Note: This guest post by Grandmaster Wong Kiew Kit is Part I in a series about the Treatise of Zhang San Feng.
While researching into Tai Chi Chuan, I studied deeper into many of the classics in my personal collection. Not only did I research into my own large collection, but I also made good use of the Internet to find out what other masters had said and demonstrated. I resumed my hobby of more than 30 years ago of hunting for Kung Fu, Chi Kung, and Tai Chi classics. Unfortunately, classics are hard to come by nowadays (which explains why the world’s top University Library has a small collection compared to mine). During one of my hunts, I found a rare treasure.
The classic considered by many Tai Chi Chuan practitioners as the most important and therefore is the most widely quoted, even if some of them do not actually understand what it says, is the Treatise of Tai Chi Chuan. It was written by Wang Zong Yue in the 15th Century. You can find this treatise in my book, The Complete Book of Tai Chi Chuan. If you haven’t read it, even if you do not practice Tai Chi Chuan, it is certainly worth your while to do so.
But I have found, which to me is even more important, a Tai Chi Chuan treatise by the great Zhang San Feng himself! Literally translated it is named Focusing Spirit Accumulating Energy Treatise in Grand Ultimate Practice. Not many people may know of this treatise, and fewer still understand it. Like most Taoist writings, it was written in arcane language. This treatise is found in a rare classic entitled The Secrets of Cultivating Elixir of Zhang San Feng. It was written by Zhang San Feng himself in the 13th Century, and preserved by his disciple and successor, Tai Yi.
It is not easy to have access to a classic, but even if you have one, there are two big difficulties facing those who read it.
- One, classics were written in concise classical Chinese which even modern Chinese scholars may not understand.
- Two, which is a bigger difficulty, basic knowledge which is needed to understand what was written, is usually not mentioned. Classics were never meant as teaching manuals. They were written for students who had practiced the art itself to highlight the essence of the teaching so that the initiated can preserve the teaching for posterity.
I shall first translate the treatise literally. Have some fun trying to figure it out. Then I shall give a longer, figurative translation. In future posts, I shall explain what it means according to my understanding and experience.
Focusing Spirit Accumulating Energy Treatise in Grand Ultimate Practice
The beginning of Grand Ultimate is Limitless Void. Nebulous as one energy. No separation. Thus, Limitless Void is the mother of Grand Ultimate. Thus the origin of myriad of things.
Two energies separate. Heaven and earth judge. Grand Ultimate results. Two energies are yin and yang. Yin quiescent and yang dynamic. Yin terminates yang generates.
Heaven and earth are separated into pure and impure. Pure floats impure sinks. Pure high impure low. Yin and yang combine, pure and impure unite. Interact and generate, result in myriad things.
Life of man originally possesses Limitless Void. This is the prenatal mechanics. Creation of man is post-natal, thus Grand Ultimate. Thus myriad things not without Limitless Void. Also not without Grand Ultimate.
The function of man. When there is movement, there must be quiescence. Extreme quiescence there must be movement. Movement and quiescence mutually operate, that is yin-yang. United become one Grand Ultimate.
Life of man is all dependent on spirit and energy. Pure energy rises up. Doubtless to heaven. Focus spirit internally. Doubtless to earth. Spirit and energy unit. Result in one Grand Ultimate.
Hence, the transmission of my Art of Grand Ultimate. First, understand the marvelous way of the Grand Ultimate. Not understand this, not my students.
Art of Grand Ultimate, movement is like quiescence. Quiescence is like movement. Movement and quiescence interact. Mutually connected without break. Two energies unite. Signals the attainment of the Grand Ultimate. Internally focus spirit. Externally accumulate energy. Before form arrives, intention first arrives. Form has not arrived, intention has already arrived. What is intention? The agent of spirit.
Spirit and energy unite, the seat of Grand Ultimate is decided. Its sign is settled. Its seat is settled. Continuously interact. The number seventy two. Thirteen techniques in Art of Grand Ultimate. Ward off, roll back, press in, in contact, take, spread, elbow, anchor. Forward, backward, to the left, to the right, remain at center. According to creation and reaction of Eight Symbols and Five Processes.
Also empty spirit, ignore pull, loosen waist, settle false-real, sink and press, use intention and not use strength. Top and bottom coordinated, internal and external united. Continuously linked without break. Quiescence found in movement. The ten essentials in Art of Grand Ultimate. No-two-gate for those who learn the art. Fundamental for entering the way..
Entering the way nourish heart stabilize nature; accumulate energy focus spirit be main path. Practice this art must follow thus. Heart not peaceful, nature disturbed. Energy not accumulated, spirit disordered.
Heart and nature not united, spirit and energy not coordinated, four limbs and hundred meridians of body lifeless, and functions useless. To pacify heart and stabilize nature, focus spirit and accumulate energy. Not miss hit-sitting. Not neglect techniques of training. Search within movement and quiescence the benefits of Grand Ultimate.
From Eight Symbols and Five Processes find principles of creation and reaction. Use seventy two number to achieve heart and nature, spirit and energy of the Grand Ultimate. Mutually function. Thus heart peaceful nature stabilized, spirit focused energy accumulated. Achieve attainment of Grand Ultimate in body. Yin-yang unite, movement and quiescence become one. Four limbs and hundred meridians of body flow smoothly. Without stagnation without wastage. Hence receive my transmission.
Now I will give my own figurative translation of the treatise:
Treatise of Spiritual Cultivation and Energy Training in the Practice of Tai Chi Chuan
The beginning of the Cosmos, called Tai Chi, is the undifferentiated spread of infinity and eternality, called Wuji. It is one nebulous spread of energy, with no separation and no differentiation. Thus, this undifferentiated spread of infinity and eternality is the mother of the Cosmos, the origin of the phenomenal world with countless things and events.
Two aspects of this one energy emerges, and separate to become heaven and earth. This results in the Cosmos, or the phenomenal world, called Tai Chi. These two aspects of energy are called yin and yang. Yin is quiescent and yang is dynamic. When yin terminates, i.e. when energy become still to the extreme extent that it cannot be more still, movement begins. On the other hand, when yang terminates, i.e. when energy become so dynamic that it cannot be more dynamic, it returns to being quiescent.
Heaven and earth are the result of the behavior of different types of energy. Energy that is pure, rises and constitutes heaven. Energy that is impure, sinks and constitutes earth. This is the innate nature of energy. Energy that is pure will rise, and energy that is impure will sink. Pure energy rises high, and impure energy sinks low. Nevertheless, the pure and impure energy, or yin and yang, combine and unite. The interaction of these various types of energy goes on constantly and continuously, resulting in the countless things and events we have in our phenomenal world.
Our lives as humans follow the same principles. At first there is the Limitless Void where there is no separation into individual entities like mountains and humans, and differentiation between one mountain from another mountain or one human from another human. It is just energy. This is the prenatal situation, the situation before the Cosmos was born.
But after the Cosmos was born, there is separation and differentiation. There are mountains and humans, and countless other things. One mountain or human is different from another mountain or human, and this applies to all other things. This is the post-natal situation, the situation after the birth of the Cosmos.
Yet, these countless separate and different entities are not different from the undifferentiated spread of energy. They are the same. In other words, the Cosmos is not different from the Limitless Void, and the Limitless Void is not different from the Cosmos. They are the same.
The same universal principle that the Cosmos is also the Limitless Void, and the Limitless Void is also the Cosmos also apply to all human functions and processes,. When there is movement in human functions and processes, there is also quiescence, and when there is quiescence there is also movement.
When human functions and processes have become extremely still, movement starts. When human functions and processes have become extremely dynamic, stillness occurs. Movement and stillness inter-react, and the operation is symbolized as yin-yang. The whole complex matrix of this yin-yang operation constitutes the Cosmos.
All activities of human life are dependent on spirit and energy. The pure energy of human rises to become heaven, and the impure energy sinks to become earth. Cultivate your spirit above and train your energy below. When you spirit and energy unite, they result in a micro-Cosmos in you, which mirrors the macro-Cosmos of the Universe.
This is the transmission of the essence of my teaching om the art of Tai Chi Chuan. The most important lesson is to understand the marvellous operation and benefits of the Cosmos in you and in the Universe. If you do not understand this most important lesson, you have missed the essence of my teaching.
In the art of Tai Chi Chuan there is stillness in every movement, and there is movement in every stillness. Movement and stillness are not separate, they are integrated, and they mutually act and react without any break in between. Only when you have attained yin-yang harmony in all aspects, it can be said that you have been successful in your Tai Chi Chuan practice.
In the practice of Tai Chi Chuan, internally cultivate your spirit, and externally train your energy. Before you make any physical movement in your form, you must have intention. Intention leads form. What is intention? It is the agent of your spirit.
When you have the unity of spirit and energy, you have accomplished the essential practice of Tai Chi Chuan. It is a sign showing that you have practiced correctly. It is a sign that you have attain the essence of Tai Chi Chuan.
When you practice the 72 patterns of Tai Chi Chuan, you must constantly integrate with spirit and energy. In the 72 patterns of Tai Chi Chuan are found 13 techniques. These 13 techniques are ward off, roll back, press in, in contact, take, spread, elbow, anchor, moving forward, moving backward, moving to the left, moving to the right, and remaining at the centre. These 13 techniques in the 72 patterns of Tai Chi Chuan must be performed according to the principles of creation and reaction of the Eight Trigrams or Bagua, and of the Five Elemental Processes or Wuxing.
Also, in the practice of Tai Chi Chuan you must empty your mind of all thoughts and not tense any muscles. You must loosen your waist, and apply the principle of false-real, the principle of sinking and pressing, and the principle of using intention and not using strength. The top and bottom part of you body and movement must be coordinated. The internal and external aspects of training must be integrated. All the patterns must be performed continuously in one gentle, graceful flow without any break. In your movement there must be stillness, and in stillness there must be movement. These are the ten essentials in the art of Tai Chi Chuan. This is the “Gate of No Other Way”. This is fundamental to becoming students of our school to practice Tai Chi Chuan correctly.
When you have been accepted into our school to practice Tai Chi Chuan, you must cultivate your heart and nurture your original nature. Training energy and cultivating spirit is the main methodology of practice. If you wish to practice the art of Tai Chi Chuan you must follow this procedure. If your heart is not peaceful, your original nature will be disturned. Your energy will not be built and your spirit will be disordered.
If your heart and nature are not united, and your spirit and energy not coordinated, the four limbs and hundred meridians of your body will be lifeless, and their functions will be useless. To pacify your heart and stabilize your nature, to cultivate your spirit and train your energy, you must not neglect sitting meditation. You must also not neglect proper methods of training. In your practice, if you search within your movement and stillness, you will find the benefits of Tai Chi Chuan.
From the Eight Trigrams or Bagua, and the Five Elemental Processes or Wuxing, find the principles of constant action and inter-action. Use the Tai Chi Chuan set of 72 patterns to cultivate your heart and nurture your original nature, and to cultivate your spirit and train your energy in your Tai Chi Chuan practice. All these aspects operate in yin-yang harmony to achieve the micro-Cosmos in you, which mirrors the macro-Cosmos in the Universe. When yin and yang are in harmony, movement and stillness have become one, the four limbs and hundred meridians of your body will flow smoothly. There will be no energy stagnation and no physiological and psychological mal-functions. If you follow all this advice and methodology, you would have received my transmission.
Having access to a classic is one thing. Understanding it is another. The third step is putting the teaching in the classic in our practice to enhance our benefits. We in our school go a step further. We transfer the teaching into our daily work and play to enrich our lives and the lives of others.
In subsequent posts I shall give an explanation and interpretation of this Tai Chi Chuan Treatise by the great Zhang San Feng according to the best of my understanding and experience.