Feng Zhiqiang on: How to Train and Nurture Your Life, Part 2
Feng Zhiqiang on: How to Train and Nurture Your Life, Part 2
By Marvin Smallheiser, Translators were Yang Yang and Chun Man Sit
Published in T’ai Chi – The International Magazine of T’ai Chi Ch’uan Vol 25, No 5
In his seminar in Champaign, Feng discussed 12 essential points for entering the gate of T’ai Chi Ch’uan (Taijiquan). The following are comments that Feng made on these 12 points.
1. Heart and Spirit are kept empty and quiet from start to end.
The beginning of T’ai Chi is Wuji. T’ai chi is Yin and Yang and from T’ai Chi comes heaven, earth and man. In Chinese theory, Wuji is before heaven and earth. In Wuji, it looks like there is no movement from outside. But there is movement inside.
There are two kinds of energy in Wuji. A light one goes up and becomes heaven, and a heavy one goes down and becomes earth. From this movement of separation there is T’ai Chi, Yin and Yang. Then there is what is called three treasures: Heaven, Earth and Humanity.
From these treasures come the four directions and the five elements. The five elements correspond to metal, wood, fire, earth and water, and also to the five directions of T’ai Chi Ch’uan (Taijiquan): step left, step right, forward, back and centre.
In this process there is produced six harmonies in which shoulders and hips correspond, palms and feet, and elbows and knees. Then the seven stars are produced which correspond to the body’s major joints: the knees, hips, shoulders, ankles, elbows, wrist and head. When you practice T’ai Chi Ch’uan (Taijiquan), all these seven stars turn so when you do the form, all joints have to turn to get the six harmonies. Subsequently created are the Bagua and the Nine Palaces, which is the 8 bagua plus the centre. Ten is Wuji stillness outside and inside movement.
From internal movement Wuji creates external movement. In T’ai Chi when the internal movement comes out, it nurtures the mind. The combination of internal and external motion helps to create stillness because from movement there is stillness inside to create the spiritual essence. When you are doing non-motion such as wuji, you are nurturing the spiritual life. In movement, you are nurturing the physical body.
To improve your T’ai Chi Ch’uan (Taijiquan), you need from the beginning to cultivate quiet and emptiness (xin shen yi). You want to keep empty and quiet during the entire form, even when doing fa-jin. It is very important when doing the form from beginning to end to always feel like you are walking carefully on thin ice. You should be light and flexible and not too solid or over-committed. This is how you can be able to change according to what is coming to you. If you are over conditioned, too tense or too solid, you cannot easily change.
2. Central Equilibrium (Zhong Ding)
The main thing is that the baihui and huiyin acupuncture points have to be in one straight line to cultivate Zhong ding, or central equilibrium. (The baihui is at the crown of the head. The huiyin is at the perineum at the bottom of the torso between the legs.) This straight line produces central equilibrium qi, or zhong qi. This enables the spirit to come to the top of the head.
In motion, the qi goes out from the dantian; in stillness it returns to the dantian. The classics say that when breathing, the qi sticks to the back if you breathe into the dantian.
During wuji, you can practice later heaven or early heaven breathing. But during form practice, do not focus on the breathing. Just focus on intent, or yi. When your intent arrives, the qi will follow. Some people focus on breathing when they do the form and their qi becomes blocked. At the end of each movement, the most important thing to do is to be sung and relaxed. Centre your body and do not lean. That will save your qi. The qi starts from the heart, or xin.
3. Use the Mind, Yi, to move the qi. The Heart is the commander.
Thee Yi directs the qi and it starts from the heart, the xin. The mind is used to open and close movements. The most important thing in internal styles and qigong is that you think about what you want to do and then it happens.
When you are thinking actively, feeling alive, or feel energy in your form, qi is there. Energy and power will be there. The most important thing in the internal styles and qigong is to use your heart and mind. When you are able to think when you do your movements, you will get real power. Shaolin or other external styles use qi and strength, but they rely more on strength.
Using Yi nurtures the body while using strength injures the body. Yi means thinking and it also contains the idea of shen, or spirit. If I come to the U.S., first my Yi wants to come to the U.S., then my body will come. It is important to use the Yi to direct the whole body.
In the same way the Yi moves the qi. Then the whole body can move as if it is one family together. If the Yi is there, the qi will be there and the power will be there.
4. Relax (Sung) and Sink.
First you sung, and then sink. When doing the form it is important to loosen so that the qi can sink, then you can have good balance. The key to doing T’ai Chi well is to have a calm and quiet mind. Then you can do good T’ai Chi.
Before you do the form, make your mind calm. You want to make it positive and be willing to endure or suffer whatever you encounter, not only when you do the form, but in life so you can create harmony. T’ai Chi is harmony. When you meet another person, new people, or friends, try to be in harmony with them. Be happy. This is part of T’ai Chi training.
5. Search for smoothness and softness.
While practicing, cultivate smoothness and softness; then you are not fighting against yourself. Stiffness results when Yin and Yang are not in harmony. One way to do this is to imagine you are swimming in air. In your mind, in your Yi, feel that you are swimming nicely in air or creating a painting nicely.
In practicing the form, you always want to separate the substantial from the insubstantial. Do this clearly. Use separating of substantial and insubstantial to train the qi. You can do this by moving from side to side. You can do this with circular movements too.
In T’ai Chi, we need to do the form slowly so it can nurture us. Doing the form fast can harm you. The important thing is when you do it slowly, you will be able to separate Yin and Yang, substantial and insubstantial, and hard and soft.
6. The Inside and Outside and the Upper and Lower should work together.
The outside and inside should become one and the upper body and lower body should follow each other. This means they should become co-ordinated.
Practicing movement is the outside. Your mind, your Yi is inside. The mind and the movement have to be together as one. In that way, the inside and the outside become one.
There is a higher level of inside and outside cooperating as one. This occurs after a lot of time practicing. Then the qi movement becomes one with the body movement of the form. The qi then moves in harmony with the physical movement.
The initial level involves thinking about what you are moving. When you can feel the qi in harmony with the outside movement, then the inside and outside are together, but at a much higher level of T’ai Chi Ch’uan (Taijiquan). This is called the Hunyuan level of T'ai Chi Ch’uan (Taijiquan). At this level, the qi starts from the dantian and rotates outward in the body. This is a high level of T’ai Chi and a successful stage of T’ai Chi. It is not easy to accomplish and not everyone can achieve it. It takes hard work and good karma. Even though not everyone can reach that level, the path we are taking now is the correct path. You will achieve it if you keep working along this path.
When you practice the form, make the whole body into one single unit with the whole body committed to each movement. The mind thinks what the body is supposed to be doing and everything should work in harmony. If only a hand or arm is moving, the whole body is not moving. You have to use the waist to aid in making a hand movement into a whole body movement.
7. The transition of Yin and Yang will help you find hard and soft, the solid and the empty.
Be aware of which hand is solid and empty and which legs are solid and light. This depends on the waist. Changing from solid to empty or empty to solid depends on the waist.
Whenever you start any movement, first start from the waist and also from the dantian. When you want to get the right opportunity or the right position in T’ai Chi use the waist and the legs. All the 13 kinetic movements of T’ai Chi start at the waist.
You need to take care of and protect the waist. If you can take care of the waist, then you can take care of the whole body because the dantian is at the waist. In T’ai Chi it doesn’t matter what you do, whether in fighting or practicing the form. Everything starts from the waist. There are three dantians at the waist. One is at the front, one in the back at the mingmen acupuncture point and one in the middle.
Feng told a story about aa conversation he had in China with a famous T’ai Chi Ch’uan (Taijiquan) teacher. He mentioned the dantian but the teacher replied that he didn’t care about the dantian. He said “All you need to do is the form.”
When you practice, you need to try and understand what you are doing. You need to know the principles and the theory of it. Otherwise, you won’t understand T’ai Chi Ch’uan (Taijiquan) and the dantian. In the form, there is an interchange between hardness and softness and tightness and looseness and open and close. One can change into the other. There is an internalisation of softness and hardness, tightness and looseness. Looseness and tightness are degrees of the same thing.
8. The silk reeling energy (chan ssu jin) should be present throughout body.
In T’ai Chi Ch’uan (Taijiquan), the entire body is filled with circles. They need not be 360 degrees. They can be arcs, including 180 degrees, 20 degrees, 30 degrees etc. This is what I call the hunyuan exercise. There are no straight lines. They are all curved. You can do a whole circle, half a circle, one-fourth circle, or one sixteenth circle. This is hunyuan movement. We need to realise that our bodies are round: the head, eyeballs etc.
Qi moves in curved lines, in circles. In modern life there are many circles in autos, motors, trees. Everything uses the silk reeling principle. All force and energy in our body starts from a curved line. The planets and stars move in circles. The silk reeling hunyuan T’ai Chi Ch’uan is based on the principles of the universe’s movement. The basic T’ai Chi form and qigong and similar exercises use silk reeling energy. Silk reeling is the most valuable aspect of T’ai Chi and qigong.
Training in silk reeling coordinates with the truth of the universe and is very beneficial for the body. We practice until we feel the whole body is all silk reeling circles. It is very important in T’ai Chi to focus on the movement in curved lines or circles.
9. Search for open and close by folding the chest and stomach
It is important to implement open and close in the body. It is like folding and unfolding a piece of paper. To open and close you need to use the chest and the belly. You need to use all parts of the body, the waist, knees, and arms and back as well. The hands open and close and even the face does this.
Open and close is more characteristic of the Chen style. It is not as obvious in other T’ai Chi styles.
10. Concentrate on the dantian to improve neigong (internal force)
Why focus on the dantian? It is because the dantian is the place where you train the qi. You can do this by using the mind to think about the dantian. There is heng and ha qi. (Heng is the sound made inhaling and ha is the sound made exhaling during fa-jin.) Dantian breathing is the early heaven breathing. You can use it during standing meditation. You don’t have to do it do it during T’ai chi form training.
In the dantian, all the meridians open when you exhale and they close when you inhale. When we do T’ai Chi, we are doing qigong and silk reeling. Qi is very important to cultivate. Each day we must have food, water and qi, but the most important is qi, followed by water and then food.
When you practice T’ai Chi Ch’uan (Taijiquan), you accumulate qi. You can get double the amount of oxygen of the average person.
11. Keep your heart calm and mind quiet, and practice slowly (stillness in movement)
The form is moving standing pole (huo zhuang)
Slow practice is helpful to quiet the heart. In the Wuji standing posture you become like a tree. Your energy goes down to the ground where you get a root. It is easy for the heavy qi to sink and the vital qi to go up to the top of the head.
The practice of stillness is a quiet gong and improves your internal qi. T’ai Chi Ch’uan (Taijiquan) is moving gong. In standing position, you can improve your internal qi and your root. It will nurture your spirit. When you quietly train this way, you will get a lot of qi and the qi will turn into spirit. Thus, it becomes spiritual training. When you train for a long time with this method, you will see what nature really is. Then you will reach the highest level.
In dantian training over aa long period of time, you will accumulate the treasure of longevity. If people offer you 10,000 ounces of gold for this treasure, don’t sell it. Keep it for yourself because this treasure was earned by years of hard training.
When you do the form, keep the heart quiet and do it very slow. Then you will get the same result as standing practice. It is moving, standing meditation. In the old days, Taoist priests practiced in this way. In China, the idea of Taoist-Buddhist training was to train yourself to become a spiritual being. Both Taoism and Buddhism need faith, but they also need training to reach a certain standard and to reach a certain goal. It is not faith alone.
Our training is very important and it is very important to have good morals and character. You should not train in T’ai Chi Ch’uan (Taijiquan) and then do something bad. You have to cultivate a pure and peaceful mind. Then your training will go up. But if your actions hurt people, then your training will go lower and lower.
The idea of T’ai Chi is the grand ultimate. But you can also say it is the grand harmony. In doing T’ai Chi form, we attempt to set the mind at peace. So we need to practice slowly. Quick training and quick movement will hurt you. Slow movement will nurture you. That is why we always do T’ai Chi slowly.
We need to move slowly so the qi can move with the movement. If we train too fast, the qi will not be there when we finish the posture. Practicing fast is not in accord with the qi and the blood. In slow training of the movements, you train the qi and the blood and the movement will be synchronised. Slow practice will give health, longevity and internal power.
In the martial arts, we have to train for qi and health and put them together. If you only train in the martial arts aspect and not train for the Tao, not train for Yin and Yang, without learning T’ai Chi Ch’uan (Taijiquan) principles and just think, “I am going to practice the martial art,” then no matter how long you practice you will never get the real T’ai Chi Ch’uan (Taijiquan).
The internal power is the result of internal training and internal energy. Just learning fighting applications is external training. No matter how many techniques you know, if they are without internal power, it is not really effective.
But if you train for the Tao and not train for martial arts applications and movement, then you might have lots of neigong and internal power, but you will be very awkward and clumsy in self defence.
The highest level is to train in martial arts and the Tao and Chinese medicine. Then if you get hurt you heal yourself and other people. At a high level are the people who practice Wushu martial arts, T’ai Chi Ch’uan (Taijiquan), Taoism and healing.
12. You will be successful if you know both how to practice and how to nurture yourself (Yang Sheng)
The classics say that if you know how to train and do not know how to nurture, you can train a hundred days, a thousand days, and your energy and skill will not increase that much.
In martial arts training, the basic thing is to nurture. You have to nurture and have to keep on training to nurture. Otherwise, you will not improve too much. Training and nurturing should be together. And you have to understand how to nurture yourself.
There are many aspects of nurturing, even in daily life: how we treat our family, how we teach, how we learn from the teacher. You have to keep nurturing and to do this you need to keep calm and harmonious and happy. That is how to nurture your training. This also includes work and how we eat and sleep.
We need to learn the middle way: no excess and no deficiency. The key is not too much and not too little. The middle way. This is the way to train in T’ai Chi form, according to your own ability. You need to find your own standard. When you can do this, this is how to train.
Do not overdo and do not underdo. This is to know how to train and nurture. No excess, no deficiency, no insufficiency. In our social life and family, we can keep harmony; T’ai Chi is the grand harmony and we can be healthy. We will have qi and will get longevity.
For T’ai Chi gongfu, the basic idea is nurturing. If you can nurture correctly, you can train forever with the right amount of training. If you overdo, you will get burned out. Only through training can you improve your gongfu. If you don’t have the right kind of nurturing you will not train correctly and you are not going to improve. Everything has the same reasoning, the same truth. For example, if you keep your car in good shape, it can run for a long time.
When we do the form, we should feel like we are swimming in air and feel comfortable and happy. That is how you can improve your gongfu. In training, you should be aware of the three treasures: Heaven, Earth and Humanity. When you do the form, you are in the middle, as high as heaven and as deep as the earth. You can touch Heaven and Earth. When I am like that my qi is strong.
In every form, there is an exercise of stretching tendons and letting the blood circulate smoothly. If you think like that you will have a better practice. When you do the form, imagine you are a painter painting T’ai Chi circles, big ones and small ones. They are round, not square. In the form, there are no squares. Everything is round.
When you practice the form, you say to yourself, I can inhale all this good energy from the whole universe and expel the sick qi, all the bad energy, from my body. Remember that when you practice it is not hard labour. It is exercise. When you are very tired, do a few slow movements, then rest. Then there is a better result. Imagine the meridians in the body open with nothing blocked.
With the practice of T’ai Chi and qigong, the whole body works together. This is better than resting. This is how slow movement is beneficial. In such a way of training, it will help you to balance of Yin and Yang.
In answer to questions about the 12 principles, Feng made the following remarks.
Question: Can you practice too slowly?
Feng: As long as the movement is not stopped or broken, it is okay to practice slowly.
Question: Is there a difference between men and women in energy practice?
Feng: Basically, it is the same, except for the operation of the lower dantian. This is slightly different.
Question: What is the difference between Hunyuan practice and Chen style T’ai Chi Ch’uan (Taijiquan)?
Feng: The symbol of T’ai Chi is round. That is really the symbol of hunyuan. When you are doing Chen T’ai Chi, you focus on the circle and hunyuan means the circle.
All five major style have a slightly different culture. The major culture of Chen style is the circle, silk reeling and hunyuan. Yang style culture emphasises pulling energy and openness. Wu style emphasises quietness and lots of rooting in steps. Wu/Hao is in between Yang style and Chen style. Sun style is related to Xingyi.
Question: Sometimes when you are seated, there is movement in the body. What is that movement?
Feng: It happens. In stillness there is movement. Sometimes while sitting, the dantian and energy make natural movements in the body. Sometimes it is very small and slow. Sometimes it is silk reeling; sometimes, slow motion. It is normal, not abnormal. It represents the change of balance on Yin and Yang within.