太极拳解 - 武禹襄

Another View of Taijiquan by Wu Yuxiang

Translated by 冷门道士 - Copyright 2015, All rights reserved.


One can translate these taijiquan texts as if they were precepts for beginners. Or one can translate them as more advanced texts. Both ways adhere to the text due to the ambiguity or, rather, layering of Chinese. To translate them the first way is to take each chunk separately, as if always returning to a fundamental level. In the second, the ideas are allowed to build, as one tries to follow the direction the translation is going as it develops. I have chosen to translate this text in the second way, letting it build upon the highest ideas possible while doing my best not to force the text into any particular direction.

Comments are welcome and may be sent to Submitting a comment implies your releasing it under the Creative Commons 3.0 SA License and agreeing to its possible inclusion in future commercial versions of this text.

NOTE: If any of the characters below appear as a big square, that means it is not in the utf-8 font on your device. This can be caused by vendor font choice or by your locale or by the character being so rarely used nowadays as to be found only in utf-16 font sets. If this occurs, you can find the original text on various sites on-line in both simplified and traditional characters. Good luck finding two that match.

The Text


Even though your body is acting, your mind treasures its calmness.

Or, even though your body is moving, your core or center is unmoved. Chinese being what it is, the intended meaning is both of these statements. Think of all such "alternatives" as layers which should be merged. Action requires intent. But the mind does not follow the intent.


Fluid energy must be held back, then unfold in a lively way at the appropriate time.

Shu1 (舒) is "unfold" and "stretch" and "relax" and "leisurely." Unfold like a flower. But in a lively way. Other translations like to make shen2 (神) here a noun: "spirit." And thus, "spirit should be relaxed." And usually, chi4 (气) is "breath" or simply the mysterious "chi" with various spellings. My problem with such translations is you end up with "mind" and "spirit" and "breath" and "energy" and "chi" and "jin" and "jing" and who knows what else -- and what god-like mind can sort them out?


The mind is the origin of what happens and its expression is flowing energy.

Or, the center is the cause and fluid energy is the result.


This expression relies upon an intelligent grace.

As opposed to the will. Alternatively, a graceful intelligence. Grace is defined as "simple elegance or refinement of movement." There is no grace without intelligence.


And the body is simply urged on by this expression.

So we have the center or mind (that's both, not a choice) directing fluid energy, which in its graceful expression drives the body. The body is then the leading edge of practical but graceful expressions emanating from the unmoved mind. Keep the word "practical" in mind and none of this becomes woo-woo airy-fairy.


At every moment you are mindful of each advantageous opportunity.

方有所得 is "place | direction | side | method" | "there is" | "what one aquires or gains (bigraph)." And so, any practical opportunity for advantage.


Concern yourself first with the mind or center and, only afterwards, the body.

In a more limited sense, "the mind advances and the body follows." Which is no help at all. In practice, concern yourself first with your mind and tend your body afterwards. In violent circumstance, concern yourself first with your opponent's mind and let the awareness of his body arise from that.


You must attain a practical realization of how the wielding of the hands relates to the treading of the feet.

The repeated use of zhi1 (之) here could, on the one hand, be "his hands, their motion, his feet, their stepping." On the other hand, these can bind the relation of hand, hand motion, foot, foot motion so that no two are separate. And the construction can be taken as your hands etc., his hands etc., or both -- as applicable.


What is called flowing smoothly is giving up the self and yielding to others.

一气呵成 is both "flowing smoothly" and "to do something in one go."


Letting what is outside influence you is failure.

"You" here is the unmoving mind.


Five ounces uproot eleven hundred pounds.

Or in strict modern terms: 5.231 oz. uproot 1102.31 lb.


The founding principle is that in order to move at once, nothing must be motionless.

Or, in order to truly project fluid energy, everything in you must move together.


And in order to be calm, everything must be calm.

Jing4 (靜) here is still, calm, quiet, unmoving. But this is not a state opposed to the above. It is a simultaneous quality of the body which moves all at once. Remember the first sentence: "Even though your body is acting, your mind treasures its calmness."


Apparent movement is just like stillness and apparent stillness is just like movement.

Or, that which appears as movement is still stillness and vice versa.


Internal stability is consciousness.

Or, the demands of internal stability are purely mental.


Outwardly, you are easy and comfortable.

As opposed to hostile, self-protective, and contentious.


You must rely upon the other person and not upon your own reason.

Actually, it is put more strongly here: you MUST NOT rely upon your own reason.


You must follow the other person's life-force. Your own thinking will make you sluggish.

Or, from the other person comes the principle of what you are doing. Your own thinking will only get in your way.


Those who value fluid energy give up strength.

Or, rely upon your flow of energy even as you let go of strength.


Those who cultivate fluid energy are simply firm.

Gang1 (剛) is firm, hard, strong. And chun2 (纯) is pure, simple, unmixed. One is tempted to say "rooted" but not in a static sense. Developing your fluid energy requires you to become constantly "rooted" in motion.


If the other person does not move, you are motionless. If he moves, you move first.

Which you can only do if you are aware of his intent, as revealed just prior to expression.


For you to be able to join with your opponent, you must bring yourself to be intimate with him.

Equally, this can be: In order to depend upon your opponent, you must know yourself. This all follows from above. You are not determining the outcome through strategy or will. You are allowing your opponent to commit his energy. And then you join with it and create within it an advantageous situation for yourself.


You joining must be able to turn and to shift, to receive and to answer.

It must be able to do more than that but it turns into bad English if I try to convey all the layers. From sui2zhuan3 (随转) we have [follow | comply | go along with] [turn | shift | change | convey | transmit ]. If 转 is intended as zhuan4, the second one becomes [turn | revolve | circle about]. There is no reason why both were not intended. And sui2jie1 is [follow | comply | go along with] [make contact | receive | connect | catch | join | extend]. All of this, your joining must do.


In order to adhere to another person, you must be completely at one with him.

Bu4hou4bu4xian1 (不后不先) is not before not after, not prior not later, not early not late, and so on. In other words, completely at one.


Your consciousness must be able to take the situation in hand, bring forward what is advantageous, and establish it.

Neng2ti2de5qi3 (能提得起) is simply "be able | [take in hand | put forward] | grammatic relational connector to | [initiate | establish]." The extra bits in the translated sentence link these verbs back to what seem to be their intended objects.


When it is thus capable, there is no worry of being too slow or too late.

I get "worry" from yu2 (虞) which is also expect, anticipate and cheat. We are here dealing with consciousness, from which all must spring. But this consciousness is separate from planning or will. When it can take the actuality of the situation in hand and bring it to an advantageous conclusion, your consciousness has moved beyond the slowness and heaviness induced by expectation and anticipation. It is no longer ponderously (ponder in both senses) cheating itself.


Adhering relies upon your having a joining-spirit.

With gen1de5ling2 (跟得灵) we have "[follow closely | go with]| adjective marker for previous | [quick | alert | effective | magical | spirit]." So the joining follows closely and goes with. And your mental atmosphere is quick, alert, effective, just about magical.


Failing to fully realize this in practice, you are left with fruitless cleverness.

Fang1jian4 (方见) I am taking as "only appearing." Fang1 here has the sense of "on the edge of." Remaining on the edge of appearing (to have a joining-spirit), your mind's best efforts at planning and willpower (cleverness) are fruitless.


To move towards our original state requires us to realize latent expansion.

Wang3fu4 (往复) is "to go and come back" or "back and forth." Xu1 (须) is "must." And taking fen1yin1yang2 (分阴阳) at face value we get "distinguish yin from yang." And if we are not careful in putting these bits together, we go down a rathole of Being and Nothingness. On the other hand, to my current understanding, the central question of realizing and demonstrating internal boxing can be expressed in four characters: 阴阳分明 or "fully distinguish yin and yang." But if I go on about it -- rathole again. I'm not being mystical or airy-fairy about yin and yang here. But until it is, for me, more demonstrable, I'm not going to mess it up with words. Taking yin1yang2 (阴阳) together, I get latent expansion. It's always yin or latent until that microsecond of expansion, which is the "its hitting you" part. I am separating 往 and 复 here because, in terms of realizing a consciousness which can truly follow, merge with, and determine events, we are moving away from the mind we think we have and letting what the early Daoshi have called the Shining Mind and what Bankei called the Unborn Mind take its place. That is our original state.


Knowing what is appropriate in the moment requires your motions to be completely harmonized with your opponent's motions.

Jin4tui4 (进退) is knowing when to come and when to go. He2 (合) is to close, join, fit, be together, be in accord with. "Motions" is implied. But your mind must be in accord with his mind for the motions to harmonize.


The crucial point of following along is that your power can come from borrowing the strength of your opponent.

The primary meaning of you2 (由) is "to follow." Ji3fa1 (己发) is "your [sending out | transmission | projection ]."


The projection of power requires the correct relationship in the following of your opponent.

In all of these admonitions about "following," we should keep in mind that the following is also a joining and a merging which leads to an advantageous position.


There must be one invincible approach.

There you go: a straightforward translation. In this sense, it relates to the requirement of gaining the absolute advantage. But there are nuances here. This can also be: "there is always one vector of approach for which the opponent cannot offer resistance." It can lean the other way too: "the opponent must be overcome in a single projection of power."


Your relation to your opponent must be just and upright, without deviance.

And yes, this can also be viewed as "the body must be kept centered and upright, without leaning." But you have to ignore all the bigraphs to get there. Consider that it is possible in Chinese to construct such a sentence where the less educated can extract meaning from a simplistic approach and the more cultured person can find additional meaning. And both readers simply read what is in front of their eyes.


Only in this way can you harmonize with your complete environment.

Fang1neng2 (方能) is "then and only then." Ba1mian2 (八面) is "the eight directions" or "in every direction." And zhi1cheng1 (支撑) is "sustained" and "supported." Only when you are just and upright or "honestly in the moment" and are giving no effort to planning and will does the immediate environment, in a violent circumstance, become harmonious.


Calm as a mountain, you move like the great rivers.

Jiang1he2 (江河) is the Yangzi and the Yellow rivers considered together.


Each step you take is made in profound awareness.

Or, each move you make is profoundly in the present moment.


Your energy is delivered as if you were spinning silk.

Silk is spun continuously, smoothly, harmoniously.


You store up energy as if you were drawing a bow, project it as if releasing an arrow.

Drawn at length, released in a moment.


The fluid energy travels as if through nine curving pearls, meticulously.

This is to say that from the pressing of the foot into the ground to the projection of energy from the hand, the fluid energy is moved through foot, knee, hip, dantian, waist, shoulder, elbow, hand, opponent. Exact labelling of the nine may differ. But this is the general idea. The last four characters are the idiom for "meticulously." In other words, you meticulously thread the pearls and then the fluid energy can be projected.


Energy delivered in this way is like finely tempered steel.

Bai3lian4gang1 (百鍊鋼) is the expression for describing superlative steel.


When you can rely upon adhesion you will become both effective and fully alive.

Your freedom comes from your dependence, not upon what your opponent thinks, but upon what, in each moment, he is. As Zhuangzi said, knowledge is the same thing as what is appropriate right now.


Let the fluid energy emerge in a straightforward way, without evil intent.

Your business is to thread the nine pearls in the right moment, in the appropriate way. Evil intent is reliance upon the self and will take you away from the source of discerning and acting upon what is appropriate in the moment.


Let the strength grow in the curving of your muscles and there will be an abundance.

Qu1 (曲) is bent or curved. Xu4 (蓄) is to store up or to grow something. It is possible that 曲蓄 is an extinct bigraph.


Gradually arrive at this art by coming into harmony with the opponent.

Shun4ying4 (顺应) is to comply, conform to, be in tune with, adapt or adjust to.


This is the same as having known what you should not or