The Yang family is renowned for tai chi, and their tradition includes eight words describing the qualities of excellent tai chi: Centered and Balanced, Peaceful and Comfortable, Light and Agile, Rounded and Lively. I often think that these are great qualities to animate our lives as well. Let’s look at each of them in turn.
Centered and Balanced
As a noun, Zhong 中 means center or middle. As a verb, it means to hit exactly. The character shows an arrow hitting the center of a target. The name of Professor Cheng’s school 時中 (shizhong or shrjung) can be translated as “centered in time” or “hitting the right moment.”
Zhen 正 means upright, balanced, correct, or proper. The character itself is very geometric. It conveys symmetry, vertical alignment, and correct position, timing, and shape.
“Centered and balanced” is a guideline for checking your external tai chi shapes as well as your internal alignment.
Peaceful and Comfortable
An 安 means peaceful, tranquil, calm, unperturbed. It’s a picture of a woman at home. It is used in phrases such as sleep peacefully, be at ease, be content, walk without hurry. It is part of the character naming the tai chi posture called Push, which is better translated as “peaceful hands.”
Shu 舒 means to be comfortable or at leisure, stretched out, open, unfolded, smooth. It’s used in phrases meaning refreshed, taking a breather, shaking off cares, being comfortable and cozy.
“Peaceful and comfortable” describe how you should feel doing tai chi and perhaps during the rest of life: unperturbed, at ease, having the leisure to respond appropriately.
Light and Agile
Qing 輕 means light (as in weight), easy, gentle, soft, without stresses. It’s used in phrases meaning lightweight, portable, graceful movement. The character includes streams flowing underground. Qing indicates that we should stay light and not get heavy and immoveable.
Ling 靈 means quick, alert, agile, clever, spirit, numinous. The character shows shamans dancing for rain. It is used in phrases meaning nimble, inspired, flexible, mobile, sensitive, and ingenious. It is used in the sword form movement, “The agile/spirited cat catches the mouse.”
“Light and agile” means keeping our entire body and mind alert, flexible and responsive.
Rounded and Lively
Yuan 圓 means round, circular, spherical (like the moon), and to make consistent and whole.
Huo 活 means lively, alive, living, vivacious, and includes the character for water. It’s used in phrases indicating activity, doing things, enlivened.
“Rounded and lively” describe qualities our tai chi movements should have: circular, dynamic, and full of vitality.
I hope that these qualities will inspire your tai chi practice!
Adapted from a translation and commentary by Lee Fife.
Edna Brandt lives in Chapel Hill NC. She is an acupuncturist and has been teaching tai chi with TCF since 1978.
Photo by Marco Zuppone