Yang Chen Fu was the grandson of Yang Lu Chan, founder of the Yang style of tai chi. He created a list of 10 points, or concepts, that are essential for mastering tai chi. These concepts can seem a little obscure and are difficult to understand at first. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t understand right away. Most people spend a lifetime learning the details. Think about each point separately and together with each other point. Practice regularly. Over time, the meaning of each point becomes clearer. With regular practice, you will be able to understand how they relate to the practice of tai chi. The following is the first 5 of the 10 points with several translations and a brief explanation of each.
1. Xu Ling Ding Jin – Empty Mind and Raise Head; Keep the head upright, as if suspended from above, and keep it straight; Head upright to let the shen [spirit of vitality] rise to the top of the head Maintain an upright posture, an upward energy at the top of the head, and a feeling of lengthening through the spine. Slightly push your chin back to straighten your neck. Your neck must be straight to allow your head to be vertical. This allows the shen to arrive at the crown of your head. Don’t use li, or physical strength, as this will cause stiffness and hinder the qi circulation. Try to visualize the qi reaching the top of your head. Imagine your head is suspended from a thread, or a string of pearls, from above.
2. Han Xiong Ba Bei – Hollowing the chest to raise the back; Depress the chest and raise the upper back; Sink the chest and pluck up the back Allow the chest to sink so there is a feeling of openness between the shoulder blades. This allows the qi to sink to the dan tian. Relax the chest muscles without hunching over. This keeps your body from getting top heavy. Keep your upper body straight without being stiff. Imaging your spine is another string and gently pull the string from both ends to lengthen and open up your spine. Imagine the qi moving to your back. This will tend to straighten your back.
3. Song Yao – Loosening up the waist; Loosen (relax) the waist); Song [Relax] the waist Relax the waist area, allowing the spine to twist gently. Loosening your waist increases the qi energy in your legs and establishes a firm base for firm rooting. Shifting your weight comes from the movement of your waist. Work on sinking your qi to the dan tian. Work on opening up your hips by gently stretching your hips out away from your center. A tense waist makes you stiff and blocks the flow of qi.
The waist refers to the entire abdominal area from the hips to rib cage, including the dan tien and ming men. Turning and sinking the waist stores power. Turning and rising releases stored power.
4. Fen Xu Shi – Distinguishing between substantial and insubstantial You need to be able to distinguish between substantial and insubstantial to be able to turn and move lightly and gracefully. If you can’t tell the difference, your steps will be heavy and sluggish. When you move, touch down lightly like a cat. When moving forward, touch your heel down first. When moving backward, touch your toe down first. Visualize each movement before making it to learn to make the distinction.
This essential point also applies to your hands during a form. One hand/arm is almost always leading and the other is the complementary hand. In general, keep your eyes on the substantial (yang) hand.
5. Chen Lian Zhu Zhou – Sinking the shoulder and weighting down the elbow; Sink (relax) the shoulders and elbows; Sink the shoulders and drop the elbows Drop the elbows, and allow the shoulders to sink downward and relax. To sink the shoulder is to relax the muscles and let the shoulders drop down to eliminate any unnecessary tension. To weight down the elbow is to let your elbows go down, hang loose, and drop slightly. If your elbows are raised, your shoulders cannot sink properly and the qi will rise up to your shoulders instead of sinking to the dan tian. Stretch out your shoulders and visualize extending your shoulder joints. Try to keep the points of your elbows pointing down to help your qi flow better.
You can read Part 2 here.
© 2011 Eric Borreson