Health and Self-Defense; Ch’i and Mind

This week I will like to share again from the book T’ai Chi Ch’uan For Health and Self-Defense; Philosophy and Practice, by Master T.T. Liang.

One of the themes of the content I have read this week is that promoting ch’i flow is a main purpose of practicing T’ai Chi. Here is how Master Liang opens the chapter entitled “Discussion of the Mind-Intent and the Ch’i”:

“The mind and ch’i in man’s body are formless, colorless, and invisible. We must realize that the ch’i occupies a most important place in the body because it gives blood impetus to circulate freely and nourishes the blood in order to replenish and strengthen the body. The ch’i is developed by cherishing and nurturing the fire of the kidneys (ming men huo) and the reproductive secretions. The Taoists called this “water and fire in coordination” or the “internal elixer (of immortality).” It is preserved in the tan t’ien, a point 1 1/3 inches below the navel. the Taoists treasured it most dearly. Ordinary people think that the blood is the most precious substance in the body, but in reality the ch’i is of greater value than the blood because the ch’i is the master and the blood is the assistant. The ch’i protects the blood and the blood nourishes the body. Man’s whole life depends on this protection and nourishment. If there is only nourishment without protection there will be no circulation of the blood; if there is only protection without nourishment there will be no harmony. In other words, protection is of the utmost importance and nourishment is secondary. A person can live for a time with insufficient blood, but withinsufficient ch’i one is in imminent danger of death. So the cultivation of the ch’i is of prime importance.

The special feature of T’ai Chi Ch’uan is that in addition to nurturing the body, it emphasizes especially cultivation of the ch’i. As the saying goes, “externally strengthen your muscles, bones, and skin. Internally develop and fill up your ch’i.” Anyone who practices T’ai Chi Ch’uan will find that after doing the postures Pushing Hands or Ta Lu, the breathing is still natural, the countenance has not changed, and the ch’i within is circulating freely through the entire body, so that one feels much more comfortable than before practicing.”

During our Hagsaeng Naebu trip to Cincinnati 2 weeks ago, in addition to experiencing training in the use of the short stick; a regular Taekwondo class taught by Master Pearson; and spending time with many fellow martial artists, I was also priviledged to learn my first few T’ai Chi postures from Master Pearson. After I have been reading so much about the reasoning behind the development of T’ai Chi postures, it is exciting to finally be able to experience first hand the lessons of performing T’ai Chi. As I continue to read about T’ai Chi I find I can resonate better with the meanings behind to words (though of course I am still very much a beginner). One day last week I kept trying to crack a certain spot in my spine and failing frustratingly. After I practiced the T’ai Chi I learned that evening, right away I cracked that spot successfully. I was amazed that even only the 4 or 5 postures I had learned and performed as well as I could as a beginner, had such an effect to correct my body alignment in a way that facilitated the ability for me to crack the spot that needed cracking. Awesome!

It has seemed funny to me to be reading so much about T’ai Chi Ch’uan without having learned to perform any of it myself. This week as I started the chapter entitled “Slowness and Non-exertion of Muscular Force” I read the following passage:

“The movement of T’ai Chi Ch’uan should be slow, and external muscular force should not be used. Many students harbor doubts about this principle- they think T’ai Chi can be good for health but cannot be put to practical use. The method of practice in T’ai Chi is to study the principles first; when the principles have been thoroughly understood one learns specific techniques; when the techniques have been thoroughly mastered, then they can be applied in practical use.”

Perhaps I am not going about things too much in the wrong order. I am very glad to be learning to really perform T’ai Chi now as well; it is very different to learn to do the things that I have read about. For example, when I was learning one of the first postures, I was leaning forward. If I had thought about it, I knew that I should not be leaning; of course it is very different to actually perform a move than to think about it.

Ward Off- Image via

Another interesting chapter I recently completed in Master Liang’s book is entitled “Secrets (the Secret Technique) of the Eight Postures.” Here are the first four Secrets:

1. What is the meaning of “Ward Off” energy?

It is like the water supporting a moving boat. First one must sink ch’i to the tan t’ien (fill the tan t’ien up with ch’i), then one must hold the head as if suspended from above. The entire body is full of springlike energy, opening and closing in a very quick moment. Even if there is an opposing force of one thousand pounds, one can uproot the opponent and make him float without difficulty.

2. What is the meaning of “Roll Back” energy?

Entice the opponent, make him come forward, go along with his incoming energy lightly and nimbly without letting go and with no resistance. When his force is used to the extreme degree, it will naturally become empty. One can now let (the opponent) go or counter at will. Maintain your own equilibrium and you will not be able to be taken advantage of by others.

3. What is the meaning of “Press” energy?

In functional use there are two aspects:

(a) The direct way is a simple concept… Going to meet the opponent and closing (attaching gently) are one action.

(b) The indirect way is the reaction force… like the rebound of a ball hitting a wall or of a coin thrown on a drumhead, bouncing off with a ringing sound.

4. What is the meaning of “Push” energy?

When mobilizing energy it is like flowing water. The substantial is concealed in the insubstantial. The power of the turbulent flow is difficult to resist. Coming to a high place, it swells and fills the place up; meeting a hollow it dives downward. There are troughs and crests on the waves. There is no opening into which it does not enter.

As Cascadilla Creek after heavy rains- Image via

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