“Tai Chi” is a Chinese Way of Thinking

Here is an article by Professor Kang Ge Wu, one of China’s top martial researchers and author of “Spring and Autumn of Chinese Martial Arts”

People often say they are studying “Tai Chi” unaware that the term is a technical one referring not to martial arts but to the concept of Yin and Yang. The famous “S” picture divided into black and white shows Yin and Yang separated with a clarity that never occurs in daily life, and is therefore known as the “Tai Chi Tu” or Great Extremes Symbol; the “Extremes” being clearly differentiated Yin and Yang. Professor Kang starts with this concept and traces its weaving through Chinese thought and finally, in a really fascinating way, to its inclusion in martial arts and just what that means…

(1.) It is thought by Chinese scholars that the phrase “Tai Chi” (Grand Terminus) first appeared in the I Jing (The Classic of Change).

“The condition of Change produces the Twin Powers, from which The Four Shapes appear and from these the Eight Trigrams arise.” This passage defines the Twin Powers as Yin and Yang, the Four Shapes as the Four Seasons (symbolized by the elements metal, wood, fire, water and fire)  and  the Eight Trigrams as representations of successive variations growing out of their previous objects and states.

From this derives the idea that  the phases of change in Yin and Yang, known as “Tai Chi”,  are the originators of all the 10 000 various “things” of Heaven and Earth, all products of the  mutual and everlasting interplay of Yin and Yang transformations, continually succeeding each other.

The great thinkers of the past believed that this insight embodied natural laws explaining every kind of change as natural phenomenon. Consequently this is known in the Classic of Change as “The Way (Tao) of Yin and Yang.”

Kang Ge WuIn the Dao De Jing (the fundamental book of the Taoist belief)  (Chapter 1, 4-12), Lao Zi writes “The 10 000 things are supported by Yin and embrace Yang.” Therefore Tai Chi is the same as Yin and Yang, the 10 000 things are synonymous with the Tai Chi. “The principle behind everlasting Heaven and Earth and the 10 000 things, is exactly expressed by Tai Chi,” taught philosopher, ZhuXi, (“The Sayings of ZhuXi”. Chapter 94)

From an exploration of Tai Chi’s principles of issuing and overturning we can interpret; “Change issues from the Tai Chi and the origination of the Twin Powers (Yin and Yang)” as is made clear in the Tai Chi Diagram (also known as The Yin Yang symbol).

Following this explanation of “Tai Chi” principles the ancients expanded their investigation of the world of phenomenon, and expanded the Tai Chi method of Yin Yang dialectics. Gradually there was a recognition of problems and their solutions through these fundamental laws. These concepts were seen to permeate the existence of the Chinese people, in every aspect, and became transformed into a characteristic way of thinking.

Through natural processes this way of thinking became so profound and penetrating that it spread throughout the Chinese culture, influencing and appearing in martial culture.

Kang Ge Wu showing Bagua Zhang(2.)  “The movement of Yin and Yang succeeding one another” is a basic principle of ancient martial arts, and its expression in those arts was recorded as early as the writings of the Pre-Chin dynasty era.  The most distinguished of these writings which has bearing here was recorded during the Spring and Autumn period  and refers to a lady master of fencing during the Warring States period mentioned in the book of the Taoist philosopher, Chuang Zi.

“A feminine quality”, according to the Sword Classic: “demonstrates every method of waging war: internally filled with consciousness, externally calm resembling a virgin girl  but attacking with the fierceness of a tiger; manifesting only after the qi and spirit are united.”  “The Way is a door, with Yin and Yang,  like leaves opening and closing, Yin quiet, Yang vibrant.” This explanation introduced the idea of attack and defense as a method of utilizing Yin and Yang.

Wu Yue  in the Spring and Autumn Annals: “King Gou Jian Rumors of Plots”

Chuang Zi wrote, “I believe that all the ingenious variations of attack and defense, wrestling and fighting, are just manifestations of Yin and Yang.” He also said, “Furthermore he who possesses great fighting strength seems to start Yang, but often finishes Yin, huge until it encounters greater skill.” (Chuang Zi: The Human Society) .

In fact the main advantage of ingenuity seems to lie in its method of interchanging Yin and Yang: “To master the sword, show only emptiness, open like you are triumphant, then issue true power. Though you begin after your opponent, you arrive before him. “ (ChuangZi, on the Sword) “In martial combat, Yin and Yang changes must be appropriate, then they are capable of ingenious victories, you start second but arrive first.”

In Traditional Chinese Martial Arts, Yin and Yang are the fundamentals of “Yin and Yang together form the Way” along with “Yin and Yang continually moving.” This philosophy has stretched through 1000 years of military training and cold weapons engagements, spreading and evolving as time passed.

Toward the end of the Ming dynasty (around 1650), ancient Chinese martial investigations came to an end just as they were reaching their summit. Even given this situation (of its following decline), later generations of Wushu warriors to this day highly esteem the harmonious acceptance and development that was evident in the Ming dynasty with  generals Qi Ji Guang (1528—1587) and You Da Po (?—1580) recording this expression of martial evolution in their writings.

Qi Ji Guang  authored “The New Book of Discipline” in which is found  “The Use of Long and Short Weapons”, an entire chapter on the method of using Yin and Yang to wield weapons, this section showing how long and short weapons can mutually support one another.

You Da Po in his “Sword Classic”, utilized Yin and Yang as his base bringing to light the transformation of firm and soft movements, motion and stillness, early and late, all techniques of their reciprocal actions. The Sword Classic proposes to “Follow the opponent’s structure, borrow the opponent’s strength”; “Control the skilled strength , never issue anything awkward”; “Use quiet to overcome movement”; “Wait for the enemy to exhaust himself”; etc.  all emphasizing these principles and methods to subdue one’s enemy. In the generations that followed, few boxers could transmit this knowledge.

In a word, Qi Ji Guang’s “New Book of Discipline” and You Da Po’s “Sword Classic”, represented ancient Wushu’s idea of Yin and Yang movement attaining  a new height of meaning.

If from the early “Change is T’ai Chi, which creates the Liang Yi” to the later  “Liang Yi is Yin and Yang as Twin Powers” we are discussing, one may then see them as related, with the later and the older forms demonstrating essentially the same type of Wushu concepts: all this  may be called the evolutionary development of the Tai Chi insight. However, we can only accurately say that both, the old and the new,  are simply examples of “Yin and Yang mutually transforming.”

It was not until the Qing period that the full concept of “Tai Chi” and its natural view of appearances, quantitative principles and theory gradually permeated the art of boxing.  And even in modern times the  “Tai Chi” approach is finally infusing itself in the development of Chinese Martial Arts.

Coming soon: our re-release of Kang Ge Wu’s “Course in Bagua Zhang”


Kang Ge Wu’s biography

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