In the latest episode of the Tai Chi Notebook podcast host Graham is left all on his own without a guest, so he’s decided to pick up a book and read it to you! He’s gone for The Tai Chi Classic, one of the core works which make up a collection known as The Tai Chi Classics. Graham goes through the text a paragraph at a time and gives his interpretation of what the classic is saying. We hope you enjoy!
The Tai Chi Classic
In motion, the whole body should be light and agile,
with all parts linked as if threaded together.
The chi should be activated,
The mind should be internally gathered.
The postures should be rounded and without defect,
without deviations from the proper alignment;
in motion, your form should be continuous, without stops and starts.
The jin should be
rooted in the feet,
generated from the legs,
controlled by the waist, and
expressed through the fingers.
The feet, legs, and waist should act together
as an integrated whole,
so that while advancing or withdrawing
one can take the opportunity for favorable timing
and good position.
If correct timing and position are not achieved,
the body will become disordered
and will not move as an integrated whole;
the correction for this defect
must be sought in the legs and waist.
The principle of adjusting the legs and waist
applies for moving in all directions;
upward or downward,
advancing or withdrawing,
left or right.
All movements are motivated by Yi,
not external form.
If there is up, there is down;
when advancing, have regard for withdrawing;
when striking left, pay attention to the right.
If the yi wants to move upward,
it must simultaneously have intent downward.
Alternating the force of pulling and pushing
severs an opponent’s root
so that he can be defeated
quickly and certainly.
Full and empty
should be clearly differentiated.
At any place where there is emptiness,
there must be fullness;
Every place has both emptiness and fullness.
The whole body should be threaded together through every joint
without the slightest break.
Long Boxing is like a great river
rolling on unceasingly.
Peng, Lu, Ji, An,
Tsai, Lieh, Zhou, and Kao
are equated to the Eight Trigrams.
The first four are the cardinal directions;
South; Heaven, North; Earth, West; Water, and East; Fire.
The second four are the four corners:
Southwest; Wind, Northeast; Thunder,
Southeast; Lake, and Northwest; Mountain.
Look Left, Look Right, and
are equated to the five elements:
Taken together, these are termed the Thirteen Postures
5 thoughts on “New podcast featuring… me! The Tai Chi Classics: Part 1.”
Thanks for this. I can never be reminded of the classical teachings too often.
Cheng Man-ching once said “The teaching are in the form.” When I first heard that I didn’t understand it. After decades of practice I came to understand it. It’s difficult to explain, but if you do your part, if you follow the classical teachings, distinguish yin and yang, remain in a steady state of fullness and emptiness, you arrive at a wonderfully dynamic state which is self-perpetuating. The teaching are indeed in the form.
Thank you for all you do. I appreciate the topics you raise. Your discussions often are insightful. Even if I occasionally question the details, they are always thought-provoking. Some of your topics have opened new pathways of exploration, learning, and understanding for me.
I suppose not every post and podcast needs to challenge the status quo, imprecise verbiage, or disorientated notions, which you often challenge. I forget that sometimes, concepts need to be presented in a general, easy-to-grasp form.
Sorry you didn’t like it. If you want to do your own podcast where you go through each character in the classic and all the possible interpretations, I think that would be a great idea, however, that wasn’t my goal. I think you are right – you are not my audience for this. 😉
I think going through writings on Taijiquan with a fine-toothed comb is a great idea. They were pretty much how-to writings for those who already had learned some taijiquan. So, they were reminders of what the reader had learned, but they were also written so that the reader could discover deeper meanings of the art.
I guess I am not in your target audience. I realize this is not your Heretics channel, but I expected a deeper dive. I feel a little like you were parroting what others have taught you. You have this all at your fingertips in front to you. I started intending just to take notes, but it turned into this. Here’s some things you might have included.
**Immortal**, xiān, 仙, the Chinese meaning is much broader and can be much different than general Western meaning. A Taoist Immortal was one who became one with “the Way” in their respective path. The term has been applied to Buddhists who reached enlightenment, perhaps inaccurately. These are more like superheroes or mortal demi-gods than our understanding of being who live forever. In Wikipedia, Xian (Taoism) has a good, if lengthy, explanation.
**Attribution to Zhang Sanfeng** – a legendary, literary, Chinese theater character and folk hero, attribution to him indicated a paradigm within the art. In the case of Zhang, he was most often portrayed as defeating Imperial guards to gain access to the Emperor by a strategy of “fighting without the intent to fight”, using the guards’ force and energy against them and against each other. He was often portrayed as feigning drunken sleep to accomplish this. There’s also Zhang’s story of the Snake and Crane fight. This story reinforced the link to Zhang and indicated the nature of some skills and techniques in taijiquan.
Chinese culture has been very suspicious of innovation. In part, this has to do with undermining foreign ruling classes, another topic. BLUF, the more innovative something was, the more ancient the innovator would claim its roots went.
The first few lines are related. In English, we normally use the notion of body-mind-spirit, the author used the Shen-qi-shen, body-qi-spirit pattern to indicate aspects of the whole person. The meanings of the individual aspects are not exactly parallel from Chinese to English. There’s also an implication that the qi and spirit help the practitioner achieve the body ideal presented in the first line.
The fist line says “the body should be qing ling, 輕靈 (轻灵)”. *Qing* can mean, light; easy; gentle; soft; or reckless. *Ling* can mean quick; alert; efficacious; effective. Together the characters form an idiom that conveys a second meaning of being “skillfully quick”. All the meanings apply, and can give one insight into the how taijiquan is performed.
**Qi** – You are right. The qi of Chinese Medicine and martial arts are not the same and neither is the qi of engineering, nor the qi other disciplines; and yet they are the same. I’ve commented on this, apparently impenetrably, elsewhere in your blogs.
**Rounded?** You put some emphasis on this, however rounded is not in the Chinese text. In fact, the Chinese text in Chen Weiming’s book says, 無使有凸凹處。The characters here are really graphic, 凸 (tū) protruding 凹 (āo) indented 處(处) (chù) locations.
There are lots of translations of this. “Do not cause there to be protruding nor indented places”, is pretty literal. The second part of the couplet would be, “Do not cause there to be broken nor joined places.” Most translators tend to make this easier to read.
I would be more inclined to interpret that as smooth rather than rounded. However, interestingly, in the book *Chen Style Taijiquan* by Shen JiaZhen and Gu LiuXin, two of Chen Fake’s students, this concept is discussed. Shen, also a student of Yang Jianhou, is thought to have written this chapter. There is graphic of a taiji symbol with protrusions and indentions superimposed over it. The taiji symbol is, of course, rounded, however the discussion refers to the energies of taijiquan being smooth and continuous.
This is how I would interpret this as a practitioner. When someone touches a taiji practitioner, their energy should feel so smooth that it is slick; so slick that it is slippery. And, as you said, there should be no handles, physical or energetic, for the opponent to grab onto.
Something along this line is more what I was expecting.
Thank you – this is both simple and complex – but very helpful for this beginner