The Key to Practicing Taijiquan's Skill & Form
... So subtle; so subtle; as if there is no sound.
Immortal, immortal; as if there is no shape..."
Prior to producing momentum, the body gesture should be stable and the balance completely centered. The mind and body should be relaxed. There should be no hesitation, no rigidity. Remove all distracting thoughts from the mind and allow the return of the body gesture to that state of being natural. With this, you can start to move.
When moving, use your heart/intention and qi to do the moving, to do the operation. Use your spine and waist as an axis in producing the boxing sequence. Your moving momentum should be like that of a moving cloud, like running water, like pulling a thread, and like a hanging thread. Usually twenty minutes to a half hour is about right to complete the frame. After practice your mind and spirit should feel uplifted; your mind and perception, clear. This will show that your practice is on the right track. Once you reach this level, you should quietly reach awareness. Reaching this level is really not difficult. Avoid rigidity and hardness in the body. Avoid moving the four limbs independently, by themselves. Use your intention and qi to carry the movement. The whole body should be relaxed. Sinking your qi and momentum to the lower place is taiji's correct rule. I (Teacher Li) have often seen taiji practicioners allowing their four limbs to move completely by themselves and to move without guidance. This may look fancy but it is a mistake.
Master Li Ya Xuan
After practicing awhile you should feel your palm and the inside of your fingers, i.e., the belly of the fingers, should feel the fullness of qi and intention. This proves that qi and blood have already reached the tip, the recesses, of your body. Based on this achievement, if you continue to practice your skill, you will eventually, spontaneously reach the level of awareness and connection. If you practice for a lengthy time without being able to feel this sensation, that means that your qi and intention and skill frame are incorrect. In that case, you should immediately seek a good teacher to guide you further, otherwise, if you continue to practice incorrectly too long, it will not be possible to ever make the corrections needed.
Use your mind to operate your qi. Use your qi to operate your body. Use your eyes to look inside, to sense how the body and the mind are connected; to see how your spirit and qi are relaxed. After awhile, you will automatically reach the level of unity of inside with outside; unity of upper with lower. If you pay attention only to the external skill movement, you are focusing only on external skills. Your spirit and intention should stay inside to facilitate, to reserve the quiet energy. When you use energy, the correct method is to have a harvest before you start. Remember, every movement should be clean and relaxed. With this your perspicacity, alacrity, and flexibility can grow. Avoid becoming angry and displaying combative signs such as clenching teeth and staring angrily with your eyes. Those intentions and mannerisms are harmful; avoid them.
Some may ask, "If you do not have intention during the practice, when you need it during combat, how can you then use it?" Actually, practice is the time for building and accumulating your qi and spirit. If you consolidate your qi and spirit, when you need them, they will easily come out. If during practice you become extremely angry and show such energy and qi externally, you will exhaust your qi and spirit. In this case, since your qi then cannot accumulate, when needed you will not have a sufficient supply to be able to make a truly surprising movement.
Your upper body should have an empty and flexible spirit. Your middle body should have the energy of the waist and spine. Your lower part should have the qi of the dantien. These three parts are combined. The external and internal are connected. With these your movement will be appropriate. Everything should be natural. Do not pay attention to any single, particular part of your body. If you think only of sinking your qi then your qi will hesitate. If you think only of making your spirit higher, of lifting up your spirit, your spirit will be restricted. That is not a Taoist natural quality.
What do we mean by empty, flexible, top of head energy? This means when your body gesture is comfortable and straight, settled, your empty, flexible qi will automatically reach the top. This is not something you can simply, intentionally cause by thinking a force to the top. If you intentionally use force to reach your top, you will have the characteristic of being straight and hard but without the empty and flexible. Intentionally, trying to force a quality is something that must be avoided in acquiring tai qi skill.
To practice taiji skill, you should first rely on a good teacher to show the use of these skills. Secondly, you should understand the theory of the great Teacher Chang San Feng and Wang T'sungYueh. You should have no distraction during the practice, otherwise, you will go the wrong way. In addition, when you do taijiquan you should not practice external skill boxing, otherwise, your effort will be without achievement.
This skill is called "relaxed and flexible energy". Therefore, when you use this energy there is no sound. When a person is hit, externally there is no sign but internally, the penetration has already been made. The external skill is a so-called tense and hard energy. When this is used, you hear a "thump", "tung", "whap" sound. When a person is hit, externally they show a red welt, or a red and blue wound but internally there may be no penetration. Some say that the taijiquan skill must be combined with other skills in order to be useful. This really shows their lack of true teaching, of true learning of taijiquan. This person does not understand taijiquan theory and really is showing ignorance.
When people first learning the boxing frame, within a few days they will feel muscle pain in their legs. After a month, they may feel knee pain. After that they may feel some shoulder soreness. Learners should not be surprised with this. This is a natural process. This also is how a good teacher gives correct guidance. Continue the practice and the soreness and pain will heal. Later, your skill will be much improved. If people fear soreness and pain and then stop practicing, only to re-start after the pain goes away, thus are only doing a sporadic, start and stop practice, they are really wasting their time. If you learn taiji boxing but never feel any leg pain, knee pain, or shoulder soreness, then the teacher is not giving correct guidance. You must select another teacher, a good teacher.
When you relax, first relax your mind. This is most important because the mind is the host of the entire body. After the mind is relaxed, the whole body then also is relaxed. If you use your mind to influence the body after awhile you will automatically achieve real relaxation. This will allow production of your internal energy.
The whole body, the qi, and momentum should be relaxed and open. With this the empty and flexible can reach the top. Every movement is like that of a river and the sea. Every step is like that of a cat. The lower and upper should follow each other. Inside and outside should cooperate completely with one another. With this, internal energy will be produced.
Master Li Ya Xuan
When doing the skill, do not just move your four limbs. Rather, use your mind to move them; use your qi to carry them; use your waist to guide them; use your intention to induce. With this the upper, the lower, the internal, and the external can become connected by one qi; this is needed.
If you make even just a single gesture, not only must your four limbs open but also your mind, your intention, your chest, should be closed first; then all open together. All movement always starts from inside and goes towards the outside. This is why tai qi is called an internal skill, an internal kung.
Internally you should use your mind and intention as the host, the head. Externally you should use the waist and the spine as the axis; be completely centered. Internal/ external, upper and lower parts all become one. With this there is something whose wonder is beyond understanding.
Seek coordination of the upper and lower. This is the beginning step of practice. Next, try to sense gingerly, look for something very light, flexible, like cotton - soft. This is the middle level skill. Finally, seek the empty and nothing in there. This is the last research focus. When your body is light and flexible, there is still something there. If you reach the level of empty and nothing, then actually everything will follow your intention. This really is reaching the most wonderful, mysterious level.
When Teacher Chengfu pushed hands and used his launching energy, his eyes would give a certain extremely stern and dark look that caused fright. The opponent then would feel stunning surprise and deep fear of loss of life or eminent death. This shows how the spirit and body can become one within a moment; how the whole body force can be mobilized, concentrated, focused and produced within an extremely short period of time. Because this happens within the briefest of moments with the quickness of a thought, so suddenly, the opponent is not able to make a defense. Besides that, there is no way to defend against this.
Everyday, when we practice, we practice slowly. This slow practice helps accumulate the spirit, qi, and intention. This is how the internal and external cooperate to show such wonder. If you practice too fast, not only will you not accumulate spirit and qi but, internally and externally, the parts can not cooperate to the appropriate degree needed. Therefore, even if you do the launching energy, it will not be full. In addition, neither will your force be capable of surprise.
When the whole body relaxes, the upper and lower parts must be completely relaxed. This is one of the necessary conditions of taijiquan. If your movement is not complete, or is complete but not relaxed; or if you only relax your shoulder but your waist, kua, belly, and back do not know what is relaxed; or after practice, your palm does not feel inflated, then this shows you did not have the right teacher. I have often seen practicioners shake their body and make lots of sounds. Their heads are like those of sale-pitching people; swollen, manicured, proper, everything in place, and with a look of arrogance and a condenscending attitude. They think taiji only "talks" about being soft and does not "speak" of force. Actually, these types of arrogant, over-confident people do not know that taijiquan has it's own theory and can only be learned from a teacher. It is not something you can learn by mere observation. Taijiquan is not something you can just figure out by yourself at home.
In the practice, you should feel the whole body relax and also feel the movements being clean. If the whole body is stable and sunk then the whole body will be comfortable and connected. In every movement you should quietly think of how to use your intention, of how to send your intention to the other's body, and of how to enter inside the other's body. With this method, after a long period of practice, you will see progress.
When your spirit and qi return inside and are reserved in your bones, the whole body will be full of empty and flexible qi. If you then want to be light, you will be light; if you want to be heavy, you will be heavy. For skilled people who feel light - it is as if there is nothing there. For skilled people who feel heavy - it is as if the weight would break a mountain.
This is how you should practice your essence and transform your qi; this is how you then practice your qi to transform your spirit. Upon reaching the spiritual, you can reach the level of emptiness. To reach the level of empty and flexible, you must start with being solid. If you want to be light and quick, you must start with being heavy and stable. After you practice the skill for quite a long time, you can then reach the level of extremely light, extremely quick, empty, and flexible.
In the very beginning, if you try too soon to acquire the empty and flexible, light and quick, then your whole body movement will be full of confusion. If at the very beginning, you talk too much of empty and flexibility you will then acquire floating and be of no use. In taiji these types of people are the so-called "those who do not go out of their house for ten days." Actually, if you do not have a true teacher, a truly good teacher, ten years, or even after all your life you will not be able to "go out of your house" with the skill.
Taijiquan is a skill of reaching a maximum result via a minimum movement. When they move the hand, there is no comparison. They are empty and wonderful. All phenomena are incorporated therein. Regardless of how the other attacks, I rely on my empty and flexible qi.
I can change according to any opportunity presented. I can follow the momentum and respond accordingly, appropriately. Each and every response is just right. People should not focus merely on just one gesture, just one hand. If they do that they will miss the larger picture. If you use the great Dao (Tao) to connect every movement, to learn just one thing really, really well then everything will be okay. If you only think of using one gesture, one momentum, one qi, then the 10,000 changes are always possible. The intelligent person will do that.
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