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:
The compilation is comprised of five parts, each part describing one tactic. I will be writing one blog for each tactic. I’ll 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’ll likely recognize these posters as we view each one and reflect upon their translations.
Heart is Calm 心静
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 身灵
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 气敛
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 劲整
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.
Vital Energy Focused 神聚
Once you have acquired the other four tactics, you can return to Focused Vital Energy. When vital energy is focused, it is continuous and uninterrupted. Training your internal force returns vital energy. When your internal force is ready to maneuver and your vital energy 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. Vital energy must be focused. All of this is done from within. 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 open. Close 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.