The Importance Of Yi And Chi In Tai Chi Chuan
Written by Chen Yen Ling
Translated by Tchong Ta-Tchen

From the book "The Annotated Theoretical And Practical Tai Chi Chuan" by Tchong Ta-Tchen

Yi (mind) and chi (breath) are found inside the human body without form or colour. The eyes are unable to view but the chi has a very important role. Our bodies are full of chi circulating and cultivating the body. The chi is formed with fire from the 'ming men'. The fire refines the 'jieng' to become chi. The Taoists describe it as 'water and fire already present or the 'nei dan'. It is stored in the area of the dan tien. The Taoists value chi very much. Usually, people think the blood is the most important essence in the body, they do not know that chi is even more important than blood. Chi is the chief while blood is the assistant. We need blood that contains the essentials (vitamins, minerals, etc.) but chi is the transportation, making it more important. Chi is heavy while blood is light. If we do not have enough blood, we can still temporarily survive. Without enough chi, we die immediately. Therefore to cultivate chi is very important. The importance of Tai Chi Chuan is to concentrate in order to cultivate the chi. We always say, "External to exercise are the tendons, bones and skin. Internal is the breath." For those who practice Tai Chi Chuan, after practising the forms, push hands, roll back or two-man forms, the breathing is still smooth and natural, the face colour does not change and the internal chi flows through the entire body. The feeling is more comfortable than before the exercise. This is the result of cultivating the chi. After exercise, they never are short of breath or feel tired. When the chi fills up the body, the blood is healthy. As the blood flows through the body, the body is strong. A healthy body strenghtens the mind. A strong mind leads to a great spirit. A great spirit is able to prolong our life.

What about yi? Yi is the heart (mind) and heart is yi. In definition, there is a slight difference between heart and yi. The heart is the chief and the yi, the assistant. When the heart moves (intentions), the yi starts to work. The yi leads and the chi follows. Therefore, the heart, yi and chi are all interconnected. If the heart is troubled then the yi is diffused. If the yi is diffused, the chi floats. On the other hand, when chi sinks, the yi will be concentrated. When the yi is concentrated, the heart is stable. Therefore the three are melded together and cannot be separated from each other. The chi moves and can motivate the blood and the spirit. Then we can use the chi in practice. Chi is the principle and Tai Chi Chuan is the method. If we have a principle without the mthod, we cannot transfer it to the practical. If we have a method without principle, we give up the major and look for the minor. Therefore, yi, chi and Tai Chi Chuan have a interconnected relationship as well.

In Tai Chi Chuan, the use of yi and chi for the beginner is very difficult but not without a way to get to the entrance. When we first practice the Thirteen Postures, or even a single movement, we have to use our imagination. For example, if we use both hands to perform a push movement, we imagine there is an opponent in front of us. Actually, at the time, there is no chi in the palms to release. But when we start to imagine. Our chi rises up the spine to the shoulder, arm, wrists and palms, finally being released to the opponent's body. This kind of imagination, for the beginner is very dull. After practising for a long time, you will know how to use imagination.

The chi has two kinds circulating in the body. There is an upper level chi (post-birth) and lower level chi (pre-birth). When you exhale, the upper level chi exits from the nose while the lower level chi sinks to the dan tien. When you inhale, the upper level chi enters from the nose while the lower level chi rises up the spine from the dan tien to the hands and legs. When the yi moves, the chi follows to any part of the body. Practising Tai Chi Chuan, closing and opening while breathing in and out, is to exercise the chi to fill the entire body, to create the sensitive from the body, tendons, touch and even spirit. This is why "An Internal Explanation Of Training" by Wang Dsung Yueh says, "The mind should be concentrated on the spirit and not the chi. If focused only on the chi, one will be clumsy and not agile. If focused on the chi, one will become powerless. If one does not concentrate on the chi, one will be strong as steel."

Some believe that chi is useless. However, there is a misunderstanding. Such a belief pertains only to certains kinds of chi such as stiff chi, impetuous chi or brutish chi tha arises with anger. This type of stiff, impetuous, brutal chi causes both feet to float adnthe body to become unstable, indicating that both are without li. But the chi in Tai Chi Chuan is the chi from the dan tien. This chi is clear and calm. Because it is calm, the chi is fluid. Because it is fluid, the chi circulates without interruption. There is no relationship with the undesired stiff, impetuous and brutal chi.

In "An Internal Explanation of Tai Chi Chuan", many points can be found that describe chi. It says 'Use the mind to direct the movement of chi. The mind must be calm so that the chi can condense deep into the bones. When the chi circulates around the body, the chi must flow like a fluid and smoothly, then it is able to follow the mind easily,...The mind and chi must interchange and coordinate between substantial and insubstantial such that there will be no harm...The mind is the commander, the chi the flag...The abdomen is completely relaxed and the chi condenses into the bones." It is also written, "The yi and chi are the rulers and the body the subject." These words all talk about the importance of chi. The learner must discriminate between the clear, calm chi and the stiff, brutal chi. To cultivate the clear, calm chi and giving away the stiff, brutal chi.

Generally, the relationship between yi and chi is like the relationshiip between the driver and the engine in a car. The yi is the driver, the chi the engine. We cannot forget either of them.


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