fēn xū shí
Yang Cheng Fu’s comments: Differentiating between empty and solid is the first fundamental of Tai Chi Chuan. If the whole weight of the body is over the right leg, then the right leg is solid, and the left leg is empty. If the whole weight is over the left leg, then the left leg is solid, and the right leg is empty. When empty and solid can be differentiated, movement becomes agile, as if effortless. If not, then your movements become heavy, and stances are unstable and can be easily exploited by the opponent.
My Comments: This is hard for beginners to learn, which is probably why Yang Cheng Fu called it the “first fundamental”. I joke with students that if they can walk, then they can learn to differentiate between empty and solid.
When you walk, there is a moment when one leg is 100% empty, and the other is 100% full. If you can walk slowly, carefully placing the foot down rather than letting it drop, and if you can change direction gracefully, then you’re differentiating between empty and solid.
Later, when the legs become stronger and more flexible, you’ll be able to do the same thing, but in the Tai Chi stances. And the real trick is to keep the waist loose (see Essential #3) while differentiating between empty and solid. It takes practice, but in my experience, almost anyone can learn to do it.
9. Move with Continuity.
xiāng lián bù duàn
Yang Cheng Fu’s comments: In external martial arts, power is the result of brute force. Thus, there is beginning and completion, continuity and then interruption. When the old strength is spent, and new strength has not been generated — that is the instant to take advantage of them.
Tai Chi Chuan uses will, not strength. From beginning to end, it is continuous, without any break. After each cycle it starts again, circulating without end.
The original classics say that it is “like the continuous waves of the Long River”, and that the circulation of power is like “drawing silk from a cocoon.” The above conveys the idea of stringing the movements together into one harmonious qi.
My comments: External martial arts, like Western boxing, rely on strength. That’s why you have different weight classes in boxing. Heavyweights hit harder because they are bigger and stronger.
A boxing punch does not have continuity. It fires like a cannon. But after the cannon fires, it needs to be reloaded. This is what Yang Cheng Fu means when he says “the old strength is spent”. When a boxer is reloading his cannon — that’s when you want to take advantage of him.
Tai Chi Chuan, on the other hand, uses a different power mechanism. It is not like a cannon. Although we still punch and kick with 2 legs and 2 arms, we don’t have to “reload” the same way a boxer does. And that’s because the power in Tai Chi Chuan is continuous, without any break.
The slow and flowing movement of Tai Chi Chuan is probably its most easily recognizable feature. It’s what makes it so beautiful to watch, what makes it so good for the health, and also what makes it a formidable martial art!
Yang Cheng Fu reminds us of two analogies from the classics. First, Tai Chi should be like the continuous flow of the Yangtze river, which twists and turns and yet flows with power. And secondly, the power circulation should be smooth, like the act of drawing silk from a cocoon (which I’ve never done, but I hear requires a consistent pull that is neither too hard nor too soft).