The second form of Chen-style Taijiquan: Cannon Fist
By Gu Liuxin (1983), translation © CTN ACADEMY.
(Translation from: Gu Liuxin. (2005 reprint). Paochui: Chenshi taijiquan di erlu (reprint). Beijing: Renmin tiyu chubanshe. Pp. 42-44)
Note: Gu Liuxin learnt different styles of Taijiquan from very well-known teachers like Chen Fake, but also Yang Chengfu and others.
He was a martial artist and a researcher, wrote several books and played a prominent role in popularizing Chen-Style Taijiquan. As he studied with Chen Fake and wrote about his style I thought it is interesting what he has to say. I like to triangulate knowledge to get a different perspective on issues where we cannot know the exact detail due to lack of historical records. So I hope you will enjoy reading this, too! This is an excerpt which I translated first into German and then into English so maybe the translation is a bit casual but I think it still conveys the original meaning. I also added some simple pictures in case you don't know the acupoints spoken about in the text.
When practicing Taijiquan, one must be calm and stress-free from beginning to end (the heart is peaceful and the qi is harmonious). "Rest in the heart and use your intention, the body is upright and relaxed (song)". You need to calm your central nervous system, your muscles and joints need to relax naturally. The internal organs should also be kept naturally comfortable, with the mind focused on guiding the movements.
Taijiquan combines calmness with movement. In the classic boxing texts it is written: "from the calm center movement arises and in movement it is calm", which also means "calm requires movement and movement requires calm". The positions of all individual body parts have to meet special requirements, here is a list of them:
1. Head section
The head must be kept upright and straight, the acupuncture point baihui at the top of the head must have the idea of lifting it slightly upwards, as if held by a rope and upright. When practicing boxing, this force of the crown of the head must not be lost from start to finish.
The summary in the boxing classic refers to this: "an empty neck and apex force, the mental strength penetrating up to the peak". The eyes look forward in a natural way, level, their expression primarily focused in the direction of the main movements of the hands and feet. The tips of the ears point upwards and the ears listen calmly backwards. This is how you train your sight and your hearing. You breathe naturally through your nose, but with fajin you can also use your mouth and exhale with your mouth and nose, because in this fraction of a second of fajin enough air could not be expelled when you only breathe out through your nose. The lips are slightly closed, as are the teeth, the tongue is flat and the tip of the tongue lightly touches the upper palate, any saliva will be swallowed; the lower jaw is slightly drawn inwards. The facial expression is naturally serious and does not show nervousness or rudeness. The neck is naturally vertical, but follows the direction of the gaze, the direction of movement and any other agile body rotation. Behind the neck and between the two large muscles is the "yamen acupoint" and further down is the "changqiang acupoint" (which is located near the tailbone). These act like a "body bow", we can use the waist (the lumbar vertebrae) as a "bow grip" between these two bow ends to tension, adjust and explode, and in tuishou (pushing hands) we can thus use it as a method of winding, gathering and sending out which is all very important during movements.
2. The shoulders and arm sections
The shoulders are level and the sink down, they must not be pulled up or backwards, they are slightly rounded towards the front to support the "retaining the chest". Thereby they increase the closing force. The elbow joints hang down and have the idea of opening outwards. Thus they regulate the "stretching force" and the closing force. The elbow joints are slightly bent, "the elbows must not touch the ribs", under the armpits there is roughly space in the volume of a fist, so that in tuishou (pushing hands) it is easy to use both shoulders and arms, they have space and can move freely. The wrists should be flexible and lively and be able to turn vigorously, we also speak about the "sitting wrist" (pushing wrist), when changing positions it should press down calmly. In addition, it should determine the direction and thus fill the palms with sufficient internal force; the wrist is flexible and lively and strong and must combine locking and gripping techniques with getting free of joint locks and reversing the opponent's locking techniques (into one's own locking techniques).
In order to be able to control the oppononent's force path in tuishou, the "sitting hand" is also required, which is the ability to "bridge the hands and set mortise and tenon" (setting mortise and tenon is a metaphor, like the carpenter with the hatchet hits the mortise, the head of the mortise is hard and does not move) to hurl power forward.
3. Chest and back
The chest is stretched out, loose and slightly drawn in, it should neither protrude outwards nor collapse inwards, the back is rolled out, the muscles loose, sinking down, the bones of the back, between the two shoulders, follow the apex force upwards towards the neck. They are stimulated upwards. They give the skin the feeling of being stretched out, this is called "rounding the back" or "the qi sticks to the back". When it comes to the chest and the back, one usually says “retain the chest and round the back”, this has the idea of closing to the front, and of closing force when sending out force.
The individual limbs of the spine must be loosely dropped and kept straight. The abdominal area should be relaxed and closed to the front. Following the breath, the lower abdomen should pull slightly inwards, and following the exhalation it expands outwards (the qi sinks into the dantian), you cannot simply do that "the qi sinks into the dantian" and look all day like you're pregnant. The waist must be loose, settled, straight, and it must be flexible for turning and rotating, which applies to all body movements and changes. The stability of the center of gravity must be adjusted so that the force reaches the limbs when we are pushing out. All limb positions have important functions to perform. The classic boxing texts state "the master is in the waist" and "heed the the area between the waist". Of course, according to the anatomy, the butt has to protrude outwards, but it should not be stretched out to the rear or drawn in. You just don't have a bum when you practice. It's like sitting and writing or meditating and your bum is naturally sticking out. The tailbone area is located on the central line when viewed from the front and it is also said "weilü is straight and upright".
The two inner sides of the thighs and the two sides of the hips belong to the crotch, i.e. the perineum area (the huiyin acupuncture point). Both "hip roots" have to open and thereby also open the crotch area and round it. By turning you become flexible, the width of your step can be quite large and also quite high when kicking. In the normal mabu (horse stance) the hips must be on a horizontal plane with the knees, when taking the gongbu (bow stance) the hips and knees must also be on the same level with the front leg, if the empty leg takes a step it is also so, that the hips and knees must be on the same level, thereby developing more leg muscles and strengthening the knee joints and the strength that supports the body weight [I have the feeling that I should check this paragraph again and refer to the original Chinese text to render a better translation here]. Older people without practice should not try this. The two thighs turn slightly inwards and close (i.e. close at the front), the two knees are slightly bent and have an idea of expanding outwards and closing inwards. The lower legs correspond to this, they support slightly outwards, which corresponds to the expansion of the lower level and ensures the stability when standing like a pillar. The ankles support your entire body weight, they must be firm and strong and able to turn while adjusting the center. The two feet are flat on the floor, the heel and the inside of the foot up to the big toe, the second toe and the middle toe use some force, the tip of the foot is slightly turned outwards and takes the shape of a 'V' (the Chinese 8 written upside down) (this concerns the Laojia, the old frame stance, in the Xinjia, in the new frame, the tips of the feet look forward and do not form a V-shape). These requirements are to be applied practically to all boxing positions.