To practice Taijiquan we must first understand what Taiji is, because Taijiquan was created according to the philosophies and principles of Taiji. Knowing the martial skill (quan) yet being ignorant about its meaning, one will end up with only an empty shell and find it very difficult to reach a high level. For the longest time, people have found the principles of Taiji to be mysterious. Just about all Chinese recognize the Taiji symbol, but merely a small fraction actually understand its underlying meaning. Wang Zhongyue used only a dozen or so Chinese characters to describe Taiji. He stated, “Taiji, it comes from Wuji. It is the impulse behind movement and quietude, and is the mother of yin-yang. In movement it divides and in stillness it conjoins.” During Wang’s time period, every literate person would have been exposed to Taiji and yin-yang theories. It is almost like talking about MP3 and Karaoke nowadays; there is no need for further wordy explanation. However, for modern people, these dozen or so characters are indeed difficult and profound. Here, I will discuss Taiji using current terms and hope that readers will understand the connection between Taiji and “quan.”
No one has ever witnessed the realm of “Wuji.” It is something that was inferred/deduced by our ancestors. Recently, the theory of chaotic has appeared in western philosophy which attempts to explore this phenomenon. According to my understanding, “Wuji” is the state which existed at the very beginning of the creation of the universe when all matter was still at a highly condensed gaseous state. It is similar to vapor produced when a puddle of water is evaporated by the sun’s ray. If one puts a glass jar over it, one can see the steam roiling inside the jar. This is movement in three dimensions, which contains the counter motions of high/low, left/right, and vertical/horizontal. Wuji is like the combination of the glass jar and water; it contains all the necessary elements for movement, so it is the “mother of taiji.” The Taiji state is the condition generated inside the glass jar. With the heat from the sun being the chance presence, a three-dimensional movement of energy is produced. Taiji therefore provides the driving force or impulse for movement and stillness. In the presence of external interference, e.g., the sun’s heat, movements will take place inside taiji’s internal environment. This churning motion is three-dimensional in nature and contains the action of raising, sinking, moving left, and moving right. These movements are the cause and effect of each other - they oppose each other yet they are connected. This is the so-called “yin-yang,” and is also its property. This condition cannot be fully described in common terms. Words such as point, line, plane, three-dimension, eight-gate jin, are all hardly adequate. The best way to fully comprehend this is to witness the natural phenomenon first hand. Since this is related to “Nature,” it must therefore be natural. This is the “Dao.”
Taiji is divided into two poles (nianyi), which is to say that it consists of the two opposites of yin and yang. In the context of the taiji symbol, nianyi is referred to as the “yin-yang fish” because there is a white dot within the black yin pole, and a black dot within the white yang pole, much like the eye of a fish. In fact, the real meaning is that there is yang within yin and vice versa, and the two cannot be separated. Within the circle of the taiji symbol, yin can expand to occupy 99% of the area but can never completely displace yang outside. When yin cannot advance any more, its energy is spent, and then it is the beginning from which yang expands. So in the philosophy of yin-yang, there is the idea of yang arising from the extreme of yin, and yin arising from the extreme of yang. In nature, the transition from night to dawn is a good example. Since yin and yang are different, there must be a boundary between the two; it is called the “center.” This center can change according the relative magnitude of yin and yang. So, taiji is constructed from yin, yang, and the center. We call this “three elements within one (han san wei yi).”
To practace taijiquan, one starts by dividing one’s body into yin and yang. The initial differentiation is that head is yang and legs are yin, chest is yin, back is yang, left is yang, and right is yin. When two hands form a circle, the outside is yang and the inside is yin. During practice, left/right, up/down, forward/backward must be countered and follow each other. For example, when the left side contracts, the right side then expands; when the chest withdraws, then the back expands – which is exactly what happens with the movements of steam inside the glass jar. Body requirements in taijiquan, such as gently lift the upward energy (xū lǐng dǐng jìn) and sink the qi to dantain (qì chén dān tián), hollow the chest and round the back (hán xiōng bá bè), and relax the kua and spread out the knees, are all established because of this principle. This is the application of the most basic taiji principles to taijiquan. The next step is to further divide the different body parts into yin and yang, the finer the better, until yin-yang exists everywhere in the entire body. This is kung fu skill at the consummate level.
Translated by Dominic Chan