|Yang Cheng Fu's 10 essentials
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1. Suspended from above
Stand straight and hold the head and neck naturally erect, with the mind concentrated on the top. Do not strain or tense, otherwise the blood and oxygen cannot circulate smoothly. The aim is to lengthen the back naturally. This will lighten the feet, increase agility and nimbleness, improve balance and help you to achieve requirement number #2 (relax the chest and pluck up the back).
2. Relax the chest and pluck up the back
One extreme is the 'military posture' (protruded/puffed chest). The other extreme is more commonplace: sagging stomach/abdominal muscles resulting in a collapsed chest. The aim is neither extreme.
Lengthen from the groin to the costal arch. This will strengthen the muscles and counteract the effects of gravity. Pluck up the back is sensation felt above the shoulder blades. It arises from getting requirement #1 correct (suspended from above) in conjunction with providing adequate muscular support for the weight of the ribcage.
3. Relaxation of the waist
For the human body, the waist is the dominant part. When you relax the waist, your two feet will be strong enough to form a firm base. All the movements depend on the action of the waist, as the saying goes, "vital force comes from the waist". Inaccurate movements in tai chi stem from erroneous actions of the waist.
4. Solid and empty stance
It is of primary importance in tai chi to distinguish between empty and solid. If you shift the weight of the body on to the right leg, then the right leg is solidly planted on the ground and the left leg is in an empty stance. When your weight is on the left leg, then the left leg is firmly planted on the ground and the right leg is in an empty stance. Only in this way can you turn and move your body adroitly and without effort, otherwise you will be slow and clumsy in your movements and not able to remain stable and firm on your feet.
5. Sinking of the shoulders and elbows
Keep the shoulder in a natural, relaxed position. If you lift your shoulders, the qi will rise with them and the whole body will be without strength. You should also keep the elbows down, otherwise you will not be able to keep your shoulders relaxed and move your body with ease.
6. Using the mind instead of force
Among people who practice tai chi, it is quite common to hear the statement, "that is entirely using the mind not force". In practicing tai chi, the whole body is relaxed, and there is not an iota of stiff or clumsy strength in the muscles or joints to hinder the movement of the body. People may ask, "how can you increase strength without exercising force?" According to traditional Chinese medicine, there is in the human body a system of pathways called meridians, which link the viscera with different parts of the body, making the human body an integrated whole. If the meridian is not impeded, then the oxygen will circulate in the body unobstructed. But if the meridian is filled with stiff strength, the oxygen will not be able to circulate and consequently the body cannot move with ease. One should therefore use the mind instead of force, so that the oxygen will follow in wake of the mind or consciousness and circulate all over the body. Through persistent practice one will be able to have genuine internal force. This is what tai chi experts call, "lithe in appearance, but powerful in essence". A master of tai chi has arms which are as strong as steel rods wrapped in cotton, with immense power concealed therein. Boxers of the outer school look powerful when they exert force, but when they cease to do so, the power no longer exists, so it is merely a kind of superficial force.
7. Coordination of upper and lower parts
According to the principles of tai chi, the root is in the feet, the force is launched through the legs, controlled by the waist and expressed by the fingers - the feet, the legs and waist form a harmonious whole. When the hands, the waist, and the legs move, the eyes should follow their movements. This is what is meant by the upper and lower parts. If any part should cease to move, then the movements will be disconnected and fall into disarray.
8. Harmony between the internal and external parts
In practicing tai chi, the focus is on the mind and consciousness. Hence the saying, "the mind is commander, and the body subservient to it". With the tranquillity of the mind, the movements will be gentle and graceful. As far as the frame is concerned, there are only the empty and the solid, opened and closed - open not only means opening the four limbs but the mind as well, he means closing the mind along with the four limbs. Perfection is achieved when one unifies the two and harmonises the internal and external.
9. Importance of continuity
In the case of the outer school (which emphasises attack) of fighting, the strength one exerts is still and the movements are not continuous, but are sometimes made off and on, which leaves an opening an opponent may take advantage of. In tai chi one focuses the attention on the mind instead of force, and the movements from the beginning to end are continuous and in an endless circle, just like a river which flows on and on without end, or like reeling a silk thread off cocoons.
10. Tranquillity in movement
In the case of the outer school of fighting, the emphasis is on leaping, bouncing, punching and the exertion of force, and so one often gasps for breath after practicing, but in tai chi, the movement is blended with tranquillity, and while performing the movements, one maintains tranquillity of mind. In practicing the frame, the slower the movement, the better the results. This is because when the movements are slow, one can take a deep breath and sink it to the tan tien. It has a soothing effect on the body and mind. Learners of tai chi will get a better understanding of all this through careful study and persistent practice.
For The Tai Chi Classics presented in full please read The Essence of Tai Chi Chuan - The Literary Tradition by Lo et al.
18 April 1995
Last updated 16 June 2023