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Page 2 - The Key to Practicing Taijiquan's Skill & Form
Teacher Li YaXuan was senior, early disciple of the profound master Yang Chengfu. Teacher Li later taught government and military officials frankly and was highly respected by all for his unselfish attitude, high martial ethic, and high level skills. When reading the late Teacher Li's descriptions, his excellent martial ethic, a critical key to receiving profound knowledge, soon becomes crystal clear. In fact, in one descriptive story to be shared later, his ethic and morality is both emotionally touching and nearly beyond normal comprehension.
Within the following explanation Teacher Li discusses the highest levels of achievement in taijiquan, namely, acquiring levels of awareness, achieving the light and flexible skills, and finally, acquiring the empty and flexible qi. In earlier times, taiji at these levels was also called "qi boxing" or "spirit or immortal boxing". Li YaXuan was born in 1894 and died in 1976. He was an ardent, devoted student of Yang Chengfu and, although much lesser known in the west, he was actually senior in all aspects to better-known non-family students established in the USA after 'liberation'. Teacher Li also knew and taught in association with Yang ShaoHao and was associated with and taught at the highest level of martial art in China.
Special gratitude is due and given Teacher Chen LongXiang and Teacher Li MinDi, son-in-law and daughter of Master Li, for their wonderful gift, on a recent visit, of Teacher Li's explanations and his stories, of which the following is merely a small part. Mr. Chen and Ms. Li, husband and wife, carry on Teacher Li YaXuan's excellent tradition of martial ethic and unselfish, noncommercial devotion to the original tradition of taijiquan.
Master Li Ya Xuan
There are five taboos of practice in the acquisition of this skill:
1. Those not selecting the right teacher, enter the wrong school and the external skill tops and is dominate. Once acquired, this habit, even if the learner later meets a truly skilled person, will be ingrained and not be correctable for internal use.
2. Those not believing their teacher strongly, completely enough. They do not completely follow the teacher's theory of practice. These people pretend they are smarter and think east, think west, and attempt to use other theories in combination with this skill. Their minds and spirits become a mess. All sorts of problems manifest. These problems are extremely difficult to correct.
3. Those who indulge in bad habits like smoking, gambling, and prostitution. These exhaust energy, qi, and spirit. They confuse minds. These people will never understand and can never reach a good level of awareness.
4. The over-practice of external family skills, hard skills, like breathing qi, making strong, exertion and effort, and the clinching of teeth. Intense staring with the eyes, making the belly full and then striking the belly. The use of an instrument to hit the body or the use of a hammer to hit the head. These hard, external practices and abuses severely harm and deaden our most valuable nervous system. This causes parts of the nervous system to become numb, deadened, and to be without awareness. People who have done this type of training cannot reach good levels of taijiquan practice.
5. Those people who only learn a little bit of taiji then leave their teacher and go out and show off in front of other people in an attempt to falsely gain respect. These types of people are often induced into learning other types of skills. Their's is a show of mere ego, not skill. After they start on the wrong path, they can never be corrected.
The above five types of people are those who cannot reach the awareness level of taji. The true skill, the main skill, is to make your mind clear, and to focus your mind. But in order to clear your mind and to concentrate, to focus, you should first become very stable and very quiet. Only after becoming quiet can you become clear. At that point you can focus, meditate. This is the way to reach awareness. After achieving beginning awareness, you can reach an even higher level of awareness. You can then reach understanding. Later, you can reach the level of precise understanding. So, if you want to clear your mind, before settling your mind, you must have the intention of restoring your mind to the state of being without thought; your body without action; to feeling no body, no mind. Once reaching this state of "no action" your mind is able to become enlightened.
After reaching enlightment, any awareness, any sensation, any perception of conscious is that claimed by the scholars of Confucious. That consciousness does not come from continual thinking. If you use your mind to think of penetrating a wall without a door, you just visualize going through the wall; if you think of working in poison ivy, you visualize just passing through as if there is no road - if you practice in this manner, the more you practice this way, the farther you will be from taijiquan. A true teacher is needed.
In practicing taijiquan, you need to be quietly contemplative while practicing the operation. If not, you will not be able to understand what is correct. If you do not practice, then your arm, your whole body, will not be able to follow the mind to move. Therefore, the two aspects must be done together. This means you cultivate both your mind and your body. If you just spend time vigorously, physically practicing, working the body, even if you make your tendons, your bones, your skin, and your flesh suffer, your mind and spirit will only be confused and, although you may sweat profusely, you will be wasting your energy, your qi, and your spirit. You will only harm your attempt to acquire the internal skill. You will receive little real benefit.
Cultivating the empty and flexible produces a high spirit, alertness, readiness, eagerness, perspicacity, high energy, and profound judgment. This keen judgment then used to acquire awareness of internal boxing's method. If you use these methods to defend yourself, you will have an excellent self-defense and you will also be able to handle any bully. If you use this skill in business, you will understand the business very clearly, with perspicacity, and will always succeed. If you use this method to cultivate your body, you will achieve longevity beyond that normal.
This skill is made up of three aspects: your spirit, qi, and body. The main emphasis is on enhancing your spirit. Afterwards comes the practice of qi. Last in importance is the practice of your physical body.
What is the meaning of spirit? Spirit here refers to something in addition to our whole body, it is empty, it is flexible, there is momentum, a function of mind, controller of intention. The movement cannot be predicted, thus, in addition to the flexible, there is quickness and the concept of changing. Spirit is really not involved with clenching of teeth, intensely staring, or the use of physical effort to produce qi.
What is the meaning of qi? qi may refer to breathing. It is that that sinks downward when you acquire stability. It is not something seen in muscle or use of effort to breathe. The body is stable and comfortable. Movement should be flexible and light. Merely taking a standing position to strike sand bags, beating the body, or striking objects with the hands will enhance neither spirit nor qi. Those people who practice the spirit cannot be without qi and the body - they have all three. Rather, there is merely an emphasis on spirit development. For those people who merely practice qi, they may have some qi, they may have some body, but their spirit is lacking. Those who only practice the body aspect also have some spirit and some qi, however, they can not completely know the wonder of the spirit.
In the practice, if your intention does not completely reach the breadth of your mind, your body gesture cannot be relaxed. Without proper relaxation, the upper and lower will not follow or be coordinated. Thus, your internal and external cannot match. Then your breathing may not be comfortable. At this point, with these problems, you should seek a good teacher for guidance otherwise, you will harm and worsen your practice.
If the mind thinks of relaxing after awhile the body gesture will also relax. Every movement should be followed by heart and qi. Then your four limbs will follow nature and the internal/external will become fit. With this your boxing intention can reach your hand. Stillness and contemplation will allow you to reach the level of your mind controlling everything. Everything should follow slowness, being stable, being quiet, and reaching stillness. If the mind is not clear and the qi floats, the more you practice with these illnesses, the farther you will go from boxing's intention. In this case, even if you practice like this for your whole life, you qi will not reach your hand. Learners should persevere, should have talent, and should have a true teacher in order to achieve success. Even with these qualities, in addition, the teacher and theory must be respected. With all these present, perhaps in one or two years you may reach some success. However, if you leave the teacher too early, you may have some problems and attain no awareness. One way to avoid this is to be open, to sense how the body and mind are connected. Quietly think about what the teacher advised you about the practice. Also, think of and visualize how the teacher practiced the gesture. With this your problem may not become too deeply rooted. Otherwise, if you make just a small mistake early there will be no end. It is like a horse without a rein, it cannot be guided.
People's practice problems may be visible or invisible. The visible problem is easily corrected, however, those invisible are very difficult to rectify. For example, some of these types of problems may be the hand and the feet being high or low, or not in balance, or not matching, or the direction is not correct, or the waist or kua are not straight, not horizontal, or the spine is not relaxed. These are visible problems. They are easily corrected. But, if your mind and intention are in the wrong way and, thus, your movement and spirit do not follow one another and your mind and body, internally/externally, do not match; these are invisible diseases. These diseases sometimes appear, sometimes do not appear. You can sense it but it is difficult for you to describe or pin down. It is very difficult to correct and eliminate these problems.
For people internally ill, regardless of how they spend their practice, the gesture and momentum will always show ugliness. That is because they do not listen to the teacher's words of how to practice. Again, they spend too much time thinking of east, thinking of west. That is how they go down the wrong path. Learners, in particular, should be aware of these problems.
I have often seen people who already have practiced for many years but still cannot produce internal energy. They cannot respond appropriately. Their hand is confused; their feet do not know what to do; they are unable to sense. Their eyes show hesitation or hastiness and they just fight without preparation. These are further examples of the internal diseases. They are very difficult to cure.
Every movement should follow the breathing. Use breathing to facilitate opening and closing. This is the so-called "using the qi to move the body". Every movement should have "quan" (martial) intention. For example, when the fist comes out, carry the fist with intention. When pulling the fist back, use intention to take it back.
Practice with the saber, sword, or spear should also follow this advice. You cannot throw away your intention and simply allow your four limbs to move independently. Internal movement is a combination of mind controlling the body and the body controlling the hand. Every hand and leg movement starts with your mind. From first the internal the external is reached. This is the so-called "internal skill".
Once expertness is reached then a mere thought, i.e., the mind just thinking in one direction is able to cause just single movement that starts and instantaneously encompasses the whole body. With this, the whole body force will be permeated completely throughout the body. Yet, without a good teacher people cannot reach this level. External skill only heeds external gesture; it is external movement. Their gesture and frame often may be very big and often may look very quick. In reality, however, it may not be so quick.
Internal skill emphasizes awareness based upon understanding energy. Understanding energy internally makes awareness go inside. Although movement may appear slow, actually, it may not be slow. In addition, in combat we decide how big the energy is, the appropriate time, the movement--low and quick, and the target. Since everything, including direction, is calculated, this calculation is based on hearing energy. This hearing energy comes from relaxed, soft, sinking, stillness, and slow practice daily. Boxing skill is an individual, bare-handed strategy. The mind and head represent the headquarters. The waist and chest are main but smaller fighting groups. The hands and feet are the smallest and lowest level of the fighting groups. The skin may be comparable to guards. The nervous system may be considered the system of communications.
Once you have contact with the enemy, the nervous system will pass the news to the head and heart. The head and heart make a decision, according to the situation, to guide the waist and body; to guide the four limbs and head and legs. If the nervous system cannot transfer this information, it is impossible to know from which direction the enemy is coming from or his magnitude. An appropriate response will then be impossible. Even if you have great force, if you do not use it appropriately you will be defeated. Use your hands and feet to protect your heart and body. If you cannot use your gesture appropriately you will not be able to reach your goal. The waist and spine are the axis for the use of the hands and legs. If transitions are not done flexibly a good result is not possible. The head and heart are the headquarters of the whole body. Therefore, awareness must be very clear and flexible, otherwise, a good command cannot be made.
During combat, if you need to be quick, you must be quick; if you need to be slow, be slow. In this art not even a single mistake is allowed. Move forward, move backward, left, right, you can not have even one hesitation, otherwise, all may be lost. So we can see the importance of the nervous system being clear. Therefore, taiji skill mainly emphasizes making your mind quiet and your temper concentrated and focused. This keeps the nervous system clear. Some do not understand this and place strong emphasis on the exercise of their muscles. Actually, this also damages the most valuable nervous system. This is a tragedy.
Those who like large muscles and strength probably have only two chances in combat. First, during an attack, regardless whether moving back or forth, they must be very quick. They will want their muscles to respond very quickly. The question is whether or not their muscles are very sensitive; yet even if they are quick, they cannot attack at the correct time. This may only create confusion.
Crouching tiger, hidden dragon is not merely the title of the recent blockbuster movie. This expression actually is borrowed from the Chinese language. In Chinese it refers to coming across a heretofore, unknown, 'hidden' individual of high skill; hidden, crouching, ready to pounce on the over-confident, innocent. In one sense, the late Li YaXuan could be considered to be a crouching tiger, hidden dragon in the west. This is because he is so unknown here. In China, however, Teacher Li's work and words are far from hidden. In fact, he was well known and widely respected in China prior to his death in 1976. His story and advice merit careful reading. The Yang's divided their teaching into three basic phases: learning the external, learning the internal, and finally training the mind. Teacher Li hits all three in his discussions and even touches very briefly on the last, the most advanced training methodology.
Original taiji learners at the source often use the term "frame" for what most westerners call the "form" or "set". Considering construction, be it a house or building a skill, the term is both more precise and descriptive, therefore, this use is most appropriate. This term is used frequently.
Secondly, when these people hit others, they obviously hope the other feels great pain. In addition, these people often want their muscles large enough and strong enough to absorb the pain of being hit by others. The question here is during the attack, if the timing is not correct, they will use a lot of strength but will hit empty space. If you make a defensive gesture at the incorrect time, this only shows weakness to others. This results in much more harm. So then, what is the use of having large, strong muscles? Further, when you are attacked, you must be very quick. You must move with suddenness. In combat there is not enough time to think of producing strength in your muscles. Finally, when others attack the most vulnerable parts of your body, strong muscles are of no use for defense or to respond.
Taijiquan is a skill with shape and without shape. Although it has shape when an opponent attacks you, your whole body must be very reserved and display nearly nothing in there. This will make the opponent catch an empty shadow so to speak and, thus, not harm you. If the enemy thinks you are empty and, on the other hand, if you show your emptiness but can suddenly attack like thunder, thunder so quick and strong that people must duck and cover their ears, so as to make them totally scared, scared for their life, then this is enticing into emptiness. Taijiquan is a skill based on unpredictable opportunity. If the other thinks you cannot attack, you should just move your mind suddenly to attack. If others think you will come then you should transform as if you have nothing to attack. This is the so-called "being suddenly visible; suddenly invisible".
The practice frame was designed to cultivate your mind and qi. Push-hands is done to acquire listening energy. Scatter-hands is practiced to acquire skill of hand, eyes, body, and the step method. So, this boxing practices heart, physical essence, qi, and spirit. When you practice the skill, your qi must be sinking. Do not intentionally sink it, that is, do not think of sinking the qi. Rather, use true, fundamental intention to infuse the qi during your breathing.
Emptiness is so empty it's as if it is solid. Being solid is so solid it's as if it is empty. There is something there but it's as if there is nothing there. Relax, let go, softness--use these to produce the empty and flexible qi. This will enhance your perspicacity. Place your mind and body in the right place to establish the fundamental source. With this you can show gesture and seriousness. If your body and mind are not correct, your gesture will show shallowness and be overly light, floating. These qualities too easily tempt bullies.
Emptiness and flexibility are the first key to the skill. Understand this theory like a genius then in one or two years full awareness may be reached. An unintelligent person may spend their whole life in practice and study but will still not be able to reach this level. Thus, a person's achievement, deep or shallow, is also a function of a person's innate talent and intelligence. Not everyone can be placed in the same category. Practice the skill in the early morning or in the quiet of the night without disturbance from others practicing. Do not show off in front of other people. A poem entitled, "Poem of Movement" explains, "The Great Dao (Tao) cannot be removed from even the smallest, lowliest piece of ground."
Do not have intention. Do not have the mind. Do not rely on your chest to move the energy and qi. Your mind should completely relax and follow nature. Allow all parts of the body to naturally rely on one-another. Once you are without intention, once you are without mind, the true mind is then in the place where there is no mind. Once you do not have mind in the middle, you will not have a shape. At that time, emptiness will produce the true empty and flexible. Feel the connection with the universe. Everything comes from nature.
In a discussion on boxing, while there are many different schools, it is noteworthy that they also have many similarities. Externally they practice the hard and quick and use force; they attempt to make qi strong, leave the spirit and talk about severity. For those people, however, who place emphasis on the quick, hard, their mind can hardly be still, can hardly be quiet. For those who use qi to try to inflate their qi, their breathing cannot be comfortable. For those who emphasize severity, they cannot cultivate a harmonious qi. These methods really will harm the tendon, harm the flesh, and will exhaust the spirit and qi. These practices will harm the empty and flexible skills and prevent their acquisition. That kind of boxing cannot cultivate longevity.
When practicing be stable and quiet, comfortable and relaxed, in order to cultivate the empty and flexible qi. Thus, when you use this qi, it is cold, it jumps, it is sudden, it is quick, as if you spit out the energy from your dantien. Always sense the empty and flexible qi and momentum. Then, during combat you can be fully aware of the other's force. With this, the road to victory is already half traveled. Without the empty and flexible qi and momentum, if someone attacks, you will have no awareness of his situation. In this case, in the confrontation your movement will create confusion and you will attempt to hit the other without any plan. This is not taiji skill.
If you have the empty and flexible qi, momentum; if your waist and legs are light and wonderful; if you have spirit and qi, if they are full; then externally you will be able to show the qi gesture. Then, if your movement is also cold and quick; then, if you then use this qi to cultivate the body, you will have longevity. If, on the other hand, you use these internal skills to defend yourself, you will be able to do so. With this awareness and these high skills, challenges in both your personal life and business life may be handled easily./p>
Li YaXuan, From a speech on February 6, 1956. Translated by Key Sun, Ph.D., private student of Master Yang SongQuan born and raised in Chen Village. Edited by LeRoy Clark, private student of Master Fu ShengYuan.
©2001 Qi Journal
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