Tai-Chi Classics Explained - Part 1
By Athos Antoniades
In this article, Athos discusses the meaning of the Classics. Athos believes that true Tai-Chi must adhere to the words written by the great masters of old. Some of these classics which must be strictly adhered to if the tremendous health and warrior benefits are to be achieved are revealed below.
As soon as one moves, the entire body should be light and sensitive and all its parts connected. Yang Lu-ch'an
When practicing the form do not use clumsy force and you will be able to achieve lightness and sensitivity. the entire form should be performed with one continuous flow of chi.
The Chi should be roused and the spirit gathered within. Yang Lu-ch'an
If the chi is not blocked it is like a sea wind which blows up waves and billows. Still the mind and concentrate the spirit. This is what is meant by gathering the spirit within.
Do not allow gaps; do not allow bulges or hollows; do not allow discontinuities. Yang Lu-ch'an
When doing the form seek perfect wholeness. there should not be the slightest irregularity. You should move slowly and without breaks.
The root is in the feet, energy issues up through the legs, is controlled by the waist and is expressed in the hand and fingers. From the feet to the legs to the waist should be one complete flow of chi. One will then be able to seize opportunities and occupy the superior position. Yang Lu-ch'an
When practicing Tai-chi chuan, the upper and lower parts of the body must be coordinated. Intrinsic power (chi) rises from the soles of the feet, travels up the legs and reaches the waist. Then from the spine to the shoulders it travels into the hands and fingers. The whole body is as one chi. When it is used to advance or retreat, the intrinsic power is infinite.
If one is unable to seize opportunities and gain the superior position, the body will be scattered and in confusion. Look for the weakness in the waist and the legs. The same is true for above and below, front and back, left and right. All of this has to do with the mind and not with externals. Yang Lu-ch'an
The weakness is not in externals but in the mental attitude. If the mind is not focused, then the spirit will not be concentrated and one will not be able to seize opportunities and gain the superior position.
If there is an above, there must be a below; if there is a fore, there must be a rear and if there is a left, there must be a right. If the intention is to rise one must pay attention to below. If you want to lift something, you must apply breaking power. In this way its root will be severed and its destruction will be swift and inevitable. Yang Lu-ch'an
This means that when sparring with an opponent you must first shake him and cause him to be like a tree without roots. When his stance is not stable he will surely be toppled.
Full and Empty should be clearly distinguished. Any given point has the potential for full or empty and the whole body has this dual aspect: full and empty. Yang Lu-ch'an
When sparring with an opponent, every posture should be full in front and empty behind. When issuing energy the front leg bears the weight of the body and this is full, while the rear leg is straight. Always clearly distinguish full and empty and you will naturally have the ability to change at will.
All the joints of the body should be connected without permitting the slightest break. Yang Lu-ch'an
All the joints of the body should be pliant and unified. The chi should flow unimpeded and there should be no breaks in consciousness.
By moving the chi with the mind and directing it to sink, it is able to permeate the bones. Wang Tsung-yueh
Normally during our practice of the Thirteen Postures we should use the mind to cause the chi to circulate in the space between the bones and the flesh. If the mind acts as a guide, the chi will flow. As for our postures, they should be calm. Without a calm mind there can be no sinking and without sinking the chi will not gather in the bones. One may indeed possess external power, but by practicing Tai chi chuan the chi permeates the bones and this is true Tai chi power.
Let chi circulate throughout the body freely and the body will be obedient to the mind. Wang Tsung-yueh
Friends, if you desire your chi to circulate freely throughout your body, you must receive correct instructions in Thirteen Postures. This is the art handed down by my late teacher. When executing the postures, the upper and lower body must relate naturally. If power is not forced, then and only then can the chi circulate freely. If the postures are natural, then the mind commands and the hands and feet follow.
If one can raise the spirit, there need be no fear of sluggishness or heaviness. This is what is meant by holding the head as if suspended from above. Wang Tsung-yueh
The spirit is the master of the whole body. Not only in the martial arts but in all pursuits, if the spirit is swift, one will never be sluggish or slow. Therefore, in speaking of the martial arts one must first mention raising the spirit. If we want to raise the spirit, then the head must be held erect with energy at the very crown. That is, the ni-wan point should be light and sensitive, with energy rising to the top. If you can awaken to this technique, you will understand what is meant by "raising the spirit".
Our feelings must become supremely sensitive in order for there to be complete and lively enjoyment. This is what is meant by the transformations of full and empty. Wang Tsung-yuehn
Feeling is that which circulates between the bones and the flesh. There is an indescribable kind of pleasure that comes from practicing the form and sparring. We must cause this circulating substance to fill the entire body, so that if we want it to go left it goes left, and if we want it to go right it goes right. This is what is meant by the changes of full and empty in Tai chi. The method of transforming the sense of feeling is like a half full bottle of water. If placed on its left side, the water rushes to the left, if placed on its right side, it rushes to the right. If this can be achieved not only will you experience complete and lively enjoyment, but it will be as pleasurable as dance. When you have reached this stage, even if someone were trying to prevent you from practicing this art, they could not succeed. From this we can appreciate that the body receives infinite blessings.
When issuing energy one must sink, relax, be calm and concentrated in one direction. Wang Tsung-yueh
When sparring with an opponent, first control is movement and then attack from one direction, the one in which he is losing his balance. When issuing energy, whether with the hand, shoulder or elbow, you must sink down, with the mind relaxed and calm. Issue energy by attacking the opponent in only one direction. If my energy is not scattered it will be easy to throw the opponent for a great distance.
Our posture should be erect and relaxed, able to control the eight directions. Wang Tsung-yueh
When the head is erect and teh wei-lu straight, the body will not incline. Our mental attitude should be relaxed and comfortable, with the idea of waiting for movement with stillness. The waist and legs are like a standing wheel and the shoulders and hands like a horizontal wheel. When they are able to rotate in circles at will, then we will have control of the eight directions.
Directing the chi is like threading a pearl with nine bends in the hole. There is nowhere it does not penetrate. Wang Tsung-yueh
The "nine-bends-pearl" is a pearl with a winding path within it. If we compare the human body to a pearl, it can be seen that the four limbs and hundred bones are full of bends. If we can direct the chi into the limbs without any gaps, then the skill of threading the nine-bends-pearl will be ours.
When energy is set in motion it is like a steel tempered a hundred times. What resistance will it fail to defeat? Wang Tsung-yueh
Energy set in motion "like steel tempered a hundred times" is internal energy. It is not a skill acquired in one day. After days and months, little by little, it is gradually refined like a piece of crude iron which is tempered every day with pounding. Slowly it is transformed into pure steel. If a broadsword or two-edged sword is made from such steel, it will be incomparably sharp, and there is no "resistance it cannot defeat." The energy which Tai-chi develops is both fine and strong and can destroy even an iron man. Of what concern, then, are opponents made of mere flesh and blood?
You should appear like a falcon seizing a hare, with the spirit of a cat catching a rat. Wang Tsung-yueh
The falcon is an animal capable of flight, a bird of prey. In the winter it is used for hunting. This passage means that in sparring with an opponent we should imitate the appearance of a bird of prey. When we spy our victim, our eyes should look as if we would immobilize it with our beak, and as soon as our hands make contact, we would control it in our clutches, just like a falcon catching its prey. This comparison is not meant to be abusive, but these are the words of my late teacher. Perhaps some explanation is in order. I hope that my readers will not be confused. When stalking rats, cats look just like tigers. They lie in wait, crouching with the weight on their rear legs. The vital spirit of their whole being is focused on the rat hole. When the rat emerges they pounce ferociously and capture him. This describes the posture in Tai-chi which involves sinking the chest and raising the back, just like the cat stalking the rat. Wait for the chance, spring, and the opponent will be yours.
In stillness be like a great mountain; in movement like mighty river. Wang Tsung-yueh
After one has trained for a long time, the legs develop root and one's stance is like a mountain. Human force cannot shake us. The metaphor of the river expresses the infinite possibilities for transformation. One technique becomes five and five become a hundred. The flow is unceasing like a river.
Store energy like drawing a bow; release it like shooting an arrow. Wang Tsung-yueh
To store energy means to reserve it. Tai-chi energy is not external but stored internally. When squaring off with an opponent our internal energy has the fullness of a drawn bow or a ball filled with air. If the opponent touches my arm, although it feels soft as cotton, he cannot push it down. This greatly astonishes him. In the midst of his perplexity he is unaware that my bow already has a drawn arrow which is about to fly. At this moment I am like the bow, and my opponent becomes like the arrow. The energy is released so fast that the opponent is thrown with the speed of an arrow.
Seek the straight in the curved; store first and then issue. Power issues from the back; our steps must follow the body. To withdraw is to attack and to attack is to withdraw. After withdrawing reconnect again. Wang Tsung-yueh
Allow me to summarize these lines with a simple explanation. "Seeking the straight in the curved means that bending is followed by extension. "Store first and then issue," "Power issues from the back," and "To withdraw is to attack" are all based on a single principle. That is, our spirit should be like a cat stalking a rat. Students should be able to grasp this with a word or two.