The fundamentals for practicing GM Wei’s Tai Chi reside in the inseparable internal-external mind-body attributes known as Internal Power Theory (内功理法) as listed below :-
a) Neck (後脖頸贈衣領)
b) Eyes Spirit (眼神)
c) Armpits (所謂虚腋)
d) Elbows (肘墜腰圈)
e) Convex Wrist (鼓腕)
f) Strength Source (勁源)
g) 3-Chi Rings (三道氣圈)
h) Bell Body (身如鐘)
i) 2-4 Points (身中垂直線與二四點)
j) Bell Hammer (身中垂直線鐘錘)
k) Chest Character Ten (胸前十字)
l) Use of 3-Passes (三關的運用)
m) Fist, Palm, Hook (拳, 掌, 勾)
We learn how to do the 22-form with the 13 attributes from the first day. The learning of the 13 attributes are inserted throughout the form to make it easier for a beginner to learn in bits and pieces instead of one overwhelming chunk. It takes time, a long time and much practice, to becoming familiar and more important, to extract the understanding and insight as to what the 13 attributes mean in terms of the performance and application of our Tai Chi.
In practicing the 22-form we should know how to move exactly, what principles and which attributes we are working on. There should not be any movement that is without a guiding intent. If you practice in this manner you will understand how the 13 attributes when put together transform our techniques into movements bearing the hallmark characteristics of our Yang style.
Below is a brief discussion on the 13 attributes from the perspective of how I learned them. For a more detailed treatment of the subject you should refer to the book on the 22-form by GM Wei entitled “Yang Family True Transmission : Authentic Yang Style Tai Chi Chuan” (楊家眞傳 : 楊式太極拳述真)
i) Neck (後脖頸贈衣領)
ii) Eyes Spirit (眼神)
In Tai Chi the eyes see what our mind is visualizing. Think of it as having a VR headset on that is playing out a scenario with you reacting to whatever it is that you are seeing. Except in this case the headset software is our imagination playing out the set of instructions on how to play the form and the headset the screen in our mind.
As you become more and more proficient in visualization your body starts to feel what you are imagining and your body reacts to the mental stimuli. When the visualization begins to feel more real that is when even your eyes begin to see outside the mind at the space in front of you, seeing the imaginative examples being played out in space as if they are real and you react to it by seeing and feeling them affect you.
An external observer would see that your eyes are animated, having a spirited look, reacting to something that only you can see when you are going through the form. This is why sometimes it is helpful to practice by sitting down and not moving, totally relying on your visualization to go through the movements in your mind whilst carefully feeling how the imagery is affecting your body. Bringing imagination to reality is the key that enables to various fajing models to be applied.
iii) Armpits (所謂虚腋)
The arms are held away from the body such that it is as if they are not held too far from the body nor too close to the body. The correct way to hold the arms away from the body is to imagine that you are trying to use your upper arm to clamp a hot bun to your body.
I do not expect that you will actually try to experiment clamping an actual hot bun to your body because you risk burning your skin. So if you really want to try it do wear a shirt with thicker fabric to protect your body and upper arm.
An alternate way to understand what this means is to hold a hot bun between two hands (imagining that one hand is the body and the other hand as the upper arm). Since the bun is hot you will not be able to hold it firmly with constant pressure between both hands cause the heat will burn the palms. So you have to hold it gingerly, alternating between holding and not holding the bun so that when a part of the hand cannot bear the heat you quickly transfer the contact part to another part of the hand.
This attribute is essential to keeping the arms away from the body so that the qualia is like an inflated ball allowing you to use the arms out like a strung bow. However, at the same time your arms are not pushing away from the body causing you to resist the opponent’s strength which would violate one of the principles of the Tai Chi Classics.
iv) Elbows (肘墜腰圈)
However we position our elbows whether near or away from the body, high or low they must always be connected to the Waist Chi Ring.
This mind-body connection is a way to keep the arms connected to the body. It also allows us to sink the elbow without having to keep it close to the body to physically sink it.
v) Convex Wrist (鼓腕)
I had previously translated the term for our wrist structure as Elongated Wrist. I think the more accurate term should be Convex Wrist since the illustration for this in GM Wei’s book on the 22-form clearly shows the outline of a convex line on top of the wrist.
Sometimes our Convex Wrist structure has been compared to the Fair Maiden Hand structure in Cheng Man Ching style Tai Chi. However, I would say that other than the similarity in outer appearance our Convex Wrist is not the same as the Fair Maiden Hand. This is based on my learning of the Cheng style in 1977 and GM Wei’s style beginning in 1997.
In writing this section I had a look at Benjamin Lo’s translation of Cheng Man Ching’s book particularly the description of the Open Hand aka Fair Maiden Hand and nothing much of significance is written on it. By comparison, GM Wei’s book has a detailed explanation on the wrist structure.
The importance of the wrist structure is that it enables us to achieve a necessary and sufficient level of sung (鬆開) that is necessary to enable the release of internal force through the hand. This is possible by ensuring that the hand structure is not an obstruction to the release of force by attaining a condition as if the hand no longer exist and in its place the end of the hand is like a stump as described by GM Wei by the use of the phrase “no more hand, wrist is like a bare stump” (沒有手,腕是禿肢).
Another way to look at this is by thinking of our hand-wrist-forearm section as a pipe. If the wrist is bent then the flow of water will be choked. Similarly, if the inner part of the pipe is full of sludge built up the flow of water will also be obstructed, slowing it down.
The practice of Convex Wrist is to maximize the flow of energy by removing the choke point of a bent hand-wrist-forearm and clearing up the energetic block posed by the muscular tension sludge of the arm. With the right mental focus any beginner can do this even on the first lesson. What they cannot do is to hold on to the skill or apply it freely in push hands practice. That requires a longer period of practice until the phase of “no more hand, wrist is like a bare stump” is attained.
vi) Strength Source (勁源)
The Force Origin is a concept that is unique to GM Wei’s Yang style lineage. This refers to the point of origin of internal power hence the term “Strength (勁) Source (源)”.
In the human body there exists two Strength Source. The first one is at the base of the middle finger and the second one is on the back in between the scapula.
The training of handling the small Chi sphere (小氣球) in the hand is for the purpose of learning how to issue force in a sudden instant using the hand. This method of changing between palm to fist and vice versa is a unique training method of our Yang style.
The method of using the second Strength Source on the back relies on the use of the Open-Close (開合) mechanism. This also relates to the training of the Arm Bows. The different method of moving the arms in this style as compared to that in the more popular style propagated by the Yang Chengfu style is to use the Open-Close principle to facilitate the loading of the Arrow to the 5 Bows for force generation purposes.
vii) 3-Chi Rings (三道氣圈)
viii) Bell Body (身如鐘)
ix) 2-4 Points (身中垂直線與二四點)
x) Bell Hammer (身中垂直線鐘錘)
xi) Chest Character Ten (胸前十字)
xii) Use of 3-Passes (三關的運用)
xiii) Fist, Palm, Hook (拳, 掌, 勾)