ESSAYS BY SUN LUTANG
[translation by Paul Brennan, May, 2015]
In addition to Sun’s five famous books…
形意拳學 A Study of Xingyi Boxing (1915)
八卦拳學 A Study of Bagua Boxing (1917)
太極拳學 A Study of Taiji Boxing (1921)
拳意述真 Authentic Explanations of Martial Arts Concepts (1924)
八卦劍學 A Study of Bagua Sword (1927)
he also produced several important essays:
“Discussing Distinctions Between the Internal & External Schools of Martial Arts” (1929)
“Some Things I Have Been Told About Martial Arts” (1929)
“My Opinions on the Origins of Chinese Martial Arts” (1930)
“A Detailed Look at the Theories of Xingyi, Bagua, and Taiji” (1932)
Dean of Studies, Sun Fuquan
[photo from 江蘇省國術舘年刊 Jiangsu Martial Arts Institute Annual, July 31, 1929]
The basis of strengthening the nation
– [calligraphy by] Sun Fuquan
[included in 鄞縣縣國術館一週紀念刋 Yin County (in Ningbo, Zhejiang) Martial Arts Institute 1st Year Commemorative Publication, New Year’s Day, 1931]
DISCUSSING DISTINCTIONS BETWEEN THE INTERNAL & EXTERNAL SCHOOLS OF MARTIAL ARTS
by Sun Lutang
Those who discuss martial arts nowadays always divide them into internal and external. Some say that Shaolin styles are external and Wudang styles are internal, or that Daoist styles are internal and Buddhist styles are external. Actually all of these judgments are superficial. When styles are categorized as either Shaolin or Wudang, there is really no distinction being made between internal or external. Shaolin is a temple. Wudang is a mountain. When boxing arts are named after places, there is no indication at all of whether they are good or bad. When all is said and done, to label something Shaolin instead of Wudang is just as good as otherwise.
Regarding the Shaolin Temple boxing arts, there are a great many styles and the names of their contents are extensive, having been handed down through many generations and repeated over and over again in detail. This is not the case for the Wudang arts, which have been practiced by so few that the highest members of its society do not even know for sure which province the Wudang arts started in, and no, I am not exaggerating the matter. Was not Zhang Songxi of Zhejiang a disciple of the Wudang arts? Then why is it to this day that the people of Zhejiang have never heard of him? It is only in recent decades that people have begun to somewhat understand the value of the Wudang arts. The reason for this situation with Shaolin and Wudang is that one school is on display while the other is obscure. How then can they so easily be put into classifications of internal and external?
Some say that if boxing arts are not divided into internal and external, their techniques could not be discerned as being hard or soft. It is not understood that one [internal] trains to go from softness to hardness and the other [external] trains to go from hardness to softness, and that although hardness and softness are distinct, the achievement in either direction is the same. When martial arts make use of harmony in order to function, it is from a condition of harmoniousness that fighting prowess is developed.
I have practiced boxing arts for several decades. In the beginning, I too accepted common views. Every day I accumulated energy into my elixir field until my lower abdomen became as hard as a rock. When I roused the energy in my abdomen, I could throw an opponent some eight or ten feet away. Whether walking, standing, sitting, or lying down, at any time it was thus. I thought that by accumulating energy through sinking it down, I would likely attain the art’s internal power, and that those who were unable to sink energy to their lower abdomens were all of the external school.
One day, I sent Song Shirong of Shanxi a letter requesting a visit to him since I would be visiting Shanxi. After exchanging conventional greetings, I asked about the distinction between internal and external.
Song said: “Breathing is divided into internal and external, but in boxing arts there’s no distinction between internal and external. If you are good at nurturing energy, then it’s internal. If you’re not good at nurturing energy, then it’s external. Consider the phrase [Mengzi, chapter 2a] “good at nurturing one’s noble energy”. Surely it reveals the deeper meaning of the internal school. When practicing boxing arts, seek stillness through movement. In meditation arts, seek movement through stillness. Truly there is stillness within movement and movement within stillness, because basically they represent a single essence that cannot be branched off into two. Building on this point, when stillness is at its peak, there is movement, and when movement is at its peak, there is stillness, because movement and stillness are so connected that they generate each other. If movement and stillness were used to make distinction between internal and external, how would this not be a case of miscalculating by an inch and being off by a thousand miles?
“My opinion is that there are internal and external types of breathing. First seek for the breath to be fully getting through. The distinction is whether or not the breath is getting through. Those who have never practiced boxing arts or are just beginning to, their breathing usually goes no lower than mid-torso before it goes back up, and so their energy ends up floating upward. This is called ‘hindered breathing’. When the breath is suppressed to an extreme degree, the temperament is affected, and that person develops a combative personality. Such a level of internal fire burns them up until they are scorched.
“If the breath is trained to move downward and go directly to the elixir field, then in the course of time, the heart [the peak active organ] and kidneys [the peak passive organ] will be cooperating. Water and fire will be in a state of mutual benefit [as in hexagram 63 (made of water ☵ on top of fire ☲)], keeping internal fire from burning upward. Breathing can thus be natural and not get turned around mid-torso. In this way, the body can be said to be connected inside and out, upper body and lower, energy will flow smoothly, and the breath can get through to the lower torso. But there’s basically only one kind of energy and it’s a mistake to think there are two. The problem is when it is kept from getting through. Ziyu said: ‘Seek for your lost mind. Once you have found it, your Daoist mind is born.’ [This seems to be a paraphrasing from Mengzi, chapter 6a: ‘The study of the Way is nothing more than the quest for your lost mind.’] This describes the Daoist principle of watching and listening inwardly.”
I said: “All that being the case, can I say I’ve obtained the internal power of boxing arts? My energy has sunk down and my lower abdomen is hard as a rock.”
Song said: “Oh, no no no. Even though energy might be getting through to your lower abdomen, if it doesn’t transform that hardness, it’ll eventually just make you feel overworked, and that isn’t the highest level.”
I then asked: “So how does such a transformation happen?”
Song said: “By way of something seeming like nothing, of fullness seeming like emptiness. If there is hardness in the abdomen, it is not the authentic method. Mengzi said [Mengzi, chapter 4b]: ‘As his [Emperor Shun’s] actions already came from compassion and justice, he did not need to act in a way that would make him become compassionate or just.’ This is the ‘centered harmoniousness’ discussed in the Zhong Yong. It must be understood that what the ancients talked about had both theory and practical application. Within boxing arts, both centered harmoniousness is valued as well as compassionate justice.
“If this is not clear, then even if you practice until you are as agile as a fluttering bird or strong enough to lift a ton, you will be no more than a brash oaf and always be one of the external school. If instead you train to the point of centered harmoniousness, you will then speak knowledgeably about compassion and justice, conducting yourself appropriately and imitating what is right, and then even if you are a mass of muscle, you can be considered one of the internal school. Once you are nurturing energy at a deep level of practice, it will connect inside and outside together, and you will be able to fully determine whether you have it or not. Your energy will be [Mengzi, 2a:] ‘vast and strong’, and you will be ‘nurturing energy with integrity so it will not be corrupted’. There will be no place where it is not there and no moment when it is not thus. In hiding it away or expressing it, its use will be broad even though its presence may be slight.
“It was said by a previous generation: ‘Every single thing is a grand polarity. Every single thing is a single passivity-activity.’ We inherently possess the centered harmonious energy of the universe, for are we not each a grand polarity unto ourselves? It says in the Book of Changes [Great Treatise, part 2]: ‘For what is near, he [Fu Xi] examined within himself. For what is distant, he observed all things.’ [It says in the Xingyi Boxing Classics:] ‘The mind is internal, yet its reasoning extends to all things. Things are external, yet their principles are all there in the mind.’ Internal and external follow the same principle.”
After I had respectfully heard him out, I then realized that the way of boxing arts is the way of Nature, and that the way of Nature is the Way of mankind. I also understood that although boxing techniques and names may be different, they share a common theory. As for the distinction between internal and external, I indeed saw that it is not very penetrating and recognized the principle of dividing into such categories to be unenlightened. This encouraged me to be aware that speech should be mild and action should be natural. While we establish ourselves and make our way in the world, we have an inner sincerity and an outward behavior. Why would boxing arts be any exception to this?
When we look into famous ancient generals, such as Guan Yu or Yu Qian, they all understood the classical concept of righteousness. They are evoked in rituals and music, celebrated in poems and prose, causing people centuries later to still revere and make offerings to them. But what of men like Tian Kaiqiang or Ye Zibei, who only achieved the repute of being brave warriors? In the case of those famous men, internality and externality are in agreement [those men being both righteous and celebrated], everything fulfilled whether it is what was in them or what is displayed to us, whether we view them generally or in detail. But in the case of those other men, they are merely politely remembered, mourned for doing their duty, granted sighs.
Song had also said: “Boxing arts can transform a person’s temperament.” Examining myself, I cannot see any evidence that I am living up to this, but I am constantly haunted by the lessons I have been taught by previous generations. With this year’s publication of the Jiangsu Martial Arts Institute’s [first] annual, the organization commemorates its eighteenth year. I have served the institute for the last two years, despite my meager knowledge and abilities, having been given a sinecure which I do not deserve. Therefore I have here presented some brief remarks I have been told by one of a previous generation as a record of my unworthiness.
[This piece was clearly intended to appear in the 1929 Jiangsu Martial Arts Institute Annual, though it was not actually included in that publication. It has instead survived due to repeated inclusion in later books, thanks mainly to Sun’s daughter. Below is the piece by Sun that did appear in the Annual.]
SOME THINGS I HAVE BEEN TOLD ABOUT MARTIAL ARTS
by Sun Lutang
[published in 江蘇省國術舘年刊 Jiangsu Martial Arts Institute Annual, July 31, 1929]
When I was young, I adored boxing arts. Initially I had no bias toward any style, and so I tried out and studied various systems equally. It turns out that the way of boxing arts is all-encompassing, embodying everything with nothing left out. But I did not yet have the skill to back this statement up, for I did not yet understand the essentials of these arts, having merely a narrow view of some general ideas.
When I used to live in Beijing, there was a Gao Daofu of Hanzhong [in Shaanxi] who was a master calligrapher, an expert in the greater and lesser seal scripts of the Han and Wei Dynasties. He learned boxing arts from me for over a year. He told me: “Since I’ve been practicing this, though it has not been for very long, I have come to understand that boxing arts and calligraphy are in essence greatly related. Although their functions are different, their principles are the same.” I asked him to elaborate. He said: “This boxing art [Xingyi] has five core techniques and calligraphy has five kinds of strokes.”
After prompting him further on the theory of the dual aspects and five elements, he said: “This boxing art’s five core techniques – chopping, crashing, drilling, blasting, crossing – correspond to the five elements of metal, wood, water, fire, and earth. As for the subtleties of the twelve animals, they never depart from the centered harmoniousness of the five techniques’ basic essentials of advancing and retreating, lifting and dropping, and transforming from one to another. As an ancient master said: ‘When the five elements are united, the result is centered harmoniousness. And thereby the workings of Nature can all be heightened.’
“In calligraphy, there are five kinds of strokes: centered, contrary, uniform, slanted, and lifted, which can be seen even in old stone inscriptions. The greater and lesser seal scripts of Zheng Wengong upon stone tablets never departed from these five strokes. Despite the distinction of the five kinds of strokes, the different ways of using a writing brush really all come down to the centered stroke. Therefore although the centered harmoniousness of the five boxing techniques and the centered stroke in calligraphy are two different actions, nevertheless the essential principle of both is really the same. Although I have practiced this art for over a year, I have observed that both my present method of calligraphy and my personal spirit are completely different than they were a year ago. Thus I know that the reality of boxing arts and the essence of calligraphy are intimately related.”
Because Gao soonafter went back to Hanzhong, I did not see him for several years. Then last autumn, I held a teaching position in Xindu [in Chengdu, Sichuan – about three hundred miles from Hanzhong]. Gao heard I was in the neighborhood and came to visit me. He had at that time, by way of a recommendation from Wang Tieshan, become calligraphy instructor to General Feng Huanzhang.
Also while I lived in Beijing, the military supervisor Li Jinglin of Hebei went to Tianjin to found the Warriors’ Society. I decided to make an appointment to see him, for I had not yet met him. He is refined and modest. I got to know the exquisiteness of his sword art, how he trained so continuously through several decades that it seemed as though it was but a single day, and he has deeply obtained the art’s subtleties. Because I had deliberately come to Tianjin, he and I conversed at length over several days, and I subsequently knew that he had achieved the highest level in the art. His movements and theory are in all ways superb, and are descended from Wudang’s Taiji Sword.
According to Li: “I was taught by Chen Shijun. (Chen was from Anhui. He adored Daoism ever since his youth and deeply studied it, living as a hermit at Mt. Emei.) I trained daily without interruption. After several years, I then had a very broad understanding of the sword art theory. It touches upon everything, thereby connecting it to all other systems.”
He also told me: “While I was in the Hebei army, I made use of military strategies, such as the ways of reading the weather, taking advantage of the terrain, and employing the services of local people. I scrutinized my enemy’s movements and deployed my forces with treachery and deception. I made use of the landscape to position my troops so as to cause the most damage. There were the principles of advancing and retreating, opening and closing, using advance as retreat, retreat as advance, and the stratagem of disappearing and reappearing. And then there were the main ideas of Zhuge Liang’s ‘eight battle formations’. Almost all of this had an effect on my sword art theory.”
In 1928, Li accepted the post of vice-director of the Central Martial Arts Institute. In July, he held a celebration in a public park in Shanghai, in which he participated in the performances. During the fourth day of it, while we watched him perform with the sword, his spirit and movement, hardness and softness, opening and closing, expanding and contracting, twisting and turning, displayed a skillfulness in the sword art that encompasses all of its subtleties. We then realized the glorious achievement that had been built upon his experience. Truly he has a magical understanding of the sword art which caused us to proclaim him as supreme.
This summer, I stayed briefly in Jiaoshan [in Zhenjiang, Jiangsu]. Records Bureau compiler Zhuang Sijian came to visit me while I was there and we discussed the sword art. He asked whether Li Fangchen’s sword art and mine were the same.
I said: “What Li practices is Taiji Sword and what I practice is Bagua Sword. Although the two styles are different, their methods of application are fifty or sixty percent the same, and they share the same names of the different grip positions: three-quarter passive grip, three-quarter active grip, one-quarter passive grip, one-quarter active grip, etc.”
He then asked: “Between the two of you, whose skill is better?”
I said: “Li’s. He is a diligent swordsman. After working at it for many years, he has achieved a high degree of skill. As I have not specialized in the art, I have obtained only the postures and the general idea. So how can his ability and mine be spoken of on the same day? [equivalent of ‘mentioned in the same breath’]”
He then asked me to demonstrate my swordwork. As I had gotten rusty over time, and the movements of my body and feet were sluggish and awkward, I politely declined. He urged me a further four times, so I gave up and performed a few postures to show just the basic idea. I then went through the names of the techniques and the way the postures intricately change from one to another, demonstrating the whole ten-section set [i.e. including the NONPOLARITY POSTURE and GRAND POLARITY POSTURE as well as the eight trigrams techniques]. Then he also inquired about the principles of boxing and sword arts.
I said: “The principles of boxing arts and sword arts roughly amount to three:
“1. Above and below coordinate with each other. Hands and feet look after each other. Inside and outside are as one.
“2. Neither reaching nor separating, neither coming away nor crashing in, neither under-involved nor over-involved.
“3. The boxing is without boxing. The intention is without intention. Within no intention is true intention.”
He told me: “Inside and outside are as one – this is the ‘sincerity’ of the Confucianists. Neither coming away nor crashing in, neither under-involved nor over-involved – this is the ‘undifferentiation’ of the Daoists. Being without boxing and without intention – this is the ‘non-identity’ of the Buddhists. These three things are the fundamental rules of cultivating one’s character and are indispensable in life. Observing the sword postures in action, the movements are like a swimming dragon, bending and twisting, the intention being that of transformation.
“This is actually the same as in the rules, spirit, structure, transitioning, and manner of calligraphy. Thus we can believe what was said about the ancient man watching Lady Gongsun’s sword dancing, that he obtained from it a calligraphy method that was very soulful. [This refers to the preface to Du Fu’s poem “Watching Lady Gongsun’s Student Performing a Sword Dance”, in which he describes the effect of Lady Gongsun’s performance upon the master calligrapher Zhang Xu.] His expertise at cursive script was entirely down to understanding the theory of the sword art. If this had not been the case, he could not have achieved such substance and spirit in his cursive script.”
When I first heard one of my teachers say “the way of boxing arts embodies everything and leaves nothing out,” I did not really believe it. Upon hearing these words from Gao, Li, and Zhuang, I then saw the light [“The long grass suddenly parted in front of me.” (quoting from Journey to the West, chapter 64)] and the maze of doubts was cleared from my mind. I have therefore written them down to inform my comrades.
MY OPINIONS ON THE ORIGINS OF CHINESE MARTIAL ARTS
by Sun Lutang
[published in 浙江國術游藝大會彙刊 Collection of Articles from the Zhejiang Martial Arts & Recreation Conference, 1930]
In ancient times, our ancestors had skills that did not at all resemble what we think of as martial arts. That being so, how then did our martial arts arise out of a world of cavemen? Compelled by the wildlife, they made bamboo and wooden weapons to defend themselves.
When finally the Yellow Emperor had an armed conflict against Chiyou, this began the era of the Three Dynasties [Xia, Shang, Zhou] [i.e. the switch from prehistory to history]. History describes running among horses, as well as grabbing birds out of the air or lifting heavy objects such as roof beams and caldrons, which were typical ways of using strength to make oneself more imposing. However, whether these were expressions of inherent or trained abilities cannot be determined with certainty.
In the beginning of the Zhou Dynasty, there was equal regard for martial skill and dance. [This would seem natural since the words for “martial” and “dance” have identical pronunciation.] A poem says [Book of Poetry, poem 38]: “[The performers were as] fit as tigers.”
Later on [Spring & Autumn era], Duke Yuan had an instructive duel [with the Maiden of Yue], bringing about the renown of the sword art. Famous swords such as Gan Jiang, Mo Ye, Deep River, and Big Watchtower appeared in written records. However, these are only names of swords.
It is during the Han Dynasty that sword heroes arise. Historical records from this time mention swordsmanship, barehanded fighting, and wrestling, but unfortunately no details about any of the methods of these practices.
By the end of the Eastern Han Dynasty, there was the Five Animal Frolics, which has been practiced by many up to this day. This is really the sprouting of our martial arts [everything preceding being merely a matter of seed and soil].
Tradition has it that the Shaolin Temple originally emphasized various Tantui methods. Then during the reign of Emperor Wu of the Liang Dynasty, Damo came east. He worried that the monks at the temple had not yet ingrained the doctrine of movement and stillness nurturing each other, and thus he wrote the two classics on Sinew Changing and Marrow Washing for the purpose of mutual cultivation of both internal and external. Strengthening the body thereby became the first stage of training. The monks were otherwise growing so bored in their meditation that it had been turning into an unhealthy practice. Over the course of time, there was then division into the two categories of “hard” and “soft”, the beginning of the enduring distinction between the “Shaolin” and “internal” boxing arts.
Yue Fei [Song Dynasty] obtained the two classics, added his own Bone Changing Classic, then took the functional sum of all three and called the result Xingyi [“form & intent”], and subsequently there was “Xingyi Boxing”. Indeed, what Damo initiated, Yue Fei completed.
Taiji started in the Tang Dynasty with Li Daozi and Xu Xuanping. Zhang Sanfeng later expanded the art to include methods of attacking acupoints, and this version was passed down to Zhang Songxi and Dan Sinan.
The Eight-Posture Plum Blossoms art seems to have come from the venerable monk Bao Zhi [a contemporary of Damo] and became what the world knows as the Emei school.
As for the place of Bagua Palming among these arts, Dong Haichuan of Wen’an obtained it in the southern provinces and then transmitted it in the north. I have heard that its origin is in the distant past.
Then there are the arts of Cannon Boxing, Xinyi, Luohan, Wuji Boxing, Five Foundations Boxing, Baji, Mizu, Taizu, Pigua, Tongbi, and the boxing arts of the Ruan family, Yu family, and Kong family. Each takes its own position on what qualities are most important. Some emphasize theory, some emphasize energy, some emphasize strength. They all have their own specialties and distinctive characteristics.
If we are intent upon making classifications, the martial arts we have now were descended mainly from two branches: those of Damo and Zhang Sanfeng. The great variety of styles was the result of later generations of practitioners developing these systems further. Narrowmindedness toward other styles leads to snobbery, and so I fervently hope that throughout the nation it is the broadminded masters who are doing the teaching.
A DETAILED LOOK AT THE THEORIES OF XINGYI, BAGUA, AND TAIJI
by Sun Lutang
[published in 國術週刋 第八十五期 Martial Arts Weekly – issue #85, Oct 29, 1932]
The major boxing arts are generally divided into three schools: Shaolin, Wudang, and Emei. As for the rest, there is a great variety, but more than half can be classified under these schools. Shaolin began with Damo’s two classics – Sinew Changing and Marrow Washing. Then Yue Fei in the Song Dynasty started what was called Xingyi Boxing, applying his own Bone Changing Classic and calling his art Xingyi [“form” & “intent”]. “Form” means the shape. “Intent” means the mental intention. What is expressed from the mind manifests in the hands and feet.
This boxing art has “five cores” and “twelve imitations”. The five cores are the five elements – metal, wood, water, fire, earth – which make the five boxing techniques of chopping, crashing, drilling, blasting, and crossing. The twelve imitations are the twelve animals: dragon, tiger, monkey, horse, alligator, rooster, hawk, kestrel, swallow, snake, eagle, and bear. Strive for the instincts and abilities of these twelve animals, and to be able to incorporate within yourself everything they can do. Thus it is said [in the Zhong Yong]: “Giving full expression to human nature, one is thus able to give full expression to the nature of animals.”
What should we understand to be the nature of this art? The chopping technique corresponds to metal, and in the body to the lungs. The crashing technique corresponds to wood, and in the body to the liver. The drilling technique corresponds to water, and in the body to the kidneys. The blasting technique corresponds to fire, and in the body to the heart. The crossing technique corresponds to earth, and in the body to the spleen. After practicing for a long time, it can dispel the ailments of the five organs. This is called “ingraining human nature”.
As for the animals, the dragon has the method of shrinking its body, the tiger has the fierceness of pouncing on prey, the monkey has the nimbleness of bounding up hillsides, the bear [alligator] has the quality of floating on water, and the other eight animals each have their own ingenuities. This is called “ingraining the nature of animals”.
When both human and animal natures are ingrained, then lifting and dropping, advancing and retreating, transforming without limit, will all as a result be performed with resourcefulness.
Obtaining a state of centered harmoniousness, the essence of the animal does not get discarded and yet the result is humanity.
Mind is united with the intention, the intention united with the energy, and the energy united with the power. These are the three internal unions. The shoulder is united with the hip, the elbow united with the knee, and the hand united with the foot. These are the three external unions. The internal and external unions merged together makes the six unions, and the result is courage.
Once these three things [resourcefulness, humanity, courage] are prepared, then in every action and movement, upper body and lower will be coordinated with each other, hand and foot will be aligned with each other, and you will be [from Mengzi, chapter 2a:] “nurturing your noble energy… until it is vast and strong”. It is within the Confucian concept of sincerity that can be found the key to these external shapes, the [from the Lun Yu, 15.3:] “single principle running through the whole thing”. These are the main ideas of Xingyi Boxing.
Bagua Boxing began during the reigns of Emperors Xianfeng [1850-1861] and Tongzhi [1861-1875]. Dong Haichuan of Wenhai, Hebei, was roaming through the southern provinces. At Mt. Yuhua in Anhui he was taught by an extraordinary man an art called Bagua [“eight trigrams”], as in [from the Book of Changes, Great Treatise, part 1:] “Nonpolarity generated the grand polarity, the grand polarity generated the dual aspects, the dual aspects generated the four manifestations, and the four manifestations generated the eight trigrams.” The eight then mix together intricately. The boxing art is the theory of the utilizing of the eight trigrams. What does this mean?
The abdomen represents nonpolarity. The navel is the grand polarity. The kidneys are the dual aspects. The arms and legs are the four manifestations. They generate the eight trigrams by way of the two joints of each limb [i.e. elbow/knee, wrist/ankle]. To then multiply this eight by eight and make sixty-four: the ten fingers each have three joints, except for the thumbs, which have only two, and this totals an additional twenty-four, then adding the four joints of the thumbs brings the additional total up to twenty-eight, then adding the same [twenty-eight] joints from [all of the toes of the] feet brings the additional total up to fifty-six, then with the initial eight limb-joints this makes sixty-four joints. The sixty-four hexagrams in this way make the basis of the boxing art.
Then the three hundred sixty-four [three hundred eighty-four] lines of the hexagrams [each hexagram of course having six lines] interact to produce effects. There is an intention of every line having the potential to become the other type of line [active lines (called “nines”) able to become passive lines (called “sixes”) and vice versa]. When the active aspect reaches its peak, there is the passive. When the passive aspect reaches its peak, there is the active. Within going against, there is the action of going along, and within going along, there is the function of going against.
Seek for a state of centered harmoniousness, energy returning to your elixir field. Contained within this is the idea that when stillness reaches its peak, there is movement, and when movement reaches its peak, there is stillness. This up and down switching of states [in the way that the trigrams composing a hexagram can be flipped above and below to produce a new hexagram] is called “internal breathing”.
This boxing art is interrelated with Daoist practices not only in this way. The trigrams are also each associated with animals, for instance the dragon [associated with the Zhen trigram], horse [Qian trigram], cow [Kun trigram], and so on, all represented by animals. “The mind is internal, yet its reasoning extends to all things. Things are external, yet their principles are all there in the mind.” “For what is near, examine within the self. For what is distant, observe all things.” There is limitless alternating between direct and indirect techniques. There is also hardness and softness assisting each other so that emptiness and fullness are mutually achieved, and you can be empty but not empty, not empty and yet empty. Such are the subtleties of Bagua Boxing.
Taiji Boxing was invented by Zhang Sanfeng, as everyone knows. At the beginning of practicing this art, you should first seek for the method of “neither leaning nor inclining, neither rising nor falling, acting with absolute simplicity and absolute ease”. A boxing text says [paraphrasing from the kestrel section in his own Xingyi manual]: “By embracing primal oneness, there is emptiness. With emptiness, there is transformation. Then with fullness in the abdomen, the Daoist mind is born.” It is this idea.
Taiji [“grand polarity”] comes from wuji [“nonpolarity”]. It is nonpolarity’s acquired state and the innate quality of all things, and thus the transition from nothing to everything, [again from his Xingyi manual:] “just as the sky and ground combine to make virtue, the sun and moon combine to make illumination, the four seasons combine to make the cycle of the seasons, and ghosts and spirits combine to make the foretelling of good or bad fortune.” If you practice it to a high level, harmoniousness will manifest, then from within harmoniousness, wisdom and courage will arise. Right before taking any action, there is the harmoniousness of not yet expressing. Once action is taken, there is the centeredness of having expressed.
Therefore the way of this boxing art most of all emphasizes centered harmoniousness. Without this centered harmoniousness, there would be nothing wonderful about it. Thus Taiji Boxing seeks to be purely natural and puts no value on vigor. It aims to store up spirit, making the whole body nimble, so that there is neither reaching nor separating, neither rashness nor rescuing, internally the virtue of Nature and externally the way of kings.
Right from the start, gradually work at it until a centered harmoniousness fills your whole body, reaching even to the smallest part. It says in the Book of Changes [hexagram 2 explanation]: “The gentleman takes yellow [the color associated with the center, i.e. centeredness] as his guiding principle, which corrects his behavior and affects his very being. [The beauty within this condition reaches to his extremities, making everything he does sublime.]” This is the idea.
My teacher [Hao Weizhen] once told me: “Right from the start, this art is the same as the ‘primal gateway’ of the elixirists.” I have been studying this art for several decades, but I would not dare to say that I have a true grasp of it. However, when considering its origins, it is truly interconnected with Xingyi and Bagua in terms of theory. It is only different in its movements and the names of its postures, while as for its qualities of nurturing energy and developing spirit, there is not the slightest difference.
By analogy, Xingyi is the ground, Bagua is the sky, and Taiji is mankind. The three substances of sky, ground, and mankind are merged into a single whole, mixed into a union with no meaningful distinctions. After practicing for a long time, there is fluency in both movement and stillness, and clarity as to the reasoning of the method. Ah, what a thing it is to have Xingyi, Bagua, and Taiji! As for the Emei school’s transmission of the Eight-Posture Plum Blossoms art, as well as Zen master Bai Zhi’s breathing exercises, it is not necessary to go into them here.