The following are translations of the early essays and poems written by Taijiquan (Tai Chi Chuan) masters over the centuries, stretching back a long way into the past. These essays are what give the art it’s theoretical backbone and qualities as both a healing art and also a martial art. They are designed to be memorised and brought into play during practice.
THE TAIJI BOXING TREATISE
APPENDIX SECTION from Taiji Compiled: The Boxing, Saber, Sword, Pole, and Sparring 陳炎林
by Chen Yanlin
[published June, 1943]
[translation by Paul Brennan, March, 2013]
一舉動周身俱要輕靈。尤須貫串。氣宜鼓盪。神宜內斂。無使有缺陷處。無使有凸凹處。無使有斷續處。其根在脚。發於 腿。主宰於腰。形於手指。由脚而腿而腰。總須完整一氣。向前退後。乃能得機得勢。身便散亂。其病必於腰腿求之。上 下前後左右皆然。凡此皆是意。不在外面。有上卽有下。有前則有後。有左則有右。如意要向上。卽寓下意。若將物掀起 而加以挫之之意。斯其根自斷。乃壞之速而無疑。虛實宜分清楚。一處有一處虛實。周身節節貫串。無令絲毫間斷耳。 Once there is any movement, your entire body should be nimble and alert. There especially needs to be connection from movement to movement. Energy should be roused and spirit should be collected within. Do not allow there to be cracks or gaps anywhere, pits or protrusions anywhere, breaks in the flow anywhere. Starting from your foot, issue through your leg, directing it at your waist, and expressing it at your fingers. From foot through leg through waist, it must be a fully continuous process, and whether advancing or retreating, you will then be able to catch the opportunity and gain the upper hand. If your body easily falls into disorder, the problem must be in your waist and legs, so look for it there. This is always so, regardless of the direction of the movement, be it up, down, forward, back, left, right. And in all of these cases, the problem is a matter of your intent and does not lie outside of you.
With an upward comes a downward, with a forward comes a backward, and with a left comes a right. If your intention wants to go upward, then harbor a downward intention, like when you reach down to lift up an object. You thereby add a setback to the opponent’s own intention, thus he cuts his own root and is defeated quickly and certainly. Empty and full must be distinguished clearly. In each part there is a part that is empty and a part that is full. Throughout your body, as the movement goes from one section to another there has to be connection. Do not allow the slightest break in the connection. 長拳者。如長江大海。滔滔不絕也。掤、捋、擠、按、採、挒、肘、靠。此八卦也。進步、退步、左顧、右盼、中定。此五行 也。掤、捋、擠、按。卽乾、坤、坎、離。四正方也。採、挒、肘、靠。卽巽、震、兌、艮。四斜角也。進、退、顧、盼、定。卽 金、木、水、火、土、也。合之則為十三勢也。 原注云。此係武當山張三丰祖師遺論。欲天下豪傑延年益壽。不徒作技藝之末也。
Long Boxing: it is like a long river flowing into the wide ocean, on and on ceaselessly…
[The thirteen dynamics are:] warding off, rolling back, pressing, pushing, plucking, rending, elbowing, and bumping – which relate to the eight trigrams:
☱☰☴ ☲ ☵ ☳☷☶
and advancing, retreating, stepping to the left, stepping to the right, and staying in the center – which relate to metal, wood, water, fire, and earth: the five elements. Warding off, rolling back, pressing, and pushing correspond to ☰, ☷, ☵, and ☲ in the four principle compass directions [meaning simply that these are the primary techniques]. Plucking, rending, elbowing, and bumping correspond to ☴, ☳, ☱, and ☶ in the four corner directions [i.e. are the secondary techniques]. Advancing, retreating, stepping to the left, stepping to the right, and staying in the center correspond to the five elements of metal, wood, water, fire, and earth. These combined [8+5] are called the Thirteen Dynamics.
An original note says: “This relates to the writings of Zhang Sanfeng of Mt. Wudang. He wanted all the heroesin the world to live long and not merely gain skill.”
THE TAIJI BOXING CLASSIC
太極者。無極而生。陰陽之母也。動之則分。靜之則合。無過不及。隨屈就伸。人剛我柔謂之走。我順人背謂之黏。動急 則急應。動緩則緩隨。雖變化萬端。而理為一貫。由着熟而漸悟懂勁。由懂勁而階及神明。然非功力之久。不能豁然貫 通焉。虛領頂勁。氣沉丹田。不偏不倚。忽隱忽現。左重則左虛。右重則右杳。仰之則彌高。俯之則彌深。進之則愈長。 退之則愈促。一羽不能加。蠅蟲不能落。人不知我。我獨知人。英雄所向無敵。蓋皆由此而及也。斯技旁門甚多。雖勢有 區別。槪不外乎壯欺弱。慢讓快耳。有力打無力。手慢讓手快。是皆先天自然之能。非關學力而有為也。察四兩撥千斤 之句。顯非力勝。觀耄耋能禦衆之形。快何能為。立如平準。活似車輪。偏沉則隨。雙重則滯。每見數年純功。不能運化 者。率自為人制。雙重之病未悟耳。欲避此病。須知陰陽相濟。方為懂勁。懂勁後。愈練愈精。默識揣摩。漸至從心所 欲。本是捨己從人。多誤舍近求遠。所謂差之毫釐。謬以千里。學者不可不詳辨焉。
Taiji [“grand polarity”] is born of wuji [“nonpolarity”], and is the mother of yin and yang [the passive and active aspects]. When there is movement, passive and active become distinct from each other. When there is stillness, they return to being indistinguishable.
Neither going too far nor not far enough, comply and bend then engage and extend. He is hard while I am soft – this is yielding. My energy is smooth while his energy is coarse – this is sticking. If he moves fast, I quickly respond, and if his movement is slow, I leisurely follow. Although there is an endless variety of possible scenarios, there is only this single principle [of yielding and sticking] throughout. Once you have engrained these techniques, you will gradually come to identify energies, and then from there you will work your way toward something miraculous. But unless you practice a lot over a long time, you will never have a breakthrough.
Forcelessly press up your headtop. Energy sinks to your elixir field. Neither lean nor slant. Suddenly hide and suddenly appear. When there is pressure on the left, the left empties. When there is pressure on the right, the right disappears. When looking up, it is still higher. When looking down, it is still lower. When advancing, it is even farther. When retreating, it is even nearer. A feather cannot be added and a fly cannot land. The opponent does not understand me, only I understand him. A hero is one who encounters no opposition, and it is through this kind of method that such a condition is achieved.
There are many other schools of boxing arts besides this one. Although the postures are different between them, they generally do not go beyond the strong bullying the weak and the slow yielding to the fast. The strong beating the weak and the slow submitting to the fast are both a matter of inherent natural ability and bear no relation to skill that is learned. Examine the phrase “four ounces moves a thousand pounds”, which is clearly not a victory obtained through strength. Or consider the sight of an old man repelling a group, which could not come from an aggressive speed.
Stand like a scale. Move like a wheel. If you drop one side, you can move. If you have equal pressure on both sides, you will be stuck. We often see one who has practiced hard for many years yet is unable to perform any neutralizations and is generally under the opponent’s control, and the issue here is that this error of double pressure has not yet been understood. If you want to avoid this error, you must understand that passive and active exchange roles. Once you have this understanding, you will be identifying energies. Once you are identifying energies, then the more you practice, the more efficient your skill will be, and by absorbing through experience and by constantly contemplating, gradually you will reach the point that you can do whatever you want. The basic of basics is to forget about your plans and simply respond to the opponent. We often make the mistake of ignoring what is right in front of us in favor of something that has nothing to do with our immediate circumstances. For such situations it is said: “Miss by an inch, lose by a mile.” You must understand all this clearly.
UNDERSTANDING HOW TO PRACTICE THE THIRTEEN DYNAMICS
以心行氣。務令沉着。乃能收斂入骨。以氣運身。務令順遂。乃能便利從心。精神能提得起。則無遲重之虞。所謂頂頭懸 也。意氣須換得靈。乃有圓活之妙。所謂變轉虛實也。發勁須沉着鬆淨。專主一方。立身須中正安舒。支撑八面。行氣如 九曲珠。無往不利。(氣遍身軀之謂)運勁如百煉鋼。無堅不摧。形如搏兔之鵠。神如捕鼠之貓。靜如山岳。動如江河。蓄勁如開弓。發勁如放箭。曲中求直。蓄而後發。力由脊發。步隨身換。收卽是放。斷而復連。往復須有摺疊。進退須有轉 換。極柔軟。然後極堅剛。能呼吸。然後能靈活。氣以直養而無害。勁以曲蓄而有餘。心為令。氣為旗。腰為纛。先求開 展。後求緊凑。乃可臻於縝密矣。
Use mind to move the energy. You must get the energy to sink. It is then able to collect in the bones. Use energy to move your body. You must get the energy to be smooth. Your body can then easily obey your mind.
If you can raise your spirit, then you will be without worry of being slow or weighed down. Thus it is said [in the Thirteen Dynamics Song]: “Your whole body will be nimble and your headtop will be pulled up as if suspended.” The mind must perform alternations nimbly, and then you will have the qualities of roundness and liveliness. Thus it is said [also in the Song]: “Pay attention to the alternation of empty and full.”
When issuing power, you must sink and relax, concentrating it in one direction. Your posture must be upright and comfortable, bracing in all directions.
Move energy as though through a winding-path pearl, penetrating even the smallest nook (meaning that the energy is everywhere in the body). Wield power like tempered steel, so strong there is nothing tough enough to stand up against it.
The shape is like a falcon capturing a rabbit. The spirit is like a cat pouncing on a mouse. In stillness, be like a mountain, and in movement, be like a river.
Store power like drawing a bow. Issue power like loosing an arrow.
Within curving, seek to be straightening. Store and then issue.
Power comes from the spine. Step according to your body’s adjustments.
To gather is to release. Disconnect but stay connected.
In the back and forth [of the arms], there must be folding. In the advance and retreat [of the feet], there must
Extreme softness begets extreme hardness. Your ability to be nimble lies in your ability to breathe.
By nurturing energy with integrity, it will not be corrupted. By storing power in crooked parts, it will be in
The mind makes the command, the energy is its flag, and the waist is its banner.
First strive to open up, then strive to close up, and from there you will be able to attain a refined subtlety.
It is also said:
If he takes no action, I take no action, but once he takes even the slightest action, I have already acted. The
power seems to be relaxed but not relaxed, about to express but not yet expressing. Although the power finishes, the intent of it continues. 又曰。先在心。後在身。腹鬆氣沉入骨。神舒體靜。刻刻在心。切記一動無有不動。一靜無有不靜。牽動往來氣貼背。而 斂入脊骨。內固精神。外示安逸。邁步如貓行。運勁如抽絲。全身意在精神。不在氣。在氣則滯。有氣者無力。無氣者純 剛。氣若車輪。腰如車軸。
It is also said:
First in the mind, then in the body.
With your abdomen relaxed, energy sinks into your bones. Spirit comfortable, body calm – at every moment be
mindful of this.
Always remember: if one part moves, every part moves, and if one part is still, every part is still.
As the movement leads back and forth, energy sticks to your back and gathers in your spine.
Inwardly bolster spirit and outwardly show ease.
Step like a cat and move energy as if drawing silk.
Throughout your body, your mind should be on the spirit rather than on the energy, for if you are fixated on the
energy, your movement will become sluggish. Whenever your mind is on the energy, there will be no power, whereas if you ignore the energy and let it take care of itself, there will be pure strength.
The energy is like a wheel and the waist is like an axle. –
PLAYING HANDS SONG
掤捋擠按須認眞。 上下相隨人難進。 任他巨力來打吾。 牽動四兩撥千斤。
Ward-off, rollback, press, and push must be taken seriously.
With coordination between above and below, it is difficult for the opponent to find a way in. I will let him attack me with as much power as he likes,
for I will tug on his movement with four ounces of force moving his of a thousand pounds. Guiding him in to land on nothing, I then close on him and send him away.
I stick to him and go along with his movement instead of pulling away or crashing in
THE TRUE MEANING OF TAIJI BOXING
Be formless and shapeless. (i.e. Forget that you are there.)
Let your whole body be full of emptiness. (Inside and out are as one.) Forget everything and just be natural. (Do whatever you feel like.)
Be like chimes hung in the westerns mountains. [Their sound resonates far.] (The sky’s the limit.)
Have the roar of a tiger and the cry of an ape. (This represents the smelting of your sexual essence [which is to be processed into a potent energy].)
The water is still, but the spring is clear. (Your mind seems dead, but your spirit is alive.)
Divert the river and turn back the sea. (Your vitality is flowing.)
Fulfill your nature and accept your destiny. (Your spirit is stable and your energy is sufficient.)
ESSENTIAL FUNDAMENTALS OF TAIJI BOXING
(一)虛領頂勁。(二)眼神注視。(三)含胸拔背。(四)沉肩垂肘。(五)坐腕伸指。(六)身體中正。(七)尾閭收住。(八)鬆 腰鬆胯。(九)膝部如鬆非鬆。(十)足掌貼地。(十一)分清虛實。(十二)上下相隨。週身一致。(一動無有不動。一靜無有 不靜。)(十三)內外相合。呼吸自然。(當呼者呼。當吸者吸。)(十四)用意不用力。(十五)氣遍週身。分行上下。(貼於脊 背。沉於丹田。)(十六)意氣相連。(十七)式式勢順。不拗不背。週身舒適。(十八)式式均匀。(不快不慢)綿綿不斷。(外 式如此。意與內勁亦然。)(十九)姿勢無過或不及。當求其中正。(二十)用法含而不露。(二一)動中求靜。(心靜無思無 慮。)靜中求動。(內氣運用。)(二二)輕則靈。靈則動。動則變。
- Forcelessly press up your headtop.
- Your gaze watches attentively.
- Contain your chest and pluck up your back.
- Sink your shoulders and hang your elbows.
- Settle your wrists and extend your fingers.
- Your body should be balanced upright.
- Tuck in your tailbone.
- Loosen your waist and hips.
- Your knees should seem to be relaxed but not relaxed.
- The soles of your feet are to be flush against the ground [except when it is specifically only the tip of the foot or the heel touching down, or of course during kicks].
- Distinguish clearly between empty and full.
- Upper body and lower coordinate with each other, your whole body a single unit. (“If one part moves, every part moves, and if one part is still, every part is still.”)
- Inside and outside merge with each other, your breathing natural. (When you need to exhale, exhale, and when you need to inhale, inhale.)
- Use intention, not exertion.
- Energy goes everywhere in your body, branching off above and below (sticking to your spine [when going upward] and sinking to your elixir field [when going downward]).
- Intention and energy are linked together.
- Posture after posture should flow smoothly into the next, no awkwardness or feeling of things getting jammed
up, your whole body comfortable.
- The movements should be uniform (neither speeding up nor slowing down), and should be continuous without interruption. (Even if the posture seems to halt externally, the intention and internal power should continue without interruption.)
- The postures should neither go too far nor not far enough. Seek for them to balanced.
- When applying techniques, let them be concealed rather than revealed.
- Within movement, seek stillness (meaning calmness of mind, free of thoughts or worries). Within stillness, seek movement (meaning the energy moving internally).
- With lightness there is sensitivity, with sensitivity there is movement, and with movement there is adaptation