Article 1: 

Like the Body of a Dragon

Feng Zhiqiang demonstrating the move "Leisurely Tie the Coat," at Pema Osel Ling, Santa Cruz, 2001

Like the Body of a Dragon: 

Some notes on correct Taiji practice, by Grandmaster Feng Zhiqiang, from the July, 2001 Santa Cruz workshop. Edited by Malcolm Dean, translated by Brian Guan. 

Editor's Note: 

In July 2001, Grandmaster Feng Zhiqiang and his senior disciple Master Zhang Xuexin held a four-day intensive at Pema Osel Ling, a Buddhist retreat center in the Santa Cruz mountains near San Francisco. Besides hours of form, qigong and push-hands, Master Feng also presented several wide-ranging lectures that were translated on the spot by Brian Guan. Here are a few of Grandmaster Feng’s comments on six basic principles of Hunyuan Taiji practice. Since these comments were largely aimed at students with intermediate or more advanced skills, I've added editorial comments in brackets to help beginners. Where possible, the material is in the form of direct quotations from Brian Guan's translation of the audio transcript; where the audio was unclear or missing, the material is compiled from our notes. 

Six Principles of Hunyuan Taiji Practice


During his introductory remarks at the 2001 Santa Cruz workshop, Grandmaster Feng discussed six basic principles of Hunyuan Taiji practice. They were:


1 Gentle is better than forceful

2 High is better than low

3 Slow is better than fast

4 Long is better than short

5 Curved is better than straight

6 Single-weighted is better than double-weighted

Master Feng's comments on the six principles:

1 Gentle is better than forceful (yang shinte: nurture the body)


Master Feng emphasized that he now recommends the almost complete elimination of fajin during forms practice. [Fajin is the sudden explosive release of energy (chi or qi) at critical points in the practice forms where martial techniques would be applied if in actual combat. This is a traditional part of Chen Style Taiji, and is very attractive to some beginning students. Unfortunately fajin is dangerous if not done correctly: Instead of being issued cleanly, the qi can bounce back into the body and cause tissue damage. Master Feng is here responding to what was then a growing trend among Taiji players to exaggerate and embellish fajin in forms practice and performance; he made clear he considered such exaggerated exhibitions to be both aesthetically distasteful and physically dangerous.]


In his own demonstrations, Master Feng refrained from any foot stamping fajin, and only occasionally issued power through the fist or elbow, and then only with great moderation. In his remarks, Grandmaster Feng emphasized that this is because fajin, even if it's done correctly by an experienced player, can cause harm to the body over time by damaging the tissues, especially the joints, soft organs and brain. Stamping can cause long-term harm to the knee and hip joints, as well as the organs, and punching can actually cause a concussion-like effect on the brain. He cautioned that the damage may not show up immediately, but may manifest later in life and cause severe health problems. This is directly contrary to the first rule of Hunyuan Taiji practice: yang shinte, "nurture the body." 

2 High is better than low


Master Feng emphasized that constant practice in a stance that's too low can cause long-term damage to the body, especially the knee joints. He also pointed out that in low stances there can be an interruption of the flow of qi that can compromise a move’s effectiveness in martial application. A stance that’s too low will cut the flow of qi at the knees, and will also cause leakage through the huiyin (perineum). [Again, Master Feng is responding to another error in practice, especially common among younger male practitioners, who sometimes force a very low practice stance in order to build strength and martial ability as quickly as possible.]


Grandmaster Feng stated “...when you have very low stance, qi leaks out from the perineum. There’s no way you would know. When qi leaks out from the perineum you can never sense it. Also, when you have very low stance the angle at the knee is too sharp, so qi can't flow down the leg very easily. We must differentiate between what is good for us and what is bad for us, and what is damaging our body and what is nurturing our body... When you are practicing in lower stance, yes, your martial ability may increase faster, but you’re doing damage to your own body, and you don't even realize that you’re leaking qi.”


3 Long is better than short


Grandmaster Feng said “Taiji is a 'long' form of martial art, as in stretching, lengthening. Xingyi, in contrast, is a shorter form, more compact. Even though Xingyi is a short form of martial art, it uses the body's natural springy, jumpy power to make up for the lack of distance. However, Taiji is a long form of martial art. It’s like the body of a dragon. Tongbei, another Chinese martial art, is another long form of martial art, because you are always extending your arms. Taiji absorbs the strength of all these different martial arts and forms its own unique style. This movement in our form [he demonstrates a move], it’s from Xingyi. This [he demonstrates another move] is from Tongbei. This move is from Shaolin. This is from Preying Mantis. This is also from Preying Mantis. The elbow strikes in Taiji come from Baji. Taiji is a compound of eighteen other martial art styles. [Taiji uses] the theory of Taoism, I Ching, and Chinese Traditional Medicine to form its theoretical foundation, especially yin-yang theory and the meridians in traditional medicine.”


[In performance, Master Feng expresses very long, large movements, fully extending his arms. Since he has an enormous reach, the effect is heightened, but his arms are never hyperextended; see photo above.]


4+5 Slow is better than fast + Curved is better than straight


[In the following comments Master Feng made clear that Long is better than short should be considered simultaneously with Slow is better than fast and Curved is better than straight. In fact all six principles should be considered simultaneously.]


Grandmaster Feng stated: “But even when your limbs are lengthened, they’re also curved. The body is the same. It should never be too straight. There should always be a curve somewhere. The Taiji body has five bows, as in bow and arrow. So one arm, the other arm—two bows. One leg, the other leg and your spine, three more. So, five bows. There is a Taiji saying that your body has five bows, and if you can express the springy power [in these five bows] there is no opponent under Heaven [who can beat you]... Curving the chest is also a bow [the obverse to curving the back]. Only by practicing in a slow and lengthening manner, can you then cultivate the springy energy. Something with springiness is very strong. If you drop it, it won't break. But if you have something that is hard and brittle, when you drop it, it will shatter. That’s what the old martial arts masters would say. If your body has five bows and you can do the spring energy, you will have no enemy and no opponent under Heaven. So practicing martial arts, you should know the theory. Only by knowing the theory can you grasp the martial art aspect.”

6 Single-weighted is better than double-weighted


[Being "double-weighted" means having the weight evenly distributed on both feet. Being "single-weighted" means having the weight on one foot, or shifted more to one foot. Being "double-weighted" is bad because it's static: the flow of qi stops between the left and right halves of the body, especially the legs, and it's hard to turn or pivot. Being "single-weighted" is dynamic, promotes the flow of qi, and makes it easy to turn or pivot.]


Grandmaster Feng stated: “Weight on one side is better than evenly distributed. Single-weighted is better than double-weighted. Even when you're standing upright, your weight should only be on one leg. When you’re standing you should be relaxed and have your weight shifting from one leg to the other, never fifty-fifty. But not too obvious -- that looks funny. Don’t let it be visible to an observer, but you should shift your weight from one leg to the other. Same thing with the foot. When you are standing you should never tighten your foot, and you should also flex it gently. Never stay in one position.”


[Master Feng practiced this advice constantly for the entire four days of the workshop. He was always moving, even when he was standing still. It wasn't obvious, because it was so subtle and natural, but it was like watching a sailor on the deck of a boat, constantly responding to the motion of the waves beneath him. In fact, it looked like a kind of continuous subtle qigong; he never stopped practicing, even when he was lecturing or resting.]•••