... 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 practitioners allowing their four limbs to move completely by themselves and to move without guidance. This may look fancy but it is a mistake.
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'sung Yueh. 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.
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 practitioners 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.
There are five taboos of practice in the acquisition of this skill:
1. Those not selecting the right teacher, enter the wrong school and the external skill tops and is dominate. Once acquired, this habit, even if the learner later meets a truly skilled person, will be ingrained and not be correctable for internal use.
2. Those not believing their teacher strongly, completely enough. They do not completely follow the teacher's theory of practice. These people pretend they are smarter and think east, think west, and attempt to use other theories in combination with this skill. Their minds and spirits become a mess. All sorts of problems manifest. These problems are extremely difficult to correct.
3. Those who indulge in bad habits like smoking, gambling, and prostitution. These exhaust energy, qi, and spirit. They confuse minds. These people will never understand and can never reach a good level of awareness.
4. The over-practice of external family skills, hard skills, like breathing qi, making strong, exertion and effort, and the clinching of teeth. Intense staring with the eyes, making the belly full and then striking the belly. The use of an instrument to hit the body or the use of a hammer to hit the head. These hard, external practices and abuses severely harm and deaden our most valuable nervous system. This causes parts of the nervous system to become numb, deadened, and to be without awareness. People who have done this type of training cannot reach good levels of taijiquan practice.
5. Those people who only learn a little bit of taiji then leave their teacher and go out and show off in front of other people in an attempt to falsely gain respect. These types of people are often induced into learning other types of skills. Their's is a show of mere ego, not skill. After they start on the wrong path, they can never be corrected.
The above five types of people are those who cannot reach the awareness level of taji. The true skill, the main skill, is to make your mind clear, and to focus your mind. But in order to clear your mind and to concentrate, to focus, you should first become very stable and very quiet. Only after becoming quiet can you become clear. At that point you can focus, meditate. This is the way to reach awareness. After achieving beginning awareness, you can reach an even higher level of awareness. You can then reach understanding. Later, you can reach the level of precise understanding. So, if you want to clear your mind, before settling your mind, you must have the intention of restoring your mind to the state of being without thought; your body without action; to feeling no body, no mind. Once reaching this state of "no action" your mind is able to become enlightened.
After reaching enlightment, any awareness, any sensation, any perception of conscious is that claimed by the scholars of Confucious. That consciousness does not come from continual thinking. If you use your mind to think of penetrating a wall without a door, you just visualize going through the wall; if you think of working in poison ivy, you visualize just passing through as if there is no road - if you practice in this manner, the more you practice this way, the farther you will be from taijiquan. A true teacher is needed.
In practicing taijiquan, you need to be quietly contemplative while practicing the operation. If not, you will not be able to understand what is correct. If you do not practice, then your arm, your whole body, will not be able to follow the mind to move. Therefore, the two aspects must be done together. This means you cultivate both your mind and your body. If you just spend time vigorously, physically practicing, working the body, even if you make your tendons, your bones, your skin, and your flesh suffer, your mind and spirit will only be confused and, although you may sweat profusely, you will be wasting your energy, your qi, and your spirit. You will only harm your attempt to acquire the internal skill. You will receive little real benefit.
Cultivating the empty and flexible produces a high spirit, alertness, readiness, eagerness, perspicacity, high energy, and profound judgment. This keen judgment then used to acquire awareness of internal boxing's method. If you use these methods to defend yourself, you will have an excellent self-defense and you will also be able to handle any bully. If you use this skill in business, you will understand the business very clearly, with perspicacity, and will always succeed. If you use this method to cultivate your body, you will achieve longevity beyond that normal.
This skill is made up of three aspects: your spirit, qi, and body. The main emphasis is on enhancing your spirit. Afterwards comes the practice of qi. Last in importance is the practice of your physical body.
What is the meaning of spirit? Spirit here refers to something in addition to our whole body, it is empty, it is flexible, there is momentum, a function of mind, controller of intention. The movement cannot be predicted, thus, in addition to the flexible, there is quickness and the concept of changing. Spirit is really not involved with clenching of teeth, intensely staring, or the use of physical effort to produce qi.
What is the meaning of qi? qi may refer to breathing. It is that that sinks downward when you acquire stability. It is not something seen in muscle or use of effort to breathe. The body is stable and comfortable. Movement should be flexible and light. Merely taking a standing position to strike sand bags, beating the body, or striking objects with the hands will enhance neither spirit nor qi. Those people who practice the spirit cannot be without qi and the body - they have all three. Rather, there is merely an emphasis on spirit development. For those people who merely practice qi, they may have some qi, they may have some body, but their spirit is lacking. Those who only practice the body aspect also have some spirit and some qi, however, they can not completely know the wonder of the spirit.
In the practice, if your intention does not completely reach the breadth of your mind, your body gesture cannot be relaxed. Without proper relaxation, the upper and lower will not follow or be coordinated. Thus, your internal and external cannot match. Then your breathing may not be comfortable. At this point, with these problems, you should seek a good teacher for guidance otherwise, you will harm and worsen your practice.
If the mind thinks of relaxing after awhile the body gesture will also relax. Every movement should be followed by heart and qi. Then your four limbs will follow nature and the internal/external will become fit. With this your boxing intention can reach your hand. Stillness and contemplation will allow you to reach the level of your mind controlling everything. Everything should follow slowness, being stable, being quiet, and reaching stillness. If the mind is not clear and the qi floats, the more you practice with these illnesses, the farther you will go from boxing's intention. In this case, even if you practice like this for your whole life, you qi will not reach your hand. Learners should persevere, should have talent, and should have a true teacher in order to achieve success. Even with these qualities, in addition, the teacher and theory must be respected. With all these present, perhaps in one or two years you may reach some success. However, if you leave the teacher too early, you may have some problems and attain no awareness. One way to avoid this is to be open, to sense how the body and mind are connected. Quietly think about what the teacher advised you about the practice. Also, think of and visualize how the teacher practiced the gesture. With this your problem may not become too deeply rooted. Otherwise, if you make just a small mistake early there will be no end. It is like a horse without a rein, it cannot be guided.
People's practice problems may be visible or invisible. The visible problem is easily corrected, however, those invisible are very difficult to rectify. For example, some of these types of problems may be the hand and the feet being high or low, or not in balance, or not matching, or the direction is not correct, or the waist or kua are not straight, not horizontal, or the spine is not relaxed. These are visible problems. They are easily corrected. But, if your mind and intention are in the wrong way and, thus, your movement and spirit do not follow one another and your mind and body, internally/externally, do not match; these are invisible diseases. These diseases sometimes appear, sometimes do not appear. You can sense it but it is difficult for you to describe or pin down. It is very difficult to correct and eliminate these problems.
For people internally ill, regardless of how they spend their practice, the gesture and momentum will always show ugliness. That is because they do not listen to the teacher's words of how to practice. Again, they spend too much time thinking of east, thinking of west. That is how they go down the wrong path. Learners, in particular, should be aware of these problems.
I have often seen people who already have practiced for many years but still cannot produce internal energy. They cannot respond appropriately. Their hand is confused; their feet do not know what to do; they are unable to sense. Their eyes show hesitation or hastiness and they just fight without preparation. These are further examples of the internal diseases. They are very difficult to cure.
Every movement should follow the breathing. Use breathing to facilitate opening and closing. This is the so-called "using the qi to move the body". Every movement should have "quan" (martial) intention. For example, when the fist comes out, carry the fist with intention. When pulling the fist back, use intention to take it back.
Practice with the saber, sword, or spear should also follow this advice. You cannot throw away your intention and simply allow your four limbs to move independently. Internal movement is a combination of mind controlling the body and the body controlling the hand. Every hand and leg movement starts with your mind. From first the internal the external is reached. This is the so-called "internal skill".
Once expertness is reached then a mere thought, i.e., the mind just thinking in one direction is able to cause just single movement that starts and instantaneously encompasses the whole body. With this, the whole body force will be permeated completely throughout the body. Yet, without a good teacher people cannot reach this level. External skill only heeds external gesture; it is external movement. Their gesture and frame often may be very big and often may look very quick. In reality, however, it may not be so quick.
Internal skill emphasizes awareness based upon understanding energy. Understanding energy internally makes awareness go inside. Although movement may appear slow, actually, it may not be slow. In addition, in combat we decide how big the energy is, the appropriate time, the movement--low and quick, and the target. Since everything, including direction, is calculated, this calculation is based on hearing energy. This hearing energy comes from relaxed, soft, sinking, stillness, and slow practice daily. Boxing skill is an individual, bare-handed strategy. The mind and head represent the headquarters. The waist and chest are main but smaller fighting groups. The hands and feet are the smallest and lowest level of the fighting groups. The skin may be comparable to guards. The nervous system may be considered the system of communications.
Once you have contact with the enemy, the nervous system will pass the news to the head and heart. The head and heart make a decision, according to the situation, to guide the waist and body; to guide the four limbs and head and legs. If the nervous system cannot transfer this information, it is impossible to know from which direction the enemy is coming from or his magnitude. An appropriate response will then be impossible. Even if you have great force, if you do not use it appropriately you will be defeated. Use your hands and feet to protect your heart and body. If you cannot use your gesture appropriately you will not be able to reach your goal. The waist and spine are the axis for the use of the hands and legs. If transitions are not done flexibly a good result is not possible. The head and heart are the headquarters of the whole body. Therefore, awareness must be very clear and flexible, otherwise, a good command cannot be made.
During combat, if you need to be quick, you must be quick; if you need to be slow, be slow. In this art not even a single mistake is allowed. Move forward, move backward, left, right, you can not have even one hesitation, otherwise, all may be lost. So we can see the importance of the nervous system being clear. Therefore, taiji skill mainly emphasizes making your mind quiet and your temper concentrated and focused. This keeps the nervous system clear. Some do not understand this and place strong emphasis on the exercise of their muscles. Actually, this also damages the most valuable nervous system. This is a tragedy.
Those who like large muscles and strength probably have only two chances in combat. First, during an attack, regardless whether moving back or forth, they must be very quick. They will want their muscles to respond very quickly. The question is whether or not their muscles are very sensitive; yet even if they are quick, they cannot attack at the correct time. This may only create confusion.
Secondly, when these people hit others, they obviously hope the other feels great pain. In addition, these people often want their muscles large enough and strong enough to absorb the pain of being hit by others. The question here is during the attack, if the timing is not correct, they will use a lot of strength but will hit empty space. If you make a defensive gesture at the incorrect time, this only shows weakness to others. This results in much more harm. So then, what is the use of having large, strong muscles? Further, when you are attacked, you must be very quick. You must move with suddenness. In combat there is not enough time to think of producing strength in your muscles. Finally, when others attack the most vulnerable parts of your body, strong muscles are of no use for defense or to respond.
Taijiquan is a skill with shape and without shape. Although it has shape when an opponent attacks you, your whole body must be very reserved and display nearly nothing in there. This will make the opponent catch an empty shadow so to speak and, thus, not harm you. If the enemy thinks you are empty and, on the other hand, if you show your emptiness but can suddenly attack like thunder, thunder so quick and strong that people must duck and cover their ears, so as to make them totally scared, scared for their life, then this is enticing into emptiness. Taijiquan is a skill based on unpredictable opportunity. If the other thinks you cannot attack, you should just move your mind suddenly to attack. If others think you will come then you should transform as if you have nothing to attack. This is the so-called "being suddenly visible; suddenly invisible".
The practice frame was designed to cultivate your mind and qi. Push-hands is done to acquire listening energy. Scatter-hands is practiced to acquire skill of hand, eyes, body, and the step method. So, this boxing practices heart, physical essence, qi, and spirit. When you practice the skill, your qi must be sinking. Do not intentionally sink it, that is, do not think of sinking the qi. Rather, use true, fundamental intention to infuse the qi during your breathing.
Emptiness is so empty it's as if it is solid. Being solid is so solid it's as if it is empty. There is something there but it's as if there is nothing there. Relax, let go, softness--use these to produce the empty and flexible qi. This will enhance your perspicacity. Place your mind and body in the right place to establish the fundamental source. With this you can show gesture and seriousness. If your body and mind are not correct, your gesture will show shallowness and be overly light, floating. These qualities too easily tempt bullies.
Emptiness and flexibility are the first key to the skill. Understand this theory like a genius then in one or two years full awareness may be reached. An unintelligent person may spend their whole life in practice and study but will still not be able to reach this level. Thus, a person's achievement, deep or shallow, is also a function of a person's innate talent and intelligence. Not everyone can be placed in the same category. Practice the skill in the early morning or in the quiet of the night without disturbance from others practicing. Do not show off in front of other people. A poem entitled, "Poem of Movement" explains, "The Great Dao (Tao) cannot be removed from even the smallest, lowliest piece of ground."
Do not have intention. Do not have the mind. Do not rely on your chest to move the energy and qi. Your mind should completely relax and follow nature. Allow all parts of the body to naturally rely on one-another. Once you are without intention, once you are without mind, the true mind is then in the place where there is no mind. Once you do not have mind in the middle, you will not have a shape. At that time, emptiness will produce the true empty and flexible. Feel the connection with the universe. Everything comes from nature.
In a discussion on boxing, while there are many different schools, it is noteworthy that they also have many similarities. Externally they practice the hard and quick and use force; they attempt to make qi strong, leave the spirit and talk about severity. For those people, however, who place emphasis on the quick, hard, their mind can hardly be still, can hardly be quiet. For those who use qi to try to inflate their qi, their breathing cannot be comfortable. For those who emphasize severity, they cannot cultivate a harmonious qi. These methods really will harm the tendon, harm the flesh, and will exhaust the spirit and qi. These practices will harm the empty and flexible skills and prevent their acquisition. That kind of boxing cannot cultivate longevity.
When practicing be stable and quiet, comfortable and relaxed, in order to cultivate the empty and flexible qi. Thus, when you use this qi, it is cold, it jumps, it is sudden, it is quick, as if you spit out the energy from your dantien. Always sense the empty and flexible qi and momentum. Then, during combat you can be fully aware of the other's force. With this, the road to victory is already half traveled. Without the empty and flexible qi and momentum, if someone attacks, you will have no awareness of his situation. In this case, in the confrontation your movement will create confusion and you will attempt to hit the other without any plan. This is not taiji skill.
If you have the empty and flexible qi, momentum; if your waist and legs are light and wonderful; if you have spirit and qi, if they are full; then externally you will be able to show the qi gesture. Then, if your movement is also cold and quick; then, if you then use this qi to cultivate the body, you will have longevity. If, on the other hand, you use these internal skills to defend yourself, you will be able to do so. With this awareness and these high skills, challenges in both your personal life and business life may be handled easily.
Li YaXuan, From a speech on February 6, 1956. Translated by Key Sun, Ph.D., private student of Master Yang SongQuan born and raised in Chen Village. Edited by LeRoy Clark, private student of Master Fu ShengYuan.
©2001 Qi Journal