The 10 essentials of Tai Chi Chuan by Yang Chengfu 1883 – 1936 is a guide He created for his students to help them improve their Tai Chi practice. He combined the essential points that he found in other Chinese texts into this list.
The original text by Yang Chengfu goes into detail and explains each one. This was very helpful for his students and very different from other teachers of his time. The traditional method to teaching Tai Chi the student must discover his or her mistakes on her own without the master giving explanations or teaching. Yang’s was very forward thinking teacher helping students progress easier and paving the way for Tai Chi students across the world to learn and improve.
He continues to teach us today with these 10 important principles:
Keep your head upright to allow your spirit to rise
When practicing Tai Chi, you must stand straight with your head upright so that the energy can move up to the top of the head. This is not something that is forced with strength but will happen when the body is relaxed. Hold in your abdominal muscles lightly this will keep your back straight. Allow the tongue to rest on the top of the mouth, gently tuck the chin and the crown of head will be the highest part of the body. Then the spirit will naturally float up and bring you focused awareness. You can recognize this as a clarity and brightness in the eyes.
Sinking your chest
Do not extend the chest but don’t allow it to fall in either. The chest should be in a relaxed neutral position. Hyper Extending or sinking the chest will block the Chi. These two extreme positions will also cause you to either lean on your feet too far forward or too far back. Finding the correct neutral position will also allow the feet to be rooted into the ground while maintaining the rest of the body light and relaxed.
Loosen your waist
All the movements no matter which one, are initiated from the waist. When you are loose in your waist the feet can be solid on the ground and you will have a stable stance. If you don’t feel that you have power in your movements focus more on moving from the waist. The waist which is called the Yao in Chinese encompasses the area from the hips to the belly all around from front to back. The waist should move right and left starting all the movements you make with your upper body. The waist is the source of power for Tai Chi and all other martial arts.
“The will of life has it source in the waist”
Differentiate between the empty and solid when moving
This is an important principle in Tai Chi. If you have your whole body over one leg, then the other leg is weightless. One leg is solid and the other leg is empty. When you can feel the difference between your solid leg and your empty leg then your movements become more effortless. When you can’t differentiate between the two then you will be heavier and unstable and easily lose your balance. Learning this difference is very important in the practice of Tai Chi and is very difficult for the beginner. Placing an empty foot on the ground to shift the weight without letting the foot drop will allow you to change directions gracefully and fully control the transfer of empty to solid.
Now the goal is to keep the waist loose while transferring the legs from empty to solid without clunking down from one side to the other.
Sink your shoulders and drop your elbows
Relax both your shoulders naturally. As a beginner there is a tendency to raise up the shoulders. When you raise your shoulders the Chi also rises and then the body will not have power. Dropping the elbows relaxed will make sure the arms are always relaxed. When you raise your elbows out to the sides, the shoulders cannot relax and sink so the Chi will not circulate well to the rest of the body and not be far reaching. The term for this is called ‘interrupted power’ where the Chi does not continue to flow fluidly throughout the body.
Use your will, not your strength
We already know that when you practice Tai Chi your body should be relaxed. You should not be using any strength. Using strength while practicing Tai Chi restricts you. Attaining complete physical relaxation will open your body and spirit to move freely and easily not only during your Tai Chi practice but also outside of practice. This will develop your physical, mental and emotional agility and flexibility.
To develop true inner strength, you must first unblocked the flow of blood and Qi. Then you can use your will and not your strength to direct the Chi freely throughout your body.
‘When you are extremely soft you then can become extremely hard and powerful.’ The body of someone who practices Tai Chi is to be considered like ‘iron wrapped in cotton’, powerful and solid. A dedicated Tai Chi practitioner can be strong when needed and otherwise they float lightly and freely.
Yi in Chinese can be translated to ‘will’ or ‘intent’. It is said where the Yi goes the Chi will flow.
So, you must be relaxed to allow the Chi to flow using your will and intent only.
Coordinate the top and the bottom
It is said that “The root is in the feet, released through the legs, controlled by the waist, and materialized in the hands and fingers.” You must move all the parts of your body together in unison. Move the hands, waist legs and eyes together. Move the power continuously from the ground, through the feet, up the legs, through the hips and then out the hands. If you make full use of your legs and waist you can punch with much more power.
Harmonize the internal with the external
It is said that; “The shen is the commander, the body is the agent.” Shen is translated from Chinese to spirit or soul. When you train to control your shen, your movements become lighter and you become more agile. There are physical movements associated with Tai Chi that also have a secondary meaning. When you open a Tai Chi form you are also opening your spirit to connect with the universe and the earth. Closing your form also brings you back into your physical body and closes the connection you created in the opening. It is like playing music that touches one’s soul. Use your spirit during your practice and you will connect to the higher energy around you.
Some days you might not feel particularly connected to your spirit during your practice. That is a day practice your drills and fundamentals. Remember you must also train your physical body’s strength and flexibility to create harmony between the internal and the external.
Move your body with continuity
When you practice Tai Chi, it is said that you must move continuously like you are drawing silk from a cocoon. This requires a consistent pull that is neither too hard nor too soft that cannot ever be stopped or interrupted. The cycles never end and all the movements must string together to create a flow of Chi and power. Tai Chi is like a river that constantly flows with power. This slowness of Tai Chi is what makes it so beautiful and good for your health.
Seek the stillness that is in the movement
When you slow down your movement your breathing becomes soft and even and the Chi can sink down into your belly. Moving slowly your pulse remains slow and keeps the nervous system relaxed. In other words, don’t move so fast that you are out of breath. This is a kind of meditation in motion. For many beginners to meditation who find it hard to be still these movements in stillness provide a way to enter deeper states of meditation. Train your body to know the movements without thinking, silence your monkey mind and then you can go deep into the stillness.
These 10 principles can also be applied to your everyday life, your relationships, your work environment and even dancing or playing music. Pay attention to where you find them and let me know either by email or social media what you have discovered.