Master Liang's 5 Keys to Tai-Chi Success
When I was learning
Tai-Chi from Master T.T. Liang, he always used a variety of teaching
techniques and tools to communicate this amazing art. One that he
used he called the 5 Keys to Mastery. Each key helped with a
particular facet of each posture. In time, I was able to apply the 5
Keys to whole forms and, eventually, complete systems. The 5 Keys
The “Left” Side
I'll give a brief
explanation of each and if you apply them, you will be amazed at how
easy it brings your learning, practicing, and teaching into focus and
1. The Posture.
When learning a
posture, or movement, Master Liang had some breakdowns which he
The Stance, which
one was used.
The Direction, of
the movement, eyes, application, navel, etc.
The Counts, how many
parts or pieces to a posture.
Heights of hands,
like heart height or chin height.
stances, shoulder width or not, hands, arms, and size of circles.
whether it was a Lady’s Hand, fist, hook, etc.
Tai-Chi Chuan It's Effects and Practical Applications by Yearning K.
2. The Name.
The names can help
with teaching and learning. We can quickly identify what posture we
are working on. Otherwise we are reduced to “Let's work on this
one. You mean that one? No, the other one.” The Names cover a
variety of meanings and lessons, and also include a deep and rich
history of Chinese culture. The names can mean, describe, or teach:
Motion/Action, like “Parry and Punch.”
like “Retreat to Ride the Tiger.”
A Story, like “White
Snake Spits Out It's Tongue.”
Humor or Pun, like
“Diagonal Flying.” WE don't fly diagonally, the opponent does!
Partial Phrase, like
“Embrace the Moon.” Full phrase is Embrace the moon to your
heart, which can teach action, height, etc.
Color can indicate
an organ, emotion, or direction. For example, Green can indicate,
anger, liver, East, shouting, etc. And can help with the both
external and internal aspects of the posture.
Animals can also
indicate direction, fighting technique, spirit, etc. They can also be
mystical, like a dragon, which is more internal, or a tiger, which is
and Confucionist references find their way into the names, such as
“Raise the Curtain” in the sword form which is a Buddhist
reference to getting a glimpse of reality.
“Strike Tiger,” from a historical novel, Outlaws of the Marsh, in
which one hero, Wu Song hits a Tiger and kills it with his fist.
Hidden meanings to
keep the applications and healing from outsiders.
Martial Arts slang,
known to those “in the trade.”
Helpful Hints, like
“Needle at Sea Bottom” give the exact direction to make that
There are others,
but this gives you more than enough to study.
to Grasp the Sparrows Tail if You don't Speak Chinese by Jane Schorre
3. The Application
comes from many martial arts, most of them cataloged in General Qi Qi
Guang's book of 32 Essential Movements. Through the centuries, many
postures have been modified to include Taoist Meditation, Qi-Gong,
Animal Frolics, and Chinese Medicine. Knowing their applications can
help with the general outline of the posture as well as where to put
the intent and focus. The applications therefore become the “working
definition of each posture.”
A guideline for
understanding the applications comes from four Chinese words:
Many of the postures
have one of these as the obvious application, and many have all of
them. The Two Person San-Shou form teaches applications from the Yang
Style Solo Form and has applications from the older Chen Style
Book suggestion- The
Essence and Applications of Taijiquan by Yang Chengfu
4. The Breath
Master Liang taught
that each posture has an exact breath pattern and timing. For
example, the posture “Push.” When you separated your hands and
shifted back, you inhaled, when you shifted forward and pushed, you
exhaled. This is usually for application. You can also reverse that
sequence, breathing out at the end of “Push,” and that is for
Also, how you breath
can be explored. Mostly we use Natural Breathing, where your abdomen
expands on inhalation, and contracts on exhalation. You can also do
Reverse Breathing, where your abdomen contracts on inhalation, and
expands or releases on exhalation. That is good for low postures,
kicks, and slow rounds of the Form, as well as Pushing-Hands.
The highest level of
breathing comes from the Tai-Chi Classics. “If you pay full
attention to your spirit of vitality and ignore your breathing, your
striking force will be as strong as pure steel.” This is what my
teacher Grandmaster Wai-lun Choi calls, “don't bother your
suggestion-Tai-Chi Chuan and Meditation by Da Liu
5. The Left Side
emphasized doing the postures right and left, especially those that
only have one version done in the solo form. Liang felt that for good
health, the body should be developed equally. The Solo Form was
choreographed by a right-handed person and you will find most of the
squats, kicks, big circles, and difficult movements, etc. are done on
the right side.
He also wanted us to
practice the weapons in both hands, and to learn both sides of a two
person form, especially if it was asymmetrical, like the San-Shou.
This will totally inform our bodies and help us balance strength and
flexibility in our whole body.
T'ai-Chi by Cheng Man-ch'ing and Robert W. Smith