Translations of Ancient Tai Chi Classics Can Point You the Wrong Way

body mechanics tai chi May 15, 2019
I was reading a book by well-known martial artist and teacher, and he wrote something that could send people down the wrong path.

I like Dr. Yang Jwing-Ming. He has done some good things for the arts. He has tried to save some of the older texts and Chinese "songs" and "poems" related to martial arts.
He is a dedicated martial artist and scholar, and apparently a very nice guy. This is not about his skill.
But in his book, "Advanced Yang Style Tai Chi Chuan," he should have gone one step further when he translated and interpreted some old Tai Chi classics.

The first of the classics he presents in the book is supposed to be by Chang San Feng (also spelled Zhang San Feng), but we all know that there is absolutely no evidence that Chang San Feng was a real person. He is a "legend," which means he probably didn't exist. A lot of people who refuse to say the Chen family created the art insist that Chang created it centuries earlier.

Dr. Yang should have mentioned this in the book, but he doesn't.  He is a Ph.D. and should know about proper sourcing of documents. 
The origin of Tai Chi is shrouded in a bit of mystery, but historians have not been able to trace it back beyond the Chen Village. You may not believe that the Chens created Tai Chi (it's a very political thing), but it can't be argued that all present-day Tai Chi originated in the Chen Village.

Here is the quote from "Chang" that starts out this section:

"Once in motion, every part of the body is light and agile and must be threaded together."

Here is how Dr. Yang translates the meaning of "every part of the body....must be threaded together." He says:

"The body should be a coherent whole, with all of its parts connected and unified by the energy (Chi) moving within them, like ancient Chinese coins connected by a string."

My problem with this interpretation is that it promotes the woo-woo and fails to address the body mechanics and physical method of connecting your movements. 

When Dr. Yang says the parts of the body are "connected and unified by the Chi moving within them," he is pointing down the wrong path, and he should have clarified it.

You can think about "chi" moving inside you for the rest of your life and you will never have connected movement. 
I am told that Dr. Yang and his students are good. That makes it more disappointing that he did not do a better, more realistic job of translating. I know some very good ways to describe your body moving as if "threaded together." None of them involve an invisible energy coursing through your meridians.

On Ground Path exercise #12 on this website and on the Internal Strength DVD shows how to connect everything through whole-body movement.

It is the exercise when your partner stands like a "little teapot" and you pull. You achieve connection when your pulling arm is connected to the ground and it turns with the waist as you use the ground and close into the kua. The arm and waist turn together.
Silk-Reeling exercises are great examples of the body moving as if threaded together. You are spiraling and unfolding a ribbon of internal strength through the body by putting together the key basic body mechanics.

It has nothing to do with the "flow of chi," and THAT is how Americans (and others) have misunderstood the internal arts.

I teach students constantly about connecting their movements. It is easy to see when someone isn't connected. You know because their body parts are moving separately, not combining the six key body mechanics. For example, they will pull just with arm muscle and not ground it. Or they will turn the waist and the arm will lag behind. You could say that if you connect all the body mechanics your "chi is flowing," but no one ever interprets it that way for you. 

It is this kind of knowledge that you need to apply when you read any translations or interpretations of old Chinese classics. These are physical skills that require a lot of work to achieve. 
After you do the hard work and your movements are connected, if you want to say your chi is flowing, that's fine. But if you are going to teach or write about it, make sure you put that phrase in context for your students or readers.

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