Next in Thomas Merton’s collection of Zhuangzi stories from Merton’s book entitled “The Way of Chuang Tzu” is that asks the question: How should you treat a bird? As yourself or as a bird? That is the premise for “Symphony for a Sea Bird”

In the teaching of philosophy, Chuang Tzu is not in favor of putting on tight shoes that make the disciple intensely
conscious of the fact that he has feet-because they torment him! For that very reason Chuang is critical not only of Confucians who are too attached to method and system, but also of Taoists who try to impart knowledge of the unnameable Tao when it cannot be imparted, and when the hearer is not even ready to receive the first elements of instruction about it. “Symphony for a Sea Bird” is to be read in this light. Itdoes not apply merely to the deadening of spontaneity by an artificial insistence on Ju philosophy, but also to a wrongheaded and badly timed zeal in the communication of Tao. In fact, Tao cannot be communicated. Yet it communicates itself in its own way. When the right moment arrives, even one who seems incapable of any instruction whatever will· become mysteriously aware of Tao.


You cannot put a big load in a small bag,
Nor can you, with a short rope,
Draw water from a deep well.
You cannot talk to a power politician
As if he were a wise man.
If he seeks to understand you,
If he looks inside himself
To find the truth you have told him,
He cannot find it there.
Not finding, he doubts.
When a man doubts,
He will kill.

Have you not heard how a bird from the sea
Was blown inshore and landed
Outside the capital of Lu?

The Prince ordered a solemn reception,
Offered the sea bird wine in the sacred precinct,
Called for musicians
To play the compositions of Shun,
Slaughtered cattle to nourish it:
Dazed with symphonies, the unhappy sea bird
Died of despair.

How should you treat a bird?
As yourself
Or as a bird?

Ought not a bird to nest in deep woodland
Or fly over meadow and marsh?
Ought it not to swim on river and pond,
Feed on eels and fish,
Fly in formation with other waterfowl,
And rest in the reeds?

Bad enough for a sea bird
To be surrounded by men
And frightened by their voices!
That was not enough!
They killed it with music!

Play all the symphonies you like
On the marshlands of Thung-Ting.
The birds will fly away
In all directions;
The animals will hide;
The fish will dive to the bottom;
But men
Will gather around to listen.

Water is for fish
And air for men.
Natures differ, and needs with them.

Hence the wise men of old
Did not lay down
One measure for all.

Tomorrow is Sunday, a good day to take a rest and get ready for a long week of practicing.


Those of you who are invested in martial arts, what is your goal? Is it MMA? Getting into the UFC? Is it Tui Shou competition? Or just playing Tui Shou in the park? Whatever it might be, both Thomas Merton and Zhuangzi have advice for you in “The Fighting Cock,” a story from Thomas Merton’s collection of stories from the Zhuangzi in “The Way of Chuang Tzu.”

A contemplative and interior life which would simply make the subject more aware of himself and permit him to become obsessed with his own interior progress would, for Chuang Tzu, be no less an illusion than the active life of the
“benevolent” man who would try by his own efforts to impose his idea of the good on those who might oppose this idea and thus in his eyes, become “enemies of the good.” The true tranquillity sought by the “man of Tao” is Ying ning, tranquillity in the action of non-action, in other words, a tranquillity which transcends the division between activity and contemplation by entering into union with the nameless and invisible Tao. Chuang Tzu insists everywhere that this means abandoning the “need to win” (see “The Fighting Cock”).


Chi Hsing Tzu was a trainer of fighting cocks
For King Hsuan.
He was training a fine bird.
The King kept asking if the bird were
Ready for combat.
“Not yet,” said the trainer.
“He is full of fire.
He is ready to pick a fight
With every other bird. He is vain and confident
Of his own strength.”

After ten days, he answered again:
“Not yet. He flares up
When he hears another bird crow.”

After ten more days:
“Not yet. He still gets
That angry look
And ruffles his feathers.”

Again ten days:
The trainer said, “Now he is nearly ready.
When another bird crows, his eye
Does not even flicker.
He stands immobile
Like a cock of wood.
He is a mature fighter.
Other birds
Will take one look at him
And run.”

So, there’s your advice: Give up the need to win, and enjoy your practice, everyone. Thanks for stopping by.


Today we look at “The Woodcarver” from a collection of Zhuangzi stories compiled by Thomas Merton in his book “The Way of Chuang Tzu.” Merton’s commentary follows the story.

Khing, the master carver, made a bell stand
Of precious wood. When it was finished,
All who saw it were astounded. They said it must be
The work of spirits.
The Prince of Lu said to the master carver:
“What is your secret?”

Khing replied: “I am only a workman:
I have no secret. There is only this:
When I began to think about the work you commanded
I guarded my spirit, did not expend it
On trifles, that were not to the point.
I fasted in order to set
My heart at rest.
After three days fasting,
I had forgotten gain and success.
After five days
I had forgotten praise or criticism.
After seven days
I had forgotten my body
With all its limbs.

“By this time all thought of your Highness
And of the court had faded away.
All that might distract me from the work
Had vanished.
I was collected in the single thought
Of the bell stand.

“Then I went to the forest
To see the trees in their own natural state.
When the right tree appeared before my eyes,
The bell stand also appeared in it, clearly, beyond doubt.
All I had to do was to put forth my hand
And begin.

“If I had not met this particular tree
There would have been
No bell stand at all.

“What happened?
My own collected thought
Encountered the hidden potential in the wood;
From this live encounter came the work
Which you ascribe to the spirits.”

In “The Woodcarver,” we see that the accomplished craftsman does not simply proceed according to certain fixed rules and external standards. To do so is, of course, perfectly all right for the mediocre artisan. But the superior work of art proceeds from a hidden and spiritual principle which, in fasting, detachment, forgetfulness of results, and abandonment of all hope of profit, discovers precisely the tree that is waiting to have this particular work carved from it. In such a case, the artist works as though passively, and it is Tao that works in and through him. This is a favorite theme of Chuang Tzu, and we find it often repeated. The “right way” of making things is beyond self-conscious reflection, for “when the shoe fits, the foot is forgotten.”

Let’s hope your shoes fit so you can enjoy practicing, everyone.


Following on the heels or, I should say, the tail of “The Turtle, ” which we looked at yesterday is Zhuangzi’s story of the “Owl and Phoenix” from Thomas Merton’s collection of Zhuangzi stories entitled “The Way of Chuang Tzu.”

MERTON: In “The Turtle,” Chuang Tzu delivers a curt and definite refusal to those who come to tempt him away from
his fishing on the river bank in order to give him a job in the capital…He has an even more blunt response when his friend Hui Tzu suspects him of plotting to supplant him in his official job (in the “Owl and Phoenix”).


Hui Tzu was Prime Minister of Liang. He had what he believed to be inside information that Chuang Tzu coveted his post and was intriguing to supplant him. In fact, when Chuang Tzu came to visit Liang, the Prime Minister sent out
the police to apprehend him. The police searched for him three days and three nights, but meanwhile Chuang presented
himself before Hui Tzu of his own accord, and said:

“Have you heard about the bird
That lives in the south
The Phoenix that never grows old?

“This undying Phoenix
Rises out of the South Sea
And flies to the Sea of the North,
Never alighting
Except on certain sacred trees.
He will touch no food
But the most exquisite
Rare fruit,
Drinks only
From clearest springs.

“Once an owl
Chewing a dead rat
Already half-decayed,
Saw the Phoenix fly over,
Looked up,
And screeched with alarm,
Clutching the rat to himself
In fear and dismay.

“Why are you so frantic
Clinging to your ministry
And screeching at me
In dismay?”

Did Zhuangzi just call his friend, Hui Tzu, a rat? In a way he did, demeaning Hui Tzu’s ministry that he was clinging to. Did Hui Tzu deserve that? Of course, he did, believing the unproven, unverified speculations of a third party before even speaking with his friend. I certainly hope we do not do that. It’s called the benefit of the doubt. Always give that one special benefit to your close friends, and enjoy your practice, folks.


Today, Thomas Merton comments on the story of “The Turtle” from his collection of stories from the “Zhuangzi,” entitled “The Way of Chuang Tzu.”

The “man of Tao” will prefer obscurity and solitude. He
will not seek public office, even though he may recognize that
the Tao which “inwardly forms the sage, outwardly forms the
King.” In “The Turtle,” Chuang Tzu delivers a curt and
definite refusal to those who come to tempt him away from
his fishing on the river bank in order to give him a job in the

Chuang Tzu with his bamboo pole
Was fishing in Pu river.
The Prince of Chu
Sent two vice-chancellors
With a formal document:
“We hereby appoint you
Prime Minister.”
Chuang Tzu held his bamboo pole.
Still watching Pu river,
He said:
“I am told there is a sacred tortoise,
Offered and canonized
Three thousand years ago,
Venerated by the prince,
Wrapped in silk,
In a precious shrine
On an altar
In the Temple.
“What do you think:
Is it better to give up one’s life
And leave a sacred shell
As an object of cult
In a cloud of incense
Three thousand years,

Or better to live
As a plain turtle
Dragging its tail in the mud?”
“For the turtle,” said the Vice-Chancellor,
“Better to live
And drag its tail in the mud!”
“Go home!” said Chuang Tzu.
“Leave me here
To drag my tail in the mud!”

Let’s not drag our tails in the mud tomorrow. Get out there and a great time practicing, people!


We are still working with Zhuangzi stories from the Book of Zhuangzi, simply titled The “Zhuangzi.” But today, we have a guest commentator. Thomas Merton was a Trappist monk and a best selling author, who loved the stories of Zhuangzi. He complied a book of his favorite Chuang Tzu (Zhuangzi) stories along with commentaries. So, today we begin with “Monkey Mountain,” our first Thomas Merton excerpt from his book “The Way of Chuang Tzu.”

The Prince of Wu took a boat to Monkey Mountain. As soon as the monkeys saw him they all fled in panic and hid in the treetops. One monkey, however, remained, completely unconcerned, swinging from branch to branch-an extraordinary

The Prince shot an arrow at the monkey, but the monkey dexterously caught the arrow in mid-flight. At this the Prince ordered his attendants to make a concerted attack. In an instant the monkey was shot full of arrows and fell dead.

Then the King turned to his companion Yen Pu’i: “You see what happened?” he said. “This animal advertised his cleverness. He trusted in his own skill. He thought no on
could touch him. Remember that! Do not rely on distinction
and talent when you deal with men.”

When they returned home, Yen Pu’i became the disciple
of a sage to get rid of everything that made him outstanding.
He renounced every pleasure. He learned to hide every “distinction.”
Soon no one in the Kingdom knew what to make of him.
Thus they held him in awe.

MERTON: In “Monkey Mountain,” he shows the peril of cleverness and virtuosity, and repeats one of his familiar themes that we might summarize as: No one is so wrong as the man who knows all the answers. Like Lao Tzu, Master Chuang preaches an essential humility: not the humility of virtuousness and conscious selfabasement, which in the end is never entirely free from the unctuousness of Uriah Heep, but the basic, one might say, “ontological,” or “cosmic” humility of the man who fully realizes his own nothingness and becomes totally forgetful of himself, “like a dry tree stump … like dead ashes.”

Stay tuned for more from Thomas Merton’s book, “The Way of Chuang Tzu,” tomorrow. Enjoy your practicing, folks!


For most of you Sunday is a day to relax and take it easy. But for me it’s a day of teaching and training in Tui Shou, hardly relaxing. In the morning I work with another teacher to help a few of his students with their structure and techniques. Then later, I go to another park to work with a couple of experienced partners who can teach me a thing or two. So, as always, take it easy if you can, and get ready for a full week of enjoyable practicing, everyone. Adios!


Today we have the Tale of “Yao and Xu You” from the “Zhuangzi,” translated by Burton Watson: “Yao ceded the empire to Xu You. “A small torch burning on after the sun is out finds making the day brighter a difficult task indeed. A man who keeps on irrigating fields after the seasonal rains have come finds making the crops richer tedious indeed. If you, sir, once took the throne, thereupon would the world be in order. Yet I like an imposter continue in charge, despite seeing my own inadequacy. I beg to turn the world over to you.”

Xu You said, “You rule the world and the world is already well ruled. Would I want to replace you for reputation’s sake? Reputation is merely the guest of reality – would I want to play the guest? When a wren builds its nest, although the woods may be deep it uses no more than one branch. When a mole goes to drink though it goes to a river it fills its belly and drinks no more. Go home and let the matter drop, my lord! I have no use for the world. Though the cook may not manage his job well, the sacrificial priest doesn’t leap over the altar wine and meats to take his place.”

It seems as though Xu You had to attend to things that were much weightier than simply ruling the world. What is the phrase that Jesus is quoted as saying in the New Testament: “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” (Mark 8:36). It seems like the above story is the Zhuangzi version of this quote and implies the importance of self cultivation, which, no doubt, was Xu You’s main interest in his life. And, yours as well, I hope. Keep practicing, folks, and you’ll get there eventually.


Continuing with stories from The Zhuangzi, today’s excerpt is from Chapter 13. The story of Wheelwright Bian concerns a courageous wheelwright who challenges his ruler, Lord Huan, and would surely lose his head if he did not prove his point.

Lord Huan was reading a book in the hall.
Wheelwright Bian was chiseling a wheel before the hall. He laid
down his mallet and chisel, ascended the hall, and asked, “I venture
to ask Your Lordship whose words you are reading?”
The lord said, “The words of the sages.”
“Are those sages alive?” Bian said.
The lord said, “They are dead.”
“Then what you, my lord, are reading are merely the rubbish of the
Lord Huan said, “I am reading; how should a wheelwright be in any
position to comment? If you have an explanation, very well; if not,
you shall die.”
Wheelwright Bian said, “I, your servant, look at it from the perspective
of my occupation. In chiseling a wheel, if my actions are slow,
the wheel will be slippery and fragile; if my actions are quick, the
wheel will be uneven and not fit.
To be neither too slow nor too fast; this is acquired through one’s
hands and experienced through one’s heart.
One’s mouth cannot articulate it.
There is a knack in it.
I cannot teach the knack to my son,
nor can my son receive it from me.
Hence, I am seventy but still making wheels in my old age.
The ancients, as well as that which was impossible for them to
convey, are dead and gone.
This being so, then what you, my lord, are reading is but the rubbish
of the ancients!”

And so it is! The problem with the human condition is that we place too much credence on what we hear and read. We take it in as though our language conveys the full knowledge of what we speak. But it does not. As Wheelwright Bian explained, language can only convey partial knowledge. It cannot convey our feeling or experiential knowledge. You can talk all day about your cruise to Alaska, let’s say. But there is no way I can experience what you felt for language is not knowledge itself, pure and complete. Or, as Wheelwright Bian stated, “(True knowledge) is acquired through one’s hands and experienced through one’s heart. One’s mouth cannot articulate it.”

Happy practicing, folks. More from The Zhuangzi tomorrow.



Today we continue with the story of “The Four Friends” from Chapter 6 of the “Zhuangzi.” In the first part of the story, Mast Yu fell ill to a crippling disease and was turning into a crooked hunchback. His friend, Master Si, went to visit Yu to check on his condition. Not only wasn’t Yu miserable and downtrodden, he was the complete opposite. Having accepted his fate willingly, he even made light of his situation. You might say that Master Yu was the perfect model for the adage: “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”

Today’s section is about the other two friends, Master Lo and Master Lai.

Before long Master Lai fell ill, and lay gasping at the point of death, while his wife and children stood around him wailing. Master Lо went to ask for him, and said to them, ‘Hush! Get out of the way! Do not disturb him as he is passing through his change.’ Then, leaning against the door, he said (to the dying man), ‘Great indeed is the Creator! What will He now make you to become? Where will He take you to? Will He make you the liver of a rat, or the arm of an insect? Master Lai replied, ‘Wherever a parent tells a son to go, east, west, south, or north, he simply follows the command. The Yin and Yang are more to a man than his parents are. If they are hastening my death, and I do not quietly submit to them, I shall be obstinate and rebellious. There is the great Mass (of nature);– I find the support of my body in it; my life is spent in toil on it; my old age seeks ease on it; at death I find rest on it:– what has made my life a good will make my death also a good.

‘Here now is a great founder, casting his metal. If the metal were to leap up (in the pot), and say, “I must be made into a (sword like the) Mo-yeh,” the great founder would be sure to regard it as uncanny. So, again, when a form is being fashioned in the mold of the womb, if it were to say, “I must become a man; I must become a man,” the Creator would be sure to regard it as uncanny. When we once understand that heaven and earth are a great melting-pot, and the Creator a great founder, where can we have to go to that shall not be right for us? We are born as from a quiet sleep, and we die to a calm awaking.’

Here, Zhuangzi is pointing out what one’s attitude should be regarding death. If we look at it as a calm awaking, then there is nothing to fear, nothing to be terrified of. It is by no means an absolute must to reincarnate as a human. We should accept whatever fate and our karma have in store for us. After all, whatever it is, we will not be conscious of it as we are not conscious of our last incarnation or the one before that.

I will have more from Zhuangzi tomorrow. Take care and have a great practice, folks.


Today we start a brief series of stories by that master storyteller Zhuangzi from the “Book of Zhuang” (The Zhuangzi). This first one is called “The Four Friends,” from Chapter 6, translated by Burton Watson.

Master Si, Mater Yu, Master Lo, and Master Lai, these four men, were talking together, when some one said, ‘Who can suppose the head to be made from nothing, the spine from life, and the rump-bone from death? Who knows how death and birth, living on and disappearing, compose the one body?– I would be friends with him.’ The four men looked at one another and laughed, but no one seized with his mind the drift of the questions. All, however, were friends together.

Not long after Yu fell ill, and Si went to inquire for him. ‘How great,’ said (the sufferer), ‘is the Creator! That He should have made me the deformed object that I am!’ He was a crooked hunchback; his five viscera were squeezed into the upper part of his body; his chin bent over his navel; his shoulder was higher than his crown; on his crown was an ulcer pointing to the sky; his breath came and went in gasps:– yet he was easy in his mind, and made no trouble of his condition. He limped to a well, looked at himself in it, and said, ‘Alas that the Creator should have made me the deformed object that I am!’ Si asked, ‘Do you dislike your condition?’ Yu0 replied, ‘No, why should I dislike it? If He were to transform my left arm into a cock, I should be watching with it the time of the night; if He were to transform my right arm into a cross-bow, I should then be looking for a hsiвo to (bring down and) roast; if He were to transform my rump-bone into a wheel, and my spirit into a horse, I should then be mounting it, and would not change it for another steed. Moreover, when we have got (what we are to do), there is the time (of life) in which to do it; when we lose that (at death), submission (is what is required). When we rest in what the time requires, and manifest that submission, neither joy nor sorrow can find entrance (to the mind). This would be what the ancients called loosing the cord by which (the life) is suspended. But one hung up cannot loose himself;– he is held fast by his bonds. And that creatures cannot overcome Heaven (the inevitable) is a long-acknowledged fact;– why should I hate my condition?’

Why should any of us hate our condition? But we do. All the time – whenever we run into negative situations. Zhuangzi is teaching us the true nature ACCEPTANCE in this parable. Not only has Yu accepted his conditions, he even makes light of it.

So, we shall take a look at the next part of the story (yes, there’s more) tomorrow. Great practicing, enjoy, people!


Today a final word from Song Shuming, who transmitted generations of the Song Family’s encounters with four of the ancient predecessors to modern Taijiquan:

The above descriptions of various schools of Taiji and their terminology are based on my own experience and on help from good friends who are not the type to show off their skills. I fear that a person within any of these styles will after a long period end up corrupting it, therefore I have written these things down to supply future generations with material to ponder and learn from. This art will last you for your entire life and you will never be able to use it up.
If there are any other Taiji styles with different names and different postures names, I am not aware of them, and I will leave it up to later generations to encounter and record them. No matter what names they may use for their techniques, the Taiji art itself cannot be considered to be more than one art. If some version is explained totally differently than the rest, then that is assuredly a different art altogether, but otherwise no matter what a person’s skill level might be, he should not proclaim his version to be a different art.
Tracing further back from the previous masters above, we encounter the likes of Dongfang Shuo [a Han Dynasty scholar who was subsequently placed in the ranks of Daoist immortals], then tracing back further still, there was Mengzi, who traveled from kingdom to kingdom to present his art of “accepting one’s destiny”. He said [Mengzi, chapter 2a]: “I am so good at nurturing my noble energy… that it fills up the world.”
The greater achievement is personal transformation, while the lesser achievement is martial skill. The Way of accepting destiny cannot be achieved without filling the body with energy. From accepting one’s destiny, there is then the fulfilling of one’s nature, and ultimately one’s spirit is transformed. From king to commoner, how could this process not initiate sincerity of intention, correctness of mind, and cultivation of the body?
Later generations must never pass down this material casually, for there are some kinds of people who should not be taught. After all, why did past masters pass the art down to us? It really had nothing to do with family relations, only with being worthy. We must respect the life’s work of past masters and not dare to teach their art rashly. When you later generations teach this art, you must try to get the work you put into it to live up to the efforts of the earlier masters.


1. Do not teach those of different traditions.
2. Do not teach those without virtue.
3. Do not teach those who do not understand instructions.
4. Do not teach those who cannot endure.
5. Do not teach quitters.
6. Do not teach those who gain the treasure but forget the teacher.
7. Do not teach those who are ungrateful for what they receive.
8. Do not teach those who are prone to losing their temper.
9. Do not teach those who take excessive delight in worldly pleasures.
10. Do not teach those who cannot handle a great variety of tasks.


[1] Do not drink wine excessively.
[2] Do not be distracted by sex, for the ways of women will lead you to bad decisions.
[3] Do not be obsessed with wealth.
[4] Do not act in opposition to a balanced lifestyle, trying to get more for yourself than is reasonable.


[1] Don’t eat too much.
[2] Don’t drink too much.
[3] Don’t sleep too much.

Song Shuming’s final words will bring this series to an end. I certainly hope you enjoyed learning about ancient forms of Taiji Boxing that led to our modern practice of Taijiquan. Furthermore, I hope you will heed these final words of the author as translated by Paul Brennan. Take care, my friends, and enjoy practicing long and hard.


Today we look at the last art in this series of ancient Taiji Boxing arts that laid the foundation for modern day Taijiquan. The art was called Acquired Nature Method.

“Hu Jingzi” was the name he called himself while in Yangzhou, but we do not know what his name actually was. He taught his art to Zhong Shu of the Song Dynasty. Zhong was from Anzhou [present-day Anlu in Hubei]. He once traveled to Gusu Tower, where he wrote this poem on a pillar [a poem which drew the attention of Su Dongpo, who Zhong then became friends with]:
Universe eternal, on and on forever,
you have no mind, so I likewise quiet mine.
I wander to the ends of the Earth, nobody paying me any attention [“people not piping” – a pun foreshadowing the next line],
but when spring breezes come, I blow my flute for them in taverns.

The Taiji Boxing that Zhong taught to Yin Liheng was called Acquired Nature Method. It too contained the techniques of warding off, rolling back, pressing, pushing, plucking, rending, elbowing, and bumping [although the list below focuses entirely on elbowing]. Although its posture names were different, its method of use was the same as before. If a practitioner of a system goes off on his own, he and the original system will each do things their own way, but the fundamentals in either case will remain the same.

Contents of the Acquired Nature Method:


Tomorrow we will end the series with some final words from Song Shuming, the Author, on Ten Types of People Not To Be Taught, Four Prohibitions, and Three Little Practice Prohibitions. Until then, happy practicing, everyone!


Easy day today, enjoy some Tui Shou, then rest up and get ready for a full week of practicing, folks.

By the way, FYI for those interested in Tui Shou…

October 23, this Saturday, 3 1/2 hours dedicated to the depth of internal work of TC or other internal martial arts. There is a lot to cover:

Quick access of meditative state for practice Qi Gong or Tai Chi,
Push Hands and transformation of it into striking,
Unlocking hips for free movement in and out of the attack,
Maintaining postural alignment and Chi manipulation,
and many Q and A that you might have.

Amount of participants is limited to ensure proper exercises and techniques execution.

Details: <<<< MUST RSVP>>>>

When and where: Saturday, October 23th Reseda Park – 18411 Victory Blvd., Reseda CA 91335. Starting at 10am

Cost: $100 per person for one day

Email for PayPal payments:

Reserve your spot now for the best Tai Chi hang out. Can’t wait to meet you and play Push Hands with you again!
Emil Rechester

(I know Emil personally, and he has some very good stuff to share.)


Continuing our series on the ancient forerunners of modern day Taijiquan, today we look at the Taiji Boxing art of Han Gongyue, which was named “Small Highest Heaven.” And this one is really ancient from Sixth Century China. First a little background from the Song family history, recorded by Song Shuming and translated by Paul Brennan.

Cheng Lingxi, called Yuandi, was from Xiuning, Huizhou Prefecture, Jiangnan. He learned from Han Gongyue a Taiji skill that was highly practical. During the Houjing Rebellion [548–552], She County [in Anhui] was protected entirely due to Cheng. The first Liang emperor thus gave him command over the region. After Cheng died, he was given the posthumous name of Zhongzhuang [“loyal and mighty”].
The art was later passed down to Cheng Bi, who [in 1193] was a graduate of the court-level examinations in Shaoxing Prefecture. He was made Head of Records for Changhua County, as well as Minister of Personnel, was honored with a degree from the Hanlin Academy, served as an imperial courtier whose bearing inspired awe, and finally, given the title of Marquis of Xin’an Prefecture [modern day Huizhou in Anhui], as well as Scholar of the Hall of Clarity. While he ran his estate, he often sold grain for a much lower price to relieve people when there was less to go around, sincerely wanting to benefit the masses. He is the author of the Ming River Collection.
He changed the name of his Taiji Boxing art to Small Highest Heaven. Although he inherited the art, he recorded that it was Han Gongyue who taught it, never daring to forget the master who passed it down.

If Taiji is not based purely on the Book of Changes, you will not be able to succeed in it. To use the Book of Changes, you must at all times realize its ideas in your mind and manifest them within your body, transcending outward appearance and instead holding to what is in the center, thereby possessing the marvel of “the opponent does not understand me, only I understand him”. But if I had not personally received corrections from my teacher, I would not have been able to delight in these movements.

[Below are two pieces belonging to this art, with no specific authorship indicated.]

FIVE STUDY REMINDERS [These five terms are originally from the “Zhong Yong” – chapter 31 of the Book of Rites.]

[1] Learn abundantly. (Work on a great variety of skills.)
[2] Inquire meticulously. (This does not have to do with querying verbally, but with listening to energy.)
[3] Ponder wholeheartedly. (After a session of listening, contemplate the experience constantly.)
[4] Discriminate clearly. (New things will always continue to come at you [and you should keep yourself from being distracted by things that are not important].)
[5] Practice sincerely. (“Nature acts with vigor. [Likewise a gentleman ceaselessly improves himself.]” – Hexagram 1 of the Book of Changes)


Unless you understand your own nature,
how can you understand human nature?
The nature of things is similar to human nature,
and the nature of the universe is similar in turn to that nature.
We depend on the universe for existence,
but the universe depends on us for relevance.
If I can first seek to understand my own nature,
the universe will teach me and reveal my own unique talent.

This may be a little heavy for those who just practice Taiji for health or to learn Tui Shou, but for those who are true cultivators, all I can urge is take heed of the above…and enjoy your practicing, folks!


Today we continue our review of legendary Zhang Sanfeng’s martial art, “The Thirteen Dynamics.” We begin this session with the “Thirteen Dynamics Song.” No, this is not a selection from the Top 100 Hits of the Tang or Ming Dynasties. In martial arts and especially Taijiquan, a Song was a poetic and often rhymed way of presenting instructions and even secrets attached to that particular form.


Do not neglect any of the thirteen dynamics,
their command coming from your lower back.
You must pay attention to the alternation of empty and full,
then energy will flow through your whole body without getting stuck anywhere.
In stillness, movement stirs, and then once in motion, seem yet to be in stillness,
for the magic lies in making adjustments based on being receptive to the opponent.
In every movement, very deliberately control it by the use of intention,
for once you achieve that, your technique will never be gummed up.
At every moment, pay attention to your waist,
for if there is relaxation and stillness within your belly, energy is primed.
Your tailbone is centered and spirit penetrates to your headtop,
thus your whole body will be aware and your headtop will be pulled up as if suspended.
Pay careful attention in your practice that you are letting bending and extending,
contracting and expanding, happen as the situation requires.
Beginning the training requires personal instruction,
but mastering the art depends on your own unceasing effort.
Whether we are discussing in terms of theory or function, what is the constant?
It is that mind is sovereign and body is subject.
If you think about it, what is emphasizing the use of intention going to lead you to?
To a longer life and a longer youth.
Repeatedly recite the words above,
all of which speak clearly and hence their ideas come through without confusion.
If you pay no heed to those ideas, you will go astray in your training,
and you will find you have wasted your time and be left with only sighs of regret.

Long Boxing: it is like a long river flowing into the wide ocean, on and on ceaselessly… The thirteen dynamics are: warding off, rolling back, pressing, pushing, plucking, rending, elbowing, and bumping – which relate to the eight trigrams:

☴☲☷ Sun, Li, Kun
☳ ☱ Chen, Tui
☶☵☰ Ken, Kan, Qian

… and advancing, retreating, stepping to the left, stepping to the right, and staying in the center – which relate to the five elements: metal, wood, water, fire, and earth. Combined [8+5], these are the Thirteen Dynamics, yet another name for Taiji Boxing. Warding off, rolling back, pressing, and pushing correspond to ☵, ☲, ☳, and ☱ in the four principle compass directions [meaning simply that these are the primary techniques]. Plucking, rending, elbowing, and bumping correspond to ☰, ☷, ☶, and ☴ in the four corner directions [i.e. are the secondary techniques]. Advancing, retreating, stepping to the left, stepping to the right, and staying in the center correspond to the five elements of water, fire, wood, metal, and earth.

We close out our study of Zhang Sanfeng’s “Thirteen Dynamics” with the “Playing Hands Song,” which relates to modern day “Push Hands” or “Tui Shou.”


Ward-off, rollback, press, and push must be taken seriously.
With coordination between above and below, the opponent will hardly find a way in.
I will let him attack me with as much power as he likes,
for I will tug with four ounces of force to move his of a thousand pounds.
Guiding him in to land on nothing, I then close up and shoot him out.
I stick, connect, adhere, and follow, neither coming away nor crashing in.

It is also said:
If he takes no action, I take no action, but once he takes even the slightest action, I have already acted. The power seems relaxed but not relaxed, about to expand but not yet expanding. When my power finishes, my intent of it continues.

Next we look at the taiji boxing art of Han Gongyue called Small Highest Heaven. Until tomorrow then, Enjoy practicing, everyone!


Today we continue with the story of the legendary ancestor of Taijiquan, Zhang Sanfeng, and his “Thirteen Dynamics” as recounted in the Song family history by Song Shuming and translated by Paul Brennan.


Use mind to move the energy. You must get the energy to sink. It is then able to collect in the bones. Use energy to move your body. You must get the energy to be smooth. Your body can then easily obey your mind.
If you can raise your spirit, then you will be without worry of being slow or weighed down. Thus it is said [in the Thirteen Dynamics Song]: “Your whole body will be aware and your headtop will be pulled up as if suspended.”
Your mind must perform alternations nimbly, and then you will have the delight of being rounded and lively. Thus it is said [also in the Song]: “Pay attention to the alternation of empty and full.”
When issuing power, you must sink and relax, concentrating it in one direction. Your posture must be upright and comfortable, bracing in all directions.
Move energy as though through a winding-path pearl, penetrating even the smallest nook – meaning that the energy is everywhere in the body. Wield power like tempered steel, so strong there is nothing tough enough to stand up against it.
The shape is like a falcon capturing a rabbit. The spirit is like a cat pouncing on a mouse.
In stillness, be like a mountain, and in movement, be like a river.
Store power like drawing a bow. Issue power like loosing an arrow.
Within curving, seek to be straightening. Store and then issue.
Power comes from your spine. Step according to your body’s adjustments.
To gather is to release. Disconnect but stay connected.
In the back and forth [of the arms], there must be folding. In the advance and retreat [of the feet], there must be variation.
Extreme softness begets extreme hardness. Your ability to be lively lies in your ability to breathe.
By nurturing energy with integrity, it will not be corrupted. By storing power in crooked parts, it will be in abundant supply.
The mind makes the command, the energy is its flag, and the waist is its banner.
First strive to open up, then strive to close up, and from there you will be able to attain a refined subtlety.

It is also said:
First in your mind, then in your body. Your abdomen relaxes and then energy collects. Your spirit should be comfortable and your body should be calm – at every moment be mindful of this. Always remember: If one part moves, every part moves, and if one part is still, every part is still.
As the movement leads back and forth, energy sticks to and gathers in your spine.
Inwardly bolster spirit and outwardly show ease.
Step like a cat and move energy as if drawing silk.
Throughout your body, your mind should dwell on the spirit rather than on the energy, for if you are fixated on the energy, your movement will become sluggish. Whenever your mind is on the energy, there will be no power, and likewise whenever your mind is on the power, there will be no energy. But if you ignore the power and let it take care of itself, there will be pure strength.
To obtain the principle of “invigorating activity” from hexagram 1 of the Book of Changes [i.e. “Nature acts with vigor. Likewise a gentleman ceaselessly improves himself.”], let your energy be like a wheel and your waist be like an axle.

More on the “Thirteen Dynamics” of Zhang Sanfeng tomorrow. Until then, have joyful practicing, everyone.


Two days ago we look at the Tang Dynasty 37 form, an ancient forerunner of modern Taijiquan, developed Xu Xuanping, a Taoist hermit. Then yesterday we looked at another ancient forerunner of Taijiquan developed by Li Daozi. Today we continue our journey into the ancient form of Taijiquan, according to the Song family history recorded by Song Shuming and translated by Paul Brennan and meet one of the most mysterious legendary figure of Taijiquan, Zhang Sanfeng.

Yesterday, we learned that Song Shuming’s distant ancestor, Song Yuanqiao together with Yu Lianzhou and five other close friends and martial artists went to find Master Li Daozi, who had taught Yu Lianzhou the “Song of Secrets,” which means Master Li taught Yu Lianzhou how to perform the martial secrets contained in the song. Today, we pick up with the Song family record from there with Song Shuming’s ancestor, Song Yuanqiao, detailing what happened next:

After the seven of us learned this song (SONG OF SECRETS – taught to Yu Lianzhou by Master Li), we all went together to Wudang to do obeisance to Master Li, but we could not find him there. At the Daoist “Jade Void Palace” on the heights of Mt. Taihe, we instead met Master Zhang Sanfeng, who had already been instructing Zhang Songxi and Zhang Cuishan. He was over seven feet tall, had a graceful beard that was like a halberd, wore the same bamboo hat regardless of winter or summer, and could travel three hundred miles in a single day. Long ago, in the first year of the reign of Emperor Hongwu [1368], he had practiced asceticism at Mt. Taihe.
The seven of us did obeisance to him, opening our minds to his wisdom for more than a month before returning, and from that point on have continued to make such pilgrimages. Master Zhang’s boxing art, which had so far been passed down only to Zhang Songxi and Zhang Cuishan, is called Thirteen Dynamics, another name for the Taiji art, and is also called Long Boxing.

The following are writings belonging to the Zhang Sanfeng’s art, Thirteen Dynamics [with no specific authorship indicated]:

Taiji [“grand polarity”] is born of wuji [“nonpolarity”] stillness and is the mother of yin and yang [the passive and active aspects]. When there is movement, passive and active become distinct from each other. When there is stillness, they return to being indistinguishable.
Neither going too far nor not far enough, comply and bend then engage and extend. He is hard while I am soft – this is yielding. My energy is smooth while his energy is coarse – this is sticking. If he moves fast, I quickly respond – this is connecting. If his movement is slow, I leisurely follow – this is following. Although there is an endless variety of possible scenarios, there is only this single principle [of yielding and sticking] throughout. Once you have ingrained these techniques, you will gradually come to identify energies, and then from there you will gradually progress toward something miraculous. But unless you practice a lot over a long time, you will never have a breakthrough.
Press up your headtop. Energy sinks to your elixir field. Stand centered and not leaning. Suddenly hide and suddenly appear. When there is pressure on the left, the left must become neutral. When there is pressure on the right, the right must become neutral. Emptiness and fullness manifest simultaneously. When looking up, it is still higher. When drilling in, it only becomes harder. When advancing, it is even farther. When retreating, it is even nearer. A feather cannot be added and a fly cannot land. The opponent does not understand me, only I understand him. A hero is one who encounters no opposition, and it is through this kind of method that such a condition is achieved.
There is a great variety of boxing arts besides this one. Although the postures are different between them, they generally do not go beyond the strong bullying the weak and the slow yielding to the fast. The strong beating the weak and the slow submitting to the fast are both a matter of inherent natural ability and bear no relation to skill that is learned. Examine the phrase “four ounces moves a thousand pounds”, which is clearly not a victory obtained through strength. Or consider the sight of an old man repelling a group, which could not come from an aggressive speed.
Stand like a scale. Move like a wheel. If you drop one side, you can move. If you have equal pressure on both sides, you will be stuck. We often see one who has practiced hard for many years yet is unable to perform any neutralizations and is always under the opponent’s control, and the issue here is that this error of double pressure has not yet been understood.
If you want to avoid this error, you must understand passive and active. In sticking there is yielding and in yielding there is sticking. The active does not depart from the passive and the passive does not depart from the active, for the passive and active exchange roles. Once you have this understanding, you will be identifying energies. Once you are identifying energies, then the more you practice, the more efficient your skill will be, and by absorbing through experience and by constantly contemplating, gradually you will reach the point that you can do whatever you want.
The basic of basics is to forget about your plans and simply respond to the opponent. We often make the mistake of ignoring what is right in front of us in favor of something that has nothing to do with our immediate circumstances. For such situations it is said: “Miss by an inch, lose by a mile.” You must understand all this clearly.

Once there is any movement, your entire body must be aware and alert. There especially needs to be connection from movement to movement. Energy should be roused and spirit should be collected within. Do not allow there to be cracks or gaps anywhere, pits or protrusions anywhere, breaks in the flow anywhere.
Starting from your foot, issue through your leg, directing it at your waist, and expressing it at your fingers. From foot through leg through waist, it must be a fully continuous process, and whether advancing or retreating, you will then catch the opportunity and gain the upper hand. If not and your body easily falls into disorder, the problem must be in your waist and legs, so look for it there. This is always so, regardless of the direction of the movement, be it up, down, forward, back, left, right. And in all of these cases, the problem is a matter of your intent and does not lie outside of you.
With an upward comes a downward, with a forward comes a backward, and with a left comes a right. If your intention wants to go upward, then harbor a downward intention, like when you reach down to lift up an object. You thereby add a setback to the opponent’s own intention, thus he cuts his own root and is defeated quickly and certainly.
Empty and full must be distinguished clearly. In each part there is a part that is empty and a part that is full. Everywhere it is always like this, an emptiness and a fullness. Throughout your body, as the movement goes from one section to another there has to be connection. Do not allow the slightest break in the connection.

Tomorrow, we shall study “Understanding How to Practice the Thirteen Dynamics.” Until then, Joyful Practicing, everyone!



Continuing our discovery of ancient forms of Taiji, today we look at the art practice by Li Daozi known as Innate Nature Boxing through the Song family writings and oral traditions recorded by Song Shuming and translated by Paul Brennan. We start with a little about the history of Li Daozi and Innate Nature Boxing as recorded by Song Shuming:

The Yu family is from Jing County, Ningguo Prefecture, Jiangnan. Their Taiji art is called Innate Nature Boxing, also called Long Boxing. It was passed down by Li Daozi of the Tang Dynasty. Li was from Anqing in Jiangnan. During the Song Dynasty, he was a wanderer, making friends over wine. Then in the Ming Dynasty, he lived in the Wudang Mountains at the Southern Cliffs Temple. There he did not cook his food, instead snacking on wheat bran several times a day, and therefore he was known also as Master Li. When he met people, his catchphrase was “what a blessing”.

[Comment by Song Shuming:] (In order to find out if the Master Li of the Ming Dynasty was Li Daozi of the Tang Dynasty, my ancestor traveled to see the Yu family of Jing County, Jiangnan. He there discovered that Innate Nature Boxing was also, like our Thirty-Seven Postures, another name for Taiji. It was also confirmed to him that the Yu family’s art had been transmitted from Li Daozi of the Tang Dynasty and was then passed down in the family from generation to generation. Members of the Yu family went every year to Li’s cottage to honor him, continuing to do so into the Song Dynasty, though it is not known if they did this all the way into the Ming Dynasty.)

Yu Lianzhou and I traveled to the Wudang Mountains in Junzhou, Xiangyang Prefecture, Hebei. When Master Li saw us, he called out: “Hey, grandkid, where are you going?”
Yu looked up and saw that this man had a dirty face and matted hair, and he suspected the man would stink. Yu angrily said: “For such rude words, I’m warning you, with a slap you’ll be dead!”
Master Li said: “Sure, grandkid, show me your technique.”
Yu came forward to deliver a series of punches, but before he connected, he was lifted about a hundred feet into the air and then came down without getting any bones broken. He said: “Your skill surpasses everything to be able to throw me like that!”
Master Li said: “Do you not know of Yu Qinghui and Yu Yicheng?”
When Yu heard this, a shiver went up his spine. “Those are names of my distant ancestors.” Hurriedly kneeling down, he said: “You’re their teacher!”
Master Li said: “I’ve been here all these years without telling anyone. To see you now – what a blessing indeed. I will teach you this and that.”
Yu henceforth became not just invincible, but incredible.

[Comment by Song Shuming:] (My distant ancestor Song Yuanqiao, with Yu Lianzhou, Yu Daiyan, Zhang Songxi, Zhang Cuishan, Yin Liheng, and Mo Gusheng, all had long-term contact with each other around Jinling [Nanjing].)

SONG OF SECRETS – taught to Yu Lianzhou by Master Li

Be formless and shapeless.
Let your whole body be full of emptiness.
Respond to things naturally.
Be like chimes hung in the westerns hills [their sound resonating far].
Have the roar of a tiger and the cry of an ape.
The bubbling spring keeps fresh the calm stream.
Divert the river and turn back the sea.
Fulfill your nature and accept your destiny.

We will stop here for today and pick it up tomorrow with their meeting with the legendary Zhang Sanfeng. Good practicing, everyone.


In the beginning of this month, October 2nd to be exact, I posted poems by Xu Xuanping, a Taoist hermit, who is believed to have passed down a martial art called “The Thirty Seven” because there were 37 postures. It is believed by many to have been the forerunner of modern Taijiquan and became known as the Tany Dynasty 37.

To recap from the Brennan Translations of an historical work by Song Shuming from his family record: “Xu Xuanping was from She County, Huizhou Prefecture, in the Jiangnan region. He lived as a hermit at Mt. Chengyang, dwelling in a thatched hut on the south-facing slope. He avoided eating grains. He was over seven feet tall. His beard reached his navel and his hair reached his feet. He walked like a galloping horse.”

Today, for you Internal Artists and Martial Artists alike, I would like to list the notes on how to practice this art of “The Thirty Seven,” which can be applied to almost all Taiji forms as follows:

These postures should each be trained one at a time until mastered before moving on to the next posture. Never be impatient for more. It does not matter which of the thirty-seven postures precedes or follows, only that they link together naturally, so that the postures all transform from one into another continuously. That is why it is called “Long Boxing”.
While your feet step according to the five elements, maintain awareness of the eight trigrams [in relation to the feet rather than the hands]. Standing at the central element of earth, you will then be able to stably step to Qian ☰ in the south, Kun ☷ in the north, Li ☲ in the east, or Kan ☵ in the west. The “four cardinal directions” [primary techniques] are warding off, rolling back, pressing, and pushing. The “four corner directions” [secondary techniques] are plucking, rending, elbowing, and bumping.


The techniques of warding off, rolling back, pressing, and pushing are so unique
that out of ten skillful people there are ten who do not understand them.
But if you can perform them with both agility and solidity,
the qualities of sticking, connecting, adhering, and following will be sure to manifest.
The techniques of plucking, rending, elbowing, and bumping are yet more unusual,
and if you execute them unsuccessfully, they will just be wasted ideas.
But if you are capable with the qualities of sticking, adhering, connecting, and following,
you will occupy the central position and not be dislodged from it.


The lower back is first to command,
the throat second to command,
the solar plexus third to command.
The elixir field is first to obey,
the palms second to obey,
the soles of the feet third to obey.


First, when your emotions are stable and your mind is calm,
you will naturally be nimble and alert at every point.
Second, when energy flows through your whole body,
there is a continuousness that cannot be interrupted.
Third, as long as you never show your throat,
you will be able to handle yourself against the best in the world.
How can these things be achieved?
By way of total awareness, inside and out, in general and in detail.


[1] Liveliness lies with your waist.
[2] Inspiration penetrates to your headtop.
[3] Spirit courses through your spine.
[4] Flowing is based upon energy, and on not forcing the energy.
[5] Movement lies with your legs.
[6] Pressing is felt at the foot.
[7] Wielding lies with your palms.
[8] Sufficiency reaches to the fingers.
[9] Gathering is a matter of your marrow.
[10] Arriving is a matter of your spirit.
[11] Concentration depends on your ears.
[12] Breathing occurs through your nose.
[13] Breath is expressed from your mouth.
[14] Springiness lies with your knees.
[15] Simplify things by using your whole body.
[16] The issuing of your whole body expresses with every hair.


Be nimble and lively, seeking to identify the opponent’s energies.
Passive and active are meant to exchange with each other, so do not make the error of getting stuck in either.
Once you have got the skill of “four ounces moves a thousand pounds”,
it will be determined by your expanding and contracting, and the rousing of your energy.

Tomorrow we will go over Part Two: Transmission from Li Daozi and his ancient Taiji art called “Innate Nature Boxing.” Until then, splendid practicing to all.


Again, we are comparing the last two lines of the Tao Te Ching, Chapter 76 with “I Ching” hexagrams that correspond to Laozi’s admonition, which is:
“The big and strong belong underneath.
The gentle and weak belong at the top.”

So, yesterday we compared these this admonition with Hexagram #31, Hsien, Xian/Influence, Attraction, Compatibility, which turned out as Laozi had suggested to be very favorable. Today, we compare Laozi’s admonition with Hexagram #53, Jian, Chien/Development, Gradual Advancement or Progress.

Following Laozi’s dictates in Chapter 76, it is composed of SUN/THE GENTLE, WIND, WOOD above, replacing JOYOUS/Lake in Hexagram #31, but KEN or GEN/KEEPING STILL, MOUNTAIN remains on the bottom. According to an ancient commentator, Wang Bi, “Jian is concerned the hexagram concerned with gradual advance. Restrained and compliant, to advance as one should in this way…One should advance with restraint and compliance…If there is restraint and compliance, one’s actions will not founder.”

In the Wilhelm/Baynes commentary, it is stated: “A tree on a mountain develops slowly according to the law of its being and consequently stands firmly rooted. This gives the idea of a development that proceeds gradually, step by step. The attributes of the trigrams also point to this: within is tranquility, which guards against precipitate actions, and without is penetration, which makes development and progress possible.”


DEVELOPMENT. The maiden is given in marriage.
Good fortune. Perseverance furthers.

Again, in Wilhelm/Baynes: “The development of events that leads to a girl’s following a man to his home proceeds slowly. The various formalities must be disposed of before the marriage takes place. This principle of gradual development can be applied to other situations as well; it is always applicable where it is a matter of correct relationships of co-operation, as for instance in the appointment of an official. The development must be allowed to take its proper course. Hasty action would not be wise. This is also true, finally, of any effort to exert influence on others, for here too the essential factor is a correct way of development through cultivation of one’s own personality. No influence such as that exerted by agitators has a lasting effect. Within the personality too, development must follow the same course if lasting results are to be achieved. Gentleness that is adaptable, but at the same time penetrating, is the outer form that should proceed from inner calm. The very gradualness of the development makes it necessary to have perseverance, for perseverance alone prevents slow progress from dwindling to nothing.”

This is an essential point if we are to further our journey. Our personality must develop in the same way if we want to have lasting results. On the outside in our relations, we show a gentleness that is both adaptable and yet penetrating while inside we maintain an inner calm. It is also necessary to have perseverance which allows for slow progress without frustration or complete cessation

On the mountain, a tree:
The image of DEVELOPMENT.
Thus the superior man abides in dignity and virtue,
In order to improve the mores.

The tree that gradually grows on a mountaintop is the image of a gradual advance or development. Wang Bi states: “In the same way, the noble man finds a place for his worthiness and virtue to dwell and so manages to improve social mores.”

The Wilhelm/Baynes commentary elaborates on THE IMAGE. “The tree on the mountain is visible from afar, and its development influences the landscape of the entire region. It does not shoot up like a swamp plant; its growth proceeds gradually. Thus also the work of influencing people can be only gradual. No sudden influence or awakening is of lasting effect. Progress must be quite gradual, and in order to obtain such progress in public opinion and in the mores of the people, it is necessary for the personality to acquire influence and weight. This comes about through careful and constant work on one’s own moral development.”

Personal development seems to be a theme running through many of the Wilhelm/Baynes commentaries and, indeed, the I CHING (Yijing) itself. While not quite as auspicious as Hexagram #31, Xian/Influence, Jian or Chien, nevertheless, suggests progress along with a method of personal development that can have lasting results. So, why not see how this resonates with your own practice and personal cultivation?


Yesterday, we looked at Chapter 76 of the Tao Te Ching. That chapter ends with these two lines:
“The big and strong belong underneath.
The gentle and weak belong at the top.”

So, I thought it would be a great idea to see what the “I Ching” thinks of Laozi’s suggestion. So, over the next few days, I’m going to review a few hexagrams that fit Laozi’s scenario and see if they are beneficial or not.

The first one is Hexagram #31, Hsien, Xian/Influence, Attraction, Compatibility, Stimulate. As Laozi suggested, Tui, the JOYOUS, LAKE, the weaker trigram is above Ken, KEEPING STILL, MOUNTAIN, the stronger, harder trigram. By its persistent, quiet influence, the lower, rigid trigram stimulates the upper, weak trigram, which responds to this stimulation cheerfully and joyously.

Influence. Success.
Perseverance furthers.

The weak element is above, the strong below; hence their powers attract each other, so that they unite. This brings about success, for all success depends on the effect of mutual attraction. By keeping still within while experiencing joy without, one can prevent the joy from going to excess and hold it within proper bounds. This is the meaning of the added admonition, “Perseverance furthers,” for it is perseverance that makes the difference between seduction and courtship; in the latter the strong man takes a position inferior to that of the weak girl and shows consideration for her. This attraction between affinities is a general law of nature. Heaven and earth attract each other and thus all creatures come into being. Through such attraction the sage influences men’s hearts, and thus the world attains peace. From the attractions they exert we can learn the nature of all beings in heaven and on earth.

A lake on the mountain:
The image of influence.
Thus the superior man encourages people to approach him
By his readiness to receive them.

A mountain with a lake on its summit is stimulated by the moisture from the lake. It has this advantage because its summit does not jut out as a peak but is sunken. The image counsels that the mind should be kept humble and free, so that it may remain receptive to good advice. People soon give up counseling a man who thinks that he knows everything better than anyone else.

To deal with a situation of influence or attraction one should find the best way to bring things that have been separated together. Use your influence to do this. Reach out join things and allow yourself to be moved. This will bring about success. In this case, the feminine and the yin are the keys to the situation. Understanding and acting through the yin will release tranformative energies.

No doubt, as far as Hexagram 31, Xian, is concerned, Laozi’s suggestion at the end of Chapter 76 was an ideal one. We will take a look at another hexagram of the same type tomorrow. In the meantime, wishing you great practicing.


Today we contemplate a very familiar chapter of the Laozi, Tao Te Ching, to most taiji and internal arts practitioners, Chapter 72, which goes like this:

“When man is born, he is tender and weak;
At death, he is hard and stiff.
When the things and plants are alive, they are soft
and supple;
When they are dead, they are brittle and dry.
Therefore hardness and stiffness are the companions of death,
And softness and gentleness are the companions of life.

“Therefore when an army is headstrong, it will lose in a battle.
When a tree is hard, it will be cut down.
The big and strong belong underneath.
The gentle and weak belong at the top.”
Translation by Lin Yutang

And so, as Laozi tells us, the Sage as well as Internal Arts practitioners strive for softness and suppleness characterized by expansion. Whereas, the External Arts practitioners strive to emit force using tension and contraction. In everyday life, too, the Sage strives for gentleness in dealing with others while weakening one’s own egoic desires and selfish interests. Happy practicing to all, my friends.


Another bit of wisdom from Zhuangzi. We all want to win – at something – whether it’s tai chi competition or tui shou (push hands), or sports competitions. And then there is competition in business, competition in politics, even competition within the family. You name it, and there is some form of competition in whatever it is. I’m sure all of us have experienced some form of competition many times in our lives. For some of us, it might even be daily.

Way back when, some 2200 years ago, Zhuangzi was well aware of this, and so, he gave us a parable about an Archer.


When an archer is shooting for fun
He has all his skill.
If he shoots for a brass buckle
He is already nervous.
If he shoots for a prize of gold
He goes blind
Or sees two targets –
He is out of his mind.

His skill has not changed,
But the prize divides him.
He cares
He thinks more of winning
Than of shooting –
And the need to win
Drains him of power.

Let that be a lesson to all of us. And happy practicing, everyone, hopefully without the need to win.


Tao Te Ching, Chapter 40
Returning is the movement of the Way.
Yielding is the manner of the Way.

All things in the world are born out of being.
Being is born out of non-being.

Returning is the movement of the Way, therefore, the Dao is cyclic, its Yin and Yang are cyclic and rotate back and forth in a reciprocal manner, which in turn is yielding. So, the Day doesn’t class with the Night. They simply yield to one another. The Sun gives way to darkness, then in the morning the darkness slowly, gradually gives way to the light of day. Thus Nature follows the flow of the Tao by returning in a cyclic and yielding manner.

As for the Creation of the Universe, the Tao is pure non-being. But once Yin and Yang arose out of Wuji, stillness, the Tao’s mystic Te then manifested as Being. Some scientists may call this the Big Bang. But from that manifested Te me, you and everything else appeared to arise and dwell with that Te which is manifested as all of Nature including the Heavenly and Earthly realms and all their beings. Enjoy your practicing, everyone.


A little change of pace for today as we look at the poems of the original founder of Taiji, Xu Xuanping. It is believed that the art of Taiji that was passed down from Master Xu Xuanping, called Yuhuan, of the Tang Dynasty and later became known as the Tang Dynasty 37.

Xu Xuanping was from She County, Huizhou Prefecture, in the Jiangnan region. He lived as a hermit at Mt. Chengyang, dwelling in a thatched hut on the south-facing slope. He avoided eating grains. He was over seven feet tall. His beard reached his navel and his hair reached his feet. He walked like a galloping horse. He often carried firewood to sell in the marketplace, chanting this to himself:

“At dawn I carry firewood to sell.
By dusk I have spent all my money on wine.
Passersby never ask where I am returning to.
I enter the white clouds to get to my verdant hillside.”

That was the first of Xu’s three surviving poems. Here is the second:

“Inscription on the Monastery Wall”
“I’ve lived as a hermit for thirty years
in a stone house on the southern slope atop this mountain.
In the dead of night, I play under the bright moon.
When the fresh morning comes, I drink from the azure fountain.
While woodcutters sing as they work on the ridge,
there are birds playing on the cliff face.
I am joyously unaware of old age,
always forgetting what year it is.”

The famous Tang Dynasty poet, Li Bai, went to visit Xu but did not meet him, then inscribed a poem [about not meeting him] at Gazing Immortal’s Bridge and went home.

“Inscription for Xu Xuanping on the Monastery Wall”
“Chanting away until my chanting went away,
I came to visit an authentic person.
The misty mountaintops obscure his footprints
in the foggy forest just this side of the great void.
I peeked into his courtyard and found nothing there but rustling of air,
so I leaned on my walking stick and waited in vain.
He probably transformed into some divine crane
and won’t return for a thousand years.”

Xu’s third poem is then a response to missing Li:
“There’s a pond of lotus leaves, completely covered by them.
There’s two acres of ripe golden grain, more than enough to eat.
But when I was visited by someone, seeking to make a connection,
he ended up having to stay the night in the monastery instead.”

Enjoy your practicing, my friends.


Today I wanted to begin to revisit some of the more important hexagrams of the “I Ching,” not that some are not important but that I find some more important, at least, in my life. Since it is all relative anyway, I wanted to start with Hexagram 5, Xu, Waiting, Patience, something that I wish I had more of.

Xu has the trigram KAN THE ABYSMAL, WATER above while CHIEN THE CREATIVE, HEAVEN sits beneath it.

This hexagram shows the clouds in the sky, about to bring rain to refresh all that grows and provide mankind with vital nourishment. The rain will come in its own time. We cannot make it come; we have to wait for it. The idea of waiting is further suggested by the attributes of the two trigrams–strength within, danger from without. Strength in the face of danger does not plunge ahead but bides its time, whereas weakness in the face of danger grows agitated and has not the patience to wait.

Waiting is not mere empty hoping. It has the inner certainty of reaching the goal. Such certainty alone gives that light which leads to success. This leads to the perseverance that brings good fortune and bestows power to cross the great water. One is faced with a danger that has to be overcome. Weakness and impatience can do nothing. Only a strong person can stand up to his fate, for his inner security enables him to endure to the end. This strength shows itself in uncompromising truthfulness with oneself. It is only when we have the courage to face things exactly as they are, without any sort of self-deception or illusion, that a light will develop out of events, by which the path to success may be recognized. This recognition must be followed by resolute and persevering action.

The potential for change is contained within the water trigram. The nature of that change, whether it is an auspicious one, or a danger to you, depends upon your mindset. The generative energy of Heaven at the lower position, the position of your personal power, shows that it is your mindset that has the potential to receive either nourishment or a torrential downpour from the breaking clouds to come. Choose your intention wisely right now, your intention is more important than anything else. Govern the mind, bend your intention to your will and then simply wait – patiently. Great practicing, people. Carry on!

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