The Ten Essentials of Taijiquan
By Yang Chengfu
Photographs of Yang Chengfu performing some postures from his form (approx. 1931).
1. Xu Ling Ding Jin (Clear - Quickly Effective - Crown of Head - Energetic Power).
The mind should be clear, alert, and naturally at ease. Do not use physical exertion which would stiffen the neck and constrict the flow of qi and blood. Instead use your inner energetic power to effortlessly press the head and neck upward (it feels like the top of the head was being pulled up by an attached string). Without this, the dynamic vital spirit cannot be raised.
Comments: Qi here refers to "life energy." Physical exertion is li. Energetic power is jin. Dynamic vital spirit is jing-shen. See Chinese Words Defined in the Context of Taijiquan below for further information.
2. Han Xiong Ba Bei (Sink Chest - Raise Back)
Slightly draw in the chest and let the qi sink to the lower abdomen the dantian. Do not stick out the chest; that would cause the qi to get stuck there. If that happens the upper body becomes too heavy, the lower body too light, and the feet too easily uprooted. (Then you could easily be pushed over.) Raise and straighten the back—(sinking the chest will help straighten the back) and then the qi will adhere to the back and spine. Sinking the chest and raising the back in this manner grants the ability to project the energetic force needed to defeat any opponent.
Comments: Don't force this: "You see some tai chi practitioners who almost look like hunchbacks because they take this point (raising the back) to an extreme. This will cause long-term blockages in the qi. Don't make that mistake." Sifu Anthony Korahais. http://flowingzen.com
3. Song Yao (Relax Waist)
The waist commands the entire body. Relax the waist and the feet will have power and one's foundation will be steady and firm. The changes between empty or full (insubstantial or substantial; yin or yang; weak or solid) originate in the way the waist is turned. And so it is said, The source of life and thought is located in the waist.
If there is a lack of strength in your form seek out what is wrong in the waist and legs.
Comments: "Relax" means loose, not limp. "Waist" (yao) here refers to the body from the hips to the navel. It includes the hips, pelvic area, lower abdomen, loins, and lumbar spine.
The waist is like a steering wheel of a car. When the wheel is loose and easy to operate, you can direct the car in any direction you wish. However if the steering wheel is stuck, you will have difficulty moving safely and changing direction. Dr. Yang Jwing-Ming. Tai Chi Secrets of the Yang Style, p.155.
4. Fen Xu Shi (Differentiate Empty Full)
Differentiating between empty and full is the first principle of taijiquan. If the weight of the body sits over the right leg, then the right leg becomes full (also called solid, or substantial) and the left leg becomes empty (weak, insubstantial). If the weight of the body is over the left leg, then the reverse is true. Only after empty and full are recognized, understood and used, will movements become agile and effortless. If not, movements will be heavy and sluggish, and standing postures unsteady. If that happens it will be easy for an opponent to control you and push you over.
Comments: [About understanding empty-weak-insubstantial/full-sold-substantial.]When you walk, there is a moment when one leg is 100% empty, and the other is 100% full. If you can walk slowly, carefully placing the foot down rather than letting it drop, and if you can change direction gracefully, then you are differentiating between empty and solid. Sifu Anthony Korahais. http://flowingzen.com
A basic method to understand and successfully practice taijiquan is to alternate back and forth from yin (empty - insubstantial) to yang (solid - substantial) As an example, if attacked on the left side, neutralize the attacker by simultaneously turning to the left and withdrawing your body as you shift your weight back. Your left becomes insubstantial while you counterattack with your right hand which becomes substantial. [see T.T. Liang, p.43].
5. Chen Jian Zhui Zhou (Sink Shoulders - Drop Elbows)
The shoulders should be loose and hang down. Without such relaxation the shoulders will rise and become tense and qi-energy will rise up with them, therefore the entire body will be deprived of power. "Drop elbows" means the elbows are relaxed and loose (not limp) and naturally dangle downward. If the elbows are raised the shoulders are unable to sink. Then an opponent will not be pushed far (by your attempted discharge of energy). This imperfection is similar to the broken, snapped off energetic-strength [jin] so often seen in the external martial arts.
6. Yong Yi Bu Yong Li (Use Mind Not Strength)
The Taijiquan Classics say "This is about the use of focused mental intention, not simply about the use of physical exertion." When practicing taijiquan the whole body is loose and relaxed. Do not use the slightest bit of brute strength or there will be sluggish blockages in the flow of qi and blood in the muscles, tendons, bones, veins and arteries making you feel that you are all tied up in knots.
Avoiding the use of brute strength (li) will allow the energetic capabilities of quick and skillful change, circular turns, and unconstrained, unobstructed freedom of action to freely take place with ease and without any physical exertion.
Some question how can anyone be strong without using muscular strength? This is because the human body has meridians (qi-energy pathways) similar to the way the earth has channels and ditches. If there are no obstructions in the earth's channels then water can flow freely. Similarly, if there are no obstructions in the meridians the qi can flow easily. If the whole body has a stiff (deadlocked) muscular force (jin) then the meridians clog up and qi and blood become blocked and stagnant. Turning movements will be ineffective. An opponent can pull just one hair and your entire body can be lead about like an docile animal with a rope around its neck. However if strength (li) is not used, but rather a mental focused intention (yi), wherever the intention goes, qi will immediately follow.
Every day at any time and without interruption, you must circulate your qi and blood throughout the entire body. Persist with this: practice it for a very long time and true internal qi-power (jin) same inner link will be yours. Accordingly in the Taijiquan Classics there is the sentence, Within extreme softness appears extreme unyielding hardness. Those who are highly skilled in taijiquan kung fu will have arms that feel like soft silk wrapped around hard steel, and the arms and fists will seem to be extremely heavy.
When practitioners of external martial arts use muscular strength [li] they obviously appear powerful. But when not using their li they are light and unstable. Clearly their strength is external and therefore superficial. It is only a qi-power floating on the surface.
By not using focused mental intention (yi) same inner link and instead only using external muscular strength (li), someone can easily be physically controlled, and have their attacks deflected. Such kung fu is inadequate and without any value.
7. Shang Xia Xiang Sui (Upper and Lower Mutually Follow)
The coordination of the upper and lower body is mentioned in the Taijiquan Classic where it says, Qi-power should be rooted in the feet, generated though the legs, directed by the waist (yao), and expressed through the fingers. The combined movements of hands, waist, and feet—even those of the alert gazing eyes—all come from the integration of the body to the one qi. It is in this manner the upper and lower parts of the body mutually follow each other. If one part becomes motionless and looses the flow of qi, immediately there is disorder and chaos.
Comments: Yao – (腰) is simply translated as "waist" but it also refers to the lower torso, and the pelvic region including hips, loins, and lower spine; also to the body's center of gravity; and the dantian, the qi-energy storage area in the lower abdomen.
Ch'i [qi] carries tremendous amounts of vibration, requiring a high degree of coordination of the entire body. Your torso and limbs, your hands and legs, must be coordinated both physically and mentally with every other part of the body. All the parts should relate to each other as one inseparable unit, especially when you transfer your ch'i [qi] from the root upward. Success in this will allow you to maneuver your entire body – forward, backward, upward, downward – at will. You will be able to control any situation. Waysun Liao, 1995, p.67.
8. Nei Wai Xiang He (Internal External Mutually United)
Taijiquan is about training the mind. That is why it is said, "The mind is the commander-in-chief, the body carries out the orders." When the vital-spirit is raised, actions and movements naturally become quick and light. The forms are nothing more than enacting out empty [insubstantial] and full [substantial], and open and closed. "Open" means not only extending the hands and feet outward. "Closed" means not only do the hands withdraw inward. For both actions, mental intention needs to be part of the movements. When that is realized, the internal and the external are one qi, undivided, even indistinguishable, from each other.
9. Xiang Lian Bu Duan (Mutually Connected Without Interruptions)
In the external martial arts, power is the result of acquired brute muscular strength. With it there are starts and stops; continuations and cut offs. Strength becomes worn out, exhausted, and new strength has yet to be born. During times like this it is easy to take advantage of such an opponent.
In the internal martial art of taijiquan, mental intention [yi], and not brute physical exertion [li] is used. From start to finish all is continuous and without interruption, unceasing and endless. When a cycle is completed it begins again; it is boundless and inexhaustible. In the Taijiquan Classic it is written In Long Boxing [an early name for taijiquan] the body moves like water flowing in a great river, or like the rolling waves of a large ocean. And also, move your inner-energy [jin] like you were spinning silk thread from a cocoon: smoothly and without stopping—or it most likely will break.
Both of these comparisons suggest an inter-relationship, as well as a unity, of one qi.
Comments: The river referred to is the Yangtze (3,915 miles long). It is the longest river in Asia and the third-longest in the world.
10. Shi Dong Zhong Qiu Jing (Within Movement Seek Stillness)
Chinese external martial artists jump, hop, skip and bounce all about thinking they are showing off how superior they are; but in fact all they're really doing is depleting their energetic-strength (qi-li), leaving them exhausted. After such performances you see them gasping for breath [chuan qi]. In contrast, Taijiquan uses a calm stillness to control and manage movement; so even in movement it is as if one were still and unmoving. Therefore when practicing the forms, the slower the better. With long deep breathing the qi sinks to the dantian. In these natural ways, the blood vessels are not injured, and any emotional excesses such as anger or resentment are reduced or eliminated. By practicing carefully and attentively over time, a serious student should be able grasp the meaning of the ideas presented here. Dictated by Yang Chengfu. Recorded by Chen Weiming.
The title of Yang Chengfu's essay is variously translated into English as The Ten Essentials or Ten Important Points, or The Ten Basic Principles, etc. The title in Traditional Chinese script is太極拳術十要, in Simplified script 太极拳 术十要.
In pinyin it is Tàijí quánshù shí yào. It first appeared in 1925 in the book The Art of Taijiquan (Taijiquan shu) compiled by Chen Weiming and published in Shanghai, 1925. https://brennantranslation.wordpress.com
Chinese Words Defined in the Context of Taijiquan:
Qi (氣/气) – "life energy." Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming writes: [Qi] is the Chinese word for 'energy', and pertains to all forms of energy in the universe. In martial arts and qigong, it specifically refers to human Qi, the bioenergy or life-force within every cell of the human body. http://ymaa.com/articles/generating-jin
Dantian (丹田) – "energy cultivation center." https://en.wikipedia.org
Jin (勁劲) – "energetic power." Qi and muscular strength (li) used together to create an inner power that can be projected outward as a pure martial arts force. From Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming: In general, the higher the level of Jin, the more Qi and the less muscular strength is used.
Jing-shen(精神)– literally "spirit mind" or consciousness. But in taijiquan it more often means a "spirit of vigor, vitality and drive." Colloquially it refers to a person's "spirits" or "energy level." See Lee Fife. rockymountaintaichi.com
Li (力) - "physical muscular strength."
Shen (神) – "spirit" or "consciousness" or "conscious energy."
Yi (意) - (sounds like "ee") – Mental intention; a state of silent mindfulness of the will.
Chen Weiming. The Art of Taiji Boxing, translated by Paul Brennan, 1925/2012.
Steffan De Graffenried. Anatomy of Yang Family Tai Chi, pp. 27-43. Nomentira Publications, 2007.
Fu Zhongwen. "The Ten Essentials Of Taijiquan Theory" (pp.16-19 in) Mastering Yang Style Taijiquan,Blue Snake Books, 2006.
Master T.T. Liang. T'ai Chi Ch'uan: For Health and Self-Defense.Knopf Doubleday, 2011.
Waysun Liao. T'ai Chi Classics, Shambhala, 2001.
Mark Parzynski. Yang Cheng Fu's 10 Essential Principles.. Thetaichilife.com
Taijiquan Jing (Classic). Qi-Encyclopedia.com
Ten Essential Principles of Yang Chengfu. Translated by Jerry Karin. Everydaytaichi.org.
Douglas Wile. T'ai-chi Touchstones: Yang Family Secret Transmissions; pp. 11-14. Sweet Ch'i Press, 1983.
Yang Chengfu. The Ten Essentials of Tai Chi Chuan, translated with commentary by Sifu Anthony Korahais, [in] Tai Chi Students — Don't Make These 10 Mistakes flowingzen.com
Yang Cheng-fu. Yang's Ten Important Points as researched by Lee N. Scheele.
Yang ChengFu and Chen WeiMing.mp4 [video]. https://www.youtube.com
Yang Chengfu Taijiquan Theory 10 Essentials; Lee Fife, translator. Rockymountaintaichi.com
Dr. Yang Jwing-Ming. Tai Chi Chuan Martial Power. YMAA, 2015.
Dr. Yang Jwing-Ming. Tai Chi Secrets of the Yang Style. YMAA.