Montag, 30. September 2013

Article: Zhou - the Elbow Power

Tai Chi Chuan has 13 basic movements (shisanshi). One of them is the use of the elbow (zhou). The use of the elbow is explained in the Tai Chi-Classic The Song of the Eight Methods (Bafa miyue):

"How to explain zhou?
Within this method are the Five Elements.
Yin and yang divide into above and below.
Full and empty are clearly distinguished.
The opponent can not resist the interlinked movements.
In the case of a fistfight it becomes even fiercer.
When the six jin-powers have been thoroughly mastered,
applications will be endless."

The use of the elbow is a highly effective and dangerous technique. One can be easily mislead, in order to break the attack, to use zhou against the force of the opponent. But this is wrong. Ma Yueliang’s comment about zhou:

"You press into the empty point of the opponent."
(Ma, Xu, S. 11)

This quote shows for the second time that the yin-yang-pair "full and empty" is of importance for the application of zhou.

The pair "full and empty" has been used since ancient times in the strategic literature of China. E.g. within Sunzi's The Art of War (Sunzi Bingfa) is a full chapter called "Full and empty". Sunzi explains here, that "on the way to victory, one avoids the full points of the opponent and attacks the empty ones." (Ames p. 124) Wu Gongzao, the second son of Wu Jianquan, describes it similarly in his chapter "Full and empty":

"The strategy is called full and empty. … If the opponent is full, I evade. If the opponent is empty, I attack."
(Wu, p 21)

From the viewpoint of Chinese strategy, an attack is never directed against the strength of the opponent. One rather tries to find his empty or weak points. An attack only then happens, and thus is always successful. In Tai Chi Chuan, feeling (tingjin) is highly important, because in this way one can detect the empty points of the opponent. The ability of feeling should not only be in the hands, but has to be developed also in the elbows.

Ames Roger, Sun-tzu: the art of war, Ballantine Books, New York 1993
Bödicker, Martin, Das Tai Chi-Klassiker Lesebuch, Willich, 2013
Ma Yueliang, Xu Wen, Wushi Taijiquan Tuishou, Xianggang Shanghai Shuju Chuban, Hongkong 1986
Wu Gongzao, Taijiquan Jiangyi, Shanghai Shudian, Shanghai 1995

Dienstag, 24. September 2013

Why I like to Watch the Tai Chi-Masters doing their Forms

Sitting in my garden I was with a great Book: "The Elegance of the Hedgehog" by Muriel Barbery. I read there the following little story about a rugby player and his haka (New Zealand war dance):

"Then when the New Zealand players began their haka, I got it. In their midst was this very tall Maori player, really young. I'had my eye on him right from the start, probably because of his height to begin with but then because of the way he was moving. A really odd sort of movement, very fluid but above all very focused, I mean very focused within himself.

Most people, when they move, well, they just move depending on whatevers's around them. At this very moment, as I am writing, Constitution the cat is going by with her tummy dragging close to the floor. This cat has absolutely nothing constructive to do in live and still she is heading towards something, probably an armchair. And you can tell from the way she's moving: she is heading towards.

Mamam just went by in the direction of the door, she's going out shopping and in fact she already is outside, her movement anticipating itself. I don't really know how to explain it, but when we move, we are in a way destructured by our movement towards something; we are both here and at the same time not here because we are already in the process of going elsewhere, if you see what I mean. To stop destructuring yourself, you have to stop moving altogether. Either you move and you're no longer whole, or you're whole and you can't move.

But that player, when I saw him go out onto the field, I could tell there was something different about him. ... Everyone was enthralled by him but no one seemed to know why. Yet it became obvious in the haka. He was moving and making the same gestures as the other players, but while the others' gestures went towards their adversaries and the entire stadium, this players gestures stayed inside him, stayed focused upon him, and that gave him unbelievable presence and intensity.

And so the haka, which is a warrior chant, gained all its strength from him. What makes the strength of a soldier isn't the energy he uses trying to intimidate his opponent by sending him a load of signals, it's the strength he's able to concentrate within himself, by staying centred. That Maori player was like a tree, a great indestructible oak with deep roots and a powerful radiance - everyone could feel it. And yet you also got the impression that the great oak could fly, that it would be as quick as the wind, despite, or perhaps because of, its deep roots."

And that moment I thought of my teacher, doing his Tai Chi Long Form in the middle of 200 people.

Total stillness in the audience. One could hear a needle fall.

The master focused within himself.

Still, like a mountain. Moving, like a big river.

Nothing else to say - that's all.

Thx for your time


Montag, 16. September 2013

Link: Translation of the Taiji Fashuo - the 40 Classics of the family Yang

Here a link to the Translation of the Taiji-Fashuo, also known as the 40 Texts of the family Yang:


Freitag, 13. September 2013

Article: References to philosophical Classics in Western Taijiquan Literature

If you look closely at Western Taijiquan literature, you can easily find anecdotes or allusions which even a Western reader can identify as references to Chinese classical texts. Here are two examples and their sources:

1) When Zhang Sanfeng was asked by a student about the principles [of Taijiquan], he replied by sticking out his tongue. The student didn ́t understand.

“Do you see my tongue?" the master asked.

The student replied: “Yes."

“Did you see my teeth?"

The student smiled and said: “You have none anymore!"

“That ́s just it. The tongue is soft and supple, it always was there and will be there.
The teeth are hard, they do not last and, in the end, they fall out."
(Anders, p. 20 f)

This anecdote is surely inspired by the daoistic Huainanzi (from the pre-Christian times), where it is written:

“Therefore, a weapon that is too rigid will burst.
A piece of wood that is too hard will break.
A piece of leather that is too brittle will tear.
The teeth, harder than the tongue, suffer the first damage."
(Bödicker, p. 77)

2) As a tip for the beginner in Taijiquan you can find the following advice:

“Even when you think that Taijiquan has its roots in the Philosophy of Asia, you should be careful not to mystify or overemphasise the spiritual aspects. Taijiquan lives through its great naturalness and, as you would not pull a stalk to make it grow faster, you should take time to learn Taijiquan step by step."
(Engel, p. 124)

This image of the stalk can also be found in the Confucian philosopher Mencius, where a farmer is blamed for being too impatient. This man “was sad that his grain was not growing and so he was pulling at it. In the evening he came home and said to his family:

'Today I am tired, I have been helping the grain grow.’

His son ran out to the fields to have a look and saw that all plants were already withered."
(Men 2A/2, p. 55)

These two examples show how ideas of the Chinese philosophical Classics entered into the Western Taijiquan literature. The authors were certainly not always conscious of the source. But that is not important, providing that, as in these examples, the meaning remains true to the source.

Bödicker, Freya and Martin, The Philosophy of Tai Chi Chuan, Berkeley, 2009
Anders Frieder, Tai Chi Chuan, Econ, Düsseldorf 1994
Engel Siegbert, Tai Chi, BLV Verlag, Munich 2004