This Quote is taken from Mr. Jiang Jiajun’s original work “Dialogues with Tai Chi Masters” – Original Records of Master Hong Junsheng’s Oral and Demonstrative Teachings.
[April 13, 1986] Today is Master Hong’s birthday, but I couldn’t make it. I brought a small gift and came to visit Master Hong. It was drizzling when I arrived at Master Hong’s house early in the morning, and he was practicing his skills. Upon seeing me, he finished his practice, sat down for a moment, and then invited me to have breakfast together. Master Hong’s wife was busy attending to us and seemed very pleased. After the meal, he took out a pack of premium tea leaves and brewed a strong pot of tea. Then he got busy with other matters. During our tea conversation, Master Hong asked, “Do you know why your master didn’t teach weapons and only transmitted fist forms, pushing hands, and free sparring?” I replied, “Fist forms are the origin of all weapons. If one doesn’t master fist forms, learning weapons would be like blindly imitating, unable to grasp their essence. So, whether one learns or not, it doesn’t make much difference.” After hearing my response, Master Hong pondered for a moment and continued, “Your master had the same reason for not teaching weapons. To determine whether one’s fist forms are good or not, there is a measure, and that measure is the ‘degree’ of Tai Chi Chuan. Some people practice their entire lives and still fail to capture its essence. When examined, their forms do not meet the required degree.”
Regarding the measure of Tai Chi Chuan, which Master Hong referred to as the “degree,” it was the first time I heard him mention it. So, I asked him, “May I ask, teacher, what is the ‘degree’ that measures Chen-style Tai Chi Chuan?” Master Hong replied, “After years of research and practice in Tai Chi Chuan, I summarize it as the ‘Five Degrees’:
- Height: The posture in practicing Tai Chi Chuan can be high or low. A high posture involves less movement and is suitable for beginners or those who are weak or have health issues. A low posture involves more movement and is suitable for physically strong and young practitioners. However, the height of the posture should not be forced but vary according to the individual. However, within a set of forms, the height of the posture should remain consistent. Maintaining a stable height means maintaining a stable amount of movement, which ensures the stable circulation of qi and blood within the body. During practice with a low posture, maintaining a stable and consistent posture is crucial for achieving progress and long-term development.
- Speed: In Chen-style Tai Chi Chuan, the speed should start slow for beginners, gradually become faster as one progresses, and then slow down again. It can be divided into three stages. The first routine emphasizes being relaxed, slow, round, balanced, and stable. The second routine (Pao Chui) should be slow during initial learning and slightly faster afterward, with a mixture of speeds. Chen-style Tai Chi Chuan requires speed, and generally, the first routine should take 6 to 8 minutes, and the second routine should take 3 to 4 minutes. The overall principle is that “slow” should not be “stagnant,” and “fast” should not be “disordered.”
- Angle: Angle refers to direction. In Tai Chi Chuan, hand movements have “eight directions,” and foot movements have “five steps.” Combining the eight hand directions and five foot movements results in thirteen positions, also known as the “Thirteen Postures.” When practicing Chen-style Tai Chi Chuan, the initial direction of movements is generally oriented towards the north. Specific movements can vary randomly. However, once the starting direction is determined, the directions for each posture are also determined accordingly. Practitioners must adhere to the prescribed directions for each posture and avoid arbitrary deviations. The concept of direction in Tai Chi Chuan includes the relative position of the feet, the direction of the feet, the direction of the upper body, the direction faced by the face, the movement’s trajectory, the direction of gaze, the relative position of the hands, the direction of the fingers and palms, and so on. When practicing Tai Chi Chuan, hooking, swinging, turning the waist, stepping, landing, and extending the hands should all conform to the appropriate degree. In general, when shifting body position without turning, the maximum angle should not exceed 45 degrees. If it exceeds 45 degrees, it requires coordinated swinging and hooking of the feet. Swinging and hooking are performed with the heel as the axis, the sole of the foot rotating while maintaining contact with the ground, and the toes not lifting, known as the “star and crescent footwork.”
- Amplitude: Chen-style Tai Chi Chuan has a wide and expansive frame, displaying grandeur, an upright stance, and supporting in all directions. When beginners learn this form, they should initially focus on developing the posture, loosening tendons and bones, and promoting circulation of qi and blood. Then they should study how to compact the movements, achieving the required “no excess, no insufficiency” in accordance with the principles of Tai Chi Chuan. The extension of the arms should not be excessive, and the leg movement in the bow stance should not be stiff. “Strength should be curved yet sufficient,” meaning the arms should not be completely straight but still possess strength. Both the arms and legs should not be completely straightened, nor should the hands and feet be contracted, or the waist hunched. Otherwise, what should be “spirited like a cat pouncing on a mouse” will instead resemble a mouse fearing a cat. Especially for young practitioners, it is beneficial to have an expansive extension of the arms and legs, but excessive emphasis on keeping the chest contained should be avoided. A one-sided understanding of tucking in the chest and straightening the back can lead to hunching the waist.
- Softness: Tai Chi Chuan excels in being relaxed and soft, requiring all parts of the body to be relaxed, flexible, and extended. All joints of the body should naturally loosen, achieving the so-called “lightness and agility of the whole body.” “Relaxation” is a long-term practice method pursued in Tai Chi Chuan, and “roundness” is the embodiment of “relaxation.” Only by achieving “relaxation and roundness” can one truly attain the required softness of Tai Chi Chuan.