十三势论 - 武禹襄

Explanation of the Thirteen Powers by Wu Yuxiang

Translated by 冷门道士 - Copyright 2014, All rights reserved.


Like the Taijiquan Lun (太极拳论) by the same author, this text is usually translated in a superficial way. And again, I think there must have been more to this text for it to have endured. It is one thing for contemporary students to take this as a classic handed down to them. It was another for students in taijiquan's heyday to consider a text of value.

Consider this story about Zheng Manqing (郑曼青). One time in public, he made a point of announcing himself as the number one student of Yang Chengfu (杨澄甫). For this, he was given a subtle and frightening lesson by another of Yang's students, the gist of which was that not only was he not number one -- he was not even number one-hundred. My point is that if Zheng, given all his attainments, was that far down the pecking order, we now have little idea what it meant to be a senior student of a traditional master.

But we can look for hints. My approach is part historical and part mathematical. The first encourages me to rely on primary sources. And the second encourages me not to think I know something when I don't. I am by no means claiming that the following translation is definitive. But I am claiming that it rises, upon a solid basis, towards an understanding of what internal boxing can be.

In passing, I should say that the number thirteen in the title is probably some kind of combinatorics relating to feet, legs, hips, waist, and similar. But I could be wrong.

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The Text


All at once, your whole body must be entirely light and agile.

Think of this as a constant state. I remember reading how Ueshiba's students claimed that he was never off-balance, never unaware.


It particularly needs to be strung together.

The image of guan3chuan4 (贯串) is of pearls, or similar, strung on a single thread.


Your fluid energy should surge.

For my use of "fluid energy" as a translation of qi4 (气), see this translation of the Taijiquan Lun.


Your spirit should be understated.

Shen2 (神) I take to be your spirited intent which should not be readable by your opponent. It can be simply translated as "expression" in this sense.

无使有缺陷处 无使有凹凸处 无使有断续处
無使有缺陷處 無使有凹凸處 無使有斷續處

It is useless to have a flaw anywhere. It is useless to be uneven anywhere. It is useless to stop and start anywhere.

In case you weren't clear about this, Wu thought he would state it categorically.


Your root is in your legs and feet.

In a light and agile body, with surging fluid energy, your legs and your feet are your root.


Your power issues from the hips.

Given this agile, fluid, rooted state, the hips generate the power.


You dominate from the waist.

And this power is directed against your opponent using your waist.


The current issues from the fingers of your hand.

This would be the current of fluid energy, powered by the rooted hips and directed by the waist. Note that he does not say the palm or the end of the arm bone which is the hardest bit of the hand. It's the fingers. Really. This construction, 手指, means the fingers of the hand.


Power travels from the foot, through the leg, to the waist.

I take this to be a literal description of a wave of energy, driven from the ground up.


All must completely unify your fluid energy.

The delivery of fluid energy is the entire point of taijiquan.


Going forward or moving back, you take the opportunity to become dominant.

As Musashi said, There is one thing only: cut your opponent down.


If there you do not take this opportunity, you will find yourself in disarray.

Or worse.


This defect comes from your misuse of your legs and waist.

You are unable to dominate your opponent because your powertrain is flawed, uneven, starts and stops. You were warned about that.


Up and down, front and back, left and right must all be held in the same way.

The entire field of your experience must be dynamically unified.


Whatever is here, everything is in the mind.

And the only place to unify it is in the mind. If it does not appear as your consciousness, it isn't here. Or it is and it ambushes you.


It is not outside of you.

But just in case you were thinking the objects outside of "you" were important, they are not.

有上即有下 有前即有后 有左即有右
有上即有下 有前即有後 有左即有右

What is above is in contact with what is below. What is in front determines what is behind. What is on the left draws near to what is on the right.

I have given alternate translations for ji2 (即) using "in contact with," "determines," and "draws near to." These ideas must be taken together, summed up, in order to reach the idea intended by the author.


If you wish to make progress, you must at once reside lower than thought.

In Daoist writings, thought is that talky stuff in your head. Daoist meditation begins by silencing this "thought." Beneath thought is what the Daoists call the Shining Mind, what Bankei called the Unborn Mind.


You will surge upwards without being obstructed by thought.

This construction could also begin with "It will be as if...." It could also be translated with "your material body" being what surges unobstructed.


The basis of this is cutting off the self.

In other words, you are not what is important here. The "self" is the thing with "thought." And once you demonstrate this, you learn that the "self" you is not the real you. The "self" you is in the way. So get rid of it.


Do this immediately and without doubting.

Right now, go beneath thought, cutting off the self. If you wait for a moment of conflict to do this, it will be too late. You will be busy with other things.


The real and the unreal should be clearly distinguished.

Xu1shi2 (虚实) can be translated "the empty and the solid." And this leads to it being translated as "the leg with the weight and the leg without." But Wu would rather that, in this moment, perhaps a moment of conflict, you distinquish between what is in fact right here and what is not. In the moment, what is your opponent doing? And where and what does this moment lead to if he has committed himself?


Right here is where you are; right here realize what is real.

If you are not here now, where are you?


Everywhere you are, always there is one real situation.

And if you can realize that real situation, it is unambiguous.


Little by little, bring your entire body into a connected unity.

This coming here makes it seem like more than just a call to have all your muscles and joints flowing nicely. The entire body, or "entire being," with your mind deeper than thought, clearly distinguishing what is real, needs to be a connected unity.


Let nothing bring it into the slightest disarray.

Or what is the point?

And that is all.