Training Steps and Methods by Grandmaster Chen Zhenglei

Chen Style Taijiquan Training Steps and Methods
Origin:河南陈正雷太极文化有限公司·陈家沟太极拳馆 Date:2012年07月05日 Author:陳正雷 Hits:

Chen Style Taijiquan Training Steps and Methods

by Chen Zhenglei (陳正雷)

(excerpted from “Chen Style Taijiquan and Weapons Compendium”)

Note: All quotation marks, exclamation points, question marks, and (parentheses) are as per the original text. Words in [brackets] are translator’s notes.

1. Proficiency in the Form, Clear Understanding of the Postures

“Form” refers to the entire set of movements, while “postures” refers to the structural composition of each movement. The major focus at the beginning stage is on becoming proficient in the form and orienting the body correctly, while at the same time paying appropriate attention to the standard for each posture. After training for a certain period of time, when one has already become proficient in the form, particular emphasis must then be placed on the correctness of the postures. Only in this way can one generate internal energy and thereby bring into play the fitness and fighting capabilities [of Taijiquan]. At this point I will bring up two concepts in order to discuss this particular stage’s training methods and noteworthy items.

i. Movement Resides Within Stillness, Stillness Resides Within Movement. When practicing Chen style Taijiquan, one must maintain stillness of the mind and eliminate all distractions, for this is the only way to accumulate the internal energy and then utilize the qi to direct the movements. As is said in the Quan Lun,[1] “Stillness cultivates the root of wisdom and the qi cultivates Spirit.” This “root” that is cultivated means the foundation[2] and also means the kidneys. Chinese medical theory says: “The kidneys are the innate root”. The kidneys store the original Yin and the original Yang, which are the primal motive force for the body’s vitality and movement. “Be still and thereby cultivate the root”, which is to say that only when the consciousness is quiet can the kidney qi be stored up and become full and abundant. This will, as a result, allow healthy functioning of the five internal organs[3] and generate abundant internal energy; Spirit will be nurtured and the movements will be strong and vigorous.

ii. Pay Attention to Body Structure and Technique. When first learning Taijiquan, one should not set the bar too high nor be in too much of a hurry. This is similar to when first learning calligraphy — it is enough to be able to correctly draw straight horizontal and vertical strokes, dot strokes, hook strokes, etc, and to write the characters with a balanced composition. When first learning Taijiquan, the only requirements for the body structure are for the head to be naturally erect and to stand upright without any imbalance or inclination. As for the stances, it is enough to be able to properly execute a bow stance, cat stance, opening stance, and closing stance, and to understand the body’s orientation. Regarding those errors that will inevitably occur, such as raising the shoulders and framing the elbows,[4] heng qi[5] filling the chest, panting or gasping for breath, trembling of the arms and legs, etc, there is no need to pay them too much heed. However, the movements’ directions, angularity, and sequence must all be absolutely correct, and one must do all they can to make the postures supple, expansive, and fluid.

By resolutely practicing the form about ten times every day, one can become proficient in the form in 2 months. Once proficient in the entire form, further consideration must be given to the movements’ requirements, and thus one must rectify every move and every posture from head to toe. As for the speed of the movements, every effort must be made to move slowly, as this helps to observe whether or not the movements are correct. By tenaciously practicing ten times every day for a period of time, one can pass through this stage and move onto the second stage.

2. Correct the Technique, Relax the Entire Body

“Technique” refers to the framework of requirements for each part of the body when one practices Taijiquan. In order to correct the technique, one must first put time and effort into relaxing the body. To open and relax the joints, stretch the tendons, and make the skeletal structure more erect, one can practice a few selected movements such as “Buddha Warrior Pounds the Mortar,” “Hidden Hand Punch,” “Swing Leg, Drop, and Split,” etc. However, one must make the utmost effort to relax and not use clumsy force.

The major problems that appear in one’s practice during this stage are: the body is not upright, heng qi fills the chest, the shoulders are raised and the elbows are framed, etc. There are two main causes that lead to these kinds of problems: first, an incomplete understanding of what it means to “relax”, and second, insufficient leg strength for supporting the body, which makes relaxation difficult. The Quan Lun states: “The body must be founded on standing upright, and the entire body maintaining a natural state is the ideal goal.” In other words, the foundation for the technique in the practice of the form is standing upright. This “uprightness” has two meanings: the first refers to an upright position of the trunk of the body, the four limbs and the head, which means the body is not unbalanced. The other meaning is that when the body is inclined it still maintains a relative balance, for example the movement in which the upper body guides the lower body’s advance when executing an opening stance. The meaning of “relax” is, with the legs supporting the body, every part of the entire body naturally and harmoniously relaxes downward, and the qi sinks to the dantian.[6] When first learning Taijiquan, these problems will inevitably occur, as the beginner has no understanding of them and fails to notice when they occur, in addition to lacking strength and technique. In order to overcome these problems, one can increase the frequency of their practice, lower the stance, or increase the force used. In addition, one can do a few single-leg or double-leg squats or standing meditation.[7] At the same time, one must pay attention to relaxing the kua,[8] bending the knees, rounding the dang,[9] and maintaining an upright body position. As the leg strength increases and the movements become more relaxed, the regions of the chest, back, ribs, and diaphragm will all naturally sink downward, the internal circulation of qi will be harmonious, the breath will be natural, the lung capacity will increase, and these problems will in turn disappear.

This stage requires about 3-4 months of practice, by which time the technique will have become attuned and the postures will be basically correct. In addition, as the quality of one’s practice increases, one will then already be able to feel the movement of the internal energy.

3. Clear the Meridians, Stimulate the Internal Energy

The meridians are deployed throughout the entire body — internally they connect the inner organs and externally they form a network with the muscles and skin. As a result, they allow communication between the upper, lower, internal, and external regions of the body, and act as a passageway for regulating the organism and for circulating the internal qi. “Qi” is minute and subtle matter that constitutes and maintains the body’s vitality. It is matter comprised of extremely minute particles and is exceedingly difficult to observe directly or to detect; its presence is made manifest only via the sense organs, based on the many changes we experience.

The various sources of the body’s qi are as follows: first, the innate essential qi passed on by the parents. Second, the essential qi from the foods and liquids we ingest. And finally, the essential qi within the body is generated through a biological synthesis of three organs: the spleen, lungs, and kidneys. The Quan Lun states: “The qi is the foundation of life and the meridians are the passageways for the qi. If the meridians are not clear, then the qi cannot flow.” It also says: “The original qi innate to our body is what moves our body,” and “When qi is used to generate the movements, it can then penetrate throughout the entire body.”[10] This shows that qi is primal matter inherent in our body, and that only with clear and unobstructed meridians can it be stimulated and guide the movements, allowing qi to penetrate throughout the entire body and thereby produce the effects of preventing disease, strengthening the body, and aiding in martial applications.

As was already mentioned, by the later period of the “Correct the Technique, Relax the Entire Body” stage, one will already be able to sense the internal energy flowing within the body and as a result there is a zest in the practice. However, this feeling rises and falls like waves, sometimes it’s there and sometimes it’s not, at times it is hidden and at other times it appears. After a certain period of time it will even be completely gone. This is a result of obstruction in the flow of qi throughout the meridians, stagnation in the qi’s movement, and weakness of the internal energy guiding the movements. Consequently, one’s training during this stage must place emphasis on the intent guiding the practice. Under the command of the cerebral consciousness, one uses the intent to move, enabling the internal energy to penetrate throughout the entire body. If one encounters any areas that are not smooth or unimpeded, one can adjust the technique on their own, using the attainment of jin[11] as a standard. A slow speed in one’s practice is more proper at this stage than rapid movement. Every movement and every posture should be done with vigor and concentration, and should be lively and without sluggishness. One must make every effort when practicing to stay consciously aware of using the internal energy to move. By practicing in this manner for a period of time, internal energy will naturally become smooth and unobstructed; one will also gradually overcome stiff energy and clumsy force, eventually reaching the point where the entire body is an integrated whole. The movements will be continuous and uninterrupted and internal energy will follow the demands of the form, resulting in a regular stirring up of internal energy and reaching the point where the qi can penetrate throughout the entire body.

4. Form and Qi Integrated, Like an Unbroken Circle

“Form” here refers to the body’s structure, which is the external expression of the movements of the Taijiquan form, while “qi” means the internal energy. Speaking from a medical perspective, “form” and “qi” are united, they are attached to each other and function complementarily. The Quan Lun states: “Use the heart/mind[12] to move the qi. Only by sinking the qi can it accumulate within the bones.” It also says: “Use qi to move the body, and the movements must smoothly follow the qi.” In other words, the requirement for every movement and every posture is paying strict attention to using the consciousness to guide the qi, using qi to move the body, moving naturally, and in this manner generating movement of the external form. Repeated practice in which the form and qi are integrated causes the internal energy to cycle round and round and to circulate within the body like an unbroken circle. One must strive to reach the point at which the entire body becomes one integrated whole and the internal and external unite. By using the internal energy to generate movement of the external form, one reaches the point at which once one moves, the entire body moves and once one becomes still, the entire body becomes still. Movement, stillness, opening, closing, rising, falling, and spiraling, all follow their natural course. During the process of training — whether in the body, the arms, the internal or the external — any part that lacks coordination or harmony will create conflict and thereby impede the unobstructed movement of the internal energy. This, in turn, makes it difficult for the consciousness, the qi, and the body’s structure to integrate. If there is insufficient command of the speed of the movements and the orientation of the body, it will be difficult for the consciousness, the qi, and the body to coordinate properly. As a result, when practicing the form or single postures, certain problems that indicate a confused disorder will occur, such as the body moving slowly while the arms move quickly, the eyes not following the movements properly, etc. One will be unable to move the body and arms as one, and the movements will lack coordination and harmony. As the adage says, “If the movement of the arms and body are not coordinated, one will be clumsy when attacking the opponent. When the arms move in harmony with the body, the opponent will be mowed down like grass.” This saying illustrates the importance of the form and qi being united and the body and arms moving in harmony.

During this stage, the emphasis in one’s practice should be on integrating the consciousness with the structure and form of the postures, i.e. the heart/mind, the consciousness, the qi, and the postures all move together, causing the internal energy to penetrate throughout the entire body. At the same time, one should understand that the opening or closing of one part of the body is a localized expression of the macrocosmic opening or closing in the entire body. Localized problems are a reflection of general problems throughout the entire body. Because of this, whenever correcting one part of a posture, one must pay attention that the correction is done throughout the entire body, as doing so results in reaching a state of unity between the consciousness and the qi. Concrete manifestations of this stage include: A swollen feeling in the muscles and skin, a tingling sensation in the fingers, a heavy feeling in the heels, and a feeling of sinking in the dantian.

5. Entire Body Moves as One, Internal and External are United

“Entire Body Moves as One, Internal and External are United” means that the entire body becomes a complete system of movement. Chen Changxing states in his Discourses on the Ten Major Requirements: “Taijiquan is kaleidoscopic and contains jin in its every move. Although the power of each movement may vary, the jin is still unified. This so-called unity means that from head to toe, i.e. internally in the organs, tendons and bones; externally in the muscles, flesh, and skin; and in the four limbs and entire skeletal structure; all are interconnected to form a unity. When attacked they do not come apart, when struck they do not separate. When the upper body moves, the lower naturally follows, when the lower body moves, the upper naturally leads it. When the upper and lower move, the middle region follows, when the middle region moves the upper and lower move in harmony with it. The internal and the external are joined together and the front and rear complement each other. The idea of unity penetrating throughout the entire body is exactly this!” This exposition concretely describes the integrated manifestation of the entire body moving in unity, the internal and external being united, and the qi penetrating throughout the body.

In this stage, in which the entire body and the internal and external move together and are unified, even though internal energy already penetrates throughout, it is still very weak. When practicing the form, if one loses concentration for a moment or makes an improper movement (such as from being overly exhausted or lacking in energy), the circulation of internal energy and its unhindered penetration will be influenced. In the previous stage if any conflict appeared in the body, the arms, the internal or the external, one could solve any problems by correcting the technique so as to make the postures smooth and fluid and thereby cause the internal energy to penetrate throughout. However, in this stage one cannot use correcting the technique to solve any problems. This stage requires that the entire body move as an integrated whole and that one use internal energy to move the external form. If the qi does not arrive, the external form remains still and unmoving. Once the qi arrives, the external form moves in response to and in tandem with the qi. One uses the heart/mind[13] to mobilize the qi, and qi to move the body. For every movement and every posture, the qi is initiated from the dantian; internally it moves through the internal organs and the bones, while externally it moves along the muscles, skin, and fine body hairs. It circulates throughout the entire body and returns to the dantian, winding round and round and revolving smoothly and freely. The core of the movements is the silk-reeling energy,[14] and internal energy commands the movements, becoming a complete system of movement. The “silk-reeling energy” originates in the kidneys and is initiated from the dantian. It is deployed throughout the entire body, is present everywhere in the body, and at no time is it otherwise. It overflows within the limbs and penetrates between the bones, reaching to the four extremities and clearing the nine orifices, endlessly increasing internal energy and causing internal jin to accumulate in the bones. Stretching the tendons and strengthening the bones, causing qi and the blood to circulate freely, digesting the foods and liquids consumed, dispelling disease and lengthening life, all are effects of the internal silk-reeling energy. “Silk-reeling energy” is the essence of Chen style Taijiquan.

During this stage, apart from insisting on practicing the form and single movements every day, one can integrate push-hands into their practice and thereby experience and learn to differentiate between the energies of adhering, connecting, sticking, following, pressing and pushing. This will help to determine and rectify the correctness of the form’s movements and postures. One can also add to everyday’s practice a few rounds of the cannon fist [second route] form, utilizing it to increase one’s endurance and explosive power. One can practice weapon forms such as the broadsword, spear, sword, and staff in order to test the coordination of the arms, eyes, body and leg movements. As a result, without any thinking about it, without any doubts, and without any expectations, this will enable the practitioner to reach a level when practicing the form in which internal and external are unified and the entire body moves as an integrated whole. One has a complete grasp of Taijiquan’s requirements and standards for the movements.

After going through training in this stage, one then has the ability to correct and rectify on their own. One can leave the guidance of a teacher and not stumble down the wrong path. By continuing to deepen one’s research and study, one can gradually enter a profound realm. Chen Xin said, “If the understanding is not clear, seek a knowledgeable teacher. If the path is not distinct, visit a good friend. If, with clear understanding and a distinct path, one is still unable to succeed, then one must train all day long and train unceasingly — even while progressing — and in time one will naturally arrive.”

6. Consolidate the Foundation, Enrich the Internal Energy

The meaning of “Consolidate the Foundation, Enrich the Internal Energy” refers to the fact that — based on the work done in the previous stage — one goes even further to strengthen and stabilize the lower body so as to cause the internal energy to become abundant, substantial, and full. The Quan Lun states, “When the foundation is solid, the limbs and leaves flourish. Cultivate the root and the limbs and leaves will naturally flourish, nourish the source and the circulation will naturally develop.” Practicing the Taijiquan form is the way to cultivate the root and nourish the source. The “root” referred to here means the foundation, which is the lower body. The Quan Lun states, “When the lower body is stable and solid, the upper limbs naturally become nimble and agile.” This so-called “lower body” refers to the body’s lower half, the “legs”. One relies on the supportive strength of the legs, with the two feet as the base and the dang jin rounded, flexible, natural, solid and stable. The “foundation” mentioned above also refers to the original qi. The original qi is stored in the kidneys and when the kidney qi is abundant one is then full of energy and vitality; this is what is meant by “the foundation is solid.” As for the “nourish the source” cited above, source[15] here denotes the origin,[16] which is the ultimate source.[17] The original qi is the foundation for all the various types of qi. It originates from the kidneys and circulates within the dantian. It is our innate natural endowment, also called the innate foundation, and is the root of the five organs and six viscera.[18] The kidneys store the original Yin and the original Yang; the original Yin nourishes the yin of the five organs while the original Yang nourishes the yang of the five organs. Thus, the yang throughout our body is moderated and the yin is nourished. As a result our vitality flourishes and prospers, which in turn benefits the kidney qi and fills the dantian. This kind of mutual support and benefit moves round and round in cycles, resulting in the foundation being solid and the source being nourished.

After going through the several stages noted above, when one practices Taijiquan the entire body will become a complete system of movement. However, one is not yet able to properly, naturally, and meticulously coordinate the breath with the movements. During the first through fourth stages, the movements and postures are stiff and lacking in harmony and the internal energy and external form lack integration. Thus, requiring the movements to be in coordination with the breath is unattainable. Even when one has reached the fifth stage, by which time the entire body is an integrated whole and the internal and external are integrated, it is still difficult to harmonize the movements and the breath whenever one increases the speed, makes quick changes, or alternates between fast and slow movements. When practicing during this stage, as the quality of one’s Taijiquan practice increases, the movements and breathing must become rigorously coordinated. It must be especially noted that the type of abdominal breathing during this stage is exactly the opposite of the abdominal breathing as viewed from a medical perspective; in other words, one must do reverse breathing. Under normal biological conditions, the way that humans breathe is through a process involving the lungs, pleura, the inner and outer intercostal muscles, and the diaphragm. It is mainly done by the chest with simultaneous coordination of the abdominal muscles. When the organs in the thoracic cavity undergo pathological changes, chest breathing becomes limited and consequently there is a compensatory increase in the volume and strength of abdominal breathing. The movements for this kind of [normal] abdominal breathing are as follows: when inhaling, the diaphragm contracts, the abdominal organs move downward, the internal abdominal pressure increases, and the belly protrudes outward. When exhaling, the diaphragm relaxes, the abdominal organs move back upward to their original position, and the abdominal wall contracts. The “abdominal reverse breathing” used in Taijiquan is exactly the opposite of the situation described above. It is executed in the following manner: when inhaling, the lower abdomen contracts inward, the diaphragm rises, the dantian’s qi moves upward from the lower abdomen, the stomach naturally bulges, the thorax naturally expands, and the lung capacity increases. When exhaling, the lower abdomen bulges outward, the diaphragm sinks downward, the internal energy sinks to the dantian, and the stomach and thorax naturally return to normal. As a result of the rotation of the waist and kidneys, the qi sinking to the dantian is integrated with the internal rotation of the dantian. The coordination of the breathing when emitting jin[19] is accomplished by using a short inhale and exhale.

After the breath becomes coordinated with the movements, one must add a few supplementary exercises to their regular practice of the form, such as practicing standing meditation using the horse stance, bow stance, or cat stance. Insisting on training stabilizing stances 20 minutes before and after practicing the form while using the breath to circulate the qi develops strength and stamina. One can also practice shaking the staff using a staff made from Chinese Ash that is about 6-8 centimeters in diameter at the base and about 3 meters long. Shake the staff 100 times every day, using the techniques of blocking [攔 lan], holding [拿 na], and binding [紮 zha]. In addition, with a solid and stable foundation as well as full and abundant internal energy, one must then also separately train the jin-emitting single postures from the form to increase the ability to store and emit energy.

7. Keen and Sensitive Tactile Senses, Know Oneself and Know the Opponent

In this stage, the major focus is on training the entire body’s emptiness[20] and the sensitivity of the body, skin, and limbs, which is to say training the reflex to adopt effective measures against any received stimuli. For Taijiquan practitioners, this reflex become stronger with the improvements in their technique, to the point where their reception of any message sent is like lightning and their reflexes are like a thunderbolt. The foundation for the body’s reflex movements is called the reflex arc and includes five basic parts: The receptors, the afferent [stimulus] nerves, the nerve center, the efferent [motor] nerves, and the effector organ. To put it simply, the reflex process operates in the following manner: when a certain receptor receives a certain kind of stimulus, the receptor is excited and this excitation sends a nervous impulse through the afferent nerves. It is then transmitted to the nerve center, which carries out an integrated analysis of the impulse and generates its own excitation. This excitation then goes through specific efferent nerves to reach the effector organ. The practice during this stage is mainly training this reflex process to become stronger and faster. In order to master this kind of skill, one must use solid and substantial internal energy to be like a pillar of rock in the midst of rushing waters, causing the internal energy to fill the dantian and course throughout the entire body. Internally it traverses the organs, viscera, and meridians, while externally it traverses the flesh, skin, and fine body hairs. It is as if every part of the entire body is filled with electricity, and the tactile sensations are super-keen and super-sensitive. When contending with an opponent, it is only when one reaches this point that they can attain the following: “With a lightning attack there is a lightning response, with an unhurried attack there is an unhurried following,” as well as “When the opponent makes the slightest move, I have already moved, and even if I move after him, I arrive first.”

During this stage one should still, as in the previous stages, train the Taijiquan form and supplementary exercises. In addition, one should frequently practice contending push hands, as this kind of practice trains the skills of listening to and sensing jin and integrates the jin throughout the entire body. When practicing the form, one should tighten[21] the technique; in addition, one should also tighten and contract both the expression of the qi flowing outward and the external movements of the silk-reeling energy. In other words, the training goes from large circles to medium circles. The structure of the postures when practicing should be slow, soft, gentle, stable and expansive. Chen Fuyuan said: “Slowness is better when learning, but slow does not mean dull or sluggish. A faster speed is used after one has gained proficiency, but when moving faster one must not become chaotic. After training at a faster speed, one returns to slowness, which is softness. This softness is external with hardness contained within — this is hardness and softness complementing each other.” This stage of training is “first speed, then a return to slowness.” With accumulated training and skill over a long period of time, one is able to reach the point of being still like a towering peak and moving like lightning. This is the same as when one shoots an arrow — one slowly draws the bowstring to a full draw and the energy gathers within the back of the bow. When the bowstring is released the arrow flies forth with tremendous power, its speed unmatched.

In the later period of this stage one is able to attain the following: The eyes have a spirit like those of a cat stalking a mouse; the movements are like a soaring eagle; the body[22] is nimble, strong and vigorous; the reaction of the consciousness and the tactile senses of the skin and limbs are extremely keen and sensitive; the movements are initiated without intention; and one’s inspiration[23] comes forth without thinking.

8. Gain Advantage to Gain Position, Abandon the Self to Follow the Opponent

“Gain Advantage” means taking advantage of the most opportune time, while “Gain Position” means to gain the upper hand. “Abandon the Self to Follow the Opponent” means abandoning oneself in order to follow the other person, countering any attack by naturally following the opponent’s moves along a line of no resistance or conflict. If the opponent gains control of my hand (or fingers), I use my elbow and shoulder to resolve the difficulty. If he gains control of my elbow and shoulder, I use my chest and waist to resolve the problem. If he controls my chest and waist, I use my dang energy and my arms to resolve the situation. Regarding the posture “Single Whip,” Chen Xin wrote: “When the head is attacked, the tail moves and the energy penetrates throughout; when the tail is attacked, the head moves and the meridians are free and clear; once the middle is attacked, the head and tail move; upper, lower, and all sides are primed like a bent bow.” This figurative passage illustrates that the all parts of the body are integrated and follow each other, the storing and emitting [of energy] alternate, one abandons the self in order to follow the opponent, and one smoothly follows the opponent’s attack to counter his force. The so-called “borrowing [the opponent’s] energy to counterattack” or “four ounces deflect one thousand pounds” means taking advantage of principles of dynamics such as the lever, pulley, centrifugal force, centripetal force, and friction to make use of the opponent’s force as a force multiplier against himself, using only a small amount of one’s own force to defeat him.

In this stage one goes from medium circles to small circles. The Quan Lun states: “To master Taijiquan at all, then one must train the circles small”.[24] When training during this stage, the external form must be relaxed and natural, extended and expansive, while the internal jin runs like rolling clouds and flowing water, continuous and uninterrupted. When the jin is applied it is initiated internally, which is difficult for the average person to perceive. This expression of the internal jin within the body is like a hot current initiated from the dantian. It follows the guidance of the consciousness, going from the root to the tips, from internal to external, and suffusing continuously and without interruption throughout the entire body. At all times and at every moment there is a swollen feeling in the muscles and skin, a tingling sensation in the fingers, a feeling of heaviness in the heels, a suspended sensation in the back of the fist, a sinking feeling in the dantian, and a sensation in the bladder of giving off heat. When facing an opponent, one gains advantage to gain position, abandons the self to follow the opponent, employs outflanking the opponent as the norm and utilizes stealth and concealment as the ideal.

9. Body Like Gunpowder, Explodes Upon Contact

“Body Like Gunpowder, Explodes Upon Contact” is the martial arts expression of the stage in which the internal energy is full and abundant. This is the stage in Taijiquan where one has reached a fundamental level of accomplishment. One’s skill has basically reached the point in which hardness and softness complement each other, the flesh and skin throughout the entire body are brimming with internal energy, and one has a powerful rebound force.[25] The opponent’s force need only touch my body and it is if one has touched fire to gunpowder, it explodes with a resounding boom.

After reaching this level of skill, the upper, lower, internal, and external become one integrated whole, just like the Taiji[26] symbol. Within this full and abundant Taiji circle there is a pure and substantial genuine qi as the foundation and a vigorous functional qi as the motive force; there are also twelve meridians that link the internal and external. Because of the stirring up of the consciousness and qi there is no way for any external force to get through to one’s own body. Not only is there no way for this circular Taiji unity to suffer even the slightest damage — on the contrary, due to the boundless power of the Taiji internal qi, which produces a powerful rebound effect, any attacker will gain just the opposite of their intention. It is like what happens when hitting a rubber ball pumped full of air — the more force one uses, the higher the ball bounces. Another effect of the Taiji integrated unity comes from the slippery force generated by its spherical shape. If an external force touches one’s body, it is redirected just as if it had contacted a spinning sphere, with the opponent’s efforts ending in failure.

This is like when Chen Fa’ke taught Taijiquan in Beijing, the legend among all his disciples was that Master Chen had a crossbow in his back (this so-called crossbow referred to his rebound force). One day Master Fa’ke cheerfully said to some of his more curious disciples: “Come on and see for yourself, one touch and you’ll know.” He then stood facing a wall and let two of his stronger and more burly students together pin his back against the wall. They only recall hearing a “huh” sound and both were sent flying over two meters away. Master Fa’ke, on the other hand, was standing majestically in his original place, his feet not having moved an inch. He then told his disciples to ram into him. Not only were they unable to move him even the slightest bit — quite the opposite, they were all sent flying over three meters away without Master Fa’ke’s feet moving at all. This illustrates how, when the Taiji internal energy is full and vigorous, one can then reach the point at which “Whatever area of my body is attacked naturally counterattacks — even I don’t understand this mystery of mysteries.”

Aside from maintaining an appropriate amount of exercise, the major focus when training during this stage is on cultivating the innate life force.[27] Chen Xin said: “The heart is the sovereign for the entire body and the kidneys are the source of life; one must be clean in mind with few desires, cultivate the root and protect it from injury. When the root is solid, the limbs and leaves flourish and there is nothing that can’t be accomplished. This is the imperative.” The aforementioned “clean in mind with few desires,” “cultivate the root,” and “protect it from injury,” all illustrate that in this stage one should pay even more attention to: quieting the mind, calming the spirit, and strengthening the essence. One should only cultivate that which is lacking and should not consume any spare energy. The Suwen Shanggu Tianzhen Lun[28] says: “When one is tranquil, indifferent, empty, and without judgment, the genuine qi will flow. With essence and spirit harbored within, how can illness possibly ensue? Consequently, the ancients maintained a carefree mind with few desires, a tranquil mind with no fears…..”

10. Ever Changing Without Routine, Unfathomable Even To The Spirits

“Ever Changing Without Routine, Unfathomable Even To The Spirits” describes the point where the martial ability has attained the height of perfection and the peak of excellence. When one reaches this point, the change in one’s movements and attacks are difficult to detect and anticipate. Mystery and expansive profundity are all contained within the movements. Others cannot perceive my intention, while I alone can sense their theirs.

When one has trained Taijiquan to this stage, their skill is already mature, has reached the zenith, and is infinitely profound. Any movement one makes maintains a balance between yin and yang and a strong foothold in all directions. Internal energy has already reached beyond the skin and runs between the fine body hairs. Even if an external force has not contacted the skin or limbs, merely touching the fine body hairs, one can immediately sense and follow its course and instantly emit jin with boundless force. Chen Xin wrote a poem extolling this: “With a solemn and dignified air and an appearance imposing and fair, inscrutably self-contained and observing the innermost self with clarity and consciousness, one’s senses are pure and lucid. When standing quiet and unmoving, one appears a fool, yet who would expect that yin and yang are integrated in this body? It is difficult for an opponent to get close, no matter the direction, and when dealing with a sudden attack from those with extraordinary courage, some collapse, some fall, yet none can fathom his intent. Worse still, they find it difficult to advance or retreat, as if standing on a round rock — they stand unsteady, in a truly precipitous state, and regretting their inability to avoid defeat. How can there be any other way to reach such a point? Once the skill is pure, with only an opening and a closing a host of combatants are swept away in a single stroke.”

Original text in Chinese can be found at:

Translation by Dai Jewfong (戴菊芳) and Ma Fangui (馬番鬼), with invaluable editorial assistance provided by Mariette Wickes Forrest Bailey. Our sincere thanks to Grandmaster Chen Zhenglei for his generosity in sharing his profound knowledge of Taijiquan.


[1] 拳論 Discourses on Taijiquan, written by Chen Xin (陳鑫).

[2] 根本 Gen ben “foundation, root,” also “fundamental, basic.”

[3] The heart, liver, spleen, lungs and kidneys — also used in Chinese to denote the body’s internal organs in general.

[4] 挑肩架肘 Tiao jian jia zhou, “to raise the shoulders and frame the elbows,” as opposed to Chen Style Taijiquan’s requirement 鬆肩沉肘 song jian chen zhou, “to relax the shoulders and sink the elbows”. “Framing” the elbows includes stiffly raising the elbows to form a “frame.” It should be noted that 架 jia (frame) is also used in the term 架子 jia zi, which means a frame, rack, or shelf, but also means a posture or stance, as well as airs, haughtiness, or a haughty manner. The Chinese say that Taijiquan masters, because of their long training of body and spirit, have no “jia zi.” See footnote 22 for a usage related to this jia zi.

[5] 橫氣 Heng qi, literally “improper” or “perverse” qi. Chen Zhaopi (陳照丕), Chen Zhenglei’s teacher from 1958 until his death in 1972, wrote this description of heng qi: “Heng qi fills the chest, the qi is not connected between the upper and lower, and one huffs, puffs, and pants when practicing.”

[6] The dantian (丹田, literally “cinnabar field”) is the area just below the navel.

[7] Zhan zhuang (站樁), literally “to stand like a post”. Also called wuji posture.

[8] 胯 The area of the hip joints.

[9] 襠 The crotch, inner thigh, and inner knee region, which forms an arch when rounded.

[10] 一氣貫通 yi qi guan tong “Qi penetrates throughout the entire body.” This term is used repeatedly throughout the text and for the most part has been translated as above. There are some instances where the English is slightly different for the sake of fluidity, however the meaning is the same.

[11] 勁 Jin (also spelled jing) means force, and is force generated from softness.

[12] The Chinese word 心 xin means both heart and mind, as well as intention — thus, this phrase could also be rendered “use intent to move the qi”.

[13] Please see note 12.

[14] 纏絲勁 chan si jin

[15] 源 yuan Literally, “the cause or source of” or “a fountainhead”.

[16] 根源 gen yuan Literally, “root” (gen) and “source” (yuan).

[17] 本源 ben yuan Literally, “the origin, the source” (ben) and “source” (yuan).

[18] Stomach, gall, triple heater, large and small intestines, and bladder.

[19] 發勁 Fa jin, also “discharging” or “releasing” jin.

[20] 空靈 kong ling Literally, “empty” (kong) and “spirit, mind, soul” (ling).

[21] 內收 nei shou To gather inward. This same usage is also rendered as “tighten” in the following clause.

[22] 身形 shen xing. Shen xing means “body” as well as the appearance of the body, its “form,” which is the meaning of 形 xing. While the word “body” 身 shen is used repeatedly throughout the text, this is the only instance in the entire text in which 身形 shen xing is used. Please see note 4 for a related usage.

[23] 鼓舞 gu wu An interesting usage here — literally, “drum, dance” — which has the meaning of “to inspire, hearten, animate, lift up the spirits, etc.”

[24] 要想拳練好,除非圈練小 yao xiang quan lian hao, chu fei quan lian xiao. This is the only quote from the Quan Lun in this text that adopts a rhymed and metered poetry format, which the English rendering attempts to convey.

[25] 反彈力 fan tan li

[26] The Taiji symbol is the circular yin/yang diagram [[], from which Taijiquan takes its name. Thus, Taijiquan could be translated rather awkwardly as “Martial art based on the principles of the Taiji”.

[27] 本元 ben yuan

[28] The first chapter of the Suwen (Plain Questions) section of The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine, an ancient Chinese medical text from the Warring States period (403 – 221 B.C.) still used today as the basic text for Traditional Chinese Medicine.

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