How many Tai Chi masters does it take to change a light bulb?
Ten. One to screw it in, and nine to stand around saying, “We do things a bit differently.”
It’s funny because it’s true.
Technically, Tai Chi (or more properly, Tai Chi Chuan) is a single style of Kung Fu. (If you didn’t already know that Tai Chi is a form of Kung Fu, then you might be interested to this article here.)
In the 21st century, there are countless sub-styles of Tai Chi Chuan. For the beginner, things can get very confusing. There’s the Yang style, the Chen style, two different Wu styles, then Sun style, Gangnam style….
But seriously, each style has a different approach and does things a bit differently. Even within the same style, you’ll still find plenty of differences.
I don’t want to talk about the differences today. Not today. Today is World Tai Chi and Qigong Day. All around the world, Tai Chi practitioners are coming together to celebrate the awesomeness that is Tai Chi.
So today, rather than talk about the differences, let’s talk about the similarities. Let’s talk about what makes Tai Chi — regardless of the style — so awesome.
And what makes Tai Chi so awesome is simple: The Tai Chi Classics.
No matter what style of Tai Chi you practice, no matter what lineage you claim, no matter how you place your hands and feet — you still use the same set of guiding principles. Those principles have been handed down through the generations, and inherited by ALL styles of Tai Chi, in the form of the Tai Chi classics.
The Tai Chi Classics are a canon of texts written in classical Chinese by traditional masters. The list of texts varies from style to style, but it generally includes the following:
- The Tai Chi Chuan Classic
Taijiquan Jing (太極拳經); attributed to Zhang Sanfeng (張三丰)
- The Thirteen Postures
Shisan Shi (十三勢), attributed to Zhang Sanfeng (張三丰)
- The Tai Chi Chuan Treatise
Taijiquan Lun (太極拳論), attributed to Wang Zongyue (王宗嶽)
- Song of Thirteen Postures
Shisan Shi Xing Gong Gejue (十三勢行功歌訣), attributed to Wang Zongyue (王宗嶽)
- Key Points of Sparring
Dashou Yao Yan (打手要言), attributed to Wang Zongyue (王宗嶽)
- Song of Sparring
Dashou Ge (打手歌), attributed to Wang Zongyue (王宗嶽)
- A Brief Summary of Tai Chi Chuan
Taiji Yue Yan (太極約言), by Yang Jianhou (楊健候)
- Nine Secrets of Tai Chi Chuan
Taijiquan Jiu Jue (太極拳九訣) by Yang Banhou (楊班侯)
- The Essence and Applications of Tai Chi Chuan
Taijiquan Tiyong Quanshu (太極拳體用全書) by Yang Chengfu (楊澄甫)
- Application Methods of Tai Chi Chuan
Taijiquan Shiyong Fa (太極拳使用法) by Yang Chengfu (楊澄甫)
- Ten Essentials of Tai Chi Chuan
Taijiquan Shi Yao (太極拳十要) by Yang Chengfu (楊澄甫)
- Song of Pulling the Bow and Storing the Jin
Xu Jin Zhang Gong Ge (蓄勁張弓歌) by Wu Yuxiang (武禹襄)
- Eight Key Points of the Body Method
Shen Fa Ba Yao (身法八要) by Wu Yuxiang (武禹襄)
- The Secret of Withdraw and Release
Che Fang Mi Jue (撤放密訣) by Li Yiyu (李亦畬)
- Tai Chi Chuan Teaching Notes
Taijiquan Jiang Yi (太極拳講義) by Wu Gongzao (吳公藻)
I’d like to focus on just one of these classics — The Ten Essential Points of Tai Chi Chuan by a dude named Yang Cheng Fu (see picture below). This text represents a distillation of the many principles described in the other Tai Chi classics. If we want to better understand the Tai Chi classics, then there’s no better place to start than the Ten Essentials.
I can hear the objections already.
But Sifu, isn’t Yang Cheng Fu from the Yang Style of Tai Chi?!?
Yes. Before you Tai Chi Chop me for choosing a Yang Style text to represent ALL styles of Tai Chi, please hear me out.
Ask yourself this important question: If not for Yang Cheng Fu, would you be practicing Tai Chi? Would you have ever heard of it? Would we be celebrating World Tai Chi and Qigong Day all across the world?
Would I be able to go online and purchase the rights to a silhouetted, vector image of a man doing a Tai Chi posture?
For those who have studied history, the answer is a clear “no”. I think we can all agree that Yang Cheng Fu was the man responsible for bringing Tai Chi out into the open. And for that, the world owes him a debt of gratitude.
(To learn more about Yang Cheng Fu, read my article entitled How Tai Chi Lost Its Mojo. Click here to read it.)
It’s also important to realize that, when he wrote the 10 Essentials, there was no such thing as “Yang Style Tai Chi”. Yang Cheng Fu simply practiced Tai Chi Chuan as he learned it from his grandfather, and as he understood it from the classics.
Without further ado, here they are.
The Ten Essential Points of Tai Chi Chuan
- Head Upright, Spirit Rising
- Sink the Chest, Raise the Back
- Loosen the Waist
- Differentiate Between Empty and Solid
- Sink the Shoulders, Drop the Elbows
- Use Will, Not Strength
- Coordinate Top and Bottom
- Harmonize Internal and External
- Move with Continuity
- Seek Stillness in the Movement
In my next article, I will discuss each of these 10 points in depth. I’ll include the original Chinese, a translation of Yang Cheng Fu’s comments on each point, as well as my own comments.
In the meantime, take a look a the 10 Essentials, and try to figure out how each one applies to your Tai Chi practice. If you have questions, go ahead and post them below, but I won’t give away too much until the next article (which is coming very soon). Mindfully yours, Sifu Anthony I’m Anthony Korahais, and I used qigong to heal from clinical depression, low back pain, anxiety, and chronic fatigue. I’ve already taught thousands of people from all over the world to use qigong for their own stubborn health issues. I teach online courses, and also lead in-person retreats and workshops.