Questions and Answers by Mas. Huang Sheng Shyan
1 Q: Are there different schools or sects of Tai Ji ?
Answer: Tai Ji embodies a comprehensive
set of knowledge,developed and handed down by our learned predecessor with mystifying principles and profound philosophical
learnings.The Tai Ji movements are scientific as the principles are based on scientific fundamentals.Our predecessors developed
the art for improving human health,warding off sickness,slowing down the ageing process,achieving longevity and defending
oneself.All this benefits mankind and society.Good character formation is promoted. An adherent imbibed with the Dao(or philosophy
as a way of life)of Tai Ji would contribute towards proper governance of the country and universal peace.tai Ji is not a martial
art meant for bragging and antagonistic purpuses.A Tai Ji exponent wouldneed to understand the principles and philosophy of
Tai Ji.No one should deviate from these principles and philosohpy.The movements can be developedand modified but the principles
are eternal.The external forms may differ from person to person but the principles are standart and unvarying.Because of this,there
is no basis for differentiation by schools.Instead a spirit of a single family should prevail.Common interest of the art should
take precedence over personal interest.An open attitude should emerge,bearing in mind the spirit of the founder and predecessors
to propagate the philosophy of Tai Ji thoughoutthe world so as to improve the health of mankind.
2 Q:How should we
practice Tai Ji in order to reach accuracy?
Answer: The gap between accurate and non-accurate achievement is wide.Remember
the words of the old master,Wang Tsung Yueh that the body must be naturally and vertically balanced bearing in mind the principles
of being relaxed,rounded and awareness of the various parts of the body.During practice of the set movements,one must be careful,concious
or alert,observant and must feel where one is moving.Otherwise there is form without substance and deception to people.To
achieve accuracy,the principles of Tai Ji must be followed in addition to correct methods of practising.A good master is necessary
coupled with one's own constant research.The art must be learned progressively having to be on firm ground first before advancing
to the next step.Personal requirements are also important.One must be determant,confident,persevering and motivated.A secure
means of livelihood and having normal environment coupled with single-mindedness,constant learning and practice and clear
understanding of the principles throroughly - all this will lead to achievment of accuracy.This is in contrast to those who
want to learn fast,who concern themselves with the external forms and who learn to practise sporadically.These hope to learn
first and be corrected later not realising that it is worse than having a new person learning from scratch.Others take the
principles of Tai Ji lightly or superficially and liken the art to a common exercise,drill or dance.All this has form but
no substance.One's body must be likened to a perfect machine where a wrong spare part will affect the operation of the machine.The
founder of Tai Ji has said,"Achieving the Dao is important,acquiring the skill in the art is secondary;not learning my Dao,he
is not my student." Therefore also important would be honesty and righteousness or a good moral character.
3 Q: There
are different forms of Tai Ji?Are the principles different?
Answer: The founder created the art.But through the years,the
forms of Tai Ji have differed:some have 24 basic movements while others have 37; some have 64 set movements and some have
72 while others have 108 movements or even 124.There are long sets and short sets.Movements have been large and expansive
and have been small and compact.Some emphasised high postures;others opt for low ones.Some practise slowly;others practise
at a faster pace.All this divergence is writter by men.What is important is that the principles remain the same.Different
masters with different temperaments have been following the basic principles through the ages.They have engaged in continous
research and training.They have reviewed and improved the art until the ultimate objective is achieved where form becomes
formless,limbs are no more important,brute force becomes nonexistent and stiffness has given way to being fully relaxed.Character
formation has advanced to the stage of "non-self" and of non-resistance so that the whole body is used and hands are no more
used as hands.Youthfulness and longevity are attained.It is easy to master correct forms as the Qi and the principles of the
art are internally harmonised.Harmonisation is also to be achieved between the upper,middle and lower parts and between the
left and the right body.Even though difficult it is relatively easier to master correct forms compared to aquiring skill in
the art.This is so as in training or practising there are a number of normally undetectable parts of the body that are difficult
to keep under control from the aspects of speed,timing,rhythm and balance.Because of this,skill in the art is difficult to
acquire.But then as the founder says,"Understanding one portion of the art would mean being enlightened on all portions or
parts.Then all schools and sects become one."
4 Q: Is it better to practise Tai Ji more frequently or less frequently?
Answer: There are no extremes in Tai JI.The essence is in the training method.If the method is not correct,it is no
different from ordinary drills with a lot of time spent but relatively little achievement.So it is not a question of practising
more or less frequently but practising correctly.That is,the central equilibrium must be vertically maintained.Every movement
must be disciplined such that the posture is vertically balanced.The principles remain unchanged:there is straightness in
a curve and vice versa.There must be constant learning and practice,understanding the principles and the less obvious points.Mastery
of this will produce skill naturally.There is no question,therefore of practising too much or too little but rather of practising
5 Q: Is it correct to practise the art fast or to practise it slow?
Answer: The earth rotates at
a constant and specific rate. Similary,Tai Ji should not be practised too slowly or too fast but should be practised comfortably.The
human body must be moved naturally otherwise there would be weaknesses. If the practice is too fast,breathing is affected
resulting in uneven respiration,breathlessness and the heart pulsating too fast.If the practice is too slow,the limbs and
the joints become stiff.Qi is blocked and is locally stagnant,intent or consciousness is employed but the Qi is not flowing.Internal
force and Qi must be synchronised.Internally,there is the harmony of the libido,energy,Qi and spirit while externally,the
mind,consciousness(or intent)and body are also harmonised and in turn both the internal and external harmonies are synchronised.Muscles
must be relaxed and all parts of the body are naturally without tension.It is not possible therefore to say practising fast
is correct or practising slow is correct as this has to be based on the standard or level of achievement of the student.One
must practise until the whole body is relaxed and comfortably balanced.Once there is internal and external synchronisation,then
the question of slow and fast in practice is unimportant.At this stage,one gets the feeling that the upper portion of the
body is like the drifting of clouds and the lower portion is like the flowing of water.Consciousness is continuous and is
harmonised with movement.All parts of the body are natural and are unified.There is then no question of being fast or slow.
6 Q: Is it correct to have either high or low postures in the set movements of Tai Ji?
Answer: The art of
Tai Ji does not distinguish high and low postures,but is rather based on the idea of four "balances" or equilibriums: 1 balance
in the magnitude of the posture or movement such as both sides of the body must have "balanced" amount of spatial displacement
when moving; 2 accuracy or precision achieved simultaneously by all parts of the body; 3 bodily balance when moving or turning;
4 steadiness particularly when moving.
External and internal balance or harmony must be cultivated where there
is no slanting of the central axis of the body.when hind force is invoked,the hind knee being bend will move up or straighten
slightly though the height of the body remains unchanged.This is so as consciousness(or intend) and Qi would"close"centrally
instead of coming up while the bent knee is used to adjust accordingly.Consciousness is used to lead the muscles in relaxing.Joints,muscles
and ligaments must then be loosened,relaxed and "thrown"open but still linked.The body is then erect and comfortable.consciosness
is also used to "move"Tai Ji principles to parts of the body.Having achieved"four balances and eight steadiness,"the question
of high and low postures is then answered individually.
7 Q : How can substantiality and insubstantiality be distinguished
between left and right or between top and bottom parts of the body?
Answer: The muscles,the skeleton and the nerves
are parts of the body system.when practising the movements,the use of consciousness to sink and relax the body is most important.The
centre of gravity is moved while perserving the uprightness of the central axis of the body.It is important to focus on steadiness,tranquillity,relaxation
and rootedness.The movements propel the external movements in a continuous or uninterrupted fashion.Internal force is gernerated
with turning movements.After a long time,the whole body is in balance.When left and right is distinguished,one is substantial
and the other insubstantial along the pattern of "cross alignment".For instance,together with the distinction between top
and bottom parts of the body,when the left upper part of the body is substantial,the left lower part is insubstantial and
similarywhen the right upper part of the body is substantial,the right lower part is insubstantial. This pattern of cross
alignment is used in shifts of the centre of gravity from one leg to the other.This is similar to the "cross-roads"of the
nervous system.When moving Qi,therefore,one must separate substantial from insubstantial,move the step without moving the
body or moving the body and not the hand.If in moving a step,the body also moves,then it is not separating substantial from
insubstantial.If in moving the body,the hand also moves,then the shoulder and the hands are not relaxed.It is important to
follow the principles of using consciousness to propel movement.The top and bottom,left and right portions of the body must
be coordinated.a rounded grinding stone may move but the centre is not moving.All parts of the body become one system characterised
by lightness and agility,roundness and smoothness,even respiration,alternate opening and closing like that of the sea where
with movement from one part of the sea,all parts are also moved.The movements are guided by consciousness and are properly
regulated like the regular movements of the waves in the sea.
8 Q: How could the movements be practised in order that
they can be usefully applied?
Answer: Take the five loosening(or relaxing) exercises as an illustration.These exercises
are based on Tai JI principles.During practice there must be full concentration since any distraction will nullify any effects.Bear
in mind the three points of non-mobility:the head which must be locked on to the body,the hands which must not move of its
own volition and the soles of the feet which must be still and rooted to the ground.Consciousness(or intend)will lead the
Qi along.Steps are made without affecting or moving the body.Turning movements start from the waist and hips with hands propelled
from the waist and hips in accordance with the principle that all movements originate from the waist.Principles must be understood
and no movements are separated from the principles.Once you make it internally you are also "through" externally.Once you
are fully relaxed,you can change according to circumstances and can therefore,neutralise an oncoming force.You would have
reached that position of "non-self" where the whole body is the weapon and the hands are no more used as hands.If you are
not able to usefully apply your movements then you still have not understood the basics of the five relaxing exercises.If
you have not mastered the essentials,then there is no point of talking about application of the movements.
9 Q : What
is the rationale for relaxing the abdomen and withdrawing the coccyx(or tailbone)?
Answer: Qi is stored in the Dan
Tien as a result of using consciousness to sink the Qi to this point.From here Qi should circulate to the whole body.If Qi
just remains in the Dan Tien,then the abdomon will have the sensation of being styffed.Only when Qi circulates throughout
the body will the abdomen be relaxed and pliable.After a time,the abdomen will acquire some "bouncy" or"springy" effect and
Qi would have been circulating to the whole body.Qi can be occluded or absorbed into the backbone.the Song of the Thirteen
Postures says,"If the abdomen is thoroughly relaxed,then the Qi will rise."So do not just store the Qi in the abdomen otherwise
it will simply bloat.Having coccyx withdrawn means there is no protrusion of the buttocks while making sure at the same ime
that the hip joints are not"sliding"forward.This must be combined with relaxing the abdomen and both requirements must be
met at the same time.Otherwise,there is no rootness while the waist is stiff resulting in vertical imbalance or disequilibrium.It
is important to maintain the uprightness of the central axis of the body in order to achieve central equilibrium.A test can
be made as follows to see whether all this has been done correctly all along:use one thump to press the abdomen and release
the thumb suddenly.There should be a bouncing or springy effect of the abdomen.At the same time,the seat of the buttocks behind
should be very soft to the touch.
10 Q : What is true spirit of Tai Ji?
Answer: Good and famous masters of
Tai Ji teach the same stuff but students will learn differently.This is because students differ in natural endowment and physical
make-up.The real acquisition of the art is not in just mastering the external forms but also in mastering the principles and
philosophy.The learner must be a man of reason having learnt,practised and understood the art successfully.He applies those
principles and philosophy to his daily life. He will not take unfair advantage or be selfish.He is wholeheartedly devoted
to Tai Ji.He shares the founder's spirit of striving for mankind to be physically and mentally healthy.This would be the true
Tai Ji spirit.
11Q: How many times must we practice the set movements everyday?
Answer: The important principle
is moderation.The practising technique must be correct in the first place.Some people say you must practise the whole set
of movements ten times a day with one set lasting about 25 minutes.This only focuses on quantity and is wasting Qi and energy.It
is contrary to the basic principles of Tai Ji succeeding in only making you sweat and reducing weight.It is not beneficial
to the development of the internal force,internal organs or gererally the body internally.Grandmaster Cheng Man Ching has
said,"I practise the mobilisation of the internal force and Qi using the 37 basic movements every day.One set of movements
lasts only 7 minutes." Practising too much or too little is subject to whether it is practised correctly or not. Utilising
my experience and following my practising technique,students are encouraged to practise every morning and evening using about
5 minutes to practise a particular movement or posture(dividing each of them into 2 parts)over and over again.Those studens
who do so are likely to succeed.
12 Q: Some students have been learning and practising Tai Ji for several years and
are yet unstable.Why is this so?
Answer: A lot of students are using wrong learning and practising technique.Students
must start with understanding the Dao of philosophy,then the principles,then using the correct method and finally putting
in the effort.He must understand the relationship of man and his surroundings or the universe and use the method of Qi to
practice.He must be humble and persistent in his practice.Slowly,rootedness will result and the method of practising be understood.Understand
the principles and be aware of the less obvious and unnoticeable aspects in slowing acquiring skill.Being rooted and having
internal force can never be observed externally.They can be accomplished through correct method.In practising the movement
and developing the internal force,the joints of the body must be loosened and yet linked.The whole body is relaxed and is
not easily pushed over by an opponent.Substantiality is distinguished from insubstantiality.Aim to be flexible and pliable
like a snake whose tail will come in to help if you attack the head,or vice versa or whose tail and head will assist when
the centre is attacked.Be responsive to consciousness(or intent),then tranquillity and pliability can be achieved.It is easier
to lift off a 200 katies iron rod than to lift up a 100 katies iron chain.This illustrates the principles of throroughly relaxed
joints.Students must also understand the application of yin and yang in the movements and push hand exercises.Yin and yang
principles are in Tai Ji which encompasses the universe:all movements whether divided according to upper and lower body,right
and left,front and back,internal and external must not deviate from the principles of substantiality and insubstantiality.Moving
and stillness alternate continously:Yin does not depart from Yang and vice versa.When Yang moves,Yin also moves and vice versa.This
principle must be understood when practising the set movements. The body and the character is trained together as is the acquisition
of the Dao and the art.Dao is likened to yin while the art or skill is the yang.Yang is evolved from yin at yin's completion.Being
relaxed,stillness and being rooted become yin comonents.Neutralisation of force forms the basic foundation where no strength
is used.Stillness is like that of the mountain.No change is seen but it is capable of a lot of changes.The founder has said,"Dao
is the basis,art is the consequential".One must therefore acquire Dao by learning not to resist,for only then will the body
learn to be obedient.In attacking and defending,one must understand the method,then acquire insubstantiality and quietude.Only
then will the defence be solid.Attacking will also be successful as one is naturally comfortable.In pushing hands exercise,one
must learn to achieve non-resistance and stickiness.Having achieved stickiness,then one can achieve the ability to neutralise
force.With adequate reserves,the neutrasising ability is applied with an involuntary exertion of internal force.
Q: How should a student relate to his teacher?
Answer: In the present day,science is very advanced affecting all aspects
of human endeavour day by day.This gives rise to stress and keen competition in business having a telling effect on the spirit.This
is a common malady.This is why Tai Ji an ancient art,is popular and a common practice.It has no secrets.It is equitable to
all as it discriminates against no student.But students often commit errors in practising the art.Students should bear in
mind the following pointers:
1. Respect the teacher and accept the philosophy or Dao of the art;
2. Be honest
and do not take unfair advantage;
3. Be conscientious and serious,think,observe and feel or being aware during practice;
4. Progress step by step;
5. Be humble and practice constantly; and
6. follow all the principles mentioned earlier
when practising by themselves.
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