Essentials in Practising the Taiji Solo Set & Playing Hands
by Li Yiyu
An earlier teacher said: “If you can draw the opponent in to land on nothing, you can then use four ounces of force to move his of a thousand pounds. If you cannot draw the opponent in to land on nothing, you cannot use four ounces to move a thousand pounds.” These words are rather vague and a beginner would not understand them. I will explain further so that those who want this skill are in a position to begin and then after much regular training get to possess it:
If you want to draw the opponent into emptiness and use four ounces to move a thousand pounds, you first must know both yourself and the opponent. If you want to know both yourself and the opponent, you first must let go of your plans and just respond to the opponent. If you want to let go of your plans and just respond to the opponent, you first must be in the right place at the right time. If you want to be in the right place at the right time, you first must get your whole body to behave as one unit. If you want to get your whole body to behave as one unit, you first must get your whole body to be without cracks or gaps. If you want to get your whole body to be without cracks or gaps, you first must get your spirit and energy to be ready. If you want your spirit and energy to be ready, you first must rouse your spirit. If you want to rouse your spirit, you must first keep it from being distracted. If you want to keep your spirit from being distracted, you first must get your spirit and energy to gather and collect in your spine. If you want to get your spirit and energy to gather and collect in your spine, you first must get the front of your thighs to have strength, get your shoulders to loosen, and get your energy to sink downward.
Power starts from your heel, is transferred through your leg, stored in your chest, moved at your shoulders, and controlled at your waist. In your upper body, your arms are connected with each other. In your lower body, your legs are coordinated with each other. Power is transferred from within. Gathering is contracting. Releasing is expanding. When becoming still, everything becomes still. Stillness refers to contracting. When contraction finishes, there will be expansion. When there is movement, everything moves. Movement refers to expanding. When expansion finishes, there will be contraction. Then when there is contact, you can turn smoothly and will be strong everywhere. You will then be able to draw the opponent in to land on nothing and use four ounces of force to move his of a thousand pounds.
Whenever you practice the solo set, it is the practice of knowing yourself. Before moving through the postures, make sure your whole body is in accord with the principles as stated above. When the slightest part is off, immediately adjust it. To facilitate this, the set should be done slowly rather than quickly. Playing hands is the practice of knowing the opponent. His movement and stillness must be firmly comprehended. Still examine yourself as well. If I am in good order myself, then when the opponent comes near me, I do not need to act upon him at all, but take advantage of his momentum to find a way in. Connecting firmly to his power, I let him cause himself to fall out. If you do not have a strong position, this is simply a case of double pressure rather than neutralization, and you should seek within passive and active, or contracting and expanding, to fix it. It is said [Art of War, chapter 3]: “Knowing both self and opponent, in a hundred battles you will have a hundred victories.”