I will take a short break from this blog. I will try to publish some thoughts and vids the next few weeks, but the translation of the classics will probably have to wait. Just letting you know that so you don’t get tired of waiting for more.
The Taijiquan Jing
or The Taijiquan lilun
Attributed to Chang San-feng
Translated and explained by David Roth-Lindberg
zhōushēn jù yào qīng líng,
yóu xū guànchuàn.)
Whenever in movement
the body is light and nimble.
All of the body parts connected as stringed together.
When practicing a taijiquan form or when use your taiji to fight with is the same. You always make clever use of both movement and power. In movement, the body parts is always arranged from the center. If you arrange the body properly, you will move with the same agility like a skilled and professional dancer. Or similar to a cat.
(Qì yí gǔ dàng,
shén yí nèi liàn.)
The Qi (intrinsic energy) should be excited
The Shen (spirit/vitality) gathered within
Only when you are calm and focused, your qi can rise. In Daoism, when you are calm and have an empty mind (wuxin), the heart flame will sink to the dantian below the “water” or Jing. Then the heart flame will heat up this “stove”, and make it produce “gas” or “qi”. So only when you are focused and calm, you can circulate qi throughout your body. It is said that “the mind leads the qi, the qi leads your movement”. In western terms, you can just translate this as: “if you are calm and focused, you are in control of your movements.” In that way it makes more sense. When you fight, always be calm and focused so you know what you do with your body. The passage is not more mystical than this really, it is just explained with traditional chinese thought and old terms.
(Wú shǐ yǒu quēxiàn chǔ,
wú shǐ yǒu tū āo chǔ,
wú shǐ yǒu duànxù chǔ.)
This one is a bit tricky actually. People tend to translate this passage as a dichtomy of posture and form practice and it is usually understood as an advice to stance and form practice. But I think this is wrong and that it’s actually a most practical advice for fighting. The passage says that there should be: “no defect of posture, no gaps and distortions of alignment and movement should be smooth without any breaks.” I don’t really agree that this passage is meant for single practice. What is meant by “no 凸凹” or no “convex or concave” as the characters means, here actually means that there should be no place and no gaps for a punch to enter. If you take the passage as a whole, it means that alignment, stance and movement should have no gaps or holes, whether you stand or move. You should be continuous in motion and have a good frame, alignment and posture = a good guard, so that you can not be hit by your opponent. So you might just translate this passage to:
“When you are standing or in movement,
always keep your alignment and keep your guard up”.
Thats very different from for instance Scheele’s translation, isn’t it? Compare yourself:
“The postures should be without defect,
without hollows or projections from the proper alignment;
in motion the Form should be continuous, without stops and starts.”
So if you read the classics, you will have a very different translation if you read it as health theory or have a practical martial art in mind.
You might have heard about or even read The Tai Chi Classics. My next project is to translate, explain and comment hopefully all of the different texts and books which are together called the “taiji classics”. I will start with the 太極拳論 Taijiquan lun or Taijiquan Jing as it is often called, right away, a text which is usually attributed to the semi-mythical Zhang Sanfeng. He probably didn’t write a shit, but this is what some people believe anyway. When I started reading this first of the texts in original, I was surprised when I understood how simple and to the point it actually is. In my opinion it’s a simple and most practical boxing manual and have very little to do with mystical mumbo-jumbo.
Therefore I will translate and discuss each passage in the most practical, no-nonsens, common sense manner as possibly. You will get the characters and explanation of the terms so that it’s easier to judge and contemplate on the meaning by yourself. With traditional Chinese, it’s always pointless to just translate the characters one by one, so I will explain the verses and let you know what I think that they mean.
But I won’t give you everything together at once, but instead take a few passages in different posts. This way I don’t need to hurry with the translations and you won’t need to take in too much at once. Just read and reflect on a few verses at a time. Well, just jump to the next post, I will start right away with the first three verses.
Just look up all of the translation here: The Tai Chi Classics
William C.C . Chen has a good text on his homepage on the Tai Chi foot called The Mechanics of the Three Nails. The three nails that Mr. Chen is speaking about is on the inside of the feet and located on the big toe, inside of the ball of he foot and on the heel.
It’s a very good article and has more wisdom that many would realize without really test what is in it. I do agree on that the foot should not be totally relaxed or too soft. However, I would personally focus even more on activity. In Taijiquan, the feet should be alive, moving and take an active part of the movement. Mr Chen says that this as well but in another way.
But it’s hard to grasp the activity without practicing and feeling the dynamic movement. One simple exercise that I would propose is to stand naturally in either a “wuji” position or straight up, feet shoulder width and with the inside of the feet parallell to each other. Or you can stand in a small bow stance or in a small oblique/sideways horse stance. It doesn’t really matter what stance you choose, but keep it small and natural. First relax the feet as much as you can. Feel it spread out like a fan below your weight. Then try to grasp the floor with your feet. The ball of the foot must stay firm on the ground. Try to grasp the floor using the space between the toes and the ball of the foot, and also with the space between the heel and the ball. Now, shift your weight while coordinating this squeezing and relaxing of the foot. Do this for a while, just feeling what’s happening. Now, keep the three nails firm on the ground. Then press or squeeze down your little toe to move the weight from one foot to another.
The important point is to really activate the foot, not keeping it dead or just as something supporting the weight. Practice this while doing your form or practicing push hands with a friend. This will give your whole body a certain alertness and aliveness. You will understand the difference when you get hang of it.
What is long movement or Changjin in Tai Chi (Taijiquan)? People translate Changjin as “long energy”. I think that “energy” is always a bad translation for jin and it’s better to leave all kinds of energies out. At least for this discussion. “Quality” is a much better translation. Changjin means that there must be a “long quality” in the medium and large frame practice of Yang style Taijiquan. Long quality is in the shenfa or body method. In Yang style “just making movements large” is not enough. Long movement must have quality. Long movement is a “stretching quality”.
But the arm does not visually have to be fully stretched. The secret is not in the arms. Instead, the stretching quality starts from the lower back and here, it’s supported from the dantian. The stretching movement goes from the lower back, the whole way up from the lower ribs, spine, through the scapula and it’s carried out through the whole arm, right out to the fingertips. The arm can have a certain firmness but can not be tensed. If the movement of the wrist is coordinated with the movement of the waist, there should be a twisting sensation felt through the whole arm. Connected with the dantian, this is practicing what is called “twisting silk reeling” in Chen style. The movement should be smooth and uninterrupted. The movement is very strong. In movement, an opponent can not fold the practitioners arm or in any way compromise it’s structure.
If all of this you feel uncomfortable and tense, well, you might tense too much. Focus more on the legs and the waist/dantian and try to stabilize your movement from the roots and up. Successful and relaxed long movement in Yang tai chi demands a very strong base and great waist movement. If the stance is lacking or the roots are not fully developed, the practitioner is suggested to focus more on relaxation and comfortable movement instead of the stretching quality.
Take a look at these two Yang masters. If you have practiced for a while and is acquainted with form practice, can easily see that they have a “stretching quality” through out the arms, all of the time and in any movement. You should also be able to see that the strength of the arms comes from the back and legs.