Taijiquan Training Requirements
Taijiquan requirements are written in a Chinese poetic rhythm where five letters phrases are used and it is my intention to get this in it's original phrases to be memorized so that during practice the practitioner can remember the requirements.
The Chen style Taijiquan training requirements are as below:
虚领顶劲 (xū lǐng dǐng jìn)
立身中正 (lìshēn zhōngzhèng)
松肩沉肘 (sōng jiān chén zhǒu)
含胸塌腰 (hán xiōng tā yāo)
心气下降 (xīn qì xià jiàng)
呼吸自然 (hū xī zì rán)
松胯屈膝 (sōng kuà qū xī)
裆劲开圆 (dāng jìn kāi yuán)
虚实分明 (xū shí fēn míng)
上下相随 (shàng xià xiāng suí)
刚柔相济 (gāng róu xiāng jì)
快慢相间 (kuài màn xiāng jiàn)
外形走弧线 (wài xíng zǒu hú xiàn)
内劲走螺旋 (nèi jìn zǒu luó xuán)
以身领手(yǐ shēn lǐng shǒu)
以腰为轴 (yǐ yāo wèi zhóu)
Meaning of 虚领顶劲 (xū lǐng dǐng jìn):
虚领顶劲 (xū lǐng dǐng jìn) is the most important and elusive of all the taijiquan requirements. There are many different interpretations on this requirement, some to the extend to stick up the head awkwardly like a tortoise that blocks chi flow. 虚领顶劲 (xū lǐng dǐng jìn) actually means to keep the head upright, chin slightly tuck in and the mind calm. In Chen Xin's book, he explained it as an imaginary string pulling upward the Bai Hui (DU20) acupuncture point. When the head is as if suspended or raised upward, the resulting position of the head enable it to turn freely and aids the balance of the body.
Keeping the head upright may sounds simple but in actual practice, beginner will usually sway the head either to the left and right or up and down.
Meaning of 立身中正 (lìshēn zhōngzhèng):
立身中正 (lìshēn zhōngzhèng) means keeping the body upright. If the body is not held upright then there will be excessive muscular activites leading to stiffness. Again, keeping the body upright sounds really simple but in actual practice, most people simply do not know how to stand up straight or can't stand straight. Most of the time we either tilt to one side or lean backwards. This creates stiffness around the spine and across the body and hip.
Meaning of 松肩沉肘 (sōng jiān chén zhǒu):
松肩沉肘 (sōng jiān chén zhǒu) means drop your shoulders and sink the elbow. 松 ( sōng ) means relax and relax in taijiquan context is to loosen the muscle strain to prevent stiffness. The prevention of shoulder stiffness allow chi to flow freely from the chest to the shoulder, elbow and then to the hand.
Meaning of 含胸塌腰 (hán xiōng tā yāo):
含胸塌腰 (hán xiōng tā yāo) means keeping the chest slightly curve inwards and waist slightly pressed forward. Simple enough, yet a lot of time this is misunderstood by hunching the back.
Meaning of 心气下降 (xīn qì xià jiàng):
心气下降 (xīn qì xià jiàng) means sink the qi to the dantian and lower parts of the body. It is the same as 气沉丹田 (qì chén dān tián). The purpose of 松肩沉肘 (sōng jiān chén zhǒu), 含胸塌腰 (hán xiōng tā yāo) and 心气下降 (xīn qì xià jiàng) is basically to relax the upper body portion and keep the upper body in balance for front, back, left and right.
Meaning of 呼吸自然 (hū xī zì rán):
呼吸自然 (hū xī zì rán) means breath naturally.
Meaning of 松胯屈膝 (sōng kuà qū xī):
松胯屈膝 (sōng kuà qū xī) means to relax the hip and keep the knees bent. Slightly bend your knees, and slightly tuck the lower pelvis forward, as if about to sit down. This will relax the the hip or “kua”.
Meaning of 裆劲开圆 (dāng jìn kāi yuán):
裆劲开圆 (dāng jìn kāi yuán) means keeping inner side of the thighs and the genital area in an arch shape like a bridge.
Meaning of 虚实分明 (xū shí fēn míng):
虚实分明 (xū shí fēn míng) means to keep the mind pure and clear. Look forward and the ear concentrate to listen at the back.
Meaning of 上下相随 (shàng xià xiāng suí):
上下相随 (shàng xià xiāng suí) is to keep the upper and lower part of the body movement synchronized.
Meaning of 刚柔相济 (gāng róu xiāng jì)
刚柔相济 (gāng róu xiāng jì) means to adjust hardness and softness accordingly.
Meaning of 快慢相间 (kuài màn xiāng jiàn):
快慢相间 (kuài màn xiāng jiàn) means to practice fast and slow pace intermittently.
Meaning of 外形走弧线 (wài xíng zǒu hú xiàn) and 内劲走螺旋 (nèi jìn zǒu luó xuán):
This two phrase have to be used together. 外形走弧线 (wài xíng zǒu hú xiàn) means the outer part of body moves in arch shape while 内劲走螺旋 (nèi jìn zǒu luó xuán) means the internal force churn in spiral form. Basically this is what taijiquan is all about. It is qi moving in the Fibonacci spiral form.
Meaning of 以身领手(yǐ shēn lǐng shǒu):
以身领手(yǐ shēn lǐng shǒu) means that the body leads the hand. In another words, the dantian leads all movements.
Meaning of 以腰为轴 (yǐ yāo wèi zhóu):
以腰为轴 (yǐ yāo wèi zhóu) is to take the waist as the main movement axis.
Dantian Rotation ( 丹田)
Dantian ( 丹田) or more accurately the Lower dantian (下丹田, Xia Dantian) is an acupoint located about three fingers width below the navel and two fingers width behind the navel.
The lower dantian is the most important acupoint in Taijiquan as it is:
The center to store chi (气 ) or internal energy
The center that radiate chi (气 ) or internal energy to the whole body
The center of balance and gravity
The point where jin (劲).force originate
In Chen Style Taijiquan, the most important principle to grasp is to train the whole body to support the dantian and for the dantian to support each and every parts of the body in return. When the dantian rotate the chi will flow from joints to joints and the body moves accordingly.
Dantian basically can be imagined as a tiny ball and it can orbit or rotate in two rotational axis. One axis is the up, forward, down and backward rotation. The other orbital axis is the up, left, down and right rotation.
Microcosmic Orbit (小周天)
The meridian or jing luo (经络) is a path through which the life-energy known as chi (气) is believed to flow. There are generally 72 channels of therapeutic importance. The most important and essential ones for the circulation of Chi, and for most therapeutic applications are the twelve Primary Meridians and eight Extraordinary Meridians.
The Eight Extraordinary Meridians represent the body’s deepest level of energetic structuring and are carriers of Yuan Chi (元气). Yuan Chi or original energy in direct translation from Chinese, is the ancestral energy (prenatal energy) which corresponds to genetic inheritance. They function as deep reservoirs from which the twelve main meridians can be replenished or drain their excesses.
The specific meridians belonging to the “ Eight Extraordinary Meridians” are:
Du Mai ( 督脉, Governing Vessel)
Ren Mai (任脉, Conception Vessel)
Chong Mai ( 冲脉, Penetrating Vessel)
Dai Mai (帶脉, Belt Channel)
Yang Chiao Mai ( 阳跷脉, Yang Motility Channel)
Yin Chaio Mai ( 阴跷脉, Yin Motility Channel)
Yang Wei Mai (阳维脉, Yang Regulating Channel)
Yin Wei Mai ( 阴维脉 , Yin Regulating Channel)
The Du Mai, Ren Mai, Chong Mai and Dai Mai are the most important of the Eight Extraordinary Meridians. The functions of the Du Mai meridian are to regulate the circulation of blood and chi in the Yang meridians. The function of the Ren Mai meridian are to regulate the circulation of blood and chi in the Yin meridians. The Chong Mai flows vertically deep within the body and is most closely associated with Yuan Chi. The Dai Mai circles the waist, and is the only horizontally flowing meridian that acts as a belt to contain the other vertically flowing meridians.
Breathing (呼吸) in Taijiquan
Breathing in taijiquan is an important portion of the taijiquan practice. If you are a beginner, then you will only need to know that you have to breath naturally during your practice. As a general rule, when the hand or body moves backward or inward we inhale (breath in). When the hand or body moves forward or outward we exhale (breath out). When the we punch or attempt to fa jin (发劲) we blow out.
Further down in practice, the taijiquan practitioner will need to learn the reverse abdominal breathing. In reverse abdominal breathing, we divide our abdomen into two parts, using our navel as a divider. Our abdomen from our navel up is the upper abdomen, and the part below the navel is the lower abdomen or dantian (丹田). When we inhale, air goes into our lungs and upper abdomen, and at the same time the qi (气) from lower abdomen travels up the Du Mai ( 督脉, Governing Vessel) from the back of our body. Therefore, our chest and upper abdomen expand while our lower abdomen contracts when we inhale. When we exhale, the air goes out of our lungs, and at the same time qi (气) in the mouth travels down the Ren Mai (任脉, Conception Vessel) to the lower abdomen. Therefore our chest and upper abdomen contracts while our lower abdomen expands when we exhale. This is also covered in the microcosmic orbit explanation.
13 Postures (十三式)
Shi San Shi (十三式) or Thirteen Postures does not mean thirteen different postures or movements steps but actually means thirteen basic skills. The 13 postures are also known as Bafa Wubu (八法五步) and Bamen Wubu (八门五步).
The hand skills of Taijiquan follow the principle of Bagua trigram. Bafa (八法) or Eight Method are eight hand skill methods of Jin force. All hand skills and techniques are generated from the Eight Method.
Eight Methods Trigram Name Direction Attribute Key Acupoint Map to Five Element
Peng, 掤 Kuan North Water Mingmen Water
Lu, 履 Li South Fire Xuanguan Fire
Ji, 挤 Zhen East Thunder Jiaji Wood
An, 按 Dui West Marsh Tanzhong Metal
Cai, 采 Qian Northwest Sky Xinggong Metal
Lieh, 列 Kun Southwest Earth Dantian Earth
Zhou, 肘 Gen Northeast Mountain Jianjing Earth
Kou, 靠 Xun Southeast Wind Yuzhen Wood
The footwork of Taijiquan follows the philosophical concept of Wuxing (五行) or Five Elements. Wubu (五步) or Five Footwork are the five footwork skills. It is more about Shenfa or body movement skills because footwork and body movement have a very tight relationship.
Five Footwork Attribute Direction Element Acupoint
Jinbu, 进步 Step forward North Water Huiyin
Tuibu, 退步 Step backward South Fire Zuqiao
Zuogu, 右盼 Sideway step forward East Wood Jiaji
Youpan, 左顾 Sideway step backward West Metal Tanzhong
Zhongding, 中定 Central equilibrium Center Earth Dantian