Montag, 14. April 2014

Article: The eight gates - techniques or principles? An attempt for an explanation.

By Martin Boedicker

The eight gates (bamen) are peng, lü, ji, an, cai, lie, zhou and kao. Dealing with them in theory and practice quickly brings up the following question:

Are they techniques to overcome an opponent, or are they general principles of movement?

These two views seem contradictory, but they can be blended to one, as the two sides of a coin. The eight gates are part of the thirteen basic movements (shisanshi) of Tai Chi Chuan. The Chinese word for basic movement shi has two main different meanings:

On the one hand, it has the meaning of (hand-) movement.
On the other hand, it has the meaning of strategic advantage, power or powerful position.

In merging these two meanings into one, the contradiction between principle of movement and technique can be resolved.




The eight gates as principles of movement

If one understands the eight gates as a principle of movement, they tell you, how to deal with an evolving attack of the other. One uses the eight gates to understand the situation and the opponent (dongjin). By gently intervene in the situation one starts to develop a change to ones own benefit, but at the same time keeps all options open. The key is therefore to explore with minimal intervention. In practice this can, e.g., look like this:

Peng: I take a little of the force of the other and try to determine if I can absorb the full force.

Lü: I lead the force of the other a little bit into the emptiness and try to feel, if the other goes further on with his force, or if he retreats.

Ji: I press the other a little bit and try to feel if he collapses under the pressure, or if he pushes back.

An: I push a little into the emptiness of the other to determine whether he will collapse or if he is trying to change.

Cai: I pluck the other a little: does he stiffen up, or does he yield?

Lie: I'm trying to pull the other into a spiral: does it work or does the other block it?

Zhou: I come with my elbow from the side against the attacking power of the other. Is he trying to hold against it, or does he try to get away?

Kao: I lean toward the others' centre of gravity or line of force. Does he resists or is he surprised?

In all cases, the eight gates are used to understand the force of the other (intensity, overall direction of the force, components of the forces, etc.) by feeling (tingjin). When I succeed, I have gained a strategic advantage. I now know beforehand, what the other intends to do and I can adjust my actions accordingly.



The eight gates as techniques

After the initial use of the eight gates the next decision is how is to proceed with the attack finally. If the other does not react to my probing and goes on with his original attack, the principle of movement changes into a concrete technique, such as:

Peng: I'll take the force of the other completely and bounce him back with it in a way, that the he loses his balance.

Lü: I let the incoming force fully fall into the emptiness and strike back immediately.

Ji: Since my strength is superior to the other, I press on strongly and throw the other.

An: The other can not change and so I press harder on the empty point of the other until he collapses completely.

Cai: The other stiffens and I pluck harder, until he falls.

Lie: The other can not escape my spiral, he gets completely twisted and loses his balance.

Zhou: The other holds against my strength and gets full. With zhou I find his emptiness and push here or even hit with the elbow.

Kao: The other is surprised by my kao and practically defenseless. A short bump with the torso and the fight is over.




The fusion of principle of movement and technique

All the elegance of the eight gates is found in the word shi. With shi the eight gates are at the same time a movement or strategy principle and a technique which can be used. This shows the extreme subtlety of Tai Chi Chuan and simultaneously explains why it works so amazingly well. With this concept, Tai Chi Chuan is also in accordance with the Chinese strategic thinking:

One has no concrete plan. One tries rather to determine what is possible - what potential the situation of being attacked offers - and which way reveals its self naturally. Then the strategy and technique, which should be employed is almost obvious.

In Tai Chi Chuan, principle and technique are merged into one word. Who, for example, says peng, thinks of the principle, but sees also the technique in his mind's eye. A small peng to explore - a big peng to uproot. One word - two meanings. One word - two sides of a coin.



The linking of the eight gates

If the other responds to my probing and changes, or e.g. my peng is not able to uproot him completely, I can quickly change to a different one of the eight gates, because I have knowledge of the position and the intensity of the force used by the other. Then the process of feeling and applying begins anew. Change the application of the eight gates between principle of movement and technique, between one gate and the other, back and forth until the other is defeated. As it is said in Yang Banhous Nine Secret Tai Chi Classics:

Change between stillness and movement - why worry.
The two methods of creation and destruction follow each.

Sonntag, 23. März 2014

Poem: The Philosopher





"Those who speak do not know.
Those who know do not speak."
These words, I was told,
were spoken by Laozi.

We are asked to believe,
that Laozi himself was one who knew.
How did it happened then,
that he wrote a book five thousand words long?


This is a poem by Bai Juyi.
It was written in China about 800 AD,
during the late Tang Dynasty.

Translated by Martin Boedicker

Sonntag, 26. Januar 2014

Article: Kao - "to lean" or "to strike with the body"?

Prompted by the article (here) about kao there ensued a lively discussion on the internet as to whether kao should be translated as "to lean" or "to strike with the body". I want to summarize the discussion (in the hope that I represent the opinions of others to their satisfaction).

It all started with the note that kao should be translated correctly with "to lean".


The dictionaries

In the New Chinese German Dictionary one finds about kao:

to ... lean, to lean on something, to approach, to come closer, to rely on

In the Great Chinese Dictionary (Zhongwen da cidian) Vol. 9, entry 43559, pp. 1616, one finds the following (thanks to Hermann Bohn):

There are three pronunciations: kao (4), ku (4) and gu (4)

to act against each other, to be based on each other, to make trouble - equivalent to gao (3)

In Mathews' Chinese English Dictionary:

To depend on, to trust to, to lean on, near to

Result: "To lean" can be found in dictionaries, but not "to strike with the body".


Is kao perhaps a technical term of Tai Chi Chuan?

In the Tai Chi Chuan of my teacher kao is clearly a strike with the body. It is an active strike with the shoulder, back or hip. It was confirmed to me, that this is also practiced by other teachers and in other styles as well. In the Classics kao is also described as a fast movement which can even be quiet violent. One can assume therefore, that kao is in this form a Tai Chi technical term.




However, other Tai Chi-players learned kao in a different way. Here I (the Tai Chi-player) "lean" on the vector of the incoming force, done fast or slow, high or low. This "leaning" can then be followed by a strike with the body.

Or I create/exploit the situation in which the opponent needs "to lean" on me - that is, that the opponent needs my shoulder/torso to support himself. If he depends now on this support and I take it away suddenly and use his static collapse for following techniques such as bringing him to the ground. In this case, kao is a special application of “let him fall into the emptiness.”

Kao was also described as the principle of leaning which has the strike with the body as an application. Here the 13 basic movements are generally understood as principles that manifest themselves in diverse techniques.


What is kao now? "To lean" or "to strike"?

I think, like so many other Tai Chi technical terms any translation is only a help. To keep kao simply untranslated would be best. But if it is translated, it has to match to the style and teacher. But looking outside the box, as here, can deepen one's knowledge tremendously.

As far as the discussion goes, I think it was very exciting and instructive: How the translation of a certain technical term can you make think about the contents of Tai Chi Chuan. I would like to thank all those involved.

Samstag, 25. Januar 2014

Article: Kao - to strike with the body

By Martin Boedicker


Kao is a technique in which the body is used to strike against the opponent. The Tai Chi-Classic the Song of the Eight Methods (Bafa miyue) explains:

"How to explain kao?
The method uses the shoulder and the back.
The movement Diagonal Flying (xiefeishi) uses the shoulder.
But between the shoulders is also the back.
When gaining the opportunity and the strategic advantage,
it then crashes like pounding with a pestle.
Be careful to keep your centre.
If you lose it, all effort was in vain."

Ma Yueliang comments:

"Kao is an obvious strength. It is the use of the shoulder or the back to strike against the empty (xu) points of the opponent. It is to borrow force and to use force. It is an often used technique, when you can not neutralize the attack of the other in time with the hands. Kao is like the expansion of gas - suddenly it breaks out. The other can be greatly shaken."
(Ma, Xu, S. 11)


Kao is therefore a very explosive technique. However, Ma Yueliang emphasizes that kao is only effective when it is used in the right situation. This situation is known in Chinese as jishi (the opportunity and strategic advantage). In the Tai Chi Chuan Treatise (Taijiquan lun) it is stated:

"In advancing forward and retreating backward, one can gain the opportunity and the strategic advantage. If you do not gain the opportunity and the strategic advantage, your body will be disorganized and confused."

So if one evaluates the situation incorrectly, the use of kao is very risky. The opponent could get the opportunity to neutralize the incoming force and may even borrow it. So one will certainly lose ones centre. In the worst case, the attack will not only fail, but you can also be defeated yourself. So you should always be careful and attack only the empty points of the opponent.

If kao is done optimally in pushhands, you should follow the advice of Ma Jiangbao to use kao quite gently, in order not to hurt the partner. Otherwise, it may lead to the situation that is described in the Song of the 13 Basic Movements (Shisanshi gejue) of Li Yiyu :

"When I want to use kao, I am looking first for the first triangle.
I place myself in front of his abdomen - looking down sideways.
Waist and body rotate together and so I send the opponent to the king of hell."

Ma Yueliang, Xu Wen, Wushi Taijiquan Tuishou, Xianggang Shanghai Shuju Chuban, Hongkong 1986

Montag, 6. Januar 2014

Film: Lin Fei - A Tai Chi-Master in Rome


A short movie about a day in the life of a chinese Taiji master in Rome.

Lin Fei from Alessandro Trapani on Vimeo.

Donnerstag, 19. Dezember 2013

Article: Peng, the Elastic Power

By Martin Boedicker

Whoever has witnessed a pushhands-demonstration by one of the masters of Tai Chi Chuan will never forget what he saw. A student attacks the master with full force. Instead of a spectacular defense, the master is just sinking a bit and suddenly the student flies away, as if jumping on a trampoline. The surprised audience is told, this is the techniques peng. Many spectators ask themselves, if this is this not just a trick. The suprising great effectiveness of the technique coupled with a lack of understanding of peng makes it hard to believe. But in the end it is not that difficult to understand peng. Peng, it is just difficult to do it.

Ma Yueliang comments:

"Peng is a hidden jin-power. It comes first within the thirteen basic movements and has an important position. It is relatively difficult to learn and when one begins to learn pushhands, it takes a long time to master it."
(Ma, Xu, p. 9)

But why it is so difficult to use peng? To understand this, one must divide the use of peng into two phases.

The first phase of peng

In the first phase one leads the force of the opponent into one owns center and one collects it like in a spring. Through this, one is also able to feel the direction and the amount of the attacking force.

Ma Yueliang:

"Peng is a reaction to the amount of the force of the opponent. In Pushhands one finds peng not only in the hands and arms, but all parts of the body have peng-power, which touch the opponent. If one has peng-power, one reached: 'If a movement is fast, one answers fast. If a movement is slow, one answers slow.' If one masters this, the feeling-power (tingjin) is just peng."

The elastic quality of peng is also described in the Tai Chi-Classic The Song of the Eight Methods (Bafa miyue):

"How to explain peng?
Like water carries a boat.
First fill the dantian with qi.
Then hold the head if suspended from above.
The whole body has the power of a spring.
Opening and closing should be clearly distinguished.
Even if the opponent uses a thousand pounds,
floating is without difficulty."

Thus, here peng is explained by the power of a spring. A similar picture was probably used, when the Tai Chi-masters changed the old Chinese character bing into the Tai Chi technical term peng. Originally bing stands for a quiver cover under pressure. The character of bing has the radical of hand (left) and the character with the pronunciation bing or peng (right):




This character is connected to:




The left character peng with the radical wood denotes an old war bow. The right character with the radical silk and the pronunciation bing denotes the pulling of a bow.

In the first phase of peng the incoming force is stored in one owns body like in a spring or in a drawn bow. The great difficulty in this phase of peng is, that the your body has to take the force of the opponent in an optimal way. Just the smallest mistake in timing or structure of the body will result in the technique collapsing.

The second phase of peng

In the second phase of peng one can release the stored power in different ways. If the power is send back into the opponent, one still calls this peng.

Ma Yueliang:

"If one was able to control the force of the opponent, one can use this opportunity against him and thus defeat him."
(Ma, Xu, p.9)

On the other hand one can also lead the stored energy with into the emptiness and thus destroy the center of the opponent. Ma Jiangbao explains it in this way:

"First I uses a small peng to feel the force of the opponent and then I lead him into the emptiness with a ."

Ma Yueliang comments:

"Peng-jin is full, but not full. It is empty, but not empty. Once full - once empty. The other does not know me, but I alone know the other. This explains, why peng is a hidden jin-power. Peng is also explained as the jin-power in the background. It is repeatedly said, that peng is like water. Water can carry a fallen leave as well as a big ship. In pushhands it doesn't matter if the attacking force is small or big. With peng you can master it. But peng is not only the carrying relationship that a boat has with water, but it is also a fine and subtle movement. When I receive the force of the other, I use my central equilibrium (zhongding) as a pivot, to change the direction of the incoming force upwards. In this way I let the other hang in the air and I can use a smaller force than the opponent: Even if he uses a thousand pounds, it is easy to let him float."
(Ma, Xu, p. 9)

The difficulty of peng in the second phase is to decide, what one wants to do with the force of the opponent. In the end one is dealing with a large force and even the smallest mistake allows the the full force to impact into your own body. Thus one should train the full peng only, when one has reached the level to deal with great force without using too much force oneself.

Ma Yueliang, Xu Wen, Wushi Taijiquan Tuishou, Xianggang Shanghai Shuju Chuban, Hongkong 1986

Mittwoch, 20. November 2013

Article: Tai Chi Chuan and the Relationship between Nature and Culture

By Martin Boedicker

Tai Chi Chuan is not just an old technique for self-defense, but it is also seen as a part of Chinese culture. Even though it claims to be a cultural technique, one seeks naturalness through the practice of Tai Chi Chuan. This search for naturalness in a cultural technique seems to be a contradiction to the mind of the Westerner, but do the Chinese think the same?




The Relationship of Nature and Culture from the Western Point of View

The root for the western word for culture is found in the Latin word culture, or in the verb colere, what means to take care or to till. The classical source for them is found in the Tusculan Disputations of Cicero:

”As all the fields which are cultivated are not fruitful, it is not every mind which has been properly cultivated that produces fruit; and, to go on with the comparison, as a field, although it may be naturally fruitful, cannot produce a crop without dressing, so neither can the mind without education; such is the weakness of either without the other. Whereas philosophy is the culture of the mind."
(Tusc. Disp. II13)

Cicero's idea of cultivation has consequences, which shape the western mind up to the present day. Cicero believed that he found the same principle behind farming and the development of the human mind. Analog to farming the natural condition of the mind is a neglected one. It is absolutely necessary to cultivate this condition. Thus there is not only a contradiction between the natural and the cultivated condition, but also a hierarchy: Not the natural, but the cultivated has to be strived for. For example Hegel says:

"…, the natural is that, what should not be; in naturalness, man should not stay. Nature is from its origins evil…"
(Hegel, p. 491 f)

To generalize: The western world developed the idea of the restraint of the natural. One finds this both in the macro cosmos, thus in the submitting of the environment and in the micro cosmos, thus in the control of the humane nature.


The Relationship of Culture and Nature in Chinese Thinking

The idea of man moving from nature to culture is also found in China. The beginnings of the cultivation of man are done by sages. The Book of Changes (Yijing) explains:

"In ancient times, when Fuxi had come to the rule of all under heaven, looking up, he contemplated the brilliant forms exhibited in the sky, and looking down he surveyed the patterns shown on earth. … He invented the making of nets of various kinds by knitting strings, both for hunting and fishing. … On the death of Fuxi, his place was taken by Shennong. He fashioned wood to form the plough, and bent wood to make the plough-handle. The advantages of ploughing and weeding were taught to all under heaven. … He encouraged markets to be held at midday, thus bringing all the people together, and assembling in one place all their wares.

After the death of Shennong, there arose Huang Di, Yao and Shun. … They hollowed out trees to form canoes; they cut wood long and thin to make oars. Thus arose the benefit of canoes and oars to help those who had no means of intercourse with others. … They used oxen (and carts) and yoked horses (to chariots), thus providing transport for what was heavy, and for distant journeys - thereby benefiting all under the sky. … They bent wood by means of string so as to form bows, and sharpened wood so as to make arrows. This gave the benefit of bows and arrows, and served to produce everywhere a feeling of awe.

In the highest antiquity, government was carried on successfully by the use of knotted cords (to preserve the memory of things). In subsequent ages the sages substituted these with written characters and bonds. By means of these (the action of all) all officers could be regulated, and (the affairs of) all the people accurately recorded."
(Legge, p. 319 f)


The Relationship of Nature and Culture in Confucianism

In Confucianism one follows this view. Through the work of the sages man leaves nature and becomes a cultivated person. But this condition is not as in European thinking an opposition to nature, but still an image of it. Everything in the cosmos is as the cosmos: Nature and culture are an expression of the same cosmic order. This is shown by the term three powers (sancai), which are heaven, earth and man, where heaven and earth represent nature, with man in their middle. The Book of Changes (Yijing) explains:

"In ancient times,
when the sages created the Book of Changes,
they followed the principle
of the inner nature (xing) and destiny.
Therefore, they established the way (dao) of heaven
and called it yin and yang.
Therefore, they established the way of earth
and called it hard and soft.
Therefore, they established the way of man
and called it humanity (ren) and righteousness.
They doubled these three powers
and therefore in the Book of Changes
six lines became a hexagram.“
(Boedicker, p. 4)

Thus the harmony between heaven, earth and man should be expressed in the social world by humanity and righteousness. The ability for it is developed by an intensive moral education, which is perfected by constant self-cultivation (xiushen). Self-cultivation is the link between the inner virtue and the external world. The book The Great Learning (Daxue), one of the Four Books (Sishu) of Confucianism explains:

"The ancient who wanted to explain
their clear and pure inner power (de) to the world
would first bring order to their state.
To bring order to their state,
they would first regulate their family.
To regulate their family,
they would first cultivate themselves.
To cultivate themselves,
they would first rectify their heart-mind (xin).
To rectify their heart-mind ,
they would first made their intentions (yi) sincere (cheng).
To make their intentions sincere,
they would first extend their knowledge.
The extension of knowledge lies in the investigation of things."
(Boedicker, p. 58 f)

The investigation of the things in the world is a precondition for moral behavior. This shows very clearly, that the external world is in close contact with the internal world of man. Thus, the step from nature to culture is a natural development.


The Relationship of Nature and Culture in Daoism

The parting from nature was easy for the Confucianist, but it was never succeeded by the Daoist. Bauer comments:

"Even though the Daoist participated lively in culture and society and influenced parts of it, like medicine and military strategy (to take two very separate one's) or even dominated then, one can find in their writings a nostalgic longing for a carefree and simple life in untouched nature, when man had not thought of himself as important and thus was not separated from the other beings."
(Paul, p. 207)

Zhuangzi saw the development of culture by the sages very critically:

"In ignorance and simplicity, the men of old were all quiet and tranquil. During those days, yin and yang were in harmony and equilibrium, the ghosts and spirits made no disturbance, the four seasons succeeded each other in due order, nothing was ever hurt, everything lived the full circle of life, and men had nowhere to employ their intelligence - this was an age of oneness between man and nature. During those days, men did nothing but follow the natural course of events.

As time went by, virtue gradually deteriorated and declined. When Suiren and King Fuxi began to rule over the world, they followed the people's bent but failed to retain the perfect state of oneness. When Shennong and the Yellow Emperor began to rule over the world, they attained stability but failed to follow the people's bent. Virtue continued to deteriorate and decline. When King Yao and King Shun began to rule over the world, they introduced systems of government and instruction with the result that purity was defiled and simplicity was spoiled. They violated the way (dao) so as to promote good deeds and neglected virtue so as to promote proper behaviors. Then, they disregarded their inborn nature and followed their own minds. When people began to probe into each other's minds, the world could no longer be kept in order.

Afterwards, formalities were introduced and worldly learning promoted. The former concealed the inborn nature and the latter drowned the mind. As a result, the people began to get confused and to cause disorder. There had been no way to recover their inborn nature and to restore their original purity and simplicity."
(Zhuangzi, p. 16 f)

Thus Daoist do not only reject culture, for them culture is the beginning of decline. Their ideal is to live in nature and to separate from all social, political and worldly actions. Only by retreating into nature one can develop naturalness. This idea is expressed by the term uncarved (pu), which is seen as the opposite of being cultivated (wen). It should be mentioned here that also the term martial (wu), which can also be found in Daoist texts, became an opposite of being cultivated.

Because the Daoist rejected culture, they developed their own form of self-cultivation: to nourish live (yangsheng). This term, was originally used by the Confucianists, but later became a nearly exclusively Daoistic term. In yangsheng the Daoist tries to live in accordance with the way (dao). One of the goals is to maintain good health. In the Zhuangzi, one finds three strategies of yangsheng:

- The fasting of the heart/mind (xinzhai) - the effort to become one with the qi
- The losing-self (sangwo)
- The meditation called sitting and forgetting (zuowang)


The Relationship of Nature and Culture in Tai Chi Chuan

If one compares the relationship of nature and culture in Confucianism and Daoism one finds as a common aspect, that man as part of the cosmos is a mirror of the cosmic principles. Regardless whether one looks for naturalness in culture or one sees nature as something holy, whether one looks for Confucianist humanity in the process of self-cultivation or one tries to be near nature by the Daoist nourishing of life, one tries always to be in harmony with the principles of the cosmos.

This idea is emphasized by Chinese philosophy of later centuries and the ideal for man is a mixture of Daoist naturalness and the Confucian way of being cultivated. These two qualities are the guarantor for a harmonic personality.

This is also strived for in Tai Chi Chuan. The student should not detach himself from naturalness by the exercise of the cultural techniques Tai Chi Chuan. Quite the opposite, as nature and culture are not in contradiction to each other. Through cultivation of the self one achieves naturalness and naturalness leads to a high level of cultivation.

An example for this is the call for the natural movement. In the opinion of the old Tai Chi-masters one can reach this only after hard training for a long time, called gongfu (Kungfu). At the end of this development naturalness is seen as a measurement for the level of the cultivation of the self and a testimony of the inner nature of the practitioner.

In Tai Chi Chuan one says also, that the breathing should be natural. But as often it is not like that. To return to a natural breathing it needs inner stillness and outside exercising. Thus, Tai Chi Chuan can enable one to return to an original condition, which was only lost.


Boedicker, Martin und Freya, The Philosophy of Tai Chi Chuan, Berkeley 2009
Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich, Werke in zwanzig Bänden. Band 19, Frankfurt am Main 1979
Legge, Book of Changes, Hunan Publishing House, 1993
Paul Sigrid, Kultur – Begriff und Wort in China und Japan, Dietrich Reimer Verlag, Berlin 1984
Zhuangzi, Library of Chinese Classics, Hunan People's Publishing House, 1999