The requirements or rules of Taijiquan passed down to us from previous generations point the way for today’s practitioners. They are guidelines for how to train, pointing to the necessary things a person needs to know in order to practise good and correct Taijiquan. What can be gained from following these guidelines and theories and how will it affect both physical and mental capacities? Students have to dissect the ideas and mentally absorb all the information so that the mind can control the body. All of the requirements I’ll talk about are applicable in both the hand and weapons forms.
The first requirement is for the feet to be planted firmly in the ground. Why do they need to be planted and how does that affect the whole form? The answer is that it enables the body to be held in the correct position.
The second key requirement is to relax the kua and knee joints. In practice the legs are the root of one’s movement. By moving the legs the body can be carried from side to side and in all different directions. If you don’t relax the kua and bend the knees it inhibits the ability to change weight correctly. Loosening the kua and bending the knees is one of the major requirements of Taijiquan which enables the body to be maintained in an upright position and for movements to be correct.
A third important requirement is to contain the chest and settle the back (han xiong ta yao). Fulfilling these enable a person’s strength to be condensed into one place. The anatomy of the body contains a number of natural curves including the spine and chest. How can a line be formed through these curves? Storing or containing the chest and settling or piling the back enable a straight line to be formed. This straight line has to be visualised and doing so helps to maximise an individual’s strength.
The fourth important requirement is to loosen the shoulders and lower the elbows (song jian chen zhou). Loosening the shoulders enables the whole body to relax. Lowering the elbows forms a shield of protection for the body. Another thing to bear in mind that people sometimes miss out is making the two arms act as if they were two gates or doors. Think of a set of double doors with a centre piece. The right hand [like the right door] protects the right side. In the same way the left hand protects the left side. The centre piece equates to the body. It’s like a person’s vision – during the process of looking out, at some point the vision focuses onto one point. If the hands cross too far across the body the centreline will be lost and the shoulders will tense up. If you don’t cross far enough, the centre is open and unprotected. Habitual correct placement can only be realised through extended practice.
The fifth important requirement is maintaining a very light energy that lifts the top of the head while at the same time keeping the neck relaxed (xu ling ding jin). The head should be upright at all times without leaning to the left, right, front or back. During practice the head must not move independently of the body. [In a sense] the head is carried by the body. Only if the head is upright can the body be straight. To give a simple everyday example, if a person is walking and leans their head to one side, they will inevitably start to move in that direction. Taijiquan’s theory says the head is the commander of the body and that keeping it upright helps to keep the spirit calm and alert.
There are four more things that you have to pay attention to. Firstly, the eyes must always be level and gazing ahead. It doesn’t matter if a person is tall or short, they have to look level and not look down. The gaze of the eyes also helps to maintain the head in an upright position. At the same time, keeping the eyes level and ahead enables a person to be aware of their surroundings. Look up and they miss something below, look down and they miss something above. Looking to the left and right is the same.
Another part of the body that has to be level is the two hips. Like water, the level of the hips must be the same - they mustn’t tilt. If we take the example of a half-filled bottle of water - even if the bottle is tilted, the water will move according. No matter how the bottle is turned, water will find this level. It’s very easy to keep the hips level when standing upright or sitting down. However, it’s difficult to maintain when you start to walk, do the form, jump etc. The function of the hips being level is to connect the upper and lower body. Without this connection the body will not become an integrated whole.
We should also talk about the requirements for the wrists and fingers. Energy should always be held in the wrists, especially when you release power (fali). The wrist should always be level and holding strength. If the wrist is bent or weak, it will break on impact and also strength cannot be expressed out to the end of the fist. Energy and strength have to be brought to the tips of the fingers. They must have a feeling of being naturally stretched and full right to the fingertips without being forced. This requirement is not just present in one movement but holds for every movement you do.
These are the very basic requirements you have to fulfill when doing Taijiquan.