The Tai Chi Classics: A New English Translation

The Tai Chi Classics are a small collection of writings that inspired, or were inspired by, the art of Tai Chi Chuan.

Accurate interpretation relies upon an understanding of language and history, the culture, and most importantly, the discipline itself. English presentations of these Classics are typically eisegetic. Translators enhance the original text, filling in apparent gaps with their own biases, preferences and presuppositions.

Here we provide you with a version of the original Chinese writings, and an unembellished translation. This allows the reader to verify the interpretation, and to discover additional context via online dictionaries and other Internet resources.

List of Classics

See also:

Tai Chi Chuan Theory
Tàijíquán Lùn 《太极拳论》

Attributed to Wáng Zōngyuè (王宗岳) by Li Yiyu (李亦畬)

太极者, 无极而生,
Taiji, born from Wuji,

阴阳之母也。
Mother of Yin and Yang.

动之则分。静之则合。
In movement, they diverge. In stillness, they merge.

无过不及。随曲就伸。
Not too much or too little. Follow the curve, extend the movement.

人刚我柔。谓之走。我顺人背。谓之粘。
Others are strong, I am soft. This is movement. I follow behind them. This is sticking.

动急则急应。动缓则缓随。虽变化万端, 而理唯一贯。
When there is a rush, I quickly respond. When they move slowly, I slowly follow. Through ten thousand changes, this one reason persists.

由著熟而渐悟懂劤。由懂劤而阶及神明。然非用力之久, 不能豁然贯通焉。
Gradually become familiar and understand it. Thereby reach the level of spiritual illumination. If you don’t use force for a long time, you will not comprehend it.

虚领顶劤。气沉丹田。
Xu ling ding jin. Qi kept down in dantian.

不偏不倚。忽隐忽现。
No slant, no lean. Suddenly concealed, suddenly revealed.

左重则左虚。右重则右杳。仰之则弥髙。俯之则弥深。进之则愈长。退之则愈促。
When the left is weighted, the left is emptied. When the right is weighted, the right is quiet. Look up, it is higher. Look down, it is deeper. Advance, it is further. Retreat, it is faster.

一羽不能加。蝇虫不能落。人不知我。我独知人。
One feather cannot be added. A fly cannot alight. People do not know me. I alone know them.

英雄所向无敌。盖皆由此而及也。
The hero encounters no match. All are covered.

斯技旁门甚多。虽势有区别。概不外壮欺弱。慢让快耳。
There are many tricky methods. They have their relevance. Generally, nothing more than strong bullying weak. Slow losing to fast.

有力打无力, 手慢让手快, 是皆先天自然之能。非闗学力而有也。
Those having strength beating those without; slow hands conceding to fast hands; this is natural ability. Not the result of study.

察四两拨千斤之句。显非力胜。观耄耋御众之形。快何能为。
Look at “Four ounces deflects one thousand pounds.” Obviously not a victory through strength. Observe an old man resisting a crowd. How can it be due to speed?

立如枰凖。活似车轮。偏沉则随。双重则滞。
Stand like a steelyard; move like a wheel. Favor one side, you can follow. Double heavy, you are sluggish.

每见数年纯功。不能运化者。率皆自为人制。双重之病未悟耳。
After years of hard work, one cannot move, and is controlled by another. The disease of “double heavy” is not yet understood.

欲避此病。须知阴阳。粘即是走。走即是粘。阳不离阴。阴不离阳。阴阳相济。方为懂劤。
You want to avoid this disease. Must know yin and yang. Stick and move. Move and stick. Yang does not separate from yin. Yin does not depart from yang. Yin and yang mutually support. This is the way to understand jin.

懂劤后愈练愈精。默识揣摩。渐至从心所欲。本是舍已从人。
After understanding jin, more practice, more skill. Study quietly. Gradually, follow your heart. This is to abandon oneself and follow others.

多悞舍近求逺。所谓差之毫厘。谬之千里。学者不可不详辨焉。是为论。
Many people give up the near to seek the far. This is called “missed by a hair, wrong by a thousand miles.” Learners must study in detail. This is the theory.

Ten Essential Points
《太极拳术十要》

Taught by Yáng Chéngfǔ (杨澄甫) and written by Chén Wēimíng (陈微明).

一。 虚灵顶劲
Yī. Xū líng dǐng jìn
1. Xu ling ding jin.

二。 含胸拔背
Èr. Hánxiōng bá bèi
2. Contain the chest, expand the back.

三。 松腰
Sān. Sōng yāo
3. Song the waist.

四。 分虚实
Sì. Fēn xūshí
4. Distinguish empty and full.

五。 沉肩坠肘
Wǔ. Chén jiān zhuì zhǒu
5. Drop shoulders and elbows.

六。 用意不用力
Liù. Yòngyì bùyòng lì
6. Use Yi, not Li.

七。上下相随
Qī. Shàngxià xiāng suí
7. Upper and lower follow each other.

八。 内外相合
Bā. Nèiwài xiànghé
8. Internal and external harmonize.

九。 相连不断
Jiǔ. Xiānglián bùduàn
9. Continuous without breaks or gaps.

十。 动中求静
Shí. Dòng zhōng qiú jìng
10. Seek stillness in motion.

On Fighting
Dǎshǒu gē 《打手歌》

Attributed to Wáng Zōngyuè (王宗岳)

掤捋挤按须认真, 上下相随人难进。
Péng lǚ jǐ àn xū rènzhēn, shàngxià xiāng suí rén nán jìn.
Wardoff, rollback, press, and push must be practiced seriously; follow the opponent up and down, they cannot enter.

任他巨力来打我, 牵动四两拨千斤。
Rèn tā jù lì lái dǎ wǒ, qiāndòng sìliǎngbōqiānjīn.
Let them attack with great strength, use four ounces to deflect one thousand pounds.

引进落空合即出, 沾连粘随不丢顶。
Yǐnjìn luòkōng hé jí chū, zhān lián zhān suí bù diū dǐng.
Draw them into emptiness, join and issue; stick and follow without error.

Taijiquan Theory 《太极拳论》

Attributed to Zhāng Sānfēng (张三丰) by Chén Yánlín (陈炎林)

一举动周身俱要轻灵。尤须贯串。
One move, whole body must be ling and light, all the way through.

气宜鼓荡。神宜内敛。
Qi should be roused. Shen should be gathered in.

无使有缺陷处。无使有凸凹处。无使有断续处。
No defects anywhere. No bumps or dents. No breaks in continuity.

其根在脚。发于腿。主宰于腰。形于手指。
Its root is in the foot. Issued in the leg. Controlled in the waist. Shaped in the fingers.

由脚而腿而腰。总须完整一气。
Foot, leg and waist. All must be integrated [as] one qi.

向前退后。乃能得机得势。身便散乱。其病必于腰腿求之。
Advance and retreat. Thereby seize the opportunity. When the body is disordered, look for the problem in the waist and legs.

上下前后左右皆然。凡此皆是意。不在外面。
Up and down, forward and backward, left and right. All are yi. Not on the surface.

有上卽有下。有前则有后。有左则有右。如意要向上。卽寓下意。
Where there is up, there is down. When there is a front, there is a back. If there is a left, there is a right. Accordingly, there is an underlying meaning…

若将物掀起而加以挫之之意。斯其根自断。乃坏之速而无疑。
The meaning is, to lift something is to frustrate it. Given that its roots are thereby broken. It will be ruined quickly and without a doubt.

虚实宜分清楚。一处有一处虚实。
One should clearly distinguish empty and solid. Every place has both.

周身节节贯串。无令丝毫间断耳。
The whole body is intertwined, without the slightest gap.

长拳者。如长江大海。滔滔不绝也。
The Changquan boxer: like the Yangtze River, the great ocean. Flowing without end.

掤、捋、挤、按、采、挒、肘、靠。此八卦也。
Peng, Lu, Ji, An, Cai, Lie, Zhou, Kao. The Eight Trigrams.

进步、退步、左顾、右盼、中定。此五行也。
Forward, backward, left, right, center. The Five Elements.

掤、捋、挤、按。卽干、坤、坎、离。四正方也。
Peng, Lu, Ji, An. South, north, west, east [in pre-Heaven Bagua sequence]. Four square directions.

采、挒、肘、靠。卽巽、震、兑、艮。四斜角也。
Cai, Lie, Zhou, Kao. Southwest, northeast, southeast, northwest. Four oblique angles.

进、退、顾、盼、定。卽金、木、水、火、土、也。
Advance, retreat, left, right, center. Metal, wood, water, fire and earth.

合之则为十三势也。
Together, they are the thirteen powers.

原注云。此系武当山张三丰祖师遗论。欲天下豪杰延年益寿。不徒作技艺之末也。
The footnote says, “This is the teaching of ancestor Zhang Sanfeng from Wudang Mountain. Wanted long life for heroes of the world; not merely [technical] skills!

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