TAIJI BOXING EXPLAINED
by Wu Gongzao
text proofread by Wu Gongyi
[published by the 湖南國術訓練所 Hunan Martial Arts Training Institute, June, 1935]
[translation by Paul Brennan, Dec, 2018]
by Wu Gongzao:
Taiji Boxing Explained
– calligraphy by He Jian
PREFACE BY XIANG KAIRAN [a dialogue]
A doubter of Taiji Boxing once said to me: “The main function of a boxing art is for fighting opponents. Four limbs and a body – it’s the same set-up for everyone. But if you want to win, why would you dispense with speed and strength? As boxing masters say: ‘unbeatable speed, unbreakable hardness’. But nowadays there are Taiji Boxing practitioners saying: ‘To put forth no exertion is the foundation, and in slowness lies the function.’ In relation to the other boxing principle, isn’t this a ludicrous statement?”
To this I said: “Yes indeed. There’s no reason to abandon strength and speed for the functionality of those other boxing arts. But are you suggesting that boxing practitioners with great speed and strength would defeat a Taiji boxer?”
He then said: “I’ve now been practicing Taiji Boxing for three years. Previous masters explain to us: ‘Once there is any movement, your entire body should have lightness and nimbleness.’ ‘Move energy as if drawing silk.’ ‘Do not allow there to be breaks in the flow.’ Aren’t such statements saying that it’s slow and doesn’t use strength? I’ve obsessed over this even in my sleep and practiced constantly no matter what the weather’s like. Nevertheless, when I tried wrestling with a practitioner of another boxing art in my hometown, who had only been training for a few months, I was defeated, for I had no idea what to do. I then strongly suspected that this isn’t a fightworthy art and I’ve come to believe even more that this is the case. But now you instead say that boxing arts that are fast and strong do not surpass this one. I wish to hear your explanation.”
I responded: “How strange. Isn’t what you’re saying about speed and hardness a matter of the speed of the arms bending and extending, of the feet advancing and retreating, and of the hardness of tough skin and muscle, of robust bone and sinew? These are natural human capacities, nothing to do with developed martial skill. For that matter, bending, extending, advancing, retreating are extremely simple actions, and no matter how fast they’re performed, they’ll surely leave a gap for the opponent to take advantage of. Although applications in Taiji Boxing don’t depart from bending, extending, advancing, retreating, they also have the quality of ‘within curving, seek to be straightening’, and is rounded in appearance. Because of its roundness, its functionality is unlimited.
“Compare this to using a spear, which everyone knows is mainly a matter of using the spear tip, or to using a saber, which everyone knows is mainly a matter of using the saber edge. Are they not extremely simple? But the applicability of roundness reaches nowhere and everywhere, and thus it can function anywhere. Hence: ‘Once there is any movement, your entire body should have lightness and nimbleness.’ This frees you almost fully from the errors made by those who overtrain punching and so have difficulty striking with the palm, or those who overtrain striking with the hips and so have difficulty kicking.
“The speed of this art thus can’t even be measured in the same way as for other boxing arts. It says in the classics: ‘In each part there is a part that is empty and a part that is full. Everywhere it is always like this, an emptiness and a fullness.’ Also: ‘If one part moves, every part moves, and if one part is still, every part is still.’ From this we can know that once there is any movement, its function will be complex and subtle.
“Other boxing arts rarely do not employ an interrupted energy, stopping and then starting up again, leaving a gap for an opponent to exploit. In Taiji Boxing, there is no indication of any stopping and starting, because during application you can ‘disconnect but stay connected’. Wang Zongyue said: ‘In sticking there is yielding and in yielding there is sticking… He does not know me, only I know him.’ This is exactly the idea. After working at it for a long time, you’ll be able to achieve this quality even at a level of minute detail. Consider that ‘once there is any movement’, you’re using your entire body, examining for emptiness and fullness everywhere, so of course the outward appearance would seem slowed down.”
He then asked: “Having heard the theory of slowness, can I hear the explanation for no strength being great strength?”
I said: “Boxing arts do not value strength, but power. This is not only the case in Taiji Boxing, but in all boxing arts. A practitioner does not worry that he has no force, only that his force cannot be concentrated.
“Strength is something everyone has, even those who hardly have any. An arm may weigh ten pounds. It can therefore move by bending and extending with the force of ten pounds. A body may weigh a hundred pounds. There is no one who can’t lift his own foot, therefore the leg acts with the force of a hundred pounds. Even the weakest people in the world have this much strength. But this is merely a matter of strength rather than power. It can’t be focused at a point and transmitted into the opponent’s body, therefore it’s not really worthwhile.
“A boxing arts practitioner seeks to convert strength into power. If he can concentrate ten pounds of power into his hand and hit the opponent with it, the opponent is sure to be injured. If he can concentrate a hundred pounds of power into his foot and hit the opponent with it, the opponent is sure to be killed. So why would there be any worry about not having a lot of strength?
“In the postures of other boxing arts, a palm strike is clearly a palm strike and an elbow strike is obviously an elbow strike. But the students form habits through long-term practice and end up maintaining a mindless stiffness, unable to concentrate power and send it into opponents. The error lies in treating strength as strength and not understanding how going without strength can be strength.
“They clench their fists so hard that they look like talons protruding, and they clench their teeth so hard that they look like they’ll bite through their own faces. They imagine themselves to be replete with martial skill, but they don’t understand that their strength has become stuck in their shoulders and back, giving their opponents an opportunity to attack. So even with great strength, what help would it be?
“The principle in Taiji Boxing is to convert strength into power, and particularly to be able to focus it as you please. When you apply it, it is in action. When not applying it, it is stored away. There are no errors of rough-edged stiffness, nor signs of bending and extending, stopping and starting. Therefore it says in the classics: ‘If you ignore the energy and let it take care of itself, there will be pure strength.’ So it is not a matter of putting forth exertion, but of applying power.”
He said: “What you say rings true. But I’ve been completely absorbed in the training for three years, I’ve never rushed through the set, and I’ve never used any exertion. So why can’t I get it right?”
I said: “Previous generations made the postures according to principles, and so we should practice the postures in order to understand their principles. But if we don’t come to understand the principles and we’re just practicing the postures, we wouldn’t be able to succeed even in other boxing arts, much less in the case of deeply profound Taiji Boxing. Even if we put all our time into it over the course of thirty years, we’d get nothing out of it.”
He asked: “That being the case, what should we do to succeed?”
I answered: “To train foundation, you only have to study the classics and strive to experience what they discuss. To train function, specifically ponder the Playing Hands Song and Understanding How to Practice. By this means, you will succeed.”
He said: “Before you suggested it, I’d actually already studied them. The Treatise says: ‘Once you have ingrained these techniques, you will gradually come to identify energies, and then from there you will work your way toward something miraculous. [But unless you practice a lot over a long time, you will never have a breakthrough.]’ Everyday I practice almost thirty rounds of the solo set, so the techniques can’t really be considered uningrained, and after three whole years, my great deal of practice can’t really be considered to have happened over a brief time. But I haven’t yet witnessed any results on the level of a ‘breakthrough’, and thus I’m in doubt.”
I said: “By ‘ingrained techniques’, do you mean outward postures such as advancing, retreating, turning around? If you’re to understand such actions in terms of intention, emptiness and fullness will be clearly distinguished, and then the more you practice the postures, the more meticulous your intention will become. It is said: ‘Move energy as though through a winding-path pearl, penetrating even the smallest nook.’ This means that the whole body, its four limbs and hundreds of bones, can store power in every part and issue power from any part. What this means is that you’re everywhere able to yield, everywhere able to stick. And then how would you be defeated through the principles of someone who has been studying some other boxing art for just a few months?”
He seemed to arrive at a sudden realization and said: “As the timing or position is never certain when it comes to emptiness and fullness, the intention has to be on adapting. This principle makes sense. But whatever I try to do, I always advance or retreat in vain, even to the point that there’s a great deal of resistance in my touch and yet I’m not aware of it. The error of double pressure seems to be an inherent part of me, really difficult to avoid. It’s not that I don’t know that the error lies in not clearly distinguishing between emptiness and fullness, it’s that I don’t yet have a keen enough sensitivity to do it well. There are times when I know exactly what’s going on, but I can’t carry out any technique. So is there still some other problem?”
I said: “Within the thirteen dynamics, being centered is the priority. The other twelve – warding off, rolling back, pressing, pushing, and so on – are just there to assist. If you have that quality of being centered, then you have everything. When none of your postures exist independent from centeredness, then you’ll be ready to talk about applying them. Chen Pinsan [Chen Xin] said: ‘Open and close, emptiness and fullness – these are the keys to the art.’ We should understand that when we don’t have centeredness, there’s no opening and closing.
“For example, the opening and closing of a door depends upon its hinges. If a hinge slips into an awkward angle, will it open or close well? Without opening and closing, you won’t be able to seek emptiness and fullness. Thus you can understand that any emptiness or fullness you feel when not centered is neither emptiness nor fullness. Being without a sense of centeredness is like a blind man’s sight, a lame man’s steps, touching when without a sense of touch, perceiving when without ability to perceive. It says in the classics: ‘Your posture must be straight and comfortable.’ That word ‘comfortable’ is the indicator of being centered.”
He then asked: “Is there a method for developing centeredness?”
I said: “You merely understand that emptiness and fullness have no fixed moment or position, and your intention is to switch them, but you don’t understand that for every instance of emptiness and fullness, there first has to be centeredness in order to switch them. There’s everywhere an emptiness and a fullness, and so there’s everywhere a centeredness. Because the techniques are not fixed, every technique emerges from centeredness. Even if Zhang Sanfeng rose from the dead right now, he couldn’t alter this point.
“The techniques involve the whole body, and centeredness also involves the whole body. But since beginners are not equipped to understand this, they ought to just confine themselves to seeking the mechanism of opening and closing to the left and right in the spine, and the mechanism of opening and closing above and below in the waist. The previous masters said: ‘Power comes from your spine.’ ‘Your tailbone is centered.’ ‘Energy stays near your back and gathers in your spine.’ ‘Your headtop will be pulled up as if suspended.’ These clearly indicate the pivot is in the spine. ‘Your waist is like an axle.’ ‘Your waist is a banner.’ ‘The command comes from your lower back.’ ‘At every moment, pay attention to your waist.’ ‘Direct it from your waist.’ These clearly indicate the pivot is in the waist.
“If you first seek centeredness in your waist and spine, then every technique will have the quality of centeredness. If not, then even if you practice from youth to old age, it’ll seem like you’ve gotten nothing out of it. It says in the Thirteen Dynamics Song: ‘If you pay no heed to those 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.’ Alas, these wistful words from the wise men of a previous generation do seem to go unheard.”
Having heard this explanation, he politely said: “How profound your words are. Despite studying the classics daily, I still haven’t been able to understand their content, and so I have some more questions. It says in the Classic: ‘Energy should be roused.’ It says in the Treatise: ‘Energy sinks down to your elixir field.’ It says in the Thirteen Dynamics Song: ‘Then energy will flow through your whole body without getting stuck anywhere.’ It says in Understanding How to Practice: ‘Use mind to move energy… Use energy to move your body.’ The mentions of ‘energy’ are numerous. How exactly does one ‘rouse’ energy, or get it to sink to the elixir field, or flow through the whole body? And does mind move energy, or energy move the body?
“Moreover, the ‘elixir field’ lies below the navel, but modern physiologists say that breathing uses the lungs rather than the abdomen. The diaphragm moves downward, but the breath is not able to reach that far. Therefore ‘abdominal breathing’ is just the movement of the diaphragm. So what method is there to get ‘energy’ to sink to the elixir field?”
I said: “Good questions. Without breathing, there’s no energy. It is said: ‘Energy sinks down to your elixir field.’ This means that intention stays at your elixir field. It’s also said: ‘At every moment, pay attention to your waist, for if there is relaxation and stillness within your belly, energy is primed.’
“Practitioners of Taiji Boxing seek for opening and closing within every posture. ‘In every movement, very deliberately control it by the use of intention.’ But within opening and closing, there’s breathing involved. Exhaling makes opening. Inhaling makes closing. Within every posture, there’s opening and closing in the arms, the legs, the body. There’s vertical and horizontal opening and closing, and internal and external opening and closing. A single ‘opening and closing’ means an exhaling and inhaling. Where there’s opening and closing, there’s intention, and there’s also exhaling and inhaling.
“If you practice over a long time, there will naturally be energy flowing throughout your whole body. The work lies in the breathing, so achieving unimaginable skill also lies in the breathing. It says in Understanding How to Practice: ‘Your ability to be nimble lies in your ability to breathe.’ This is what that is talking about.”
He said: “There are many who have read the Taiji Boxing classics, but few have understood their reasoning. Could you maybe make some commentary to these texts to make it clear for new students and help to better explain it for seasoned practitioners?”
To which I said: “Hmm, I think maybe we just did.”
In the Hunan Martial Arts Training Institute is the Taiji Boxing teacher Wu Yuting [Gongzao], who is able to pass down the art of his father, Wu Jianquan, and has also built his own reputation. He has written Taiji Boxing Explained in order to share information with this generation, a generation which has overly focused on images and hardly at all on essential concepts. Some people have merely drawn theories from the five elements and eight trigrams, and others have written strained interpretations of how the techniques are associated with the theory in the Book of Changes even though they are actually worlds apart. Wu demanded a preface of me, as I myself have long been troubled by how difficult it is to see this art getting understood properly. Fittingly, I happened to have a conversation with someone that contributed a few extra details which Wu’s writings have not covered, and so I wrote it down and am giving it to him as my preface.
- written by Xiang Kairan of Pingjiang, at the Hunan Martial Arts Training Institute, June, 1935
Boxing arts are little more than a means of strengthening sinews and bone, and regulating breath and blood. But Taiji Boxing takes the taiji [“grand polarity”] concept of movement/stillness for its method and the subtle transformations of emptiness/fullness for its function. Movement and stillness form the framework for the actions of intention. Emptiness and fullness form the basis of expressing power. What is stored within is “power”. It provides the foundation. The external shape is the “posture”. It provides the function.
Use stillness to control movement, and within movement seek to find stillness. Use softness to overcome hardness, and use hardness to assist softness. Receive whatever comes at you, responding to it with a pure naturalness. It all comes down to sensitivity, which is comprised of feeling with the body and perceiving with the mind: what is felt by the body is then perceived by the mind. Listen for the opponent’s emptiness and fullness, inquire into his movement and stillness, and find his center of balance. Then assess yourself and estimate him, making use of timing and positioning, switch emptiness and fullness, attack, and win.
It says in the Classic: “There are many other schools of boxing arts besides this one… They generally do not go beyond the strong bullying the weak.” And also: “Examine the phrase ‘four ounces deflects a thousand pounds’, which is clearly not a victory obtained through strength… The strong beating the weak is a matter of inherent natural ability and bears no relation to skill that is learned.” Innate knowledge is not learned ability. The concept of “four ounces deflects a thousand pounds” conforms to the principle of the counterpoise weight being slid along a steelyard scale. Regardless of the weight of the opponent’s body or the extent of his strength, you can with one little movement shift his center of balance, causing it to affect his whole body.
Therefore the movements in Taiji Boxing are different from those in other arts because it does not rely on using strength to defeat opponents. Furthermore, this art is not only a means of strengthening sinews and bone, of regulating breath and blood, but is inherently equipped for cultivating body and mind, for preventing illness and prolonging life, and is thus a marvelous method of nurturing health.
In recent years, those in government have been doing their utmost to promote Chinese martial arts in order the rouse the people’s martial spirit. To draw the attention of our countrymen, ordinary administrative bodies and educational institutions have given particular focus to Taiji Boxing, which has become popular throughout the nation. Because its mild movements conform to physiological principles, it is suitable for all to practice – young and old, women and children – regardless of physique.
In 1933, I went with Chu Minyi to observe the state of martial arts in Hunan. I was subsequently appointed to the position of Taiji Boxing instructor at the Hunan Martial Arts Training Institute, at the invitation of He Jian [governor of Hunan, who also oversaw the staffing of the Institute], and these past three years have raced by.
Throughout our nation’s several thousand years of history, our martial arts have existed in a state of competition. Though styles respected each other, they passed their arts down only to disciples and otherwise kept their teachings secret from each other, and thus they made no books that could be examined. The result of this is that most of these arts gradually faded away until they were ultimately lost forever. This is unbearably tragic. Truly our martial ways have been greatly unfortunate.
But now men of integrity have seen that the threat of foreign aggression is increasing by the day and that the morale of the people has plummeted. Bitter about the mistakes of the past, they have decided to promote our martial arts in order to rescue the nation. Whatever is left of these lost arts is being published in specialized manuals to spread the authentic spirit of the various styles and share with everyone the opportunity to study them.
I received my art as a family transmission, passed down through three generations, mostly from father to son. Among my father’s other students are Chu Minyi, Xu Zhiyi, Wang Zhiqun [Runsheng], Ma Yueliang, and Wu Tunan, who have each published writings which gloriously illuminate our art. I have not actually been lagging behind them. Over the years, I have learned a great deal from teaching the art, and I too have often written down what I have gained through experience. It is just that I had never yet dared to show my shallow understandings to such refined gentlemen and instead decided to hide my inadequate attempts.
Last year, He Jian appointed my elder brother Zizhen [Gongyi] to be the head Taiji Boxing instructor for the school. The people of Hunan so admired this art that students have swelled in number. But Xiang Kairan, who has been serving as the school secretary and is my comrade in this art, in which he is highly accomplished, noticed that the students were suffering from having no written theory to study alongside their training. Thus I was told to make a book explaining Taiji Boxing. Accepting this as a duty, I then made a fresh arrangement of my old scribblings, intending to divide it into two volumes, in order for students to have some criteria to work from, and so that someday when I depart from Hunan they will be able to simply pick up the book and use it to find their way.
I am not terribly bright. I have been practicing this art for more than twenty years, and after traveling from place to place with it, I am still at a rather crude level, and [quoting from Chu Dawen’s Gazetteer of Shanxi, book 61] “I am ashamed that I have conquered no lands nor made any literary achievements”. When this book comes out, it will probably have more things wrong than right, and so I sincerely hope that my more scholarly martial arts comrades will seize upon my errors and not hold back from offering corrections. I am “tossing out a brick to draw forth jade”, so please favor me with your gems. It would not only be a blessing to me, it would also make the art shine brighter.
- written by Wu Gongzao of Beijing, at the Hunan Martial Arts Training Institute, June, 1935
Portrait of Wu Jianquan:
Proofreader, Wu Gongyi:
Author, Wu Gongzao:
TAIJI BOXING EXPLAINED
by Wu Gongzao
[ONE] GENERAL INTRODUCTION
Boxing arts are little more than a means of strengthening sinews and bone, and regulating breath and blood. But an art which cultivates body and mind, which prevents illness and prolongs life, would be an even better method for nurturing health. For that there is Taiji Boxing, which takes the taiji concept of movement/stillness for its method and the subtle transformations of emptiness/fullness for its function.
The postures are centered and upright, calm and comfortable. The movements are light and sensitive, rounded and lively. It is said: “If one part moves, every part moves, and if one part is still, every part is still.” This principle of movement conforms to Daoist sitting meditation, or rather to Daoist moving meditation. The boxing theory is deemed to be of the “internal school” because it shares the same philosophical foundation as Daoism. It can be practiced by everyone – young and old, women and children – because it is performed with a pure naturalness, the student enduring no pains at all. It is truly an exercise that has only benefits and no harms.
If you can study it devotedly, committing to it for a long time without slacking, then the more you practice, the more refined your skill will be. The more it is refined, the more subtle it becomes, until it goes from subtle to incredible, from incredible to magical. It will not only be helpful to both body and mind, for it can also increase wisdom, and thus its benefits are by no means meager.
[TWO] THE BASIC MEANING OF TAIJI BOXING’S THIRTEEN DYNAMICS
The thirteen dynamics are based on the principles of the five elements and eight trigrams. They are the thirteen kinds of energy in pushing hands, not thirteen specific postures. There are two versions of the five elements – internal and external. Externally, they are advancing, retreating, stepping to the left, stepping to the right, and staying in the center. Internally, they are the qualities of sticking, connecting, adhering, following, and neither coming away nor crashing in. The eight trigrams also have internal and external versions. Externally, they are four cardinal directions and four corner directions. Internally, they are the eight actions of warding off, rolling back, pressing, pushing, plucking, rending, elbowing, and bumping. They are expressed outwardly as postures, but dwell within as energies. Treat the solo set as the foundation, the pushing hands exercise as the function. It says in the classics: “Starting from your foot, issue through your leg, directing it at your waist, and expressing it at your fingers.” These energies form the very essence of Taiji Boxing. You must devote attention to them.
[THREE] THE FIVE ELEMENTS EXPLAINED IN DETAIL
The five elements are metal, wood, water, fire, earth. The energies of the five elements are sticking, connecting, adhering, following, and neither coming away nor crashing in. Each of these energies is explained in detail below:
1. Sticking is like two objects becoming stuck together. It is referred to in Taiji Boxing as an “energy” because it is an indirect rather than a literal form of sticking. Within it are the two concepts of energy and intention. During pushing hands or sparring, if the opponent’s physique is large and powerful, he is full of strength, and his stance is stable, it will seem difficult to move him or even affect his balance. But by using sticking energy, you can cause him to lose his center by himself. Test him by using intention, causing his energy to become agitated and all of his spirit to concentrate upward, with the result that his body may be heavy but his feet will become light, and he will break his own root. This is caused by his own reaction, and so you can simply go along with it and allow it to happen, using the energy of neither coming away nor crashing in to lead him into emptiness. This is the energy of sticking.
This energy is like a sticking to a ball. [Imagine dribbling a basketball.] Give it a pat and then lift your hand. If this is done right, the ball will seem to not lose contact, sticking to your hand as you lift it. This is what is meant by “sticking is yielding and yielding is sticking”. “Intention” means imaginatively using the principle of emptiness and fullness in order to catch the opponent off guard and attack him unprepared. Even if he is very strong, is in a solid defensive position, is not worried about being attacked, or about how strong you may be, he is nevertheless very wary of been lured into a trap. If you entice him with the promise of some advantage, it causes him to abandon his defensive position in order to attack, scattering his strength and enabling you to attack him in some area where he is now reduced. In this way, you trick him into fighting, and thereby he defeats himself. This is the principle of “attack where he does not defend and defend where he does not attack”. You have to constantly work to understand this, and then after a long time, you will naturally get it through experience.
2. Connecting means “linking together”. Do not interrupt the movement or come out of synch with it. Let it be continuous, without any pauses or haltings. This is the energy of connecting.
3. To adhere means to “be glued”. As he advances, retreat. As he retreats, advance. When he is floating, follow. When he is sinking, loosen. He tries to disconnect but cannot come away. He tries to cast you off but cannot escape. Stick as though glued to him, neither coming away nor crashing in. This is the energy of adhering.
4. Following means to “go along with”. Match the opponent’s speed. Coordinate with his advancing and retreating, neither overreaching nor separating. Without acting before or after, let go of yourself and go along with him. This is the energy of following.
5. Neither come away nor crash in. Coming away means separating. Crashing in means resisting. Neither separate nor resist. Do not force your way ahead nor lag behind. The key to the rest of the five elements, and the basis of sensitivity, is the energy of neither coming away nor crashing in.
[FOUR] SECRETS OF THE EIGHT TECHNIQUES
What is meant by “warding off”?
It is like water floating a moving boat.
First fill your elixir field with energy,
then you must suspend your headtop.
Your whole body has a springy force
in the instant between opening and closing.
Do not worry about a thousand pounds of force coming at you.
Just float it and there will be no problem.
What is meant by “rolling back”?
Induce the opponent to come forward.
Then go along with his incoming force,
but staying nimble, neither coming away nor crashing in.
Once his power has naturally dissipated,
then you may disconnect and attack as you please.
Maintain your own balance
so that you do not instead become his victim.
What is meant by “pressing”?
There are two ways to apply it.
You may act directly from your own clear intention,
dealing with him in a single action.
Or you may act indirectly, reacting to his force,
which will make him like a ball bouncing off a wall,
or like a coin tossed onto a drum
that then leaps away with a chiming sound.
What is meant by “pushing”?
It is like flowing water.
Within its softness lurks hardness.
Is it not difficult to stay up when standing in rapids?
Meeting a tall obstacle, water swells up heavily.
Finding a hole, it floods down into it.
Waves rise and fall.
There is no gap that water does not enter.
What is meant by “plucking”?
It is like the counterpoise of a steelyard scale sliding out to balance something.
No matter how great or small the opponent’s force is,
you will know the weight of it once it is balanced.
Even the shifting of a mere four ounces
can balance out a thousand pounds.
What is the theory behind this?
That of the lever.
What is meant by “rending”?
It rotates like a flywheel.
Throw an object at it
and it will immediately be hurled over ten feet away.
Have you ever watched a whirlpool?
The waves curl in like the threads around a screw.
Any leaf that falls onto it
is quickly engulfed.
What is meant by “elbowing”?
The technique contains the five elements.
The passive and active aspects will be revealed above and below.
Emptiness and fullness have to be clearly distinguished.
Continuous techniques are harder to defend against.
A “blooming-flower punch” [i.e. a backfist unfurling out of a stopped elbow attack] is even more brutal [than the prevented elbow would have been on its own].
Once your “six energies” [of structure (supporting forward and back, left and right, up and down)] are unified,
you will be able to apply endless techniques.
What is meant by “bumping”?
The technique divides into using the shoulder or the back.
The posture of SLANTED WINGS uses the shoulder,
but when using your shoulder, you can also continue into using your back.
If suddenly you have the opportunity,
crash into him as though you are collapsing onto him.
But be very mindful about maintaining your balance,
for if you lose it, you will have wasted your effort.
[FIVE] EXPLAINING WHY THE ART IS DONE SLOWLY AND WITHOUT EXERTION
Because Taiji Boxing is performed slowly and without exertion, students often doubt it. Or they will say that it cannot be applied and is only good for training the body. To train in the ways of this art, you should start with the principles. Once the principles are understood, then learn the techniques. Once you are skillful with the techniques, you will then be able to apply the art. It is not that the art is not applicable, it is just that skill has not yet been trained. It is like the process of steelmaking. First pig iron is smelted to produce wrought iron, then wrought iron is further smelted to make pure steel. If you do not go through a similar process of “cooking” yourself with the training over a long period, you will not develop any skill.
Taiji Boxing is done slowly because there has to be a pure naturalness while practicing. Do not rely on strength and vigor, instead make use of intention. Using strength will only make you clumsier. Using vigor will only end up making your movements sluggish. Therefore you should sink your energy and relax your strength. Taiji Boxing uses stillness to control movement, softness to control hardness. There is a something that arises from nothing, a something that still seems to be nothing, a fullness that seems to be empty. Go along with whatever comes at you, neither coming away from it nor crashing into it. This has to do with the alternations between emptiness and fullness.
By “slow” is meant leisurely. By moving slowly, you will have a sense of stillness, which will lead to a sense of maintaining your state, which is called “stability”. This is the centered stability of mind and energy. Once your mind is stable, there is quietude. Once there is quietude, your spirit is calm. Once your spirit is calm, then energy sinks. With your energy sinking, then essence and spirit gather and unite. Able to concentrate essence and spirit, there will be a single flow running through the movement.
Slowness comes from being meticulous. With that level of careful attention, your spirit will be clear. Once your spirit is clear, your energy will be clean, and thereby free of the error of sluggishness. Moving fast comes from being careless. Carelessness comes from being in a hurry. When your mind is in a hurry, your energy will be floating rather than sinking. With your mind in a hurry and your energy not sinking, there will be no sense of stillness and you will be unable to maintain stability, which will then generate the error of panic, and there will be no longer be a way to operate from a state of naturalness.
Using stillness to control movement and using softness to control hardness depend on sensitivity. The foundation of the art lies in the training of body and mind that occurs through doing the solo set, but the function lies in the skill that comes from doing pushing hands. In the beginning of learning pushing hands, focus on developing sensitivity. Body feels, mind perceives. Once your responses to what you sense are refined and subtle, applicability will be limitless, and you will truly be able to know both self and opponent. (This is an experience that will be understood instinctively and is not really something that can be put into words.) The limitlessness of adaptability comes from the acuteness of one’s sensitivity. Therefore if you can know where your opponent is empty and full, you will easily be able to do as you please. This is the significance of slowness and not using exertion.
[SIX] CENTERED STABILITY
Before you have expressed any extending or bending, opening or closing, you are in a state of being centered. When you are [quoting from part 10 of the commentary section of the Book of Changes:] “[without thought, without action,] silent and still”, you are in a state of stability. When your mind is clear and your energy is harmonious, spirit is coursing through to your headtop, and you are not leaning in any direction, this is the state of “centered stability”, which also happens to be the whole foundation of the art.
[SEVEN] FORCELESSLY PRESS UP YOUR HEADTOP
To “press up your headtop” means that your “headtop is pulled up as if suspended”. With your headtop upright, your belly can be completely relaxed. Energy will sink to your elixir field and spirit will course through to your headtop. You will be like a round-bottomed doll, light above, heavy below, or like a buoy that stays afloat on the water rather than vanishing under the surface. Here is a poem on the subject:
With your mind clear and your energy sinking, you will move with naturalness,
despite being buffeted by winds and waves.
No matter what difficulties push and punch at you,
you will remain light above and heavy below, and thus you will not be toppled over.
When your body feels something, your mind then perceives it, and thus whenever you have any sensation, it will cause you to react to it. At every moment, whether you are in a state of movement or stillness, there will be something to feel, and therefore there will also be something to react to. Your response will create new sensations, and those sensations will in turn produce new responses, and in this way they give rise to each other ceaselessly. The concept of sensing what is going on is essential for being able to apply techniques. In the beginning of training in pushing hands, focus on developing sensitivity. Once your sensitivity is acute, your adaptability will be profound, and then you will have no limitations.
[NINE] LISTENING TO ENERGY
To “listen” means to weigh, as in assessing whether the opponent is being light or heavy. Listening in pushing hands is like the scout who reconnoiters the enemy’s situation. Listening lies in your mind, whereas focusing your attention is what is carried out by your ears. Moving lies with your energy, whereas wielding techniques is what is carried out by your hands. It is said: “Use the mind to move intention. Use intention to move energy. Use energy to move the body.” Therefore listen first and then issue. When listening to energy, you have to have accuracy and sensitivity. Go along with the opponent’s extending, then move in toward his bending. Thus you will be able to advance and retreat smoothly.
[TEN] ASKING & ANSWERING
I “ask” for information. The opponent supplies the answer. Each exchange of asking and answering will spark movement or stillness. Once there is any kind of movement, emptiness and fullness will become distinct. While pushing hands, use intention to probe the situation and use energy to ask the opponent what he is doing. Await his answer, listening for where he is empty and full. If you ask and there is no answer, then you can advance and attack. If there is an answer, then you must listen for the speed of his movement and the direction of his advance or retreat in order to be able to distinguish where he is empty and full.
[ELEVEN] EMPTINESS & FULLNESS
Armies do not mind cheating [“All’s fair in war.”] and will use strategies to defeat the enemy. Such tricks are what is meant by “emptiness and fullness”. [In fact the sixth chapter of the Art of War is titled “Emptiness & Fullness”. The term could also be rendered as “fake and real”.] The same is true in boxing arts. Postures, movements, intentions, energies – they all have an element of emptiness and fullness.
Understand emptiness and fullness, and be good at making use of them. Being empty, become full. Becoming full, seem still to be empty. Attack a place of emptiness by filling it in. Avoid a place of fullness by emptying. Aim above and then strike below, applying the strategy of “threatening to the east but striking to the west”. Start with heaviness and then become light, or start with lightness and then become heavy. Disappear and appear inconstantly. Sink and float unpredictably. This causes the opponent to never know where you are empty and full, whereas you can always find his emptiness and fullness. Avoid him where he is full and attack him where he is empty, responding according to the situation.
Listen to his energy, observe his movement, catch his timing, and attack his position. It is like a doctor examining a patient. He first has to check his pulse, observe his complexion, listen to his body’s sounds, and ask about symptoms, and then he will be able to prescribe the right medicine. Thus it is said: “Empty and full must be distinguished clearly. In each part there is a part that is empty and a part that is full. Everywhere it is always like this, an emptiness and a fullness.”
[TWELVE] ESTIMATING THE OPPONENT
It says in the Art of War [chapter 3]: “Knowing both self and opponent, in a hundred battles you will have a hundred victories.” True words indeed. Before preparing to mobilize, it is necessary to first take stock both of one’s own forces and the enemy’s situation in order to calculate how to defeat him. The difference between success or failure is a matter of knowledge versus ignorance. Although a boxing art is a lesser art, the same principle still applies. If you use your weaknesses to attack his strengths, you will lose, but if you use your strengths to attack his weaknesses, you will win. The means to victory lies on a fine line between winning and losing, therefore estimating the opponent is crucial to tip the balance.
In Taiji Boxing’s “asking and answering”, inquire into the state of his movement or stillness, the purpose being to “listen” for the direction of his energy and the position of his center of balance. Estimating the opponent is therefore the same idea as reconnoitering the enemy’s situation. Before you and he and have advanced to attack each other, you should be using stillness to await his movement, using leisure to await his fatigue, and be entirely without any certainties as to what he is going to do. “If he takes no action, I take no action, but once he takes even the slightest action, I have already acted.” It is vital in the moment you connect that you learn the status of his emptiness and fullness in order to deal with it. To estimate the opponent is all down to sensitivity, listening to energy, asking and answering, and emptiness and fullness. You have to devote your attention to it.
[THIRTEEN] KNOWING THE RIGHT MOMENT
The decisive moment is before passive and active qualities have become distinct, while they are still a vagueness in a void. Thus the right moment is: right before it happens. It is silent and intangible, formless and shapeless. When applying a technique, do it before the opponent moves, before he has a definite posture, when he still has no opportunity.
One who is highly skilled is always able to know the right moment, and so he is able to create the right position. While something emerges from nothing, he takes advantage of an opportunity and acts. One who has a low level of skill does not know the right moment and therefore cannot get into the right position. It is said that to know before, to realize after, and to not notice at all are the three main skill levels in our art [in descending order]. When someone in our art has gone through the process of training in pushing hands, he immediately knows if his opponent has a higher or lower skill level than himself and does not need to wrestle to find out.
For an analogy, it is like encirclement chess. When one who is highly skilled puts down a piece, it is always with purpose. He sees many moves in advance, and so he always moves with precision and his energy flows through every step of the process. He is able to predict everything that will happen, and so victory and defeat are already clear to him. One who has a low level of skill does not see far ahead and has no plan in mind at all [“a mind without a finished bamboo” – the phrase originally describing a painter who simply starts painting an image without having a sense of what the finished product should look like]. Unable to go on the offensive, he merely responds to whatever move the opponent has just made. As he is kept too busy with just keeping up, his defeat is already certain.
The same principle applies in pushing hands. One who is highly skilled has a calm mind, a settled energy, and an elegant demeanor. He receives whatever comes at him and deals with it smoothly. One who has a low level of skill has no path of advance or retreat and no way to attack or defend. This is the difference between understanding timing and not understanding timing.
[FOURTEEN] THE CENTER OF BALANCE
A person has four limbs and a trunk, led by the head. The positions of standing straight, leaning slightly forward, and leaning slightly back each have particular postures that go with them. Once in a posture, it will produce a center of balance. When your balance is solid, you will be in the right place at the right time. When you lose your center of balance, you will be in danger of falling into disorder, and you will end up in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The whole basis of applying a boxing art comes down to whether or not your balance is stable. But there is also the distinction between stability and maneuverability. As for stability, every movement and posture during the solo practice has to be given attention. Sometimes you will be advancing, sometimes retreating, sometimes turning, and this will involve your center of gravity in the workings of emptiness and fullness. Emptiness and fullness can alternate inconstantly, but your center of balance has to stay stable because it is in charge of your whole body even when you are shifting positions. You must not act rashly, which would cause the opponent to know the status of your emptiness and fullness.
A fight is like a battle. “The mind makes the command, the energy is its flag, and the waist is its banner.” Taiji Boxing is like a military operation in this way: it is emptiness and fullness that forms the strategy, it is intention that sends the commands, it is listening that gathers intelligence, and your center of balance is the commander. You should constantly contemplate what you experience, for this will make the art complete in terms of both foundation and function.
Maneuverability has to do with when you are competing with an opponent. Although in the midst of a struggle, you must at all times preserve your own center of balance and attack his. This is like protecting the commander of an army. Do not allow your general to fall.
[FIFTEEN] ON DOUBLE PRESSURE
“Double pressure” means that there is no distinction between emptiness and fullness. The error of double pressure is divided into occurring on one side [resisting against the opponent with one hand while in a bow stance], occurring on both sides [resisting against the opponent with both hands while in a bow stance], and occurring in both hands and both feet all at the same time [resisting against the opponent with both hands while facing him squarely in a horse-riding stance].
It says in the Classic: “If you drop one side, you can move. If you have equal pressure on both sides, you will be stuck.” And also: “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.” Therefore the error of double pressure is very difficult to comprehend, much less be aware of, and if you do not understand the principle of emptiness and fullness, it will not be easy to avoid. But you can fix this problem by way of sensitivity, listening to energy, asking and answering, and emptiness and fullness, all of which are tools that will help you through to success.
The reason a bicycle can move smoothly is all a matter of the science of mechanics. You sit on the seat, hands on the handlebars, feet on the pedals. Your eyes are looking ahead of you, body following, your center of balance in your waist. You control your movement side to side with the assistance of your hands, the steering pivot placed at the centerline of the bicycle. Your feet are on the pedals, one foot pressing down as the other is rising up, causing the gearing teeth to twine the chain around, thereby leading the bicycle forward. But if both feet press down at the same time, the bicycle will come to a halt. This is due to the error of double pressure. [This analogy is weakened because Wu is describing a foot-braking bicycle as opposed to one with the hand-braking system that is far more common nowadays, but the essential idea is still a good one: if you push along one side of a wheel, it will rotate, but if you push in the same direction along both sides, it will stop rotating.]
The same principle applies to pushing hands. If the opponent uses strength to push you and you also use strength to resist against him, you will both become stuck in a stalemate. This is a situation of double pressure on both sides. If either of you instead goes along with the incoming force, there will be no resistance. If you withdraw in the direction of his incoming force, it will draw him forward. As long as you are “neither coming away nor crashing in”, this will cause his force on one side to fall into emptiness. This is the result of “dropping one side”. [Returning to the wheel analogy, the effect is the same as pushing along both sides of a wheel and then taking one hand away, causing the wheel to again rotate.]
Suppose you want to make the opponent topple by attacking him from the side. You might try to do a direct push, even with both hands, but if he has great strength, you will not be able to upset his structure. Instead you have to use the principle of emptiness and fullness. With both hands touching his shoulders, your left hand does a rollback below his right shoulder and your right hand at the same time attacks his left shoulder. Your hands are now forming a crossed position as they come into line with each other and you issue power along a curve, causing him to be leaned aside and fall away.
The reason this occurs is because he is unable to coordinate his upper body with his lower body and thus ends up in a disadvantageous position. This is the result of issuing power on one side while dropping the other side [your right hand expressing while your left hand is rolling back.] If you can grasp this one technique [being the rending technique], you will understand the rest. [Lun Yu, 5.8: “After learning just one thing, he knows ten.”] Thus it is said: “Once you have ingrained these techniques, you will gradually come to identify energies.”
[SIXTEEN] LET GO OF YOURSELF AND FOLLOW THE OPPONENT
To “let go of yourself and follow the opponent” means to abandon your own plans and act in accordance with his movement. This is the most difficult thing to do in Taiji Boxing, because when two people cross hands, the idea of winning or losing gains weight. You and the opponent are entirely at odds with each other, and moreover trying to attack one another, and so you may become locked in a stalemate until one of you gives up. Thus it is said: “Let go of yourself and follow the opponent.” But this phrase is not used in its literal meaning. Within our art, it goes a little deeper than that.
Students should restrain themselves, training with the mantra of “I will let go of myself and follow the opponent” in mind. It says in the Classic: “Taiji is born of wuji. It is the manifestation of movement and stillness, giving rise to the passive and active aspects.” “Movement and stillness” are the physical embodiment. “Passive and active” are the philosophical principle. The embodiment and the principle form the basis of the art. Self-restraint requires constant dedication, concentration, and instinct. After a long time, you will naturally become ready for it to suddenly all make sense to you.
It also says: “Once you have ingrained these techniques, you will gradually come to identify energies, and then from there you will work your way toward something miraculous.” This is the cyclic principle, the idea of “returning home”, as is expressed by [quoting from Sikong Tu’s The Twenty-Four Kinds of Poetry, poem 1]: “Transcend external appearances and obtain the center of the world.” [This quote is itself drawing from Zhuangzi, chapter 2: “Obtain the center of the circle and from there respond limitlessly.”] Once your skill is refined, you will be able to produce the right timing and the right position, and no longer have to worry about choosing the wrong moment or being in the wrong position. By always being able to “comply and bend, then engage and extend”, everything you try will work. It is in this sense that you will have the ability of letting go of yourself and following the opponent.
[SEVENTEEN] “AGITATE, AGITATE, AGITATE!”
Sink your energy, loosen your waist, and relax your belly. Contain your chest and pluck up your back. Sink your shoulders and droop your elbows. Stretch out each joint one after another. And then, move and be still, empty and fill, inhale and exhale, open and close, use hardness and use softness, move slow and move quick, and so on. The mixing of such opposites is what it means to agitate.
Start with: “Use the mind to move intention. Use intention to move energy. Use energy to move the body.” Then develop an agitating energy. With mind and energy coursing through, let passive and active switch back and forth. Be like a hurricane forming, waves crashing, clouds rolling, water flowing, or like a hawk soaring, a fish leaping, a rabbit bolting, a falcon diving. Suddenly sink and suddenly rise. Suddenly hide and suddenly appear. Like changes in the weather, be as unpredictable as wind and clouds.
The final exercise in Taiji’s pushing hands is “plucking random flowers” [i.e. freeplay] (also called “plucking at the sea spray”), and is entirely composed of agitation. Agitate the opponent, causing him to be like a boat on the sea encountering a storm and getting tossed around by the waves. Make him dizzy and disoriented, wobbly and jolted, and keep your own center of balance impossible for him to find. This is the function of agitation.
In Taiji Boxing, the solo set is the foundation and the pushing hands training is the function. In the beginning of learning the solo set, the key fundamentals are: the postures should be accurate, meaning that they should be centered and upright, calm and comfortable; and the movements should be moderate, meaning that they should be light and sensitive, rounded and lively. These things form a pathway into the art. If you progress through them in the proper sequence, the result will not be that have wasted your time, and instead will turn out to be a shortcut.
Centered: having a sense of your mind and energy being in state of harmoniousness.
Your mind is clear and your energy is sinking. Techniques are rooted in your feet, being what you are standing on. Your center of balance then lies in your lower back, as is indicated by “the command comes from your lower back”. With spirit contained within rather than exhibited externally, you will thus be able to be centered and calm.
Upright: having a sense of your posture being properly aligned.
Every posture should be performed with accuracy, never misaligned. However, each posture is different. Sometimes there is a forward lean, a backward lean, a reaching out, a bending in, not entirely centered or entirely upright. Therefore you have to seek to be balanced in the context of issuing power and the direction that you are sending your intention. Your “center of balance” is your body’s pivot point. When your center of balance is right, then you can open and close with nimbleness and naturalness. When your center of balance is off, then all of your openings and closings will have no leverage.
This is like a wheel spinning around an axle. If the wheel is installed at an improper angle, it will not be suitable for supporting the weight of the car, and the turning of the wheel will not effectively move the car either forward or in reverse. Therefore the postures in the boxing set need to be accurate and your center of balance needs to be stable. Only when your posture is not impeding your balance will you be in a position to distinguish between emptiness and fullness.
Calm: having a sense of peacefulness.
Avoid forcing yourself. Starting from a state of naturalness, seek to become comfortable. You will then be without the error of energy stagnating and instead energy will be able to move throughout your body. This is because your postures are stable, your movements are even, and your breath is gentle, and the result will be that your spirit is calm.
Comfortable: having a sense of being stretched out.
It is said: “First strive to open up, then strive to close up.” When beginning to learn the solo set, the postures and movements should all be opened up, causing every joint in the body to get stretched one after another. However, this is not a matter of deliberately using any effort to extend the sinews and bones, just naturally and gradually loosening. Then after a long time, you will easily feel very relaxed and settled.
Light: having a ghostly lightness of touch.
This does not mean that you are floating up. When going through the solo set, the movement should be delicate and gentle, and then you will be able to go back and forth smoothly. After a long time, you will naturally develop an energy that is loose and lively, and then you will progress to having an energy that is sticking and adhering. Thus the concept of “lightness” is an important ingredient to have when you set about learning Taiji Boxing, providing a way into the art.
Sensitive: having a keen awareness.
From having a ghostly lightness will come relaxing and sinking. From relaxing and sinking will come sticking and adhering. Able to stick and adhere, you will be able to connect and follow. Able to connect and follow, you will then be able to be keenly aware. And you will then be capable of comprehending the concept of “neither coming away nor crashing in”.
Rounded: having a sense of completeness in the movements.
In every posture and movement, strive to have a rounded fullness, without any cracks or gaps, and then you will able to have a single flow all the way through. Avoid the errors of having pits or protrusions anywhere, or any breaks in the flow. In the pushing hands techniques, if there is no roundness, you will lack sensitivity, whereas if your movements can be rounded, there will then be a liveliness. Always be able to be rounded, and then you will always be victorious.
Lively: having a sense of flexibility in the movements.
The idea is that you lack clumsiness or sluggishness. Once you have thoroughly understood the rest of the points above, then extending and bending, opening and closing, advancing and retreating, leaning forward or back, will all be performed with great freedom of movement. When all is said and done, “your ability to be nimble lies in your ability to breathe”.
[NINETEEN] ON GIVING INSTRUCTION
Everyone has a different temperament. For the most part, there are two kinds of people: hard and soft.
Hard people are impatient and intense. The best of them are merely forceful. Forceful people love to compete, and thus when learning a boxing art, they tend to emphasize hardness because they want to win and will not yield to other people. The worst of them they are outright violent. Violent people are crude and rash, and thus when learning a boxing art, they focus on fierceness and have no interest in precision.
Soft people are mild and agreeable. The best of them are even-tempered and respectful, and thus when learning a boxing art they tend to emphasize softness because they want to diffuse situations and are full of patience. The worst of them overdo their softness to the point of weakness. They have no determination, no initiative, and thus when learning a boxing art, they do not strive for a thorough understanding.
However, warriors value hardness of will and softness of temperament. Possessing the qualities of wisdom, compassion, and courage, they thus have a state of hardness and softness complementing each other. In this way, they are able to enhance their virtue and enrich their learning. Attention should be given to these two types of temperament, for students have different dispositions and consequently they will obtain different results. Observe them practicing and you will see that even if students of Taiji Boxing are learning from the same teacher, they are bound to perform the postures differently and have a different understanding of the principles.
It is for this reason that there are many gaps and mistakes in the transmission of the art over generations, and it is generally due to teachers who have given instruction based on the student’s disposition [i.e. tailoring the art to fit the student instead of expecting the student to simply learn the art, and thereby unwittingly allowing the art to become altered for no legitimate reason]. As it is said: “Miss by an inch, lose by a mile.” This is why I have listed some of these differences of disposition above, to serve as a reference for clearing up such doubts.
[APPENDICES – THE TAIJI CLASSICS]
[I] TAIJI BOXING TREATISE
Once there is any movement, your entire body should have lightness and nimbleness. There especially needs to be connection from movement to movement. Energy should be roused and spirit should be collected within. Do not allow there to be cracks or gaps anywhere, pits or protrusions anywhere, breaks in the flow anywhere.
Starting from your foot, issue power through your leg, directing it from your waist, and expressing it at your fingers. From foot through leg through waist, it must be a continuous process, and whether advancing or retreating, you will then catch the opportunity and gain the upper hand. If not and your body easily falls into disorder, the problem must be in your waist and legs, so look for it there. This is always so, regardless of the direction of the movement, be it up, down, forward, back, left, right. And in all of these cases, the problem is a matter of your intent and does not lie outside of you.
With an upward comes a downward, with a forward comes a backward, and with a left comes a right. If your intention wants to go upward, then harbor a downward intention, like when you reach down to lift up an object. You thereby add a setback to the opponent’s own intention, thus he cuts his own root and is defeated quickly and certainly. Empty and full must be distinguished clearly. In each part there is a part that is empty and a part that is full. Everywhere it is always like this, an emptiness and a fullness. Throughout your body, as the movement goes from one section to another there has to be connection. Do not allow the slightest break in the connection.
Long Boxing: it is like a long river flowing into the wide ocean, on and on ceaselessly…
The thirteen dynamics are: warding off, rolling back, pressing, pushing, plucking, rending, elbowing, and bumping – which relate to the eight trigrams:
☱ ☰ ☴
☳ ☷ ☶
and advancing, retreating, stepping to the left, stepping to the right, and staying in the center – which relate to metal, wood, water, fire, and earth: the five elements. Warding off, rolling back, pressing, and pushing correspond to ☰, ☷, ☵, and ☲ in the four principle compass directions [meaning simply that these are the primary techniques]. Plucking, rending, elbowing, and bumping correspond to ☴, ☳, ☱, and ☶ in the four corner directions [i.e. are the secondary techniques]. Advancing, retreating, stepping to the left, stepping to the right, and staying in the center correspond to the five elements of metal, wood, water, fire, and earth.
(A original note says: “This relates to the theory left to us from Zhang Sanfeng of Mt. Wudang. He wanted all the heroes in the world to live long and not merely gain martial skill.”)
[II] TAIJI BOXING CLASSIC (by Wang Zongyue of Shanxi)
Taiji [“grand polarity”] is born of wuji [“nonpolarity”]. It is the manifestation of movement and stillness, the mother of yin and yang [the passive and active aspects]. When there is movement, passive and active become distinct from each other. When there is stillness, they return to being indistinguishable.
Neither going too far nor not far enough, comply and bend then engage and extend.
He is hard while I am soft – this is yielding. My energy is smooth while his energy is coarse – this is sticking. If he moves fast, I quickly respond, and if his movement is slow, I leisurely follow. Although there is an endless variety of possible scenarios, there is only this single principle [of yielding and sticking] throughout. Once you have ingrained these techniques, you will gradually come to identify energies, and then from there you will gradually progress toward something miraculous. But unless you practice a lot over a long time, you will never have a breakthrough.
Forcelessly press up your headtop. Energy sinks to your elixir field. Neither lean nor slant. Suddenly hide and suddenly appear. When there is pressure on the left, the left empties. When there is pressure on the right, the right disappears. When looking up, it is still higher. When looking down, it is still lower. When advancing, it is even farther. When retreating, it is even nearer. A feather cannot be added and a fly cannot land. The opponent does not understand me, only I understand him. A hero is one who encounters no opposition, and it is through this kind of method that such a condition is achieved.
There are many other schools of boxing arts besides this one. Although the postures are different between them, they never go beyond the strong bullying the weak and the slow yielding to the fast. The strong beating the weak and the slow submitting to the fast are both a matter of inherent natural ability and bear no relation to skill that is learned. Examine the phrase “four ounces deflects a thousand pounds”, which is clearly not a victory obtained through strength. Or consider the sight of an old man repelling a group, which could not come from an aggressive speed.
Stand like a scale. Move like a wheel. If you drop one side, you can move. 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, always under the opponent’s control, and the issue here is that this error of double pressure has not yet been understood. If you want to avoid this error, you must understand passive and active. In sticking there is yielding and in yielding there is sticking. The active does not depart from the passive and the passive does not depart from the active, for the passive and active exchange roles. Once you have this understanding, you will be identifying energies. Once you are identifying energies, then the more you practice, the more efficient your skill will be, and by absorbing through experience and by constantly contemplating, gradually you will reach the point that you can do whatever you want.
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. For such situations it is said: “Miss by an inch, lose by a mile.” You must understand all this clearly.
[III] THIRTEEN DYNAMICS SONG
Do not neglect any of the thirteen dynamics,
their command coming from your lower back.
You must pay attention to the alternation of empty and full,
then energy will flow through your whole body without getting stuck anywhere.
In stillness, movement stirs, and then once in motion, seem yet to be in stillness,
for the magic lies in making adjustments based on being receptive to the opponent.
Posture by posture, stay mindful, observing intently.
If something comes at you without your noticing it, you have been wasting your time.
At every moment, pay attention to your waist,
for if there is complete relaxation within your belly, energy is primed.
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.
Pay careful attention in your practice
that you are letting bending and extending, contracting and expanding, happen as the situation requires.
Beginning the training requires personal instruction,
but mastering the art depends on your own unceasing effort.
Whether we are discussing in terms of theory or function, what is the constant?
It is that mind is sovereign and body is subject.
If you think about it, what is emphasizing the use of intention going to lead you to?
To a longer life and a longer youth.
Repeatedly recite the words above,
all of which speak clearly and hence their ideas come through without confusion.
If you pay no heed to those 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.
[IV] UNDERSTANDING HOW TO PRACTICE THE THIRTEEN DYNAMICS
Use mind to move energy. You must get the energy to sink. It is then able to collect in the bones. Use energy to move your body. You must get the energy to be smooth. Your body can then easily obey your mind.
If your spirit can be raised up, then you will be without worry of being slow or weighed down. Thus it is said [in the Thirteen Dynamics Song]: “Your whole body will be nimble and your headtop will be pulled up as if suspended”. Your mind must perform alternations nimbly, and then you will have the qualities of roundness and liveliness. Thus it is said [also in the Song]: “Pay attention to the alternation of empty and full”.
When issuing power, you must sink and relax, concentrating it in one direction. Your posture must be upright and comfortable, bracing in all directions.
Move energy as though through a winding-path pearl, penetrating even the smallest nook. Wield power like tempered steel, so strong there is nothing tough enough to stand up against it.
The shape is like a falcon capturing a rabbit. The spirit is like a cat pouncing on a mouse.
In stillness, be like a mountain, and in movement, be like a river.
Store power like drawing a bow. Issue power like loosing an arrow.
Within curving, seek to be straightening. Store and then issue.
Power comes from your spine. Step according to your body’s adjustments.
To gather is to release. Disconnect but stay connected.
In the back and forth [of the arms], there must be folding. In the advance and retreat [of the feet], there must be variation.
Extreme softness begets extreme hardness. Your ability to be nimble lies in your ability to breathe.
By nurturing energy with integrity, it will not be corrupted. By storing power in crooked parts, it will be in abundant supply.
The mind makes the command, the energy is its flag, and the waist is its banner.
First strive to open up, then strive to close up, and from there you will be able to attain a refined subtlety.
It is also said:
First in the mind, then in the body.
With your abdomen relaxed, energy collects in your bones. Spirit comfortable, body calm – at every moment be mindful of this.
Always remember: if one part moves, every part moves, and if one part is still, every part is still.
As the movement leads back and forth, energy sticks to and gathers in your spine.
Inwardly bolster spirit and outwardly show ease.
Step like a cat and move energy as if drawing silk.
Throughout your body, your mind should be on the spirit rather than on the energy, for if you are fixated on the energy, your movement will become sluggish. Whenever your mind is on the energy, there will be no power, whereas if you ignore the energy and let it take care of itself, there will be pure strength.
The energy is like a wheel and the waist is like an axle.
[V] 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.
I will let him attack me with as much power as he likes,
for I will tug with four ounces of force to divert his of a thousand pounds.
Guiding him in to land on nothing, I then close on him and send him away.
I stick, connect, adhere, and follow, neither coming away nor crashing in.
It is also said:
If he takes no action, I take no action, but once he takes even the slightest action, I have already acted.
The power seems relaxed but not relaxed, about to expand but not yet expanding. And then even though my power finishes, my intention still continues…