Tai-Chi Explained - Understanding the Classics - Part 2
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.
In moving to and fro use "fold up;" in advancing and retreating use turns and changes. Wang Tsung-yueh
When sparring with an opponent, you should sometimes move in and sometimes out. "Fold up" refers to postures where the elbows are bent and the forearm is curved. Folding up turns the back and sides to the opponents body or hands. This technique is only useful when in close with an opponent and useless at a distance. In advancing and retreating do not get stuck in a rut with just one posture, but turn and change according to the situation.
From the greatest softness comes the greatest hardness. From the proper breathing comes sensitivity and liveliness. Wang Tsung-yueh
We must use soft methods in practicing the thirteen postures. When our art is perfected we will develop internal energy, stored and concealed within this softness. As for breathing, our inhalation has the ability to lift a man up and cause an opponents rear leg to leave the ground. Again, with our exhalation, the power of our chi travelling up the spine issues forth all the energy of the entire body and can repel a man for a great distance. When our breathing reaches this level of perfection, then our physical movements become sensitive, lively and fluid.
The chi should be properly cultivated and not damaged. Energy should be stored by rounding and there will always be a surplus. Wang Tsung-yueh
Practicing Tai Chi is actually a method for cultivating chi and not the work of circulating chi. What is the purpose of circulating chi? With training methods which involve stress, strength and anger, the chi is concentrated in one place and it is not easy to project. It is likely that there will be internal locks. What is the purpose of "cultivating chi?" Mencius said, "I excel at cultivating my great chi." If you can eliminate haste and anxiety, this intrinsic chi will develop. Still the mind and nourish your original nature. When practicing, cause the inner sexual energy, chi and spirit to unite. Direct the chi to circulate through the "nine-bends-pearl." Even if one has not yet reaped the full benefits, it is certain that at least there will be no harm.
When sparring with opponents, never allow the forearm to be extended straight. If you can coordinate the upper and lower parts of the body, step with the changes of position, keep the arms rounded and maintain a surplus of power, then the opponent will quickly be thrown. This is what is meant by, "Energy should be stored by rounding and there will always be a surplus."
The mind is the commander, the chi a flag and the waist a banner. Wang Tsung-yueh
Tai-chi principles are like those for mobilizing troops in time of war. It is necessary to have commanders and flags to direct operations. It is the same with Tai-chi: thus the mind is the commander, meaning that the mind directs the chi. If we can employ the chi like a flag, then whatever we will, the chi follows. The waist acting like a "banner" refers to the great banners carried by military troops. The small flags control movement and the greatest flags stillness. In martial arts methods the waist operates like the axle of a wheel and should not throw over or rend the great banner.
First seek expansion and later contraction; then you will arrive at impeccable technique. Wang Tsung-yueh
Expansion means largeness and relaxation of the sinews and muscles. When first learning the form, seek to make your postures open and large. This serves to relax the sinews and invigorate the blood and facilitates building strength. After your strength is sufficient then begin to develop the external ability to unify the sinews, bones and muscles.
Internal concentration of the sexual energy, chi and spirit is what is meant by contraction. When both the inner and outer are developed together will transformations of movement and stillness, then you can proceed from expansion to contraction. If the body is strong and the understanding of applications complete, you can reach the level of impeccability. To speak of "large techniques" or "small techniques" is erroneous.
It is also said that things are first in the mind and later in the body. Wang Tsung-yueh
When first learning to spar with an opponent, even if you concentrate your mind, probably you will not be successful. After you have perfected the art, then you can function without mental concentration. Wherever your body is attacked, you will be able to respond automatically. Without your even being consciously aware of what you are doing, the opponent will be thrown. At this level your hands and feet will move of themselves. At the outset of study it is in the mind, but after you have mastered the art, it is in the body. This is like when one is beginning to learn to calculate with an abacus. The mind first recites the mnemonic verse while the hands manipulate the beads. Later, when one is thoroughly familiar, the verse may be forgotten and the hand simply moves in response to the will. This is an example of being first in the mind and then in the hands. Martial arts principles are precisely the same.
The body should be relaxed and the chi will permeate the bones. The spirit should be open and the body calm. Wang Tsung-yueh
Although you use concentration to relax the belly strictly avoid rousing the energy. When the chi is trained, it will permeate the bones. The bones and muscles should be sunk and heavy. We should be like cotton on the outside and like bands of steel on the inside, or like iron concealed in cotton.
At all times bear in mind and consciously remember that as soon as one part of the body moves the whole body moves, and as soon as one part is still the whole body is still. Wang Tsung-yueh
Never forget for a moment that as soon as one part of the body moves the whole body moves. Do not move just one part independently. This is like a train: when the engine moves, all of the cars follow. The movement of energy in Tai-chi must be precisely coordinated. Although it is precisely coordinated, it must still be natural and lively, just like the moving cars in a train. Although the body is in motion, the mind should guard its stillness; and when the mind is still the whole body will be still. Although it is still, it also contains the potential for movement. The most important thing is that with every movement the upper and lower parts of the body move together.
Pushing and pulling, back and forth, the chi adheres to the back and permeates the spine. Inwardly strengthen your vital spirit and outwardly give the appearance of calm and ease. Wang Tsung-yueh
"Pushing and pulling, back and forth" refers to the dance-like movement and the hands. When you inhale the chi adheres to the spine where it gathers waiting to be projected. This storing of chi in the spine is what is meant by "inwardly strength your vital spirit." Your outward appearance is cultured, calm and at ease. Although you practice the martial arts you are still civil.
Step like a cat; move the energy like reeling silk from a cocoon. Wang Tsung-yueh
In Tai Chi Chuan, our steps are as light and subtle as a cats. When practicing our form, we move the energy as smoothly and continuously as reeling silk from a cocoon.
The attention of your whole being should be on the spirit and not on the chi. If it is on the chi there will be blocks. Those whose attention is not on the chi achieve essential hardness. Wang Tsung-yueh
The human body has three treasures. These are sexual energy (ching), chi and spirit (shen). In Tai-chi the attention is on the last of these. "Attention not being on the chi means it is not on the circulating chi." If it is on the chi, there will be blocks" means that when circulating the chi, if it swells up in one place, then it will be blocked and insensitive. To say that, "those whose attention is on the chi have no power" means that their chi is dead. I may feel that I have power, but my opponent knows that I have none. To say that "Those whose attention is not on the chi achieve essential hardness" means that without dead chi they possess soft strength. Wherever you direct the mind, power arrives. When you make contact with an opponent it is like thongs strapped to his arm. Thus without using strength, the opponent feels that our hands are as heavy as Mount Tai. By not using direct power, marvellous power manifests. Those without dead chi achieve essential hardness.
Chi is like a wheel and the waist like an axletree. Wang Tsung-yueh
The feeling of the whole body is like a moving wheel. The waist is the ruler of the whole body and rotates like an axletree. So all of the movements of our art are controlled by the waist.
It is also said that if the opponent does not move you do not move. When the opponent makes the slightest move, you move first. Wang Tsung-yueh
When sparring with an opponent, do not move, but wait for the opponent to move, and then move first.
Your energy seems relaxed but is not relaxed, about to expand but not yet expanded. Even when energy is released, mental continuity is maintained. Wang Tsung-yueh
When one extends a hand to attack in Tai-chi, we say it is relaxed, but it is not relaxed. In extending the limbs, never completely straighten them. When practicing the form, the idea of continuity applies to prescribed postures which are threaded together in a series. However, if we are talking about sparring and practical applications, there are no prescribed postures for repelling an opponent. Externally my posture may appear to have an end point but my consciousness never slacks for a moment.
When you break a lotus loot in half, the fine strands of fiber do not break. This comparison should make my meaning clear. Master Yang often said, "The energy is released, but the mental continuity is maintained; the lotus root is broken, but the fibers are intact."