ON APPLYING THE ART
by Shi Diaomei
[published in Taiwan by the 華新印書館有限公司 Huaxin Publishing Company, June, 1959]
[translation by Paul Brennan, Dec, 2021]
ONE: PUSHING HANDS
1. General Explanations
Someone asked: “I have heard that Taiji Boxing comes from Daoism. The principles of Daoism emphasize non-competition. As Laozi said [Daodejing, chapter 8]: ‘If you do not compete, you will not lose.’ But boxing arts are all about fighting against people. If we say “don’t fight”, doesn’t that contradict what boxing arts are for?”
I replied that this is indeed the unique characteristic of Taiji Boxing. It says in the Treatise: “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.” This is a fundamental Taiji Boxing principle, to let go of your own ego and pay full attention to what the opponent is doing. If you can let go of yourself and follow the opponent, does this does not conform to the concept of non-competing?
Pushing hands is also called “hitting hands” for it is a method of practicing fighting with an opponent. However, it exhibits the principle of “neither coming away nor crashing in”. Not coming away means not disconnecting, thus following along with the opponent. Not crashing in means not resisting, thus letting go of your ego. If you can go along with the opponent, you are obviously able to let go of yourself. If you cannot comprehend Laozi’s idea, you will never be able to realize this principle. If you believe in the art, letting no doubts creep in, and practice it over a long period of time, you will naturally develop the quality of continuous flowing movement as you push back and forth with your partner, as well as the energies of sticking, connecting, adhering, and following.
By developing these energies, even if the opponent wants to attack you with great force, he will not be able to, and if he tries to force something to happen, the result will be his own fault. Laozi also said [DDJ, chapter 73]: “Win without fighting. Receive without demanding.” Based upon this idea are the principles of “draw the opponent in to land on nothing” and “use a mere four ounces of force to deflect his of a thousand pounds”.
In the beginning of learning pushing hands, both people connect with their arms and push, moving in circles back and forth. There are two methods: fixed step and moving step. Fixed step focuses on training the waist and legs, the alternating of emptiness and fullness, and on the arms neither coming away nor crashing in. As mentioned in the Playing Hands Song, it works the four techniques of warding off, rolling back, pressing, and pushing. Each should be clearly understood and performed with precision. In the beginning, you will feel like you are using a great deal of stiffness, and also that you are overwhelmed by the complexity of the movements, but once you have become familiar with the exercise, its subtleties will emerge and you will flow without pause.
[This paragraph added in the 1974 edition: The stance for pushing hands is called the “three-line” stance. Step your left foot to the forward left so that your feet are about shoulder width apart, the toes of both feet pointing forward. Your body squats down, both knees slightly bending. The weight shifts onto one foot, your front foot when your body moves forward, your rear foot when your body moves back. Keep your upper body upright, loosen your waist, hollow your chest, and breathe down to your lower abdomen. Keep your head straight, your headtop pulled up as if suspended so that spirit courses through to your headtop, and center your tailbone, curving your spine like a bow. Keep your arms slightly bent and level in front of you, your palms facing forward, wrists sitting, fingers pointing upward, spread and slightly bent, your front forefinger at nose level, your rear hand in front of your chest, the arm bent further than your front arm, your palms spread apart forward and back. Slouch your shoulders and droop your elbows, and then your shoulders will be united with your hips, elbows united with your knees, hands united with your feet. Your whole body should by lively and lack sluggishness.]
Pushing hands is also known as “feeding hands”. It is the beginning stage, a preparation. Once you have become skillful at feeding hands, you then have access to the real stuff. Standard pushing hands has four stages of training: listening, neutralizing, seizing, issuing.
This does not refer to listening with your ears. Use your intention to anticipate the opponent’s action, “listening” for his own intention to move. Use your hand to touch and examine, “listening” for his direction of movement.
Listening with your hands relates to this saying from Understanding How to Practice: “If he takes no action, I take no action.” Listen for what the opponent is doing and do not simply act on your own. Go along with his speed of movement and match it, “following the opponent”. This is the first half of listening.
Listening with your intention relates to the next part of the saying: “But once he takes even the slightest action, I have already acted.” The slightest of actions cannot be “heard” without the listening of intention, and to act before him cannot be done without the use of intention. This is the second half of listening.
Both kinds of listening are like this saying from Laozi [DDJ, chapter 7]: “He puts himself behind others and thus ends up placed in front. He goes away and thus ends up staying.” Listening with your hands and intention is also like another saying from Laozi [DDJ, chapter 6]: “The Way goes on forever, accomplishing without effort.”
The opponent attacks with direct force that you can provide no resistance against, so you transform fullness into emptiness by way of adhering and following, thereby neutralizing his force. By means of sticking and following, hardness is neutralized by softness. Gradually learn to draw in until he lands on nothing, and progress to yielding and neutralizing. It says in the Treatise: “He is hard while I am soft – this is yielding.” When hardness meets hardness, there is stalemate, what is called “double pressure”. Treatise: “If you have equal pressure on both sides, you will be stuck.” When hardness is met with softness, this is called “dropping one side”. Treatise: “If you drop one side, you can move.”
To follow means to go along with his movement and yield to it, and this means that you need to be able to listen in order neutralize. This is why neutralizing is the second level of skill. Neutralizing is half listening, half neutralizing. Gradually you will reach the marvelous condition in which they produce each other. Laozi said [DDJ, chapter 1]: “Free from wanting, you can connect with the mystery underneath. Full of wanting, you will only see the details on the surface.” This is the key to neutralizing.
It is very subtle indeed. If you are good at contemplation, you will achieve a condition in which here and there push each other away, something and nothing produce each other, and before and after follow each other. You will gradually become able to perform in the way that is described in the Treatise: “There will be no leaning in any direction. Suddenly vanish and then suddenly manifest. 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… The opponent does not understand me, only I understand him.”
Neutralizing is deeper than listening, and the secret to it is to yield and draw in. Yielding has to be sneaky and silent, as in “suddenly vanishing”, keeping the opponent unaware of what you are doing. To draw in means to induce the opponent to send out power. You must first ward-off in front and then draw in to the rear. Laozi said [DDJ, chapter 36]: “To consolidate power, you must first share it. To weaken a kingdom, you must first make it feel that it is stronger. To conquer your enemy, you must first make him your friend. This wisdom is subtle.” This is indeed a magic formula for drawing in. To “suddenly manifest” therefore refers to drawing in. If I can draw his power into my own center, then I will always be in charge of what happens next.
To find the opponent’s power, connect with him where he is about to change and act before he does, whether sinking or lifting, causing him to be unable to adjust his position or to cast your hands off of him. This quality is called “seizing”. The key to it lies entirely in the waist and legs, not in the hands, entirely a matter of intention, not a matter of strength. Seizing is more difficult than neutralizing, therefore seizing is the third level of skill.
Laozi said [DDJ, chapter 8]: “Best to be like water. The most important thing in a home is the location. The most important thing in thought is depth. The most important thing in your endeavors is ability. The most important thing in your actions is timing.” This passage can be treated as the ideal formula for seizing.
To “be like water” means to use softness. Seizing does not mean grabbing, which would make it easy for the opponent to feel whatever you then try to do. To “seize” means your hands are simply covering and controlling his arms. “The Way goes on forever, accomplishing without effort.” If you are exerting effort, the tightness of your muscles will give you away. It similarly says in How to Practice: “Inwardly bolster spirit and outwardly show ease.” This causes the opponent to be incapable of understanding what you are doing.
You must sink your energy and concentrate your spirit. “The most important thing in thought is depth.”
You must be in the right position in order to seize. “The most important thing in a home is the location.”
Loosening your waist and legs, turn your body and push, causing the opponent to have to strength anywhere. “The most important thing in your endeavors is ability.”
If you seize too early, it will be easy for the opponent to yield and neutralize. If you seize too late, you will end up in the wrong position. Therefore you must not act before or after the moment, but only at the precise moment. “The most important thing in your actions is timing.”
The secret to seizing is little more than these points. However, your listening and neutralizing need to already be at a high level first in order to seize effectively.
It says in How to Practice: “Within curving, seek to be straightening. Store and then issue.” This conforms to this saying from Laozi [DDJ, chapter 22]: “Incompleteness leads to completeness. Crookedness leads to straightness.” It also says in How to Practice: “Store power like drawing a bow. Issue power like loosing an arrow.” To realize actual power, there must be bending, thus there can be storing. Storing has to be like a fully drawn bow in order for power to be generated. “By storing power in crooked parts, it will be in abundant supply.” Thus it will be no accident when you send out your hand full of power that the opponent is thrown more than ten feet away. The commentary to the Book of Changes says: “The inchworm bends in order to straighten again.” This is the same principle. It has to be understood that without bending and storing, there will be no power or strength, and then it is not Taiji Boxing.
Yang Mengxiang (Shaohou) said: “Issuing should be straight. Neutralizing should be rounded. If your neutralizing is incomplete, your issuing will not send the opponent very far.” The straightness is like an arrow and the roundness is like a bow. Incomplete neutralizing means that if you have not yet achieved skill in bending and storing, you will not be able to send the opponent far away when issuing. This indicates that listening, neutralizing, and seizing must all contain bending and storing. They are trained in a particular order, an increasing level of difficulty, and an increasing depth of skill.
When applying listening, neutralizing, seizing, and issuing, they are all contained within a small circle. It is like the taiji circle, half passive, half active, neutralizing and then issuing. Shaohou said: “Making a small circle, half of the circle is neutralization and the other half is issuing.” Absorb and shoot within an instant. Those at a high level show barely any movement of their body and hands, and yet the opponent is already being shot away. It says in How to Practice: “To gather is to release. To release is to gather.” Gathering and releasing means neutralizing and issuing. Masters often say: “To neutralize is to issue. To issue is to neutralize.” This is the same idea. Gathering and releasing are not two things, they are one circle. Therefore you can disconnect and then reconnect by using circles, and this will make you unbeatable.
When your hands issue power, it is called “joining with palms”. To assist your hands, issuing requires the use of your waist and legs, as it is said: “Pressing down with your foot, power issues through your leg, is directed at your waist, sent through your spine, and expresses at your fingers.” As for using intention to issue power, it comes down to the two actions of “absorb” and “shoot”. My teacher Tian Zhaolin possessed this amazing skill. I saw him demonstrate it myself.
2. Photographic Breakdown of the Movements
Pushing hands is not actually something that can be learned from a book. This is because listening, neutralizing, seizing, and issuing are too ephemeral, constantly changing from one thing to another, and so cannot be demonstrated adequately through photographs. Even film cannot really catch the spirit of those moments. As it says in How to Practice: “Inwardly bolster spirit and outwardly show ease.” This reveals that the movement is purely a matter of intention and energy, and thus there is simply no way to put it into words in order to convey the true spirit of it. Therefore the movement descriptions below are only meant to supply the essentials of the basic feeding hands exercise and thus to make it easier to discuss it.
To begin, Person A [on the left in the photos] and Person B [on the right] are facing each other, A in the south, B in the north. A, initiate by striking out toward B with your right fist. B, raise your right hand to connect with A’s right wrist. Then both of you, put your left palm on each other’s right elbow, making the ward-off position. See photo 1 (A & B warding off each other):
A, switch to pushing B. B, stick to and go along with A’s push, moving to the rear and neutralizing it using your ward-off position. See photo 2 (A pushing, B warding off):
A, continue to push forward. B, switch from your ward-off to going to the right with a rollback. See photo 3 (B rolling back, A continuing forward):
A, continue forward, letting your right arm go along with B’s rollback to the side, and press forward toward him, your left hand touching the inside of your right forearm. B, hollow your chest, loosening and neutralizing to the rear, and get into the push position. See photo 4 (A pressing, B loosening and neutralizing):
B, when you feel that A’s press has deflated, then with your waist and legs working in unison, push forward at A. A, when you feel that B’s push is coming, use an energy of adhering to it and following along with it rather than crashing against it, instead loosening and neutralizing to the rear. See photo 5 (B pushing, A backing off and neutralizing):
B, when you feel A’s neutralization, use an energy of sticking to it and connecting with it rather than coming away from it, instead continuing forward as A lifts his arm with a ward-off. See photo 6 (B pushing, A warding off):
B, continue to push forward. A, switch from your ward-off to going to the left with a rollback. See photo 7 (A rolling back, B continuing forward):
B, when you feel A switch to a rollback, let your left arm go along with it to the side and press forward toward him, your right hand touching the inside of your left forearm. A, hollow your chest, neutralizing to the rear, and get into the push position. See photo 8 (B pressing, A pushing):
Recycling the movements in this way over and over is called “feeding hands”. To reverse the circle, when A is rolling back B, B abandons his pressing and suddenly rolls back A’s left arm to the left. These photos all show the right foot forward. You can reverse the circle with the same foot still forward, or you can also switch feet. Beginners should do fifty circles in each direction, then gradually work up to a hundred, then switch feet and work up to hundred more. If you practice every single day without a break, you will become skillful at this exercise after a month.
Presented below are the essentials of the feeding hands exercise:
When connecting arms, you both should do so with a soft and flowing energy rather than applying strength.
When A goes forward, B has to match his speed in order to retreat. When B goes forward, A has to do likewise.
Both advancing and retreating involve the use of your waist and legs. Your upper body and lower must function as a single unit. Your upper body must not lean forward or back.
Sticking and connecting is primarily for going forward in pursuit. Adhering and following is primarily for going back and neutralizing. Both involve the use of intention and energy rather than strength.
When going forward, you must loosen your hips, your front foot filling, rear foot emptying. When going back, you must sit back onto your hips, your rear foot filling, front foot emptying.
When pressing or pushing, you must hollow your chest and shift your weight onto your front leg. When warding off or rolling back, you must loosen your waist and sit stably onto your rear leg.
Fixed step pushing hands divides into opposite foot forward and same foot forward. Opposite foot: A has his right foot forward, B his left foot forward. Same foot: A has his right foot forward, B his right foot also. Beginners usually use same foot. After you become more familiar with the exercise, you can switch to also practicing opposite foot.
After you have become familiar with fixed step pushing hands, you can move on to practicing moving step pushing hands. Moving step means that A advances and B retreats, then B advances and A retreats. In the beginning, advancing and retreating are each done as two steps, but later you can take as many steps as you please. In the beginning, you also move back and forth in a straight line, but later you can move to any direction, your waist turning as needed. Throughout the exercise, it is necessary to maintain sticking and adhering so that you are neither coming away nor crashing in. Then after you have become familiar at moving step pushing hands, you can move on to the large rollback exercise.
TWO: LARGE ROLLBACK
1. General Explanations
Within the “thirteen dynamics” are warding off, rolling back, pressing, and pushing – associated with the four trigrams positioned in the cardinal directions – and plucking, rending, elbowing, and bumping – associated with the four corner trigrams – as well the five stepping actions of advancing, retreating, stepping to the left, stepping to the right, and staying centered – associated with the five elements of metal, wood, water, fire, and earth. These eight and five combined make thirteen. Therefore Taiji Boxing contains the eight trigrams and the five elements, but has replaced them with martial arts terminology. It is not known who started this Thirteen Dynamics tradition, no clues given in the writings of Wang Zongyue or the Yang family, and within other boxing texts are quite a few overly strained interpretations.
In 1934, Yang Chengfu published Complete Book of Theory & Application, which contains this passage: “What is called ‘four corner pushing hands’ refers to the directions that the large rollback exercise moves toward, switching back and forth to all four corners, different from the four cardinal directions that same-step pushing hands addresses. Combining the four cardinal directions of pushing hands and the four corner directions of large rollback thus connects the exercises to the directions of all eight trigrams. It is also said that the eight trigrams correspond to the eight techniques of warding off, rolling back, pressing, pushing, plucking, rending, elbowing, and bumping.”
According to this, large rollback was originally called “four corner pushing hands” because it involves stepping toward the four corners. It is different from same-step pushing hands which merely advances and retreats along a straight line. Therefore same-step pushing hands is associated with the four cardinal directions and large rollback is associated with the four corner directions. This indicates that the use of the terms “four cardinal directions” and “four corner directions” was simply meant to be related to directions of stepping rather than the four primary techniques being associated with the four cardinal directions and the four secondary techniques being associated with the four corner directions.
Taiji Boxing is based on the taiji concept itself, that of the alternation of passive and active aspects, movement and stillness. Therefore as soon as there is movement, there is distinction between emptiness and fullness, which are equivalent to passive and active. Thus it is said [in the commentary to the Book of Changes]: “The Grand Polarity gives rise to the dual aspects”.
Emptiness and fullness then alternate, and thus hardness and softness assist each other. Such interactions give rise to the four techniques of warding off, rolling back, pressing, and pushing, due to passive and active rubbing against each other, as it is said: “The dual aspects generate the four manifestations.”
“When faced with difficulty, adapt to the situation. By adapting, you will easily flow right through.” There are times when the four primary techniques will not work, and then you will have to switch to the four secondary techniques of plucking, rending, elbowing, and bumping. It is easy to switch from warding off to rending, from rolling back to plucking, from pressing to elbowing, from pushing to bumping, the four methods creating the other four naturally. The four techniques combined with the other four makes the eight techniques. “The four manifestations generate the eight trigrams.”
The interaction of passive and active produces change. In the same way, the eight techniques are the foundation and can produce even further changes. There are three kinds of change: a complete switching of conditions, simple adjustments, and no change at all. The entire Taiji boxing set is built upon these principles. With every posture, from beginning to end, flow without pause. It says in the commentary to the Book of Changes: “Change does not stop, but circulates through the six hexagram lines.” To change at any moment and in any part makes your actions endlessly subtle. This is the significance of constant change.
The four cardinal directions and four corner directions are the directions of the eight trigrams. These directions are unchanging. In accordance with this, the choreography in the boxing set sends the steps toward the eight directions. It is thus an example of something that is unchanging. Although the boxing set is comprised of a multitude of postures, it all amounts to little more than the thirteen dynamics. Therefore the eight techniques and five steps are an example of simple changes. The eight techniques are the basic techniques. But when used in combination, the effect is dramatic.
The five steps are: advancing, retreating, stepping to the left, stepping to the right, and staying centered. To stay stably in one place, or not stepping at all, is the most fundamental type of footwork, because it is the middle point that the other four steps are sent from. When going from movement to stillness or stillness to movement, the step of not stepping, or staying centered, assists the alternation of emptiness and fullness for the other four steps, ensuring they are nimble and yet stable. Whether stepping straight or diagonally, the eight directions are the directions of all advancing and retreating.
Your upper body performs the eight techniques, hardness and softness complimenting each other, producing further changes. Your lower body starts by standing centered, then advances and retreats to the eight directions, your steps alternating between emptiness and fullness. Your middle body uses your waist and hips as the pivot point, coordinating your upper body and lower body with each other. Whether practicing pushing hands or large rollback, both contain the eight trigrams and five elements.
To learn the art, you must begin with practicing the boxing set, which teaches you how to integrate body movement, hand techniques, and stepping so that they will all function in unison. After training for a long time, you will have both stability and nimbleness. Practicing the boxing set is the process of building a foundation, developing the skill of knowing yourself better. Once that foundation is completed, you can move on to learning how to actually apply the art, which is trained through pushing hands, large rollback, and sparring. These exercises develop the skill of knowing the opponent.
This part of the training has stages, starting with pushing hands. Mastering listening, neutralizing, seizing, and issuing requires practicing the four primary techniques of warding off, rolling back, pressing, and pushing. Once you are skillful at the four primary techniques, then move on to practicing large rollback to train the four secondary techniques. Once you can use the eight techniques fluently and from various positions, whether higher or lower, your techniques will be able to be used in fighting, and thereby you have gradually prepared yourself for sparring, which is the final stage of the training.
2. Photographic Breakdown of the Movements
There are two versions: 1. the movements and directions choreographed, 2. the movements and directions unchoreographed. The one presented below is the choreographed version:
Person A [again on the left in the photos] and Person B [on the right] are facing each other, A facing toward the south, B facing toward the north. B, initiate by stepping forward with your right foot and striking out toward A with your right fist. A, raise your right hand to connect with B’s right wrist, retreat your left foot, and use your left forearm to roll back his right arm. See photo 9:
A, retreat your right foot, turn your torso, and roll back. B, go along with A’s rollback by advancing your left foot toward the northwest corner, then advancing your right foot next to your left foot. See photo 10:
B, once A’s rollback is underway, step your left foot forward to the left side, then step your right foot directly forward under his crotch, your feet forming a T shape, your front leg bending, your rear leg straightening, as you use your right shoulder to bump his chest, your left palm placed at the inside of your right elbow. The orientations are now: A rolling back toward the west, B’s right shoulder bumping into A toward the north. See photo 11:
A, before B’s bumping collides with you, use your left hand to push on his right forearm and send your right palm rending away toward his face. B, before A’s rending palm arrives, send your right hand upward to ward off his right hand, connecting at his right wrist, as you retreat your left foot toward the southwest corner. See photo 12:
B, then retreat your right foot, also toward the southwest corner, and turn your body to the right as your use your left forearm to roll back A’s right forearm. A, while B wards off and rolls back, advance your right foot toward the southwest corner, then advance your left foot toward the southeast corner. See photo 13:
A, before B finishes his rollback, advance your right foot under his crotch, your feet forming a T shape, as your right shoulder bumps into his chest, your left hand placed at the inside of your right elbow. The orientations are now: A moving toward the south, B moving toward the east. See photo 14:
B, before A’s bumping collides with you, lift your left foot to move around his right foot and advance under his crotch as your hands push on his left forearm. The orientations are now: A moving toward the south, B moving toward the north. A, while you are being pushed, retreat your right foot to the side, toward the northwest corner, to dissolve B’s push. See photo 15:
A, use your left hand to ward-off upward and connect to B’s left wrist, then retreat your left foot toward the northeast with the foot sideways as your right forearm rolls back his left arm. B, now that you are being rolled back, step your right foot forward to the right side, toward the northeast, then step your left foot forward next to your right foot, positioning yourself to advance with bumping. See photo 16:
B, with A’s rollback underway, step your left foot directly forward under his crotch, your feet forming a T shape, your front leg bending, your rear leg straightening, as you use your left shoulder to bump his chest, your right palm placed at the inside of your left elbow. The orientations are now: A rolling back toward the south, B’s left shoulder bumping into A toward the east. See photo 17:
A, before B’s bumping collides with you, use your right hand to push on his left forearm and send your left palm rending away toward his face. B, before A’s rending palm arrives, send your left hand upward to ward off his left hand, connecting at his left wrist, as you retreat your right foot, then retreat your left foot and turn your body to the left as your use your right forearm to roll back A’s left forearm. A, while B wards off and rolls back, advance your left foot toward the northeast corner, then advance your right foot toward the northwest corner, and then advance your left foot next to your right foot in preparation to advance with bumping. See photo 18:
A, before B finishes his rollback, advance your left foot under his crotch, your feet forming a T shape, as your left shoulder bumps into his chest, your right hand placed at the inside of your left elbow. See photo 19:
B, before A’s bumping collides with you, lift your right foot to move around his left foot and advance under his crotch as your hands push on his right forearm. A, while you are being pushed, retreat your left foot to the side as your right arm wards off upward. See photo 20:
A, then retreat your right foot as you use your left hand to roll back B’s right forearm. B, go along with A’s rollback by advancing your left foot, then stepping your right foot forward under his crotch as you use your right shoulder to bump his chest, your left palm placed at the inside of your right elbow. The orientations are now: A moving toward the west, B moving toward the north. The position is the same as in photo 11. From this point, the movements recycle over and over.
The above text describes choreographed large rollback, the movements and orientations already established. Advance three steps to perform bumping. Retreat two steps to perform rolling back. A performs rending and will do all of the rending. B performs pushing and will do all of the pushing. When one cycle ends, another one begins. With a new cycle, A and B can switch rending and pushing roles if they wish.
Presented below are the essentials of large rollback:
1. The large rollback exercise was originally called “four corners pushing hands” because all the stepping, whether advancing or retreating, is toward the corners. The four corner directions are northeast, northwest, southeast, southwest.
2. When stepping, you must loosen your waist and hips. When lifting and lowering your foot, there must be lightness and nimbleness.
3. To perform bumping, your upper body has to stay upright and your waist and hips must loosen.
4. When performing the rollback, both of your hands stick to the opponent’s wrist and elbow. Your hands must have a slight energy of dragging and sinking, causing his footwork to lose nimbleness. When rolling back the opponent, he will counterattack with bumping, and in response to that you can switch to plucking or to pushing on his arm and rending. If rolling back his right arm, your left hand will rend to his neck, and if rolling back his left arm, your right hand will rend.
5. When being bumped, you must hollow your chest and loosen your hips. While sending a rending palm toward the opponent’s face, your other hand is pushing on his bumping arm in order to prevent him from applying elbowing.
6. When pushing with both hands on the opponent’s forearm and he wards off upward, use the energies of sticking and connecting, then step forward, thus causing him to back off.
7. Both A and B perform bumping and rolling back, and switching sides to perform them to both the left and right.
8. On orientation: if A is facing toward the southwest, B will be facing toward the northeast. This of course is only the case in the choreographed version.
On unchoreographed large rollback:
This kind of large rollback is a little too unstructured to demonstrate with photos. If photos were used, it would imply too much of a stable pattern and seem no different from the choreographed version. It is actually quite common for beginners to jump into this version. Unchoreographed large rollback has some partial choreography in order for beginners to have a way to get into it. Without a few such restrictions to start with, it would just be a mess. Below are presented a few essentials of it:
1. Whether the choreographed or unchoreographed version, do not depart from fundamental Taiji Boxing principles: forcelessly rouse your headtop, hollow your chest and round your back, sink your shoulders and droop your elbows, settle your waist and loosen your hips, center your tailbone, make your waist and legs function as a single unit, use intention rather than exertion, and focus your gaze. These are the most important principles in the large rollback exercise.
2. When sending out your hands, you must stick to the opponent’s hands in order to use listening energy. Your hands have to work in coordination with each other, whether moving above or below, left or right, one hand in a passive role, the other in an active role. As long as your hands are protecting each other, the opponent will find no gap to take advantage of.
3. When learning unchoreographed large rollback, to go to the left and right with rolling back and bumping is still the same, but rending and pushing is now an unfixed pattern, to be applied as you please and toward whatever direction. It is always the case that when being attacked with rending, you will retreat two steps and perform rollback, turning your body and thus changing direction, and that when being pushed, you will retreat two steps sideways, not turning your body and thus not changing direction. Whether changing or not changing direction, seek to do whatever flows, regardless of whatever direction you are facing.
4. Once you have become skillful at the exercise, your stepping should be precise, placing you in the right position at the right time. While advancing and retreating, you are neutralizing and issuing. You should be able to apply the eight hand techniques from any position, adapting with limitless subtlety. You will come to understand this through your own experience of the exercise.
According to Xu Zhedong [Xu Zhen] in his Examining the Reliability of Taiji Boxing Texts: “The Chen family only received Wang Zongyue’s oral instructions, which is why they only remember the Playing Hands Song. As for his other writings, either they were not given to the Chen family or had not yet been written, we cannot know for sure. Because Wang based his boxing set on that of the Chen family, he did not need to create one from scratch. However, he adjusted the original set to the point that it looks divergent from that of the Chen family, eliminating the more strenuous movements, adding some things, modifying others.”
First of all, this explanation seems very reasonable. The Chen family had been practicing their boxing art through the generations and thus had no need of new boxing sets from other sources. Their original set was comprised of very precise techniques, upon which Taiji principles were then able to evolve. Second, Wang Zongyue’s writings do not address the boxing set, only the thirteen dynamics. It is material that is clearly relevant to the boxing set, but discussing only the thirteen dynamics and how to use them is sufficient. Third, examining Taiji Boxing theory, it is “using softness to neutralize hardness” that is the fundamental principle. All the other principles come from this one. Therefore a choreographed boxing set is surely not even necessary. Fourth, according to Huang Baijia: “Zhang Sanfeng was a Shaolin expert, but he turned the art on its head and thereby created the internal school.” This indicates that the original material in the art was not the boxing set.
Whatever version of the boxing set you practice, regardless of whether it is derived from the old frame or new frame Chen Style, if you can apply the training and the principles, then your techniques will all have practical function. Sparring is made of the techniques you practice in the boxing set, applied in any order you wish. After you have mastered pushing hands and large rollback, you will be able to neutralize and issue as you please. While in the midst of pushing hands, you can switch to free sparring. The opponent can of course respond to the situation by counterattacking, and so you must continue to use sticking, connecting, adhering, and following, adjust your foot position according to the changes of your body’s position, and not depart from the principles you trained in the boxing set.
[This text added in the 1974 edition: Taiji Boxing techniques are no different from those of other styles, but there is a focus on performing them with more naturalness rather than emphasizing hardness and speed, not depending on forcing things to happen.] Practicing in this way over days and months, you will naturally be able to transform in countless and endlessly subtle ways. If you devote all of your energy to the training, you will then be able to transcend the patterns you have learned and act unpredictably. As it says in the Treatise: “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.” In the final stage of the training, if you do not frequently practice sparring, you will not be able to achieve a level of being miraculous.
If health is your only goal, you are going in a different direction. But if your goal is also to carry on our national culture by encouraging colleagues to practice our boxing arts, then you should keep doing it. [1974: To train the techniques, you must devote yourself to practicing each of the postures in the boxing set, making a detailed study of their applications. Pushing hands is a practical test of application. Gradually you will be able to use each posture and become skillful in each technique, and then you will enter the stage of identifying energies.]
Within ordinary boxing manuals, there are often photos of applications. You can certainly practice according to such demonstrations. However, you should not treat these presentations of applications as being definitive, you need to experiment with applications for yourself. [1974: Without choreographed patterns, it is difficult to learn the basics. But without moving on from choreographed patterns, it is difficult to progress to a high level. The correct path is to act in accordance with the methods but not become constrained by them.] For example, the pushing technique is practiced as a formal posture, not quite performed the same way as in pushing hands and large rollback.
Constantly study the principles in the classics, experiencing them in your practice, contemplating them even when not practicing, and eventually you will be able to have a breakthrough, and from then on do as you please. [1974: Your mind and body will then be functioning as one, and you will be in possession of all the techniques as though they are an instinctive part of you. At that point, you have attained the highest level, in which the things you do will seem to be miraculous.]
FOUR: APPLYING THE ENERGIES
Ordinary boxing arts talk of “hard power” and “soft power”. Everything in Taiji Boxing is categorized as “internal” energies, meaning they are driven by intention. Within continuous flow of movement, both hard power and soft power are produced. When using these energies, they are endlessly changing from one to another, switching at any moment. Among the energies are sticking, adhering, borrowing, catching, neutralizing, yielding, drawing in, seizing, and lifting. There are also opening, closing, sinking, interrupting, penetrating, wrapping, shaking, and traversing emptiness. Among all of these energies, beginners should first learn sticking and adhering.
Stick to the opponent’s arm, whether lightly or heavily, without coming away. This quality is obtained only through practicing pushing hands. It has an intention of moving forward.
Adhere to the opponent’s arm, whether lightly or heavily, without crashing in. This quality is also obtained only through practicing pushing hands. It has an intention of loosening to the rear.
These first two are the most fundamental of Taiji Boxing’s internal energies. They are like the two wings of a bird or the two wheels of a cart. Lack one and the other becomes inefficient. Therefore they must be used in conjunction with each other. The marvel of sticking and adhering is that it causes the opponent as soon as he touches my hand to feel as though he is being drawn in, his whole body unable to express any strength.
Start with training it in your forearms, then gradually develop it in your shoulders, your back, and then your whole body. Once you are able to stick and adhere with any part of your body, you will be able to stick and adhere to any part of the opponent’s, and then it can be said that you have mastered sticking and adhering. Once you have these energies, you will be able to use the energies of borrowing, neutralizing, drawing in, and seizing. Once you are able to stick, you must also learn to connect, and once you are able to adhere, you must also learn to follow, and then you will be able to use these two energies effectively.
This is a matter of borrowing the opponent’s power and then seizing the opportunity to send out your own. If he pushes you fiercely, first adhere and follow, then go along with his energy and pluck him down. If he pulls away, you can borrow his energy of backing off to suddenly shoot him away. If you can use borrowing energy, then you can use a small force to defeat a large force. One who is good at using borrowing energy can borrow power from any part of the opponent’s body and issue power from any part of his own.
Neutralizing the opponent’s power causes it to change direction, which induces him to back off. Neutralizing is the product of sticking and yielding.
Direct force should not be resisted, but retreated from. As it says in the classics: “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.” With the addition of sticking and adhering, this produces neutralization, and thus this situation is also described as “yielding and neutralizing”. These two energies should always assist each other and never depart from one another.
 DRAWING IN
Before the opponent is ready to send out power, drawing in induces him to do so already. You must first ward off and then draw in to the rear. It is necessary to continue to use the energies of sticking, adhering, yielding, and neutralizing in order to be able to draw him in. Starting from lifting or seizing, the intention is to lure the opponent into a position of overcommitting. Drawing in is more difficult that yielding and neutralizing.
Lifting causes the opponent’s heels to rise up, thereby taking away his ability to apply strength. First draw him in so that you can send his energy upward. When lifting, make sure to keep your own feet steady, sink energy down to your elixir field, and drive the action with power from your waist and legs.
Seizing has already been explained in the pushing hands introduction. You only have to be able to identify energies and then you can seize at any time.
This is similar to borrowing, but more difficult. When the opponent’s power is about to arrive, loosen your waist, catch it, and then issue. It is like catching a ball, going along with its energy and redirecting it downward, then lifting your body to throw it away again. Contain the movement within a very small circle and then issue. A song says: “Its subtlety is entirely based on borrowing the opponent’s power, and so when the decisive moment comes, do not merely give in to grappling with him.” If you can catch or borrow his power, you will not need to apply seizing.
The energies above involve storing before issuing and thus they are considered passive energies. The other energies – penetrating, interrupting, sinking, opening, closing, wrapping, shaking, and traversing emptiness – all involve issuing and thus they are considered active energies or “severing” energies. They are explained below:
This is also called “drilling”. It has been said: “Penetrating energy feels like a drilling punch.” Your fist or fingers go forward like a drill. This is very fierce, and so high level practitioners do not use it rashly.
There are two kinds: curved line, straight line. Issuing along a curved line takes advantage of the moment in which the opponent’s attack lands on nothing and he has not yet adjusted his position to compensate, issuing in that moment toward his center. Issuing along a straight line involves a situation in which the opponent attacks me and I have no time to adjust, and so I issue with direct interrupting energy, colliding into him so that he topples away, and thus it is also known as “colliding” energy.
Your shoulders and hips loosen downward. Energy sinks and then power issues. When the opponent’s arm receives sinking energy, it causes his whole body to become numb and trembling. Sinking is not really the same as heaviness. Heaviness leads to sluggishness, whereas sinking leads to liveliness. Although it is an error to have “double heaviness”, double sinking is not. Double lightness does not mean floating, and thus it is true lightness. Double sinking does not mean heaviness, and thus it is true fullness. It is best to have both of these qualities.
This involves spreading apart to both sides. It is a square energy and contains an intention of warding off. When spreading apart to shoot the opponent away, you have to open first and then issue right away so as not to lose your chance. Once you have spread apart his hands, take advantage of the moment he withdraws by closing inward and shooting him away. Therefore after opening, you must close.
There is double spreading and single spreading. In the case of double spreading, when the opponent’s attack makes it through past your guard, hollow your chest and send your hands in past his guard, then immediately spread his hands apart to both sides. In the case of single spreading, one hand spreads and the other issues. When opening, you must use power from your waist and legs, also adding spirit. Once you have opened to the right amount, follow the opponent as he backs off.
Opening is the opposite of closing. Opening is a square energy, whereas closing is a rounded energy. Opening is an active energy, whereas closing is a passive energy. When issuing, it often contains an intention of closing, using the energy of your whole body to close in on the target and then issue. Therefore you must loosen your whole body to first square your position.
Its movement involves bending, but its energy is straight. Start with your fingers pushing the opponent, then your hand wraps into a fist and strikes through. This energy is very fierce, capable of injuring an opponent’s internal organs, and so it is not for the use of beginners.
Issue with your whole body, every part in unison, using energy that is very short and fast. Unless you have achieved a purely spiritual level, you will not be able to produce this energy, therefore you must practice a great deal more to obtain it. This energy is also known as “traversing emptiness”.
 TRAVERSING EMPTINESS
Same energy as shaking, just with a different name and with the addition of a vocalized “ha!” which causes the opponent’s feet to leave the ground.
The energies above involve issuing. When beginning to learn issuing, you first have to understand the path that power will travel along. Go along with power that the opponent sends out to you, matching his timing, acting neither after nor before. Then even if he wants to adjust his position, it will be too late, and so by issuing at that moment, you will be sure to be on target.
The next stage is to get him to lift his heels. Once his heels have been lifted, he is sure to topple. The final stage is to seize him where he has become stiff in his movement and wait the perfect moment to issue. Attack him where he is empty and he will again be sure to topple. Or you may use your hand to draw out his power and then switch to issuing with your palm. In all cases, first cause the opponent’s intention to be in disorder, diverting his focus, and then issue. In this way, you will be sure to succeed.
FIVE: ORAL TEACHINGS FROM TIAN ZHAOLIN
(These are notes that I have taken from discussions with Master Tian over the years, ideas that I have not mentioned in other pieces of text. What follows are his phrases as he said them, without any embellishment from me, and in the order in which I originally wrote them down, statements that he actually made while we sat and talked.)
When touching hands with the opponent, no matter where the contact point is, aim toward his center, and then you can use interrupting energy to knock him away.
Among the kicking techniques are “obvious kicks” and “hidden kicks”, or “covert kicks”. The actions of your hands must correspond to those of your feet.
When the opponent seizes your arm, use roundness to neutralize it. You must also change the position of your feet.
The four primary techniques of ward-off, rollback, press, and push each contain five kinds of energy: borrow, neutralize, penetrate, interrupt, and sink.
CLOUDING HANDS involves an active hand and a passive hand, which is also called a “stealth hand”.
Roundness begins at the tailbone.
Neutralizing sometimes uses a large circle to neutralize, sometimes a small one.
Interrupting energy can be applied along either a curve or a straight line. Penetrating energy feels like a drilling punch. Borrowing energy lures in the opponent’s power and sends it back to his body.
To seize the opponent, seize his joints, such as wrist, elbow, shoulder, and so on.
When the opponent seizes your elbow, promptly send your elbow warding off toward his solar plexus.
WILD HORSE SENDS ITS MANE SIDE TO SIDE contains an intention of turning a ball over.
When using wrapping energy, start with your fingers pushing on the opponent’s chest, then your hand wraps into a fist and applies penetrating energy. Advancing and retreating your steps both involve the foot slightly lifting, not just shifting forward or back in straight lines.
Within the rollback technique, you make a small circle, at the conclusion of which you can release power. Within the pushing technique, your hands perform closing and opening, coordinated with the weight shifting in your legs.
While pushing hands, slightly rise when stepping forward or back.
In the small frame, the foot becomes full when it comes down and empty when it lifts up.
When plucking the opponent, your hands should pull down on one side rather than splitting off to both sides. Once your pluck causes his heels to lift, immediately go forward with an attack.
The technique of CATCH THE SPARROW goes like this: your left hand sticks to the opponent’s attacking fist, your right foot advances, and your right hand goes out with a fake attack. Once he reacts in the slightest way, issue power immediately.
When the opponent tries to break my arm, I go along with his movement and make a corkscrew spiral with my arm to neutralize it.
When you notice power suddenly emerging from the opponent, you must sink energy to your elixir field.
Wield power like tossing an object.
It is said: “Follow his bending, stick to his extending.” When the opponent bends, follow his bending in order to shoot him away. When he extends, stick to his extending in order to shoot him away.
When shooting away an opponent, your arms should straighten and not bend. The energy moves through your arms as though through a winding-path pearl, curving naturally. When issuing, your arms form a shape like a single large pearl.
Even in sparring, there has to be sticking and following.
When bumping, your elbow and fist have an intention of going into the ground, though your gaze goes forward.
When pressing with your right hand, advance with your right foot. When pressing with your left hand, advance with your left foot. If you perform pressing without an advancing step, you must do a rollback to the opponent’s arm to straighten it and draw it across, then press on the back of his shoulder.
When pushing, do it with the same hand and same foot forward in order to be in the best position.
If the opponent rolls back your elbow, go along with his movement and bump right into him, or neutralize and withdraw, which requires liveliness in your hips.
When the opponent attacks you with bumping, loosen your waist and legs, push down on his arm, and then press forward. Or loosen your waist, push down on his shoulder, seize his arm, and then shoot him away, your waist and legs moving in coordination with your arms. If he slips out of your rollback, you can still deflect his elbow.
To use retreat as advance means that you seem to be backing off but are actually sneaking a foot forward. Having stepped in, you are then able to seize the opponent.
If you do not settle into your waist and hips when the opponent presses or pushes you, you will not be able to neutralize it.
When the opponent presses you, withdraw your front foot, and then it will be easy to turn the tables and press him.
When the opponent attacks with the pressing technique, place your right hand to the outside of his left forearm (or your left hand to the outside of his right forearm), propping up his elbow, and draw him in and then shoot him away, your hips turning to accommodate the movement.
Neutralizing always involves slightly loosening your hands, withdrawing your torso, and turning your waist. Rolling back leads in by grabbing the opponent’s arm, ideally with his arm underneath and your other forearm placed on top, so that if he tries to rise up, you can sink him back down.
Where to stick? To the same place you would apply sinking energy.
While pushing hands, do not reach farther than your knee, for you will not be able to seize the opponent if you do that.
One kind of energy is like a gourd floating on moving water. Another kind of energy is like something is going forward straight through a tube. Yet another energy is lifting & advancing. Still another is sinking & seizing.
Before you issue power to shoot the opponent away, you must first seize him. Before you seize him, you must first draw him in. Before you draw him in, you must first neutralize his attack. Before you neutralize, you must first ward-off to meet his attack.
To neutralize the opponent’s power, you must go along with his movement. There must be a balance of fast and slow. Too hasty, you will cause him to change unpredictably. Too sluggish, it will be difficult to deflect his attack.
Once you have neutralized sufficiently, you will then have the opportunity to issue power. Once the opportunity is there, release immediately. The power should be complete, and that comes from being calm.
Attacking the opponent depends entirely on timing and position. If the opportunity is not yet there, it would not be appropriate to attack.
Ward-off energy is of prime importance. As for bumping energy, you first have to neutralize to get into the right position. Bumping should be fast and have a specific target.
When issuing power, it should be heavy, reach far, and be a vibration throughout your entire body. It should contain both hardness and softness, just like the principle of the passive and active aspects complementing each other.
EXCERPTS FROM THE WRITINGS OF FORMER MASTERS
One: Posthumous Writings of Yang Chengfu
(In 1934, Yang Chengfu published Complete Book of Theory & Application. Due to its “completeness”, that book will probably have a continued notoriety. However, the piece below is instead somebody’s written recording of a lecture Yang gave. Taken together with his famous “Ten Essentials of the Art”, these two pieces are very convenient for the study of beginners.)
DISCUSSION ON PRACTICING TAIJI BOXING
Although China’s boxing arts are numerous, it should be understood that they all contain techniques imbued with philosophy. People of previous generations devoted their entire lives to the training and yet could never find the end of the art. One day of training gives you one day’s result. It is only if you keep at it day after day and month after month that you will succeed. It is not like the track & field training of the West, in which a single explanation makes everything clear and a simple demonstration makes everything obvious, lacking any need for a deeper study into profound mysteries.
Taiji Boxing is hardness contained within softness, a needle hidden within cotton. Its techniques and its adherence to physiological and mechanical principles amount to a philosophy. Those who learn this art have to go through a process which will take some time. Even with instruction from good teachers and assistance from good friends, which are indispensable, the most important thing is to commit to daily solo practice.
Otherwise you may be able to discuss the art all day long, praising it year after year, but once you cross hands with an opponent, you have nothing of substance within you, still no better than a layman, totally lacking in skill. An ancient person said [Confucius, Lun Yu, 15.31]: “I have tried going all day without food, all night without sleep, spending that time instead in meditation. I got nothing out of it. Better to spend one’s time actually studying something.” If you can practice every morning and evening without exception, even during the coldest days of winter and hottest days of summer, then as soon you start moving, you will be developing yourself. In this way, regardless of old or young, man or woman, all can succeed.
Recently students of Taiji Boxing have been coming south past the Yellow River down to the areas of the Yangzte River basin and now also to the Pearl River basin [i.e. from Beijing to Shanghai and Hong Kong]. With colleagues increasing in number by the day, the future of our martial arts appears to be bright. It seems there will be no lack of practitioners who are focused, hardworking, and sincere about learning the art, but ordinary students fall unavoidably into two categories:
Firstly there are those with natural talent, lots of strength, and higher than average intelligence, able to intuit several steps further from a single explanation. Unfortunately, once they have reached a small level of achievement, they become satisfied with what they have accomplished so far and suddenly give up halfway, making themselves unable to gain the grand results that were available to them.
Then there are those who are in a hurry for quick results, who neglect to fully digest each part of the process, who after not even a year have rushed through the boxing set, sword set, saber set, and spear exercises. Though they can demonstrate the movements mechanically, they have not actually achieved any kind of mastery, and as soon as you look closely at their movements and positioning, it is clear that everything is a little bit off, above and below, internally and externally. They require corrections for every single posture. But the corrections they receive during the day, they have already forgotten by evening. I have often heard it said: “Boxing arts are easy to learn, difficult to correct.” These words are always referring to students who learn too quickly and end up in this situation. Such people pass on their errors and end up corrupting the art not only for themselves but for others as well, which makes me worry for the future of the art.
When beginning to learn the art, start with the boxing set, posture by posture, including the name of each posture, in accordance with the instructions of the teacher. Clear your mind in order to memorize, contemplate, and properly perform what you are learning. When practicing the set, pay attention to the distinctions between internal and external, above and below. What is meant by “internal” is to “use intention rather than exertion”, to below “sink energy down to your elixir field”, to above “forcelessly press up your headtop”. What is meant by “external” is to keep your whole body nimble, to move your joints sequentially – “from foot to leg to waist”, to sink your shoulders and bend your elbows.
In the beginning, these principles need to be contemplated day and night in order to be truly understood. With each technique, each posture, delve into it in detail. Strive to perform each movement with precision. It is only once you have become skillful at a posture that you should move on to learning the next one, and thereby very gradually learn the whole set. In this way, you will not compromise the art, learning the material over a long period of time without ending up corrupting the principles.
When practicing the movements, all of the joints of your body must be loose and natural. You must not hold your breath and you must not move your limbs with any strain. These two points are thoroughly understood by students of internal styles of boxing arts. With every movement, turn of the waist, or kick, if you are short of breath or your body wobbles, the error lies always with holding the breath and straining the limbs.
1. When practicing, your head must not loll forward or back. Your headtop should be “pulled up as if suspended”. If you imagine you are balancing something on your head, you might force your head to be upright, which is why the idea of being suspended from above is used instead. Although your gaze is forward, it follows along with the turnings of your body. Although you are not actually looking at anything, your gaze is an essential part of the changes of movement, assisting your body and hands. Your mouth seems to be open but not open, closed but not closed. Keeping your breathing natural, breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth (a point which differs from the teachings of Tian Zhaolin). As your tongue generates saliva, swallow it down and do not spit it out.
2. Your body should be upright and not leaning in any direction. Your spine and tailbone should be vertical and not inclining in any direction. However, contained within the alternations of opening and closing, there is the hollowing of the chest and rounding of the back, as well as the flexibility of sinking the shoulders and turning the waist. These are things which beginners must pay attention to, otherwise bad habits will become difficult to correct and you will end up stuck in a state of stiffness. Under those circumstances, even if you develop a deep level of skill, it will be difficult to gain any practical use out of it.
3. Your forearms should be loose, shoulders hanging down, elbows drooping, palms slightly stretching, fingers slightly bent. Use intention to move your arms. Send energy coursing through to your fingertips. Building up over the days and months, you will eventually be full of internal power and a mysterious quality will naturally develop.
4. Your legs divide into one empty and the other full, and rise and lower like the steps of a cat. When the weight shifts onto your left leg, your left leg is full, right foot empty. When the weight shifts onto your right leg, your right leg is full, left foot empty. Emptiness does not mean that it is becoming totally insubstantial. Movement must not cease completely and you must maintain an intention of alternating between extending and contracting. Fullness simply means substantial, not using undue strength or fierceness. Your leg will go from bent to straight, but if you make it too straight, you are using too much strength. If your body leans forward, you are liable to lose your balance, and then the opponent will have an opportunity to attack.
5. The position of the sole of the foot should be divided into snapping kicks (i.e. the kicks to the side, sometimes written as “winging kicks”) and pressing kicks (which also is slightly different from the teachings of Tian Zhaolin). When doing a snapping kick, focus on the tip of the foot. When doing a pressing kick, focus on the entire sole of the foot. Where intention arrives, energy arrives. Where energy arrives, power arrives. The joints of your legs must loosen and the kick must go out with stability. It will then be easy to generate power. But if your body wobbles unstably, the kick will have no power at all.
The Taiji Boxing training sequence:
1. Learn the boxing sets – Taiji Boxing and Taiji Long Boxing.
2. Learn pushing hands – single hand and double hand, fixed step and moving step, then the large rollback exercise, and sparring.
3. Then learn weapons – Taiji Sword, Taiji Saber, and Taiji Spear (i.e. Thirteen Dynamics Spear).
When practicing the boxing set, run through it twice every morning after you get up. If you have no time in the morning, then run through it twice each evening before going to bed. Over the course of a day, you should practice the set seven or eight times, but at least once in the morning and evening. Do not practice after drinking alcohol or eating too much.
Your practice location ought to be something like a flower garden or courtyard in order to get plenty of fresh air and sunshine. Avoid standing directly in strong wind. Avoid also places with a damp and musty smell. Once you are moving and your breath deepens, windy or musty air will enter your lungs and can easily cause illness.
The proper clothes for practice are loose-fitting jacket and pants, as well as shoes that are not too tight. If you are sweating after practicing, do not remove your clothes and stand around with your skin exposed to a breeze, nor wipe yourself down with cold water, otherwise you are sure to make yourself ill.
TEN ESSENTIALS OF THE TAIJI BOXING ART
(These ten essential principles were selected from among the main points of various writings, Yang picking what he considered the top ten. They are very suitable for beginners to learn and memorize.)
1. Forcelessly press up your headtop.
By “press up your headtop” is indicated that the appearance of your head is upright and spirit penetrates to your headtop. You must not use exertion. If you use exertion, your neck will be straining, and energy and blood will be unable to flow through. There must be an intention of being forceless and natural. If you do not have this quality of forcelessly pressing up your headtop, then spirit cannot be raised.
2. Contain your chest and pluck up your back.
To “contain your chest” means your chest is slightly shrugged inward, causing energy to sink to your elixir field. Your chest must not stick out. If it sticks out, then energy will swarm to your chest area, resulting in your upper body being heavy and your lower body being light, and your heels will easily float up. To “pluck up your back” means energy sticks to your back. If you can contain your chest, then you will automatically be able to pluck up your back. If you can pluck up your back, then you can issue power from your spine and be invincible.
3. Loosen your waist.
The waist is the controller of the whole body. If you can loosen your waist, then your feet will have strength, and your stance will be stable. The transformations between empty and full all come from the turning of your waist. Thus it is said [in the Thirteen Dynamics Song] that the “command comes from your lower back”, and if you do not have the advantage, the problem “must be in the waist and legs, so look for it there”.
4. Distinguish between empty and full.
In the Taiji boxing art, distinguishing empty and full is of prime importance. If the weight is on your right leg, your right leg is full and your left leg is empty. If the weight is on your left leg, your left leg is full and your right leg is empty. If you can distinguish empty and full from each other, movements will be light and nimble, not at all strenuous. If they cannot be distinguished, your steps will be heavy and sluggish, your stance will naturally be unstable, and it will be easy for an opponent to pull you off-balance.
5. Sink your shoulders and drop your elbows.
To “sink your shoulders” means your shoulders loosen and hang down. If they cannot loosen and hang, they will end up lifting, then energy will also follow them upward, and your whole body will have no strength. To “drop your elbows” means an intention of loosening your elbows to drop them downward. If your elbows are lifted up, your shoulders cannot sink, and you will not send the opponent far. It would be more like the interrupted power of external styles.
6. Use intention rather than exertion.
A Taiji essay [Li Yiyu’s Five-Word Formula says: “This is entirely a matter of using intention, not exertion.” When practicing Taiji Boxing, your whole body should be loosened. If you do not allow there to be the slightest bit of clumsy effort clogging up the spaces between your muscles and bones, vessels and meridians, and which would tie you up in knots, then you can be nimble and adaptable, rounded and unhindered. You may ask: “If one does not exert oneself, how can one get stronger?” A person’s body has energy channels like irrigation canals. When a canal is unblocked, the water can move, and when the channels are not closed off, energy can flow. If your whole body is stiff, it is as though the channels have been filled in, and thus the energy and blood become stagnant, the movement becomes awkward, and your whole body will be affected by but the tug of a hair. If you use intention instead of exertion, then wherever your intention goes, energy will arrive. If energy and blood are flowing, constantly coursing through, circulating through your whole body without a moment of stagnation, then after practicing for a long time, you will obtain genuine internal power. Another Taiji essay [Understanding How to Practice] says: “Extreme softness begets extreme hardness.” One who is skilled in Taiji has arms like silk wrapped around iron and they feel very heavy. When practitioners of external styles use exertion, it is obvious they are exerting themselves, and when they do not use exertion, they are very light and floating. It can be seen that their strength is an external and superficial strength. The strength of external styles is the easiest to take advantage of, therefore do not esteem it.
7. Your upper body and lower coordinate with each other.
The meaning of this is stated in the classics thus: “Starting from your foot, issue through your leg, directing it at your waist, and expressing it at your fingers. From foot through leg through waist, it must be a fully continuous process.” Your hands move, your waist moves, your feet move, and even your gaze also goes along with the movement. If it is like this, then you can say your upper body and lower are coordinating with each other, but if there is one part that is not moving with all the rest, then you are in disorder.
8. Inside and outside merge with each other.
Taiji training is all about the spirit. Therefore it is said [in an earlier version of How to Practice]: “Your spirit is the general and your body is the army.” If your spirit can be lifted, naturally the movement will be nimble. There is nothing more to the solo set than emptiness and fullness, and expansion and contraction. Expansion is not only a matter of hands and feet. The intention also expands. Contraction is not only a matter of hands and feet. The intention also contracts. If you can merge inside and outside into a single unit, there will be entirely no distinction between them.
9. The movements are linked together without interruption.
In external styles of boxing arts, their strength is only the clumsy strength of acquired habit. Therefore there is a start and a stop, a continuing and an interrupting. It is when old force is spent and new force is not yet initiated that is the easiest moment for an opponent to take advantage of. Taiji uses intention, not exertion, and so from beginning to end, it is continuous without interruption, recycling endlessly. A primary text says: “It is like a long river flowing into the wide ocean, on and on ceaselessly.” It is also said [in How to Practice]: “Move energy as if drawing silk.” These words describe a continuous flow throughout.
10. Within movement, seek stillness.
External styles of boxing arts look upon jumping and posing as ability. Practitioners spend all of their energy, and therefore after practicing are always panting for breath. Taiji uses stillness to control movement, and although moving, seems yet to be in stillness. Therefore when practicing the solo set, the slower the better. When it is slow, your breath will be deep and long, energy will sink to your elixir field, and there will naturally be no excessive rise in heart-rate. Students who are attentive and realize through experience will all get the idea.
Two: Posthumous Writings of Li Yiyu
(Li Yiyu learned the art from Wu Yuxiang. Having thoroughly mastered it, he then produced a handwritten manuscript about it. Apart from a brief preface, he also contributed several other writings within that document, texts which are far more informative than his preface, and which grant us a wonderful glimpse into the secrets of the art.)
THE FIVE-WORD FORMULA
1. The mind is CALM.
If your mind is not calm, it will not be focused, and each movement of your hands, be it forward or back, left or right, will not be in any definite direction. Therefore your mind should be calm. At first your movement will not yet be able to come from yourself, and so you should clear your mind and let your body intuit, going along with the opponent’s movements. Bend and then extend, neither coming away nor crashing in, and do not expand and contract on your own. When the opponent has power, I also have power, but my power beats him to the punch. When he has no power, I also have no power, for it is my intention that beats him to the decision. You should constantly pay attention. Wherever the opponent nears you, your mind should go there. You must neither come away nor crash in, and then you will be able to analyze what is going on. After doing this for about a year or so, it will become a natural part of you. This is entirely a matter of using intention and is not a matter of using strength. Over time, you will reach the point in which you can say “he is under my control and I am not under his”.
2. The body is LIVELY.
When your body is sluggish, advancing and retreating cannot be done smoothly. Therefore your body should be lively. When moving your hands, there must be nothing resembling hesitation. When the opponent’s force hinders even the hairs on my skin, my intention instantly enters his bones and my hands are bracing him, all as one event. If he puts pressure on my left side, I empty my left side and my right side goes forth, or if he puts pressure on my right side, I empty my right side and my left side goes forth, the energy like a wheel. Your whole body should be coordinated. If there is a lack of coordination anywhere, your body will then be disorganized, and you will then have no power. Seek for the problem in your hips. First use your mind to command your body, and follow the opponent rather than yourself. Later your body will be able to follow your mind, yet this moving from yourself will still depend on following the opponent. If you act from yourself, you will be sluggish. If you follow the opponent, you will be lively. If you can follow the opponent, your hands on him will detect in finer detail, weighing the size of his power and being accurate to the smallest measure, assessing the length of his attack and not being off by the slightest bit, and you will advance and retreat always at the right moment. The more you work at it, the more perfected your skill will be.
3. The energy is COLLECTED.
If your energy is scattered, then it will not be stored, and your body will easily fall into disorder. You must cause the energy to collect into your spine. Inhaling and exhaling penetrates and enlivens, influencing every part of your body. Inhaling is contracting and storing. Exhaling is expanding and releasing. Since with inhaling there is a natural rising, take the opponent up. Since with exhaling there is a natural sinking, send the opponent away. This is the use of intention to move energy, not the use of exertion to force energy.
4. The power is COMPLETE.
The power of your whole body is trained to become a single unit, distinguishing clearly between empty and full. To issue power, there should be a source of it. Power starts from your heel, it is directed at your waist, and expresses at your fingers, issuing from your spine. With it there should also be a rousing of all your spirit. When the opponent’s power is about to come out but has not yet issued, my power connects with and invades his instantly, neither late nor early, as if my skin is a burning fire or as if a spring is gushing forth. I advance and retreat without the slightest disorder, and seeking the straight within the curved, I store and then issue. Thus I am able to be effortlessly successful. This is called “borrowing his force to hit him with” or “using four ounces to move a thousand pounds”.
5. The spirit is GATHERED.
With the four above prepared, finally spirit gathers. Once spirit is gathered, then energy is tempered, and this smelted energy then reinforces spirit. Energy is ready to move and spirit is concentrated. Expanding and contracting are decisive. Emptiness and fullness are distinct. When left is empty, right is full. When right is empty, left is full. Empty does not mean you are in that area completely weak, but that energy should there be ready to move. Full does not mean you are in that area completely stuck, but that spirit should there be concentrated. It is crucial that changes are within your chest and waist and are not external. Force is borrowed from the opponent. Energy is issued from your spine. How can energy issue from your spine? It sinks downward, going from your shoulders, gathering in your spine, and concentrates in your waist. This energy going from above to below is called “contracting”. Then it goes from your waist to your spine, spreading to your arms to be applied at your fingers. This energy going from below to above is called “expanding”. Contracting is gathering. Expanding is releasing. When you can understand expanding and contracting, then you will understand passive and active. When you reach this state, then daily work will yield daily refinement, and gradually you will reach the point that you can do whatever you want and everything will happen as you imagine.
THE TRICK TO RELEASING
Raise, draw in, relax, and release.
I get the opponent’s body to rise up and I borrow his force. (This has to do with “lively”.)
Once I have drawn him in front of me, my power begins to store. (This has to do with “collected”.)
I relax my power, but I do not allow it to collapse. (This has to do with “calm”.)
When I release, it comes from my waist and legs. (This has to do with “complete”.)
ESSENTIALS IN PRACTICING THE SOLO SET & PLAYING HANDS
Someone long ago said: “If you can draw the opponent in to land on nothing, you can then use four ounces of force to move his of a thousand pounds. If you cannot draw the opponent in to land on nothing, you cannot use four ounces to move a thousand pounds.” These words are probably too vague for a beginner to understand. I will explain further so that those who want this skill are in a position to begin and then after much regular training get to possess it:
– If you want to  draw the opponent into emptiness and use four ounces to move a thousand pounds, you must first  know both yourself and the opponent.
– If you want to know both yourself and the opponent, you must first  let go of your plans and just respond to the opponent.
– If you want to let go of your plans and just respond to the opponent, you must first  be in the right place at the right time.
– If you want to be in the right place at the right time, you must first  get your whole body to behave as one unit.
– If you want to get your whole body to behave as one unit, you must first  get your whole body to be without cracks or gaps.
– If you want to get your whole body to be without cracks or gaps, you must first  get your spirit and energy to be ready.
– If you want your spirit and energy to be ready, you must first  rouse your spirit rather than letting it be distracted.
– If you want to keep your spirit from being distracted, you must first  get your spirit and energy to gather and collect in your spine.
– If you want to get your spirit and energy to gather and collect in your spine, you must first  get the front of your thighs to have strength, get your shoulders to loosen, and get your energy to sink downward.
Power starts from your heel, is transferred through your leg, stored in your chest, moved at your shoulders, and controlled at your waist. In your upper body, your arms are connected with each other. In your lower body, your legs are coordinated with each other. Power is transferred from within. Gathering is contracting. Releasing is expanding. When becoming still, everything becomes still. Stillness refers to contracting. When contraction finishes, there will be expansion. When there is movement, everything moves. Movement refers to expanding. When expansion finishes, there will be contraction. Then when there is contact, you can turn smoothly and will be strong everywhere. You will then be able to draw the opponent in to land on nothing and use four ounces of force to move his of a thousand pounds.
Whenever you practice the solo set, it is the practice of knowing yourself. Before moving through the postures, make sure your whole body is in accord with the principles as stated above. When the slightest part is off, immediately adjust it. To facilitate this, the set should be done slowly rather than quickly.
Playing hands is then the practice of knowing the opponent. His movement and stillness must be firmly comprehended. Still examine yourself as well. If I am in good order myself, then when the opponent comes near me, I do not need to act upon him at all, but take advantage of his momentum to find a way in. Connecting firmly to his power, I let him cause himself to fall out. If you do not have a strong position, this is simply a case of double pressure rather than neutralization, and you should seek within passive and active, or contracting and expanding, to fix it. It is said: “Knowing both yourself and your opponent, in a hundred battles you will have a hundred victories.”
Three: Posthumous Writings of Sun Lutang
(Sun Lutang had a profound understanding of Xingyi, Bagua, and Taiji, and wrote many books about them. Unfortunately, when I came to Taiwan, my luggage was too small to fit all my books, leaving me with only enough space for a few old books and a pile of old papers. The only writings of Sun that I managed to bring were these notes from a lecture he gave. I present them here to preserve these extra teachings of Sun and to supply fellow enthusiasts with unique material for study.)
ESSENTIALS OF TAIJI BOXING POSTURES & MOVEMENTS
Although there are different versions of the practice set, with a few of the postures being giving variant names, the principles of the art are the same. Taiji Boxing’s postures and movements all have specific requirements and each has a specific meaning. You must practice in accordance with these requirements. The requirements of the art are presented briefly below:
Your head should have an intention of pressing up, but must not do so with exertion. By pressing your head up, the headtop is made upright and spirit is concentrated.
Your mouth should be gently closed, tongue touching your upper palate. Breathe through your nose, and the breath should be even and fine.
Your shoulders should loosen and hang down. They should on no account be lifting, which would cause your energy to rise upward.
Your elbows should drop down. If your elbows are dropped, then your shoulders will hang, and the energy within your belly will then be able to sink to your elixir field. With your elbows dropped, your arms will be bent. This has to do with: “Within curving, seek to be straightening. Store and then issue.”
Your fingers are to be loose (i.e. should not be held together) and your wrists should sink (or what Tian Zhaolin phrased as “your wrists should settle”).
Your chest should be contained and must not stick out. When your chest is contained, energy sinks, but if your chest sticks out, energy will rise up. If energy rises, then you will be heavy above and light below, and your heels will float up, which is something to be avoided in boxing arts.
When practicing the set, it is necessary to settle your waist, because the waist is the controller of the whole body. In turning left or right, and in advancing or retreating, by way of complete reliance on your waist there will be power coursing through.
Your legs should be bent and should not be straight. (Tian Zhaolin similarly said of the small frame of the boxing set that both legs should be bent.) There should be distinction between empty and full (i.e. the weight placed onto one leg at a time), otherwise the movement will not be nimble.
It is said that “energy sinks to your elixir field” (three inches below the navel), which signifies deep breathing. Deep breathing is always a very important idea in Taiji Boxing, but you must not forcefully press the energy down and should instead let it happen naturally.
Movement & Stillness:
In Daoist meditation methods, we seek movement within stillness, but in Taiji Boxing we seek stillness within movement. When practicing the set, your mind should be calm and your spirit focused, and thereby the movements can be nimble.
Intention & Exertion:
A characteristic of Taiji Boxing is the use of intention rather than exertion. Because Taiji Boxing seeks to use a lively strength, you should seek for both extreme softness and extreme hardness, for both extreme heaviness and extreme nimbleness. Where intention goes, power goes, and a lively strength is naturally generated. If you instead use an awkward exertion, it will be sluggish and ineffective, strength only on the outer surface, and this is incompatible with the requirements of internal boxing arts.