In this series of articles we will be looking at Yang Cheng Fu's 10 essential points. These ten points were dictated by Yang Cheng Fu and recorded by Chen Wei Ming and represent the 10 essential points for performing the Yang style of Tai chi as interpreted by Yang Cheng fu.
Although the most famous of Yang Lu Chang’s children Yang Cheng Fu was not necessarily considered the best fighter in the Yang family. He was, however, an expert at codifying the Yang style of Tai chi. Much of the Yang style we see practised today can be traced back to Yang Cheng Fu and so his ten essential points continue to be of great importance to those of us who study and practise the Yang style.
There are of course many different interpretations for each of the 10 essential points. Some teachers will translate the points in certain ways that suit their particular style and the goals of their training. That is absolutely true of these examinations of the 10 points also, in that they represent the concepts and principles that I deem to be important points of practise that most suit my personal interpretation of Tai Chi.
It could be said that these ten points are common to all Tai chi styles and in fact when we observe individuals from multiple styles we can often see many of these essential qualities in the performers. It is with this context that these articles will examine the 10 essential points looking at them from the point of view of general characteristics rather than with a specific focus on the Yang style.
Let's begin with the first essential point which appropriately starts with the head and the neck.
Point 1 - Elevate the Crown and lift the spirit Xu ling Ding Jin - 虛靈頂勁
Empty the thoughts and raise the head as if the Crown of the head is pushing up against the heavens. The neck must be straightened to allow the head to be raised. This allies the Shen and chi to arrive at the Crown of the head. Do not use strength or the neck will be stiff and the chi and blood circulation will be hindered. One must have natural intention and emptiness in the mind.
As is often the case with the old writing's, this direction means many things and has impacts throughout our training, be it for health or for fighting. It would be easy to think of this instruction as pertaining simply to the head and the neck but in fact it is a vital start point to create the correct position and attitude of the body as a whole.
To suspend from the head is a common instruction in most Tai Chi Schools, however in this important point Yang Cheng fu instructs us to raise the head as if the head is pushing up to the heavens. This description points us towards a different idea than to suspect, instead ‘raising’ up rather than hanging down.
To achieve a ‘raising’ quality at the head, everything below it must open up and it is through this opening that the head presses upwards. During this opening process, we can often see our first flaw appear where we poke our chin out. This is a result of us trying to ‘raise our head’ and so Yang explicitly instructs us to straighten the neck. Once the neck is in position and the head is pressing upwards, through the opening of the body, we can say that the Crown is elevated. This elevated point becomes the apex of the body with all actions and harmonies occurring beneath it.
This process should not be based in strength but in the opening of the body, primarily through the removal of binding tension, and the correct positioning of the head and the neck. If we were to use strength the harmony that is so important in Tai chi would not appear. This is what is meant by the chi and blood circulation being hindered. In the early stages of training we may have to position our head and on neck so that it feels unnatural. It is often in this moment and the early training that we build tension in the head and neck and we must work to resolve it.
When the pressing up of the head is correct we will begin to feel that the head is aligned to the body underneath it and as this happens a harmony will appear, starting at the Crown point and spreading throughout the body. This is a natural consequence of the correct position of the head in relation to the body and the spine.
At this point we will begin to feel as if the body is hanging below the Crown point and here is where the sensation of suspension can be found. If we do not open the body and maintain whole body connected power then the suspension will instead be ‘hanging’ beneath the crown. Hanging beneath the Crown point is generally slack in its quality, whereas, suspending beneath the Crown point is linked and harmonised. So the sensation off suspension is a consequence of the correct position of the head and neck and the opening and connection in the body beneath.
Fighting and combat
There is also a very practical reason to position the head in this way when considering fighting or combative application. One of the big errors in fighting posture is to jut the chin out. This makes us vulnerable too rapid and sudden strikes which when placed correctly can have a devastating effect. These types of strikes can come out of nowhere and catch us without the need for high volumes of power but still cause knockouts.
Especially in Tai chi, where we play in the close to mid-range, we must ensure that there are no deficiencies in our posture or position that the opponent can take advantage of. We need only look at modern Muay Thai fights to see how devastating elbows and knees can be when in the clinch range. Although Tai Chi has a very different approach to the problem of clinching, we must maintain awareness of the dangers of poor posture. So outside of the basic considerations and lofty talk of Shen and chi there remains a practical basis for the first of the essential points.
The position of the head and the neck are also of great importance in movement and agility. It is said that the body will follow the head when we move, indeed we see that sprinters and runners will often be concerned with the position of the head and the neck in their motion . Although many times in practise Tai chi exponent's will move slowly, we do of course need to move with great speed and agility in fighting. So, the considerations for proper posture in order to move quickly remain, and our head positions and neck integrity are paramount in the formation of good movement.
So, this first essential point is far reaching and there are clear reasons that it comes first in Yang Cheng Fu's list. There could be much more to say on the consequences of poor posture in the modern world. We can look at the impacts of desk jobs and mobile phone use in the posture and position of young adults and certainly master Yang's advice is good for these groups. However, it is clear that these consequences of modern life we're not a primary consideration in master Yang's teaching, so we can simply apply the basic ideas in order to make our Tai Chi more effective. A useful by-product being that we will improve our life and posture as a result.