The Taijiquan Treatise and the Five Character Tactics are two very important masterpieces of literature that accurately captures the essence of Tai Chi as a martial art. The Five Character Tactics explores the five requirements or states that a tai chi practitioner needs to achieve in the process of learning tai chi.

The five words that represent the five tactics are:

  1. Calmness
  2. Awareness
  3. Convergence
  4. Wholeness
  5. Focus

The compilation is comprised of five parts, each part describing one tactic. I will be writing one blog for each tactic. I will also share information on how to practice in order to achieve these five desired states.

Many people have asked me for the translation of the Five Character Tactics which are the five framed posters hanging on the wall of the large studio at our school.  You will likely recognize these posters as we view each one and reflect upon their translations.

Heart is Calm 心静

心不靜則不專,一舉手前後左右全無定向,故要心靜。起初舉動,未能由己,要悉心體認,隨人所動,隨曲就伸,不丟不頂,勿自伸縮。彼有力,我亦有力,我力在先。彼無力,我亦無力,我意仍在先。要刻刻留心,挨何處,心要用在何處,須向不丟不頂中討消息。從此做去,一年半載,便能施於身。此全是用意,不是用勁,久之,則人為我制,我不為人制矣。

TRANSLATION:

If the heart and mind is not calm, one cannot concentrate. When the arm is raised, it does not know which direction to go. Therefore, it is necessary to first achieve calmness.

When a move begins, do not move on your own. Instead, listen carefully and follow your opponent. Bend and straighten without retreating or over extending while never yielding and never resisting. If my opponent has strength, I also have strength and my strength leads. If my opponent does not have strength, I am also without strength but my intent still leads.

Be constantly mindful of your body and the contact point. Go with your heart. Find rest in the midst of not yielding and not resisting. Train this way for up to a half or full year. It will then become instinctive. All of this should be done with intention, not force. Over time, I will control the opponent and no one can control me.

Body Awareness 身靈

身滯則進退不能自如,故要身靈。舉手不可有呆像。彼之力方挨我皮毛,我之意已入彼骨內。兩手支撐,一氣貫串,左重則左虛,而右已去;右重則右虛,而左已去。氣如車輪,周身俱要相隨,有能不相隨處,身便散亂,便不得力。其病於腰腿求之。先以心使身,從人不從己,後身能從心,由己仍是從人。由己則滯,從人則活。能從人,手上便有分寸。稱彼勁之大小。分厘不錯;權來意之長短,毫髮無差。前進後退,處處恰合,工彌久而技彌精矣。

TRANSLATION:

A stagnant body cannot move freely so we need to be aware of our body. You cannot raise an arm in a trance. The moment the force of my opponent touches my skin; my intention is already penetrating his bones. When lifting up the arms, the internal force threads through the arm. If the left is heavy, the left becomes empty and the right moves in. When the right is heavy, the right becomes empty and the left moves in.

Internal force in the body is like the wheels of a car. They must coordinate and move together. Otherwise, your body becomes disoriented and weak. The problem is typically in the waist and legs. Begin by using your heart to move the body. Follow your opponent and not yourself. Later, your body will follow your heart while you are still following your opponent.

When you follow yourself, you are sluggish. When you follow your opponent, you are agile. If you can follow, you become very sensitive and can sense accurately the amount of force. You can gauge the distance of your opponent’s approach and intention without mistake. Advance or retreat, coordination is perfect. Practice this diligently and you will become skillful in your techniques.

Internal Force Converged 氣斂

氣勢散漫,便無含蓄,易散亂。務使氣斂入脊骨。吸呼通靈,周身無間。吸為合為蓄,呼為開為發。蓋吸則自然提得起,亦拿得人起;呼則自然沉得下,亦放得人出。此是以意運氣,非以力使氣也。

TRANSLATION:

If internal force is undisciplined, then it is not stored and it is easy to scatter. Allow internal force to converge onto the spine, moving in and out unimpeded throughout the whole body. The term In means to close or gather. The term Out means to open or release. The internal force of In naturally lifts up to uproot your opponent. The internal force of Out naturally sinks down to expel your opponent. This is done through the use of intention to move your internal force as opposed to using brute strength to mobilize your force.

Energy is Whole 勁整

一身之勁,練成一家。分清虛實,發勁要有根源。勁起腳跟,主於間腰,發於脊背,形於手指。又要提起全副精神,於彼勁出發之際,我勁已接入彼勁,恰好不後不先。如皮然火,如泉湧出。前進後退,絲毫不亂,曲中求直,蓄而後發,方能隨手奏效。此謂借力打人,四兩撥千斤也。

TRANSLATION:

The energy from the whole body practices to unite as one. Distinguish clearly between substantial and insubstantial. There must be a root for your energy. One’s energy starts from the heel of the foot.  It is controlled at the waist.  It is released from the spine. And, it is manifested in the fingers.

One must concentrate deeply. At the moment just before your opponent releases energy, your energy should already be penetrating their energy. The timing can be neither late nor early like tinder for starting a fire or a fountain gushing out. Forward to advance or backward to retreat, not the slightest bit disorganized, seeking straightness from crookedness. Store first before releasing, then your movement will flow with ease. This is called borrowing your opponent’s force to strike back or using four ounces to deflect a thousand pounds.

Mentally Focused 神聚

上四者俱備,總歸神聚。神聚則一氣鼓鑄。煉氣歸神,氣勢騰挪,精神貫注,開合有致,虛實清楚。左虛則右實,右虛則左實。虛非全然無力,氣勢要有騰挪。實非全然佔煞,精神貴貫注。緊要全在胸中、腰間運化,不在外面。力從人借,氣由脊發。胡能氣由脊發,氣向下沉,由兩肩收於脊骨,注於腰間,此指,此氣之由上而下也,謂之開。合便是收,開即是放。懂得開合,便知陰陽,到此地位,功用一日,技精一籌,漸至從心所欲,罔不如意矣。

TRANSLATION:

Once you have acquired the other four tactics, you can return to Mental or Spiritual Focus. When your mind is focused, it is continuous and uninterrupted. Training your internal force returns to the mind. When your internal force is ready to maneuver and your mind is focused, opening and closing occurs at will. The differentiation of substantial and insubstantial is clear. If left is insubstantial then the right is substantial and vice-versa.

Insubstantial does not mean completely without strength. Internal force must be ready to maneuver. Substantial does not mean completely locked. Mind must be focused. All of this is done from within the chest, maneuver from the waist, never from the outside.

Borrow strength from the opponent using force released from the spine. To release force from the spine, let the force sink down. Collect from the two shoulders towards the spine and down to the waist. The force then travels up and down. This state is called openClose is to gather. Open is to release. When you know Open and Close, then you know Yin and Yang. When you reach this level, each day’s vital energy nourishes you. Gradually things follow your heart.  Nothing will make you unhappy.

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