In the early history of Tai Chi, most of the information on the art was held tightly with in the particular Tai Chi families. It was only taught to the immediate family members including the daughter’s in-law, but never to the daughter. The reason being that the daughter married outside the family and no one outside the family was told anything about the fighting arts of that family.
Even this information was never written down, but was taught in poems or in songs from Master to teacher, from teacher to student. Because of this, much of the information has been tainted slightly and it takes a little know how to sift through the information to get the real meaning of what is being taught.
In the beginning Tai Chi Chuan was taught as a martial art and when it actually started is a little vague. Some people say it is five or six hundred years old and still some say that it can be traced back to around 1100 B.C. We do know that ancient Taoist breathing technics have influenced it. These where apparently introduced by a Taoist monk by the name of Chung Shen-fen from Wu Tang Mountain sometime in the thirteenth century. It was his hope that Tai Chi practitioners would enjoy good health and longevity by practicing Tai Chi, and that the art be practiced as more than just a fighting skill.
The art is based on the principles of the Yin/Yang symbol, called Tai Chi in Chinese meaning "Grand Ultimate". Tai Chi Chuan meaning "Grand Ultimate Fist". This symbol relates to the constant changes in Tai Chi Chuan from hard to soft, full and empty, open and close ect. Also the "Wu-hsing, the five elements of Fire (Fou), Earth (Tu), Metal (Gin), Water (Sui) and Wood ( Moo) which relate to the five basic stances in the form, Advance(Metal), Retreat (Wood), Look Left (Water), Look Right (Fire) and Central equilibrium (Earth). These are the five characters around the Yin/Yang symbol in Fig 1.
The hand technics are influenced from the tri-grams of the "I-Ching" or Book of Changes and consist of eight basic changes: P’eng (Ward Off), Lu (Roll Back), Chi (Press), An (Push), Ts’ai (Pull), Leih (Split), Tsou (Elbow), K’ao (Shoulder). The Five Foot and Eight Hand technics make up the "Thirteen Postures" of Tai Chi.
The eight sets of lines around the outside of this symbol are called the " Ba-Qua" or Eight Tri Grams. They are made up of Yin and Yang lines, a Yin line being a broken line , and Yang, a full line .
All the thirteen postures of Tai Chi Ch’uan must not be treated lightly. The meaning of life originates at the waist.
The thirteen postures of Tai Chi Chuan are the foundation base to this art. It is important that students be shown and trained in them. Yang Cheng-fu tells us in his Ten Important Points "that the waist is the commander and that all movement must pass through the waist". The waist is also where we must turn to generate Chi and storing it at the Tan Tien.
When moving from substantial to insubstantial, one must take care that the Chi is circulated throughout the entire body with out the slightest hindrance.
When moving the body through the movements, it is important that you are aware of your changes from insubstantial to the substantial and that the Chi is still being transported to various part of the body. To do this you must be very relaxed and your mind clear so as Chi can flow easily without any hindrance. When this happens you have health. When it stagnates ill health will follow.
Find the movement in the stillness, even stillness in movement. Even when you respond to the opponent’s movement, show the marvel of the technics and fill him with wonder.
Tai Chi is referred to as moving meditation. The mind should be as still as if you are in sitting meditation, but you should still be able to actively circulate your Chi. You should look centered and calm from the out side, but with in is like a raging sea. When you are attacked you should still be calm and aware. When you have learned this you are able to respond in a calm and natural way to an opponents moves. Tai Chi is change and you should follow and respond naturally to the opponents every subtle move and situation.
Pay attention to every posture and study its purpose. That way you will gain the art without wasting your time and energy.
Study wide and deep and with determination and seriousness and that will determine your degree of success. To understand each posture you must study and research its nature and purpose then to acquire your goal is easy.
In every movement you must pay attention so as the heart (mind) stay on the waist, then completely relax the abdomen, and your Chi will rise up.
When you commence your Tai Chi form, allow your mind to sink to your waist and focus on Tan Tien (Yi Sou Tan Tien). When your abdomen is relaxed and your mind clear, the Chi will rise up and permeate your whole body.
Your Tail Bone should be centered and upright so as your spirit (Shen) rises to the top of the head. The top of the head is suspended and the entire body is relaxed and light.
Your tailbone should be straight, but do not exert force to acquire this, it should be natural for to force this will cause the tailbone to push forward. The back is straight with an insubstantial energy lifting up through the top of the head.
Carefully study and pay attention when doing research, extension and contraction, opening and closing follow their freedom.
This point relates to pushing hands. Contract to neutralise the opponent’s power, and at the same time close to store your Jin (chin) then extend and open to emit your Jin. To do this your technic must be natural and free flowing to follow you opponent’s intention. This allows you to stick and follow and to defeat your opponent. If you don’t research these technics you will never gain the key to Tai Chi Ch’uan.
To enter the door and to be led along the way, you need to have oral instruction; practice without ceasing, and the technic is achieved by self-study.
It is important that you understand that a teacher is needed to learn the art. There are to many subtleties and it is easy to miss what is being emphasized in a movement. If you make a slight error at the beginning, by the time you have reached the end you will have missed by a thousand miles. In the early times there where two types of students, those of the outer school and those of the inner. Outer school students where taught the basic form and only a little of the principles. The inner school students where those chosen as worthy and of right quality that were shown the inner secrets of the styles. To day most students have the opportunity to study wider and deeper than those only in the outer school. It is amazing to day to hear the number of students who put them selves in the outer school when they say "I have finished the form, now I know Tai Chi"! All they have is form. It is when you have the form together that the real learning begins. You need a good teacher who can impart the knowledge to you and once you have been shown the way, then it is up to you to practice unceasingly and continue researching yourself.
When asked about the standard, function and application of the thirteen postures, the answer should be the Yi (mind) and Chi are the master, and the bones and muscles are the chancellor.
When looking at the correctness of movement the criteria is, are the mind and Chi directing the movement. All the movements are done with Jin supported by the Chi and directed by the Yi (mind). If the movements are done with the bones and muscles, this is your Li (strength) and is considered incorrect.
Carefully investigate what the ultimate meaning is: to increase and extend our health and age, and maintain a youthful body.
This is what most people learning Tai Chi to day are looking for. The important thing here is to practice many time and often, then the prize will be won.
The song consists of one hundred and forty characters, every character is true and its meaning is complete. If you do not approach and study in this manner, then you will waste your time and energy, and sigh in regret.
It does not matter for what reason you study the art, whether for health or martial art, you must study the meaning of the Song of Thirteen Postures or you are just wasting your time and energy and your effort will amount to nothing.
Dennis Watts, Gold Coast Tai Chi Academy.