Yang Chengfu’s Ten Essentials

Every martial art has a foundation – those essential principles which define it, and without which, no matter how good you look, whatever you’re doing isn’t that martial art.

Yang Family tai chi has the Ten Essential Principles.  They were codified by Yang Chengfu but they’ve been around rather longer, either expressly or implied in the performance of the art. 

I could give you my interpretation of these Essential Principles, but it would be a wasteful duplication of effort.  There’s no point in trying to make the wheel any rounder.  The best and most comprehensive work I’ve ever read on the Ten Essential Principles is:

Yang Chengfu’s Ten Essentials, with commentary by Lee Fife.

The text document above is meant to supplement and complement classroom instruction and individual practice.  Many of the essentials take time to develop.  Beginners have enough to worry about trying to remember where their hands and feet go!  But it’s important to learn at least the first five, related to posture, early on, else we’ll waste time in the future unlearning bad habits.

You may get the intimidating idea that you have to work on all these principles at once.  A former classmate once had this notion, and asked me how on earth he was supposed to have them all in mind as he’s practicing.  Giving him a good answer took the better part of several weeks.  I told him, once I’d satisfied myself as to the answer, that it’s not necessary.  What you do is you focus for a week or so on only one Principle – say, “Relax the Waist.  It doesn’t matter which one.  But you get comfortable with what it feels like and then move on to the next principle.  In this way, you’ll know instantly when something “feels wrong,” at which point you briefly pause and correct it.  You don’t have to focus on ten things at once (no one can do this), so long as you “know what right feels like.”