Monday, 1 October 2018

Realising Chen Taijiquan’s Six Harmonies

Taijiquan skill arises from a comprehensive study of the body as a unified whole or system.  The core training methods of the system are built around the qualities of looseness, pliancy and slowness.  Slow training provides a means by which to improve body co-ordination and to help to rid the body of any excess tension. The process of slow training over an extended time helps practitioners to achieve a unification of body and mind described in Taijiquan literature as the harmonisation of the mind (xin), intention (yi), intrinsic energy (qi), and body strength (li).  Every facet of a person – physical, emotional, mental and spiritual – is seen to be interconnected and interdependent, and no aspect can be understood in any meaningful way except in relation to the whole. This wholeness is realised via the nurturing of Taijiquan’s six harmonies.
 
Internal and External Harmony - Chen Xiaoxing by Mary Johnston
 
The six harmonies are understood in terms of three external and three internal harmonies. The external harmonies refer to the physical components of the body, which must be ordered in a way that optimises one’s structure. The three external harmonies denote the connections between: 
 
Hands - Feet
Elbows - Knees
Shoulders - Kua
 
These can be widened to take in the connections between the left hand and the right foot, the left elbow and the right knee and the left shoulder and the right kua (and vice versa). The late grandmaster Feng Zhiqiang summarised the external harmonies simply as everything “arriving at the same time” – so every movement is performed as an integrated whole. The correct way to apply power arises not from isolated muscular strength, but from an optimally aligned body structure and unified movement through a relaxed physical and mental state. 
 
The three internal harmonies refer to the unification of an individual’s:
 
Xin (Heart) – Yi (Intention)
Qi (Intrinsic Energy) – Li (Body Strength)
Jin (Tendons) – Gu (Bones)
 
In this context, xin refers to the emotional aspect of one’s mind, yi to its logical or intentional part. The literal translation of the Chinese character xin is "heart". Early pictograms of the character for xin unambiguously show a picture of the physical heart.   Xin represents the centre of human feelings and emotions.  Literature from the Warring States period of Chinese history depicts it as the centre of an individual’s emotions and sentiments, from tranquillity and calmness, to anger, grief and disappointment. 
 
Taijiquan players are often told to “use intention and not force”.   Mental unity is predicated on the presence of both the emotional and logical mind. In a real confrontation conflicting feelings or thoughts can have dire consequences. While xin or heart is necessary to summon up sufficient courage, yi enables them to act with a clear purpose and make the right decisions in an instant.  So, in a real world example we could compare an individual exhibiting xin without yi to the hothead who fights rashly and with uncontrolled emotion and no clear intention. Conversely, yi without xin, could be characterised by the individual lacking in fighting spirit although knowing in their mind what they should do. The idea of linking heart and fighting spirit is also common in the West, where, for example, a skilful but hesitant boxer will often be accused of lacking heart. The fusing of heart and intention allows one to bring into play an energy that is fully focused and integrated.  Combining this with the powers of the body represents a joining of internal and external aspects – that is the connection of energy and strength (qi and li). Achieving this degree of synchronisation enables the body to operate as a unified whole - in terms of Taijiquan’s harmonies, linking the tendons with the bones.