A MASTER FENG ZHIQIANG EARLY LECTURE ON TAIJIQUAN AND BODY MECHANICS
Taijiquan is an Art form which is all embracing. It is the union of Yin and Yang. Yin refers to both the Earth and the Moon and Yang refers to both Heaven and the Sun. According to traditional Chinese philosophy, Taiji is the origin of all that exists in the universe. Taijiquan was created based upon the philosophical theory of Taiji.
Taijiquan is an advanced martial art which increases the practitioner’s health through a combination of breathing exercises and internal energy practices or QiGong. Taijiquan Shadow Boxing is not only a superior fighting method but also promotes good health and longevity. For these reasons, Taijiquan is respected throughout the world. It is also becoming popular as a competitive sport in many countries outside of China.
Chen style Taijiquan is an ancient form of martial arts with a history of several hundred years. It is characterized by its spiral like twisting and turning of the body while simultaneously extending and contracting the limbs. A Taijiquan practitioner can strike with any part of his body which has come into contact with his opponent. Furthermore, once a Taijiquan practitioner begins to move he is on the path of a circle. We can say that every movement is a Taiji circle.
In following the Taijiquan path, we must combine study, practice and usage or applications into one. To practice well one must understand Taijiquan theory. Without a real understanding of Taijiquan theory, one cannot practice well.
Another aspect of Taijiquan practice is that it is so relaxing. Performing Taijiquan is like “swimming in air”. The circular movements feel as if we are painting a beautiful picture in the air, tracing the circularity of the Taiji diagram. Practicing Taijiquan also has the purpose of promoting the flow of one’s Internal Qi (vital energy). It assists in making the Internal Qi flow throughout the entire body. In order to accomplish this one must practice in such a manner as to be fully relaxed. The body posture must be upright with the back straightened and aligned. The movements must be light and sensitive without the use of stiff force. The crotch must be opened and the hips rounded. The movements, whether extending or curving, opening or closing, must all be natural and the forces of Yin and Yang kept in unified balance.
There are some practitioners of Taijiquan who have practiced for many years yet still complain that they are unable to feel that their own Internal Qi has started to flow or even do not know what the Internal Qi actually is. They have expressed their hopes that the Master could give them some advice so that they could better understand.
My understanding is that Taiji (the Great Ultimate or Unity of Yin and Yang) comes from Wuji. Wuji refers to a State of Nothingness or Empty Space, the Void. This indicates that one must practice Wuji standing first. Wuji standing is done by standing with feet shoulder width apart and weight equally distributed on both feet. The arms hang down naturally and the mind is in a state of quiescence.
Through the practice of Wuji standing the Internal Qi will be cultivated within the body. Vitality will be strengthened. Wuji standing will produce and combine the Yin and Yang energies. At the same time, Wuji standing allows the turbid Yin energy to descend downwards and the pure Yang energy to ascend upwards. Consequently, the Internal Qi in one’s 5 internal organs (kidneys, liver, spleen, heart and lungs) will be strengthened and the Internal Qi will flow smoothly through the Qi meridians and channels. This will achieve the result of the combination of internal and external until the whole body is filled with Internal Qi.
Wuji, the state of nothingness, gives birth to Taiji, the union of opposites. Taiji gives birth to Yin and Yang. The Yin and Yang gives birth to the Three Geniuses. The Three Geniuses give birth to the Four Symbols. The Four Symbols give birth to the Five Directions. The Five Directions give birth to the Six Combinations. The Six Combinations give birth to the Seven Stars (Big Dipper). The Seven Stars give birth to the Eight Diagrams. The Eight Diagrams give birth to the Nine Squares. And the Nine Squares return to Taiji. After this we return to Wuji, the State of Nothingness. We both start with Wuji and end with Wuji. Hopefully, Taijiquan enthusiasts will someday be able to experience this as a result of their own practice.
PRINCIPLES OF CHEN 48 TAIJI POSTURES/MOVEMENTS
In response to the requests of many martial arts circles, the 48 posture Chen Style Taijiquan was completed in 1983 based upon the first routine (I-Lu) of the original Chen Style Taijiquan. The 48 form contains all the original postures of the old set while eliminating the many repetitions of postures (and adding some additional postures).
Chen Style Taijiquan has its own characteristics and requirements. Movements are characterized by: spiral twisting and turning; fullness and roundness of the Internal Qi; the coordinated rotation of the 18 body parts (i.e. 2 shoulders, 2 elbows, 2 wrists, 2 hips, 2 knees, 2 ankles, 2 buttocks, the chest, the waist, the abdomen and the neck). It is through constant practice of the spiral twists and turns of each of the 18 body parts that we achieve the rotation of the body as a whole and the formation of the “Taiji Ball” inflated by the Internal Qi within the whole body. This is our goal.
The characteristics and requirements of the 48 Posture Chen Taijiquan are as follows: Once one part of the body moves, the rest of the body must also move together in coordinated manner. Each movement is a part of the Taiji circle. Everywhere there are spiral twists and turns as well as contracting, bending or extending. And everywhere there is a clear differentiation betweea Yin and Yang.
Any part of the body may be utilized to strike the opponent. The hand, elbow and/or shoulder can be use to strike. So too the head, chest and hip can strike. Every part of the body may be used to strike. In addition, once one is in contact with one’s opponent, any part of the body can be used to neutralize an attack by our opponent. Stick to your opponent wherever you may have engaged at the point of contact. Use spirals and twists.
Another characteristic is that opening and closing is like carefully drawing a strand of silk or thread. Changing our posture is like twisting and spiraling. Through practice of the Chen Style Taijiquan we can achieve the end result of integrating various body parts into a unified whole and creating a round ball inflated with the Internal Qi within the body.
Therefore, when practicing Taijiquan we must avoid the use of clumsy (stiff or brute) force. Be sure to use the body as a whole. Be sure to combine both the external and internal. Be sure to keep the body posture upright and avoid leaning. The head must be kept centered and upright “as if suspended from above.” The crotch must be rounded and opened.
The crotch must be rounded and in the shape of the arch in a bridge. If the crotch is pointed (like a pyramid or triangle) it will be without force to the sides and the legs will have no outward strength or lateral support. If the crotch is flattened horizontally like a flat or square bridge, it will have no upward force in the center. So the crotch must be in shape of an arch. It is referred to as crotch opening and hips rounding. There must also be the hollowing of the chest and the substantiating of the abdomen.
The whole body must have 5 bows (2 arms, the back and 2 legs). Each part of the body must be slightly bent, or bowed, or arched. The chest must be tucked in and the back rounded. The arm must be curved and the wrist slightly bent. When you extend your arm outward, drop your shoulder and sink your elbow. As a result, your arm will be curved or bowed. Once you relax your palm, you have an arch. Also, when you bend both legs, you also have an arch. When anything becomes too stiff and straight it is sure to be broken.
When practicing we should pay attention to using the mind, and not the Internal Qi to direct our movements. If your focus is on the Internal Qi it will be sluggish; if you practice with the mind; it will flow. When practicing with the Internal Qi do not use force; if you use force it will break. Our forefathers said: “Practicing Taijiquan is like swimming in Air.” It all depends upon the mind and not on the use of clumsy, stiff or brute force.
The most striking point of this style is the very existence of empty and full; the Yin and the Yang; and the hardness and softness in opening and closing movements. When demonstrating the form there is the lengthening and shortening; the bending and stretching; the contracting and expanding. We should encounter the secret of opening and closing throughout.
There are circles throughout our practice. They can be categorized as clockwise (shun) and counter—clockwise (Nee) when the elbow and palm rotate outward we have “Nee”. When the elbow and little finger of the palm rotate inward we have “Shun”. Shun denotes sinking, closing, relaxing, soft or the Yin aspect of arm rotation. Nee denotes’ the opening, expending, rotating outward, hard or Yang aspect of arm rotation. The same can also be said of the legs. (Keep in mind that relaxing is not the same as collapsing or emptying. In Yin there also is Yang and vica versa).
Once we encircle clockwise or “Shun” the Internal Qi and blood returns to the center. And when we circle counter clockwise or “Nee” the Internal Qi and blood will flow outward to the extremities. To encircle our opponent, “Shun” first then “Ni”. First entwine with softness and then later send out power (as in “store first and then release”), this uniting soft and hard, Yin and Yang.
When a posture draws inward it is called “Lu” or rolling back. When a posture goes outward and forward it is call “Gee” or pressing. But even this manner of expression is incomplete. Because in any posture the hand method may transform into 8 different applications 8 x 8 = 64 different hand methods. The change of hand methods could be endless. Among them some are open and obvious and other are hidden and secret. The former can be seen and the latter are invisible to outward appearance.
Among the hand methods, which cannot be seen are sticking, adhering, joining and following. Also, there are “Peng” or ward off, “Lu” or roll back “Gee” or press, “An” or push down; “Lieh” or sudden response; “Jou” or elbow and “Kou” or shouldering.
The characteristics of Taijiquan include sticking, adhering, joining and following; its 4 basic hand methods of “Peng”, “Lu”, “Gee” and “An”, and its 4 auxiliary hand methods of “Tsai”, “Lieh”, “Jou” and “Kou”. These are the main forces of Taijiquan.
Then practicing Taijiquan the internal Qi flows. Opening and closing are performed like “drawing silk”. In applying these there is the hand method of “sticking”. Even if the force may break, the mind continues. Should the mind break, then the spirit continues. With regard to the methods of “joining and following”, when the opponent issues his power, I am soft and yielding. When the opponent neutralizes my force, I will follow him. This is the method called “Following”.
There are many responses which are not easily understood. There are no fixed applications in form. For instance, the posture of “Buddha’s warrior attendant Pounds the Mortar” has many different possible applications. The up raising fist could be an upper cut or pulling the opponent into an uppercut punch. The two hands hitting together could be punching the opponents wrist from above while holding below or striking the opponent’s arm from both sides. The upward arm movement can attach to the lower groin level or upward to the head. The hand descending could be hitting down on the forehead with the fore knuckles of the fist. As the saying states “a fixed method is no method at all”.
When we are practicing Taijiquan we are really practicing the “stance keeping.” The “Wuji stance” practices standing in a fixed position, without stepping. Practicing the form we are still practicing “stance keeping” with moving steps. Push Hands is also a type of stance keeping. When practicing Push Hands we are practicing the hand methods with the upper body while practicing fixed stance — keeping with the lower body. Both upper and lower body are in a state of quiescence. When practicing the Taijiquan form both our upper body and our lower body are moving together. This may be called stance keeping with moving steps or Dynamic stance keeping with moving steps. There is also a type of quiescent stance keeping with moving and fixed steps.
We treat all these movements as practicing stance keeping, thus achieving greater results. In doing so we may achieve the flow of internal Qi within the body. Through this type of practice, one will understand that Taijiquan is an exercise that promotes the flow of internal Qi. The movement of the internal Qi combines with the outward manifestation of form. This we can call it a combination (union) of the internal and external. Otherwise, all you have are hollow postures or showing postures.
In addition we should master the basic hand methods of Peng, Lu, Gee and An. We should be able to apply these methods flexibly and inter changeably. The force of Peng is upward. The force of Gee is outward. The outward force of “Gee” can be done with any hand position using the palms, fists or fingers. Backward movement is called Roll Back Or “Lu”. It can be performed with downward, sideward motion or even cross body motion using the forearms. Even the chest can be used to roll back force from side to side.
Downward Pushing is “An” and is accompanied by sinking in the “Kua” (inguinal crease between upper thigh and pelvis). Peng is upward movement and can be accomplished with any part of the body, whether wrists, palms or even elbows. These 4 basic methods can be done with any part of the body, not just with the hands or arms. Even the feet and legs can be used to apply these forces. The important part is the direction of force is clear the force is the same regardless of what part of the body is used. Only with this understanding can we actually practice Taijiquan according to Taijiquan theory. The directions of forces are always the same, only the form postures are different.
Of course there are all types of elbow attacks including forward, backward, to the side, up, down and outward. “Kou” is a type of striking, not just limited to the shoulder. “Kou” can be done striking with shoulder, chest, elbow or even the fist. It can be done with the knee, hip or even the head. Any part of the body can be used to strike with.
The 8 methods of using force should be used flexibly and interchangeable. We should clearly distinguish these methods when practicing the Taijiquan form. Another example might be “Lazily tying the Coat”. In this method, the lead right hand and stance draw backward. The lead hand drawing back could either be used as “Lu” or roll back or even as a strike. While drawing the body backward the rear hip and outward by could also be striking or pressing to the rear. When shifting forward the hand and knee could be striking or pressing forward. A Master expects his students to be able to learn more by analogy. If the Master shows 3 examples and the student cannot even understand one, then, of course, the Master will be upset. There is a saying that if the Master can show you one corner, the alert student can figure out the other three by himself.
There are lots of individual hand positions. There is the punch hand position with many variations. The fist can be horizontal with the palm facing down (Yang Fist Position) or facing up (Yin Fist Position). There is the vertical fist with the thumb facing upward, also called the Yin—Yang Fist. The fist can protrude the first finger fore knuckle or the middle finger fore knuckle for pin point targeting. There is another fist where all the fore knuckles are extended in progressive position. This fist, called the “padded fist”, is used for striking the ears or temple to either side of the opponent’s head.
There are many variations to the palm as well. There is the vertical (“Lee”) palm with the fingers pointing upward and the wrist down. The palm or palm outer edge can be used for striking. If the palm position faces upward it is called the “Yin” palm position and if it faces downward is called the “Yang” palm position.
There is a hand called the “Ba” hand position where only the forefinger and thumb are extended outward and away from each other. It is called the “Ba” hand because the thumb and forefinger position resembles the Chinese character for the number eight. If the palm faces upward it is called the “Yin” Ba hand position and if facing downward it is called the “Yang” Ba hand position.
Other palm positions include the corrugated or “tile palm” hand position. If the thumb and little finger close toward each other causing a closing of the palm crease in the “Lao Gung” or palm center it is called the Closing “tile” Palm position. There is also the snake palm and corrugated snake palm used when the palm is cupped and the fingers are pointed outward. If the fingers and hand are fully stretched and the fingers are pointed forward it is called the Snake Palm (as in the movement “White Snake Puts out its Tongue”).
Once again we cannot regard these various hand positions as rigid or fixed. They are interchangeable and flexible in application. A forward punch with a fist could change into a fore knuckle strike for penetration and pin point striking. It could also change into a finger extended snake (or spear) hand formation to reach a more distant target area or a palm strike for a closer target area. In short when practicing Chen style Taijiquan we must not be rigid in our applications. We must retain flexibility and rely on the guidance of Taijiquan theory and principles.
Lecture from 1988 transcript to Instructional 48 Form tape/dvd