XIANG KAIRAN’S TAIJI EXPERIENCE

向愷然先生練太極拳之經驗
MY EXPERIENCE OF PRACTICING TAIJI BOXING
by Xiang Kairan
[written in 1929, published in Wu Zhiqing’s 太極正宗 Authentic Taiji, 1936]

[translation by Paul Brennan, July, 2016]

前淸丁未年間。我在日本會見一位直隸朋友。就聽他說起北方練拳術的人。有幾個大派別。一派是練八卦拳的。一派是練形意拳的。一派是太極拳的。還有一派練岳氏散手拳的。後來由岳氏散手。又產生一派。謂岳氏連拳。此外雖尚有不少的家數。然練習的比較人少。不能自成一派。我當時聽了這些話。不過知道有這些名目罷了。究竟各派是些什麼手法。彼此分別之點。在什麼地方。因那位直隸朋友。不能一一演給我看。無從知道。直到民國癸卯年。遇見李存義的弟子葉雲表、郝海鵬。纔見着了形意拳。八卦拳也看了一部份。太極拳。仍是不曾見着。不過曾聽得葉、郝二人說起太極拳意義。使我增添了許多向往之心罷了。
In 1907, I was in Japan visiting a friend from Hebei, and I happened to hear him talking about northern practitioners of boxing arts: “There are several major schools, such as Bagua Boxing, Xingyi Boxing, Taiji Boxing, as well as Yue School Sanshou, and another system produced from it called Yue School Continuous Boxing.”
     Although beyond these there are many more styles, there are fewer practitioners of them and so they have been unable to build themselves up into fully fledged systems, and when I heard his words, I only knew of these major names anyway. Each system has its own batch of techniques, its own distinguishing characteristics, and belongs to a particular place. But because my Hebei friend was unable to perform each of them for me to look at, I could not get to know them.
     Then in 1903 [1913], I met two of Li Cunyi’s students, Ye Yunbiao and Hao Haipeng, and was then able to see a portion of Xingyi Boxing and Bagua Boxing. I still had not seen Taiji Boxing, but I once listened to them talking about its concepts, causing me to yearn for it that much more.

經過了若干年。祇是沒有機會。遇着太極拳練得好的朋友。不但無從研究。便想看一次是如何的形式。也達不到這個目的。到乙丑年五月。幸有一位陳微明先生。從北京來到上海。以所從楊家學得的太極拳。設一個致柔拳社。專教人練習。我得這個機會。纔從事研究了幾個月。不料正在研練的時候。二十年前教我練拳的王志羣先生。也到了上海。我這時與王先生已有好幾年不曾見面了。一向祇聽得王先生在北京。專心研究太極拳。因為原來根柢甚深的原故。成功比任何人都容易。我於是又從王先生研究。論王先生所練的太極拳。與陳先生所練的本屬一家。陳先生的師承。是楊澄甫。王先生的師承。是吳鑑泉。兩人都是楊露禪的再傳弟子。當然是一家一派的了。但是兩人所傳授的拳式。各自不同。我當時很是疑惑。不敢隨便判斷誰對誰不對。我旣以研究拳術為目的。自不能存黨同伐異的心。何況同是太極拳術。又是同出一家呢。衹以研究便利的關係。因王先生住在我家。便專從王先生研究。也時常與陳先生推手。奈不久離了上海囘湖南。在湖南找不着練太極拳的人。沒有人和我推手。祇好獨自練習。
A number of years passed and I still had no opportunity to make the acquaintance of a friend who was a decent practitioner of Taiji Boxing. Not only was I unable to study it, I began to feel I would never be able to achieve the goal of even seeing it. Then in May, 1925, fortunately Chen Weiming came to Shanghai from Beijing with the Yang family’s transmission of Taiji Boxing, establishing an “Achieving Softness Boxing Society” expressly to teach it to people. I took this opportunity and engaged in the study for several months.
     Then unexpectedly during the course of this education, Wang Zhiqun, who had taught me boxing arts twenty years previously, arrived in Shanghai. By this time, I had not seen him for several years and I had heard only that he was in Beijing. I was so intent upon the study of Taiji Boxing, and due to the deep earnestness I felt for this basic goal, I could not decide which person it would be easier for me to achieve success from, so I also studied with Wang.
     As for the Taiji Boxing he had trained in and that of Chen Weiming, Chen learned from Yang Chengfu and Wang learned from Wu Jianquan, both of whom had learned from the second generation of students in the lineage of Yang Luchan. Although it is the same branch of the same school, two people teaching a boxing art will naturally have differences. I was very uncertain at that time and did not dare to casually judge who was right and who was wrong. My goal was just to study boxing arts, and so I was incapable of being biased toward any style, that much more so in the case of the Taiji boxing styles, which had emerged from the same school.
     I was only concerned with facilitating my studies, and since Wang was staying in my home, it was convenient to focus on learning from him. I also often pushed hands with Chen at that time, but before long I left Shanghai to return to Hunan. In Hunan I could not find a practitioner of Taiji Boxing, no one for me to push hands with, and so the only thing I could do was practice by myself.

戊辰七月。我跟着湖南的軍隊到了北京。當時北京已改名北平。因政府遷都南京的關係。北京市面漸就蕭條。影響所及。連幾個練太極拳有名的人物。如楊澄甫、吳鑑泉等。都跟着往南京或上海去了。所會見的幾個。誰也是北方有相當聲望的人。如許禹生、劉恩綬之類。對於太極拳。都有若干年的研究。其所練架式。類似吳鑑泉傳授者為最多。我於是又從許劉兩人研究了些日子。許君以吳楊等專練太極拳之人。皆已南去。他辦了一個體育學校。找不着教太極拳的好手。就託人在河南溫縣陳家溝子。聘了一位姓陳名績甫的來。相傳楊露禪當日。是從陳家溝子學來的太極。他的師傅叫陳長興。從陳長興到現在。代有傳人。此刻陳家溝子的人。少有不練拳的。練的都是太極。沒有第二種拳。在那地方流行。體育學校請來那位姓陳的。年齡不過四十歲。是從小專練太極拳。不曾練過旁的拳。到北平後。除在體育學校擔任教授而外。還有許多人。請到自己家裏去教。我聽得這們一位人物。少不得要去見一見。這日由許君介紹。在體育學校會面。並見他練了拳。推了手。還和他談論了好一會。不會他倒也罷了。會過之後。使我更加了疑惑起來。因為他這道地的太極拳。不僅和吳鑑泉傳授的形式大不相同。就是和楊澄甫所傳授的。比較也全不是那門一囘事。連拳譜上的名目。也不一樣。
In July, 1928, I followed the Hunan army to Beijing, from that time now called Beiping. Because the government moved the capital city to Nanjing, the Beijing economy fell into a depression, influencing some famous practitioners of Taiji Boxing, such as Yang Chengfu and Wu Jianquan, to follow better conditions to Nanjing or Shanghai, where I have met several such teachers. But there are still equally prestigious people in the north, such as Xu Yusheng and Liu Enshou, who have both studied Taiji Boxing for many years.
     The postures they practice are similar mainly to the teachings of Wu Jianquan. I therefore also spent some days learning from Xu and Liu. Xu has learned from Wu, Yang, and other Taiji Boxing experts who all went south. He set up a “Physical Education School”, but unable to find an expert instructor of Taiji Boxing, has put his reliance into the people of Chen Family Village in Wen County, Henan, specifically inviting Chen Jifu.
     Tradition has it that Yang Luchan had gone to Chen Family Village to learn Taiji. His teacher was called Chen Changxing, and people have carried on his teaching to this day. Presently in Chen Family Village, there are few people who do not practice boxing arts, and what they practice is always Taiji, there being no other kind of boxing art popular in that area.
     The Physical Education School therefore invited a member of the Chen clan. Chen Jifu is not yet forty years old, has practiced Taiji Boxing since childhood, and has never practiced any other boxing art. After arriving in Beiping, not only is he teaching in the school, there are also many people who have invited him to teach in their own homes. When I heard about such a noteworthy person, I had to take a look. I was then recommended by Xu to come to the School and see this unique boxing art and its pushing hands, and to discuss with the man for a while.
     If might have been better if I hadn’t. After meeting him, I was left even more confused than before, because this authentic version of Taiji Boxing is not only entirely different in appearance from Wu Jianquan’s teachings, but also completely dissimilar to Yang Chengfu’s. Even the names of the postures are not the same.

吳楊兩家所傳的姿勢。雖有分別。但是起手都是一攬雀尾為名稱。就是孫祿堂從郝維眞所學的。起手名懶札衣。也與攬雀尾的音相近似。不管是誰的音轉變了。總還是這個音調差不多的名稱。至於陳績甫練拳起手。叫做金剛搗碓。其中雖也有懶扎衣的名目。惟手法身法。與吳楊兩家的攬雀尾。孫祿堂的懶扎衣。都無相似之處。且全式名稱。不同之點甚多。如靑龍出水、雙推手、神仙一把抓、小擒打、前招後招、鐵叉、切地龍、當地炮等名稱。皆吳楊二家所未有。至如封似閉。稱六射四閉。單鞭稱丹變。倒攆猴。稱倒捻肱。肩通臂稱閃通背。右起脚稱右插。左起脚稱左插。轉身蹬脚稱蹬一根子。抱虎歸山。稱抱頭推山。雲手稱運手。音尚相近。但身手動作方法亦多不類。再看他推手祇有同邊活步的一個方法。就是一個左脚向前。一個右脚向前。掤擠進一步。捋按退一步。我問他推手共有幾個方式。他說就是這一個方式。我又問沒有站定不動脚的推法嗎。他說沒有。我又問他沒有四隅進退名叫大捋的推法嗎。他也說沒有。我想這就奇了。楊露禪是從陳家溝子學來的。到此不過三傳。何以與陳績甫的相差這們遠。
Despite some postural distinction between the teachings of the Wu and Yang families, their opening posture has the same name – CATCH THE SPARROW BY THE TAIL. In the version Sun Lutang learned from Hao Weizhen, the opening posture is called TUCK IN THE ROBE [lan za yi], similar in sound to CATCH THE SPARROW BY THE TAIL [lan que wei], and regardless of who changed the pronunciation, the sounds are still not that far apart.
     As for Chen Jifu’s opening posture, it is called ARHAT POUNDS THE PESTLE, and although his set contains a posture called TUCK IN THE ROBE, the movements of his hands and body bear no resemblance to the CATCH THE SPARROW BY THE TAIL of either the Wu or Yang schools, nor to Sun Lutang’s TUCK IN THE ROBE.
     Furthermore, throughout Chen’s postures there are many different names, such as BLUE DRAGON LEAVES THE WATER, DOUBLE-HAND PUSH, IMMORTAL MAKES A GRAB, SMALL CATCH & HIT, BECKONING IN FRONT & BEHIND, IRON FORK [DROP AND EXTEND], CATCHING THE EARTHWORM, or CANNON STRAIGHT AHEAD.
     There are also many Wu / Yang names that do not appear: Instead of SEALING SHUT [ru feng si bi], there is SIX SEALED & FOUR SHUT [liu feng si bi]. SINGLE WHIP [dan bian] is TRANSMUTING ELIXIR [dan bian], RETREAT, DRIVING AWAY THE MONKEY [dao nian hou] is REVERSE TWISTING FOREARMS [dao nian gong], SHOULDER [FAN] THROUGH THE ARMS [jian (shan) tong bi] is DODGE THROUGH TO BE BEHIND HIM [shan tong bei], KICK TO THE RIGHT SIDE [you qi jiao] is RIGHT INSERTING [you cha], KICK TO THE LEFT SIDE [zuo qi jiao] is LEFT INSERTING [zuo cha], TURN AROUND, PRESSING KICK [zhuan shen deng jiao] is PRESS WITH A HEEL [deng yi gen zi], CAPTURE THE TIGER AND SEND IT BACK TO ITS MOUNTAIN [bao hu tui shan] is COVER YOUR HEAD AND PUSH THE MOUNTAIN [bao tou tui shan], and CLOUDING HANDS [yun shou] is CIRCLING HANDS [yun shou]. The sounds are close, but the patterns of movement are very different.
     Then I noticed that his pushing hands consists of only the same-side [i.e. opposite-step] moving-step method, meaning that when one person has his left foot forward, the other person has his right foot forward [whereas Wu and Yang practitioners tend to practice this primarily with the same foot forward], warding off and pressing with an advancing step, rolling back and pushing with a retreating step.
     I asked him: “How many patterns does your pushing hands have?”
     He said: “Just this one.”
     Then I asked: “Is there no fixed-step version, with the feet not moving?”
     “No.”
     “Is there no four-corner advancing and retreat exercise like the ‘large rollback’?”
     “No.”
     I thought this was quite strange. What Yang Luchan learned from the Chen Family Village has gone through a mere three generations. How is it that Chen Jifu’s teaching differs so much?

楊家練習的方式。倒比較的完備。楊家推手的方式。由淺入深。共有四種。最初彼此都用單手搭挽。使站走靈活。次則按掤擠捋按。四手彼此都用雙手。兩脚站立不動。僅以身手進退。又次則活步進退。再次則向四隅進退。名為大捋。步法身法手法漸次繁難。務使練習的人。能進退隨意。緩急皆由自主。不受制於人。若僅一同邊活步之方式。初學者不易粘走。而練有相當程度的。覺其活步容易討巧。腰腿難得有眞工夫。至於欲求深造的。則又嫌其太簡單。太極拳的原理。和其他之拳術不同。太極注重粘走。所謂於不丟不頂中討生活是也。粘卽是不丟。走卽是不頂。此理說得容易。做到實難。一部分之粘走尚易。全體之粘走尚難。欲全體粘走如意。則非有大捋不為功。按大捋之法。決非創自楊家。想必是陳績甫未得其傳。故其法尚不及楊家完備。
The Yang family’s practice methods seem more comprehensive. Yang family pushing hands patterns go from the easy to the difficult, with a total of four kinds of exercises:
     [1] First there is single-handed “connecting and drawing in” for developing dexterity in sticking and yielding.
     [2] Then there is the exercise for the four techniques of ward-off, press, rollback, and push, which uses both hands, the feet fixed in place, the advancing and retreating happening with only the body and hands.
     [3] Then there is moving-step advancing and retreating.
     [4] And then there is four-corner advancing and retreating, called “large rollback”.
     The footwork, body movements, and hand techniques become gradually more complex, causing the practitioner to be able to advance and retreat more efficiently, to be always in control in every situation and never controlled by the opponent.
     If there was only the moving-step method, beginners would find it difficult to stick and yield. If instead there is training at an appropriate level, moving steps will feel effortless when the time comes, the hips will develop genuine skill, and once the next level is sought, there will only be the worry that it might be too easy.
     The principles of Taiji Boxing are different from those of other boxing arts. Taiji emphasizes sticking and yielding, the principle of “neither coming away nor crashing in”. Sticking means not coming away. Yielding means not crashing in. This concept is easy to speak of, but very difficult to achieve.
     To stick and yield with one part is fairly easy, but to stick and yield with the involvement of the whole body is more difficult. If you want efficient whole-bodied sticking and yielding, this is not achievable without the large rollback exercise. The large rollback exercise was most likely not created by the Yang family, so presumably it was something that Chen Jifu had not yet learned, and thus his method is again not as complete as the Yang family’s.

以我個人近年研究太極拳之結果。深信拳理之精細。拳法之周密。及練習者之有益無損。此非他種拳術所能及。年來政府提倡武術。設國術館於首都。各省也遍設分館。首都國術館中。分武當、少林兩門。武當門卽以太極拳為主體。因此太極拳的勢力。漸漸侵到了南京。練習的人日漸增多。然首都經過一次武術比賽之後。聲明以太極拳為專長的。多未勝利。而北平方面。所去應試之人。其得勝利者。雖十之七八也曾練太極。但在報名時却未聲明以太極拳為專長。(國術館考試武術時。報名者須聲明曾練何種武術。以何種為專長。)因之一般人對太極拳懷疑者極多。原來反對太極拳的人。不待說。益發振振有詞。卽平日也曾練習太極。對太極有相當認識的。也懷疑太極不能致用。我是最相信太極的人。在這時不得不將我個人對於太極拳的經驗及心得說出來。或者可以解釋一部人的疑惑。及增加一部分人的信仰。並可以供同好的參證。篇中時有文言口語雜操之處。隨手寫來。但求達意。不及修改。閱者諒之。
As a result of my personal research into Taiji Boxing, I am deeply convinced as to the meticulousness of the boxing theory and the thoroughness of the boxing techniques, and that the practicing of it is a case of pros without cons, something other boxing arts are not capable of.
     In recent years, the government has been promoting martial arts, establishing a Martial Arts Institute in the capital [Nanjing], followed by Institutes being established in every province. Within the Nanjing Institute, material is divided into the two schools of Wudang and Shaolin. Taiji Boxing makes up the major portion of the Wudang curriculum. Because of this, Taiji Boxing’s influence has gradually invaded Nanjing, where practitioners of it become more numerous by the day.
     After the first martial arts competition in Nanjing [October, 1928], it was noticed that those who specialized in Taiji Boxing often did not win. But among challengers from Beiping who did win, although seventy-five percent had trained in Taiji, those participants had not stated that Taiji Boxing was their specialty. (During the Martial Arts Institute’s tournament, participant’s had to declare what martial arts they had trained in and what their specialty was.) Consequently, ordinary people tend to be skeptical about Taiji Boxing, and in fact are so critical of Taiji boxers that, sure enough, they are on the verge of mockery.
     Usually those who have practiced Taiji have only faced Taiji practitioners of an equal level, and they end up themselves doubting that Taiji can be used for practical application. As I am so confident in Taiji’s exponents, I now must put forth my personal experience and understanding of Taiji Boxing. Perhaps I will thereby explain the doubts of some people, enhance the belief of others, and will at least provide some evidence for those who are interested.
     In this piece, there will sometimes be jargon that the layman will find confusing, but it is part of my writing flow, for I merely seek to convey my thoughts. As this is an unrevised text, please forgive me. [Since Xiang was the kind of writer who pushed himself to write a large amount of material in a single sitting, it is a possibility that this entire piece was written in one day, which might explain its somewhat rambling nature.]

我覺得太極拳在各種拳術中。為最難致用之一種。甚麼原故呢。練他種拳術的人。工夫卽算不深。祇是練過拳的。必有相當體力。比較未經練過的强健。惟練太極拳的人。以不尚力原故。初練一年半載。體力並不見得比尋常的人發達許多。體力旣不比人强。而太極拳的用法又遠不及他種拳式之簡易。易於領會。無論初學的人。就是對太極拳用過三五年苦工夫的。除却照一定的規矩推手而外。若教他將太極拳一手一手的用法。從頭至尾解釋出來。恐怕能辦得到的很少。旣是自己不能領會自己所練太極拳的手法。却如何能使用呢。練他種拳術的。和人比試起來。縱然不能把平日所學手法。絲毫不亂的使用出來。然因其平日練習時橫衝直擊。成了習慣。祇要利用這種習慣。再繼之以猛勇直前。每能克敵制勝。練太極拳的則不然。平日練習以緩慢為原則。以毫不使力為要義。而一趟架式自首至尾。連綿不斷。雖搬攔捶、指襠拳等手用法。似已顯明。然練時不是斷勁。用時自難得力。
I feel that among the various boxing arts, Taiji Boxing is the most difficult to apply. Why is this? Practitioners of other kinds of boxing arts do not seem to have a deep level of skill, training only for fighting, intent upon equaling opponents physically, and undergo less training for health. Taiji Boxing practitioners, on the other hand, do not emphasize strength. The beginning of the training goes on for over a year, yet physical strength does not appear to develop much further than that of an ordinary person. Because the physique does not get bulked up, Taiji Boxing’s applications have nothing like the simplicity of the postures in other boxing arts, which are easy to comprehend.
     The beginning of the training for everybody in Taiji Boxing takes three to five years of hard work. Beyond the fixed patterns of pushing hands, if the rest of the techniques throughout the solo set are each taught and explained, I fear that very few practitioners would be able to make sense of them anyway. And if you are unable to understand the Taiji Boxing techniques you have been practicing, how are you supposed to be able to apply them?
     When practitioners of other kinds of boxing arts start to compete against opponents, even if they are unable to grasp the techniques they have been learning, there is nevertheless not the slightest confusion when they apply them. This is because during their ordinary training, their sideways thrusts and straight strikes become habitual, and then they only make use of these habits. Adding on top of that their vigor and directness, they are always capable of defeating opponents.
     For practitioners of Taiji Boxing, this is not the case. During ordinary practice, slowness is the main principal, and not using any exertion is the key to it. However, the solo set from beginning to end is performed continuously without pause. Techniques such as PARRY, BLOCK, PUNCH and PUNCH TO THE CROTCH seem obvious, but when practicing them there is no interrupting of the energy, and so when applying them there will naturally be difficulty in having any power.

人類本自然具有以手足自衞。及抓攫人的知能。卽不知拳術為何物的小孩。他們有時相打起來。也知道劈頭劈腦的舉手打去。被打痛了的人。也知道閃開和還手。練太極拳沒練到能致用的時候。便冒昧和人去比試。不但不能用拳法去打人。有時甚至連那本來具有的自衞抓攫的知能。都沒有了。擺出一個一成不變的架式。去接受人家的攻擊。舊小說中常有祇有招架的工夫。並無還手之力的話。練太極拳不曾練好的人。並招架的工夫也沒有。因為太極拳裏面。就沒有尋常招架的手法。然則沒有招架的手法。難道人家打來不招架任憑人打嗎。要解釋這問題。先得明瞭太極拳的原理。
Human beings innately have in their hands and feet a self-defensiveness, as well as an awareness of how to grab someone. Children who do know any boxing arts sometimes get into fights, yet they understand how to smack to the head, lifting a hand and lashing out, and the kid on the receiving end also knows how to dodge and hit back.
     When Taiji Boxing is not trained to the point of applicability, it is risky to go compete with someone. Not only would you not be able to attack the opponent, sometimes you would not even know how to protect yourself, rendering it all useless. Or if you stay in the same type of posture and receive all of his attacks, you would be like the mediocre boxers described in old novels, who have only the skill of parrying, no word of them achieving any counterattack.
     As for practitioners of Taiji Boxing who have never practiced it properly, they do not even have skill in parrying attacks. This is because within Taiji Boxing there actually are no techniques specifically for parrying. But without techniques of parrying, how would an opponent’s attacks not be getting through? To explore this question, we first need to gain a clear understanding of Taiji Boxing theory.

他種拳術的名稱。每有與拳術無甚關係的。惟有太極二字。完全包括了這種拳術的意義。太極就是一個圓圈。太極拳也就是由無數的圓圈。聯貫而成的一種拳法。無論一舉手一投足。皆不能離這個圓圈。離了這個圓圈。便違背了太極的原理。再精細兒一點說。不但舉手投足不能離圓圈。四肢百骸不動則已。動則皆不能離圓圈。太極拳的招架。便是攻擊。攻擊也便是招架。不能用太極拳的方法攻擊人的。斷不能用太極拳的方法招架。因為手手處處皆是圓圈。就在這一個圓圈之中。分一半是招架。一半是攻擊。工夫越深。圓圈越小。有時尚不及見其轉動。已盡招架與攻擊之能事。所以練太極拳的人。在推手的時候。十分注意聽勁的工夫。聽勁的名詞。為太極拳所專有。其意義並不是用耳去聽。乃是用皮膚去聽。質言之。便是練習觸覺。使之靈敏。皮膚能聽得敵勁之來路方面。卽順着來勢。以半個圓招架。半個圓攻擊。太極拳論中所謂粘卽是走。走卽是粘。就是這個道理。太極拳之不容易使用旣如上述。因之練習太極拳的人。其好勇鬭狠的習氣。及希圖嘗試的心理。都不及練他種拳術的人濃厚。
The terminology in various other boxing arts often does not have much relation to the techniques. But there is a term in Taiji which fully encapsulates the meaning of this boxing art, for a “taiji” is simply a “circle”. [According to this explanation, we could thus translate Taijiquan as Circle Boxing, Circular Boxing, Circularity Boxing, Circuitous Boxing, or perhaps Round Boxing, Roundness Boxing, Roundabout Boxing, etc.] Taiji Boxing is likewise an endless circularity, linking up all the techniques into a single theme. Whatever way a hand or foot moves, there can never be separation from this circularity. To depart from this circularity is to violate the taiji theory.
     Then to refine this idea a little, it is not only that the movement of the hands and feet cannot depart from being circular. If the four limbs and the body as a whole are not moving, nothing is happening, but once they are moving, no part may depart from moving with roundness. The parries in Taiji Boxing thus become attacks, and so the attacks are also parries.
     One who is unable to use Taiji Boxing’s techniques to attack an opponent would be completely unable to use its techniques to parry. This is because they are always moving with circularity. Within this circle, half the circle is parry, half the circle is attack. The deeper the skill, the smaller the circle, and sometimes the rotation is not even seen, showing a peak of ability in parry and attack.
     That is why a practitioner of Taiji Boxing while pushing hands gives tremendous attention to the skill of “listening” to energies. The phrase “listening to energies” is the specialty of Taiji Boxing. Its meaning has nothing to do with listening with the ears, but with listening with the skin. Put simply, it is the training of a keener sensitivity of touch.
     If your skin can listen for the direction of the opponent’s energy, then you can go along with his incoming force, using half a circle to parry, then the rest of the circle to attack. It says in the Taiji Boxing Treatise [Classic]: “Sticking is yielding and yielding is sticking.” That statement is exactly this principle. It explains the reason for Taiji Boxing’s difficulty of application, and why Taiji Boxing practitioners who have a combative personality and a competitive mentality always end up so inferior to practitioners of other kinds of boxing arts.

與同道的推手。雖也是練習致用的方法。但是推手究有一定的規則。與平常比試不同。推手時的本領。不見得便能在與人比試時。完全使用得着。在練習的時侯。旣不常與練他種拳術的。作友誼比試。曾練過十年八載之後。已享有相當之名望。或已身為人師。益發不敢輕易與人比試了。這是練太極拳的人普通大毛病。練他種拳術的人。誰也有免不了這種毛病的。却不似練太極拳的這們普遍。卽如楊澄甫受祖傳的太極。用了大半世的工夫。徒弟也教的不少。論他的本領。北平武術界的人。誰也不敢批評他一個壞字。楊家的太極拳架式。比較吳鑑泉所傳的開展。步馬也寬大。練習起來。容易增長內勁。楊澄甫本人身材高大。氣力也自不小。應該能藉這個祖傳的拳術。稱雄一時。然我到北平後調查的結果。楊澄甫的聲名。在北平武術界中。知道的確是不少。祇是本領到如何程度。却少人知道。因為缺乏臨陣的經驗。本來練太極拳。非有臨陣經驗不可。太極拳更是需要極多之臨陣經驗。不然總難有把握。練太極拳的人。萬不可忽略臨陣經驗這一層。
Although pushing hands with fellow students is a method of training practical application, the fixed rules of pushing hands are not the same as in typical competition. You will not necessarily be able to put your pushing hands skills to use when competing with others. If you obtain your sense of application entirely from practice, rarely engaging in friendly competition with practitioners of other kinds of boxing arts, then after about a decade of training, you may enjoy a level of renown, and once you have been put on such a pedestal, you will become increasingly even less willing to compete with others. This is the major defect of Taiji Boxing practitioners. There are practitioners of other kinds of boxing arts who have also not been able to avoid this flaw, but they are not as widespread as those Taiji Boxing practitioners.
     To use Yang Chengfu as an example, he received his family’s Taiji tradition, put half his lifetime into working at it, taught many students who talk about his skills, and there are people within the Beiping martial arts community who would not dare to criticize him in any way. The Yang family’s Taiji Boxing postures are more spread out then those taught by Wu Jianquan, with larger stances. In the beginning of the training, it is easy to increase internal power. As Yang Chengfu’s body was tall and big, he naturally possessed a strength that was not meager, and so with the addition of his family’s boxing art, he should have been able to be proclaimed the “top hero” for a while.
     After I arrived in Beiping, I investigated the result. Although there are within the Beiping martial arts community those who know of Yang Chengfu’s reputation, there are few who know what level his skill was at, because he lacked fighting experience. To only practice Taiji Boxing and go without experience of sparring is not adequate. Taiji Boxing especially requires a great deal of sparring experience, for it is otherwise quite difficult to be able to tell if one is succeeding in it. Practitioners of Taiji Boxing by all means must not overlook this sparring experience aspect.

拳術從事比試。誰也知道少不了一個快字。何以太極拳在練習的時候却是越慢越好呢。這道理在練他種拳術的人。固多不免懷疑。就是練太極拳人們。也是不明瞭的。須知太極拳的架式。全是練體。是做拳術的根本工夫。如何謂之根本工夫呢。
Those who engage in boxing arts competition know there is an indispensable quality: speed. When practicing Taiji Boxing, why is there instead the idea of the slower the better? This principle is inevitably distrusted by practitioners of other kinds of boxing arts, but it is also misunderstood by practitioners of Taiji Boxing. It has to be understood that the solo set is entirely a matter of foundation training, of building essential skills, which are listed below:

第一是虛實得分別淸楚。王宗岳太極拳經曰。偏重則隨。雙重則滯。每見數年純功不能運化者。率皆己為人制。雙重之病未悟耳。所謂雙重。便是虛實未曾分淸楚。我看普通練太極拳的人。解釋雙重的道理。多以為兩脚同時着地。卽謂之雙重。一脚虛一脚實。便不是雙重。兩手同時打出為雙重。一手虛一手實卽非雙重。若祇如此。則雙重之病有何難悟。豈有數載純功尚不能領會這一點兒道理。以我經驗所得。豈僅兩手兩足有雙重。卽一指之微。尚應將虛實分別淸楚。如以一指着人。不會分別虛實。卽犯雙重之病。練架式的時候。四肢百骸。從頂至踵。循環虛實。一手之中。其虛實之互為變換。愈密愈妙。自起手以至終結。處處成圓。處處隨虛隨實。假使有一寸大的地方。未曾注意。這一寸大地方便不免有雙重之病。是這般練習如何能快。是這般練一趟。比隨便練十趟二十趟有進步。
1. Clearly distinguishing between emptiness and fullness:
     It says in Wang Zongyue’s Taiji Boxing Classic: “If you drop one side, you can move, but if you have equal pressure on both sides, you will be stuck. We often see one who has practiced hard for many years yet is unable to perform any neutralizations and is generally under the opponent’s control, and the issue here is that this error of double pressure has not yet been understood.”
     By “double pressure” is meant that one is not clearly distinguishing between emptiness and fullness. I have noticed that typical practitioners of Taiji Boxing usually interpret the principle of double pressure as both feet pressing against the ground in unison, making an equal pressure, whereas with one foot empty and one foot full, there is no doubling of the pressure. Both hands attacking in unison may also make an equal pressure, whereas with one hand empty and one hand full, there is again no doubling of the pressure. If that is all there is to it, then why should the double pressure error be hard to grasp? Why after many years of ardent practice would one still be incapable of comprehending such a small idea?
     I know from my own experience that double pressure cannot be only an issue of two hands or two feet. Even down to a single finger, you still have to distinguish clearly between emptiness and fullness. If you use a single finger to connect with an opponent without knowing how to distinguish between emptiness and fullness, you will make the double pressure error. While practicing the solo set, throughout the limbs and entire body, from head to heel, emptiness and fullness circulate. Even in a single hand, emptiness and fullness alternate with each other. The scale gets ever more compact and subtle.
     From beginning to end, everywhere there is a roundness, and everywhere there is a corresponding emptiness and fullness. If there is an area as much as an inch that has not been given attention, this tiny area will inevitably possess the error of double pressure. How then could practicing in this manner be done quickly? Practicing the set just once in this way is more effective than rushing through it ten or twenty times.

第二是增長內勁。太極旣不像他種拳術用力。難道與人比試起來。眞個一點兒力不要。能將一個百多觔重並有武力的人打倒嗎。經中有四兩撥千觔之語。不過形容少力勝多力的話。然也得四兩之力。不能說毫不要力。練太極拳時。是絕不用力。若動作太快。隨隨便便和他種拳一樣。不過幾十秒鐘便完了。如何能增長內勁。因其動作很慢。又一氣到底。中間不能停留。至少也得七八分鐘以上的時間。四肢百骸不住的運動。自然能將氣力增長起來。似這般增長氣力。與練他種拳術。及搬石打砂袋所增長的氣力。完全不同。這種氣力。行家稱為內勁。是全身活動的。要在全身什麼地方使用。就能全部集中於這一個地方。不一定限於肩背手足。這種內勁着在敵人身上。也與尋常的氣力不同。能使受者有如觸電。
2. Increasing internal power:
     Taiji does not exhibit the use of effort in other boxing arts. How then can we compete with opponents? Really now, if we should not use any force at all, will we be able to summon the hundred and something pounds of pressure it takes to knock down a powerful opponent? The Classic contains the phrase “four ounces of force to move his of a thousand pounds”. This only describes a smaller force overcoming a larger one, for surely four ounces of force cannot mean no force at all. When practicing the solo set, you must put forth no effort, for if the movements are performed with thoughtless haste, in the manner of other kinds of boxing arts, you would be finished in under a minute. How then would that develop internal power?
     The movements are instead to be performed so slowly, as well as in a continuous flow to the end, no pausing throughout, that it will take at least seven or eight minutes. Such ceaseless motion of the four limbs and hundreds of bones will naturally be able to increase strength. If we compare this means of increasing strength to the training of other kinds of boxing arts, with their heaving of weights and hitting of sandbags, it is completely different.
     This kind of strength, called “internal power” by experts, is whole-bodied movement. The key is that wherever the whole body is applied, the whole is concentrated at a single area, not just relying on the shoulders or back, hands or feet. When this kind of internal power touches an opponent’s body, being different from ordinary strength, it can cause him to feel like he has received an electric shock.

還有一層必須緩慢的道理。也是我們研究太極拳的人所不能不知道。並將注意的。就是王宗岳太極拳經所說。虛靈、頂勁、氣沉丹田的道理。他種拳術。雖也有氣沉丹田說法。祇是練習的時候。軒眉努目。百脈僨張。將全部的氣提上。惟恐不及。何嘗能整個氣沉丹田。卽有之。亦不過將氣悶住。或用意往下沉而已。
[3] There is still another part of the theory that requires slowness, which those of us who study Taiji Boxing have to understand and give attention to: the principles in Wang Zongyue’s Taiji Boxing Classic of “your headtop pressing up naturally and energy sinking down to your elixir field”. Although other kinds of boxing arts discuss energy sinking to the elixir field, it is merely a case of practicing with expressive eyebrows and angry eyes, a thudding pulse, and the energy gets sent upward instead. I fear this will not work. How can you get your energy to be sinking thoroughly into your elixir field? Just let it be there and seal in it, or use an intention of sinking downward.

太極拳相傳為遼陽張通。於洪武初年奉召入部。路阻武當。夜夢玄武大帝。授於拳法。且以破賊。因名其拳為武當派。宋遠橋、張松溪等七人。按張通字君實。元季儒者。工詩詞。善書畫。中統元年。曾舉茂才異等。任中山博陵令。因慕葛稚川其為人。絕意仕進。修道於寶鷄山中。山有三峯。因自號三峯子。
Taiji Boxing was passed down from Zhang Tong [Sanfeng] of Liaoyang. In the first year of Emperor Hongwu’s reign [1368], he summoned Zhang, but the road from Wudang was blocked. Zhang dreamed during the night that the “Dark Warrior” Emperor [i.e. a Daoist “god of war”] taught him a boxing method, and he then defeated the bandits. His boxing art was thereafter branded “Wudang School”, and it was passed down to Song Yuanqiao, Zhang Songxi, and seven others.
     Zhang Sanfeng, called Junshi, was a scholar during the end of the Yuan Dynasty who wrote poetry and was an expert at calligraphy and painting. During the first year of Emperor Zhongtong’s [Kublai Khan] reign [1260], Zhang’s unusual talents were recognized by the emperor, and he was appointed Scholar-Official for Zhongshan. But because he admired the work [nature paintings] of Ge Zhichuan, he was inspired to abandon his official career and cultivate the Way at Mt. Baoji. The mountain has three peaks [“san feng”], hence he was dubbed the “Three Peaks Master”.

中國道家吐納引導之術。都注意丹田。人身丹田有三處。一居頭頂。道家認為藏神之地。故黃庭經云。子欲不死修崑崙。崑崙卽以喻頭頂之意。二居中腕。道家認為蓄炁之地。三居臍下。道家認為藏精之地。虛靈頂勁者。乃頂欲虛靈。所謂存神上丹田。屏寂思慮。氣沉丹田者。乃沉氣臍下。欲其充實。黃庭經云。呼吸廬外入丹田。審能行之可常存。蓋常人呼吸短促。不能直達臍下。故肺量窄狹。排洩力因之薄弱。影響壽命極大。太極拳亦可稱為道家導引方術之一種。道家吐納之術。多為坐功。導引則為行功。不論坐功行功。其要十分注意。存神上丹田。納氣下丹田則一。老子為我國道家之祖。嘗曰。虛其心。實其腹。亦卽上丹田欲其虛。下丹田欲其實之意。如練習架式時。動作過快。心思必散亂。呼吸必急促。何能收虛靈頂勁。氣沉丹田之效。我們須知道。太極拳之所以異於他種拳術的地方。不在身手步法之有別。全在練習時能注意到存神納氣。故經中又曰。尾閭正中神貫頂。滿身輕利頂頭懸。練習的人若不知在這上面用工夫。專注意於身手步法之運用。則與外家拳有何區別。以我個人練習的經驗。最好於練習架式以前。以若干分鐘練習靜坐。此種靜坐法。並不如道家一般的守竅。祇要屏寂思慮。務使萬緣都淨。故腹部呼吸氣納下丹田。靜坐後。再從容練習。在練習的時候。最要注意的。是滿身鬆散。不可有一寸許着力之處。其轉動屈伸仰俯周旋之態。一如落雲行太空。毫無阻隔。毫無停滯。從起手以至結尾。不得有停頓處。有稜角處。也不得忽急忽緩。更不得和練外家拳一樣想像。
China’s Daoist limbering arts all focus on the elixir field. In the human body, there are three elixir field areas. The first is at the crown of the head. Daoists consider this to be the place where spirit is stored. The Yellow Courtyard Classic says: “He who wishes to be immortal cultivates himself at Kunlun.” This mountain’s name is a metaphor for the headtop. The second is at the Zhongwan acupoint [between the navel and the solar plexus]. Daoists consider this to be the place where energy is stored. The third is below the navel. Daoists consider this to be the place where essence is stored.
     “Your headtop pressing up naturally” means that your headtop seeks a naturalness, a spirit arising from your elixir field in a contemplative quietude. “Energy sinking down to your elixir field” means sinking energy below your navel, seeking a sense of fullness. The Yellow Courtyard Classic also says: “When breathing, take outside air into the elixir field and see how long you can keep it there.” The length of the ordinary person’s breath is short and only goes as deep as the belly (i.e. meeting the diaphragm [but not expanding it]) and cannot make it to the elixir field, thereby reducing the volume of the lungs, consequently draining away strength and increasing weakness, and this has a huge influence on one’s life span.
     Taiji Boxing can be considered a kind of Daoist limbering art. Daoist breathing arts are usually done as a seated meditation. A limbering art is therefore a moving meditation. Regardless of seated meditation or moving meditation, full attention should be given to collecting spirit into the upper elixir field while receiving energy into the lower elixir field.
     Laozi, the founder of our nation’s Daoism, once said [Daodejing, chapter 3]: “Empty your mind, fill your belly.” Likewise, there is an intention of the upper elixir field seeking emptiness and the lower elixir field seeking fullness. When practicing the solo set, if the movements are too fast, your thoughts will be in disorder and your breathing will be hurried, and then how will you be able to get your headtop to be pressing up naturally?
     As for the result of sinking energy to the elixir field, we have to understand that the distinctions between Taiji Boxing and other kinds of boxing arts do not lie in differences of body movement, hand technique, or footwork, but are instead entirely a matter of being able to give attention to collecting spirit and receiving energy during practice. Therefore the classics also say [from the Thirteen Dynamics Song]: “Your tailbone is centered and spirit penetrates to your headtop, thus your whole body will be nimble and your headtop will be pulled up as if suspended.” If you do not understand that you are to work upon this principle, and you concentrate instead on the movements of the body, hands, and feet, then how would you be any different from an external stylist?
     According to my own personal experience of practice, it is best before going through the solo set to spend some time in silent sitting. This kind of meditation method is not like a Daoist [Buddhist] version involving closing off the senses to merely hide oneself in silent contemplation intent upon clearing away karma, but is instead abdominal breathing that draws energy into the lower elixir field. After this seated meditation, the practice is then calm.
     While practicing, the most important thing to pay attention to is that the entire body be relaxed. There must not be a single inch of your body that you allow to put forth effort as you go through the movements of bending and extending, going forward and back, and turning around. It is just like a cloud moving through the sky, without the slightest interruption or stagnation. From beginning to end, there must be no pauses and no edges. There also must not be any sudden speeding up or slowing down, and no resemblance to practicing external styles.

某手係如何使用。攻擊敵人何部。應如何發出。方為得力。此類想像。為練他種拳術時所不可少。惟練太極拳則萬不宜有此。若存此類想像。便是自己限制自己的進步。其結果必至所想像的完全錯誤。就想得一部分效力。如練他種拳術的人之或專善用肘。或專善用腿。亦不可得。其故在太極拳皆係圓圈組成。在一趟架式中。就原來不曾分出某手如何攻擊。如何招架。可以說全體沒有攻擊和招架方法。也可以說全體皆是攻擊和招架的方法。無論頭腦如何細密之人。欲從一趟的架式中。分析出如何攻擊。如何招架。必是掛一漏萬。是不啻自己將攻擊招架方法的範圍縮小。我嘗見有以太極拳教授徒衆為業的。因徒弟詢問架式中手法用處。他勉强解說。謂扇通臂是用手招架敵人的手。左手向敵人胸膛打去。海底針是以右手食指戳敵人肛門。肛門又稱海底。所以謂之海底針。嗚呼。如此解釋太極拳用法。則太極拳的用法。豈不是極笨極無理嗎。此種人可說是根本不明瞭太極拳的原理。
Some techniques may benefit from knowing what the application is, or what targets to attack, or which response should be expressed, but while this kind of visualization is indispensable in the practice of other kinds of boxing arts, it is really not necessary when practicing Taiji Boxing. If you obsess over such visualizations, then you will restrict your own progress, because ultimately your envisionings will not be what happens in reality, for they represent only a portion of the potential outcomes. For instance, a practitioner of other boxing arts who is an expert only at using his elbows, or perhaps his legs, could not succeed. Taiji Boxing, however, is composed entirely of circles.
     Within the solo set, there is actually no separation between techniques of attacking and techniques of parrying, and so it can be said the whole set has no techniques of attacking or parrying, or that the techniques throughout the set are all methods of both attacking and parrying. If a person who overthinks wants to separate the techniques in the solo set into which ones are attacks and which ones are parries, he would get only a hundredth of a percent of their uses, and would merely be reducing his options to methods of attacking and parrying.
     I have seen a Taiji Boxing instructor who teaches groups for a living getting asked by his students about how to use the techniques in the solo set. Forcing himself to come up with explanations, he said that FAN THROUGH THE ARMS uses the right hand to parry the opponent’s hand and uses the left hand to strike out to his chest [instead of the two actions working simultaneously], and also that NEEDLE UNDER THE SEA uses the right forefinger to poke through to the opponent’s anus, because the anus is also called “under the sea”, therefore NEEDLING “UNDER THE SEA”. Good grief.
     Explaining Taiji Boxing applications in this way, then how are the applications not stupid and unreasonable? This kind of person can be described as not understanding Taiji Boxing theory.

或有問曰。誠如爾所說。太極拳旣不要快。又不用力。平常練習時。又不能想像如何攻擊招架。却用甚麼去和人比試。我說。我們練拳術的人。無論是練太極。或其他之拳術。都應該知道這個快字意義。不是兩手伸縮迅速謂之快。也不是兩脚進退迅速謂之快。同具一樣的手脚。伸縮進退迅速的程度。除却老邁龍鍾。及疲弱殘疾的人。大槪都相差不遠。須知快慢的分別。重在兩隻眼睛。但是同具一樣的兩隻眼睛。却又有甚麼分別呢。就在看機會能迅速與否。敵人沒露出有可乘的機會。手脚儘管打到了他身上。不僅不發生效力。每每轉予敵人以進手的機會。兩人對打時。如何謂之機會呢。在敵人失却重心的須臾之間。便是機會。兩眼看到了機會。趁這機會進攻。便能將敵人打倒麼。仍不一定。還得不失地位。不失方向。纔能有效。因敵人的重心雖失。然須審其偏差所在。從何地進攻。向何方衝擊。方能用力少而成功多。若方向地位未嘗審度停當。敵人原來已失之重心。有時轉因受攻擊而得囘復。兩人相打之際。可以進功之機會。彼此皆時時可以發生。祇苦以兩眼不能發見。有時發見稍遲。則機會已過。有時因攻擊之地位及方向錯誤。雖進攻不能發生效力。也是錯過了機會。練推手聽勁。就是重在尋機會。及練習何種機會。應從何地位何方向進攻。兩眼能不失機會。進攻又不能失機會方向。便是武藝高超。全不在手脚如何迅速。分別工夫的深淺。武藝的高下。完全在此。若不待機會。不明方向地位。祇算是蠻打蠻揪。在練他種拳術的當中。每有自恃氣力剛强。練就二三手慣用手法。不顧人情如何。動手就一味橫衝直擊。屢能制勝。因而成名的。練太極拳的。却根本上不能產出這種人材。太極拳之所以練不用力。
Someone may ask: “You say that in Taiji Boxing, we should not move fast nor put forth effort, and that during ordinary practice we should not visualize which movements are attacks and which are parries. So then what are we supposed to do when competing with opponents?”
     To which I say:
     We practitioners of boxing arts, whether practicing Taiji or some other boxing art, should all understand the meaning of the word “fast”. It does not mean that the hands are extending and withdrawing rapidly, nor that the feet are advancing and retreating rapidly. Of the hands and feet, the level of speed in extending, withdrawing, advancing, and retreating, except in the case of old and decrepit people, or weak and crippled people, is generally not that different for most of us.
     It must be understood that the distinction between fast and slow is really a matter of vision, meaning that the distinction is whether or not you can quickly spot opportunity. If the opponent is not showing an opportunity that can be taken advantage of, and your hands and feet are constantly striking at his body, not only would you not be issuing with any effective power, it would undoubtedly turn the tables and give him opportunity to attack you.
     During sparring, what is meant by “opportunity”? The instant the opponent loses his balance is an opportunity. When you spot an opportunity, take advantage of it and attack, and thus you will be able to defeat him. But it will not be a sure thing by itself, and so as long as you do not lose the position or direction, it will then be effective.
     Even though the opponent has lost his balance, you still have to analyze his error in order to ascertain from what position and to which direction you are to attack, and then you will be able to use little effort and yet achieve great results. But if the direction and position are not yet determined, his loss of balance may instead cause you to get attacked in response.
     While sparring, when there is an opportunity to attack, the moment is always up for grabs to either one of you. The only hardships are that your eyes may not be able to spot it, or that sometimes you will spot it too late and the opportunity will have passed, or that sometimes the position and direction are off, rendering your attack ineffective, and again the opportunity is missed.
     To practice “listening to energy” in pushing hands is mainly a matter of “seeking opportunity”, and of selecting opportunity based on attacking from the right position and the right direction. As long as your eyes are able to not miss the opportunity, then your attack will also not miss the direction. Your martial skill will thus be superb, and will not at all depend on speed in your hands and feet.
     Discerning whether your achievement is deep or shallow, whether your skill is high or low, will lie entirely with this principle. If you do not wait for opportunity, and do not sense the right direction and position, your performance could only be regarded as hitting and grappling like a savage.
     Within the practice of other kinds of boxing arts, there is always a self-reliance of strength and stubbornness, training to make a habit of two or three techniques instead of paying attention to what his opponent is up to. Blindly sending his hands into sideways thrusts and straight strikes, he is frequently able to win, and consequently earns some fame. But practitioners of Taiji Boxing are not able to produce such men of “talent”. This is because Taiji Boxing trains to put forth no effort.

於練架式之外。有數種推手的方法。就是要練習的人。從拳術根本上做工夫。不可注意的一部的動作。學外家拳打樁板推砂包等動作。或問練太極拳時候。若以餘力兼練打樁板推砂包等動作。應該祇有利益。沒有妨礙。我說。如何沒有妨礙。並且有絕大妨礙。因為太極拳以圓活為體。所以在練習架式的時候。務使全身鬆散。久久自能圓活無礙。有一寸許處着力。則必停滯。何況打樁板推砂包。專用蠻力呢。練太極拳所得的是彈勁。打樁板推砂包所得的是直力。太極拳最忌直力。原富直力者練太極拳。尚須漸次使直力化為彈勁。必完全變化之後。方能得太極之妙用。豈可以練太極的時候。兼練根本相反之直力。
Beyond practicing the solo set, there are several kinds of pushing hands patterns. Those who want to train should work from fundamental skills rather than become obsessed with a particular exercise. In learning external styles of boxing, there are exercises such as hitting posts and pushing sandbags. Someone may ask: “When practicing Taiji Boxing, if we have any spare energy to put into such exercises, would it not be beneficial rather than counterproductive?”
     To which I say:
     How would it not be counterproductive, even greatly so? Taiji Boxing uses roundness as the foundation, and so when practicing the solo set, make sure to loosen your whole body. After a long time, you will naturally be able to have an unimpeded roundness. But if you let yourself put forth so much as an inch of effort, you would inevitably end up with stagnancy, surely even more so if you are also hitting posts and pushing sandbags, which focus particularly on using brute strength.
     By practicing Taiji Boxing, you will gain an elastic energy. But by hitting posts and pushing sandbags, you will merely gain a directness of force. Taiji Boxing especially avoids using direct force. When someone who habitually uses direct force practices Taiji Boxing, he has to gradually get his directness of force to transform into an elastic energy. Once this process of transformation has been completed, he will then be able to obtain the subtleties of Taiji. When training in Taiji, how can one simultaneously be training the fundamentally opposite quality of directness of force?

或又問。練太極拳的素來不注意樁步。練習架式時。又全不用力。因之下部力量加增甚緩。和人比試起來。每苦下部不穩。容易受敵人牽動。打樁板推砂包的結果。不過能增長直力。誠有妨礙於太極圓活之體。若祇兼習站樁使下部增加穩實的程度。應該是有益無損。究竟如何呢。我說萬不可有此畫蛇添足的舉動。須知下部穩實與否。全繫於練習架式時。是否能實在氣沉丹田。如練有相當的工夫。確實能於每一呼吸之中。都注意氣沉丹田。則下部決無不實之理。還有一層道理。應當明瞭。和人比試的時候。其所以容易受敵人牽動。或被衝退。其病並不在下部不穩實。乃腰腿不活之故。腰腿能活。則站走隨意。沒有與敵人相頂撞的時候。又何至有牽動下部。與被敵人撞退之事。外家拳每有用剛勁衝擊敵人之手法。無不丟不頂之原則。所以初練拳時。須注重樁步。然腰腿亦貴能活。如腰腿全無功夫。休說是兩脚立在地上。全身堅立穩不到如何程度。卽釘兩木樁於地下。用繩將兩脚綁紮其上。也一般容易打倒。嘗有武功純熟的人。兩脚或一脚立懸崖。壯士五六人推挽不動。觀者莫不詫為樁步穩實。其實與立崖邊之脚。並無何等關係。完全由於腰腿靈活。能將着身之力引向空處。太極拳論中所謂引動落空。術語謂之化勁者也。越遇着强硬地方。越可以顯出力的效用。譬如槍彈砲彈。越是打在堅硬之處。越能發揮他的侵激力。此理是極易明瞭的。所以太極拳不以强硬為體。務必練成極柔極軟。以不丟不頂為原則。使敵人雖有大力。不能發揮。如練習站樁。以敵人推挽不動為目的。豈不是與不丟不頂的原則相反嗎。若練太極拳有站樁之必要。則古人必早於推手方法之外。傳有站樁方法。
Or someone may ask: “Usually when practicing Taiji Boxing, no attention is paid to stances. Also when practicing the solo set, there is entirely no putting forth of effort. Because the strength of the lower body grows very slowly, when we start competing with other people we are always inflicted with instability in the lower body, and it is easy to become affected by the opponent. The result of hitting posts and pushing sandbags is only that we will increase directness of force, certainly an obstruction to Taiji’s fundamental roundness. But if instead we are only simultaneously engaging in stance training to get the lower body to increase its level of stability, this ought to be a situation of pure benefit and no harm, right?”
     To which I say:
     You really should not engage in this activity of adding unnecessary features that will only end up destroying what you are trying to achieve [to “draw a snake and then add feet to it”]. You have to know whether or not your lower body is stable. While practicing the solo set, it is entirely a matter of whether or not you are able to actually sink energy to your elixir field. If you are at a reasonable level in the training, you will certainly be capable of giving attention to energy sinking to your elixir field within each breath, and then your lower body will surely always fulfill the principle.
     There is another layer to this principle which you should also understand. When you are competing with an opponent, if you are easily affected by him or compelled to retreat, the problem is not really a lack of stability in your lower body, rather a lack of liveliness in your waist and thighs. If your waist and thighs are able to be lively, then you will stand and walk as you please. When you are not crashing against the opponent, how would he be affecting your lower body or compelling you to retreat?
     In external styles of boxing, there are always techniques of using hard power to strike an opponent, and they lack the principle of “neither coming away nor crashing in”. In the beginning of the training in those arts, it is necessary to emphasize stance training. But the waist and thighs also have to be able to be lively. If your waist and thighs really have no skill, your feet may be standing on the ground and your whole body may be standing firmly, but stability will not be achieved at all. If I hammer two posts into the ground, then tie your legs to them, I will still be able to knock you over just as easily.
     I once saw a martial arts master who, with both feet standing or even with one foot raised, had five or six strong men push and pull at him, but they could not move him. The spectators were all surprised by how solid his stance was. The raised foot had nothing at all to do with it. It was entirely based on the alertness of his waist and thighs. He was able to lead the strength of those men into a state of emptiness. The Taiji Boxing classics [Playing Hands Song] calls this “guiding him in to land on nothing”, though the technical term is “neutralizing energy”.
     The more you clash with an unyielding area, the more you demonstrate the effectiveness of its strength. Take for example bullets or cannon shells. The more they are fired at a solid area, the more opportunity is given to the enemy to rush in. This principle is very easy to understand and illustrates why Taiji Boxing does not use strength as its foundation. You must train to become extremely soft and supple. Using the principle of neither coming away nor crashing in, you cause the opponent to be unable to make use of his strength, no matter how great. If you are engaged in stance training, with the goal of opponents pushing or pulling at you without making you budge, how is this not contrary toward the principle of neither coming away nor crashing in? If there was a necessity in Taiji Boxing for stance training, then surely previous generations would have taught standing methods before teaching pushing hands methods.

常見有練太極拳之人。於推手的時候。在掤捋擠按四手之外。任意出手。或多方阻礙。使不得按規定次序推揉。工夫生疎的。每致停滯不知應如何走法。其多方阻礙之動作。術語謂之拿。卽拿住不放之意。此類推法。不能沒有。然僅可為練習的一部分工作。不能以此為基本練習。好處在使練習的人。容易明白站走變化的方法。又能使觸覺增加靈敏。無論何種技藝。皆是熟能生巧。一方面練拿。拿卽是粘。一方面練走。自然由熟可以得巧。然則何以僅一部分工。不能作基本練習呢。因為能粘與不能粘。能走與不能走。全在工夫的深淺。若沒有相當的工夫。儘管知道粘走的方法。仍粘不住走不了。
I have often see that when practitioners of Taiji Boxing are doing pushing hands, specifically when they are engaged in free play, beyond the exercise for the four techniques of ward-off, rollback, press, and push, they often become constricted, causing them to lose the flow that is in the pushing hands sequence. Those who have not yet trained the sequence to the point of familiarity always become stagnant because they do not understand how to yield, impeding their movements in every way.
     The technical term for this is “seizing”, an idea of seizing without letting go. When this kind of tendency cannot be gotten rid of, they are only able to practice one aspect of the exercise, and are unable therefore to train in the fundamentals. The benefit of fundamental training is that it makes it easier to understand the methods of switching between standing and stepping, and can also increase tactile sensitivity.
     Regardless of what kind of skill, it is always the case that practice can produce skillfulness. But while one aspect is seizing, which amounts to sticking, the other aspect is yielding. Of course practice can lead to skillfulness, but if you are only practicing one aspect, how can you be training the fundamentals?
     The depth of your skill is entirely a matter of whether or not you can stick and whether or not you can yield, and so if you are not at a decent level of skill, then you may understand the methods of sticking and yielding, and yet still be in a condition of having no sticking in your sticking and no yielding in your yielding.

基本練習。還是按着規矩推揉掤捋擠按四手。並得認眞分析。不可苟且媽糊放過。則三手皆不停當矣。推手也是一個太極的圓圈。在一個圓圈之中。分出掤捋擠按四手。掤擠為半圓。捋按為半圓。本係聯貫而成。故一手忽略。則全圓因之破壞。在這四手聯貫成一大圓圈之中。於彼此皮膚接觸之處。每手又各成一小圓圈。每於小圓圈中。又分半圓為粘。半圓為走。兩手同時粘走。虛實須得分淸。若不分淸。卽犯雙重。兩手虛實分淸後。便得注意到一手虛中之實。實中之虛。不然。則一手之中。亦犯雙重。其弊害與犯兩手雙重等。
The basic practice is the pushing pattern for ward-off, rollback, press, and push, and it is to be analyzed conscientiously. You must not be casually or indifferently attending to it, for then your techniques will be imprecise. Pushing hands is also a taiji circle. Within the circle are the four specific techniques of ward-off, rollback, press, and push. Ward-off / press makes half the circle, and rollback / push makes the other half of the circle. They are linked together to make the circle, so if one technique is slightly off, then the whole circle breaks down.
     Within the larger circle made by these four techniques connecting, wherever you and your opponent make contact with each other, there is also a smaller circle for each hand. And within that smaller circle, there is also a division: half the circle is sticking, half the circle is yielding. Both hands are sticking and yielding simultaneously. Emptiness and fullness have to be clearly distinguished. If not, then you will commit the error of double pressure.
     Once your hands are distinguishing clearly between emptiness and fullness, then you can move on to focusing on a single hand, the fullness within its emptiness, the emptiness within its fullness. Otherwise, within a single hand, you would again be committing the error of double pressure, equal to the error of double pressure with two hands.

無論練架與推手。皆須注意尾閭及脊梁。所有動作胥發源於此。脊梁須中正。不偏不倚。因動作必從尾閭發端。方足以身體運動四肢。不是以四肢牽動身體。尾閭有圓圈。則各部的圓圈能粘能走。如尾閭不起作用。各部的圓圈。也都失了粘走之效。在練太極拳不久的人。驟聞此語。必生疑惑。但依此練習若干日。自有恍然之時。倘教授之人。不令學者於此等處注意。在天資聰穎。又能下苦工夫的。或者有自行領悟之一日。否則將終身不知其所以然。故從來練習武術之人。貴在能得名師。每有終年遊歷。意在求師訪友。卽為此等處非經指點不可也。
Whether you are practicing the solo set or pushing hands, you must always pay attention to your tailbone and spine, for this is the area where movement originates. Your spine has to be upright, neither leaning nor inclining, because movement has to start from your tailbone. You are thus able to use your body to move your limbs, rather than using your limbs to move your body. When your tailbone is rounded in, then the roundness of every part will be able to stick and yield. If your tailbone is not involved, then the roundness of every part will be ineffective at sticking and yielding.
     The moment a practitioner of Taiji Boxing who has not been practicing it long hears these words, he is sure to become perplexed, but if he continues to practice long enough, there will naturally come a time in which they suddenly become clear. If an instructor cannot get the student to give attention to these things, yet the student is intelligent enough and is able to do the hard work, he will perhaps one day comprehend it on his own, but he would otherwise be caused to go his whole life without understanding the theory. This is why martial arts practitioners value being able to obtain a noteworthy teacher. For those who wander through information, or seek to learn by practicing with friends, it cannot be done without the advice in the classics.

原來練外家拳的人。半途練太極拳。儘管在練太極拳的期間中。絕對不再練外家拳。而外家拳進步比未練太極以前。反加倍的迅速。原來不明白作用的手法。也明白作用了。原來苦於力陷肩背。不能變化成勁。條達於四肢的。也漸次變化能條達了。練過若干日太極拳的人。改練外家拳。則深覺其動作之容易。因太極拳的動作。是全部的。非一部分的。所謂一動無有不動。一靜無有不靜。外家拳雖不一定限於部分之動作。然其動作皆有一定之目標。及一定之作用。或用拳。或用掌。或用肩、肘、臀、膝。形式顯露。莫不可一望而知。故其用力簡單。練習時可以想像其如何致用。使練者容易發生興味。並容易覺得有顯著之進步。太極拳一趟架式。始終一百餘手。其如何致用。有跡象可尋的甚少。縱可勉强附會某手如何用法。但因其一氣連綿不斷。勁路集中之點。無可尋求。惟其如此。所以能收通身圓活之效。不拘內外家拳術。總以能圓活為第一要義。卽以圓活二字為拳術之要素。亦無不可。故練外家拳的改練太極拳。因陡增其圓活之程度。乃自覺其進步之倍速也。外家拳每有兩手同時打出。或出手同時踢足者。此與勁路集中之原理相背。太極拳之架式表面。此類手法極多。實際先後主隨。有條不紊。不過練習的人。應該特別注意。教授的尤應在此等之處。詳加解釋。某式兩手之中。以何手為主。以何手為隨。而一手之中。應何部分先虛。何部分後實。如何方能使勁路循環。成一完全無缺之圓。此等處。略有疎忽。卽犯雙重之病於不自覺。拳術何以忌雙重。其原因就是妨礙勁路集中。人不患無勁。祗患全身所有之勁。不能任意使之集中於某一點。費無日力。求其能集中。尚不易得。豈可忽於雙重之病。自於勁路上加一層阻礙。
When practitioners of external boxing arts get halfway through some Taiji training, they typically decide that they will no longer practice their external arts, and then their progress in their external arts instead becomes twice as fast as before they started practicing Taiji. If they did not previously understand how to use their techniques, now they do. If they used to get stiffness in their shoulders and back, unable to transform their energy, now it courses through to their limbs, gradually changing into something more orderly.
     And when people who have practiced Taiji Boxing for a while then switch to practicing external boxing arts, they strongly feel that the movements are easy because the movements of Taiji Boxing are whole-bodied rather than emphasizing any one part. As it is said [from How to Practice]: “If one part moves, every part moves, and if one part is still, every part is still.”
     Although the movements in external styles are not necessarily restricted to working just one area, they each have a specific target and a specific function. Whether using a fist, palm, shoulder, elbow, hip, or knee, once a posture appears, it is always obvious what it is for, and therefore the power expressed is unsubtle. When practicing such movements, it is easy to imagine how they are applied, and thus it is easy for the practice to produce enjoyment, and easy to feel as if there is noticeable progress.
     The Taiji Boxing solo set from beginning to end is comprised of over a hundred techniques, and any indication of how they are to be applied can very rarely be sought. You can indulge in coming up with strained interpretations of how a technique is supposed to be applied, but because it has a continuous energy, the focus for its path of power cannot be found. Because of this, you can receive throughout your body the effect of a rounded liveliness. This is not restricted to either internal or external styles, for both can give first priority to a rounded liveliness.
     With that as the key factor, every technique can work. Therefore when practitioners of external boxing arts switch to practicing Taiji Boxing, it is to increase their level of rounded liveliness, with the result that they will feel they are progressing faster. External styles of boxing all have techniques in which both hands strike out in unison, or a hand goes out with a kick at the same time. This violates the principle of focusing the path of power. In appearance, Taiji Boxing postures seem to perform this kind of double-attack technique quite often, but actually they have a methodology of such movements being more successive than simultaneous.
     However, practitioners have to pay it special attention. Teachers particularly need to be aware of these moments, for they have to carefully explain that within any given posture there is one hand which is leading and one which is following, and should also explain for a single hand which part of it starts with emptiness and which part of it ends up with fullness, and how this can then cause the path of power to circulate, forming a completely gapless roundness. If such things are even slightly overlooked, you will commit the error of double pressure without even noticing.
     Why does the art forbid double pressure? Because it hinders the path of power from being focused. Do not be worried about having no power, only be concerned that the power be whole-bodied. You must not arbitrarily focus power at a specific point, only to waste your energy. Seeking the place where you can focus power is already difficult enough. And so how could you overlook the error of double pressure? You would only end up obstructing your path of power yourself.

外家拳於練習及使用時。多有似側身減少敵方攻擊目標。而增加其出手之長度者。本為極合於拳理。及力學之動作。惟太極拳不然。因其兩手成圓。互相救應。不能偏左或右之弊。經中所謂尾閭正中者是也。或謂以胸當敵。豈不與敵以便利攻擊之機會。我說人之一身從頂至踵。何處非受人攻擊之地。祇看人之藝術如何。其所以練太極的要含胸拔背。就在根本上防止敵人攻擊胸部的一種姿勢。練太極拳全部的方法祇惟恐敵人不肯攻入其胸部。敵手一入胸部。則隨時隨地。皆為練太極的進攻之機會。近有人為迎合淺見者的心理。任意將太極拳的架式改為側身寬步。與外家拳同。其姿勢有時軒眉努目。幾乎握拳透爪。方自以為極兔起鶻落之致。殊不知於太極拳原理相去益遠。將來謬種流傳。必使太極拳盡失中正安舒之義。及內家溫和意味。
When practicing or applying an external boxing art, it is common to turn the body sideways to reduce the target area that the opponent can attack, and also to increase the reach of the hand. This is very suitable as a boxing principle and for mechanical motion, but not for Taiji Boxing. This is because both hands form a roundness, supporting each other. You must not make the error of inclining to one side or the other. As it says in the classics [from the Thirteen Dynamics Song]: “Your tailbone is centered.”
     Or we could say: “Chest squared to the opponent.” But then would the opponent not have a convenient opportunity to attack? I say that of the whole body, from head to heel, there is no place exempt from attack, and so it all comes down to one’s skill level. For this reason, Taiji practitioners have to “contain the chest and pluck up the back” in order to guard against the opponent using a kind of technique that would attack the chest. The only worry in all Taiji Boxing techniques is that the opponent might not be willing to attack the chest, for once his hand approaches the chest area, it is then always an opportunity for the Taiji practitioner to attack at will.
     Nowadays there are people who cater to the superficially minded, who willfully adjust Taiji Boxing postures to have the body facing more sideways or enlarge the stance, making it similar to external boxing arts. The postures sometimes have overly expressive eyebrows or glaring eyes, or the fists grasp so tight they appear as vicious as talons. One thereby considers himself to have become extremely agile [“a rabbit bolting as a falcon descends”], little realizing that the Taiji Boxing principles have become ever more distant from his practice, and that in the future he will be passing down something erroneous, something that has surely lost Taiji’s sense of balanced ease and the internal school’s flavor of moderation.

近人皆謂太極十三式。為掤、擠、捋、按、採、挘、肘、靠、八法。並左右、前後、中、定、五者。此是勉强附會。斷不可信。掤、擠、按、等不過八種手法。任誰專練太極拳的人。亦不能將此八種手法。一手一手的演出整個的姿勢來給人看。僅能按着推手的姿勢略為分析。認眞說起來。祇能有這八個名稱。乃略得其意的用法。至於要提出這八個式來教授徒弟。供人練習。以我所認識的太極拳名家。都沒有這套本錢。僅可稱為之八種手法。斷不能為八式。因為並無一定格式使人遵循。然退一步言。當各有其妙法。至於前後左右中定五式。更含糊可笑。何種拳術無前後左右中定。太極拳的前後左右中定又有何一定的方式。古人對於一種技術命名。決不如此不按實際。必另有其十三式。或其法失傳。或其名更變。要非現在所流行之太極架式。可以名為十三式也。
People these days all talk of Taiji’s “thirteen postures”: the eight techniques of warding off, rolling back, pressing, pushing, plucking, rending, elbowing, bumping, and the five placements of stepping to the left, stepping to the right, stepping forward, stepping back, staying in the center. This is an interpretation so forced as to be beyond belief.
     Warding off, pressing, pushing, and so on, are merely eight kinds of hand techniques. Whoever specializes in practicing Taiji Boxing is nevertheless incapable of performing each of these eight kinds of techniques in a coherent way to demonstrate them to people, for they can only be analyzed according to their appearance during pushing hands. But as a matter of fact, even if you could only have these eight terms, you would still get some of the idea of their functions.
     As to whether these eight techniques should be taught to students to supply them with practice material, I know that all noteworthy teachers of Taiji Boxing do not use this “postures” description. We can only go as far as calling them “eight kinds of hand techniques” and are really not able to consider them to be “eight postures”, because the “postures” do not have fixed postures for people to adhere to. But if we step back from such a description, then each technique has its own ingenious method.
     As for the five “postures” of stepping forward, back, left, right, or staying in the center, this is even more nonsensical and silly. As if any other kind of boxing art does not have moving forward and back, moving left and right, and staying put, just what fixed postures are there to Taiji’s forward, back, left, right, and center? When ancient people named a kind of technique, surely they did not do it this way with something unrelated to reality. There had to have been another “thirteen postures” and its techniques were lost or the names got changed. Indeed, let us from now on spread the Taiji solo set without calling it “thirteen postures”.

上海李瑞九家。曾聘有拳術教師孟某。所擅長之拳稱綿拳。共有八路架式。亦有兩人推手法。用意頗似太極。聞孟某少時在山東河南之間保鑣為業。富有膂力。尤善單刀。其名頗顯。孟年少氣盛。自負其技睥睨儕輩。一日攜鑣投宿於旅店。與同道者談武藝。有旁若無人之槪。忽有同宿一鬚髮皓然之老叟在旁冷笑。鄙視之意現於顏色。孟不能堪。忿然謂叟曰。若龍鍾似此。豈亦能武。將毋倚老賣老。以為我沒奈何乎。叟從容曰。强中更有强中手。武藝誰敢稱能。因見汝年輕不知天高地厚。故不自覺其笑之出於鼻也。怒將何為。孟益不能忍。必欲與叟較。叟亦不辭。孟方出手。已跌數步。竟不測叟以何種手法。能跌人如此乾脆。孟初以叟年邁。恐其不勝掊擊。故出手未盡其長。至此乃以全力赴之。不料一近叟身。手脚如被蛛網纏縛。有力無所施。欲跳脫亦不可得。中心惶急。遍身汗出如瀋。見叟張兩臂往復搓弄如玩圓球。神氣閒逸。絕無尋常比試態度。孟始知非敵。跪請拜師。叟曰。拜師則可。但當棄汝所業隨我經商。孟亟思得其傳。竟棄鑣業。從叟往來販運於山陝之間。纔二年半。叟卽病死。孟尚未得盡其傳。據孟在滬語人。其師所能。原有拳式十三路。歷二年半僅得其八。餘五路失傳。聞太極舊稱綿拳。孟所習者亦為綿拳。復恰為十三路。我疑其卽為太極十三式。
Li Ruijiu of Shanghai once engaged a boxing arts instructor, a Mr. Meng, who excelled in an art called Silken Boxing. It has a solo set of altogether eight sections. There are also two-person pushing hands patterns quite similar in intent to those of Taiji.
     I have heard that Meng worked as a bodyguard in Shandong and Henan. He had an abundant brawny strength and he was especially skilled at the single saber, and so he gained a noticeable fame. Meng was young and overbearing. Arrogant about his skill, he was dismissive toward his peers.
     One day, he had stopped his horse to stay at an inn for the night. There he was discussing martial arts with some fellows, but with an air of being the only one there, when suddenly an old man with bright white hair who was staying at the same inn gave a sneering laugh beside them, a look of disdain on his face.
     Meng could not endure it and angrily said to the old man: “Being as decrepit as you are, what would you know about fighting? And don’t use your age as an excuse, or you’ll give me no choice [but to give you a beating].”
     The old man calmly said: “‘Among the mighty are those who are mightier.’ In martial arts, no one presumes to praise his own ability. But because you are young, you think you know everything [‘do not know the scale of the world’], and so you are unaware of how ridiculous you are. Why be upset about it?”
     Meng was again unable to tolerate this. He felt compelled to challenge him and the old man did not decline. As soon as Meng extended his hand, he fell down several paces away. He had no idea what kind of technique the old man had performed to be able to drop a person so cleanly. Meng then considered the man’s age and thought he probably could not handle a flurry of strikes. So he sent out his hand without fully extending this time and exerted all of his strength.
     Suddenly he found himself nearer to the old man’s body than he expected to be,
and his hands and feet seemed as though they were tangled in cobwebs, unable to apply his strength and unable to get away. Flustered and frustrated, his whole body was pouring with sweat. He saw how the old man’s arms rubbed back and forth as though he was playing with a ball, how he had a leisurely manner instead of the typical competitive bearing. Meng then knew the man was unbeatable. He knelt down and asked to become his student.
     The old man said: “Okay, but only if you quit your job and work for me in my trading business.” Meng was in such earnest to receive instruction that he indeed abandoned his job and began transporting goods for the old man among the mountains of Shaanxi. But after two and a half years, the old man died of illness, and Meng had still not obtained the full transmission.
     According to what Meng told to people while in Shanghai, his teacher’s solo set originally had thirteen sections. Over the course of two and a half years, he only received eight, and so the other five sections have been lost. I have heard that Taiji was formerly known as Silken Boxing. What Meng practiced was also called Silken Boxing, and it just happened to have thirteen sections. I wonder if it is these that are Taiji’s thirteen “posturings”.

又江西於今盛行之字門拳。身手步法酷類太極拳。架式亦為八路。又有所謂魚門拳者。架式十二路。用法與太極尤相類。亦有兩人推手之法。江西熊斗樞曾練魚門十餘年。前年與我相遇於漢皋。為言魚門拳以手手不離逼吸為原則。練時亦貴慢貴不用力。惜其人不能說出魚門拳來歷。
There is also Zimen Boxing, which is currently in vogue in Jiangxi. Its body movement, hand techniques, and footwork are very similar to Taiji Boxing, and it likewise has eight basic techniques. And then there is also Yumen Boxing, which has a set in twelve sections. In application it is especially similar to Taiji, including two-person pushing hands patterns. Xiong Doushu of Jiangxi trained in the Yumen art for over ten years. In the year before last, I met him at Han’gao [a mountain in northern Hubei], and we talked about the Yumen Boxing principles of the hands maintaining connection and drawing in the opponent. During practice, there is emphasis on slowness and not putting forth effort. Unfortunately, its practitioners know nothing about the art’s history.

我國拳術派別繁多。無論全國。卽一省之中。每有數十種架式。甚至一縣之內。亦有數十種。拳術界的現象如此。應該能人甚多。始有此創造能力。我經仔細研究結果。知道此種種類拳式之流傳。並不一定傳自有創造能力之人。多有由一個負盛名的教師。在二三十年之中。傳出數十種拳式。雖皆託名傳自古代某人。或言岳飛。或言達摩。且有託之孫悟空彌勒菩薩者。其實手法皆大同小異。一趟架式之中。合於拳理及實用者不過三五手。此教師者。何以如此其不憚煩。編造此種種類類之架式。無非為廣招徠計耳。
There are so very many styles of our boxing arts. Throughout the whole nation, there are dozens within a single province, even within a single county. This being the case in the boxing arts world, there ought to be a great many talented people, and who are thus producing a lot of ability in others. I have carefully studied the results and have to come to know that in this spreading of all sorts of boxing arts, it is by no means a sure thing that they are being taught by competent people. Many are simply relying on the fame of their teacher.
     Within the last two or three decades, they have disseminated dozens of boxing arts. Even though they proclaim their art has been passed down from some ancient figure, such as Yue Fei or Damo, there are also some who claim it to be from Sun Wukong or the Maitreya Buddha. All their techniques are in fact more similar than they are unique, and within any solo set, there are only a few techniques that conform to boxing principles and have practical function. Why would these teachers go to so much trouble to create such a variety of postures? Simply to solicit customers!

北方學拳拜師無一定肄業時期。有力者延師至家。或寄居其師家中。三年五年繼續練習之事。甚屬平常。南方則多有限制。或延師來家。或由師自行設廠授徒。率以三四十日為一廠。至多亦不過五十日。期滿則徒弟各自散去。如欲繼續練習。卽增一廠。至多亦不過五十日。期滿則徒弟各自散去。如欲繼續練習。卽增一廠。徒弟進廠之日起。至散廠之日止。其間必晝夜苦練。以求出廠後能致用。若徒學過二三廠武藝之後。尚不勝未經練過之蠻漢。則其師為不名譽之甚。如太極拳者。固不能計日有效。卽其他理甚精審法甚縝密之各種拳術。亦決難於百日之間。體用俱備。從來練拳者。多係粗人。不明此理。如練二三廠後。尚不能克敵制勝者。不怪其師武藝不高。卽疑其吝不傳授。為教師者。欲其徒計日收效。惟有將原有之拳術擱置。擇三五便於用之手法。加以轉折。及江湖賣藝之門面動作。編造成一趟架式。而託之於世俗最迷信之古人所傳。其式簡單易練。天資略高之人。十餘日卽會。再教以半月之拆用。出廠後居然能戰勝蠻漢。師之聲譽因之雀起。從習者日多。但人情厭故喜新。一年半載後又非得改造一趟架式不可。
To learn a boxing art in the north, you do obeisance to a teacher and study with him for an indefinite period. Those who are devoted may engage a teacher to live in their home or they might leave home to live in the teacher’s house. To put in three to five years of continuous training is quite common.
     In the south, it is often more limited. You can either engage a teacher to live in your home or you can learn from a teacher who has reserved a warehouse space to teach students, holding the space for thirty or forty days, fifty days at the most. Once the time has expired, the students all disperse, and if you wish to continue training, another space has to be reserved.
     The students enter the space on the first day, disperse on the last day, and in the meantime they have to train hard day and night with the goal of being able to apply the art once they leave the building. After going through two or three of these warehouse sessions, if you are still not able to defeat ruffians, then your teacher will fall into disrepute.
     In the case of Taiji Boxing, it is really not possible to calculate how many days it will take to get results. For other boxing arts with highly refined principles and very detailed techniques, it is just as difficult for foundation and function to be completed within the space of a hundred days.
     It is always the case that among practitioners of boxing arts, many of them are crude individuals who would not understand this point. If after two or three sessions of warehouse training, they are still unable to defeat opponents, they do not find the fault in the teacher’s skill level not being high enough, and instead assume the teacher is holding back some of the transmission.
     When teachers expect their students to get results according to a schedule, the genuine art gets put aside in favor of a few select techniques, then it gets distorted into the superficial movements of itinerant performers, until a solo set becomes created that is steeped in the common superstitious traditions of ancient people.
     When the postures are simple and easy to practice, people with decent intelligence can learn it in just over a week. After a mere half month of instruction, they leave the warehouse with what they have gained and are surprised by their ability to beat up ruffians, the teacher’s fame consequently rises, and they continue to practice for a number of days. But people who tire of old things and always want new things will not continue to practice after about a year unless changes are made to the set.

平江有名拳師潘厚懿。三十歲時卽以教拳為業。壽至八十方死。前後所教徒弟在三千人以上。其所傳架式之不同何止數十種。得其眞傳者不過十人。並非彼祕不教人。學者欲求速效。使彼不能不如此。現在潘之徒弟在各處當教師者。亦有數十人。輾轉流傳。四百年之久。名稱已屢變。又焉知孟某之綿拳。熊某之魚門拳。不與太極一脈相傳乎。
In Pingjiang, there was a famous boxing master called Pan Houyi. When he was thirty, he started teaching boxing arts to make a living, all the way until his death at the age of eighty. Altogether he taught more than three thousand students, but having passed down his solo set in dozens of different variations, there are barely ten people who obtained the true transmission. This was not really because he was keeping anything secret. When students seek quick results, this is the inevitable outcome.
     Nowadays there are also dozens of teachers of what Pan’s disciples transmitted, passed down through many hands over the course of four hundred years. The name of the art has repeatedly changed. How can we even know that Mr. Meng’s Silken Boxing or Mr. Xiong’s Yumen Boxing do not have the same origin as Taiji?

楊露禪至今不過百年。其所傳與陳績甫已相去甚遠。吳鑑泉得自楊家者。亦與楊澄甫有別。更奇者。楊澄甫之兄楊孟祥。同受家傳。而孟祥之太極獨練斷勁。一手一手使勁。放出咚咚有聲。與外家拳無別。北平除楊夢祥一人而外。並無第二人以斷勁練太極拳者。我曾問陳績甫。陳家溝練太極拳之人。是否有練斷勁一派。陳言無有。我謂如此尚好。太極一練斷勁。便失却太極的原理。將無窮的用法變為有限的着數。於太極拳前途有害無利。
Yang Luchan’s art is only a hundred years old, but already his teachings are very different from Chen Jifu’s. For that matter, Wu Jianquan learned from the Yang family, and yet his version is distinct from Yang Chengfu’s.
     Even more peculiar is that Yang Chengfu’s elder brother Yang Mengxiang [Shaohou] learned in the very same family, and yet his Taiji is only practiced as a broken-energy version, each technique expressing power, releasing a vocalized thumping no different from external styles of boxing. And apart from Yang Mengxiang, there is no other Taiji Boxing practitioner in Beiping using broken energy. I once asked Chen Jifu if among the practitioners in the Chen Family Village there is a version that practices broken energy. He said there is not.
     I think that if it is considered good for Taiji to be practiced with broken energy, then it would be to miss the whole point of Taiji theory. It would turn a limitlessness of technique into a limited set of techniques, and this would do more harm than good to the future of Taiji Boxing.

我國人習性多喜崇拜古人。鄙薄今人。因之對於武藝雖富有創造能力之人。有所發明。有所創造。亦不敢自承。皆託之古人祕傳。或夢中所傳授。此類事實之見於册籍者。不一而足。張三丰所傳拳法。安知非其本人所創造。恐不足見重於時。而託之玄武大帝夢中所授。今人練習武藝。朝夕從事。數年或十數年尚難致用如所期願。張三丰夜夢神授。且卽以之破賊。古今人智慧能力之相去竟至此哉。張三丰傳宋遠橋、張松溪等七人。並無傳詳記其手法。黃百家之內家拳法中所載。敬、勁、勒、緊、切、五字訣。尊我齋主人所著少林拳術祕訣中亦引為要訣。而現正流行之太極拳。反無此五字訣傳授。我以為拳術應以理精法備。不違背生理及力學原理為標準。不必穿鑿附會。託之古人以相標榜。一若縫衣匠之供奉軒轅皇帝。木匠之供奉魯班先師。無端生出許多枝節。
It is the habit of the people of our nation to delight in venerating our forefathers and sneering at our contemporaries. Because of this, although the martial arts world is replete with creative and talented people, what they have invented and developed we do not dare to accept. Instead we always put our trust in ancient people who have passed things down secretly within their families, or who have received instructions in a dream. To find this type of situation in books and records is not rare at all.
     As for the boxing art that Zhang Sanfeng passed down, how could we know that he did not create it himself? Though there is insufficient evidence to support the idea, it is believed that he received his art in a dream from the “Dark Warrior” Emperor. People nowadays practice martial arts from dawn to dusk for years or even decades and still find it difficult to achieve the level they wish. Zhang Sanfeng received his art from a spirit in a dream, and then immediately used it to defeat bandits. Is there really such a difference of intelligence and ability between ancient and modern people? Zhang Sanfeng taught his art to Song Yuanqiao, Zhang Songxi, and seven others, but no detailed records of his techniques were passed down.
     Within Huang Baijia’s Boxing Methods of the Internal School, there is the five-word secret: “focused, potent, expedient, sticky, precise”. There are also secrets within Secrets of the Shaolin Boxing Arts by a certain venerable monk [including another and somewhat similar five-word secret: 印、擒、側、緊、切 “sealing, grabbing, slanting, tensing, cutting”]. The most popular boxing art is now Taiji, but these five words have not been taught as part of it.
     I think that boxing arts should use refined principles and tested techniques, and that the criteria should be that they do not violate the principles of physiology or mechanics. There is no need to make strained interpretations or trust the hyperbole of ancient people. Just because a tailor might bow to his statue of the Yellow Emperor or a carpenter has a shrine to his patron saint Lu Ban, there is no reason to think that actually means anything.

南京國術館初開辦時。我適在漢口。從報端見其分武當、少林兩門。各設門長。我當卽斷其如此提倡國術。決無好果。並致書京友服務於國術館者。詳論其得失。藝術本不妨各有宗派。有宗派斯有競爭。有競爭斯有進步。惟武術不然。無論我國武術傳籍絕少記載。輾轉流傳。學者又絕少能通文學之人。某派傳自某人。久不可考。非如字畫文學等之派别。絲毫不容混亂。卽算武當、少林兩派。比較其他武術册籍上略有根據。然現在所流傳者。究竟是否確為武當、少林兩派。且此兩派又豈能包括中國武術。江湖賣藝之流。以及武術授徒為業之輩。為迎合國人崇拜古人之習性。任意拉扯婦孺皆知之古人。認為師祖。以相號召。南方有齊家拳。謂為齊天大聖所傳授。又有彌勒拳。謂為彌勒菩薩所傳授。比較少林派傳自達摩祖師者。更誕妄可笑。彼輩此類知識多得自師傳。並非現在賣藝及授徒者所假託。故敬謹奉持不以為妄。偶遇非難莫不誓死力爭。因其如此。所以各門各派之互相忌嫉。互相仇視。千百年來不知生了若干事端。傷害了若干性命。在彼輩知識有限。且有藉古人以資號召之意。其標榜不足責。獨怪以提倡國術為志的張李諸公。亦不思打破此門戶派別之惡習也。
When the Nanjing Martial Arts Institute was opened, I was in Hankou [in eastern Hubei], where I noticed in a newspaper that they were dividing their curriculum into two schools – Wudang and Shaolin – and appointing specialists for each of them. For “Wudang” to be isolated like this in the promotion of our martial arts is really not a good idea, and so I sent a letter to a friend in Nanjing who was working at the Institute, discussing in detail the pros and cons.
     While I have nothing against division of skills, for divisions create competition, and competition produces progress, this is not true in the case of martial arts. Whichever of our nation’s martial arts, too few records have been passed down, the arts have been passed through too many hands over time, and students are hardly ever able to understand the literature.
     Certain styles were passed down from certain people, but so long ago that it cannot be verified, unlike schools of painting and literature, for which there is no confusion. The categorizing of the two branches as Wudang and Shaolin has been made on the basis of ignoring the records of other martial arts. But whether or not what is being spread these days can actually be classified as Wudang or Shaolin, how could these two branches be able to comprise all of Chinese martial arts, including those that were transmitted by itinerant performers, or martial artists who taught their skills to make a living. In order to cater to our national habit of venerating ancient people, we have arbitrarily dragged forth ancient figures known to everyone, even to women and children, and assigned them the roles of founders of our arts simply for the sake of advertizing.
     In the south there is a Qi Family Boxing, said to be passed down from the “Sage Equal to Heaven” [Qi Tian Dasheng – one of the names for Sun Wukong, the mythical Monkey King]. There is also a Maitreya Boxing, said to be passed down by the Maitreya Buddha [which would presumably have involved another tutorial in a dream]. These are far more ridiculous claims than that of Shaolin being passed down from Damo.
     When people have received their knowledge through actual instruction, and are not using it as a means for making a living through either performing or teaching, their great respect for their art is not unreasonable. What is reproachable is when people contentiously pledge their lives to their “tradition”, for by this means, all the schools and styles become jealous of each other and hate each other. After a thousand centuries, there is no telling how much trouble would be caused by such behavior, or how many lives would have been ruined.
     Such people have a limited knowledge, as well as a mentality of taking advantage of their forefathers in order to advertize themselves, a flaunting that cannot be admonished enough. And we can only blame gentlemen such as Zhang [Zhijiang] and Li [Jinglin] for having the ambition of promoting martial arts without also thinking of doing away with the vice of schools factionalizing. [Xiang clearly has no problem using generic descriptions such as “internal” and “external”, and so he is only taking issue against the pigeonholing of these arts into categories based arbitrarily around the names of places or personages, because it is too easy to give a mindless allegiance to them.]

太極拳在武術中為最有研究之興趣與價値者。提倡國術自應對之有相當注意。但萬不宜以太極為普遍研究之拳術。祇可於國術館中設一太極拳專修之科。非有志深造及資性聰穎者。不得入科練習。因其理太精微。法太複雜。無論天生身體如何靈捷。資性如何聰穎之人。亦非一年半載之練習所能致用。並且初學者練之不能發生興味。任何藝術。如研究者對之不生興趣。卽不能有所得。練他種拳術。但能朝夕依法苦練。不須運用腦力。有相當時日。必有相當成功。練太極拳。則非運用極細密之思想力。縱竭一生之功。亦不過偶然得着一部分作用。如練外家拳者之專善用某幾種手法而已。經中所謂默識揣摩。漸至從心所欲。可見非能運用極細密之思想力者。不能練太極拳。此與以上屏寂思慮之言。並不衝突。以上乃屏寂妄念之意。太極拳為內家拳術。注重上下丹田。本近道家引導之術。但近之論太極者。多因其名為太極。遂以八卦五行生剋之理。陰陽變化之言。附會易理。則竊疑其理論雖高遠。與事實掤、捋、擠、按、等八法。並無一定格式。前已言之。何所根據。而擬之八卦。至前後左右、中、定。在太極架式中更無其名稱。且任何拳術亦不能離此五者。擬以五行。尤為不倫不類。太極拳固注意陰陽變化。他種拳何嘗不注重陰陽變化。太極拳自有其非他種拳所能比擬之長處。決不在此似是而非之玄理。當科學昌明之今日。我等研究提倡。當應按照實際加以判別。不可震驚古人之言。或名流所斷論。遽予盲從。我於太極拳用功甚淺。但其方法及名稱尚能記憶。且嘗見深於此道之人。教授徒弟實不聞掤、捋、擠、按、採、挘、肘、靠、及所謂五行等。有一定格式方位。能單獨提出數人練習。則此等名目之不能稱十三式。十三式之不能附會為八卦五行。也至明顯。不知與我同好者。亦有曾致疑於此。而欲從事研究其所以然者否。
Within martial arts, Taiji Boxing has the most interest and value as a subject of study, and so it should be given its fair share of attention in the promotion of martial arts. But we certainly should not turn Taiji into the universal boxing arts study. We can only set up a special Taiji Boxing department within the martial arts institutes.
     Those who are not ambitious for advanced studies and are not sufficiently bright should not bother training in it because its principles are so profound and its techniques are so complex. No matter how nimble a body or clever a mind that a person may have been born with, it is not something that can be succeeded at after a mere year or so of practice. And if a beginner cannot develop adequate interest to keep training, there is no way to succeed in any of the skills.
     If they instead practice other kinds of boxing arts, they can train diligently from dawn to dusk without needing to use their brains, and in a decent amount of time, they will have a considerable level of achievement. In the practice of Taiji Boxing, unless you have a very detail-oriented mentality and give it a lifelong commitment, you will only by chance become even partially functional at it, like practitioners of external boxing arts who devote themselves to mastering just a few particular techniques.
     As it says in the Classic: “By absorbing through experience and by constantly contemplating, gradually you will reach the point that you can do whatever you want.” This indicates that unless you are meticulously mindful, you cannot practice Taiji Boxing. This mention of a meditative contemplation causes no contradiction as a boxing art, for its mentality of meditative imagination places Taiji within the internal school. And as it focuses on the upper and lower elixir fields, it is thereby akin to the Daoist limbering arts.
     However, when those who discuss Taiji nowadays look for a reason that it is called “taiji”, they typically invoke the eight trigrams, the interrelations of the five elements, the changes between the passive and active aspects, and some strained interpretation of the content in the Book of Changes.
     Thus I suspect that although the theory is lofty, its reality lies in its eight techniques of warding off, rolling back, pressing, pushing, and so on, which do not even have fixed postures. I mean, what do they really have to do with the eight trigrams anyway?
     As for moving forward, back, left, right, or staying centered, these things are not really described in the postures of the Taiji solo set. Furthermore, there is no boxing art that does not have these five things, and their association with the five elements is especially vague.
     And Taiji Boxing of course gives attention to changes between the passive and active aspects. How could any boxing art not? The strong points of Taiji Boxing that are lacking in other kinds of boxing arts have nothing at all to do with this abstract concept.
     In our modern age of flourishing science, we encourage research which should be based on reality and appraisal of facts, rather than getting carried away by the claims of previous generations or hastily accepting the statements of celebrated people.
     The amount of work I have put into Taiji Boxing is quite superficial, but I have memorized the methods and terminology, and have keenly observed practitioners. If teachers and students were actually not learning that the eight hand techniques and the five kinds of steps are specific postures and positions, this alone could elevate the practice of many people. It would then be obvious to them that these terms cannot mean thirteen “postures”, and that the “thirteen postures” cannot be stretched into being representations of the eight trigrams and five elements. I do not know of any of my fellow colleagues also raising doubts about this, and I am curious why they have not.

楊澄甫吳鑑泉均以專練太極拳有重名於北平。或曰。楊澄甫善發人而不善化。吳鑑泉善化人而不善發。以是二人均有缺限。若兼有其長。則盡太極之能事矣。我曰。事或有之。於理則殊不可通。因發與化似二而實一。不能發則不能化。不能化亦不能發。故經曰。粘卽是走。走卽是粘。不過原來體格强壯。氣力充足之人。發人易遠而乾脆。楊體魁梧。且嘗聞與其徒推手時。常喜自試其發勁。故其徒皆稱其善發人。吳為人性極溫文。且深於世故。不論與誰推手。皆謹守範圍。不逼人。不拿人。人亦無逼之拿之者。聞其在北平體育學校教太極拳時。學者衆多皆年壯力强。與吳推手任意進退。吳惟化之使不逞而已。始終未嘗一發。故人疑其祇善化。而不善發。我謂若吳亦嘗發人。但發而不能動。或動而不能遠。則疑其不善發人猶可。今吳始終未嘗一發人。證以其平日溫文之性格。可斷其為不欲無端發人。招人尤怨。非不善於發人也。我以北來略遲。於楊吳二君皆未謀面。然深信二君。皆為當今純粹練太極拳之名宿。絕未攙雜他種拳法。以圖討巧。其工夫火候實不可軒輊。在外家拳盛行之今日。欲求專練太極拳如二君者。恐未易多得。惜負提倡國術者。不知物色人材。聞二君刻均不在南京國術館。
Yang Chengfu and Wu Jianquan are equally renowned in Beiping as Taiji Boxing experts. It has been said: “Yang Chengfu is good at shooting people away but not good at neutralizing, whereas Wu Jianquan is good at neutralizing people but not good at shooting them away. Therefore both of these men have a shortcoming, but if they were strong in both qualities, then they would be at the peak of Taiji skill.”
     To which I say:
     It happens that some people possess the theory but really cannot understand its reasoning. Issuing and neutralizing only seem to be two things but are actually one, and so you cannot issue without being able to neutralize, nor neutralize without being able to issue. As it says in the Classic: “Sticking is yielding and yielding is sticking.”
     However, a person with a hefty build and abundant strength will have an easy time throwing people far away and cleanly. Yang’s body is big and tall, and it is known that when he does pushing hands with his students, he often likes to test his issuing power. Therefore his students all describe him as being good at issuing.
     Wu’s personality is gentlemanly and very urbane. Regardless of who he is pushing hands with, he is always only defensive, never crowding or grabbing his partner, and so his partner is never crowding or grabbing him. I have heard that while he was teaching Taiji Boxing at the Beiping Physical Education School, whenever any of his young and strong students were trying things on him during pushing hands, Wu would only neutralize to thwart their attempts, and never once threw them away. Therefore people suspect that he is only good at neutralizing and not good at issuing.
     I say that if Wu is often issuing, but is not able to make his opponent move, or move away very far, then we could suspect that he is not good at issuing. That Wu is never throwing people away is evidence of a polite temperament, indicating that he does not wish to be issuing without good reason, which would only provoke resentment on the part of his partner, and it does not mean he is not good at issuing.
     I came north too late to meet either Yang or Wu [both men having just moved to Shanghai], but I firmly believe they are both pure exponents of Taiji Boxing in our time, uninfluenced by other kinds of boxing arts. As for discussing their achievements, I cannot really judge the degree of their skill.
     Among the external boxing arts that are currently in vogue are people who seek Taiji Boxing experts such as these two gentlemen. I fear it will not be easy to get them, for unfortunately those who promote boxing arts do not know how to look for talent: neither of those gentlemen are to be found at the Nanjing Martial Arts Institute.

項城當國時。幕中有宋書銘者。自稱謂宋遠橋之後人。頗善太極拳術。其時以拳術著稱於北平之吳鑑泉、劉思綬、劉采臣、紀子修等。皆請授業。究其技之造詣至何等。不之知也。宋約學後不得轉授他人。時紀子修已年逾六十。謂宋曰。某因練拳者。一代不如一代。雖學者不能下苦工夫。然教者不開誠相授。亦為斯技淪胥之一大原因。故不辭老朽。拜求指教。卽為異日轉授他人地也。若學後不得轉授。某已年逾六十。將於泉下教鬼耶。遂獨辭出。其從游者終無所得。蓋宋某拳師之習氣甚深。其約人之不得傳授他人。卽不啻表示自之不肯以技授人也。
When Yuan Shikai ran the government [1912-1916], within the general’s office was a Song Shuming, who claimed to be a descendent of Song Yuanqiao, and he was considerably skilled in the Taiji boxing art. During that time, famous boxing artists in Beijing such as Wu Jianquan, Liu Enshou, Liu Caichen, and Ji Zixiu all invited him to teach. I do not know what kind of skills they studied from him, but Song’s students have not been able to teach his art to other people.
     Ji Zixiu, who was at that time already more than sixty years old, relates that Song said: “Some boxing arts practitioners feel that new generations are inferior to earlier ones. Even if students are unable to put in the hard work of training, it is teachers not openly sharing with others that is the biggest reason why these skills are falling into oblivion together. Therefore let’s not dismiss the older gentlemen, instead we should salute them and seek their advice, and then some day their teachings will be passed on to still others. If once it has been learned it does not then get passed down to anyone during that lifetime, will it be taught to ghosts in the afterlife?”
     But he then followed this with only a criticism, for people who went to learn from Song come away with little, because his training was too profound. When your students are not able to teach further students, this is hardly any better than not being willing to teach people in the first place.

太極拳架式各家所傳皆有區別。然不論其手法及姿勢如何不同。其從首至尾須一氣呵成。中間不能停滯。以滿身輕利。氣沉丹田為原則。則一也。依此原則。又能時時注意陰陽。虛實變換。免除雙重之弊。雖無明師指導。亦自有豁然貫通之日。練架式旣練有眞實工夫。則推手必容易進步。且不難出人頭地。如練架式不下苦工。專從推手中覓作用。天資縱高。亦不過推得兩手靈巧而已。身上工夫卽增長。亦屬有限。
Each style of Taiji Boxing has its idiosyncrasies in the performance of the solo set, but whatever the differences in the hand techniques and postures, there has to be a continuous flow from beginning to end, no stagnation throughout. In the principles of whole-bodied sensitivity and energy sinking to the elixir field, they are unanimous.
     By relying on these principles, you will also be able to constantly pay attention to the passive and active aspects – the alternations between emptiness and fullness – and thereby avoid the error of double pressure. Even without guidance from a knowledgeable teacher, it can someday all make sense to you.
     If you practice the solo set, practicing until there is genuine skill, then your pushing hands will easily progress, and it will not be difficult to stand out from the crowd. If you do not do the hard work of practicing the solo set and instead focus on seeking function within pushing hands, then no matter how clever you are, you will only achieve skill in your hands. Developing skill through the rest of your body would have been curtailed.

我自乙丑年五月從事練習太極架式。迄今不過四年餘。前後已四易架式。因每從一人研究。卽更換其人所傳架式。當時亦頗認為有更換之必要。及練習旣熟。始悟四種架式不同者。僅其外表動作。精神則絕少差異。其有因各人傳授之不同。而互相詆誹者。特未身經練習。及入主出奴之惡習未忘耳。練太極拳者。每有存心輕視外家拳之習氣論拳理。太極拳自較外家拳精細。但外家拳亦自有其好處。如練太極拳未練至能自由運用之程度。則尚不如外家拳遠甚。此番南京考試之結果。便可證明練太極拳者。不如練外家拳容易致用也。
I have been practicing the Taiji solo set since May, 1925, just over four years ago. In the course of that time, the set has gone through four revisions, because each person I have learned from has adjusted it to the version they teach. I believed at the time that their changes were necessary, but once I had practiced to the point of skill, I then realized these four versions of the solo set are different only in terms of superficial movements. The spirit is not at all different. But because each person’s way of teaching is different, they slander each other, especially when they have not personally experienced someone’s teaching, and when they have not let go of the vice of sectarian bias.
     Practitioners of Taiji Boxing always have it in mind to look down on the training in external boxing arts and say that Taiji Boxing theory is more refined than that of external styles. However, the external arts nevertheless have an advantage. If you practice Taiji Boxing, but have not yet reached the point of being able apply it, then it is no better than any external style. The results of the recent competition in Nanjing verify that Taiji Boxing practitioners have a harder time applying their art than do practitioners of external styles.

– – –

[Included below is a related piece in which Xiang further elaborates on his experience of Taiji. Written in 1955, two years before his death, it was later published within the 1980s reprints of his novels.]

太極推手的研究
ON STUDYING TAIJI’S PUSHING HANDS
向愷然
by Xiang Kairan

練太極拳的人,誰都知道架子是練體,推手是練用,可是練體和練用是不是兩囘事呢?要解答這個問題,得先明瞭太極拳的體是什麼?用又是什麼?
練體離不了十三勢,練用也離不了十三勢;除却十三勢,沒有太極拳,也沒有推手。
「十三勢」是掤、捋、擠、按、採、挒、肘、靠、進、退、顧、盼、定。這也是誰都知道的,可是一般練太極拳和練推手的人,是不是注意到每一個動作的十三勢呢?
當然有許多知道要在這方面注意的,但也還有不少人祇知道依樣畫葫蘆,不在這方面用心。
不知道在十三勢上用功的,敢說練體得不了體,練用也得不了用;因此十三勢歌上說:「不向此中推求去,枉費功夫貽嘆息。」
練架子,是練推手所用的體;練推手,是練架子所得的用。可說整個的體都是用,也可以說整個的用都是體。
照這樣說來,練架子和練推手,不是沒有分別嗎?有的,我把古人太極拳理論中屬於推手部分的條文,錄在下面,逐一加以註釋,再綜合起來作一個總結。並將我個人研究推手的經過寫在後面。
Among practitioners of Taiji Boxing, everyone understands that the solo set is for developing a foundation and that pushing hands is for training function. But are practicing foundation and function two different matters? Answering this question requires us to first understand just what Taiji’s foundation and function are.
     To develop a foundation, you cannot do without the Thirteen Dynamics, and to train the function, you again cannot do without the Thirteen Dynamics. Remove the Thirteen Dynamics, then there is no Taiji Boxing, and there is also no pushing hands. The “thirteen dynamics” are: warding off, rolling back, pressing, pushing, plucking, rending, elbowing, bumping, advancing, retreating, stepping to the left, stepping to the right, and staying in the center. Everyone also knows this, but are practitioners of Taiji Boxing and its pushing hands paying any attention to each of these thirteen movements?
     Certainly there are many who understand that it is important to pay attention to these things, but there are still more who only know how to follow along mechanically rather than attend to them mindfully. And those who do not understand the hard work involved in the Thirteen Dynamics dare to talk about practicing foundation without having grasped the foundation, and about practicing function without having grasped the function. This is why it is said in the Thirteen Dynamics Song: “If you pay no heed to these ideas, you will go astray in your training, and you will find you have wasted your time and be left with only sighs of regret.”
     Practicing the solo set is the foundation of practicing the function in pushing hands, and practicing pushing hands is the understanding of the function in the solo set. It can be said that the whole of the foundation is all function, and also that the whole of the function is all foundation.
     According to this explanation, whether practicing the solo set or pushing hands, is there any distinction? Yes, for I consider the Taiji Boxing theory as set down in a previous generation to be specifically addressing pushing hands [rather than the solo practice]. I present it below, annotating it line by line, then drawing it all together into a summary, followed by my personal experience of studying pushing hands.

《太極拳經》說:「人剛我柔謂之走,我順人背謂之粘。」
The Taiji Boxing Classic says:
     He is hard while I am soft – this is yielding. My energy is smooth while his energy is coarse – this is sticking.
剛字是採取攻勢的意義,並非剛强之剛,並非剛勁之剛;例如推手的掤、擠的兩個動作,是採取攻勢的。柔字是採取守勢的意義,並非柔弱和柔軟之柔;例如推手的捋、按的兩個動作,是採取守勢的。剛柔不過是攻守對立的兩個代名詞,完全是用意的、用勢的,不是用剛强之勁來攻打的。
對方用掤、擠兩種攻勢來逼,我用捋、按兩種守勢去化解它,這個動作叫做走。順背是得勢與不得勢的區別,能保持重心則得勢為順,失去重心則失勢為背,例如我方用掤、擠去攻逼,意圖使對方失勢,這動作叫做粘。
By “hard” is meant an intention of attack, not really hardness of strength or power. For instance, the two pushing hands actions of warding off and pressing are energies of attack. By “soft” is meant an intention of defense, not really softness as in weakness or suppleness. For instance, the two pushing hands actions of rolling back and pushing are defensive energies.
     Hardness and softness are merely synonyms for the contrast between attack and defense.
It is entirely a matter of using intention and energy rather than attacking with hard power. The opponent closes in on me using the two attacking actions of warding off and pressing, so I neutralize his attack by using the two defensive actions of rolling back and pushing. Such actions are an example of yielding.
     By “smooth” and “coarse” is meant the distinction between being properly positioned and improperly positioned. If can I keep my balance and be properly positioned, I feel a sense of smoothness, but he loses his balance and upsets his position, and so he instead feels a sense of coarseness. When I close in on him using warding off or pressing with an intention of upsetting his position, such actions are an example of sticking.

又說:「動急則急用,動緩則緩隨。」
If he moves fast, I quickly respond, and if his movement is slow, I leisurely follow.
這是純採守勢的說法,學者不可誤認為是自己不作主宰,緩急隨人。須知攻擊在人,應敵在我,我能隨敵緩急,從容應付不失重心,可說已盡太極推手之能事了。
This is purely describing defensive technique. You must not make the mistake of thinking that it means you are giving away control, just that your speed accords with his. You must understand that the attack is up to him and the defense is up to you. If you can follow along with his speed and deal with him calmly, without affecting your balance, you can say you have achieved skillfulness in Taiji pushing hands.

又說:「左重則左虛,右重則右渺。」
If he puts pressure on my left side, my left side empties, or if he puts pressure on my right side, my right side disappears.
太極拳就是一種軸心運動,所以《行功心解》上說:「身如車輪,腰如車軸。」旣是身如車輪,則左重向左轉動,右重向右轉動,乃當然之理,容易明瞭;不過要練得嫻熟,得心應手,却不是一件很容易的事。
Taiji Boxing is just a manner of movement through pivoting. As it says in Understanding How to Practice: “The body is like a wheel. The waist is like an axle.” If your body is behaving like a wheel, then pressure on your left turns you to the left, and pressure on your right turns you to the right. This is a commonsense principal, effortlessly understood. However, if you wish to practice to the point of skillfulness, your hands performing a technique exactly as you wish it to happen, this is something that is not so easy.

又說:「仰之則彌高,俯之則彌深;進之則愈長,退之則愈促。」
If he tries to find me above, he has to keep reaching higher, or if he tries to find me below, he has to keep reaching lower. When he advances, he cannot get to me, but once he retreats, he cannot get away from me.
前三句皆是引勁落空之意,就是說如果他仰攻,我引得他更高,他俯攻我引得他更深,他直進我引得他更長。總之是順他的來勢引向空處,不抵抗,不截擊。第四句是說明退不得,彼進我退,便是自促,無論練架子、推手,都忌直進直退。《行功心解》說:「進退須有轉換」,便是說明不能直進直退的意思。例如「摟膝抝步」的進,必須兼帶左顧右盼的姿勢。「倒攆猴」的退,也是一樣要向左右轉換。其他一切進退的動作,都是如此;因為轉換便是以退為進,不是眞退,眞退就是敗了。所以古人拳譜有進、進也;退、亦進也的說法。
《紀效新書》上也說:「步步向前,天下無敵。」
The above, below, and advancing all have to do with drawing in his energy so he lands on nothing. In other words, if his attack is upward, I draw him in so that he continues still higher; if his attack is downward, I draw him in so that he continues still lower; if his attack is forward, I draw him in so that he continues still farther. In all of these instances, I go along with his incoming force, drawing in so that it goes nowhere. I do not resist or try to interrupt his force. The statement about retreating has to do with having no hope of escape. If he were to advance as I retreat, then I would be putting myself into an urgent situation. Regardless of practicing the solo set or pushing hands, by all means avoid directly advancing or retreating.
     It says in Understanding How to Practice: “In advancing and retreating, there must be variation.” This expresses the idea that you should not directly advance or retreat. For example, the advance of BRUSH KNEE IN A CROSSED STANCE requires footwork that inclines toward the left and right, and in the retreat of RETREAT, DRIVING AWAY THE MONKEY, you are also switching steps left and right. The rest of the movements that involve advancing or retreating are all the same situation. Since you are switching feet [rather than stepping back with both feet], retreating has a quality of advancing, and so it is not a real retreat. A real retreat results in failure. Thus it is said in the old boxing manuals that “an advance is an advance, and a retreat is also an advance”. It says in [Qi Jiguang’s] New Book of Effective Methods [chapter 12]: “Constantly advancing, you will be invincible.”

又說:「一羽不能加,蠅蟲不能落。」
A feather cannot be added and a fly cannot land.
這就是說:推手須練到觸覺十分敏鋭,就是一片鳥毛、一個蒼蠅那樣輕微的東西,落到身上也能察覺。不許它停留站脚,因為鳥毛不到平穩的地方是不能停留的;蒼蠅的脚不能站穩,是不收歛翅膀落下的。這是極力形容太極推手之輕靈,絕對不許對方借力的意思。這是推手最重要的理論根據。
This means that pushing hands has to be trained until your sense of touch is so keen that whenever anything even as light as a feather or a fly lands on you, you will be able to be so aware of it that you do not allow it to land on you. The feather will not come to a stop because there is not a stable area on you to hold it, and the fly has no stable area to place its feet and so it will continue to flap its wings in search of another place to land. This is an exaggerated depiction of the sensitivity in Taiji’s pushing hands. The idea is that you do not allow an opponent to borrow any force from you at all, and this is the most important principle in pushing hands.

又說:「人不知我,我獨知人。」
He does not know me, only I know him.
這是推手極嫻熟後的境界。推手的作用,主要是鍛鍊觸覺,術語謂之「聽勁」。就是利用兩手,尤其是十指的羅紋探聽對方動作的意向和勁路;而我則處處意在敵先,使對方來不及防禦。河南溫縣陳家溝的陳鑫著有《太極拳譜》,關於推手的有兩句話說得最好:「神以知來,智以藏往。」神就是利用我手上的神經,探知對方的來勢再憑藉我的智慧,隱藏我的攻勢;這樣便到了「人不知我,我獨知人」的境界。
This is the highest level of skill in pushing hands. Applying pushing hands depends on training sensitivity. The jargon for this is “listening to energies”, which means using the hands, particularly the fingertips, to seek into the opponent’s movement and discover the direction of his intention and the path of his power. My intention is thereby always ahead of his, rendering him too late to defend himself.
     Chen Xin of the Chen Family Village, Wen County, Henan, wrote a Taiji Boxing essay in which there are these two superb phrases regarding pushing hands: “Through mindfulness, I know his attack. Through craftiness, I conceal my counter.” Mindfulness is a matter of making use of the nerves in my hands to find out his incoming force, then I rely on craftiness to hide my counterattack from him. It is by this means that I achieve the condition of “he does not know me, only I know him”.

又說:「單重則隨,雙重則滯。」
If you drop one side, you can move. But if you have equal pressure on both sides, you will be stuck.
這兩句話是練推手最要注意的,必須時時刻刻用實際行動去體驗它。若不認識這個理論,根本談不到會太極拳,祇停留在感性上的認識;不在推手上下幾年苦功,也還談不到隨機運用。這兩句話解釋起來,却是極平常極容易瞭解的。前面說過:「身如車輪,腰如車軸」,試想車輪着地,哪有兩個重點?若有兩個,便推不動了。所以《太極拳譜》上說:「無使有缺陷處,無使有凹凸處。」因有缺陷凹凸便不能圓,不圓就雙重了。
有人解釋雙重說,兩脚同時着地,兩手同時打擊,是雙重;一脚一手是單重,這是極端錯誤的解釋。我們要知道單重、雙重不在形式,而在內容。太極拳只是軸心運動,找着了軸心所在,則觸處成圓,處處單重;找不着重心,則觸途成滯,處處雙重――豈但兩脚兩手,就是一個指頭,也免不了雙重。陳鑫的《拳譜》上說得最好:「精練已極,極小亦圈。」凡圈皆有軸心,由軸心發出來的圈,便無缺陷出處;無凸凹處,那得有雙重?
These two phrases provide the most important thing to pay attention to while practicing pushing hands, and you must constantly engage in the actual activity in order to experience it. If you do not understand this principle, you will not really have an understanding of Taiji Boxing, merely going as far as getting a glimpse of it. Unless you put several years of hard work into pushing hands, you will still have no way of responding to circumstances. Once these two phrases are explained, it turns out they are actually very ordinary and easily understood.
     As was already mentioned: “The body is like a wheel. The waist is like an axle.” Think of the way a wheel touches the ground. Are there two points of pressure? If there were two, it would not be able to move. Thus it says in the Taiji Boxing Classic [Treatise]: “Do not allow there to be cracks or gaps anywhere, pits or protrusions anywhere.” With cracks or gaps, pits or protrusions, there can be no roundness, and without roundness, there will be double pressure.
     There are people who interpret “double pressure” as meaning both feet pressing the ground in unison or both hands attacking in unison, and that being single-footed or single-handed makes “single pressure”. This interpretation is utterly in error. We have to understand that a condition of single pressure or double pressure has nothing to do with external posture, but with internal substance.
     Taiji Boxing is nothing more than a “central axis” exercise. If you find your center, then every point of contact will become rounded and you will thereby have a single pressure everywhere, whereas if you do not find your center, then every path of contact will become obstructed and you will thereby have a double pressure everywhere – not only a matter of double feet or double hands, but of a single finger being unable to avoid a state of double pressure.
     Chen Xin’s essay expresses the idea supremely: “Once your training is at an exquisite level, there will be roundness in the microscopic places as well.” Circles all have a central axis point, and due to the roundness that radiates from this center, there are no “cracks or gaps anywhere, pits or protrusions anywhere”. So where would there be doubling of pressure?

又說:「粘卽是走,走卽是粘。」
In sticking there is yielding and in yielding there is sticking.
太極就是圈的中心點,向外半弧為陽,向內半弧為陰,陽的作用為粘為攻,陰的作用為走為守;粘又是走的準備,走又是粘的準備。所以下面緊接着說:
A taiji [“grand polarity” or “grand pivot”] is the central point of a circle. The half of the circle that rotates outward is active, and the half of the circle that rotates inward is passive. The active half performs sticking and attacking, and the passive half performs yielding and defending. Sticking is also a preparation for yielding, and yielding is also a preparation for sticking, leading us right into:
「陰不離陽,陽不離陰,」
The active does not depart from the passive and the passive does not depart from the active.

又說:「陰陽相濟,方為懂勁」。
The passive and active exchange roles. Once you have this understanding, you will be identifying energies.
所謂陰陽、粘、走、剛柔、粘、連者等等,都是攻守兩個動作代名詞,攻裏已有守,守裏已有攻,所以謂之相濟。認識了這個,便等於懂勁;
Concepts such as passive and active, sticking and yielding, hardness and softness, adhering and following, are all synonyms for the two actions of attacking and defending. Inside attacking lies defending, and inside defending lies attacking. Thus they “exchange roles”. Understanding this principle will bring you to the level of identifying energies:
在懂勁的基法上做功夫,才能做到愈練愈精。
Once you are identifying energies, then the more you practice, the more efficient your skill will be.

又說:「本是捨己從人,多誤捨近求遠。」
The basic of basics is to forget about your plans and simply respond to the opponent. We often make the mistake of ignoring what is right in front of us in favor of something that has nothing to do with our immediate circumstances.
太極推手在隨機運化,本身不可有絲毫安排等待的心思,這就謂之捨己從人。也就是說要在本身確實做到圓活輕靈的地步,才可以隨人粘走,毫無障碍。但是有許多人認捨己從人四字,以為要從對方研究來勢,早安排一個如何應付的心思,這便是捨近求遠了。
Taiji pushing hands is a matter of adapting to the situation, and so there must be absolutely no planning ahead, just responding to the opponent. This quote also highlights the necessity to have a condition of liveliness and nimbleness. You will then be able to be following along with the opponent, sticking and yielding without the slightest hindrance. And yet there are many people who think that letting go of your plans to respond to the opponent actually means examining his attack pattern in order to find a way to deal with it beforehand, again ignoring what is present in favor of what is not.

以上所標擧的,都是山右王宗岳所著《太極拳經》中,屬於推手的理論。這是太極拳最高深、最精確的學理,非細心體驗,不能有得。
This series of quotes is from the Taiji Boxing Classic by Wang Zongyue of Shanxi, the theme of which is the principles of pushing hands. It forms the most profound and precise set of theory in Taiji Boxing. Unless you absorb it meticulously, you will never learn anything.

《十三勢行功心解》說:「發勁須沉着鬆淨,專主一方。」發勁須在推手時發勁練勁,才能沉着,才能鬆淨;又必須在沉着鬆淨的兩個條件下發出去的,才是內勁,不是拙力。專主一方四字,看去似很簡單,實際這裏面包含時間、地位、方向等三個要素,有一個不適合,便是沉着鬆淨的內勁,也發不乾脆。因此必須在推手的時候,一方面準備接受發勁,不走不化;一方面專心按規律發出去,練手旣熟,方能一觸卽發,發無不中。
It says in Understanding How to Practice: “When issuing power, you must sink and relax, concentrating it in one direction.” To issue power, you have to issue power during pushing hands in order to train the power, and then you will be able to sink and relax. You then also have to have the two conditions of sinking and relaxing when issuing in order for it be a case of internal power rather than awkward effort.
     Although the idea of “concentrating it in one direction” appears to be quite simple, it contains all three key factors of timing, position, and direction. If one of these parts is incorrect, then the internal power generated from sinking and relaxing will not be issued cleanly and precisely. Consequently it is necessary during pushing hands to, for one thing, be prepared to receive his issued power without yielding or neutralizing, and for another, to be dedicated to issuing in accordance with the principles. Once you have practiced to the point of skill, you will then be able to issue right at the moment of contact, and your issuing will be on target.

打手歌說:「掤、捋、擠、按、須認眞,上下相隨人難進。」掤、捋、擠、按是曲中求直的四個動作名稱。這四動作裏面包含了採、挒、肘、靠、進、退、顧、盼、定,九個動作。說掤、捋、擠、按須認眞,就等於說十三勢須認眞,十三勢歌第一句「十三勢勢莫輕視」,就是要勢勢認眞的意思,能主宰於腰上下,自然相隨,能相隨卽能化解對方的攻勢,因此說「人難進」。十三勢歌第二句「命意源頭在腰際」也就是這個意思。
又說:「引進落空合卽出,拈連粘隨不丢頂。」隨着對方的來勢,引向空處,引到和我的出擊條件相合時,便行出擊。這引字有兩種意義,一是因勢利導,一是故露破綻,引他冒進。陳鑫《拳譜》上說:「虛籠詐誘,祇為一轉。」所謂虛籠詐誘,就是引進落空,這轉字就是出擊。
此中前輩說:「推手祇在不丢不頂中討生活。」不丢是不脫離對方的手,不頂是不抵抗對方的手,這中間包含拈、連、粘、隨四種動作。拈、粘是屬於不丢的,隨、連是屬於不頂的。就是說,對方進,我用連、隨;對方退,我用粘、拈。
這打手歌,雖是初步入門極簡單的法則,但不經口傳面授,那麼卽使繪圖立說,千言萬語,也屬無益。所以十三勢歌有:「入門引路須口授,功夫無息法自脩」的說法。甚麼叫做法自修呢?就是要依據上述的法則去自修,君不依法則,自修也是徒勞。平江李昌羅《拳經》上說:「學而不練,負師之傳;練而無規,成藝之病。」可見練推手必須重視這個法則。
It says in the Playing Hands Song: “Ward-off, rollback, press, and push must be taken seriously. With coordination between above and below, the opponent will hardly find a way in.” Warding off, rolling back, pressing, and pushing are the names of the four actions within the concept of “within curving, seek to be straightening”. But within these four actions are contained the nine further actions of plucking, rending, elbowing, and bumping, advancing, retreating, stepping to the left, stepping to the right, and staying in the center. And so to say that “ward-off, rollback, press, and push must be taken seriously” amounts to saying that the Thirteen Dynamics must be taken seriously.
     The first line of the Thirteen Dynamics Song – “Do not neglect any of the thirteen dynamics,…” – means that you should take them all seriously. If you can put your waist in charge of your movement, there will naturally be coordination above and below. Able to coordinate your upper body and lower body with each other, you will thus have the ability to neutralize an opponent’s attack, and because of this, “the opponent will hardly find a way in”. Its second line – “their command coming from your lower back.” – has exactly this meaning.
     [Again from the Playing Hands Song:] “Guiding him in to land on nothing, I then close on him and send him away. I stick to him and go along with his movement instead of coming away or crashing in.” Going along with the opponent’s incoming force, I draw him in toward an empty place. Drawing him in merges with my opportunity to counter, so I then send out my attack. There are two meanings to the term “drawing in”: 1. to guide his force according to the direction it is already going, 2. to deliberately show a weak spot [a “broken seam”] in order to induce him into rashly advancing. It says in Chen Xin’s essay: “Tricking him into an empty cage, you then only need to rotate.” To “trick him into an empty cage” is the same thing as “drawing him in to land on nothing”, and “rotate” is the moment of sending out your attack.
     It was said by a previous generation: “Pushing hands simply comes down to the concept of ‘neither coming away nor crashing in’.” Not coming away means not separating from the opponent’s hands, and not crashing in means not resisting against his hands. Within this are the four actions of sticking, connecting, adhering, following. Sticking and adhering have to do with not coming away. Connecting and following have to do with not crashing in. In other words, when the opponent advances, I use connecting and following, and when he retreats, I use sticking and adhering.
     The Playing Hands Song may be a basic and very stripped down rendition of principles, but without receiving personal instruction, it would be of no more use than getting explanations based on a set of drawings. Thousands upon thousands of words would still be of no benefit.
     It is said in the Thirteen Dynamics Song: “Beginning the training requires personal instruction, but mastering the art depends on your own unceasing effort.” Why “your own effort”? This simply means that as long as you are practicing in accordance with the above principles, you are able to do the work by yourself, whereas if you ignore the principles, your effort would be in vain.
     It says in the “Boxing Classic” by Li Changluo of Pingjiang: “To learn but not practice betrays the work of the teacher. To practice but neglect the theory makes a mockery of the art.” It can be seen from this that practicing pushing hands requires taking these principles seriously.

以上僅就社會上最流行,為一般愛好太極拳者所熟知的理論,加以簡單的解釋。因本人學識有限,所解未必正確,但敢肯定的向諸位同好者保證:沒有一句話不是秉承名師傳授,加以本人三十年實際體驗得來的。如今再將我實際體驗的所得作一個結論,再將我卅年中學習太極椎手的經過,作一個簡單的敍述,以供愛妤推手者的參考。
Above are the most widespread principles known to ordinary enthusiasts of Taiji Boxing, with a brief commentary added. Because my learning is limited, my comments may not necessarily be correct, but I will be so bold as to pledge to all who care that all of those ideas were told to me by noteworthy teachers, and then embellished by my own practical experience of thirty years. I will now present some conclusions I have reached from my experience, and my process of learning Taiji pushing hands during those thirty years, supplying a brief account for those who love pushing hands to refer to.

我們練習太極拳,為甚麼必須要練習推手呢?這問題是很容易解答的,因為太極拳一百多個動作的實用價値,都得從推手中體驗出來。但是我們得認識推手不等於打架,也不等於其他武術的對打,切記揪扭和不同的推打。
Among those of us who practice Taiji Boxing, why do we find it necessary to practice pushing hands? This question is very easy to answer: the reason is that the functional value of the more than a hundred movements in the solo set emerges entirely through experiencing pushing hands. However, we do acknowledge that pushing hands is different from sparring and two-person sets, and we always keep in mind that wrestling is not the same as pushing.

推手的方式,大略可分為四種類型,(一)單手定步,(二)雙手定步,(三)活步(九宮步),(四)大捋。
Pushing hands methods generally can be divided into four types:
1. single-hand fixed-step,
2. double-hand fixed-step,
3. moving-step (or “stepping to the nine palaces”),
4. large rollback.

單手定步的推法,現在練習的很少,認眞說起來,初學入門的人,單推手是必要的。練法雖簡單,兩人都以單手一粘一走,然對於初步的聽勁,和增强腰腿功夫,是很有幫助的。
[1] The single-hand fixed-step exercise is very rarely practiced nowadays, but we should actually take it seriously because single-hand pushing is indispensable for beginners. The practice method is very simple: both partners use a single hand, one sticking while the other is yielding. Nevertheless, regarding the early stage of listening to energies, and for developing skill in the waist and thighs, it is very helpful indeed.

現在流行的是定步雙推手法,以上所擧有關推手的理論條文,都是屬於定步雙推手的。這種推法,是增長功夫的基本練習;太極拳的實用價値,必須在這種推手的方法上,打下堅强的基礎。初學入門,但求上下一致,進退轉動圓活,動作不妨稍快。進一步研究掤、捋、擠、按;你粘我走、我粘你走,便不能太快了。太快則粘走都不踏實,每一個動作都容易忽略過去,跟找勁、聽勁的意義不符合了,這裏最緊要的訣竅有下列四點:
[2] The double-hand fixed-step pattern is what is in vogue nowadays. The pushing hands principles as described above are all related to this pattern. This kind of pushing method is the fundamental training for developing skill. The functional value of Taiji Boxing depends on building a solid foundation through this pushing hands pattern. In the beginning, seek for your upper body and lower to be working in unison, for advancing, retreating, and turning to be nimble, and it is okay for the movements to be somewhat brisk. Step forward and drill the techniques of ward-off, rollback, press, and push. You stick when I am yielding. I stick when you are yielding. You must not move too fast, for then your sticking and yielding will not be consistent, each of the techniques will easily become neglected, and there will be no involvement of the intention to seek and listen to energy. Below are listed the four most important keys to this training:

一要慢:不問是拈是走,都得寸寸節節找勁、聽勁,不輕易放過一分。
i. There has to be slowness:
     Regardless of sticking or yielding, always work inch by inch to seek his energy and listen to it, never rashly skipping over even the tiniest place.

二要圓:雙手最忌走成直角,在在處處須保持弧形狀態。
ii. There has to be roundness:
     Your hands especially need to avoid moving into positions that make right angles. You must at every point maintain a curved condition.

三要定:這是定步推手法,祇許換步,不許走動。因推手的目的,是要在腰腿上打下堅强的基礎;對方來逼,只能用坐腿走腰的方法去化解他的來勢。習之旣久,腰腿自有功夫。
iii. There has to be stability:
     This refers to the fixed-step exercise. You may switch your feet, but not start walking, for the objective in pushing hands lies in the importance of building a solid foundation in your waist and thighs. When your partner closes in, you can only use settling onto your [rear] thigh and yielding with your waist to dissolve his incoming force. Practicing this over a long period of time, your waist and thighs will naturally develop skill.

四要近:凡找勁、聽勁鍛鍊腰腿功夫,都須逼近,才能切實。
iv. There has to be nearness:
     Generally, when you are seeking his energy in order to listen to it, and to develop skill in your waist and thighs, you have to get sufficiently near him in order for it to feasible.

活步推手:進兩步,退兩步,彼此不變方向,我方掤進一步,擠進一步,彼方捋退一步,按退一步。彼此周而復始,借此練習進退輕捷,惟須不變方向,才能逼出腰腿功夫。
[3] Moving-step pushing hands:
     Two advancing steps, two retreating steps, both partners not changing their direction. For my part, I do a ward-off with an advancing step and a press with an advancing step. For your part, you do a rollback with a retreating step and a push with a retreating step. The movements then recycle indefinitely. In order for the advancing and retreating in this exercise to be nimble, you must not change direction [i.e. both people are walking the plank], and thereby you will be able to ensure skill development in your waist and thighs.

大捋:進四步,退四步,彼此向四隅進退,我方掤進一步,肘進一步,擠進一步,靠近一步,彼方捋退三步,向我方後轉一步,這一步包括採、挘、按三個動作。因捋退三步,故名大捋。
[4] Large Rollback:
     Four advancing steps, four retreating steps, both partners advancing and retreating toward the four corners. For my part, I do a ward-off with an advancing step, an elbow with an advancing step, a press with an advancing step, and a bump with closing step. For your part, you do a rollback with three retreating steps, then switch to coming around behind me with a step that involves the triple actions of pluck, rend, and push. Because the retreat has several steps, it is an “enlarged rollback”.

無論是練習那種推手法,最忌不按規則和用力衝擊,並絕對不應有勝負觀念。
Regardless of which pushing hands pattern you are practicing, you must avoid putting aside the principles and forcefully attacking, and you must never entertain any notion of winning or losing.

上面所集各家有關推手的條文,雖各有其主要的意義,不相含混;我們學習推手和研究推手的人,似乎都應該深刻了解具體鑽研才對――實際這是不必要的。
我們只需認定一個條文去下手鑽研,這一條鑽通了,其他的條文都同時通了。這就是用力之久,一旦豁然貫通的道理。譬如一間房,本有幾個門可以出入,要進房的人,祇須走一個;不過這一個門却是必要的,得不到這個門,是永遠無法進入這間房的。我們還要知道這幾個門,沒有高下好壞的分別,從東邊來的走東門,從西邊來的走西門,就各人所接近的走。
讀理論條文也是一樣,祇須認定那一條比較接近,容易體會,便從那一條下手鑽研。唯一要訣,就如獵犬追逐野獸,認定一頭,不得不捨。
Collected above are ideas regarding pushing hands according to various schools. While they all have principles they emphasize, their theories are not that different from each other. For those of us who practice and study pushing hands, it seems like we have to deeply understand and intensively study in order to get it right. But it is not really necessary for us to do so. It is only necessary for us to focus on a single principle, scrutinize it until that one is understood, and then the rest of them will fall into place. This is the rationale of “practice a lot over a long time” and then one day “you will have a breakthrough”.
     For an analogy, think of a room with several doorways. If you want to enter the space, you only need to use one of them. But while one door is all you need, if you cannot get through it you will never get in at all. We also have to understand that the height or craftsmanship of the door is not relevant. When on the eastern end of the room, the eastern doorway gets walked through. When on the western end of the room, the western doorway gets walked through. We each simply go through the nearest one.
     The same is true for studying the principles. You only have to pick the one makes the most immediate sense to you and is the easiest for you to realize in your practice, and then by delving further into it, it will become a key to the rest. This is like a hunting dog pursuing an animal. Once it has aimed its snout, it never gives up till the kill.

我研究推手的經過
Here is the process I myself went through in learning pushing hands:

一九二三年在上海從陳微明先生初學太極拳,陳先生和他老師楊澄甫一樣,最喜用掤、擠兩勢進逼;但不發勁,使我停滯在一個通身不得勁的態勢中,旣不能走,又不能化。這是我初學推手時感覺最難受的一個階段。
In 1923 [1925], I was in Shanghai, and I started learning Taiji Boxing from Chen Weiming. Though both he and his teacher Yang Chengfu were particularly fond of crowding in with the actions of warding off and pressing, Chen did not then issue any power, he merely caused me to end up in a position in which I could not transmit power through my body and became stuck, unable to yield, much less neutralize. I felt this was the most difficult phase in the beginning of my pushing hands training.

後來王潤生先生到了上海,我又從他練吳家的架子,我用陳先生掤、擠的方法進逼,他很容易的就把我的攻勢消滅了。經研究的結果,才知道我的觸覺太遲鈍了。他用意來逼,用勢來逼,本來極輕靈;我等感到不得勁時,便已失去重心,不能走、也不能化了。
我問王先生,吳鑑泉推手是如何進迫的?他說:「吳先生推手很少逼人的事;不過你用方法去逼他,却隨時使你不得勁,也很難受。因此一般人說楊主發勁,吳主化勁,其實發卽是化,不能化便不能發;不過兩人的個性不同,所用的方式,也就跟着有區別了。」
When Wang Runsheng later came to Shanghai, I also learned from him, practicing the Wu family’s solo set. When I used Chen Weiming’s method of crowding with warding off and pressing, Wang disrupted my posture of attack so easily. After all I had studied so far, I then discovered that my sense of touch was just too slow. He attacked when he pleased, with whatever technique he pleased, and always so quickly, whereas I always waited too long, until the point that I noticed I could not express any power anyway, for I was already off balance, unable to yield or neutralize.
     I asked Wang: “During pushing hands, what kind of attacking does Wu Jianquan do?”
     He said: “Wu hardly ever attacks. But if you tried some method of attacking him, he would right away cause you to be unable to use any power or hardly even move. For this reason, people generally say that Yang focuses on issuing and Wu focuses on neutralizing. Really though, issuing is neutralizing, because if you can’t neutralize, then you won’t be able to issue either. But since both of these men have their own personalities, it follows that the methods they use would be different as well.”

一九二九年在北京,從許禹生先生學習推手。他的太極拳是從宋書銘學的,是宋遠橋的一派;專注意開合,配合呼吸。每一個動作,都要分析十三勢,尤其以中定為十三勢之母,一切動作都得由中定出發。他又注意黃百家著的《家拳》裏面的勤、緊、敢、勁、切五字訣;他說切字最關緊要。就是每個動作都須求得切合應用。所以他的推手最能運用架子中各種動作。可惜他那時主辦北京國術館兼辦北京體育學校,工作太忙,不能和我多說手法,介紹了劉恩綬先生專敎我推手。
In 1929, I was in Beijing, and I learned pushing hands from Xu Yusheng. His Taiji Boxing was learned from Song Shuming, passed down from Song Yuanqiao. It focuses on opening and closing – coordinating the breath with each movement. He always emphasized awareness of the Thirteen Dynamics, particularly pointing out that staying centered was the basis of the rest, because it is necessary in every technique to be centered in order to issue.
     He also gave attention to the five-word secret in Huang Baijia’s Boxing Methods of the Internal School: “focused, sticky, expedient, potent, precise”, and stated that “precise” was the most important of them, explaining that each movement has to be performed exactly as it would be applied. Therefore his pushing hands exhibited the greatest capacity for using the movements from the solo set. Alas, as he was during that time the director of the Beijing Martial Arts Institute and also of the Beijing Physical Education School, his work kept him extremely busy, and so he could not talk over techniques with me very often. But he introduced me to Liu Enshou, who then gave me special instruction in pushing hands.

劉先主也是從宋書銘學過太極拳的。但他的推法,却跟以上諸位先生不同:忽輕忽重,或長或短,每每使我連、隨不得,拈、粘不得。有時突然上提,我連脚跟都被提起,突然一撤,我便向前撲空。直到三個月以後,方漸漸成了習慣,不受誘惑了。我從前練過外家拳,有時被逼急了,便用外家拳法出擊,他立卽停止不推了。他說:推手是一種練習的方式,不是打架,不可有爭勝負的心理。若是較量勝負,則彼此形式不同,決沒有站住不動,等待人家攻擊的道理。
我當時聽了這番話,很是慚愧,深覺自己不應該在推手的時候,存着勝負的觀念,不按規則的去偷襲人家。就技術上說是犯規!就交際上說,是不禮貌!就品質上說是不道德!
Liu’s Taiji Boxing was also learned from Song Shuming, but his pushing hands was different yet again compared to the teachers above. Suddenly there was a lightness, then suddenly a heaviness. One moment he was far away, then out of nowhere he was close to me. He constantly rendered me incapable of connecting and following, incapable of sticking and adhering. Sometimes he would abruptly lift, and I would be lifted up all the way down to my heels. Sometimes he would abruptly withdraw, and I would topple forward into an emptiness.
     Three months of this passed by, and by then I had little by little gotten used to it and was no longer so fooled by his lures. Having previously trained in external styles of boxing, sometimes when I felt cornered I would lash out with an external style technique, and he would instantly draw everything to a halt, then tell me: “Pushing hands is a kind of training method, not sparring. You can’t have a competitive mentality. It’s not about win or lose. If it was a win or lose struggle, we would both be using varying postures, never deliberately standing in one place waiting for each other’s attack.”
     Once I had heard these words, I became rather ashamed, deeply feeling that I should not have any notions of win or lose while pushing hands, and that I should not disregard principles in favor of scoring cheap shots. In terms of the art, I was breaking the rules. In terms of society, I was being impolite. In terms of personal character, I was behaving dishonorably.

一九三四年在長沙和一個同學推手,王潤生先生在旁邊看着,忽然說道:「你們推手怎麼全沒有開合呢?」我忙停手問道:「你從來敎我推手,不曾說過開合,敎我們到那裏去找開合呢?」他說:「拳譜上不是說了能開合然後能呼吸,能呼吸然後能靈活嗎?你自己不去找吧了。」我說:「我很久以前就懷疑那兩句話不通,甚麼是能開合然後能呼吸呢?不能呼吸不是死人嗎?」
王先生笑道:「恐怕是你自己不通吧?誰都有呼吸,是自然人的呼吸,不是藝人的呼吸;藝術不能配合呼吸,就是不能呼吸,這是最關緊要的。你看書上讚美藝人表演武藝總有面不改色,氣不發喘的兩句話。你們剛才推手推得發喘,就是不注意呼吸的緣故。」我說:「許禹生曾對我說練架子要有開合並配含呼吸,我當時忽略了,不曾追問應如何配合;更不知推手也要有開合,也要配合呼吸。」王先主說:「初學入門的時候,不能講這個動作,因為這動作太複雜了,不易體會,此刻却非從開合呼吸着手下功夫不可了。」他隨卽就架子中指示了幾個範例,如掤、擠為開,捋、按為合之類。
我從此在練架子時找開合,找了幾天,自謂得了,練給王先生看;才做了一個攬雀尾,他便笑着說:「不應練了,開不成開,合不成合。」那時他手中拿着一把摺扇,一開一合的搖動着問道:「這開合是怎樣產生的?」我說:「是由你的手產生的。」他搖頭指着扇把子的紐說道:「需要有這個東西才能開合。」隨又指着房門道:「就和這門需要有這個樞才能開合一樣。你沒有找到這個樞紐,當然開不成開,合不成合。」我問:「樞紐在那裏?」他說:「這是需要你自己去找的,我說給你聽沒用。」
我為這個樞紐,足足鬧了一個多月,把所有關於太極拳的理論讀得爛熟;結果恍然大悟,認定樞紐在腰。於是又從頭找開合,為要合拍,把架子許多銜接的地方變更了;後來覺得每一個動作之中有好幾個開合,都得配含呼吸;動作越來越細密,時間也越來越加長了。
In 1934, in Changsha, a classmate and I were pushing hands while Wang Runsheng was off to the side observing us. He suddenly commented: “Why do you both do pushing hands without any opening and closing?”
     I hurried to a stop and asked him: “All the time you were teaching me pushing hands, you never once mentioned ‘opening and closing’, so could you teach us now where to find it?”
     He said: “It says in the classics [from How to Practice]: ‘Your ability to be nimble lies in your ability to breathe.’ It follows that your ability to breathe lies in your ability to open and close. You just haven’t noticed this concept on your own.”
     I said: “I was already worried long ago about how that statement made no sense to me. But what do you mean that breathing depends on opening and closing? Isn’t someone who can’t breathe a dead person?”
     He smiled and said: “No, no, you’re not getting it. Everyone breathes with a natural breath, which is not the breathing of a martial artist. If a martial artist is not able to coordinate his breath, then he is not able to ‘breathe’. This point is vital. Whenever you read something commending the performance of a martial artist, there’s a couple phrases that constantly appear: ‘no reddening of the face’, ‘no panting of the breath’. When you were both pushing hands a moment ago, your breath was panting, and the reason for it is that you weren’t paying any attention to your breath.”
     I said: “Xu Yusheng once said to me that while practicing the solo set there should be coordination of opening and closing with the exhaling and inhaling. I overlooked this comment when he said it, and then I never went to him to ask him what he meant. On top of that, I had no idea that there is also opening and closing in pushing hands, or that it likewise is supposed to be coordinated with the breath.”
     Wang said: “When you started learning, I could not yet talk about this action, because then it would’ve been too complex, too difficult to physically realize. But now it is time for you to work at opening and closing with exhaling and inhaling, otherwise you will not be able to progress.” He then gave a few examples within the solo set, such as “warding off and pressing are cases of opening, whereas rolling back and pushing are cases of closing”.
     I thereupon looked for opening and closing every time I was practicing the solo set. After looking for it for a few days, I was sure I had found it, so I showed my set to Wang.
     As soon as I was performing CATCH THE SPARROW BY THE TAIL, he grinned and said: “Stop doing it that way. When you open, you do not fulfill ‘opening’, and when you close, you do not fulfill ‘closing’.” He happened to be holding a collapsible fan at that moment. Flicking it open and flicking it closed, he asked: “What’s causing this opening and closing?”
     I said: “Your hand.”
     He shook his head, pointed at the fan’s hinge, and said: “It requires this thing in order to be able to open and close.” Then he pointed to a door and said: “That door also needs a hinge to open and close. And because you haven’t found your hinge, of course your opening doesn’t fulfill opening and your closing doesn’t fulfill closing.”
     I asked: “So where’s my hinge?”
     He said: “You have to find it for yourself. If I give you the answer, you won’t listen to it.”
     For the sake of this hinge concept, I threw myself into an intensive study of everything to do with Taiji Boxing theory until I was steeped in it. And then it clicked – I finally understood that the ‘hinging’ lies at the waist.
     So I then started looking for opening and closing from this context, adjusting most of the transitions throughout the solo set, until I eventually discovered there were multiple openings and closings within every single movement, and that they were always aligned with the breath. As the movements became more and more detailed, their durations became longer and longer.

這時因為王先生在湖南大學敎課,不容易會面;直到半年以後,才遇着他,趕忙練給他看。他微笑點頭說:「雖不中,不遠矣。你但知道主宰於腰,却忽略了『命意源頭在腰際』的際字,和『刻刻留心在腰間』的間字。你要知道這兩個字是太極拳的命脈所在,他就是太極拳名稱的來由;找不到這個,十三勢便找不到中定,更從何處體驗『一動無有不動,一靜無有不靜』的道理?不過這理論頗艱深,不容易了解,更不容易直實體驗。若對初學的人說出來,不但無益,反招疑謗。所以古人不輕易傳給人,不是怕人知道,却是怕人不知道。」
我當時聽了這番剴切的指示,感激得幾乎哭了出來。
Because Wang at that time was teaching in Hunan University, it was too difficult for us to meet. But then I bumped into him half a year later and promptly showed him what I had been practicing.
     He smiled, nodded, and said: “Not quite, but almost. Your understanding is merely that the waist controls the movement, but you are not noticing that statements [from the classics, in this case the Thirteen Dynamics Song] such as “the command coming from your lower back” and “at every moment, pay attention to your waist” indicate the center of the waist area [i.e. the lumbar region of the spine]. You have to understand that this is a description of the lifeblood of Taiji Boxing. This area also supplies the source of the name ‘Taiji’ Boxing [being a central circularity of movement]. If you don’t get this, within the Thirteen Dynamics it is centeredness that will remain hidden to you. Furthermore, you will have no way of experiencing the concept of ‘if one part moves, every part moves, and if one part is still, every part is still’. However, this principle is pretty obscure. It’s difficult to understand, even more difficult to actually experience. It if were explained to beginners, not only would it be of no help, it would counterproductively lead them to doubt the art. Previous generations for this reason did not casually give out such information. It’s not that they were worried about people knowing it, but that they were worried people would not understand.”
     Upon hearing these penetrating insights, I nearly wept with gratitude.

以上所說的理論和經過,我覺得是民族形式體育運動中最寶貴的文化遺產,應該把它公開出來。練太極拳的人很多,關於太極拳的著述也不少;專注於理論上,尤其在推手理論上做有系統發掘和研究工作、寫出文字供大家參考的還很少。因此寫出這篇東西來,供愛好太極拳者研究參考。
As for the principles and processes that I have explained above, I feel they express the supreme cultural heritage within our nation’s physical exercise traditions, and that I ought to share this wisdom publicly. There are many practitioners of Taiji Boxing and many books about it, but texts focusing on theory, especially pushing hands theory, which give a systematic exploration, an endeavor of research recorded for all to study, are still too rare. Thus I have written this piece to supply Taiji Boxing aficionados with some reference material.

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