Master HuangXingxian (1909-1992), perhaps one of the greatest Taiji exponents of recent times, wrote down the essence of his teaching in the following text to pass on to subsequent generations, as had great masters done before him. Huang's philosophy of life was deep and broad so he personally supervised the translation into English to ensure this great treasure – Taiji – of the Chinese people could reach all highminded citizens of the World.
1. Are there different schools or sects of Taiji?Taiji embodies a comprehensive set of knowledge, developed and handed down by our learned predecessors with mystifying principles and profound philosophical learnings. The Taiji principles are based on scientific fundamentals. Our predecessors developed the art for improving health, warding off sickness, slowing the ageing process, longevity and self-defense. All this benefits mankind. Good character formation is promoted. An adherent imbibed with the Dao of Taiji would contribute to proper governance of the country and universal peace. Taiji is not meant for bragging and antagonistic purposes. A Taiji exponent needs to understand the principles and philosophy of Taiji – no one should deviate from these. The movements can be developed and modified but the principles are eternal. The external forms may differ from person to person but the principles are unvarying. Because of this there is no basis for differentiation by schools. Instead a spirit of a single family should prevail. Common interest of the art should take precedence over personal interest. An open attitude should emerge, bearing in mind the spirit of the founder and predecessors to propagate the philosophy of Taiji in the world so as to improve the condition of mankind.
2. How should we practice Taiji in order to reach accuracy?The gap between accurate and non-accurate achievement is wide. Remember the words of the old master, Wang Tsung Yueh that the body must be naturally vertically balanced, relaxed and rounded, with awareness of all parts of the body. During practice of the Taiji Form, be careful, alert, observant and sense where one is moving. Otherwise there is form without substance, and deception to people. To achieve accuracy, follow the principles of Taiji to practice correctly. A good master is necessary coupled with one's own constant research. The art must be learned progressively needing firm ground first before advancing to the next step. Personal requirements are also important. Be determined, confident, persevering and motivated. A secure means of livelihood and normal environment coupled with single-mindedness, constant learning and clear understanding of the principles – all this will lead to accurate achievement. This is in contrast to those who wish to learn fast, who concern themselves with externals and who practise sporadically. They hope to learn first and be corrected later not realising that is worse than a new person learning from scratch. Others take the principles of Taiji lightly or superficially and reduce the art to a common exercise or dance. All this has form but no substance.The body is like a perfect machine where one faulty part will affect the operation of the machine. Also important is be honesty and righteousness or a good moral character. The founder of Taiji has said, “Achieving Dao is important, acquiring skill in the art is secondary; not learning my Dao, he is not my student.”
3. There are different forms of Taiji? Are the principles different?The founder created the art but over the years the forms of Taiji have diverged. There are long and short sets – some have 24 basic movements others have 37, 64, 72, 108 or even 124. Some are large and expansive, some small and compact. Some emphasised high postures, others opt for low ones. Some practise slowly, others faster. All this divergence is written by men. What is important is the principles remain the same. Different masters with different temperaments followed the basic principles through the ages. They engaged in continuous research and training. They reviewed and improved the art until the ultimate objective was achieved where form becomes formless, limbs lose importance, brute force disappears and stiffness gives way to full relaxation. Character fomation advances to the stage of non-self and non-resistance appears so that the whole body is like a hand and hands are no longer hands. Youthfulness and longevity are attained. To master correct forms, Qi and the principles of the art are internally harmonised. Harmonisation is also to be achieved between upper, middle and lower, and between left and right parts of the body. Even though difficult, it is relatively easy to master correct forms compared to acquiring true skill in the art. In practising there are a number of normally undetectable parts of the body that are difficult to keep under control from the aspects of speed, timing, rhythm and balance. Because of this, true skill in the art is difficult to acquire. But then as the founder says, "Understanding one portion of the art would mean being enlightened on all portions." Then all schools and sects become one.
4. Is it better to practise Taiji more frequently or less frequently?There are no extremes in Taiji. The essence is in the training method. If the method is not correct, it is no different from ordinary drills with a lot of time spent but little achievement. So what matters is not frequency but correctness of practice. That is, central equilibrium must be vertically maintained. Every movement must be disciplined such that the posture is vertically balanced. The principles remain unchanged: there is straightness in curves and vice versa. There must be constant learning and practice, understanding the principles and the less obvious points. Mastery of this will produce skill naturally. Then there is no question of practising too much or too little but rather of practising correctly.
5. Is it correct to practise the art fast or to practise it slow?The earth rotates at a constant specific rate. Similarly Taiji should not be practised too slowly or too fast – practise comfortably. Move the body naturally otherwise there will be weaknesses. If practice is too fast, it will result in uneven respiration, breathlessness and irregular heart beat. If practice is too slow, the limbs and joints become stiff and Qi stagnates – mind (Yi) is employed but the Qi is not flowing. Syncronise internal force (Jin) and Qi. Internally, there is harmony of the energy, Qi and spirit (Jing, Qi, Shen) while externally the mind (Yi) and body are harmonised. Then syncronise these internal and external harmonies. Relax the muscles so that all parts of the body are naturally without tension. It is not possible to say practising fast or slow is correct as this needs to be based on the student's level of achievement. Practise until the whole body is relaxed and comfortably balanced. Once there is internal and external synchronisation, then the question of slow and fast in practice is unimportant. At this stage, one perceives the upper portion of the body is like the drifting of clouds and the lower portion is like the flowing of water. Consciousness (Yi) is continuous and harmonised with movement. All parts of the body are natural and unified. Then all question of fast or slow dissapears.
6. Is it correct to have either high or low postures in the set movements of Taiji?The art of Taiji does not distinguish high and low postures, but is rather based on the idea of four balances: 1 balance in the magnitude of the posture such that both sides of the body have equal spatial displacement; 2 precise timing simultaneously between all parts of the body; 3 bodily balance when moving or turning; 4 steadiness particularly when moving. External and internal harmony must be cultivated where there is no slanting of the body's central axis. When hind force is invoked, the hind knee straightens slightly though the height of the body remains unchanged so that intention (Yi) and Qi close centrally instead of lifting the body. Intention (Yi) is used to lead the muscles in relaxing. Joints, muscles and ligaments are loosened, relaxed and thrown open but still linked. The body is erect and comfortable. The mind (Yi) is also used to ‘move’ Taiji principles to parts of the body. Having achieved four balances and eight steadinesses, the question of high and low postures is then answered individually.
7. How can substantiality and insubstantiality be distinguished between left and right or top and bottom in the body?Muscles, skeleton and nerves are all parts of the body system to be managed. When practising, the use of consciousness (Yi) to relax and sink the body is most important. The centre of gravity is moved while preserving the central verticle axis. Focus on steadiness, tranquility, relaxation and rootedness. Internal movements propel external movements in an uninterrupted fashion. Internal force is generated with turning movements. After a long time the whole body is in balance. When left and right are distinguished, one is substantial (Yang) and the other insubstantial (Yin) along the pattern of ‘cross alignment’. Further, together with the distinction between top and bottom, when the left upper part of the body is substantial, the left lower part is insubstantial and when the right upper part of the body is substantial, the right lower part is insubstantial. This cross alignment pattern is used in shifts of the centre of gravity from one leg to the other. It is similar to the ‘cross-roads’ of the nervous system. When moving Qi, therefore, separate substantial from insubstantial – step without moving the body or move the body but not the hand. If in stepping, the body also moves, then it is not separating substantial from insubstantial. If in moving the body, the hand also moves, then the shoulder is not relaxed. It is important to use mind (Yi) to propel movement. The top and bottom, left and right portions of the body must be coordinated. A round grinding stone may move but the centre is not moving. All parts of the body become one system characterised by lightness and agility, roundness and smoothness, even respiration, alternate opening and closing, like the sea where movement of one part causes all parts to move. Then movements, guided by the mind, become like the smooth movements of the waves in the sea.
8. How could the movements be practised so that they can be usefully applied?Take the five loosening exercises as an illustration. These are based on Taiji principles. Practice requires full concentration as any distraction will nullify the effects. Bear in mind three points of non-mobility: the head which follows the body, the hands which must not move of their own volition and the soles of the feet which must be still and rooted to the ground. Mind (Yi) leads the Qi. Steps are made without affecting the body. Turning movements start from the waist and hips with hands following in accordance with the principle that all movements originate from the waist. Principles must be understood and no movements are separated from the principles. Once you make it internally you are also ‘through’ externally. Once fully relaxed you can change according to circumstances and therefore neutralise an oncoming force. You reach that position of non-self where the whole body becomes a weapon and the hands are no longer hands. If you are not able to usefully apply your movements then you have not understood the basics of the five relaxing exercises. If you have not mastered the essentials, then there is no point of talking about applications.
9. What is the rationale for relaxing the abdomen and withdrawing the coccyx (tailbone)?Qi is stored in the Dan Tien as a result of using mind (Yi) to sink the Qi. From here Qi circulates to the whole body. If Qi just remains in the Dan Tien, then the abdomen will have the sensation of being congested. Only when Qi circulates throughout the body will the abdomen be relaxed and pliable, after a time acquiring some springy effect. Qi can be occluded or absorbed into the backbone. The Song of the Thirteen Postures says, “If the abdomen is thoroughly relaxed, then the Qi will rise.” So do not just store the Qi in the abdomen. Withdrawing the coccyx means there is no protrusion of the buttocks while also ensuring the hip joints are not 'sliding forward'. This and relaxing the abdomen are done simultaneously. Otherwise there is no rootedness while the waist is immobile resulting in vertical imbalance. Lacking uprightness of the central axis you cannot achieve central equilibrium. A test can be made as follows: use one thumb to press the abdomen and release the thumb suddenly. There should be a bouncing or springy effect. At the same time, the muscles of the buttocks should remain very soft.
10. What is true spirit of Taiji?Good and famous masters of Taiji teach the same stuff but students learn differently because they differ in natural endowment and physical make-up. The real acquisition of the art is not in just mastering forms but in mastering the principles and philosophy. Learners must be people of reason who having learnt, practised and understood the art, then successfully apply those principles and philosophy to daily life. Learners will not take selfish advantage of others. learners are wholeheartedly immersed in Taiji, sharing the founder's spirit of striving for mankind to be physically, mentally and spiritually healthy. This is the true Taiji spirit.
11. How many times must we practice the Taiji Form each day?The important principle is moderation. Practising technique must be correct in the first place. Some say you must practise the whole set of movements ten times a day with one set lasting 25 minutes. This only focuses on quantity and wastes energy (Qi). It is contrary to the principles of Taiji succeeding only in making you sweat and lose weight. It is not beneficial to the development of internal force (NeiJin) or the health of the internal organs. Grandmaster Cheng Man Ching said, “Practise the mobilisation of the internal force and Qi using the 37 basic movements every day. One set of movements lasts only 7 minutes.” Utilising my experience and following my practising technique, students are encouraged to practise the Taiji Form morning and evening, using about 5 minutes to repeat over and over a particular movement or posture (dividing it into parts). Those students who do so are likely to succeed.
12. Some students have been learning Taiji for several years and are yet unstable. Why is this so?Students have mistakes in their learning and practising technique. Start with understanding the philosophy of Dao, then the principles, then the correct method and finally put in the effort to practice. Understand the relationship of man to the universe and use the method of Qi to practice. Be humble and persistent in practicing. Slowly, rootedness will result and the method of practising be understood. Understand the principles and be alert to the less obvious aspects while slowly acquiring skill. Central equilibrium and internal force can never be observed externally. They can only be accomplished through correct method. In practising to develop internal force, the joints of the body must be loosened yet linked. The whole body is relaxed and is not easily found by an opponent. Substantiality is distinguished from insubstantiality. Aim to be pliable like a snake whose tail will come to help if the head is attacked, or whose tail and head will assist when the centre is attacked. Be responsive to intention (Yi), then tranquility and pliability can be achieved. It is easier to lift a 200 pound iron rod than to lift a 100 pound iron chain. This illustrates the principle of fully relaxed joints. Understand the application of yin and yang in the movements and push hands. Yin and yang principles are in Taiji which encompasses the universe: all movements whether divided according to upper and lower, right and left, front and back, internal and external fall under this principle. Moving and stillness alternate continuously: Yin does not depart from Yang and vice versa. When Yang moves, Yin also moves and vice versa. This principle must be understood when practising the Taiji Form. The body and the character are trained together as are the Dao and the Art. Dao is yin while the art or skill is yang. Yang evolves from yin at yin's completion. Relaxation, stillness and stability are yin components. Neutralisation of force forms the basic foundation where no strength is used. Stillness is like a mountain. No change is seen but it is capable of a lot of changes. The founder has said, “Dao is the basis, art is the consequence”. Therefore acquire Dao by learning not to resist, for only then will the body learn to be obedient. In attacking and defending, understand the method, then acquire insubstantiality and quietude. Only then will the defense be solid. Attacking will also be successful as one is naturally comfortable. In pushing hands, learn to achieve non-resistance and stickiness. Having achieved stickiness, then one can achieve the ability to neutralise force. With adequate reserves, the neutralising ability is applied with an involuntary exertion of internal force.In the present day, science is very advanced affecting all aspects of daily life. This gives rise to stress and competition in business affecting the spirit. This is why Taiji an ancient art, is a popular practice. It has no secrets. It is equitable to all discriminating against none. But students commit errors in practising the art so should bear in mind the following:1. Respect the teacher and accept the philosophy of the art;
2. Be honest and do not take unfair advantage;
3. Be conscientious and serious, think, observe and feel during practice;
4. Progress step by step;
5. Be humble and practice constantly;
6. Follow all the principles mentioned earlier when practising by themselves.
13. How should a student relate to his teacher?In olden times, martial artists valued morality, respected their teachers and followed Dao. However, this is now changing. Humanity, justice and morality are gradually dying. Some students aim to soar high in the sky though their feathers are not yet fully grown, pursuing their own fame and fortune while forgetting their teacher's teaching. Some even act against their own conscience, cheat their teacher, destroy traditions and feel no gratitude for the origins of what they learn. Even animals feel gratitude for food received – how can a human not understand it? How could those looking for power, without true principles, feel justified and content? Dishonesty may give short term gains but fails in the end. It is every teacher's responsibility to train students, kindly and honestly, to revive and defend the sacred transmission from masters to disciples. My teaching is now being recorded on video to ensure its continuation in support of true Taiji and Dao. I have been practicing martial arts and Taiji over 60 years and now will retire.