the Ultimate goal for high level Tai chi practice

In advanced stages of practicing Tai Chi, the focus is on cultivating the vital energy within the Dantian. To practice Tai Chi, one must understand its principles thoroughly and apply the correct methods to truly master the skills and be able to apply them in push hands. Tai Chi is not only a profound theoretical martial art but also applicable in actual combat; without this application, theory and practice are disconnected. However, in real life, many practice Tai Chi without integrating its philosophy and techniques, often resulting in purely theoretical discussions that are too abstract, or purely technical practices that are too concrete. This results in a failure to fully grasp and pass on the complete essence of Tai Chi.

The theory of Tai Chi is based on the concepts of Yin and Yang, which are central to Chinese traditional culture. Though often perceived as elusive, this is actually a misconception. Ancient Chinese observed the natural laws of the universe and summarized them into the concept of Tai Chi, which involves Yin and Yang. Movement generates Yang, stillness generates Yin; they support and generate each other and are in constant transformation. This principle is not as mystical as it sounds. The motion of Tai Chi, named after Yin and Yang, is an objective reality that ancient scholars explained through the Yin and Yang theory. Yin and Yang are elements that exist in everything, interdependent and mutually supportive. The Tai Chi symbol clearly illustrates this—Yin within Yang and Yang within Yin, constantly interdependent and transforming. The I Ching states: “From Tai Chi comes two forms, which produce the four phenomena.” These four phenomena are Tai Yin, Tai Yang, Shao Yin, and Shao Yang, representing the beginnings and extremes of Yin and Yang. From the Tai Chi symbol, we see that things reverse at their extremes, an idea fundamental to Taoist thought. Furthermore, the true wonder of the Tai Chi symbol lies not just in showing the interdependent relationship of Yin and Yang but in the presence of Yin within Yang and Yang within Yin. Modern difficulties in understanding the Tai Chi symbol are due to a disconnection from our traditional culture, which also explains why many today find it challenging to delve into the theories of Tai Chi Yin and Yang.

Ancients did not view humans as separate entities but from the perspective of unity with the universe, emphasizing the integration of form and spirit. The Taoist view is one of unity between humans and the universe, hence in cultivation, Taoism stresses the dual cultivation of life force and spirit. Tai Chi, as a Taoist practice, focuses fundamentally on the cultivation of body and spirit, aimed at “extending life and eternal youth,” not merely for combat skill. Tai Chi involves the dual cultivation of life force and body-spirit, ultimately the dual cultivation of Yin and Yang, which is a holistic cultivation—allowing two natures, two functions, two elements to interact and support each other.

In the Tai Chi community, besides valuing the Tai Chi symbol, the Xuanji diagram is also esteemed, as detailed in Chen Xin’s “Illustrations of Tai Chi.” The Tai Chi symbol emphasizes the interdependent, symmetrical, and transformative relationships of Yin and Yang. The Xuanji diagram, known as the ancient Tai Chi symbol, features a central circle representing the original energy, spiraling outward. Ancient Qigong practitioners described it: “Its largeness has no outside; its smallness has no inside,” depicting the concept that all phenomena originate from this primal energy, which can be as vast as the universe or as minute as a point, embodying “Its largeness has no outside; its smallness has no inside.”

Specific to martial arts cultivation, especially in Tai Chi, there is a focus on cultivating the “central energy” within the body. This energy, philosophically called the original Qi, medically known as the true Qi, and in societal terms referred to as righteous Qi, is known in martial arts as internal Qi. This internal Qi originates from the central circle in the ancient Tai Chi diagram (Xuanji diagram). Cultivating Tai Chi is about cultivating this small circle, continually enriching and amplifying it to generate internal energy in the Dantian and produce Dantian strength. Once this Dantian Qi is established, it must be preserved and not dissipated, forming a Tai Chi body and making one a Tai Chi person, also known as being “full of central Qi and rich in original energy.” This internal Dantian energy, when applied externally, is called Dantian internal strength. The power of Tai Chi originates from within and is expressed outwardly. As Mr. Sun Lutang said, “It is all about utilizing that central point,” which originates from the small circle in the center of the Xuanji diagram. I believe Tai Chi is an external practice of Taoist internal alchemy, or dynamic cultivation. Having this speck of mixed original energy in the Dantian signifies true skill. Therefore, according to Taoist cultivation methods, one must first obtain the energy and then the “medicine.” Energy refers to what we commonly perceive

as Qi sensation. Medicine includes various forms, internal and external, representing a more refined state of Qi, its essence. Obtaining Qi, obtaining medicine, and then using the medicine to cultivate the internal elixir in the abdomen completes the process of obtaining the elixir, which is also obtaining the Dao. Thus, the entire cultivation process in Tai Chi involves obtaining Qi, then medicine, followed by the elixir, and finally achieving Dao and becoming immortal. This is the Taoist procedure for cultivating Tai Chi.

Our modern practice of Tai Chi, I believe, is very secularized, superficial, popularized, and entertainment-oriented, becoming a recreational cultural phenomenon. While beneficial for public fitness, we must not ignore the profound philosophical aspects of Tai Chi or deny its pursuit of cutting-edge life sciences. Thus, we should study Tai Chi from the perspective of advanced life sciences.

Based on the aforementioned principles of Tai Chi, practicing Tai Chi emphasizes “the whole body as one,” with no part not embodying Tai Chi. Initially, the body must differentiate the major aspects of Yin and Yang, which are also the solid and the void, as Yang Chengfu stated that the first principle of Tai Chi is “to distinguish between the solid and the void.” After distinguishing the major solid and void, every movement must incorporate this distinction, every movement must separate Yin and Yang, embodying hardness and softness, opening and closing, gathering and dispersing.

Tai Chi practice starts with the preparatory form, an undifferentiated state of mixed original energy, not yet separated into Yin and Yang. Then, with movement, Yin and Yang differentiate, as the boxing theory states, “With movement, there is separation; with stillness, there is union.” Additionally, Tai Chi requires Yin within Yang and Yang within Yin, like the eyes in the Yin-Yang fish of the Tai Chi symbol. Boxing theory states, “In every movement, there is stillness; in every stillness, there is movement.” If not steeped in Chinese traditional culture, these phrases are difficult to comprehend. Chinese philosophy unites two into one, and Tai Chi cultivation, like Chinese philosophy, is not about choosing one over the other but uniting two into one. The essence of Tai Chi is not merely about movement creating Yin and Yang but about “uniting the two into one.” Teacher Li Jingwu said, “Every part of practicing Tai Chi must differentiate Yin and Yang, even the smallest movements must have Yin and Yang. At advanced stages, there must be union within separation, and separation within union. That is, transformation is fighting, and fighting is transformation, to unite fighting and transforming.” For Tai Chi push hands, beginners first receive energy, then transform it, and finally release it. This is a necessary stage of practice. But at advanced stages, fighting and transforming must unite. Teacher Li Jingwu’s boxing skill naturally interacts with objects, achieving the state of grabbing, transforming, and fighting as one. Teacher Li said, “In practicing Tai Chi, transforming and fighting must become one, there cannot be two.” Additionally, in push hands, one must also integrate with the opponent, not only unifying one’s own energy but also merging it with the opponent’s. This way, the opponent is completely under one’s control, enabling one to “lead the many with advanced age” and “move a thousand pounds with four ounces.”

The Yin-Yang theory of Tai Chi is operable, and Tai Chi, from theory to practice, embodies the unity of knowledge and action. Any Tai Chi practitioner who teaches and experiences this can achieve it. Practicing Tai Chi to a certain level, there is a sensation within the body, and others can feel it when touching you. Teacher Li Jingwu often said, “There is nothing in the hands, nothing on the body, nothing in the Dantian.” He also said, “First, you must practice until there is something in the Dantian.” This is the method of cultivation. Taoist internal alchemy starts with active cultivation and progresses to a state of inaction. Some masters teach Tai Chi by presenting the results as the method. Others remain at a low level, unable to advance to higher stages, because they do not view Tai Chi as a practice of the Dao, always practicing physically. Wang Xiangzhai said, “It is incorrect to depart from this body, and it is incorrect to cling to this body.” This is the true saying of Taoist kung fu cultivation. Our practice of Tai Chi is the same. Seeking solely within oneself cannot engage in actual combat with an opponent; seeking entirely outside oneself is also incorrect. In Tai Chi push hands, the opponent and oneself must become a pair of Yin and Yang, enabling one to “follow the bend to extend, using the opponent’s force against them.” If the opponent is soft, I am hard; if the opponent is hard, I am soft, neither resisting nor yielding. This type of non-resisting, non-yielding reception of incoming force is the skill Tai Chi aims

to cultivate. One must practice until every part of the body can receive, transform, and release energy, where the point of transformation is also the point of release. This skill is easy to talk about but hard to practice. Throughout history, few have reached this state. However, because of its profound and deep nature, Tai Chi attracts enthusiasts. The charm of Tai Chi lies in this.

Tai Chi masters, like Yang Luchan and Li Yishe, not only unify Yin and Yang within themselves but also achieve instant Yin-Yang unity with their opponents during combat, allowing them to strike freely, hitting wherever they wish. Tai Chi push hands is about neither losing nor overpowering; it is a practice of sticking, following, and not competing, but experiencing the energy, reaching the state of maximum agility and roundness. Push hands train your ability to be round, soft, and transforming.

In summary, Yin and Yang can be understood as hardness and softness, as well as movement and stillness, void and solid, offense and defense, opening and closing, transforming and striking… These are different perspectives and levels of describing Yin and Yang. Yin and Yang are relative and changeable. In studying Tai Chi Yin-Yang theory and Tai Chi principles, we should not get caught up in certain terms and then use logical reasoning to study how to practice. Ancients had a logic that directly addressed the core of issues. Yin and Yang are tangible, something we can feel and cultivate. We must first learn the principles of Tai Chi, then from these principles to the methods, through practicing Tai Chi techniques, experience the changes in the body, then further understand the principles of Tai Chi, grasp Yin and Yang, and continuously improve Tai Chi skills.

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