Ten Essentials in the Form

Postby Wushuer » Fri Aug 22, 2003 3:30 pm

Very, very good call. As I read Psalchemists reply I was thinking the same thing, that he needs to sink his chi to the tan tien and get it out of his head.
Your reply was right on the money.
I have also been able to drop my elbows and raise my chi, but as you say it is the spirit that you want in your head, and the chi should circulate throughout your body, but be sunk to the tan tien.
I think if Psalchemist does as you suggest he will have made another large step forward into that elusive TCC.
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Postby Wushuer » Fri Aug 22, 2003 3:40 pm

I think if you do as Anderzander suggests you will begin to get that connected feeling to the center of the earth.
Sifu used to tell us to root right to the center of the earth. In fact he used to use the pole coming out of your anus to the center of the earth analogy. I tried and tried until I felt it finally. Once I did even Sifu could not uproot me anymore as long as I stayed rooted, or grounded, whatever word you like.
That pole should go straight up your anus through your spine and neck out the top of your head and connect you to the sky. You use it as your central pivot point and it should hold you erect, but not stiff, and keep you rooted.
There's a lot of Wu style theory on this that I'll leave out of this Yang style discussion, but that's the way I was trained and have just recently gotten that feeling back with diligent practice.
Never knew I'd miss it so much until I lost it. Now I'm so hungry for it I'll never lose it again.
I can get this same feeling through my elbows, my palms and even my knees and shoulders sometimes. It is a sign that you are beginning to understand the energies in your body.
As for that full feeling, I can only say I've not felt that, though many others around me had. I guess I was sinking my chi to the tan tien before I reached that point somehow. I dunno.
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Postby psalchemist » Sat Aug 23, 2003 12:26 am

Stephen, Wushuer, All,

You say my chi is 'raised'...Right. I must agree with this diagnosis. My sifu has advised me repeatedly of this tendancy. I don't doubt that this is the case. However it was much more powerful this time with the 'elbow connection' I experienced, so I thought ,maybe, it was somthing else. I have never felt such a concrete/physical connection before. Previously, it was much more of an abstract effect stemming from an abstract sensation. Thanks for making that distinction.

So, now I am on a quest to connect with the ground. Direct doorways do not always suit me, so... let me check the windows. :)

I have heard (in passing), that the 'heart' meridien connects with the left arm, but know little more than that on the subject of accupuncture.Also,I witnessed a horse being treated with accupuncture, and it solved his kidney problems, temporarily, with on-going treatment, but never really understood what it was all about.

My question would be...Which meridian connects the spine to the ground, or more specifically, which meridian runs down the spine? Is anyone familiar with the meridians and how they work in Taijiquan?

From what I understand so far, the implementing of the ten essentials provokes the clearing if the meridien pathways and allows the chi to flow more easily. The actual physical placement of all body parts is what allows these passageways to be free(hence the importance of the ten essentials). So, holding the elbows 'just right' must have assisted me in the process, and made the flow much more powerful.

Is it possible that the pathway in my lower back(kidneys?)is blocked? I do tend to have alot of waist/hip/lower back problems/stiffness. I am wondering if this is the cause of the difficulty I experience in trying to ground downwards.

Does anyone have any familiar experience, or advice on the matter of more permanent(seemingly) blockages?

Bending tree,
I really, really like your 'board name'. It not only represents Taijiquan, but also paints a lovely picture in my head. Poetic, yet substantial, very nice.

Welcome to the board. :)

Best regards,

[This message has been edited by psalchemist (edited 08-24-2003).]
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Postby BendingTree » Sun Aug 24, 2003 2:19 am

Wonderful discussion...the principles discussed force me to look more inward at my own levels of enlightenment. Any discussion that causes an inner examination is most welcome and beneficial!
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Postby Wushuer » Wed Aug 27, 2003 5:19 pm

I have NO idea about the meridians. I know some of them but not like I should. I should have paid more attention when these were being lectured on but I was usually pushing hands or learning falling techniques, or doing the things I used to consider "useful" to everyday TCC use.
Unfortunately for me I used to have a divide in my brain between what I found "useful" and what I considered "That theory stuff".
I would listen to the theory, especially if it related directly to "useful" applications of TCC (read that as anything that helped me offset opponents, martial application training, weapons forms), but when the talk got "theoretical" in areas that I didn't find immediately "useful" I used to let my eyes glaze over and I'd start doing Little Sky meditation or whaterver seemed more "useful" at the time.
I realise now that my former Sifu was pushing dollar bills into my pocket, but I was too interested in "doing" TCC to really want to stand around all day and talk about it.
I am a bit older now and a bit more able to see the "use" of all that theory I passed up on all those years ago.
My only recommendation would be to imagine sinking that feeling you get to your tan tien. Don't try to push it out through the floor, just try to sink it to your middle and then let it flow circularly around your body. That should help you keep a bit more control of the situation.
Chi follows mind intent. That's one bit of theory I learned well, so if you intend with your mind that the chi sinks to your tan tien, it should follow. Always does for me, anyway. Give it a try and let us know how it works.

Bending Tree:
Welcome. I also enjoy a good mind opening discussion.
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Postby psalchemist » Wed Aug 27, 2003 10:38 pm

Greetings Wushuer,

Thanks for extending your assistance once again.

As you mentioned, we seem to be somewhat polar opposites: You tend to sink, I tend to float. You have an affinity for the physical/practical aspects of Taijiquan, while I enjoy the theories. You said you laugh when you are thrown physically, well, I laugh when thrown psychologically. Hmmm...

That's good. Hopefully those differences can contribute to diverse points of view and produce more complete results in discussion. It would no doubt become very boring if we were all the same.

I have tried 'lowering my chi' with mind intent before(many times), but to no avail. This of course will not stop me from re-attempting these methods. I will try what you have suggested.

Actually, it will probably be as difficult for me to lower my chi as it is for you to raise yours. Maybe the opposite tendancies in our characters contribute to the ups and downs of our chi. If you have never succeeded in raising your chi, then I'm not so sure I will be able to necessarily lower mine. I will let you know if ever this method does happen to work for me though. Thanks for the advice.

Best regards,
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Postby Wushuer » Thu Aug 28, 2003 4:42 pm

Raising my chi has never been a goal of mine before. I have spent a great deal of time getting it down to my tan tien, never tried it the other way.
Until now.
I just did. I used my mind to try and raise chi energy to my head during chi kung.
I did it without any difficulty. It felt a little weird, but I did it.
I then sent it back to my tan tien, down to my toes, up my spine, back through my tan tien to my hips, up my sides to my arms, back down to my knees, around and around.
It was actually quite easy once I got the hang of it.
I then moved it back to my tan tien and let it go on it's own while I did a Wu style 108 form and it seemed to circulate nicely all by itself, went right to where I needed it, which was where my mind intent was at the time.
Never did it like that before, I've always just let it flow and kept it in my tan tien.
It was kind of fun.
So, no problems getting Chi to wherever I wanted it to go, I just let my mind lead, the chi followed. Just like advertised.
It didn't make me feel like I was "full" or anything like that. I felt chi circulating in the directions I wanted it to. I got the familiar healthy feeling, lots of energy, I felt connected still, though lighter if that makes sense. I felt very agile.
The only adverse feeling I had was that a lot of chi was raising up out of the top of my head. Like it was going up into the sky and away from me. I don't know if that's possible, but I didn't much care for the feeling of it, so that's when I lead the chi back down to my tan tien and let it go on it's own while I did the form.
I certainly am more in touch with my chi now. At least I got that going for me.
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Postby psalchemist » Fri Aug 29, 2003 2:42 am

Greetings Wushuer,

There are a few specifics I'd like to approach, so I'll break your post down a bit, if you don't mind.

<So, no problem getting chi to wherever I wanted it to go, I just let my mind lead, the chi followed. Just like advertised. > -Wushuer.

Glad to hear it Image I am still(of course) working on trying to actually control mine. It goes wherever it feels like, (has a mind of it's own, so to speak. ) Specifically to my head,hands,and spine, the rest...well.

< It didn't make me feel 'full'. > - Wushuer

I believe Michael was alluding to familiar territory when he mentioned 'stored chi'.

The amount of pressure would be less great with a practitioner who releases the excess chi by means of fa chin on a regular basis.

Also if your chi is spread out more evenly throughout the body, it would put less pressure on one point. If my chi doesn't go down properly then the pressure upward would be more heavily concentrated on the points it's stuck at. When there is a pressure point like that it feels like a balloon filled with air...or(let me cover that in the next comment)...

You said: < I got the familiar healthy feeling, lots of energy, I felt connected still, though lighter if that makes sense. > - Wushuer

In my experience,it feels like a balloon:but full-heavy or full-light...depending...It feels full-heavy when it's that more permanent type of chi which accumulates with time and practice(this is more what I feel in my hands), and full-light is more of a temporary fleeting chi which feels like the the balloon is filled with helium, which does make one feel light( which usually affects my head and spine).

You said also:
< I felt very agile > - Wushuer

Well, that I haven't experienced yet myself, for me, having my chi raised up to my head kind of dulls things, numbs my thinking, I feel kind of, DUH-slow, and so does my body. I feel the contrary of agile. Perfect for meditating, but I'm not sure I could respond to outside stimulus very efficiently, such as an opponent, in that state of disconnected raised chi. I really would have to connect to the ground simultaneously, as you have, to balance things out.

Lastly, you said:
< The only adverse feeling I had was that alot of chi was raising up and out of the top of my head. Like it was going up into the sky and away from me. > - Wushuer

I have felt that distinct feeling as well. It makes me think of those 'electricity-magnetic-spheres that one often finds in a science lab, that when you touch it with the probe makes your hair stand on end. I agree that it is a weird feeling, but that has only happened to me once before, kind of like an initiation, it should not be as strong the next time.

Consider it Wushuer...not just fun, but the yin and yang of it, to be able to connect upwards and downwards simultaneously ,sounds like quite the 'ultimate' energy connection.

Best regards,
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Postby Michael » Fri Aug 29, 2003 9:00 pm

I don't like to talk about "chi" that much.

Sinking the chi to the dantian for me and a number of masters---which I am NOT---or so I am told, is more a function correct structure and soong than anything else. Using intent to do so is a secondary method. This I report, NOT something I am saying is "right" or "wrong". Structure, alignment, and linkage together will move chi. Intent does add on. I am a believer in what the Daoists say----if you have to force it, it's not correct.

Concerning "releasing" chi---someone said something about that. Yang Jun warned me to be very cautious about fajin. Don't do it very much. Time made it impossible for me to get a good explaination. I will ask him again, the next time.

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Postby psalchemist » Sun Aug 31, 2003 12:57 am

Greetings Michael,

Thank you for reporting that information, I am starting to realize just how important that structure is in implementing one's intentions. Both are necessary.

Greetings All,

I am wondering if there are any references available concerning the idea of 'connecting upwards and downwards simultaneously'? Does this theory make any Taijiquan sense at all?

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Postby psalchemist » Mon Sep 01, 2003 3:11 pm

Greetings All,

I realize now that I have already posted too many questions on the subject of chi on the wrong board...I recall now that DavidJ has a topic board dedicated to that aspect of Taijiquan and will henceforth be posting my questions in the appropriate area.

Best regards,
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Postby Audi » Sat Sep 20, 2003 5:24 pm

Greetings to Steve, Psalchemist, Wushuer, and all:

Steve, thanks for your response. Let me try to go a little deeper in explaining what I was trying to do with this post, because I think I may still not have been clear. In the end, I think our positions are quite close, if not identical; but I want to go to some length so that I can minimize confusion about what I have been trying to say.

In my opinion, for which I claim no authority, the Yangs and others teach principles that sometimes stress the mind and sometimes stress the body, but in virtually no case can one profitably separate the action of the two when discussing their methods or principles. I think that Horatio made a point similar to this ages and ages ago on this board, but I do not think I fully appreciated much of his meaning at the time. I think he coined a double term like “mind-body” to try to make his point.

I refer to this point because it is a very important aspect of how I relate to the form. Although one can appear to exactly duplicate the external aspects of a posture, I believe the posture will be incorrect if the internal aspects are not appropriate. At the same time, however, I also believe that duplicating the “internal” aspects of a posture will be incorrect if the external aspects are not appropriate.

In a position like the Preparation Posture, I doubt that there is any direct martial application of a principle like “drooping the elbows” or “extending (shu1) the fingers”. In other words, I believe that a person can appear to perform this posture “effectively” without really observing these principles. Nevertheless, I, like you, believe that it is important to observe them even here. If one observes the same principle throughout all 103 postures, one will learn 103 variations on the same theme and acquire a deep understanding of the theme. If, on the other hand, one practices 103 different themes, even while looking for a unifying principle, a very different set of skills ends up being trained. For me, the difference between these approaches is central to how I approach Taijiquan.

In the Preparation Posture, I now believe I must consciously “droop my elbows” and “extend my fingers.” However, I feel I really learned how to do this from other postures where the difference in feel between doing it and not doing it was initially clearer. Now that I think I have some feel for it, I can also look for it in other people, as you mentioned in your post. Sometimes I can clearly see its presence or lack. Sometimes I cannot. By observing small bodily movements, I try to infer how the person’s mind is controlling or relating to various parts of his or her body. Most often, however, I find it hard to reach firm conclusions until I can observe additional movement.

In a posture like Fair Lady, my understanding is that the Yangs have a very definite and very specific idea as to what the standard position of the “blocking” arm should be. (I need to stress the term “standard,” because they seem to emphasize learning things in a standard fashion first, before embracing the complexities of variation. What may be standard for them does not necessarily have to be standard for other teachers.) The position of this arm is quite high, compared with other instruction I have been exposed to. (One justification I have been shown for the height is that it must be so positioned as to prevent an opponent from landing a hooking punch to your temple.) However, even in this “high” position, the Yangs very much stress that the elbow and shoulder must remain “down.” This is fairly easy to show, but cumbersome to describe.

Some teach Taijiquan in a way that seems to imply that the mind generates, shapes, and controls energy all by itself. I, at least, do not understand the Yangs teaching to be like this. Every aspect of their method seems to involve both mind and body. When I speak of principles, I always mean that the body is actively doing something, not that the mind is imagining or even imaging something by itself. Nerves, muscles, and tendons are engaged in specific, if subtle, activity.

When the Yangs require that the elbow be simultaneously high (perhaps about eye-level in Fair Lady) and simultaneously “down,” I understand that they mean that the mind must be ordering the muscles of the arm to be doing something specific to the orientation of the elbow. This something is really the same throughout the form, but will manifest itself differently from posture to posture and moment to moment. The muscle and tendon action is concrete and physical, but the orientation principle is itself neither concrete nor physical. In other words, I do not believe that there is any one orientation of the elbow that can consistently define “down” throughout the form. “Down” ends up being defined by what your mind tells your elbow to do, but not really by the direction your elbow ends up facing in three-dimensional space, independently of your body. I think of making my elbow “down” as an unvarying procedure that will unfold in different ways depending on initial conditions and the interplay of other actions.

All of this may sound complicated and theoretical to some, but I am trying to describe something very simple. An example to make my point clearer might be “stretching.” “Stretching the fingers apart” is not quite the same as “moving them a certain distance apart.” One might not profitably learn how to stretch one’s fingers by taking a tape measure, measuring the distance between a teacher’s fingers, and then trying to duplicate the same measurements. Stretching is easy and natural. Learning to move the fingers an exact distance apart is neither simple nor natural.

For me, orienting my elbow and shoulder are the same type of phenomenon as “stretching.” In other words, I define it as a particular action to perform or a procedure to follow, not as a particular position to arrive at. By following the procedure or principle, my elbow’s external position will change. Learning the procedure is a much more fundamental skill than managing to achieve the final position my some other means.

I know that many people who do Taijiquan give great importance to the action of gravity and keeping the muscles lax. From this perspective, it becomes important to know how high to lift the arm in order to engage the minimum amount of muscular force. In my opinion, the Yangs do not teach muscular laxity or yielding to gravity. I do not thing that such approaches fit well with their methods. For me, keeping my shoulder and elbow down is not a matter of trying to yield to gravity and “relaxing” in the normal English meaning of the word. If I were lying flat on my back trying to “push hands” with someone wrestling with me, I would not yield my shoulder or elbow to gravity, but would engage in exactly the same process to keep my shoulder and elbow “down” with respect to my body frame as if I were standing on my feet. The effect of gravity is negligible compared to the structure I would be trying to give to the Jin circulating through my body.

To sum up, my position is as follows: if a person does not know how to “droop the elbows” in Fair Lady Works the Shuttles, they really do not know how to do it anywhere in the form. For that reason, Fair Lady can be an excellent posture to use in order to learn how to do this thing. I believe that “drooping the elbows” is something natural to all humans and so really does not need to be “learned” from scratch. What we need to learn is what this process is and how it affects the control of Jin in our bodies. Once this stage is reached, one practices simply to unlearn all the other bad habits we have and to remember not to forget to do this simple thing.

Psalchemist and Wushuer, my understanding of the role of the Ten Essentials is that they are meant to define ten essential characteristics of Taijiquan practiced according to Yang Chengfu’s methods. Other styles of Taijiquan would not necessarily have the same ten. In my opinion, if Yang Style practitioners have fundamentally different views of any of the ten essentials, this often indicates they follow fundamentally different practice methods, despite outward similarities. Following different practice methods can lead to different results and the development of different skills.

Wushuer, you mentioned the following:

<<My training was strictly in the genre of "stand this way","raise your head top", "hold your neck this way", "tuck in your chin", "tounge on the roof of your mouth and relax your jaw", "sink your chi to the tan tien", "relax", "don't extend your knee beyond your toe", etc, etc, ad infinitum.>>

The Yangs also teach in this way. After doing Taijiquan for several years and even studying one of their videotapes for a year or so, I attended one of their seminars for the first time and was frankly shocked by a number of things I have described in previous posts. One of these was the extremely direct and simple manner of their teaching style.

At the time, I was able to follow a little of Yang Zhenduo’s Chinese, with the help of the simultaneous translation. I was quite surprised that he seemed to be operating basically in “coach” mode and not as a distant, all-knowing philosopher. During teaching of the form, I heard no enigmatic statements, no vagueness, no fluff, and few abstruse statements of philosophy. During the seminar, the Yangs did not engage in speculative disputation of theory and even seemed somewhat averse to discussion of theory at anything other than the most practical and immediate level.

In the context of seminars (and probably outside as well), I understand their teaching method to be: give an introductory lecture on theory to establish a base, put discussion of theory aside, and then teach some movement to allow students an opportunity to explore the theory in action. It can appear as if one can simply skip the theory and practice the movement, but I think such a strategy has major pitfalls. On the other hand, I think it is easy to engage in endless discussion of theory that does not, in the end, meaningfully advance practice in any way. In the context of an Internet discussion board, practical demonstration is just---impractical. As a result, we are left to talk theory and hope for the best in applying it to our practice.

Wushuer, you also said the following:

<<Concentrate on the "essentials" during the form or sparring and you are effectively, in my humble opinion, negating the very idea of having them in the first place.
Isn't one aspect of any "essential" part of TCC to eliminate concentrating on any one thing to the detriment of others? To let your mind relax as well as your body and just go with the flow?>>

I think what the Yangs say about this is that you have to study and concentrate on certain things until perhaps you reach the point where you can intuit what is correct and no longer need to pay such attention to basic details. In my opinion, this process is more than a question of knowing or not knowing, but rather a recursive one. You reach one level of understanding, but then need to continue explicit study and concentration to reach the next level of understanding about the same subject matter.

There is one other thing I would like to express about the Ten Essentials and their role in the Yang Family’s Taijiquan, since many people seem to practice Yang Style, while discounting the importance of these principles. I think it can be unwise to approach Taijiquan only as an objective reality to be discovered, as opposed to the end result of following particular practice methods. Let me make an analogy to poetry.

Poems exist as objective collections of words, sounds, and meanings; however, our approach to them and their effect on us is profoundly conditioned by context, culture, and knowledge. Many Classical Chinese poems generally derive power and beauty through succinct expression, suggestion, and understatement. A word picture is sketched, and the reader feels compelled to fill in the details. This sort of sensibility is, in my opinion, ill fitted to most Classical Arabic poetry, which strives for power and beauty in a more “symphonic way.” Repetition of imagery and word play is embraced. Demanding brevity in Classical Arabic poetry would be like demanding brevity in a symphony and insisting that no musical themes repeat. Classical Latin or Greek poetry, in contrast to the Chinese and Arabic traditions, can derive power and beauty through interlocking complexity and grammatical ambiguity that would be unthinkable, ugly, or unworkable in Chinese or Arabic. A complex tapestry may look great hanging on a wall, but quite garish as a pattern on a dress or a business suit.

Given such realities, isn’t it usually advisable to go beyond mere discussions of “beauty” and “power” and to try to understand the various methods of achieving these? To learn how to write poetry with beauty and power, do we not need to study specific methods rather than freely mix everything together? In the context of Taijiquan, it is all right, for example, to talk about threading Qi throughout the body, but will all methods of doing this really have the same characteristics and the same results?

Another reason why I think that the Ten Essentials are a very important gate to the Yang Family’s Taijiquan is that many terms and concepts in the greater family of practitioners of Taijiquan are used to cover different territory. Indeed, many of the terms and concepts also exist in other martial arts and even in Chinese or Asian cultures generally. The multifarious uses of terms like “Qi” make it quite easy to travel far from the meanings important to the authors of the Taijiquan classics. I do not criticize the decision to strike out independently, since that is a matter of free choice that can have many valid justifications. I am only highlighting the fact that doing so has a definite cost that is easy to underestimate.

Let me make another analogy with poetry. I have many thick and authoritative dictionaries in my house that all agree that define Haikus as short poems from Japanese tradition that generally describe nature scenes and contain a total of seventeen syllables. Although this description fits English Haikus, it does not fit Japanese Haikus. Syllables play only a minor role in Japanese phonetic sensibility, and Haikus are not based on counting them. Instead, Haikus are based on counting something called “morae” or “moras.” Although moras are important in Japanese (also in Latin, Ancient Greek, Sanskrit, and classical Arabic), they play a minor or nonexistent role in how native English speakers consciously appreciate English language rhythms. (Moras are also more or less useless in analyzing French, Spanish, Portuguese, or Mandarin)

A syllable is a unit of sound length that is roughly based on the relative ease of emitting minimal groups of sound. A mora is a unit of sound length that is roughly based on the relative time it takes to pronounce minimal groups of sound. The two concepts often overlap, but are nonetheless distinct. The Japanese word “Honda” is usually separated into two syllables as “hon-da,” but into three moras as “ho-n-da.” The word “Nippon” could be divided into two syllables as “Nip-pon” or into four moras as “ni-p-po-n.” Likewise, the word “Tokyo” contains two syllables (Too-kyoo), but four moras (To-o-kyo-o).

If you listen to a Japanese haiku and listen for the number of syllables, you will hear a real rhythm, but one that is likely completely unintended by the author and one that would be unnoticed by almost all native speakers of Japanese. Worse yet, if you listen for changes in stress or pitch, things which are very important to English poetic rhythms, you will hear yet a third rhythm that has little or no significance to any native speaker of Japanese. The objective reality of the sounds must be mediated by the correct mindset for the correct rhythms to be perceived and understood.

In my view, if one seeks to practice Yang Chengfu’s Taijiquan, but does not study the Ten Essentials, one will almost inevitably be “listening” for the wrong “rhythms.” The objective reality of the movement must be mediated by the correct mindset for his art to be correctly perceived and understood.

As I understand it, Yang Chengfu’s Taijiquan was not based on silk reeling energy (chan si jin), maintaining laxity in the muscles, conscious manipulation of Qi channels, or many other concepts that may be important in other methods of Taijiquan. I am not asserting that these things are inappropriate to any style of Taijiquan or that they have no reality in Yang Chengfu’s Taijiquan, only that they are the wrong “rhythms” to pay attention to in the Yangs’ system.

Similarly, if one does not exhibit the Ten Essentials, does not clearly distinguish when the palm is straight and when it is seated, does not pay attention to the evenness and smoothness of the form, does not train mind intent more than movement of Qi, etc., I think that one will miss much of what is useful, interesting, and subtle about Yang Chengfu’s art.

I want to make clear, however, that Yang Chengfu is not the only gate to wonderful Taijiquan. Chen, Wu2, Wu3, Sun, and other styles do not need to have and should not have the same characteristics as traditional Yang Style. I simply am suggesting that trying to practice Yang Chengfu’s Taijiquan without reference to the Ten Essentials is no less of an undertaking than creating a new style of Taijiquan, or a new form of poetry.

This is enough babbling and preaching for today.

Take care all,
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Postby laopei » Sun Sep 21, 2003 3:33 pm

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