I Ching + Tai Chi

I Ching + Tai Chi

Postby César » Sun May 06, 2007 12:41 am


I was reading the Ranking Theory Tests Study Material and when I got to this question:"How is Chinese Culture incorporated into Tai Chi?" I didn't understand this part quite well. I understand that Earth is nourished by fire, Metal is created by earth, etc. But when it comes to matching the five elements and the Five steps (forward, back, look left, gaze right, and center) it seems "tricky" because there are lots of different matchings according to the master. For example, I checked this website, http://taichi.firenze.it/it/, and they say that:
Forward = Metal
Back = Wood
Look Left= Water
Gaze righ t= Fire
Center = Earth
But when I checked Brazil's web,(http://www.sbtcc.org.br/) I found this:
Forward= Fire
Back= Water
Look Left= Metal
Gaze right= Wood
Center= Earth
-According to Ma Yuehliang: Forward (fire), Back (water), Left (wood), Right (metal), Center (earth)
-Sun Lutang's: Forward (metal), Back (wood), Left (water), Right (fire), Center (earth)...and so on

Anyone could tell me what's Master Yang Jun's point of view about this Topic?


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Postby Simon Batten » Mon May 07, 2007 11:14 am

On the subject of the Eight Gates - their orientations and corresponding trigrams from the Lesser Heavenly Circulation (or 'Primary Arrangment'), Yang Lu Chan listed these as follows:

The Eight Gates and Five Steps

Ward-off (south) K'an (The Abysmal - Water)
Roll-back (west) Li (The Clinging - Fire)
Press (east) Tui (The Joyous - Lake)
Push (north) Chen (The Arousing - Shock/Thunder))
Pull-down (northwest) Sun (The Gentle - Wind)
Split (southeast) Ch'ien (The Creative)
Elbow-stroke (northeast) K'un (The Receptive)
Shoulder-strike (southwest) Ken (Keeping Still/Mountain)[Quoted in 'Yang Family Secret Transmissions, compiled and translated by Douglas Wile]

I don't know if the directions correspond with the directions which were implicit (or explicit) in Yang Lu Chan's form and I don't think there are any records surviving of the Yang Lu Chan form. The following would appear to represent the 'Eight' Directions (in fact, Four), as implied in the Yang Cheng Fu form, assuming one begins facing South:

Ward-off: South
Rollback: North West (After Pao Hu Kwei Shan)
Press: West
Push: West
Pull down: North West (After Press)
Split: North West (After Pao Hu Kwei Shan)
Elbow-stroke: South East)
) Either/both after Ti Shou Shang Shih
Shoulder-strike: South East.)

Possibly, in all of the Yang forms, there is a difference between executing the Eight Directions in individual training of the corresponding positions and the directions in which they are executed in the forms. The number of movements in the Yang Cheng Fu form varies according to how they are counted (i.e., how many repeats, etc, are included as one, how many component movements are lumped together under one name, etc).

Richard Wilhelm was a German scholar of Chinese culture and translated the I Ching into German. His translation and commentary were subsequently translated into English. In his forward to the Wilhelm edition, C.G. Jung says: 'Legge's translation of the I Ching, up to now the only version available in English, has done little to make the work accessible to Western minds. Wilhelm, however, has made every effort to open the way to an understanding of the symbolism of the text. He was in a position to do this because he himself was taught the philosophy and the use of the I Ching by the venerable sage Lao Nai-hsuan ... '. At page 266 of the Penguin Arkana edition, Wilhelm gives the Primal Arrangement according to Fu Hsi as follows: South: Ch'ien; SW: Sun; West: K'an; NW: Ken; North: K'un; NE: Chen; East: Li; SE: Tui. This is certainly in accordance with the Legge commentary that you have referred to. He refers to the King Wen arrangement on pp268-9 as the 'Sequence of Later Heaven, or Inner-World Arrangement' which he describes as follows: 'The trigrams are taken out of their grouping in pairs of opposites and shown in the temporal progression in which they manifest themselves in the phenomenal world in the cycle of the year. Hereby the arrangement of the trigrams is essentially changed. The cardinal points and the seasons are correlated. The arrangement is represented as: South: Li; SE: K'un; West: Tui; NW: Ch'ien; North: K'an; NE: Ken; East: Chen; SE: Sun'. This also accords with what Legge says. Neither of these arrangements corresponds with the arrangements of either Yang Lu Chan or Da Liu. I'm not sure if there are any other traditional arrangements of the trigrams apart from these two, and I suspect that there aren't, so I doubt whether these two Tai Chi Masters could have derived their sequences from any other existing arrangement. I imagine it is more likely that these are ex post facto arrangements devised by the Masters themselves from texts of the I Ching corresponding to Hexagrams of the same name as the Trigrams. Da Liu gives plenty of references to the I Ching in his book to support his sequence, but unfortunately, there appears to be no such record of Yang Lu Chan's derivation. I shall look further into Yang Lu Chan's other writings and see if there seem to be any correspondences between traditional Yang family transmissions on the Eight Positions and the Judgements, Images, Lines, etc of corresponding Hexagrams in the I Ching, but this will take a while, so I might later make a separate posting on the subject if I come up with anything. Wilhelm suggests that although Fu Hsi was traditionally credited with the invention of the linear signs, Quote:
'the eight trigrams have names that do not occur in any other connection in the Chinese language, and because of this they have even been thought to be of foreign origin. At all events, they are not archaic characters, as some have been led to believe by the half-accidental, half-intentional resemblances to them appearing here and there among ancient characters. The eight trigrams are found occurring in various combinations at a very early date. Two collections belonging to antiquity are mentioned: first, the Book of Changes of the Hsia dynasty [2205-1766 BC], called Lien Shan ....; second, the Book of Changes dating from the Shang dynasty [1766-1150 BC] ... It is difficult to say whether the names of the sixty-four hexagrams were then in existence, and if so, whether they were the same as those in the present Book of Changes. According to general tradition, which we have no reason to challenge, the present collection of sixty-four hexagrams originated with King Wen ...'

Kind regards, Simon.
Simon Batten
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Postby Simon Batten » Mon May 07, 2007 11:18 am

By the way, as far as the five elements are concerned, Yang Lu Chan gives these as follows: Advance - fire; Retreat - water; Gaze-left - wood; Look-right - metal; Central Equilibrium - earth. Presumably Yang Jun as Yang Lu Chan's familiar descendant would advance the same correspondences. Kind regards, Simon.
Simon Batten
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Postby Bob Ashmore » Tue May 08, 2007 3:15 pm

How does this get utilized in every day training?
I am pretty clear on what trigrams are, how they relate to the directions, but am unclear on the concept of what you do with this in terms of every day use.
What is the purpose of knowing "forward = fire"? How does that help with doing the actual forward movement?
Bob Ashmore
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Postby Louis Swaim » Tue May 08, 2007 7:01 pm

Greetings César,

I think Bob’s response gets to the heart of the issue. That is, what is the practical use of this theory and these correlations in actual practice? I think there is value in understanding the Five Phases and Eight Trigrams in a general way. Certain characteristic actions can foster or cancel out other actions, and there is a general objective of achieving a harmonious equilibrium among these characteristics. However, when one tries to uncover specific practical rationales for the symbolic correlations and correspondences, there seems to be a point of diminishing returns. This difficulty is compounded by the apparently arbitrary and often inconsistent explanations of the relationships and correspondences with regard to what is “metal,” and what is “fire,” etc. For example, in addition to those already mentioned, there is yet another Five Phases correlation in the Taiji Classic that begins “What is Long Boxing.” “Advance, Retreat, Look Left, Gaze Right, and Central Equilibrium, accordingly, are Metal, Wood, Water, Fire, and Earth.”

Nevertheless if you’re interested, there was a discussion on the board about five years ago (!) in a thread titled “Eight Gates.” You can find it here:


Take care,
Louis Swaim
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Postby César » Tue May 08, 2007 7:51 pm

Hi to everyone

Simon: I asked for Master Yan Jun's opinion about this but what I meant was Yang Family's opinion (it's the same). Thanks a lot for your posting. Did you get this information about the trigrams and five elements matchings from the book "Yang Family Secret Transmissions, by Douglas Wile"?

Bob: I actually started studying this issue of Forward=Metal, Back=Wood,etc. because I want to understand exactly: How does this get utilized in every day training? I still don't get it, although Louis' comments gave me a hint about that (as usual).
Louis: I read the thread "Eight Gates". I liked very much two statements: 1) "...But there is no reason to construe the “directions” of the eight gates in taiji theory as having any literal sense of actual compass points; it is rather just a convenient conceptual metaphor connoting the ordering and hierarchy of the “jins.” One could say it’s a post-facto overlay of theory on a pre-existing body of practice..."
2)“...Thirteen Efficacious Dispositions” for the traditional notions of peng, lu, ji, an, cai, lie, zhou, kao, jinbu, tuibu, zougu, youpan, zhongding..." (although Jerry finds "dispositions" ugly, I think it's very accurate - sorry Jerry Image

Also, I found Yang Zhenduo's important points regarding Right Brush Knee very enlightening:

"...The center of gravity must be stable. If your weight shift is not suitable you might lose your balance. If you are unable to support yourself stably, the move will be wobbly. That is why in the 13 shi4 of Tai Chi, the last mentioned Central Stability (zhong1 ding4) is mainly in reference to one’s center of gravity or weight shifts. The problem of weight shift is extremely important; it can influence the way the entire form is completed and affect the degree of correctness of each move and each posture. Controlling weight shifts is inseparable from these and therefore it must be solved properly..."

Does anybody know why there is no agreement about this issue between the distinct styles/masters? Ma Yuehliang says Forward (fire), Back (water); Sun Lu Tang says Forward (metal), Back (wood); Yan Luchan: Advance - fire; Retreat - water; ans so on.

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Postby Simon Batten » Wed May 09, 2007 1:36 am

Cesar: yes, I did get these references from Douglas Wiles' book, and I did attribute the reference in my first reply, though it was buried in the text, so perhaps didn't stand out. I'm afraid I really have no idea why the Masters differ so much on the relationship of the Thirteen Postures to the trigams and elements. The only point that they seem to share in common is that they ARE related - somehow, but of course we're no really told why. However, Da Liu, a Taiwanese Yang style practioner who moved to the states published a book called 'T'ai Chi Ch'uan and I Ching', which contains numerous reflections on the relationship. He taught a shortened version of the form similar to Cheng Man Ching's but with more movements, though he advised 'serious students' subsequently to learn the long form. After his form instructions in the book, some 50 pages are taken up with relating all the movements to the Hexagrams (yes, Hexagrams in this case, not trigrams), although he ascribes the component movements of Grasp Bird's Tail and Push Up to trigrams. The movement as a whole he links to Ch'ien, the Creative. For instance, to give an example of his way of thinking, he says: 'The Book of Changes says: "Nine in the second place means: Dragon appearing in the field." The number 9 indicates the unbroken line that is second from the bottom in the hexagram. the phrase "the second place" also refers to the abdomen. The line, "Dragon appearing in the field", is a concrete expression of the first statement, with the dragon represented by the hand and the field understood to be the abdomen. As the hand, or dragon, flies upward to a place in front of the player's chin, the Book of Changes says: "Nine in the fifth place means: Flying Dragon in the Heavens". If the hand, however, rises too high and goes above the chin, we can speak of the hand as an arrogant dragon, and the movement becomes stiff and ungraceful. "Nine at the top means: Arrogant dragon will have cause to repent." Thus, Push Up reaches its end at the chin, or fifth place, and from there the new form begins.' Moving on, for Pull Back, Da Liu gives the trigam as K'un: 'The trigram K'un, the Receptive, characterises Pull Back. The player's hands move downward from his upper right side to his lower left. The opening words of the Great Commentary of the I Ching are appropriate: "Heaven is high, the earth is low".' Also, to give a final example, for Press Forward, he provides the trigram K'an: 'This movement, related to the trigram K'an, finds the left hand placed on the right wrist, both hands positioned close to the chest. The hands then press forward, representing the new moon waxing to the full. But in the flow of nature, when the moon is full it begins to wane. The player then separates his hands and rests backward, indicating the waning moon.' His analysis proceeds further in this way, and as I have said, I have just given a few examples to give a flavour of the book. I agree with others here that relating postures to hexagrams, trigrams and elements probably doesn't contribute a great deal in tangible terms to ones practice, but I think that having an awareness of these correspondences, even if they do differ from one Master to another, can contribute to ones form practice a certain feeling of connection with very ancient traditions and wisdom, which gives an added pleasure of its own to practising the form. Kind regards, Simon.
Simon Batten
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