“Use the Mind and Not Force”

The following is the translation of an oral transmission by Yang Cheng-fu to one of his senior students, Chen Wei-ming, who wrote it down and published it. It is included in The Essence of T’ai Chi Ch’uan: The Literary Tradition, Benjamin Pang Jeng Lo, Robert Amacker, and Susan Foe, North Atlantic Books, Berkeley, CA, 1985, p. 87.

6. Use the Mind and Not Force. The T’ai Chi Ch’uan Classics say, “all of this means use i (mind) and not li (force).” In practicing T’ai-Chi Ch’uan the whole body relaxes. Don’t let one ounce of force remain in the blood vessels, bones and ligaments to tie yourself up. Then you can be agile and able to change. You will be able to turn freely and easily. Doubting this (not using li), how can you increase your power?

The body has meridians like the ground has ditches and trenches. If not obstructed, the water can flow. If the meridian is not closed, the ch’i (breath) goes through. If the whole body has hard force and it fills up the meridians, the ch’i and blood stop and the turning is not smooth and agile. Just pull one hair and the whole body is off-balance. If you use i not li, then the i goes to a place (in the body) and the ch’i follows it. The ch’i and the blood circulate. If you do this every day and never stop, after a long time you will have nei chin (real internal force). The T’ai Chi Ch’uan Classics say, “when you are extremely soft, then you become extremely hard and strong.” Someone who has extremely good T’ai Chi Ch’uan kung fu has arms like iron wrapped with cotton and the weight is very heavy. As for those who practice the external schools, when they use li, they reveal li. When they don’t use li, then they are too light and floating. Their chin (internal force) is external and locked together. The li of the external schools is easily led and moved and not to be esteemed.

Meaning of “Use i (mind) and not li (force).” We cannot interpret that i is employed to transmit an illusion of strength to others because the Classics say that the arms become like iron. If anything, the strength is actual and physical and is described by Yang Cheng-fu as “concealed.” However, the strength referred to is different from li (ordinary strength). It is referred to as nei chin, which is “educated,” internal strength. Thus, the mind is causing something to happen in the body that does not occur normally and, therefore, must be recognized and cultivated. That is, the everyday strength we exert requires no specialized training or unusual action of the mind—just our desire to exert it. So the cultivation of chin (educated strength) needs special training and use of the conscious mind (i).

The only way that the mind can generate any kind of physical strength is by means of electricity traveling from the brain and spinal cord, along the nerves, to the tissues. The nerve impulses involved are evidently not the accustomed ones that cause muscles to contract but something else. We are told to relax completely in order to shed the use of contractive strength. Such emptying is necessary for learning to generate strength through the expansion of muscles, initiated by i, thereby consciously sending neural electricity that acts differently from that for contraction. So the use of contractive strength would act in a way that would mask a recognition of the difference between the two types of strength. Cultivating expansive strength requires long, consistent practice to develop because it is unfamiliar, whereas contractive strength is familiar and habitual.

The ch’i flow is then enhanced by the electrical stimulation to the tissues and freed by the release of contractive tension that blocks it.

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