Basic Principles of Taijiquan
from lecture notes of Master Rennie Chong
1) The paradox of Li (Effort/Strength/Force)
The effort and strength used during the daily activities is greater than and completely different from the effort and strength, when practising Taijiquan. In the latter concentration is focused within the body and has no external target.
2) The body is centered
Pushing up the head and sinking the groin are two ways to center your body. The force is then pushed upward to the top of the head and is sunk to the Dantian (bottom of diaphragm). The internal energy will then pierce through and be able to circulate to top and bottom and the body will naturally be centered. (Centering the body refers to being naturally upright.)
3) Drawing in chest and stretching the back
Drawing the chest is an action used when neutralizing others' force. It is not a final posture. Stretching the back has the meaning of directing the force upward (pushing the head up and stretching the back).
4) Bending the wrist
The source of this is unknown in Taiji manuals. Bending the wrist will make the arm stiff and sensitivity will be lost. When pushing hands (performing tui shou exercise), you will easily be caught and pushed out by your opponent, because you are not flexible. The Taiji manuals require one be relaxed, soft, light and lively.
5) Using the mind (Yi) rather than physical strength (Li)
This does not mean that one should not use strength at all, but rather to use the mind-intention (yi) more and to use strength (li) less often. The key is in the word "less". Less strength or effort will produce lightness. And being light is the pre-requisite of being loose and relaxed. As the standards of learners vary, what is meant by using the mind or the intention will vary accordingly. "Intention" (yi) is the whole of Taijiquan and cannot be explained in a few sentences. The intention is focused within the body, not outside. Practising Taijiquan and its postures are the fundamentals; what is being cultivated are really these: being loose and soft, serenity, sensitivity and liveliness, wholeness, sinking the force, vital energy, demeanor and spirit.
6) The hands must be relaxed, the legs especially should be relaxed
If the learner can really practise, using less strength and effort, in time, the hands ca be relaxed. However most learners will forget that the legs should also be relaxed so that the substantial and non-substantial may be separated clearly.
Whether or not the legs are relaxed has much to do with knowing how to open up the crotch area. If during practice, one can widen the step and sink the force so that every posture has its rise and fall, the two legs will soon become quite relaxed. Every routine in Taijiquan is accomplished through the bending and liveliness of the two legs.
7) Separating clearly the substantial and non-substantial
Taiji is separated into Yin-Yang. The manifestation of Yin-Yang is in the difference between the non-substantial and substantial. Taiji is circular: it has no ends, flows on continuously without disruption.
When practising, the waist must act as the hub and movements should be curved; the basic principle is to constantly and clearly separate the substantial and non-substantial.
8) Main thing is to be calm; do not hurry to push forward
We have numerous joints in our body, which are God-given for movement. And martial arts experts especially seek to exploit their fullest potential. Thus, martial skills are but ways to exercise the joints. In writings on Taijiquan, many advocate that each routine should be accomplished at a particular height and postures should not go suddenly higher or lower. However, this will cause the three major leg joints to be exercised under very unnatural conditions. It may be that under such conditions the hard strength of the thighs and legs is increased, but their natural elasticity is lost and their full ability is undermined.
Therefore, in practice, what we need to cultivate is fundamental stability, but also a lively kind of stability. The postures should not be extremely high or low: suddenly going up or down. Movement should be steady, the body should be relaxed, the force of gravity used naturally and advance should be stable. If we try to press down in order to sink or to be stable, then the lower limbs will lose their elasticity.
Keep in mind what the Taiji manuals say: "Once you move, the whole body must be light and lively."
9) Breathing in Taijiquan
Do not consciously match movement and breath. Taiji movements are gradual and slow. Therefore, the breath will naturally be lengthened. Taijiquan is a natural breathing exercise. The fundamental things to work on are: correct postures and Quan principles.
When the foundation has been established, the breath will naturally match the movements. When they don't in certain movements, it's OK to breath again and make necessary adjustments. If the beginner will just totally ignore the breathing, but concentrate on postures, there will be more benefits and faster improvement.
10) Better to concentrate inward
There is a relationship between eye focus/gaze and energy. The strength or weakness of eye gaze reflects the strength or weakness of energy and physical health. Overuse of your eyes will cause shortsightedness, weak nerves and even anemia. It also hastens ageing. Chinese medicine says: "Looking for long will hurt the blood and tire the liver."
The Taiji manuals say: "Better to focus or concentrate inward", "Rub in and internalize", "Constantly pay attention to the waist". Therefore, during the practice, the eyes should not be bright and alert. Use your heart (xin) in practice to substantiate and enrich the taste of the Quan, just as you drink a cup of rich coffee.
From the viewpoint of life-cultivation, it is nourishing the Qi, breath/vital energy, and accumulating the spirit. So, practising Quan is accumulation and not spending; it is revenue and not expenditure. In practice, the eye gaze should be far-seeing, kept level, the head should not look down and eyes should be half closed concentrating inward.
11) Rubbing in and internalization
According to the Taijiquan manuals, there are three steps in Taiji training:
"From familiarity of the Quan to gradual understanding of the force to spiritual insight." After one understands the force, he will be more and more skilled and as the Quan is internalized, it gradually follows the heart's desire.
"Familiarity" is chiefly to do with knowing really well and being used to the postures, i.e. bodily/physical training. After this, understanding of the force will come and this is the time to train the Qi/vital energy. Through understanding the force and moving on to training the spirit, one will approach spiritual insight, which is the third stage. Only then does one know what is Taijiquan and thus enter in.
The manuals also talk about "being comfortable in spirit, being calm in the body, always keeping these in your heart", "intent not external" etc. All these clearly mean that:
Thus, the emphasis is on gradual and slow movements, a quiet demeanor, a meticulously investigative spirit, inwardness of thought and focus, and calm, deep thinking.
Basic Principles of Taijiquan © 2005 Rennie Chong