The Taiji State of Yin and Yang

The Taiji State of Yin and Yang

Postby Audi » Mon May 27, 2002 4:15 pm

Hi everyone,

I wanted to continue a thought I had about the thread in the Miscellaneous Forum about how to know one is doing something right. Essentially, I want to propose for discussion some of what the philosophical principle “taiji” means for practice of Taijiquan. Since “taji” is one of the quintessential principles of Taijiquan, I thought this forum would be more appropriate than “miscellaneous.”J

I find the concept of “taiji” to be at the heart of many issues I have discussed with Taiji friends. It has also been a great source of frustration as I have struggled with my practice and also struggled to explain concepts I have found to be simple at their core, but hard to put into words. Writing this has allowed me to release some of that frustration and organize my thoughts for future discussions. As you can see from the length of this post, for which I apologize, I seem to have been one frustrated person.J

In putting down my thoughts, I am shamelessly plagiarizing the ideas of others and lay claim to nothing original. I assume anybody interested in reading a post this long has read enough about Taijiquan or will read enough so that he or she can identify the general sources of what I am discussing. What I am doing is simply putting my own slant on what I understand of others’ ideas.

From what I have read, it seems that the relationship between yin and yang can be thought of in at least four different ways. I am not proposing that any of these describe reality, but rather that they provide different ways of viewing reality. In other words, I am approaching this as philosophy, not physics, cosmology, or religion.

The first way is the state of “wuji” (no pole, no extremity, no polarity, chaos, tohubohu, without form and void, etc.). In this state, yin and yang are not distinguishable. Although they may be pregnant with possibilities, there is no dynamism. Change is a meaningless concept for wuji.

The second way is the state of “taiji” (great pole, great extremity, great polarity, supreme ultimate, etc.). In this state, all is in motion and dynamic. Yin and yang are distinguishable, but inseparable and mutually dependent. Change is an inherent aspect of “taiji.”

In the third and fourth way, one can view yin and yang as separate things, either “in balance” or “out of balance” (hence, I count these as two different ways). From Zhang Yun’s writings (either from his sword book or online essays, I do not recall which), I understand that viewing yin and yang as pure qualities corresponds to the term “liang3 yi4” (the two powers/symbols). I believe this is a reference to the solid (yang) and broken (yin) lines (yao?) used in Yi Jing/I Ching hexagrams and trigrams. I would, however, appreciate it if anyone has any insight as to what exactly “yi” means in this context.

Of these four ways of viewing yin and yang and the relationship between the two, I am proposing that only the second one (“taiji”) is important for traditional Taijiquan as taught by teachers such as the Yangs. I want to discuss this issue somewhat, because some secondary writings I have read by U.S. practitioners seem to assume a different view. I have also had discussions with friends who do Taijiquan, who seem to view having yin and yang “in balance” as a sufficient principle in itself to guide their practice. Others seem to imply or teach that practice of Taijiquan merely involves exploring and becoming acquainted with a full range of yin and yang states.

Before I continue, let me make two points. First, I am not analyzing the intrinsic worth of anyone’s practice. I am, however, trying to distinguish certain views from what I see as inherent in what the Yangs and others teach. I find this necessary to avoid confusion.

Let me try to illustrate this point so that I can minimize any offense I may offer to those who view Taijiquan in ways that absolutely contradict some of what I put forth here. I see the process of learning Taijiquan much as the process of learning another language and so will use linguistic analogies.

French and Spanish are both wonderful languages, but applying French grammar to Spanish or vice versa does not produce the best result. Using the same label for similar, but different phenomena (such as “the present perfect tense”) can blur important distinctions. The distinctions between “he” and “she” in French, Spanish, or German, even when applied only to people, do not really match up to the distinctions in English. Chinese verb tenses are not really “tenses” at all. Japanese pronouns are not really pronouns. Sometimes, the harm in using imprecise labels or mental frameworks is quite subtle, though extensive. The fault in Ptolemy’s theory of an earth-centered universe was not in how he predicted the motion of the planets, which was largely accurate, but in how his view skewed the West’s understanding of the universe.

In my view, there are many ways that people have developed exercise and martial art systems that employ the concepts of yin and yang that do not correspond to the second view of yin and yang I have described above (“taiji”). Whether or not such systems call themselves Taijiquan or deserve the term more than the system taught by the Yangs and other similar teachers is an entirely separate question from what I am trying to explore here. There may even well be theories of Taijiquan that account for all the teachings that claim that name. I, however, do not find such all encompassing theories useful as practice guides and prefer to approach different views in the Taiji community separately on their on terms.

A second point I would like to make is that there is great linguistic difficulty talking about the differences between absolute and relative states, distinctions I view as necessary in talking about yin and yang. If we take the English word “height,” we have a word that is usually a description of an absolute characteristic that can apply equally to things that are high or low. In other contexts, it can apply only to things that are unusually high. For instance, the phrase “a plane flying at an impressive height” could not readily refer to a plane flying unusually low. On the other hand, the phrase “Look at the height of that plane!” could have almost any connotation, depending on context.

The word “tension” can apply to things that are rigid and not relaxed and thus prevent the transmission of physical forces, e.g., tense muscles. It can also apply to when two different forces are so intimately linked that any change in one affects the other, i.e., the tension on a fishing line or in a tendon. I would propose that the former is the enemy of good Taijiquan and that the letter is essential to good Taijiquan. Accordingly, when someone says to eliminate all tension when doing Taijiquan, I think care must be taken in interpreting what is meant.

The word “loose” in English, and I believe in Chinese (i.e., “song”), can apply to that which is disconnected, such as loose vegetables. “Loose” can also apply to things that are not knotted, rigid, or unduly constrained, i.e., a chain that is hanging “loose.” I would propose again that the former is the enemy of good Taijiquan, but the latter is essential.

What to make then of talk about the necessity of being “relaxed,” avoiding “tension,” and being “loose”? Perhaps, it would be better to talk about seeking “loose tension” or the “tension possible in being loose.”J The imprecision of language and translation becomes an impediment to communication and understanding.

Distinctions between what is absolute and what is relative are even more problematic between languages, because they are not handled uniformly. For instance, if I recall correctly, the Latin word “altus” could apply to a “tall” tree or a “deep” lake. The essence of the word was descriptive of the distance from the norm, not the inherent loftiness of the object.

A phrase such as “Taijiquan must contain movements with small circles” has different possibilities from language to language. In Spanish and Portuguese, “with slow movements” could be translated in two different ways that, although not rigidly distinguished, tend to signal different degrees of objectivity and absoluteness. The two ways that occur to me are: “Que tiene/tem círculos pequeños/pequenos” and “que tiene/tem pequeños/pequenos círculos.”

To my ear, the first phrase implies that the only relevant circles are those that would be objectively classified as small; whereas the second phrase implies that some kind of circle or another is important and that the ones necessary for Taijiquan will give an impression of smallness. Doing the former, I might make sure that whenever I make a circle, I make it small. Doing the latter, I might make sure only to notice that the moves I learn contain lots of little circles. I think it is difficult to advance very far in Taijiquan without clearly understanding what is required in such matters.

The literature of Taijiquan has many statements about what is soft, empty, substantial, slow, quick, nimble, light, heavy, etc. I think these statements are difficult to translate exactly and so are often translated inconsistently. They are perhaps somewhat ambiguous, even in Chinese. I think not being aware of this potential has implications for practice if one relies on the classics for guidance.

If we are told that a leg should be empty, does this mean that the leg is supposed to feel as if it has qualities of emptiness, or rather that it should have more such qualities than some other standard, perhaps the other leg? Put differently, should the leg feel empty, or just feel as if it is emptier than something else? If Taijiquan should be soft, do we mean that the muscles should literally feel soft, or that Taijiquan should be softer than some other standard? Maybe even being soft is not enough, if the softness does not reach the necessary standard.

It seems to me that the state of Taiji is about the dynamic tension between opposites and that the emphasis on use of the mind is to identify which state of that tension is appropriate to any particular purpose or moment. Slow practice of the form helps in clearly identifying and choosing among the contrasts in one’s own body. Practice of form also prepares one for recognizing contrasts in the opponent’s.

Let me give a physical example.

If one brings the fingertips of one hand together and then wraps a rubber band around the fingers, one can experience the contractive power of the rubber band by trying to separate one’s fingers in an expanding circle/sphere. The contrast between the expansive qualities of one’s fingers and the contractive qualities of the rubber band is clear.

If one then removes the rubber band and lets the muscles in the fingers go completely slack, the tendons in the fingers will naturally curl the fingertips toward the thumb side of the palm heel, as if grasping a tree limb. At this point, the contrast between the tendons that curl the fingers and those that expand the fingers is not clear, even though the opposing tendons in the fingers have reached equilibrium. In short, the equilibrium no longer feels dynamic.

If one then begins to uncurl and expand the fingers/fingertips equally in a natural circle (as if the palm was on the surface of an expanding balloon or as if one were trying to stretch out the now absent rubber band), one can still feel the contractive power of the tendons working against your motion on the inside of the fingers. I think this feeling is what being “song” in the joints is all about. One feels a clear contrast between the expanding and contractive qualities in joints such as those of the fingers. Both aspects of the feeling are necessary.

If one expands the fingers so far that they begin to bend backwards, I believe that the mechanics of the finger joints begin to deaden the contractive sensation, since the positioning of the joints begins to interfere with the contraction of the tendons. Paradoxically, this is a position that is easier to maintain and that requires less effort in certain aspects than the “correct” one. Even more subtly, I believe one can initiate a sensation of freezing or locking of the fingers in any position, such that the contractive power of the tendons is overcome and no longer felt. This again is “easier” than maintaining the feeling of contrastive tension and can be mistaken for being “song.” I am proposing that this is the type of locking or freezing tension that must be avoided, as opposed to the type of dynamic tension that facilitates communication between forces.

If one can feel the sensation I am describing, the question still remains as to how much is enough at any particular moment or for any particular purpose. How much should one uncurl the fingers?

As I understand the Yangs teachings, we are normally told to “shu1” the fingers. As I understand it, this term can be translated as either “extend” or “relax.” In practically all the postures, the line of force or path of the “jin” that is favored seems to be one that extends straight from the wrist out through the fingertips. Thus, I propose that we need to “extend” the fingers to be in tune with this “jin” path and that merely “relaxing” them and allowing them to feel as if they have curled up is incorrect.

One distinction I would like to point out is that “extending the fingers” is not the same as “making them straight.” In working with people who have been influenced by such views as the “beautiful lady’s wrist,” I have often encountered difficulty in expressing that making the fingers curled or straight or “relaxed” or “rigid” is not really the issue. Again, I refer to the second view of yin and yang I described above (“taiji,” rather than “liang yi”).

“Making the fingers straight” involves focusing on the line of force that ultimately bends the fingers backwards. This is literally working at cross purposes with focusing on the line of force extending along the fingers and the palm. Doing the former activity, one focuses on locking the fingers in one particular position, at the expense of other more important feelings. Doing the latter activity, the fingers become “straight, but not straight,” or rather, “naturally straight.” Approximate straightness is the result, not the immediate focus.

Needless to say, one does not focus on the lines of force that require the fingers to spread further and further apart from each other. Doing this would result in what I understand to be an ideal Bagua palm, but not a Taiji palm.

It is tempting to view specific finger positions as inherently “song” (“loosened and extended”) and correct; however, this cannot be the case. Taijiquan has fist techniques. If the finger position used in a particular palm position is inherently “song” and correct, the fingers in the fist positions cannot be, since they are more or less in an opposite formation. How to reconcile this? Are fists merely exceptions to the rule of being “song”? I think the solution to the puzzle is in clearly distinguishing between focusing on assuming positions from the feelings to be cultivated by or while assuming positions.

Early in my study of Taijiquan, I read much about leaving the fist in a “relaxed” position, which I understood to mean “using minimal muscular activity.” This always bothered me, because in most hard styles, we are told that having any “give” in the fingers forming a fist makes them vulnerable to being broken on impact. The whole point of making a fist in these styles is to have the fingers as tightly clenched as possible, leaving no hollows to weaken the structure. When I encountered the Yangs teachings, I understood the fist was to be “not too loose and not too tight,” held together with some strength, but still “lively” and not stiff. I found this quite hard to understand.

Using the logic I apply above to the palm, I propose that in the case of a fist, one is supposed to focus on the contrast between the expansive qualities of the tendons on the backs of the fingers with one’s efforts to curl the fingers using the inner tendons. As long as the dynamic tension between these is clearly felt, the fist will remain “lively” and naturally conform its shape to whatever use it is put to. Each joint of each finger needs to be felt and brought within the feeling of dynamic equilibrium. Contrast this feeling with either the slack fist or the stiff fist the Yangs tell us to avoid for their Taijiquan. As one’s fist encounters something hard, the impact forces are simply brought within the feeling of equilibrium. The feelings are continuous and always palpably in equilibrium.

If what I describe above seems to make any sense and you can give any credence to it, see if you accept expanding this view of “fangsong” (“loosening/relaxation”) to all the joints and associated tendons in the body. Rather than letting the muscles go slack, I am proposing that one should feel clearly the opposing forces working on the tendons and that the ratio of these forces is determined by how the mind intent (“yi”) wants to direct the energy (“jin”). In other words, one should feel a palpably dynamic equilibrium in each of the joints that changes with every movement and also with one’s intent. It does not matter whether you want a palm or a fist. Your joints are linked like the sections of a spider web, the ratio of forces in one joint cannot change without changing those of every other joint in the dynamic equilibrium.

To clearly feel the opposing forces, the joints should be near their limit of movement (i.e., extended); however, what the “limit of movement” is must be defined more by what posture or geometry the mind is trying to adopt than by what an anatomist would have to say about joint angles. For instance, the joints are collectively just as extended in the “withdraw” phase of the Push Posture as they are at the end. The only difference is that different lines of force are favored in different positions.

In Repulse Monkey, the outside front of the palm heel extends all of the tendons that link the various joints between it and the point of the rear elbow. In Turn the Body and Chop with Fist, one first feels a contrast between the right chopping fist as it pulls tendons forward and the left rear elbow as it stretches tendons backward. Then one feels the opposition between the palm heel of the left striking hand pulling tendons and sinews forward and the right rear elbow extending tendons and sinews backward. Every posture and every transition has its dynamic tension between right and left, up and down, front and back, clockwise and counterclockwise. The dynamic tension in any one joint is no greater and no less than the tension in any other joint, since the tendons and muscle fibers link the limbs into one web-like system.

Other oppositions or states of dynamic contrast are, of course, important for systems such as what the Yangs teach. One example is the contrast between the thrusting (“deng”) and propping (“cheng”) forces in the legs. Another contrast is hidden in the exhortation to “Loosen up the waist,” which can be seen as contrasting the clockwise and counterclockwise forces transmitted by the legs or the opponent to one’s spine. I see “Containing the chest and rounding out the back” and “Dropping the shoulders and suspending the elbows” basically as warnings to maintain the proper equilibrium in the arm, shoulder, and back muscles, rather than as focusing only on isolated limb positions. Consult the Twenty Character Motto elsewhere on this site for where I am deriving this view.

I propose that distinguishing substantial/full and insubstantial/empty really has less ultimately to do with shifting weight from one leg to the other than with clearly feeling the contrast between the pushing power in one leg and the supporting power in the other. The two together are what produce the leg movement important to Taijiquan. As another participant on this board once put to me, one contrasts which leg is emptying with which leg is filling. What empties from one leg goes to fill the other one. What fills one leg is taken from what is emptied by the other. Emptying becomes filling. Filling becomes emptying. The dynamic contrast matters, not really any absolute quality of either leg.

Going back to my original premise, let me explore an example of why I believe merely talking about opposites is not sufficient to describe Taiji practice.

Some martial arts have offense in their defense, by having blocking or deflecting techniques intended to damage or inflict pain upon an opponent’s striking limb. Despite the presence of offense and defense together, I do not see this as a state of taiji, since there is no dynamic contrast. In Taijiquan however, one uses the Eight Gates (the primary energy techniques contained in the hands) in ways that keep offense and defense in a state of dynamic tension. In the basic four hands Push Hands drill, each use of the four square energies (Press, Push, Roll Back, and Ward off) begins in a defensive way that starts down a path towards an offensive denouement. The offensive and defensive aspects are immediately present in each technique, but their prominence is in direct contrast to each other. For Taijiquan, offense in defense and defense in offense does not mean merely that the two happen simultaneously.

If you accept this view of dynamic contrast/equilibrium, I see other secondary implications. First, any principle consistent with this Taiji principle should be “scaleable,” i.e., just as true at the small level as at the big level, and generally present at both at the same time. In other words, Taijiquan should be “fractal.” If I can steal a description from the book Jurassic Park, I can give as an example of a fractal pattern the saw-tooth pattern formed by the grains of sand along the ridge of a pile of sand at the beach. This same pattern is recognizable on a large scale in the saw-tooth pattern formed by the ridge of a mountain range. Roll Back is not just the unitary movement that is done from the beginning to the end of the postural sequence of that name, but what is done within each inch of the sequence. “Understanding Energy” develops as one begins to feel these patterns in one’s opponent with less and less information.

Another implication of viewing Taijiquan as an exercise in playing with dynamic contrasts is that one can derive maximal physical benefit only by matching one’s practice to one’s physical abilities. Weightlifters advance their fitness at whatever age and at whatever level of fitness by lifting weights appropriate to their state of training. Copying the amount of weight someone else lifts almost guarantees training too hard or too lightly. How hard a particular muscle should be exercised is particular to that muscle and not particular to the age of the person or his or her natural ability.

How far one should sink in Needle at Sea Bottom or Push Down (Snake Creeks Down) or how high one should lift one’s leg in the kicks should be the same. Trying to meet some external standard, such as touching one’s fingers or bottom to the ground or kicking to shoulder height, means disturbing the equilibrium in the rest of the body, training some sub-optimal physical state, and training one’s mind to be comfortable with this as a goal. The Taijiquan of an 80-year old is just as nourishing and just as valid as that of a 20-year old. The only difference is that the 80-year old needs it more and has less room for error.

One last dynamic contrast or dynamic equilibrium I would like to propose is the one between “inner” and “outer.” We often discuss Taijiquan using shorthand references that imply Taijiquan is somehow unique among martial arts in containing a rich assortment of internal aspects. This can create annoyance in some who are aware that other arts have internal aspects and that the difference between external and internal arts is not really rigid or clearly defined. A more subtle problem with focusing too much on “internal” aspects of Taijiquan is that it leads to viewing “inner” and “outer,” yin and yang, as pure qualities (liang yi), rather than focusing on the dynamic contrast/equilibrium between the two (taiji).

Many practitioners have difficulty coordinating upper and lower. In a posture like Push, the legs and arms finish extending at different times. It is tempting to believe that mere repetition will smooth out this problem, but I do not believe this to be the case. One can monitor one’s posture and simply make sure to stop moving the arms and legs at the same time, but this is hardly natural or integrated movement.

I see the secret as lying in appropriately contrasting what needs to be done in the mind with what needs to be done in the body. If one squats down in a room and jumps up to try to touch the ceiling, no thought need be given to coordinating upper and lower. The fingers, arms, spine, and legs all straighten smoothly and simultaneously. This is not something one really needs to drill. The movement comes naturally.

In Push, the movement should come just as naturally, but often does not. Why? I believe the problem is that our minds often see Push as something that is defined by hand movement, rather than by the whole body. As we learn more Taijiquan, we try to add leg movement onto the hand movement, but our general conception of the movement does not change. We try to fit our leg movements into a pattern we see as defined by the placement of our hands. We tell ourselves we are using integrated whole-body movement, but really are not. We may even try to repeat the movement again and again to try to “memorize” the timing. I see the fault as lying in not seeing upper and lower, inner and outer as two contrasting aspects of the same thing. We see them as “liang yi” (yin and yang as pure opposite qualities) to be balanced, rather than as “taiji” (yin and yang as contrasting aspects of one thing) to be experienced.

Because I see “inner” and “outer” in dynamic contrast, I do not see manipulating qi with the mind as an important part of what the Yangs and similar teachers advocate. Manipulating qi with the mind deals only with training the “inner.” Too much mind can be just as bad as too little. I have the same opinion about training an “iron will” or cultivating “spirit.” Similarly, weight training and cardiovascular activities focus on the “outer.” At least in basic Taijiquan practice, all these things are trained together in dynamic equilibrium. Training them separately implies going down a different path. Again, whether such a path is useful, better, or worse than what I have described I leave for a different discussion.

I would welcome feedback on all or any part of this post. The simpler an idea is, the more words one can use to say even less about it. The more words used, the more certain they will contain errors and the potential for misinterpretation. I am sure that my views will continue to evolve and would appreciate course corrections earlier rather than later. If you agree with any of these ideas, please develop them further. If you disagree with them, please give a suggestion of your alternatives. I have dealt in depth with only a few of the yin-yang oppositions important to me and would appreciate it if others could describe those important to them.

Happy and fruitful practice,
Audi
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Postby Louis Swaim » Wed May 29, 2002 6:43 am

Greetings Audi,

You wrote: “The second way is the state of ‘taiji’ (great pole, great extremity, great polarity, supreme ultimate, etc.). In this state, all is in motion and dynamic. Yin and yang are distinguishable, but inseparable and mutually dependent. Change is an inherent aspect of ‘taiji.’"

If I understand your presentation, you are advocating this second way of conceiving the notion of taiji, and I think that this does indeed capture the fundamental philosophical notion of taiji, as well as something about how it should be incorporated in taijiquan practice. I think many Westerners approach the ideas of taiji and of yin and yang with a fundamentally flawed assumption that is rooted in our own inherited dualistic outlook, which pares our experienced world into pairs such as creator/created; agent/action; reality/illusion; truth/untruth, etc. From this habitual frame of mind, there is a predisposition to viewing yin/yang as fundamentally opposing "forces" or "entities." In fact, yin and yang are not traditionally viewed in this way. To begin with, it would probably be accurate to say that yin and yang are at base metaphorical, rather than being conceived as "something." Yin and yang are rather modes of expressing how things seem to work. Secondly, the notion of yin and yang is processional rather than stative. Cosmologically, this reflects an acknowledgement that change is the natural condition of living—as you put it, "all is in motion and dynamic." Western philosophy, in its preoccupation with first and final causes, has tended to be uncomfortable with change, and has set up in opposition to change one or another ideal of permanence and stability, a ground of all being, or being itself. Thirdly, the polarity of yin and yang, rather than expressing opposition, is better understood as expressing correlativity. At root, the words yin and yang originally referred to "shaded" and "sun-soaked," and we know that these are not static states, but change with the rotation of the earth through the day's cycle. So there is a constant ebbing of the sun-soaked into shade, and vice-versa. These are my own attempts to summarize these ideas, but the very best enunciations I have found about the correlative impulse of yin/yang are in the writings of sinologist Roger Ames. One place to find them is in his superb Introduction in his translation, _Sun-Tzu: The Art of Warfare_, but he has written about correlativity in several of his other books, including _Yuan Dao: Tracing Dao to Its Source_, and _Anticipating China: Thinking Through the Narratives of Chinese and Western Culture_.

You asked about the term liangyi, and the meaning of yi. I don’t know if I can shed much light on precisely what yi means, beyond something like “a form or standard, or mode” but I can say something about the provenance of the term. It most likely originated, not in the Yijing itself, but in the Xi Ci Zhuan, an early commentary on the Yijing sometimes called “The Great Appendix,” or “The Appended Verbalizations.” (This commentary is also probably the locus classicus of the term taiji itself.) James Legge translated “liangyi” as “the two elemental forms” in the following passage from the Xi Ci Zhuan: “Therefore in (the system of) the Yi there is the Grand Terminus [taiji], which produced the two elemental Forms. Those two Forms produced the Four emblematic Symbols, which again produced the eight Trigrams.”

This whole formulation is referenced in Yang Chengfu’s narrative of the Closing form in Taijiquan Tiyong Quanshu, where it says: “Students must not overlook that ‘Closing Taiji’ means the uniting of Yin and Yang (liang yi), the four images (si xiang), the eight trigrams (ba gua), and the sixty four hexagrams (liu shi si gua), then again returning to taiji.” This language may have been the doing of Zheng Manqing, who ghost-wrote/edited Yang’s book, and who was evidently quite conversant with the Xi Ci Zhuan. Legge’s rendering of liangyi as “the two elemental forms” is unfortunate, as it betrays just the kind of entifying or substantizing of yin and yang which misleads. Other renderings of liangyi include: “the two basic symbolic forms” (Benjamin Schwartz), “the two primary forces” (Wilhelm), “the two modes” (Wing-Tsit Chan, and Richard John Lynn), and “the two properties” (Shaughnessy).

The Xi Ci Zhuan was an important document to later Neo-Confucians, notably Zhou Dunyi (1017–1073), who wrote a short philosophical essay titled, “Taijitu Shuo” (An Explanation of the Taiji Diagram). The terms taiji, wuji, liangyi, etc., figure largely in that essay. Here’s a link to a good essay by Joseph Alder, including his translation of “Taijitu Shuo,” and links to the original Chinese in Big 5 coding. Alder adopts the translation “two modes” for “liangyi,” which I think is probably the best among those I mentioned above.

http://www2.kenyon.edu/depts/religion/fac/adler/reln471/CHOU.htm#text7

Take care,
Louis


[This message has been edited by Louis Swaim (edited 05-29-2002).]

[This message has been edited by Louis Swaim (edited 06-03-2002).]
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Postby Michael » Wed May 29, 2002 4:47 pm

Audi,

The Palm and fingers. To achieve the "correct" palm and finger shape---hence proper energy being brought to the hand can done like this. Intead of focusing on the fingers themselves put your intention into the palm. You want to feel a slight drawing across the palm by drawing "back" the thumb and little finger edges ever so slightly. The fingers will achieve the "proper" shape with the "proper" distances between them. I say "proper" because every one is different and everyone has abused their hands to differing degrees. At some point the conscious action of drawing back will be replaced by the feel of energy only.

I would agree that expansive tension is what one is looking for not a contractive tension. The looseness you speak of....One only needs to lock an elbow and then sink the elbow to figure that out.

The fist. I think you are right in that slight tension in the hand brings more energy to the knuckles through the tendons. Wheras a tight fist brings the energy only to the forearm. On the practical side....a clenched fist distributes the force over the entire surface. It is more efficient to bring the most power to the smallest point possible for the greatest effect. The slight tension in the fingers protects the fingers but still allows them to "collapse" somewhat, allowing more force to be delivered by the knuckles...some say two knuckles some say three.

Training Push. I agree that if the mind is only in the hands for a beginner you may lack the proper focus. I have to disagree with you here however. Doing the move over and over to "memorize the timing" (by the body) is exactly what you have to do to link upper, lower inner, outer. That is one reason why we do form over and over. But it has to be done with the right frame of mind---or rather "no mind". Once the mind no longer is thinking of WHAT one is doing, it can then think about WHY we are doing it, and then when we understand. Our brain then RECOGNIZES (not "thinks about"--after awhile)and adjusts the structure to link all those aspects you speak of to create that harmony. With a good basic understanding, practice will teach more than all the words and the philosophy of our minds.

The two most important things in taiji are structure and a free mind. Correct structure allows everything to happen naturally. Many concentrate on moving energy or focus too much on feeling it (as you state). You can do it, but often the mind is just fooling us into feeling more than is there because of desire.

We often get too wrapped up in what is inner and outer etc. in taiji it is all the same. First we train to open our joints and gain flexability. We learn structure and form. As our structure and flexability improves we begin to "feel" what is taking place in our bodies naturally.. As our awareness increases we recognize "blocks" due to improper structure. This is what I think is refered to when speaking of training inner and outer together. Most meditation, standing, sitting, whatever is mind training to open it, letting the refuse fall away to allow you to "see" what "is". there are all kinds of mental exercises designed to do nothing but free the mind. I think too many people misunderstand and see these methods (these exercises) as what they are trying to accomplish....when in fact what one is trying to do is to recognise what is already there.

A mistake I think many make is in terms of moving energy rather than in the linkage of the joints so the natural energy can move in the direction that is determined by structure. "The cart before the horse" in some ways. For some this CAN lead to never getting or really understanding "it".

What really are the "inner" and "outer" aspects of taiji? Structure ("outer") is the basis of everything. The mental or "inner" training to me really is learning to recognize the flaws in our structure and the distracted nature of our minds. We come to recognize that we think too much, that we make things more complicated than they are. So when recognizing yin and yang, we recognize change (movement, weight shifts etc), approching limits(losing ones root etc), and potential (one within the other).

Now with that said, we all approach things differently as we all are different. We learn different ways and look for different things. Some may take terms such as yin and yang in a more philosophical manner or more in terms of physics. I personally think that in taiji it is the "physical" aspects (with proper use of mind) that are the most instructive and I think that is how their use was intented to be viewed (just opinion). The philosophical structure of Chinese thought applied beautifully to the physics of a Chinese martial art. Not suprising. Now even with that said, the more philosophical aspects are what I train daily in my practice of non religious Daoism. One can see what happened to Philisophical Daoism when combined with religion. We must be careful not to make the language of Daoist philsophy OVERLY important in the martial art of taiji. The concepts are used as a guide, or a framework, to understand something very physical, simple and natural in the martial art, just as philosophy is intended to do in day to day life. The danger is that we often complicate it and it becomes more than it is. That is the way of our "dust covered mirrors". I am always reminded of the line...the closer (tighter) one grasps something the faster (or easier) it slips a way.

The most beautiful thing I have found in taiji is the incredible simplicity, efficient, and how "natural" it really is. Everything about it is designed to make it as simple as it can be, but no simpler...paraphrasing Albert Einstein.

Thanks for your post Audi and for your yours Louis,

Michael
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Postby Louis Swaim » Fri May 31, 2002 5:24 pm

Michael, you wrote:

“The philosophical structure of Chinese thought applied beautifully to the physics of a Chinese martial art. Not suprising. Now even with that said, the more philosophical aspects are what I train daily in my practice of non religious Daoism. One can see what happened to Philisophical Daoism when combined with religion. We must be careful not to make the language of Daoist philsophy OVERLY important in the martial art of taiji. The concepts are used as a guide, or a framework, to understand something very physical, simple and natural in the martial art, just as philosophy is intended to do in day to day life. The danger is that we often complicate it and it becomes more than it is.”

Very well stated, and I’m very much in accord with what you’ve said. I cultivated an interest in Chinese thinkers at a very young age. When I learned about something called “T’ai-chi ch’uan,” it opened up a whole world for me, yielding the possibility of understanding what had up until then been abstract “concepts” in very palpable, tangible, tactile ways. When I met my first sifu, he demonstrated to me once and for all that we learn with our bodies. The more I’ve studied Chinese thought in conjunction with taijiquan, the more it has become clear to me that the whole category we term “philosophy” really doesn’t apply in the Chinese context. Again, as I’ve stated above, in the Western Platonic/Aristotelian/Cartesian mode of engaging the world, there is a fundamental duality expressed as subject/object, body/mind, etc. Hence “thought” and “action” are practically polar opposites. I don’t think this is the case in traditional Chinese systems of thought, where thought and action are considered to be correlative partners.

As an illustration, let me present a notion found in many traditional Chinese texts from very early on. This is the notion of “embodiment.” The character is “ti,” and it means precisely the organic physical body. We find it, for example, in the phrase “tidao,” where it means, “to embody a way.” This is often found in a daoist context, but is not limited to Daoism (and here I will just avoid the categorical controversies of religious/philosophical Daoism, these being Western categories that are problematic in the Chinese context.) An English equivalent for “tidao” might be “to realize,” which essentially means, “to make real.” But within the context of a cosmology that does not recognize an oppositional dichotomy of real/unreal, the notion of “to make real” is an absurdity—everything already is real. So “tidao,” “to embody” is better understood as “to play out, to practice, to do” a “way” in one’s physical body.

What could be simpler?

Take care,
Louis
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Postby Michael » Fri May 31, 2002 11:06 pm

Louis,

You are right about my use of "philosphical" and "religious". I tend to make the distiction as a number of times I have got the "oh you pray to rock spirits eh?" I really have heard that and other wise statements. I rarely talk about this atuff anymore.

It would be redundant for me to respond at length as I agree entirely with your words. And this probably isn't the place for a lenthy discussion.

Nothing CAN be any simpler. Trouble is, simple doesn't mean easy. It makes me laugh.

My best,

Michael
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Postby Erik » Sun Jun 02, 2002 6:35 am

Very thorough posts. Just for fun how do you think a rough character like Yang Shaohou would define the concept of Yin/Yang as it pertains to his fighting art? Curious.

Good Trainin - Erik
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Postby Michael » Sun Jun 02, 2002 6:19 pm

Erik,

As basic to Chinese thought as yin yang is, Shou Hou's understanding was complete but his focus was certainly not on aspects of "philosphy" He trained with uncle Ban Hou. That says it all.

Yin Yang, Sou Hou? Compromise your root, give me something hard, try to force something....you die! Change his intent to my intent.
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Postby Louis Swaim » Sun Jun 02, 2002 10:33 pm

<BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial">quote:</font><HR><font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Originally posted by Erik:
<B>Very thorough posts. Just for fun how do you think a rough character like Yang Shaohou would define the concept of Yin/Yang as it pertains to his fighting art? Curious.

Good Trainin - Erik</B></font><HR></BLOCKQUOTE>

Greetings Erik,

This sounds like a rhetorical question, so I would invite you to share your view on this, as well as what you mean by “a rough character,” and what you base that on.

My own question would be, just how much do we know about Yang Shaohou? Beyond little second-hand anecdotes found here and there, it’s difficult to learn much about him. Perhaps you’re privy to some information that would be of help to us. In the meantime, I did a quick translation this morning of Yang Zhenji’s biography of Yang Shaohou appearing in the historical essay of his book. Some of his account closely resembles those that have appeared before by Gu Liuxin and others, but it differs enough in nuance that I though it would be worth putting into English:

~~~
“Yang Zhaoxiong, named Shaohou, who was my paternal uncle (bofu), was born in 1862, and died in 1930. From childhood, he studied boxing (xue quan) with my paternal granduncle (Yang Banhou) and grandfather (Yang Jianhou). His skills were largely obtained from my granduncle Banhou, moreover, his disposition was similar—unyieldingly courageous and irascible (gangyong jizao), and intolerant of injustice (hao baobuping).

“In his early years he taught my grandfather’s revised (xiudingde) middle frame; in later years he began to change the form (bianhua quanlu), whereby the frame was high and the movements were gathered up small. There were alternations of fast and slow, fajin hard and crisp (gang cui), sudden vocalizations, gaze darting in all directions (muguang sishe) flashing like lightning, cold and sinister expression, sounds of ‘heng’ and ‘he,’ and a threatening demeanor (qishi biren). The unique features of his martial methods were: using softness to subdue hardness (yi rou ke gang), employing sticking, following, and shaking pushes, and issuing obliquely for surprise attack. His hand methods (shoufa) were: combining (? pin), pecking (zhuo), grasping (na), splitting (pi), impeding the tendons and bones (shang jin cuo gu), using vital points (dianxue), closing off (bihu), pressing the pulse (anmai), and interrupting the pulse (jiemai), so that the offender immediately fell down.

“When Shaohou was teaching his students, indiscriminate of who they were, once they crossed hands he would strike (da shou ji da). Moreover, since his moods and dispositions ranged from joy to anger, those of shallow accomplishment immitated him with difficulty. Although his students admired his skill, they rarely completed their full training. Therefore, he enjoyed equal fame with my father, Chengfu, but my father’s reputation flourished in comparison.”
~~~

Take care,
Louis


[This message has been edited by Louis Swaim (edited 06-02-2002).]
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Postby Erik » Wed Jun 05, 2002 12:43 pm

Hi Louis,

“When Shaohou was teaching his students, indiscriminate of who they were, once they crossed hands he would strike (da shou ji da)."

Imagine that teaching approach nowadays (laugh). I have to admit, all those stories of Shaohou always crack me up. I'd say that giving your student, indiscriminate of who it may be at the time, a good smack the moment you start sparring could be considered "rough" (still laughing).

As for what he would think it means... I wouldn't dare guess at it. I was just hoping to read some interesting posts! Thanks for the translation. Great read.

I would venture to say that he probably wasn't very tense or stressed (mentally or physically) when he fought so powerfully. You have to be relaxed to generate power and change quickly.

Good Training - Erik
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Postby Louis Swaim » Wed Jun 05, 2002 4:56 pm

Hi Erik,

My first sifu used to have a thing he would say while demonstrating taijiquan applications on fellow students and me. No matter what advance was initiated on him, he would say: “I hit you already.”

That used to crack me up, and it still does.

It seemed to encapsulate his art, and in retrospect it seems a sort of Hong Kong English shorthand way of expressing the Sunzi notion of “setting out later, arriving sooner,” or the taiji classics notion of “if the other moves slightly, I move first.”

Take care,
Louis
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Postby Erik » Thu Jun 06, 2002 2:28 pm

Hi Louis,

I was that knuckle-head in the class that actually had to be hit or thrown on his butt while everyone watched and laughed knowing what was coming.

Did you ever ask him if it hurt?

Take Care Mister - Erik
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Postby Louis Swaim » Thu Jun 06, 2002 5:35 pm

Greetings Erik,

Well, I do recall what felt like a bee sting on the back of my head before my punch had finished traveling toward where he used to be. In that case, however, he was doing bagua. But no, for the most part, although he made contact when demo-ing, he usually had a light touch. The fact that it landed so unexpectedly fast—“already”—pretty well made the point.

I think I may have shown you on the airport shuttle back in San Antonio a way he had of doing “rufeng sibi” (like sealing, as if closing) where the “sealing” portion that classically is a momentary instance of “Cross Hands” actually resulted in a palm-up finger strike to the throat (or eye) with the left hand. It just coiled and snaked directly to target with no warning. He was also a Wing Qun practitioner, so I never knew how much he was incorporating one art into another. I will note, though, that in the form presented in Xu Yusheng’s 1921 book on taijiquan, there are many more explicit occurrences of Cross Hands in the transitions than appear in the received form. That suggests to me that Cross Hands may well have been trained as a key method having many potential applications. Xu Yusheng studied with Yang Jianhou, so his form is probably a fairly close record of what Jianhou taught.)

--Louis
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Postby Hans-Peter » Fri Jun 07, 2002 11:53 am

Greetings Louis,

I've read your translation of Yang Zhenjis book concerning Yang Shou Hou with very deep interrest. Reading it and also the comments of others I come to the conclusion, that Yang Shao Hou is a kind of "black sheep" of the Yang family. I really think too, that he wasn't a very friendly guy. But concerning his Taiji - isn't it so, that he just did this, what Yang Luchan or Yang Ban hou also had done - i.e. always developing the Yang style Taiji to a more perfect martial art.
As far as I've been told, there has always been another Yang Style Taiji taught by Yang Luchan at the Imperial Court which shouldn't be switched with this style we now call "Old Yang style". This Imperial Court Yang style
is also a small frame Taiji and has still survived 'till today. The inheritor of the current 6th. Generation should be Master Li Zheng. He still should teach this style - named "Zhi Chui" to only a very few number of students. Could it be that most people don't know about this Yang style, which surely is the base of Yang Shao Hou's Yang style and only therfore Yang Shao Hou seems to be the bad guy, although he probably has done a good job, since I've been also told that Yang Shao Hou has improved this Imperial Court style very much, concerning the fighting methods. Isn't it possible that nowadays only very few are able or willing to master such a rigourous training as for Yang style imperial court Taiji? As I made up my mind from reading about Yang Jianhou - even he was to mild mannered for this style.I think that just in this branch of Yang style Taiji the Yin/Yang principles must be considered particularly well, since the users had to deal with very dangerous situations maybe every day. Considering Michaels words from 06 - 02 "...give me something hard - you die" - they must have been particularly soft. And how could such a style survive in China for 6 generations if it doesn't work according to the Yin/Yang principles used in other Taiji-forms?

What do you think about my informations concerning this Imperial court small frame? Do you have further informations, maybe some differents?

I'm furthermore very interested in understanding your post from 06 - 06 absolutely right (as you know I like applications very much) concerning the rufeng si bi - finger strike. What do you definitely consider as the "sealing" and when does the left hand palm up finger strike definitely happen and in which direction?

Best regards
Hans-Peter
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Postby Louis Swaim » Fri Jun 07, 2002 8:36 pm

Hello Hans-Peter,

Well again, with regard to Yang Shaohou, I would urge caution against coming to conclusions based upon limited resources, and I would also be extremely careful about possibly confusing alleged issues of personality with separate issues of character and mastery.

As for the so-called Imperial style and so-called Old Yang style, I’ve heard various theories and speculations about these and alleged differences between them, but I’ve yet to find anything sufficiently well documented to convince me into any substantive conclusions about them. Some have even conjectured that the “Imperial Style” was a watered-down version of what was taught in Yongnian County. (I realize that’s not what you’re saying here.) The “watered-down” theory sounds very unlikely to me, since being a bodyguard in the imperial court was very serious business, not an amusing pastime. But now I’m the one speculating, yes?

Now, on the finger strike application, I’m generally reluctant to discuss my own interpretations of taiji applications in much detail, as I would not want to cause miscommunication. Verbal descriptions seldom are as clear as hands-on instruction. So with a “don’t try this at home” caveat, I’ll try to clarify a bit about what I was talking about.

Elsewhere on the board, http://www.yangfamilytaichi.com/ubb/Forum7/HTML/000011.html

I posted (03-03-2001) a translation of Yang Chengfu’s narrative description of Rufeng Sibi. There you will see precisely where the “sealing” takes place. As described, at the point where the “sealing” begins to change to “closing,” your left wrist, from the cross hands position, engages the opponent’s left wrist or forearm, leading it to your left. As your arms separate and turn to apply “an” on the opponent’s left forearm, you effectively “close” his arms in on his chest—you have closed his door, so to speak. Immobilized, the opponent now receives your follow-through push, hopping or falling backward.

In the finger strike variation, instead of your left wrist leading the opponent’s arm to the left with the turning of the waist, it continues forward from beneath your right forearm. It engages the opponent’s left wrist or forearm, glancing or deflecting it from your centerline. Your left forearm rotates slightly in a counterclockwise direction—“rolling” along, and on top of, the opponent’s forearm—and turning your palm face up as the arm straightens, the fingers directed toward the opponent’s throat.

Mit freundlichen grussen.
Louis
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Postby ShowHong » Tue Jul 23, 2002 8:48 pm

Hi Louis,

Long time no see.

Many thanks for leading me to the Chinese equivalent of ‘to realize’ in your posting of 05/31/02. I have found that ‘realize’ is an excellent descriptor in Taichi experience when a practitioner is awakened to his own body (parts) and thought that there was not a Chinese equivalent for it.

I have come to a conclusion just opposite to yours. ‘To realize’ is the word for ‘ti’ and is, perhaps, a better one then its Chinese counter part to convey the meaning in the context you cited. Since the dictionary definition of ‘realize’ is sufficient for the job but extension is needed for clear meaning of ‘ti’. For example, the ti in tidao directly and simply means bodily, or some sort of bodily involvement, and its actual meaning in the context of ‘ti dao’ has to be provided by the reader through extensions. Three extensions specifying the kind of bodily involvement appropriate for the context provide clearer meaning and, together, represent what ‘ti’ is about.

The three extension are ‘ti yen’, ‘ti huei’, and ‘ti shien’. Sorry I made up the spelling. I don’t know any standard system and hope you can make out what they are according to their meaning. The first is ‘to bodily experience’, the second ‘to bodily understand /recognize’, and the third ‘to bodily express/manifest’. The first two fits one of the definition of ‘realize’ – to be aware of the truth of, to recognize as real. The third one fits the other definition - to make real or actual. Of course dao is real and always exist. But if you don’t know it exists and don’t recognize it, you do not and cannot do anything with it. To you it is no different from anything that you imagined since you don’t have them. Dao only becomes real to you when you recognize it or get to know its existence. Just like the million dollars under your name in the bank that you were not aware of. If you did not know you had that money you could not do anything with it. But when you realized that you had that money then you became rich (your money became real to you) and you then realized your wealth by buying a boat, a house, etc. (actuate the buying power). Let the dao manifest or express through you or your body is to make real or actual what dao could do but had not before your realization of the existence of dao.

Embodiment, on the other hand, is primarily a western idea and did not exist in Chinese psyche until the influence of the west. Unlike the western thinkers who tend to have an attitude that every thing can be figured out by human intelligence and reasoning, Chinese recognized that the Dao/Truth is far greater and above human beings. With that understanding, no one would even dream of embodying the Dao, not even virtue. How can someone embody something that is bigger than he? Yes, there is the ideal of being one with the Dao, but that is for the immortal. When Chinese people talk about being one with the Dao what goes without saying is that when a person get to become one with the Dao he then becomes one of the immortal and this is purportedly what the Daoist monks try to accomplish. Apart from legendary figures I don’t believe that any Chinese has done that – to become immortal - the Chinese idea of getting out of this miserable world other than through death.

You wrote:
>> But within the context of a cosmology that does not recognize an oppositional dichotomy of real/unreal, the notion of “to make real” is an absurdity—everything already is real. <<

I do not believe what you said is true. First of all, any cosmology/philosophy/theology that does not recognize and address the distinction of real/unreal is worthless because such an intellectual endeavor is irrelevant to human beings. Haven’t you noticed that human beings are the only creature that has to struggle with the issues of true/false, right/wrong, good/bad, etc.? These dichotomies come with being human needing no help form any philosophy and cosmologies being created by and for the human beings cannot escape them. “Everything already is real” is for baboons and chimpanzees but “Everything is vanity” is meant for human consumption only. “My words are easy to understand, and easy to put into practice. Yet no one in the world can understand them, and no one can put them into practice.” is addressed to none other than human beings. It’s probably true that there is a lack of language or writing directly describing such an opposite, but the recognition of the distinction of real/unreal was certainly there in the Chinese psyche so that when Buddhism came along many of its text along the line of “everything is vanity” were readily incorporated into Chinese language and became standard expression. A large portion of Lao tze and Tzuang tze’s writing is not really philosophy or abut philosophy. They simply used natural phenomenon to point out or illustrate the ‘unrealness’ of conceptions, common senses or wisdom held by human beings – the product of faulty human nature and intellect, which is what separate human beings from the Dao.

That is my 2 cents. Thanks again for what I’ve got out of your post.


Sincerely,

Show-Hong

<BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial">quote:</font><HR><font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Originally posted by Louis Swaim:
<B>Michael, you wrote:

“The philosophical structure of Chinese thought applied beautifully to the physics of a Chinese martial art. Not suprising. Now even with that said, the more philosophical aspects are what I train daily in my practice of non religious Daoism. One can see what happened to Philisophical Daoism when combined with religion. We must be careful not to make the language of Daoist philsophy OVERLY important in the martial art of taiji. The concepts are used as a guide, or a framework, to understand something very physical, simple and natural in the martial art, just as philosophy is intended to do in day to day life. The danger is that we often complicate it and it becomes more than it is.”

Very well stated, and I’m very much in accord with what you’ve said. I cultivated an interest in Chinese thinkers at a very young age. When I learned about something called “T’ai-chi ch’uan,” it opened up a whole world for me, yielding the possibility of understanding what had up until then been abstract “concepts” in very palpable, tangible, tactile ways. When I met my first sifu, he demonstrated to me once and for all that we learn with our bodies. The more I’ve studied Chinese thought in conjunction with taijiquan, the more it has become clear to me that the whole category we term “philosophy” really doesn’t apply in the Chinese context. Again, as I’ve stated above, in the Western Platonic/Aristotelian/Cartesian mode of engaging the world, there is a fundamental duality expressed as subject/object, body/mind, etc. Hence “thought” and “action” are practically polar opposites. I don’t think this is the case in traditional Chinese systems of thought, where thought and action are considered to be correlative partners.

As an illustration, let me present a notion found in many traditional Chinese texts from very early on. This is the notion of “embodiment.” The character is “ti,” and it means precisely the organic physical body. We find it, for example, in the phrase “tidao,” where it means, “to embody a way.” This is often found in a daoist context, but is not limited to Daoism (and here I will just avoid the categorical controversies of religious/philosophical Daoism, these being Western categories that are problematic in the Chinese context.) An English equivalent for “tidao” might be “to realize,” which essentially means, “to make real.” But within the context of a cosmology that does not recognize an oppositional dichotomy of real/unreal, the notion of “to make real” is an absurdity—everything already is real. So “tidao,” “to embody” is better understood as “to play out, to practice, to do” a “way” in one’s physical body.

What could be simpler?

Take care,
Louis</B></font><HR></BLOCKQUOTE>
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