The Tai Chi Classic [Part 2]
Attributed to Chang Sanfeng (est. 1279 -1386),
interpretation and commentary by Graham Barlow.
All movements are motivated by Yi,
not external form.
[Yi is usually translated as “intent” and refers to the mind. It doesn’t mean ‘your intent to do something’ – a closer English translation of that would be “will”, and it definitely doesn’t mean what a lot of people end up thinking it means, which is your intent to hurt or attack. People talk about having this kind of killer, or predator, mindset. No, that’s not what it’s talking about.]
[What these lines are saying is that the guiding action for a movement comes from your mind leading the body. It’s your internal self leading your external self. In Taijiquan your dantien leads the physical movement, with your body kind of trailing behind, but here we are told that before that happens, your mind starts the movement, with your dantien kind of trailing behind that.]
[It’s important to note that we’re not talking about the thinking part of your mind here. I quite often liken Yi to thinking in directions. You want to raise your arm up, you think in that direction and let the body follow. What this does is dispense with the intellectual, thinking, part of the brain, and just gets you in touch with the physical body directly, with no barrier in between.]
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.
[I think there are two, related, ideas going on here. The first is that (paradoxically) if you want to push somebody up and away, you first let your dantien area sink downwards and connect to the ground, then the power comes up from the feet]
[Previously we talked about power up from the ground. Now we get into the nitty-gritty of how we make that actually work without just using brute strength from the legs. If you sink the dantien area – think “drop” – then there is an instant ground force reaction that comes back in the opposite direction. Provided the body is ‘threaded together’ and relaxed enough, where force this goes is guided by the part of your brain the Chinese called Yi. Here are two photos attempting to illustrate this, but remember, it’s all happening simultaneously, rather than in two separate steps.]
Sink down from the dantien.
Issuing force with jin.
[The other idea presented here is that of being aware of the left and right, and when advancing being aware of withdrawing. On a simple level, it’s saying don’t overcommit, but I connect this idea to a phrase in one of the other classics which says “if you empty the left, you must fill the right”. Just like the Taiji symbol, everything in Tai Chi is circular and in harmony. So if you move something left, then another part of you must move to the right simultaneously, as you rotate around a central point, otherwise, you will be out of balance]
[The Taiji symbol is perfectly balanced, and you need to achieve the same state in your body].
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.
[Here we are getting towards the fault of double-weighting. In Taijiquan, you need to have your weight more on one leg than the other at all times. If your weight settles in an equal position then your Taiji symbol has stopped ‘moving’ and is now flat – it has become two separate halves, not a spiraling mix of energy. There’s more to double-weighting than that, but see the link above for that. ]
[As your weight shifts from one leg to the other in push hands, for example, you are ‘alternating the forces of pushing and pulling’. If you can do this while staying in balance then your opponent will become disrupted.]
[But again, you must stay in balance. So if you advance something – here represented by fullness – then you must withdraw something else – here represented by emptiness – at the same time.]
The whole body should be threaded together through every joint
without the slightest break.
[This is a return to the theme at the start of the classic of threading the body together, making it connected and keeping everything balanced. After reading the words between the start and these lines you should have a better idea of what that means. The emphasis on keeping the joints open and relaxed in particular is that these are usually the problem points where we lose connection.]
Long Boxing is like a great river
rolling on unceasingly.
[It’s interesting that the classic calls the art “Long boxing”. These days there are different martial arts in China called Long Boxing (Chang Quan) that aren’t Taijiquan. Perhaps this indicates that the name Taijiquan was not universally adopted when the classic was written, but more likely it is simply that the classic is a collection of already popular martial arts sayings. The Taijiquan form is a long sequence of movements, so “long boxing” is quite descriptive of the art.]
Peng, Lu, Ji, An,
Tsai, Lieh, Zhou, and Kao
are equated to the Eight Trigrams.
The first four are the cardinal directions;
Ch’ien [South; Heaven],
K’un [North; Earth],
K’an [West; Water], and
Li [East; Fire].
The second four are the four corners:
Sun [Southwest; Wind],
Chen [Northeast; Thunder],
Tui [Southeast; Lake], and
Ken [Northwest; Mountain].
Advance (Chin), Withdraw (T’ui),
Look Left (Tso Ku), Look Right (Yu Pan), and
Central Equilibrium (Chung Ting)
are equated to the five elements:
Taken together, these are termed the Thirteen Postures
[This last section is almost a bit of admin. It lays out the fundamentals that define Taijiquan – the 8 energies and the 5 directions].