Chang Yijin in Authentic Principles of Taijiquan includes an essay titled Related Thoughts on "New Ideas". Undoubtedly he addresses conditions in China that are different from ours. But this board has also encountered posters who may not be convinced of the importance of the Classics. I am posting a translation of his essay.
Correspondences from quite a few of the readers comment on how my “discussions on the principles of Taijiquan differ from those discussed by others, containing many new ideas”, etc. These comments not only cause me some embarrassment but also surprise. After recovering from my surprise, I reflected on the words “new ideas”.
The Position of the Classics
A common approach in Taijiquan books is to devote the vast majority of a book to introducing the frame. After the frame’s introduction, the author’s “work” is completed. The Classics which are the heart and soul of Taijiquan are attached as “Appendix” at the end of the book. As Appendix, they are intended only as reference, not essential to the book.
The Classics are the essence of Taijiquan; they are the soul of Taijiquan. To not recognize their importance to guide our practice, to not respect their authoritative stature, to casually make decisions on our own, our Taijiquan would inevitably veer and go down a wrong path.
As the Classics have become “Appendix”, such a reversal of a book’s presentation order reflects many peoples’ slighting of the Classics; they have not delved into the relationship between the Classics and the frame. Since this represents an author’s viewpoint, the readers (mainly practitioners) mostly view Taijiquan merely as another barehand form and do not examine directly the differences between Taijiquan and other forms. They suppose that with daily practice their skills will be developed. However, after a long period of practice, they do not possess even a shadow of Taijiquan skills; they have not developed the ability to use softness to conquer hardness but have themselves become warriors as hard as steel. They now turn around to say that “using softness to conquer hardness” is but exaggerated Taijiquan propaganda propagated by the literati; it may sound good, but as for real martial arts skills, how would it be possible without great strength?
This is quite a common situation in today’s world of Taijiquan. Many have forgotten the existence of the Classics, or they misinterpret the Classics. They would either not look directly at or altogether avoid the special Taijiquan characteristics expounded in the Classics such as “whenever one moves, the entire body must be light and lively”, “…in all of these cases, it is yi, and are not from externalities”, “a feather cannot be added; a fly cannot alight”, “issuing jin requires being sunken and thoroughly loosened”. They would say that beginners only need to pay attention to loosened and soft for a year or two! Is this really sufficient to just pay attention to loosened and soft for one or two years? Would that lead to “thoroughly loosened”? Can the skill of listening jin then reach the level of “a feather cannot be added; a fly cannot alight”? Isn’t this directly contradicting the teachings of the Classics and is merely some willful subjective substitution?
To revitalize Taijiquan and to restore Taijiquan to its original form, we must change the current mode of not practicing according to the Classics; we must change our situation of bending the interpretation of the Classics at will. First we must place the Classics in their rightful position. Therefore in my work I deviate from the common practice and place the Classics at the beginning of my book in order to convey to practitioners their importance, to clearly state that they are not only for use as reference, that they can only be placed as “Appendix”, but that we must use them to guide our practice. Whether it be practicing the frame or push hands, we must respect their authoritative stature. They are the summation of numerous generations’ forerunners’ practical experience; they are the congelation of wisdom; they are the theoretical basis for calling Taijiquan Taijiquan; they hold the wonderment of Taijiquan. Without them, we would not have Taijiquan.
The ancients used the accumulation of uncountable generations’ experiences to raise them to the high level of theory and wrote the Classics so as to show those who come afterwards the essential path. Only by following the Classics to practice the frame can one practice real Taijiquan. And it is only by following the Classics in practice can one reach the acme of Taijiquan skills, to obtain its special applications results. If the Classics have no relevance to our practice, why would the ancients bother with their creation?
Due to the terrible causes of the past few decades, we are tasting in full the bad fruits. In every walk of life few are dedicated to their work and at the same time serious work lack continuity. Shallow and mediocre cads are everywhere and capable, educated, thoughtful people are few. The world of Taijiquan is not exempt. Many people do not follow the Classics. Instead they substitute their own feelings for the Classics. To borrow a popular phrase, this is “ruled by man” and not “ruled by law (of Classics)”.
The Classics in Our Heart
For practitioners of Taijiquan, the attitude toward the Classics can best be likened to the faithful and their scripture: To read them daily. Not only should one be thoroughly familiar with them, one should frequently study them in depth, at all times link up with practice to become enlightened of their principles. One must attain a certain degree of understanding of the Classics in order for practice to rise to a given level. With a shallow appreciation of theory or with insufficient grasp of theory, skills cannot be developed.
Without the Classics in one’s heart, with low level skills, or having distorted Taijiquan to other barehand forms gives rise to the strange phenomenon of people opposing “using softness to conquer hardness”. What kind of Taijiquan is it without using softness to conquer hardness!
As proven in practice, softness and lightness with liveliness cannot be achieved in one or two years. Many pursue a lifetime and yet do not obtain the fruits of softness and lightness with liveliness. Yet only with a high degree of softness and lightness with liveliness can one’s sensitivity in listening jin reach the state of “the other does not know me; I alone know the other”. The Classics also say “the prowess of the hero has no equal. Does it not all come from this?” One sees that softness and lightness with liveliness must not be neglected by Taijiquan practitioners; they are the goals of lifelong struggle.
Our Taijiquan has already been twisted and has become deformed. I wish to defend the true and authoritative stature of the Classics, to return Taijiquan to its original form. In actuality, what I discuss and narrate simply emphasizes immutable principles in the Classics such as “reach the utmost in softness, then reach the utmost in hardness”, “spirit should be focused within in stillness”, “ponder and silently comprehend”. I am hardly introducing “new ideas”; what I discuss are existing ideas and old ideas from the Classics, adding only my understandings from practice.
We should awaken to this situation in our Taijiquan world. Many do not follow the Classics and blindly plow ahead in their practice; their Taijiquan is no longer Taijiquan – this has already become a serious problem and has been in existence for some time.
The Classics As Criteria for Right and Wrong
It is common to consider that Taijiquan has five schools. Actually the number is greater. Some are real Taijiquan, he school of Xi’an is a clear example, but few people know about it. In publications new schools often pop up. Mostly these are offsprings of Yang and Wu schools where the leaders are eager to establish their own schools. The skills of many of these leaders are not high enough to really establish new schools. But all kinds of theories float around to support their claims. Many readers complain that it’s difficult to distinguish between who practices real Taijiquan. I can boldly advise the readers to simply observe whether their practice is consistent with the Classics. If they are not, even if the practitioner has a great deal of fame, there are good reasons for suspicion.
As for my “discussions on the principles of Taijiquan differ from those discussed by others”, the differences may be real. However, since I do not violate the principles of the Classics, I am not the one who is distorting Taijiquan. Being different from others cannot be helped and is a good thing!