fierce power and tumbled several times on the ground, he would immediately stand up and move close to Shaohou waiting for another show of uncle’s skill; for this reason Shaohou liked him a lot.
Wang Yongquan (1904-1987)
At that time Shaohou, also called “Mr. Big”, used to strike showing the opponent no mercy and became famous for his fierce and malicious power. People who had a taste of this power and were flung by him high up would tremble with fear and not dear to come close to him again. However Yongquan would do what he could to cross hands with uncle Shaohou to feel the direction of his strength (Jin), the power and timing, although hit and thrown on the ground. He could only feel the strength and would not dare to ask uncle what power he used. During several years Yongquan was imperceptibly influenced by what he saw and heard and was able to comprehend it. For this reason, and because of instructions he received earlier from Mr.Jianhou and later from his father, Mr.Yongquan received true transmission of Yang family Internal Skill (Nei Gong) and Power Methods (Jin Fa), and had high attainments in Kneading Hands (Rou Shou). After that for the next decades all along he kept practicing the original early methods of Old Six Routines (Lao Liu Lu) that he had learnt together with his father from Mr.Jianhou; the movements he taught were different from the postures and methods his teacher Yang Chengfu taught when he (i.e. Yang Chengfu) went south to Shanghai and other places. (…)
Explanations of Neigong (Internal Skill) Principles
Taijiquan practice must be conducted internally and externally, Yin and Yang must melt together into one. If one wants to achieve Internal Skill (Nei Gong) of Taiji, one must first grasp practice methods conforming with Taijiquan principles. Principles and methods of Internal Skill are the only way to cultivate Spirit (Shen), Intent (Yi) and Qi; that’s why practice methods in traditional Taijiquan not only pay attention to movements of body and hands, but even more stress principles and methods of Internal Skill. Under any circumstances they cannot be separated.
Many students of Taijiquan practice incorrectly – first learn the routine, and only after they are skilled at it they explore the principles; what they do not understand is that through this empty practice without principles their bodies already get used to the incorrect way of practice, stiff, inflexible, with physical strength. Once the students want to explore the principles, the way they move (with stiff and inflexible strength) already becomes habitual and the problems are very difficult to get rid of; and although they practice correctly for a long time later, Internal Strength (Nei Jin) is out of their grasp and there is no way that they can reach deep understanding of high skill levels.
My teacher handed down a correct method of teaching martial arts – from the beginning both movements and principles are explained clearly, with stress put on using principles to guide the movements correctly. The principles of movements have very explicit guiding meaning, and only by following the correct order of practice handed down by old generations of masters one can quickly enter the correct path and pursue more advanced study.
Yang Style Taijiquan emphasizes internal and external practice, every movement and every posture should contain a Method (Shu) within, and the Method must come out of the movements and postures. Movements and Method depend on each other and complement each other. One must not first practice movements and then learn the principles, as well as one must not first learn the principles and then practice movements. The beginner by imitating (the teacher) will first grasp the external movements, but since the principles of Internal Skill (Nei Gong) cannot be seen, it is not easy to understand their essentials. Since on the elementary level Spirit (Shen), Intent (Yi) and Qi are not ready to accept assignments coming from the mind (consciousness), it is impossible to merge movements and Methods in one step. For this reason students should first of all attach importance to the careful study of the principles.
Every movement and posture of the boxing routine practice should have, as the boxing classics say, “Intent in first place” (Yi Zai Xian), Intention should guide the form from the beginning to the end, one should not practice “empty movements” even for a short moment. For example in the Commencing Form, before the hands raise and the movement is born from utmost stillness, Intention has already started to control the whole body so that all its parts one by one have been adjusted according to the Internal Skill principles.
When the practice reaches the intermediary level, there are many principles, every movement and posture have one kind of fixed principles, and the principles between two movements may mutually alternate and derive from each other. On the high level the accumulation and changes of principles appear naturally, without thinking. My teacher once said, during routine practice, when movements and Methods are harmoniously combined so that they strictly follow ones Intent, at that moment a subtle and profound (phenomena) may develop. The whole body is transparent and empty, one forgets about oneself and is non-active – this high level starts from learning to soften hands and wrists. Every step and every move should be completely guided by the principles of boxing movements, and only later one can gradually attain the level of complete relaxation, transparency and emptiness.
For this reason all those who want to learn Taijiquan should be warned to seriously explore and understand the principles of boxing movements. Following are chosen explanations of the principles of boxing movements; for the sake of better explanation (deeper impression), the pictures show both correct and incorrect movements so that Taijiquan practitioner will not go astray.
1.CROWN OF THE HEAD SUSPENDED (XUAN DING)
Concerning “Crown of the head suspended”, boxing manuals say “Emptiness guides propping up strength” (Xu Ling Ding Jin), “Top of the head suspended” (Ding Tou Xuan), “Baihui pushes up” (Baihui Shang Ding), etc.
My teacher never mentioned the above sayings; he only explained secretly transmitted essential “Back of the neck rubs against the collar”. “Rub against” means that back of the neck is relaxed and straight, and is lightly kept close to the collar when slightly turning. During the process when the back of the neck rubs against the collar, cervical vertebra gradually tends to become upright and straight, and the posture of the body will also become centered and upright; when one attains the state when it is centered and upright, in that short moment all of a sudden whole body will get “fixed” – head will be centered, Spirit clear and Qi refreshed, relaxed and comfortable as if nothing existed. The feeling of relaxed head can make one happy and free of worry, and this state of mind will naturally influence the facial expression showing a slight smile; in this way both the inside and outside of the body will be in peaceful, gentle mood. Paying constant attention to slightly rub against the collar with the back of the neck will keep the Ren and Du channels clear of obstructions, and since when Qi flows than blood moves, chronic illnesses of insufficient supply of blood to the brain, neck aches and blocked Yuzhen will be eliminated. (Ill.1)
Ill.1: CORRECT – back of the neck kept close to the collar Ill.2: WRONG – withdrawing the chin on purpose Ill.3: WRONG – lifting the head on purpose
If one does not correctly understand the relation between relaxed, straight neck and upright head, and does not realize how harmful it is for the postures and the body when head is not upright, then one will allow the head to bend and lift and this may turn into a bad habit.
When chin is withdrawn too much, head bends down, the front of the neck is suppressed, breathing is difficult, blood circulation is not smooth, and as a result one becomes apathetic and dispirited. (Ill.2)
When head is lifted then back of the neck is suppressed, Internal Qi can only circulate between Jiabei and Weil and cannot pass through Yuzhen. When Three Gates (San Guan) are not opened, then one gets neck and head aches, head swells, which may even result in vertigo. (Ill.3)
Only when neck is relaxed and straight, then head is centered and upright, at ease and comfortable, which is a very important part of the (Internal Skill) principles.
2.EYES EXPRESSION (EYE SPIRIT, YAN SHEN)
Once the principle of relaxed and straight neck is correctly understood, head will be absolutely empty and eyes expression will naturally attain (the state) of looking and not seeing, which will integrate with (the state of) ears listening but not hearing. The feeling of relaxation of the head will make one’s spirit happy and influence the facial expression, showing a slight smile.
One must not misunderstand the eyes expression of “looking and not seeing” as dull staring, like a pond with still water, without movement and changes. Going out and entering of eyes expression (Eye Spirit) is naturally interlinked with the mind and intention, which give rise to the changes of Opening/Closing of expression. When eyes expression is merged into the movements of boxing routine one should only keep the eyes open, when Eye Spirit goes out, it is for sure accompanied by the Spirit entering; entering of Eye Spirit is surely followed by the Spirit going out; only when going out and entering alternate and circulate, one can truly use eye expression in such a way that there is Yin within Yang, Yang within Yin and Yin and Yang are combined together. (Ill.4)
When Eyes Spirit is held back and looks towards the inside, it does not mean that eyelids drop and eyes are closed or one narrows the eyes and does not look ahead; when Eye Spirit is fixed on a point, it is not using strength and straining the eyes. If the Eyes Spirit is not correctly used, then eyes may hurt because of strain, and it is not only not healthy but very harmful.
Ill.4: Natural Opening and Closing of Eye Spirit
During boxing practice people often only pay attention to sinking the shoulders and often overlook to empty the armpits. They often incorrectly believe that sinking and dropping is the correct movement of the shoulders. Actually deliberately sinking the shoulders, which are pulled down with strength, may result in the feeling of heavy and tired shoulders.
Concerning empty armpits, the secret method passed down by my teacher is “practicing boxing with two hot steamed buns carried under the armpits”. My teacher used to give an example from a daily life to explain this: when you pick steamed buns from the steaming hot food steamer, the movement and posture at this short moment are vivid explanation of the essentials for empty armpits. At that moment the strength you use to grasp the bun is extremely precise, because you may scald your hand when you grasp the bun too tightly, and drop it when the strength is not sufficient; at the same time it forces you to use your hand in such a way that it is neither too close nor too distant (from the surface of the bun), in a state of holding with just right strength. “Practicing boxing with two hot steamed buns carried under the armpits” in a plain and easy to understand way illustrates that the armpits should be relaxed and at the same time one should combine a very intriguing, slight strength that is both antagonistic and united. When one practices boxing keeping in mind the hot buns kept under the armpits, then Internal Qi in shoulders and arms will pass smoothly and flow swiftly. After a long time of practice the habit will become natural and emptying the armpits will not have to be intentionally conducted. (Ill.5)
Ill.5: CORRECT – Both armpits empty Ill.6: WRONG – Armpits empty, arms close to the torso
If one keeps two armpits empty incorrectly, the elbows raise and shoulders becomes stiffened and tensed; the flow of Internal Qi will be obstructed. When armpits are not empty, the arms are kept close to the torso, shoulders can’t relax and hence Internal Qi is suppressed and does not flow. (Ill.6)