The correct understanding of Tai Chi Chuan practice
By Li Ya-shuan (1893-1976)
Collected and recorded by students Chen Lung-xiang and Li Ming-dih.
Originally published in Taiwan Taijiquan magazine in 1993.
Translated by David Chen, 2002.


Before starting to move, first make your body stand stably, center your balance, relax your mind and loosen your body. Do not harbor any stagnant force, wipe out all unnecessary thoughts, return your mind and body to a neutral state; then you are ready to move. The movements should be led by the shen (spirit) and qi, directed by the waist and spine. These are silently expressed in the round of the routine, like running water, like a traveling cloud, like pulling silk, like a hanging thread.

Twenty to thirty minutes of practice each time would be appropriate. After practicing, if you feel your body and mind to be very clear and pleasant, you have done it correctly. In this state, you should be quiet and contemplative-you won't be too far from enlightenment.

It is important to avoid having a tense and stiffened body, or to move the four limbs by themselves. You must use your yi/qi (mind/qi) as the impetus for movement. Every inch of your body has to let go and relaxed, and you must sink the qi downwards; these are the correct ways of practicing taijiquan. Some practitioners let their arms and legs wave around independently, or move blindly with no reason. Or they move in a flowery manner afraid that their form is not spectacular and beautiful enough without these excessive movements, what a mistake!

After a time of diligent practice, if you feel the qi puffing in the center of palm and fingers, this proves that your qi and blood circulation has reached the end of limbs, you should continue the practice and let the fullness of the qi flow naturally. If you do not get the qi sensation after a long time of practice, there must be something incorrect with your yi/qi and your postures; you should ask an experienced teacher to help you, don't wait until it becomes a bad habit, it would be too late to correct.

Use the xin (heart/mind) to circulate the qi; use the qi to transport the body. Turn your observation internally, examining the coordination of the mind and body, as well as the comfort level of the qi and spirit; after long practice, it will naturally reach the harmony of internal and external. If your mind is only at external techniques, then that's all you going to have.

Preserve your shen/qi inward and nourish them quietly, thus your jin (internal power) can be stored. Only with relaxed thoroughly in your movements that the spiritual wisdom will appear.

Never express the tension in your movement as if two warriors are about to fight with clenching teeth and staring eyes. Some may think if there were no tension during the training they would not be able to apply the techniques when needed. These people don't understand that daily practice is a gongfu of storing and nourishing the qi and shen. When the qi and shen are stored and nourished fully, you will have plenty of power when needed. For those who like to build up tension in their practice, they are consuming a lot of internal energy, how could they have a chance to store the qi and shen, and how could they have the power to stun the opponent when needed?

You must have emptiness and agility on the top, waist and spine power in the middle, and qi in the dantian down below. These three are united as one, then internal and external become unified; thus all movements will be harmonized. But all of the above elements will have to form naturally; do not search them in bits and pieces. If you only focus on sinking the qi, then the qi will stagnate the movement. If you only focus on raising the spirit, then the spirit will restrain the movement. These are not the natural way of the gongfu.

Xu ling ding jin-the insubstantial and agile energy leads the head upward--- means the qi of insubstantial agility raises naturally when the posture is upright, stable, quite and comfortable. This is not to say that the head forcefully pushes upward. If you force it, it then becomes stiff and loses the insubstantial agility, and that is the most forbidden mistake in our Taijiquan training.

For Taijiquan practitioners, you should follow and work hard on your teacher's teaching, and at the same time, comprehend the art via reading the Classics by Zhang Sanfeng and Wang Zongyue. During your training period, you must not have the idea of mixing it with external techniques, or you will go off with the wrong direction. When practicing this art, you must not practice the external boxing at the same time, or all of your effort will be wasted. This art is based upon the "song-ling-jing"-- relaxed agility power. There is no sound when discharging the power, the opponent has no bruises or wound on the surface, but the jin has already penetrated the body. Other styles of boxing issue tensed, hard jin; it makes beating noise when launched, the opponent got bruises and wounds, but the power does not necessarily penetrated inside.

Some say Taijiquan would have no use without mixing with other style's gongfu; this shows those people have not studied with realized taijiquan teachers and have no idea of the principles of Taijiquan.

When first learning the solo form, you will feel soreness and burning in your leg muscles in just few days, then feel pain in your knee joints after a month, then soreness in your shoulder later; students should not be wondered or frightened with those condition, this is the process you need to go through; this shows the correct training taught by your teacher. If you continue practice, after a long while the soreness and pain will heal and your gongfu will then have a foundation.

On the other hand, if you stop practicing because of the soreness and pain, they will come back if you start practicing again later, you will waste your foundation for nothing. If you never felt leg burn, knee pain, or shoulder soreness during the training, it may be because you have received incorrect direction, you should ask a competent teacher for correction.

The spirit of your posture must be totally open and relaxed in order for the insubstantial-agility qi gets to the top of the head. Move like rolling river, step like walking cat; upper and lower body following each other, internal and external coordinating each other, when you reach this level, your internal power has begun to grow. To reach the true relaxation, you must first relax the xin (heart/mind); xin is the master of the body, once it is relaxed, every part of the body will follow. Use the relaxed mind to nourish the body everyday, after a time you will naturally gain the true relaxation, and the growth of the internal power will follow.

When practicing Taijiquan routine, you must not move your limbs by themselves. Instead, use the relaxed mind to circulate the qi, use the qi to transport the body and use the waist to lead the movements; only with the guidance of the relaxed mind, the upper/ lower and the inner/ outer body can be one complete unit.

As to open a posture, before the opening of 4 limbs open the heart/mind and chest/spine first. As to close a posture, before the closing of the 4 limbs close the heart/mind and chest/spine first. All movements must start from internal then reach to external, that's why it is called "Nei-gong"--- Internal gongfu.

Searching for the coordination of upper and lower body is the elementary practice, searching for the cotton-like softness and agility is the intermediate practice, and searching for the insubstantially emptiness is our final goal. Because there are still something within the softness & agility, but there's nothing at all within insubstantially emptiness, until then, there's nothing you can not do as you wish, thus arrived the state of comprehension of mystical and wonderful.

Heart/mind is the master of the internal, waist & spine are the key of the external; thus upper, lower, inner and outer unified as one body, it is amazingly wonderful for both health and martial application.

My late teacher Yang Cheng-fu, when fajing in the push-hands, the spirit in his eyes takes one look at the opponent, it makes him terrified and feeling life-threatening instantly, this is by the result of his unified appearance and spirit, enabled him to centralize all of his strength in a very short moment and discharge it, his power can be gathered in a sudden and issued in a lightening, as if one couldn't get the chance to cover the ears when thunders, there's no chance and no ways to defend it. The reason that we practice Taijiquan in a slow manner is to cultivate and nourish this kind of Jieng (essence of the body), Qi, Shen (spirit), accorded with every part of inside and outside of the body, this is truly the work of wonders.

If your practicing tempo is too fast, not only unable to nourish the Qi & spirit but also difficult to accord the inside & outside of body properly, thus the power of the fajing would not be condensed and the Qi/spirit would not be stunning.

The entire body should be relaxed and loosen, upper body and lower body should be integrated, and these are the necessary condition in Taijiquan practice; if the movements are not integrated, or if integrated but not relaxed, or if shoulder relaxed but waist, hip joints, abdomen and back are not, or elbows, wrists, fingers don't know how to relax, or after the practice the center of the palms have no sensation of Qi swelling, all because of no authentic transmission was passed on.

Some times I see practitioners vacillating the whole body in bits and pieces, they rock their heads like street vendors shouting for sales, swaying and shaking, arrogantly believing that Taijiquan's softness, agility, and forceless are all that is, they have no idea that real Taijiquan has it's deep meanings and must learned through a realized teacher's teaching, not through stealing by watching, or through presumptuously creating of their own behind closed door.

When practicing, you should calmly observe the whole body and check if it's relaxed thoroughly, or if it is sunken, or if it is comfortable. Within every movement, you need to ask yourself how to reach the Yi (mind) to the target, and how to penetrate into it; after a time you will make improvement.

The spirit should be retained internally and stored into the bones; the fullness of insubstantial Qi enables the body at the lightness or the heaviness as you wish; it can be so light that as if nothing's there, it can be so heavy that as if the Tai Mountain collapsed suddenly. This is the outcome of cultivating the Jieng (semen) into the Qi, then cultivating the Qi into the spirit, and finally cultivating the spirit returns to the insubstantiality.

Insubstantiality comes from substantiality; to become light and fast you must work from sinking and stable; after accumulating a long years of gongfu, you will gain the real insubstantiality and agility.

If a beginner works on light & fast right away, it will make his body movement scattered into bits & pieces; same with if he/she practices insubstantiality too early, it will cause the movement floating around, and thus their efforts would be wasted. It is said: "It takes at least 10 years to walk out from the door of Taijiquan study"; 10 years is a long time, but if you don't have a real Taijiquan transmission I'm afraid it might take you a life time and still not able to open the door.

Taijiquan gongfu is about (Wu-wei) Non-action but (Wu-bu-wei) Nothing-left-undone; every action contains such wonderful insubstantiality that it covers all phenomena; no matter how the opponent uses his techniques toward me, I'll have this insubstantial Qi to follow his momentum and respond accordingly, and every response is properly and precisely to the target. Never waste your time on concentrating the application of each technique or you'll "catch one but lose one thousand"; Taijiquan is like the grand Tao threaded through with Oneness, if you could comprehend that Oneness you would not need other ten thousand; if you keep thinking about this technique and that application, although there are thousands techniques but you can only use one at a time, a wise practitioner will not fall for that.

There are 5 taboos in practicing Taijiquan:

  1. Followed a wrong instructor, mistakenly went into a mixed style and wrong direction, later became a bad habit that even a competent master would have a hard time to correct.
  2. Not enough faith with your teacher; not following your teacher's teaching for practice, instead, thinking presumptuously of adding personal flavors into the practice, this caused your mind nervous and restless, thus revealed all kinds of mistakes, hiding here but showing there, this is the most difficult problem to solve.
  3. Bad habits like drugs, gambling, porno...etc; those bad habits will cause the 3 treasures of your body---Jieng (semen), Qi (internal energy), Shen (spirit)--- to exhaustion, they kept your mind dizzy and confused from cultivating the Tao.
  4. Over trained external hard style gongfu; like holding the breath, pumping up the force, biting the teeth, staring the eyes, puffing and beating the stomach, spanking around the body, or smashing a brick to the head...etc, they purposely killed their precious sensitivity in order to become numb, unfortunately one can not gain Taiji gongfu without sensitivity.
  5. Leaving your teacher too early before deepen the art; starting to show-off in front of public but soon get induced by other external styles which leads to the wrong direction and hard to pull back.

Those who fall into above 5 taboos will not be able to comprehend the Tao.

Clear the heart and settle the nature is a principle gongfu of all gongfu, but clearing and settling would have to be based upon the stillness and stableness, only after the extremely still and silence one is able to clear the heart and settle the nature, then the conscience appears and followed by the realization, and this is the true realization.

The reason that we clearing the heart and settling the nature is for the recovering of no thoughts in the mind and no actions on the body, that's the mind and body of Wuwei (none-action). Wuwei makes the soul brighten, within that brightness appears a natural sense, that's what Confucius called conscience. Conscience comes from extremely still and silence, not from extremely thinking, if you force your thinking, its like attempt to go through a wall without a door, or attempt to walk through a bramble field without a path, the harder you think the further away from the real Taijiquan gongfu, students must aware of that.

Taijiquan gongfu requires both internal realization and external exercise; without realization, you would not be able to distinguish the right and wrong; without exercise, the body would not able to coordinate with your mind; that's why the internal and external should both cultivate together; if you just keep on practicing bitterly, making the body suffer and mind busy, you'll gain nothing but soaking stinky sweat, and you are wasting the precious Jieng, Qi & Shen, this is not beneficial but harmful to your gongfu.

Cultivate the insubstantial agility in order to grow wisdom for the Tao of Taijiquan; if we use this insubstantial agility for self-defense, it can protect us from attack; if we use it on managing things, it can help us neutralize the wrong but do the right; and if we use it on cultivating health, it can bring us the longevity.

(to be continued. 5/18/2002)