Top 25 Tai Chi Principles?

Top 25 Tai Chi Principles?

Postby Audi » Sun Dec 31, 2006 2:39 pm

Greetings all,

At times I have heard Tai Chi friends express frustration at the depth and complexity of Tai Chi theory. I like reading most of the material, but I know everyone doesn’t. It can be particularly daunting if you think there are mounds and mounds of material that will never come to an end. It can also be hard to separate what is merely part of traditional Chinese culture, but which may not be an essential part of Taijiquan per se, or at least your particular style of Taijiquan.

When I first began studying on my own, I also felt frustration, because many books and magazine articles seemed to prioritize different points and sometimes even expressed conflicting views on what seemed to be critical matters. A few months ago, I think Bob also expressed an interest in lists. For all the above reasons, I thought I would have a go at listing the 25 or so principles that I find most relevant to my current practice. This is what I think defines my current practice of Taijiquan and is, of course, from a Yang Style viewpoint.

By relevant, I mean principles that I would definitely discuss with a partner, student, or teacher or use in my own interior dialog within a one-month period of practice. I think many people would find theory discussions to be pretty useless, because they do not learn in this way; however, I find it helpful to sort out things in this way and hope others might find it helpful as well.

I certainly do not intend this list as a replacement or supplement to Yang Chengfu’s Ten Essentials. My purpose is different. I am just harkening back to one of the earliest topics on the board, which was, more or less: “What are you working on nowadays?” Below is my list. What is yours and what is your style?

I originally made comments on each principle, since a few words seem deceptive in describing what often are quite deep concepts; however, my putative post came to be even longer and more boring than what follows. Below is an abbreviated version.

I sometimes put Chinese, when I thought I could remember it, because everyone seems not to use the same translations and I wanted to avoid confusion about what I am referring to. Also, I think some posters here seem to know the Chinese terminology better than the English versions.

1: Xu ling ding jin. I think of this as meaning: “An open spirit leads the energy to the crown of the head.”

2: Chen jian zhui zhou. I think of this as meaning: “Sink the shoulders and weigh down the elbows."

3: Han xiong ba bei. “Contain the chest and pluck up the back.”

4: Song yao. “Loosen the waist.”

5: Fen xu shi. “Divide up full and empty.”

6: “Continuously and without interruption.”

7: Yong yi bu yong li. “Use mind intent, not force.”

8: Nei wai xiang he. “Match up inner and outer.”

9: Shang xia xiang sui. “Upper and lower coordinate.”

10: Dong zhong qiu jing. “Seek stillness in motion.”

11: Fangsong fangkai. “Loosen up and open up. Relax.”

12: Qi chen dantian. “The Qi sinks to the Dantian.”

13: She ji cong ren. “Give up yourself and follow others.”

14: “Seek the straight in the curve.”

15: “Use soft to control hard.”

16: Rules for palm orientation.

17: The Taiji and Yin Yang theory.

18: Ba men. The “Eight Gates,” i.e., wardoff, rollback, press, push, split, pluck, elbow, and shoulder stroke.

19: Wu xing. The “Five Phases/Elements.”

20: Zhan nian lian sui. “Adhering, sticking, connecting, and following.”

21: “Rooted in the feet, developed in the legs, guided by the waist, and being expressed in the hands and fingers.”

22: Body alignments for the palm, knee, shoulder, wrist, elbow, and side seam.

23: Jin points.

24: Kai He. Opening and closing.

25: Stances and Stepping.

Some concepts I would not put among my particular top twenty would be the 5 bows; silk reeling; reverse breathing; Qi meridians, vessels, and channels. There are also other concepts that I have not listed, but would use in explaining others, such as “double weighted,” “rounding the crotch,” "extending and separating the fingers," and “breathing requirements.”

Have I left anything critical out? Would your list look substantially different? Two things that bother me about my list are not including morality/martial arts ethics and trying to be natural. What could I leave out to make room? Perhaps, I could combine "Jin points" and "body alignment" into one.

If you are a Chen Stylist, what should go on the list and what should come off? Silk reeling? Dantian rotation? The five bows?

What about Wu Style? Diagonal straight?

Any thoughts?

Take care,
Audi
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Postby JerryKarin » Sun Dec 31, 2006 7:24 pm

I think what you have there is Yang Chengfu's 10 essentials, followed by a miscellany of aphorisms from the various taiji 'classics', mixed up with topics like palm positions, footwork, or push hands maxims. I think you should refine the list a bit by identifying the sources and grouping into categories.
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Postby JerryKarin » Sun Dec 31, 2006 7:32 pm

It's also worth mentioning that though you eschew silk reeling, nowhere else in the list do you mention arm rotation, which is something the Yang's make a big deal about and spend much time demonstrating at each seminar. Silk reeling, arm rotation, whatever you want to term it, is maybe a subset of the rule that if one part moves all parts move. I believe that these rotations are, for the Yangs just as much as for the Chens, a source of unification leading to whole-body movement.
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Postby Audi » Mon Jan 01, 2007 3:59 pm

Hi Jerry,

Thanks for your feedback!

<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">I think you should refine the list a bit by identifying the sources and grouping into categories. </font>


You are probably right, but that sounds like real work!

I had more about sources in my original extended post, but much of the stuff I don't really think of as having any particular source, at least not in the academic sense. For example, what source what I quote for the Five Elements or for opening and closing? Perhaps what I could do, when I have time, is to give folks an indication of where they might read more. Any help would be appreciated.

Some of the stuff is also really from personal instruction I have received, in seminars or elsewhere; and I could not cite to any written source, e.g., why you want your palm oriented up in some sitations and down in others. Perhaps I could give some detail as to the territory that is covered. Again, I had some of this in my longer post.

<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">It's also worth mentioning that though you eschew silk reeling, nowhere else in the list do you mention arm rotation, which is something the Yang's make a big deal about and spend much time demonstrating at each seminar. Silk reeling, arm rotation, whatever you want to term it, is maybe a subset of the rule that if one part moves all parts move. I believe that these rotations are, for the Yangs just as much as for the Chens, a source of unification leading to whole-body movement.</font>


I am not sure I see arm rotation as "a source of unification," but I agree that it is a very important part of the teaching. In my mind, I grouped it in three places: "seek the straight in the curved," "palm orientation," and "Jin points."

I think of "seek the straight in the curved" as embodying the theory of the circle. When you circle the arm, you have to do so in a way that respects the rules of palm orientation.

At seminars, Yang Jun has recently begun to emphasize proper elbow rotation in places like the right arm in Brush Left Knee and Twist Step and in the descending of the arms in Cloud Hands. I think of this as learning how rotation relates to circling. It is particularly evident in the corresponding Push Hands exercises that involve open wrist circles (Cloud Hands and Brush Knee).

I would add to the above the subtle rotation in the Wardoff, Rollback, or Press arm that is often necessary to bring the proper Jin point into play. In Ward Off left, my understanding is that you want to show a lifting action and that you want to use the soft inside of the forearm, rather than the hard bony edge. These requirements mean that you have to rotate the palm upward. It feels like a rotation, rather than merely keeping the palm and arm flat and pronated, because you also have to maintain space in the armpit without straining and respect some of the forward weight shift. The combined result is the rotation. Ward Off Right, Rollback, and Press embody similar ideas, but different details.

To avoid being overly wordy for each principle, perhaps I could give some hint as to where consideration of the principle might lead.

Take care,
Audi

[This message has been edited by Audi (edited 01-01-2007).]
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Postby Bob Ashmore » Wed Jan 03, 2007 7:07 pm

Audi,
I like the list.
What I don't understand is why you are limiting yourself to a set number of principles. In my way of thinking it would be better to allow yourself whatever amount of numbers are required to get all of the important stuff down on your list, rather than put an artificial limit on it.
If the idea is to keep it short, you could perhaps simply say, "After YCF's ten essentials, these are the other things I'd work on". That would take you down to fifteen entries in one fell swoop and allow you to expand further on your ideas.

I'll take some time, as I find it, to go over your list more closely. I don't recall seeing anything in it about rounding the kua, but I may have missed it.

Bob
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Postby Louis Swaim » Wed Jan 03, 2007 8:55 pm

Greetings,

This discussion reminds me of a topic that came up before about differing versions of the Essentials. Here's part of what I posted:

Yang Chengfu’s Essence and Applications book and Yang Shouzhong’s book both cite thirteen rather than ten important essentials, and ordered them differently. I’ve assembled a correlation list below with the list as it appears in Yang Chengfu’s book introduction, with the order of the essentials from the standard “Ten Essentials” in parentheses. Items not appearing in the Ten Essentials have an asterisk. Note that item #5 mentions loosening the kua, whereas the Ten Essentials mentions only the waist. The Ten Essentials list was recorded and standardized by Chen Weiming. It’s hard to know why the Ten version has become more or less standard.

~~~
Generally speaking, there are thirteen important points in Taijiquan. These are:
1. Sink the shoulders and drop the elbows; (5)
2. Contain the chest and pull up the back; (2)
3. The qi sinks to the dantian; (*)
4. An intangible energy lifts the crown of the head; (1)
5. Loosen the waist and kua; (3*)
6. Distinguish empty and full; (4)
7. Upper and lower follow one another; (7)
8. Use mind intent, not strength; (6)
9. Inner and outer are united; (8)
10. Intention and qi interact; (*)
11. Seek stillness in movement; (10)
12. Movement and stillness are united; and, (*)
13. Proceed evenly from posture to posture. (9)


Take care,
Louis
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Postby Bob Ashmore » Thu Jan 04, 2007 7:20 pm

Louis,
I really like the wording on this list for #13, as opposed to the traditional wording used in the Ten Essentials list.
Much clearer, easier to understand.
Same for #7. This maybe makes more sense to me in this context now than it would have in the past, as it's a concept of which I've only recently gained a good understanding.
"Coordinate upper and lower" just doesn't seem to be as descriptive, for me, of the concept as is "upper and lower follow each other".

Bob
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Postby Louis Swaim » Fri Jan 05, 2007 6:05 am

Greetings Bob,

Re: “I really like the wording on this list for #13, as opposed to the traditional wording used in the Ten Essentials list.”

This one phrase is slightly different in the two versions. In Yang Chengfu’s Introduction version, point #13 is: “Proceed evenly from posture to posture (shi shi junyun),” while the Ten Essentials phase for point #9 is “Linked without breaks (xiang lian buduan).” I’m inferring that they refer to the same requirement, but expressed differently.

Re: “Same for #7. This maybe makes more sense to me in this context now than it would have in the past, as it's a concept of which I've only recently gained a good understanding.”

“Upper and lower follow one another” is as close to a literal translation of “shang xia xiang sui” as one can get. The verb sui, however, also means to comply with, accord with, or to accompany, so “coordinate” works well too.

Take care,
Louis
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Postby Bob Ashmore » Fri Jan 05, 2007 1:51 pm

Louis,
Would the translation still hold true if it were stated as "upper and lower follow one another and are coordinated"?
That may or may not be a redundant repeat, but it does seem, to me, to be a tad more descriptive of the concept.

Bob
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Postby Louis Swaim » Fri Jan 05, 2007 5:30 pm

Hi Bob,

Just as a translation judgment, I wouldn’t chose to express it that way, as it does seem redundant. Still, in my opinion, it doesn’t violate the essential meaning. Jerry did a very good translation of the Ten Essentials elsewhere on this site, and he translates this essential, “Synchronize Upper and Lower Body.” That’s really the gist of it. I personally like the “follow one another” because of the sense of interactivity it conveys. Part of the original accompanying commentary cites the line from Wu Yuxiang’s Taijiquan Classic: “It is rooted in the feet, issued by the legs, governed by the waist, and expressed in the fingers. From the feet, to the legs, then to the waist, always there must be complete integration into one qi.” This is clearly a progression from lower to upper, but it is not always unidirectional is it? For example, when your peng arm engages a partner, there is a sense of absorbing her jin downward towards your root.

Perhaps this would be a good point to ask: In what way has your understanding improved on this essential, and how do you express it in your practice?

Take care,
Louis
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Postby Bob Ashmore » Fri Jan 05, 2007 8:39 pm

I was afraid someone was going to ask me that just as soon as I realised I'd said it.
But, I did say it, so here goes.
How do I put this into words....?
I'll give it a shot, but don't know if I can do it justice.
I have mentioned my recent obsession with climbing the stairways at my new job by using Cloud Hands and doing it over and over again, up and down the stairs.
From this practice I quickly dicovered that by rooting my feet properly, pushing with my legs slightly to begin the turning of my waist, continuing the turning of my waist I actually pull my back leg along with that motion, which allows me to step up and down the staircase with my whole body, very smoothly and evenly. This feeling is very analogous to how I remember feeling when I was either ice or roller skating. Very much the same kind of core driven, body integrated movement.
It seemed at first to require much less effort than simply walking up and down by stepping manfully along with my legs alone ever did, but over time I've realised that what it really does is spread the same amount of effort out much more evenly throughout my whole body.
That was a very eye opening revelation for me, but the learning has only continued from this.
Once I got comfortable with the lower bodies connection to my waist and my discovery that it allowed me to step in a very integrated, whole body pattern which is very economical in terms of energy usage, I was able to begin to feel the same connection over my entire body.
Once I could stop thinking about the stepping part of things all the time and could pay attention to the rest of what was going on, I began to feel how my upper body moved along in time with my waist all on its own. I hadn't been paying much attention to my arms, simply allowing them to move in the Cloud Hands pattern, but once my mind went to my arms I realized how they had become integrated with my waist turn by the simple expedient of doing the form motion correctly.
Go figure.
Now I do my best to keep my whole body moving together, starting by rooting my feet carefully, moving my legs in a coordinated fashion, using my waist to control and amplify the energy supplied by my legs and allow that energy to continue in its own natural fashion out to my fingers. One part leads the next but continues to follow. It's sort of like the passing of the baton in a relay race...
One runner starts out with the baton, he runs for a ways and when the appropriate time comes his teammate begins to run too, the first runner catches up with him and passes the baton when they are moving at the same speed, the second runner keeps on runnig as fast as he can while the first runner begins to slow down, but he doesn't just stop, he continues to run for a ways, following the second runner by beginning to slow down gradually.
At this time, my mental picture is of several runners on a circular track, all running in sequence, none of them ever stopping but merely speeding up and slowing down at the appropriate times to smoothly keep the baton passing from one to another.
I'm sure my mental vision will have to be modified with time, but it's the best I can come up with now.

I have taken that feeling back to my form work and I can feel a huge difference in how I practice. I move more slowly, I move more from the center, I try to not break the circle of runners with jagged, course movment but to move instead as circularly as possible.
I have a new understanding of "sinking" and its benefit, but probably should save that for another time as I am nearly at the end of my work day.
I can also root much more clearly and faster than I could before.
All of these things and more are starting to come from my continuous, repetitious, unrelenting work on those stairs during my breaks.
Not the least of which is that I have lost about ten pounds doing it and feel much, much better all the time.

Bob
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