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Master Li Gui Chang on Tai Ji Quan

Master Li Gu Chang is generally known for his high-level of skill in Xing Yi Quan, so it is easy to forget that he was also a “Master-Hand” in Tai Ji Quan. Li Gui Chang also studied Yang style Tai Ji Quan with Liu Dong Han. Liu’s teacher was Yang Zhao Lin, the only son of Yang Lu Chan’s eldest son, Yang Feng Hou.

During his lifetime Li Gui Chang was Vice President of the Taiyuan Martial Arts Association, and President of the Tai Ji Push Hands Association. Li Gui Chang’s writings on Tai Ji Quan found in Tai Ji Push Hands Training Instructions (太极推手演练指导Tai Ji Tui Shou Yan Lian Zhi Dao) are deep and profound.

In this post we present two excerpts from Tai Ji Push Hands Training Instructions: “The Four Characteristics of Tai Ji Quan” and the “Tai Ji Training Song.”

 Four Characteristics of Tai Ji Quan

  1. Gentleness (Rou He Xing)

The movements should be gentle and slow, with intention and without force. The moving Jin should be like pulling a thread of silk. The stepping should be cat-like – level, steady, extending leisurely, light and quick, gentle, supple and harmonious.

  1. Continuity (Lian Guan Xing) [1]

The starting posture and ending posture should be continuously linked, without any noticeable interruption. Front and back (beginning and end) are strung together, continuous and unbroken, like moving clouds and flowing water. The health of the human body is decided by the internal organs, and the respiration augments the circulation of the Jing Mai. [2]

  1. Smoothness (Yuan Huo Xing) [3]

In boxing training, it is necessary to pay attention to the four limbs, and also to the torso. One must also pay attention to the harmonious coordination of the upper and lower body. Take note that in boxing, the movements always have a curved shape. Moreover, one must attend to the inter-meshed coordination of inhalation and exhalation.

  1. Integrity/Wholeness (Wan Zheng Xing)

The waist is the key. In every movement, it is necessary that the torso drives the four limbs. When one is still, nothing is not still; when one is moving nothing is not moving; everything must move [together].


Tai Ji Quan Training Song

By training every day, Gong Fu can be developed in the time periods of the fourth and tenth Earthly Branch. Either in the Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter, or in the three ten-day periods of the hottest day and three nine-day periods of coldest day, it is necessary to get up in the early morning in order to develop Gong Fu. In training continuously for ten years, Gong Fu can be divided into five levels. Haste makes waste, and study must be consistent. The framework of Gong Fu can be learned in half a year, and the techniques should be clearly understood. First train the Qi. Power is derived from Qi.

Turn the body with Kou Bu to walk the circle, and to turn back, one must hook (kou) with the tip of the foot. Learning the fundamentals requires oral instruction, and training Gong Fu is requires uninterrupted self-cultivation. Dragon Body (Long Shen) and Snake Tail (She Wei), Tiger Embraces the Head (Hu Bao Tou), Move (Ban), Block (Lan), Intercept (Jie), Hook (Kou), and Walk (Zou) freely. Push (Tui), Uphold (Tuo), Take (Dai), and Guide (Ling) like a soft ball, derived from the intention, without techniques and without forms. The Shen Fa is like dragon and appears like a snake, the spirit embodying the turning and twisting of the tiger, powerful as a dangerous panther. When yin and yang interchange is employed, the hand skills are real. One turns over and reverses (Fan), one goes straight (Zheng) with superhuman skill and ordinary people cannot comprehend the method and intention. The root of the changes and movements must be sought in stillness (tranquility). Stillness gives birth to movement and the body appears supple and yielding (Rou). In advancing there is retreating and defense. Open and release, close and gather; Yielding (Rou) conquers Firm (Gang). [4]

Empty and nimble [5] Ding Jin, [6] loose waist and hip. Loose but not loose, the Jin like winding silk thread. Extending outward, but not extending, like a slingshot. A spring does not fear the stroke of an iron hammer. Guard against incorrectly lifting up (Ding Bian). [7] Intention and Qi follow raising the Grain Duct. [8] Straighten the tail and the spirit goes through to the Brain. Guard the false (empty), release the true (real) change the hands cleverly (Ling). Press substantially, releasing in vain causes trouble. Marvelous speech requires just three to five sentences, so one should not lecture and deplete the body. It is sought all over the world, but cannot be obtained without effort.

In both the boxing framework and pushing hands, to strike a person must be like walking. When the hand arrives, the body must support. Left and right, one side stands and a single arm can defeat two. Striking a person requires no effort. If there is effort is not skillful. When is power released? Between intention and no-intention. Stick solidly and then employ power with Qi as heavy as a mountain. If in having Qi one lacks strength, nourish Qi and one is firm. Qi is born in the Dantian, and pours into the palm centers. The palm centers correspond to the center of the soles of the feet. Five Elements unite into one, act boldly and there will be success. Rising and falling, empty (false) and substantial (true), will gradually be understood and the Jin sensed. Three years to develop, and one Qi effectively links [everything]. Circulating Jin is like winding silk thread. The movements are in spiral patterns. For two years regulate the breath and naturally the interior is clear. Training in boxing is like imprisoning the enemy. In putting out the hand it seems like there is no one [there]. Grasp the opportunity and the power. Proficiency requires perfection. Train the form to be firm; train the essence to be substantial (solid); train the Qi to strong (robust); train the spirit to fly.

The head is upright and rises up; the shoulders are level and even. The chest is shut and closed; the back is even (flat) and upright. The foot is firm and stable; the knee is flexed in order to extend. The crotch is deep and hidden; the ribs should be open and expanded. Qi is regular and even; Jin is loose and taut. Stretch and enter (advance); falling is empty. Discard open, [one] must strike. Do not strike what is unknown, and do not walk forward into emptiness. In walking forward be low, and in retreating be high. The hand strikes (beats) 30% and the leg strikes 70%. When the intention arrives, the hand goes out. When the hand arrives, the body follows. Be fast, but not chaotic, slow, but not scattered; quick as lightning and slow as winding silk thread; light, but not floating; heavy, but not stiff (rigid); like cotton wrapping iron; outwardly yielding, but inwardly firm. Learn the stipulated points, but without fixed rules. For both Xing Yi Quan and Tai Chi Quan, it is necessary train Qi Gong.

Tile gathering palm, spiral winding, stagnant double weighting, nimble single gravity, outside not following, inside not closed. If the step is not stable, the fist is chaotic. If the step is not fast, the fist is slow. What is Dan Jin? [9] Sudden like lightning, simply sending and emitting (releasing) Jin without form (invisibly), sending a person out (throwing them out) unconsciously without them sensing it.

In training, one must pay attention to the aching, sore and numb sensation. If pain [one] must relax; [11] if sore and aching extend and stretch. If [there is] pain, there is blockage, if [there is] blockage there is pain. [12] Excessive joy injures the heart. Excessive anger injures the liver. Excessive thinking injures the spleen. Excessive grief injures the lung. Excessive fear injures the kidney.


[1] 连贯 Lian Guan: Lian = to join, link, connect. Guan = thread together or link up. Can refer to thread for stringing copper coins with a hole in the middle.

[2] 静脉 Jing Mai: the channels and vessels – a term that includes the meridians and to some degree the blood vessels.

[3] 圆 Yuan: round, circle.

[4] 柔 Rou: yielding, soft, supple, gentle and 刚 Gang: firm, strong, indomitable.

[5] 灵 Ling: clever, quick, sharp, nimble, adaptable, easy, effective, mysterious, divine, spirit, intelligence.

[6] Ding Jin: Ding (carry on the head, push up from below); Jin (strength, energy, spirit). ie: The energy and power pushing up from underneath.

[7] 顶扁 Ding Bian: Ding (carry on the head, push up from below); Bian (flat, carrying pole).

[8] 谷道 Gu Dao: “Grain Duct” – the perineum or anus.

[9] 弹劲 Dan Jin: Dan means catapult, bullet, bomb, pluck or flick; Jin means energy, strength spirit; ie: a sudden emission of a spring-like force.

[11] 松 Song: loosen, slacken, relax, let go, untie.

[12] 痛者不通,通者不痛 Tong Zhe Bu Tong; Tong Zhe Bu Tong: Literally “if pain, no free-flow; if no free-flow, pain.” A famous statement in traditional Chinese medicine.