© 2013-2019 by Fabian Cretton

    Middle Way

    The form of Taiji: an inner journey

    By Fabian Cretton, 31st Decembre 2016.

     

    This text is above all an aid for the practitioners of our school to guide them in the practice of a form of Taiji. This is a first trial to formalize the practice drawn from the teaching of Yang Cheng Long , and perhaps a small contribution to the current literature about Taiji.

     

    Introduction

    The form of Taiji is a sequence of movements of martial essence. It therefore corresponds to taolu of other Chinese kung-fu styles and kata of Japanese martial arts. It consists of foot work, classical movements of defense and attack (kicks / punches, knees / elbows, locks, sweepings, etc.), as well as the basic movements of Taiji: ward-off, roll-back, press, push, pluck, split, elbow-strike, body-strike (Péng掤, Lǚ 捋, Jǐ 挤, An 按, Cǎi 採, Liè 挒, Zhǒu 肘, Kào 靠).

     
     

    When we speak about the famous 13 postures of Taiji, these are the 8 pre-cited techniques (in the image above) and the 5 steps (4 cardinal directions + return to the center). Most styles of Taiji thus have a basic form called "The 13 postures". But each Taiji lineage has its own forms with bare hands, with weapons (sword, stick, saber, fan, etc.), or even two people form (DaLu). The forms of different styles often share the same names of postures (such as "Part the Wild Horse's Mane" or "grab the bird’s tail"), with in English/French sometimes variations due to the subtleties of translation from Chinese ("Part the Wild Horse's Mane” vs “Brushing the Wild Horse’s Mane” for instance).

    ​​

    Form and internal work

    The practice of the form calms down the mind and the thoughts, it is a meditation in movement, a practice of serenity. One can then either think of nothing and empty his mind (which usually requires a high level of practice), or think only of one thing by focusing attention on an anchor point.

     

    While different forms can offer specific work (postures, techniques, weapons, etc.), the same form of Taiji can be practiced for different purposes, paying attention to particular elements. This is one of the reasons why we speak of internal work, the external movement then being the same.

     

    In our school, form is a primary tool for accessing internal work. The techniques themselves are of course important but secondary. Our school offers an unusual work based on deep muscle relaxation, a cautious harmonization of the entire body, thus of the body and the mind: the internal flow (supprimer le lien, aussi sur le français) . The form of Taiji, complemented by other more physical or more meditative exercises, is a fundamental tool to develop this internal flow.

     

    There is no intention here of claiming to present “the” correct way of practicing a form, but rather to propose a method of progressing step by step in the practice of a form, in order to develop the internal flow. Some key points or steps are practiced in many schools (empty and full, posture, spirals, etc.), but other aspects, more meticulous, are still often overlooked and are taught by Master 

    Yang Cheng Long.

    Internal flow: the internal work of our school

    The work of the internal flow (TōngTòu 通透) is really very special and uncommon nowadays, it is the work proposed by our Master Yang Cheng Long (Yang Laoshi), and is thus the heart of our practice. It is a palpable state, which has nothing mysterious or purely theoretical / esoteric: we feel it, for example, when we grasp the wrist of a person who possesses it. We can hardly emit force because our strength dissolves in the partner's body, we fall into the void (as expressed in the classics of Taiji). It is, in our school, at the heart of the energy work that we approach here by the movement, but also by more subtle experiences.

    This work is the fruit of his research, but it is not the fruit of his imagination. Yang Laoshi met various masters who showed him the way, and he then devoted his life to the practice of the Tao through the Taiji, practiced based on the Taiji classical texts as well as the whole classical Chinese literature (Dàodé Jīng 道德经, Yì Jīng 易经, Huángdì Nèijīng 黄帝内经, Sūn zǐ Bīng Fǎ 孙子兵法, etc.). The peculiarity of his approach is that he continually sought to integrate these principles into his practice and internal state by testing and validating the direction he was taking. He actually put the theory into practice. For me, Yang Laoshi is a Mozart of martial arts, talented in combat from an early age, and it is thanks to his talent and passion that he was able to develop a mastery of the internal flow as described in particular in the Treaty of Taiji Quan. In 2013 I proposed an new translation of this treaty (compared to dozens of existing translations) based on his expertise, and I will add in this document links to the corresponding sentences.

    Note that there exist many approaches to internal work in China (NèiGōng 內功,  QìGōng 气功, etc.). The best known, in general, include a broad reference to the energy centers (the Dāntián 丹田), the breath (a great work associated with breathing), the energy work on the meridians (such as large and small heavenly circulation for example). The best evidence is the content of the Wikipedia articles that I have linked to these notions. But the great difference is that internal flow, without neglecting these aspects, focuses on the body as a whole:

    • Breathing and respiratory movement of the whole body, which is allowed to settle naturally, by small exercises, but without emphasizing breathing at all times (in each exercise, in form, etc.)

    • Energetic circulation on the whole body, all the cells, without putting forward the DanTian or the meridians for example

    As an example: the more traditional work of abdominal breathing or small / large circulation (Xiǎo/Dà Zhōu Tiān 小/大周天)), we also train them, but this is only a small part of our practice because we put this "localized" work in the context of the whole being.

    A few words about my personal research

    To assess the internal state of a person, his state of relaxation or internal flow for example, we can simply lay our hands on him/her and feel. Try to emit force (pushing, squeezing, etc.) and feel how the person transforms this energy to his / her advantage, not through external movements that would consist of deviating or using a powerful or fast technique, but feel this force literally dissolved, led to the ground (which is only possible if one is relaxed and more importantly connected), to then return it. It is a basic principle of Taiji which consists in borrowing the force to return it (Jiēlì Dǎlì 接力打力).

    A Tui Shou exchange with Yang Laoshi ends as soon as started, even for experienced practitioners. He does not get out of breath, he does not enter into technical or fast exchanges, but as soon as his opponent wants to emit force he meets emptiness (i.e. no resistance), it is impossible to keep one’s roots: we lose our stability either because he lets us fall into the void (even though we keep our hands on him or even grab his arm, for example), or because he responds and we feel repulsed by our own push.

     

    In more than 20 years of research in Taiji I have met thousands of practitioners, I have laid my hands on many teachers, masters, book authors. I have a lot of respect for all people who dedicate a lifetime to practice and who are brilliant, I sincerely believe so (about their health practice level, martial level, philosophical level, etc.). But for sure I never felt this same internal work. I do not want to go into discussions such as "this is true Taiji" or "this Taiji is better than the others", but I can say that this work is very uncommon, that it is different from many other approaches to Taiji (although it is similar in some respects), and especially that it sticks a 100% to the ideas described in the classics of Taiji. For Yang Laoshi it is certain that other practitioners in the world have acquired this same know-how (Gōngfū or Kung-fu 功夫) and are even more advanced than him. Besides, this know-how is described in the texts of Taiji, including the description of the internal state of Yang Cheng Fu in the Chinese book Dān Dào Xīn Chuán (丹道薪传 from 张义尚 - page 399).

     
     

    A search on the term "TongTou" (通透) yields thousands of results on a Chinese search site as Baidu (test here), while doing a search in 2015 gave almost no relevant result for a search in French or English. In contrast, a search for the term "FangSong", which was right from the start deeply related to the practice of Taiji in the West, gives thousands of results in French or English. This illustrates what I claim, not to be proud but to sincerely improve our understanding of Taiji, on the fact that these notions are still little known today. The only two pages I have found (late 2015) that speaks of "Tong tou" are this one and that one, both in English. I also mention  this excellent article from Wee Kee Jin where TongTou is found (in my opinion) in this notion of "connection" that goes beyond the stage of "synchronization". In terms of Chinese texts, I would mention  this one which is particularly interesting for its detailed description of different aspects of FàngSōng, and which also mentions the concepts of TōngTòu and Jūnyún (voir ci-dessous).  (see below). In the Taiji Quan Treaty, the term for this notion of TōngTòu is Guànchuàn 貫串, which conveys the same notion of "binding", "permeability".

    As far as I am concerned, I would simply say that I dedicate my practice, my research and my teaching to this internal state that fascinates me.

    The elements of the practice of a form, step-by-step

    Here is a presentation of the elements I propose in the practice of Taiji forms. I learned and trained these aspects from different teachers or masters from different schools, and I learn the most advanced elements from Yang Laoshi. As a result, some aspects presented here are common to many schools, others are rather unknown, but they all rely on classical texts.

     

    The points presented here are learned gradually, according to the evolution of each practitioner, and valid for a life of practice. It would indeed be difficult or even counterproductive to train all these elements from the start. Since our school does not have an official evaluation method, such as the use of belts and grades in most of other martial arts, I have grouped here the elements by levels as an indication to help the practitioner to understand the proposed evolution.

    Overview of these elements

    The attention and turning inward

    The intention to improve certain aspects of the movement and to refine the internal work

    • Particular quality of movement (Yòngyì bùyòng lì 用意不用力)
      Right from the start we try to move in a particular and unusual way, in a harmonious and light way

    • Structure / body alignment (Shēntǐ duānzhèng 身体端正)
      Align the body joints to use the least amount of muscle strength to maintain a stable posture and be rooted

    • The waist guides the movement (Zhǔzǎi yú yāo 主宰于腰)
      The Taiji Quan Treatise says « The root is in the feet, issuing relies on the legs, control is in the waist, and expression is in the extremities »

    • Relaxation (Fàngsōng 放松)
      Taiji is performed in great mental and muscular relaxation state

    • Empty and full (Xūshí 虚实)
      Once in motion, the weight moves continuously from one leg to the other

    • Rounded / circular movements  (Yuánrùn 圆润)
      All movements are rounded, including the circular movements of the limbs moving in space (outer circles), but also the 5-axis rotations (2 arms, 2 legs and trunk - internal circles)

    The refinement of attention and intention to further refine internal work

    • Opening and Closing (Kāi Hé 开合)
      The form alternates transformation movements (accept the incoming force from the opponent, lead it to the ground, Huà 化), and emission movements (answer, push, Fā 发)

    • Relax continuously (Fàngsōng 放松)
      Relax the mind and body, including calmness and maximum muscle relaxation while maintaining the structure and posture

     

    The connection of all these elements

     

    Explanation of these elements

    The attention and turning inward

     
     
     

    The peace of mind and body (Jìng gōng 静功)

    Create a propitious state for the body and mind to calm down, at the level of thoughts, mental and bodily tensions. The Classical texts often speak about the calm of the heart and body (the heart can refer to emotions here). The practice of meditation is part of it: it is a practice where one lets things calm down (not to be confused with the opposite meaning, more widespread in English, where "meditating" means "subject to intense reflection"). The practice of taiji is an active meditation, in motion and in full consciousness, based on the Yi 意 (bodily consciousness - awareness).

    Calmness comes naturally when one puts his consciousness on the present moment, on an anchor point. The invitation to calmness takes place from the first posture of a form called « preparation »   (Yùbèi Shì 预备式), generally carried out in three stages:

    • calm down the body, in particular by taking a correct posture (Diào Xíng 调形)

    • calm down the breath, breathing quietly and deeply (Diào Xi 调息)

    • calm down the mind, placing it on an anchor point (Diào Shén 调神)

      Each aspect of the practice described here under do serve as a good anchor point.

    The memorization of movements

    To practice a form we must first memorize a sequence of movements. The work of memorization in itself already brings benefits to our brain health.

     

    This is the first step and it is unavoidable. Since our consciousness can manage only one element at a time, we must first know the movement sufficiently before we can go on to the next steps, that is, know the sequence of movements well enough so as not to have to think about it, and thus be able to focus attention on something other than this first memorization step.

     

    On the other hand, it is not necessary to memorize an entire form before proceeding to the other steps. You can go to the next steps for the movements that are already memorized. Ideally, a distinction should be made between the practice of "memorization" and other practices of the next steps, but it is possible to draw attention to one advanced aspect during the known movements, and come back to “memorization” during the more advanced movements in the form (especially when practicing in a group).

     

    The attention and pleasure – the moving meditation

    A taiji form is a moving meditation. As soon as a few movements are memorized, they can be executed in full consciousness while keeping our attention in the present moment, on the feelings or on any other anchor point.

     

    From the beginning of the practice (and therefore from memorization itself), one begins to draw the benefits of the taiji. To take pleasure in these calm, slow, rounded and soft movements, and thus let our mind calm down by placing attention on an anchor point, already has a powerful therapeutic effect not to be neglected.

     

    This powerful effect will be greatly attenuated or inhibited if one practices the form by nourishing worries. Any anxiety (not to do correctly, etc.), any stress ("I must quickly do this for work"), any doubt ("but does it really brings benefits to me ?")...all these negative thoughts will diminish the positive effect, it would be a pity to feed them.

     

    If the mind wanders, it does not matter. As soon as we realize it, we just become aware of it without judgment (this is important because otherwise it is this negative judgment which itself would have an impact on the practice), and we bring back consciousness on the present moment and the anchor point that we have chosen. It has been proven that this process (the mind wanders, we bring it back to the anchor point) does not influence negatively on the benefits of meditative practice whatsoever. [1]

    The intention to improve certain aspects of the movement and to refine the internal work

     

    ​​Particular quality of movement (Yòngyì bùyòng Lì 用意不用力)

    ​Right from the start we try to move in a particular and unusual way, in a harmonious and light way. We do not just move as usual, but we give a special flavor to the movement, especially by relaxing the muscular tension as much as possible, hence this well-known phrase of the taiji classics « use your mind - body consciousness - not normal force »  (Yòngyì bùyòng Lì 用意不用力).

    From the Taiji Quan Treatise: « Qi is stimulated, attention turned inward »

    Right from the start the movements require a certain synchronization of the whole body. Swimming is often referred to as a very complete sport, but taiji is at least as complete a practice and requires even greater and more thorough coordination. On the other hand the correct posture gives a structure and a rooting, and the relaxation (which is approached by the relaxation of the upper body, the arms and the shoulders), coats the structure (Yang) of softness and lightness (Yin).

     

    The points below constitute this particular quality of movement.

    Structure / body alignment (Shēntǐ duānzhèng 身体端正)

    Align the body joints to use the least amount of muscle strength to maintain a stable posture and be rooted. 

    Relax the sole / ankle / knee / pelvis ("tilt" of the pelvis, relaxation to find the neutral position). The back is relatively straight especially in the lumbar region (attenuating lordosis) and upper back (attenuating kyphosis). The neck is straight (chin slightly retracted to relax the neck, looking at the horizontal) and thus the head, as a result of this whole posture, is as suspended by a wire. The posture relies more on joints alignment, than on the use of larger muscles that are normally dedicated to movement. Of course the postural muscles are active. On the other hand, at the level of the pelvis, this position makes it possible to link the top and the bottom by the use of the iliopsoas muscle, among others, which will therefore allow to link the legs to the pelvis / spine. BǎiHuì, the top of the head, is vertical to HuìYīn , on the perineum. The posture is more stable, less tiring for the upper body, and strengthens the legs. This posture allows a reduction of the muscular tensions (especially for the upper body), which is very beneficial for health, stimulates the natural establishment of deep breathing, and allows the emission of optimal internal energy (Fā jìn 劲 劲) for the martial aspect. Another aspect of the highest importance that is started with the structural work is to develop our body consciousness, our proprioception, which will serve for all internal work.

     

    I will not go into all the details of the posture here, but here is another relatively familiar point: on the upper back and the shoulders, one can seek to round the shoulder girdle in order to properly stick the shoulder blades to the rib cage and thus limit the muscular efforts at this level especially for the transmission of the force between the trunk and the arms. In this respect the classics speak of slightly retracting / emptying the chest and rounding the back (Hánxiōng Bábèi 拔 背 背).

     

    Even though we perform this postural work mainly by keeping the trunk straight and aligning the top of the head (BǎiHuì 百会) with the perineum (HuìYīn 会阴), all kinds of exercises or even some taiji forms, such as that of the crane and the snake (Shé què 蛇雀), contain movements where straightness is not maintained: leaning on the front or the back etc. These positions are wanted by the exercise to support a particular work (tissues, joints, meridians, etc.) and this is therefore not in contradiction with the posture described above. It should be noted that even in these postures where more muscle is used, one can work an optimal structure for each posture, and seek a relaxation as deep as possible. Another example is the northern Wú style (吴) which is practiced with the trunk slightly leaning forward, in the continuity of the back leg.

    YangLaoshi does not give much importance to posture, but he nevertheless talks about it. It should be noted that Asians have such a posture more naturally (a more discreet lordosis than for us westerners, not to mention the even more accentuated of the Black population).

     

    On the other hand, this structure must be alive and not rigid, as we will see in the following notions of expansion, opening / closing, internal flow.

    From the Taiji Quan Treatise: «When these requirements are fulfilled, no matter how one moves: the superior position and advantage is gained. If superiority is not acquired it's because one is disordered.», that I commented: «The text then mentions that the cause of the error is either in the legs and waist, which often relates to the most common errors of posture or in too much intention in the releasing extremities»

    Hints for the practice

    Basic structure

    • Pelvis in neutral position, lower back relatively straight (position that is based on the relaxation of the feet / ankles and flexion of the knees)

    • Alignment of the head / trunk / pelvis, BaiHui (at the top of the head) vertically above HuiYin (perineum). The back is relatively straight, the cervicals also.

     

    Structure in motion

    • Keep this position when moving forward / backward, and during all movements, which is not so easy

    • Foot movements (steps): when advancing the foot, put the heel on the ground slightly to the side (about the lateral distance of a fist between the back heel and the front heel). The front of the foot points slightly inwards. These points ensure good posture, good stability, a spiral energy in the legs (ankles, knees, hips).

    • If the body is moving forward / backward while the feet do not move: the forward / backward movement is not too big, in order to maintain a good structure. And so the hip does not come too far above the knee (front knee when advancing, back knee when retreating). The knee is closer to the body than the ankle, the hip is closer to the body then the knee (we are creating an arch that better handle forces).

    The waist guides the movement (Zhǔzǎi yú yāo主宰于腰)

    The Taiji Quan Treatise says « The root is in the feet, issuing relies on the legs, control is in the waist, and expression is in the extremities »

    The first thing to put into practice is to guide the arms by the movement of the body. In other words, if the left hand advances, it is because the left shoulder is advancing. If she moves back, it is because the left shoulder is moving back. If not, how to use as little force as possible in the movement, especially in the arms?

     

    In general, we will have a movement of rotation of the trunk where one shoulder advances and the other moves back (see the link with the rotation of the axes described here below), or sometimes both shoulders moving forward or back at the same time (as when pushing with both hands - An). The trunk being moved by the waist, the waist thus guides the movement.

     

    The movement of the waist originates from the legs. Thus the force that is emitted to push with the arms actually comes from the ground: the leg is extending (for example), the trunk pivots, a shoulder advance, the arm of that shoulder pushes / strikes forward.

     

    This notion is very important for the practice of Taiji, and yet seems often ignored. Without setting up this simple mechanism, it is very difficult to push / hit with relaxed ends (arms / legs), practitioners' arms are often too tense. But this mechanical aspect is just the tip of the iceberg.

     

    Hints for the practice

    • Each time a hand advances or retreats, initiate the movement from the trunk. If a hand advances, it is that the shoulder moves forward and moves it. If a hand / arm comes to the side it is because the trunk has rotated to lead it there.

    • In general, in connection with the rotations of the axes below, the trunk is almost constantly turning left-right.

    • The same applies to the legs, and thus the hip / leg connection: this is the case for leg strikes, but already (and more subtly) for foot work. Thus an "empty" leg that is moving is guided by the waist, which transmits the energy of the "full" leg (supporting leg) and directs it.

    Relaxation (Fàngsōng 放松)

    Taiji is performed in great mental and muscular relaxation state. The first steps of muscular relaxation are possible thanks to the correct structure (because it is difficult to relax if our big muscles must hold the posture), and consists of relaxing the upper body (especially the neck, shoulders and arms). From the start we become aware of our tensions, be it established tensions (for various reasons, even emotional ones), as well as the natural tendency that we have to use too much force for the execution of a movement.

     

    From the Taiji Quan Treatise: “Once in motion each body part is light and agile" which requires relaxation.

     

    We will return to this subject in more detail in the more advanced stages of practice.

     

    Hints for the practice

    • The shoulders are relaxed (they are not lifted), the 2 shoulders at the same height

    • The neck is straight and relaxed

    • The arms perform the movement with the least possible force (also because they are guided by the body – see the waist guides the movement here above)

    Empty and full (Xūshí 虚实)

    Once in motion, the weight moves continuously from one leg to the other. The weight is never 50/50 on both legs, so-called "double heaviness", but the weight transfers from one leg to the other are fluid and continuous.

     

    The approach of emptiness and fullness is done by the distribution of the body weight on each leg: one leg is lighter (empty) and the other heavier (full). With practice, it is not simply a matter of distributing the weight in the legs at once, but of transferring the weight gradually and without interruption.

     

    Advancing in practice, the work of emptiness and fullness extends to the whole body and allows in tuishou to accept / empty under the push and give / fill on another side (Yin / Yang answer in Tuishou).

    From the Taiji Quan Treatise: « Empty and full must be clearly understood, each part is empty and full »

     

    Hints for the practice

    • The weight is distributed 50% on each foot only at the beginning and at the end of the form.

    • During all the movements of the form the weight is thus moving from one foot to the other.

    • The feeling of the transfer of the weight from one foot to the other refines, the ability to gradually transfer the weight from one foot to the other also refines.

    Rounded / circular movements  (Yuánrùn 圆润)

    All movements are rounded, circular (we sometimes talk about spirales). The outer circles, like the circular movements described by the arms in space, must be differentiated from the inner circles which are the following 5-axis rotations: the 2 arms, the 2 legs and the trunk, which pivot continuously on their central axis. These rotations of the axes are linked and coordinated, that is to say that the rotation of the axis of an arm is initiated by the rotation of the trunk. The foot steps also follow arcs of circle.

     

    Little by little, by connecting the different parts of the body, it is the rotations of one axis which causes the rotation of the others, such as the rotation of the axis of the column which causes the rotation of the arms. This is the refinement of the "size guide the movement" presented above.

     

    Hints for the practice

    • External circles: all the movements of arms and legs, in space, are done following curves

    • Inner circles: the 5 axes are continually rotating on themselves and thus one arm never moves without rotation of the forearm.

    • The pivot of the trunk drives the pivot of the arms

    The refinement of attention and intention to further refine internal work

     

    Opening and Closing (Kāi Hé开合)

    The form alternates transformation movements (accept the incoming force from the opponent, lead it to the ground, Huà 化), and emission movements (answer, push, Fā 发). Internally, we alternate closing and opening phases. This includes the coarser work of retreating / advancing, flexing / extending the joints, but goes much further in meticulous work where, with or without flexion / extension, the joint closes and opens (both bone partners of the joint move closer or further depending on the relaxation of the tissues).

    During the transmission phase, during the first period of practice, emit force from the back leg (extension of the rear knee) to the top of the head and to the LaogGong (palm center) and fingertips. Then this work is refined to enter a movement of meticulous expansion of the whole body - Peng (to be differentiated here from the more external movement of the Peng of the 13 postures, which itself draws its source from this more minute Peng). Peng is an expansion that is done in 3 dimensions (up / down, forward / backward, left / right).

    From the Taiji Quan Treatise: « Up, down, front, back, left, right…the same way »

    Hints for the practice

    • Alternating is initially coarsed, rather physical (to retreat / to root to accept force, to advance and to push to emit force)

    • The physical aspects themselves will be refined over time (some openings / closings of joints for example)

    • Later this work will become more internal and all the joints will be linked. The opening / closing then constitutes an internal flow (flow downwards to accept, flows upwards to emit)

    • Then, in a still more advanced step, these phases form one energy (attacking while defending, the flow downwards and the flow upwards are made simultaneously).

    The movement is global and unified  (Wánzhěng 完整)

    All parts of the body are involved in the action. We can take the joints as a reference: all the joints move at the same time, ALL (with some exceptions, like the jaw which is simply relaxed). There can not be a part that does not move while another moves. The traditional idea is to connect all parts of the body, move the body like a pearl necklace or as if unwinding a silk thread. Wu YuXiang's classic (太极拳解 - 武禹襄) also says Yīdòng wú yǒu bù dòng, yī jìng wú yǒu bù jìng 一动无有不动,一静无有不静 : if there is a movement, nothing is motionless, if there is immobility, nothing is moving.

    The body consciousness is here on the body as a whole (and not at a more detailed level, as the one required by JunYun described here under).

    The Taiji Quan Treatise refers to the use of all parts of the body over the entire text.

     

    Hints for the practice

    • Once the form begins, all the parts of the body move, all the joints move, until the end where everything stops (very simple to evaluate for an observer).

    The movement is harmonized (Jūnyún均匀)

    All parts of the body move in a harmonious and uniform way, be it the visible gesture or what happens inside the body (e.g. relaxation). There is no part that moves faster or slower than another, there is not a greater or lesser amplitude.

     

    At the level of the bodily consciousness, our attention is here directed to the details of the body, in order to reach each cell of the body (at least in a pictorial way). This is a work of marvelous finesse, but very little known. One of the goals is really to refine our motor abilities. Once this work is done, it is not a problem if one part of the body moves more than another, especially in relation to a martial application: who can do more can do less.

     

    From the Taiji Quan Treatise: « Their can not be deficiency or excess, peaks or lows; there can be no interruption. ».

     

    Hints for the practice

    • There is no part of the body moving faster than the others, there is not a part of the body that moves slower than the others (very simple to evaluate for an observer).

    • There is no part of the body that moves with more amplitude than another (very simple to evaluate for an observer).

    Relax continuously (Fàngsōng 放松)

    Relax the mind and body, including calmness and maximum muscle relaxation while maintaining the structure and posture (this is the difference between FangSong and just being soft as in a sleeping state). We look for the minimal muscular effort, but this effort will be different for each group of muscles. Here we find the harmony of Yin and Yang where the use of certain "deep" muscles, which we are less used to soliciting, allows the relaxation of the more superficial muscles. For example the postural muscles of the column are fully working (not to collapse), same for the deep muscles of the pelvis such as the psoas, while the buttocks and large muscles of the back are relaxed. Same in the arms where the large external muscles are relaxed, the movement of the arms relying on the deeper muscles.

     

    The Fangsong is not only a state but also an action: action to relax continuously in order to continuesouly refine this state. Besides Fangsong放松in Chinese is a noun, but also a verb.

     

    This involves dissolving the muscular tensions that are neither desirable for our martial practice nor for our health practice. To do this, the idea is to relax and open the joints (松开关节), not to open in terms of flexion / extension (where the muscles of one side or the other contract to realize the movement), but open the space between the two bones, slightly, because all the muscles are in a continuous relaxation. This work is still very little known today, and it is difficult to evaluate the FangSong visually.

     

    The relaxation of the joints is a source of great agility, because the muscular relaxation allows a great reactivity: the movement comes from the muscular contraction, which is optimal by the relaxed state of departure.

     

    For more details on this, see my translation of the text of Yang Laoshi about FangSong.

     

    Hints for the practice

    • As our feeling develops, every tension in the body becomes perceptible, the use of too much force for the realization of the movement is also perceptible. We must then try to dissolve these tensions.

    • When performing the form, if a person comes to lay his hands on our arms, are tensions perceptible ?

     

    Lightness and agility (Qīng líng 轻灵)

    The Taiji Quan treatise starts like this: « Once in motion each body part is light and agile ». On the other hand, the internal relaxation manifests itself to the outermost tissue of the body, thus at the point of contact with the partner: the skin.

    When putting our hands on a Taiji player who knows this NeiGong, the feeling is therefore particularly light: we have the impression of placing our hands on cotton. (Cotton boxing was another name given to Taiji).

     

    Related to Yin / Yang the inside is Yang (the above-mentioned structure ) and the outside is Yin: coating the structure with cotton. These states can also interchange, but this is voluntary.

    This point, although it is quoted everywhere and relatively simple to understand, is very often neglected. Yet it is a key point in the Taiji classics, as the sentence quoted here above in the introduction, or this sentence of the classics from Wang ZongYue: "a feather cannot be added; nor can a fly alight". The first part of this sentence describes the sensitivity that we must develop, and which allows to detect the slightest force that begins to build on our body. The second part describes how to transform this force right from the start (Huà zhān jìn 化粘劲), and thus not provide the resistance it needs in order to increase.

    Our research is therefore much more thorough than the state of relaxation-elasticity often found in Taiji practitioners, especially the adepts of pushing hands (TuiShou). This often encountered state reminds one of bamboo, while here we seek a texture of cotton also very well represented by the softness of water. The water that does not oppose any resistance when quiet (Huà 化), but which overcomes everything over time or when it comes alive (Fā 发).

     

    Also note the link with the agile movement necessary for the free fight. We try not to practice a Taiji or TuiShou where the rooting would be synonymous with heaviness, because if the blows are allowed (kicks and sweepings in particular), then this heavy relaxation, which seemed an advantage, could turn a little against us.

     

    Yang Laoshi tells us that the strength of the opponent should never penetrate our tissues (muscles, bones, etc.). This force should not even reach the skin, but remain at the level of the cloth. This is an ideal of course very difficult to achieve in a real-speed exchange. In spite of everything, as with many poetic ideas described in the taiji classics, it is only when taking these indications very seriously and by devoting a regular and sincere practice to them that one can really develop states that are out of the ordinary.

    Hints for the practice

    • As our feelings develop, we can continually refine the lightness of the limbs

    • When performing the form, if a person places his hands on our arms, does it encounter a certain resistance that allows him to emit force (heaviness, tensions, elasticity), or on the contrary does he feel like pushing cotton and having nothing to emit its strength against ?

    The connection of all these elements

    The internal flow and permeability (TōngTòu 通透)

    Everything interconnects in a dynamic and unobstructed flow. All these points interact, and as for a recipe, the result is not just a mixture of ingredients but a new creation. The result is more than just the sum of its components. The different stages correspond to those described in the classical transformation of Jīng Qì Shén (精气神). There are also specific ways of working the internal flow, especially to refine it and continue to develop it, but I will speak about it later on.

    This internal flow is the result of the inner journey presented on this page. By practicing these exercises, we develop our internal look and harmonize our Qi. Scientifically, it is one of the most advanced work to develop, among other things, two complementary nervous systems (Yin and Yang here again): the sensory system that allows us to feel the parts of the body (nerve impulses, that I associate with the Qi, and which goes from the periphery to the brain), and the motor system that moves these parts of the body (the nerve impulses from the brain to the periphery). During this journey we gradually discover our body by extending our consciousness of it: step by step, through  practice, certain regions become suddenly accessible, new sensations (sensory system), new motor abilities (motor system). And then all this gets connected in a harmonious flow: one can reach simultaneously different regions of the body, then simultaneously access the whole. Once this first feeling of the internal flow is obtained, the work does not stop there, because one can then go on and refine all this: feel an articulation in a more and more detailed perception for example, or move the whole body by equalizing the Qi by harmonizing the nerve impulses when we realize that some little parts work more than others during a specific movement. This relates to the hamonization of Qi at the level of meridians, because bioelectricity does not solely circulate in the nervous system, but also in the fascias (the connective tissues - subject to be followed). What a pleasure to practice a form in such a state.​

    As a result, the whole being executes the movement, in relaxation, and thus in an optimal way. The body and mind are one, in a very concrete way measurable nowadays by neuroscience, and this is our way to accomplish the first step of Taoist self harmonization. For the next step of harmonization with the other, these principles will then extend to two people practice, and I will soon speak about this.

    This state of internal flow is described from the first sentence of the Taiji Quan treatise, but also in the whole text:

    • « Once in motion each body part is light and agile; they are intricately linked »

    • « Qi is stimulated, attention turned inward »

    • « Their can not be deficiency or excess, peaks or lows; there can be no interruption »

    • « The root is in the feet, issuing relies on the legs, control is in the waist, and expression is in the extremities. This flow is performed simultaneously, in a unified movement »

    • « All the cells are meticulously  linked, their can not be the slightest break. »

    At the martial level, this allows to develop a powerful and agile force, a high speed and good reflexes (harmony with the other). The Taiji Quan treatise says:

    • « When these requirements are fulfilled, no matter how one moves: the superior position and advantage is gained. If superiority is not acquired it's because one is disordered »

    • « In coming into contact with us, the opponent becomes disorganized and inflicts himself a defeat, he loses his own root. This is done rapidly and without thought. »

    At the health level, by focusing on a work of global relaxation of the body and mind, the following principles of Chinese medicine are put into practice:

    • Yì Dào Qì Dào (意到气到): Where the mind goes, the qi follows. And as our thought then invades the whole body in a uniform way, it is a deep global harmonization at the energy level

    • Tǐ Sōng Qì Zìjǐ Dòng (体松气自己动) : If the body is relaxed, then the energy moves on its own (there is no need to guide Qi in exercises). And in our practice, relaxing the body is a key element, more over much more refined than what is generally done in Taiji.

     
     

    Some tips

    To develop these aspects, it is necessary to first feel them on a person who demonstrates them, and who explains how to train them. In my opinion, it is virtually impossible to develop them solely by reading the theory and practicing exercises. Therefore, we must regularly feel relaxation and TōngTòu on a teacher, and keep this feeling in mind.

     

    As we have seen, the practice is very rich. But it is better not to want to work several things at the same time, for example during a single movement. Because as our consciousness can manage only one thought at a time, our brain will then pass very quickly from one thing to another, and this is undesirable, neither for calmness nor for brain health [2]. This is of course different when a thing has been learned and is then guided unconsciously, allowing several things to be realized simultaneously (the unconscious being much more powerful than the conscious) because they are gradually integrated (one goes towards the mastery of these aspects, the Kung-fu).

     

    This process can be compared to the learning of driving, where it is important to train each specific aspect (clutch, gear shift, look and attention, etc.), then the aspects integrates and we can then drive thinking about "nothing", because each task is automatized, the feet and the hands seem to move by themselves because they are then controlled by our unconscious. For a beginner, it would be putting the cart before the horse if the teacher was telling him "now let’s go, think of nothing and be in the present moment"; it would be relatively dangerous. In Taiji, to be satisfied with practicing the form simply by doing a sequence of movement and not thinking about anything is not dangerous in itself. This already brings huge health benefits, but it will not address the deeper aspects of TōngTòu even with decades of practice. 

     

    In the following picture I try to describe visually what a practitioner is experiencing in this inner journey, taking as a point of reference the articulations, the more and more delicate development of the feeling and the mobilization of the articulations, until developing a fine connection of the whole body. The articulation is important here because we approach the energy work by the movement, but the flow which develops and this sensation of Qi will permeate whole tissues of the body. (The image below represents only the evolution of the feeling at the joints level):

    During the practice of a form one can therefore let oneself go in the sequence, in a meditative state of calmness or contemplation (our consciousness is on the attention, the feeling). But we can also add some work, and then our attention (passivity, listening) is complemented by intention (action, but in calmness). These two states are meditative states that reap real physiological benefits which are the inverse of stress (and which have been scientifically studied and reproduced [1]).

     

    To sum up, when we want to work on a specific aspect (external or internal work), we choose one thing on which to put the attention / the intention for a set of movements (even the whole form). We avoide to have in mind a great number of points to respect / work on, to move quickly from one to the other, which would be pejorative for our state of quietness, and for our progress as well.

     

    It is also important to regularly practice just for fun, without worrying about internal work.

    And it may well be that at that moment, as for so many great discoveries, magic takes place, emerging from our powerful unconscious.

     

    Enjoy your practice

    Fabian

    ----------------------------------------------------------------------------

    [1] see in particular the research of Dr. Herbert Benson (university of Harvard) and his works about the "relaxation response", about which I  speak in  a blog post

    [2] constantly moving from one thing to another is currently considered by neurosciences as a very bad habit for our brain health: "multi-tasking is toxic to your brain and your health" from the book "Make Your Brain Smarter" from Sandra Bond Chapman, 2013.

    Vers l'accueil
    To the homepage