Ten Essentials of Tai Chi Chuan
Orally transmitted by Yang Chengfu, recorded by Chen Weiming, translated by Jerry Karin
1. Empty, lively, pushing up and energetic
You must have an intention which is empty, lively (or free) and natural. Without an intention which is empty, lively, pushing up and energetic, you won't be able to raise your spirit. This four-character phrase is probably the most difficult one in all of taiji literature to translate. I have chosen to regard each of the four words as filling the function of a predicate or verb-phrase. Another fairly obvious approach would be to take the first two as adverbial and the last two as subject-predicate: "Empty and lively, the apex is energetic. Many other interpretations are possible.
2. Hold in the chest and pull up the back
'Pulling up the back' makes the qi stick to the back. If you are able to hold in the chest then you will naturally be able to pull up the back. If you can pull up the back, then you will be able to emit a strength from the spine which others cannot oppose.
3. Relax the waist
Hence the saying: 'The wellspring of destiny lies in the tiny interstice of the waist.' Whenever there is a lack of strength in your form, you must look for it in in the waist and legs. In Chinese thought the waist tends to be regarded as the space between two vertebrae, rather than a circle girdling the middle of the body.
4. Separate empty and full
Only after you are able to distinguish full and empty will turning movements be light, nimble and almost without effort; if you can't distinguish them then your steps will be heavy and sluggish, you won't be able to stand stably, and it will be easy for an opponent to control you.
5. Sink the shoulders and droop the elbows
Drooping the elbows means the elbows are relaxed downward. If the elbows are elevated then the shoulders are unable to sink. When you use this to push someone they won't go far. It's like the'cut off' energy of external martial arts. External martial arts such as Shaolin are thought to use energy from parts or sections of the body, as opposed to the 'whole-body' energy of taiji.
6. Use Intent Rather than Force
Some wonder: if I don't use force, how can I generate force? The net of acupuncture meridians and channels throughout the body are like the waterways on top of the earth. If the waterways are not blocked, the water circulates; if the meridians are not impeded the qi circulates. If you move the body about with stiff force, you swamp the meridians, qi and blood are impeded, movements are not nimble; all someone has to do is begin to guide you and your whole body is moved.
If you use intent rather than force, wherever the intent goes, so goes the qi. In this way, because the qi and blood are flowing, circulating every day throughout the entire body, never stagnating - after a lot of practice, you will get true internal strength.
That's what the taiji classics mean by "Only by being extremely soft are you able to achieve extreme hardness." Somebody who is really adept at taiji has arms which seem like silk wrapped around iron, immensely heavy. Someone who practices external martial arts, when he is using his force, seems very strong. But when not using force, he is very light and floating. By this we can see that his force is actually external, or superficial strength. The force used by external martial artists is especially easy to lead or deflect.
7. Synchronize Upper and Lower Body
When hands move, the waist moves and legs move, and the gaze moves along with them. Only then can we say upper and lower body are synchronized. If one part doesn't move then it is not coordinated with the rest. Literally "one qi". This could also be rendered as "one breath"
8. Match Up Inner and Outer
When we say 'open', we don't just mean open the arms or legs; the mental intent must open along with the limbs. When we say 'close', we don't just mean close the arms or legs; the mental intent must close along with the limbs. If you can combine inner and outer into a single impulse, then they become a seamless whole. Literally "one chi". This could also be rendered as "one breath"
9. (Practice) Continuously and Without Interruption
In taiji, we use intent rather than force, and from beginning to end, smoothly and ceaselessly, complete a cycle and return to the beginning, circulating endlessly. That is what the taiji classics mean by "Like the Yangtse or Yellow River, endlessly flowing." And again: "Moving strength is like unreeling silk threads". These both refer to unifying into a single impulse. Literally "one qi". This could also be rendered as "one breath"
10. Seek Quiescence within Movement
So when you practice the form, the slower the better! When you do it slowly your breath becomes deep and long, the chi sinks to the cinnabar field (danqtian) and naturally there is no deleterious constriction or enlargement of the blood vessels. If the student tries carefully he may be able to comprehend the meaning behind these words.
Written by Yang Chenfu.