太极拳解 - 王宗岳

One View of Taijiquan by Wang Zongyue

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


In 1935, Tang Hao (唐豪) publishes a book of Wang Zongyue's Taijiquan Classics. In it is One View of Taijiquan (太极拳解) which is attributed to Wu Yuxiang. It is short, mentions baguazhang and xingyiquan, and in no way resembles another 太极拳解 attributed to Wu Yuxiang. Attribution is a problem in China, where much of the classical opus is attributed to the Yellow Emperor. Let's consider two views of the history of taijiquan.

One view is that taijiquan originates with Zhang Sanfeng, a Daoist who could walk on the snow and leave no footprints. After Zhang, taijiquan remains hidden, like the One Ring, until Bilbo, I mean Yang Luchan (杨露禅), discovers it in the Chen Village. Yang, a servant in the home, stealthily observes the teachings of Chen Changxing (陈长兴) a.k.a. Gollum. Eventually with that master's blessing, Yang masters taijiquan. This is the history of attribution.

Another view is that, in spite of a very nice modern statue, there is no evidence of any such Zhang Sanfeng. The Chen family was a martial clan of more or less county-wide fame. They possessed, like many such martial families, some unarmed forms, some weapon forms, and some secret techniques. The names of the unarmed forms, having to do with cannons, suggest they were not of very old lineage. Yang Luchan, as a servant in the Chen household, observed their teachings and techniques and put them together in his own way. He leaves the Chens and begins to make a name for himself as a practitioner of Cotton Boxing or mian2quan2 (绵拳). Wu Yuxiang hears of his rising fame and prowess. But, as a man of means, Wu does not want to learn from an ex-servant and applies to the Chens. After a month, he leaves them saying that whatever Yang has is not in Chen village. Wu studies with Yang and mianquan eventually dominates all other styles, gaining the favor of the emperor. Only at this point, in the mid-nineteenth century, is mianquan rechristened taijiquan, or Supreme Boxing. This is the history of primary sources.

Take your pick. My only motive in translating texts of internal boxing is to find principles and ideas which lead to the practical demonstration of internal power. So you can believe in Zhang Sanfeng's magic feet if you want. And I attribute this 太极拳解 to Wang Zongyue and the other one to Wu Yuxiang just to keep them sorted. For all I know, this is Wu Yuxiang's and the other is a later text by someone else, who hung Wu's name on it because Wu's name seemed a better choice than the Yellow Emperor's. I do note that there are plenty of historical reasons for thinking this short version could be Wu's. But I'm not going to fight about it.

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The Text


Long Boxing practitioners, like the Yangzi flowing into the ocean, are an unceasing torrent.

Taijiquan was formerly called Long Boxing, chang2quan2 (长拳), as well as mian2quan2.


Practitioners of the Thirteen Powers keep the hands in reserve, crowding and pressing in with the feet, hands gathering power from their trust in the elbow and shoulder.

In other translations of taijiquan classics, shi4 (势) is usually translated as "posture." I think this misses the point. Otherwise, a difficult passage to translate thanks to the Chinese having dumped lie4 (挒) in their quest for simplified characters. It combines "hand" with "to arrange in order" which is simply lie4 (列). And this being Chinese, the two could be equivalent, hence the dumping of the more complex version. The hand-elbow-shoulder reminds one of guan3chuan4 (贯串) or "strung together" in other taijiquan texts.


This is like baguaquan, yeah.

Ye3 (也) is like the Japanese emphatic "yo" in classical Chinese, yeah?


Pressing forward or yielding, they are aware of everything around them and their center is settled.

Zuo3gu4you4pan4 (左顧右盼) is an idiom for looking all around. Jin4bu4 (进步) is a step that goes forward. Tui4bu4 (退步) is "moving backwards" and "to make a concession" and "room to maneuver."


This is like xingyiquan, yeah.

Wu3xing2 (五行) is the basic form and core of xingyiquan. Let's think about the historical development of internal boxing for a moment. Xingyiquan was the earliest and introduced a reactive trigger. He attacks. You step in, pulling slightly on his attacking limb. He reacts. You strike into the reaction. He wakes up the next day. Bagua further develops this by adding circular movement which allows the practitioner to place the force into whatever vector the opponent is committed to, reactively induced or not. In effect, bagua encircles the opponent. Mianquan superceded bagua in turn by making the practitioner the moving center of all circles. This is why mianquan and not xingyi or bagua became the taiji.


The hand is as an arrow kept in the quiver. The feet crowd in, pressing the opponent.

A different rendition of the same 掤手履挤按 as above. The opponent is implied.


The killing power is adjusted to the proper course, yeah.

On the surface, this is simply "Four square, yeah." But numerals relate to notes of music in gongchepu, which in turn relate to seasons, which in turn relate to qualities. Five is spring, blossoming, and so on. Before spring comes the Great Cold, the killing cold of winter. Winter itself comes before the Great Cold. Si4 (四) is the killing power.


Power is gathered in the upper arm.

Again, this is another version of 采挒肘靠 above. Cai3lie4 (采挒) here is probably a bigraph which has gone the way of the dodo. The best I can make from both versions is that, as one moves forward, the power is held back, as if towards the shoulder, until it is projected from the fingers of the hand as described in this text.


At once, rooted to the ea