10 Guiding Points of Tai Chi Chuan

1. Relax

The word sung is usually translated into English as relax.  The basic meaning of the word relax is to become looser or less firm in the muscles, to become less tense or stern in one's features, or to give up one's energy.  From the Tai Chi Chuan point of view, however, the word relax can represent only a part of the meaning of the Chinese sung.  Since I cannot find an equivalent in English to express fully the meaning of sung, I must use the word relax, which is about the closest word to it.  The principle of sung implies loosening one's muscles and releasing one's tensions, giving up one's energy externally but preserving it internally so that one's body will be sensitive and alert enough to adapt itself to any circumstance.  Otherwise, it will be merely a body collapse, which has no ability to meet an emergency.
 

2. Sink

To sink means to relax completely.  The whole body (the upper torso, the waist, the thighs and legs) should all be relaxed.  All the energy should be concentrated in the "Bubbling Well Point," a hollow place in the middle of the sole of the foot.  When one has reached this high level of development, the ch'i will sink deeply to the tan t'ien, and one's movements will be light and nimble.  The body will be so sensitive and alert that it can feel the weight of a feather, and a fly would not be able to alight on it without setting it in motion.
 

3. The chest should be held in, the back straightened, the shoulders sunk, and the elbows lowered.

When the chest is slightly held in, the ch'i will sink to the tan t'ien and the blood will circulate throughout the whole body without hindrance.  Otherwise, the ch'i will come up and accumulate in the chest, causing the top of the body to be heavy and the bottom light, and the feet to be easily uprooted.  When the back is straightened, the energy will be collected in the spine so that the whole body will act as one unit and the energy that is issued will be tremendously powerful.  Otherwise the energy will be dispersed.  The shoulders should be sunk, so the ch'i will sink to the tan t'ien.  If the shoulders are shrugged, ch'i will immediately rise up to the chest, and the entire body will be heavy and clumsy so that the application of energy will be to no avail.  The elbows should also be lowered.  The elbows and shoulders are closely connected.  If the elbows are raised, the shoulders will be immediately affected.
 

4. A light and nimble energy should be preserved on the top of the head.  The lowest vertebrae should be erect.

The head should be straight and the whole body should be completely relaxed without exerting the slightest external force.  Keep a light and nimble energy on the top of the head as if you were suspended from above to prevent you from collapsing.  The lowest vertebrae should be erect so that the mind will be clear.  When the top of the head feels as if it were suspended from above, the whole body feels light and nimble.  Human beings are the cleverest creatures in the world because their heads reach to heaven and their feet stand on the earth.
 

5. All the movements are directed by the mind.  One does not use external muscular force.

It is said in the Classics:
    "Use the mind to direct the movements, which will then be light and agile.  If you use external muscular force to direct the movements, they will be heavy and clumsy."
When one practises Tai Chi Chuan, the whole body should be completely relaxed, not exerting the slightest clumsy force in the muscles, bones or blood vessels.  If one does not restrain oneself (by using clumsy muscular force), one's movements will be light and nimble, and the body can be turned at will.  There are some who doubt this and say, "If you don't use energy, how can you develop energy?"  The answer is that we have sinews and (blood) vessels in our body which are like underground water courses.  The water will flow continuously when the courses are not blocked, just as the ch'i will circulate through the whole body when the sinews and vessels are not obstructed.  If the sinews and vessels are filled with clumsy energy, the ch'i flow and blood circulation will be impeded, the turning of the body will not be light and agile, and even the slightest stir of any part of the body will be shaky and tottering.  If you use the mind instead of muscular force to direct your movements, then the ch'i will follow where mind-intent directs.  So day by day the ch'i and blood will circulate through the whole body without hindrance.  If one practices in this manner for a long period of time, one will acquire the real intrinsic energy.  In the Tai Chi Classics it is said:
    "From the most flexible and yielding one will arrive at the most powerful and unyielding."
When one has mastered the techniques of Tai Chi Chuan, one's arms are like iron bars wrapped in cotton, and the weight of both arms is tremendously heavy.
 

6. Upper parts and lower parts follow each other, and the body acts as one unit.

When the hands move, the body and legs immediately move also so that the whole body acts simultaneously.  As it says in the Tai Chi Classics:
    "It is rooted in the feet, develops in the legs, is directed by the waist, and functions through the fingers.  The feet, legs, and waist must act as one unit.  When one moves, every part of the body is moving, and when one stops, every part of the body is tranquil so that in advancing and retreating you can find the opponent's defects and establish your own superior position."
If one part moves and the other parts do not move, the whole body will be in confusion.
 

7. Insubstantial and substantial must be clearly differentiated.

When practising Tai Chi Chuan it is of the utmost importance to discriminate between the insubstantial and substantial aspects.  For instance, if the whole body's weight is on the right foot, the right foot is substantial and the left foot is insubstantial, and vice versa.  If one can discriminate between the insubstantial and substantial, the movement of steps and turning of the body will be light and nimble.  Otherwise they will be heavy and clumsy, and you will be uprooted with a slight pull and push by your opponent.  If you want to step forward with your right foot, you must shift your entire weight to the left foot and leave no weight on the right foot - then the movement will be light and agile.  When you (try to) step forward with one foot while there is still some weight on both feet, it is called double-weighting.  The movement will be heavy and clumsy and put you into a posture "ready to be beaten."  It is said in the Tai Chi Classics:
    "The insubstantial and substantial must be clearly discriminated.  Every part of the body has both a substantial and insubstantial aspect at any given time.  The entire body also has this feature if considered as one unit."

8. Concentrate on the line of vision.

Your eyes must look forward to an imaginary opponent in front of you, watching him constantly to see what he will do to you.  When your body turns in one direction, your eyes must look forward in the same direction.  It is incorrect to look toward the Southeast by turning your head while your body is facing East.  The head and body should be considered as one unit.
 

9. All the movements must be connected without severance.  When energy is severed, use mind-intent to reconnect it.

All the postures are to be practised slowly, effortlessly and continuously, so that the ch'i and blood can circulate through the entire body without hindrance.  Suppose one posture contains four beats - you must stop momentarily at the end of the fourth beat to complete the movement of the posture, then go on to another posture.  So during the transition from one posture to another, you must stop for just half a second.  This momentary stoppage will be connected and joined to the next posture by the mind-intent.  If one goes on to another posture before the preceding one is fully completed, this is not the correct way of "continuously moving."  It is confusion, and one will not be able to determine clearly which of the postures is which.  The Classics say:
    "Tai Chi Chuan is also called 'Chang Chuan' (Long Boxing) because it flows unceasingly like the great river."
The great Tai Chi Master Lao Chen said, "The energy breaks off, but is joined and connected by the mind-intent, just as the lotus root is broken but the fibres remain connected."
 

10. Meditation in action

In other kinds of boxing arts, one must use tremendous external muscular force.  This results in the expansion of veins and blood vessels, impediment of the ch'i, exhaustion, and panting, all of which are bad for health.  When practising Tai Chi Chuan you must control your movements by tranquillity and direct the movements by mind-intent rather than by external muscular force.  Then the movements will be effortless, continuous, and slow.  The slower one practices (without stopping or jerking) the better.  Gradually the above mentioned defects will be eliminated.  If the student ponders the matter carefully, he will be able to grasp the idea and acquire the beauty of this art without difficulty.