Hard but not stiff; soft but not collapsed.

by Chen Zhonghua Taiji Academy on 2012/12/29

Key words:

  1. 【硬而不僵】: Ying er bu jiang. Hard but not stiff. This is a concept in Chen Style Taijiquan Practical Method.
  2. 松而不懈: Song er bu xie. Soft but not collapsed. This is a commonly used taiji phrase and concept.
Chen Zhonghua with Richard Johnson

Chen Zhonghua with Richard Johnson

When I asked about the concept of “soft but not collapsed,” Hong smiled and told me to touch him. I touched his forearm. It was hard, harder than any forearm I had touched. He then said, “Push!”. It felt that his forearm was not there when I pushed. A Canadian professor who studied Taiji quan met with Hong in the late 1990s and reported the same. He said that Grandmaster Hong’s arm was made of pure steel. Grandmaster Li Enjiu felt the same way.

My take on this is that Grandmaster Hong asked me to feel him in two different ways for a reason. He wanted me to know that the forearm itself is hard and yet the movement or the action of the forearm is not hard. “Soft” is only an illusion I felt because of his skill in movement. Only when the two (hard object and smooth movements) are coordinated correctly will the special energy of Taiji called “jin” come out.

Those who do not understand this, who have not reach this level and who have not personally touched (worked with in real physical touching) those who have the ability, will have the illusion of “soft but not collapsed”.  This illusion is not good or bad, it is only a feeling and experience or description. This is not what actually happens in taiji. In real taijiquan learning, practicing, movement requirements, learning methods and actual action procedure, taiji should be “hard but not stiff”. This is very difficult to accept for those who are not real taiji seekers.

The real taiji seekers are who who have fought in a real Leitai (traditional competition forum), fought on the street, and those who fought for his life. It is not those who “play taiji ” among friends. It is important to note that even when friends “fight for life or for real”, it does not count.

Hong Junsheng and Chen Zhonghua

Hong Junsheng and Chen Zhonghua

Each body part must be trained to be hard so as to have real gongfu. Song (soft) and Rou (smooth) are superficial concepts that cannot be mixed up with taiji gongfu. When we take a needle, some highly skilled nurses can give you the feeling that the needle does not hurt at all. That’s because of the nurse’s skill in giving a needle. It is not because the nurse uses softer needles! We judge an older person (normally when disease is not a factor) by bone density. If an eighty-year old person has the bone density of the 40-year old person, we say that person is healthy, not the other way around. Only in taijiquan (the kind we don’t promote here) we ask 20-year old young people to imitate the movements of old people!



About Chen Zhonghua Taiji Academy

Chen Style Taijiquan 19th generation disciple. International Standard Bearer of the Practical Method system of Hong Junsheng. Second generation master of Hunyuan Taiji. Been teaching internationally since 1985. Educated in the West with a Master's Degree in Education. Highly accomplished through the lineage of two great masters. Disciplined, precise and powerful. He teaches a complete system of taiji based on the principle of yin yang separation; indirect power as a core concept; movement and tranquility as the source of action. In both theory and practice, his taijiquan deals with the problems of double-heavy. He is a real treasure of the heritage of taijiquan.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

admin2 December 31, 2012 at 6:45 pm

Photo of GM Hong steel forearm added, happy new year!


bruce.schaub January 1, 2013 at 2:57 pm

Love the new photo! Happy New Year to the seekers of the steel “bridge”!


stevechy January 1, 2013 at 7:01 pm

The note about fighting in the street and for life struck me. Taiji was created and developed in a world where real fighting was common and a part of life. For a lot of people these days, these situations have to be actively sought out, endangering yourself in the process.

At the same time, the lack of real fighting can encourage practitioners to lose focus on the art itself and work on skills that are solely effective at looking good or winning competitions. They are then not practising the original traditional art but a sport version. These sports may require true dedication and skill to excel at but also lack the centuries of wisdom, insight and refinement that went into the original art.

The trick it seems is to do the mental backflip of practising as if we still lived in the old world but realizing that the real fight may never come. This is especially difficult in Taiji because of its long training requirements, but I think it is worthwhile. In an instant-everything world, why not take the time to preserve something so deep that it takes a lifetime to master and years just to scratch the surface?


Wilkin Ng January 2, 2013 at 4:50 pm

There is an objective measure of the effectiveness of martial aspect of Taijiquan, in push hand competition, where all types of martial artists are free to spar in a safe manner. It is still a sport with rules, but to me it is better system than MMA where it is designed to be more of viewer entertainment than for martial artists to test their skills


Miguel October 20, 2014 at 5:56 am

I’m scratching that surface here in Spain, but very few of my partners can actually read this in english, so I translated it and post it in my page for them (here http://magianormal.com/firme-pero-tieso-suave-pero-fofo/).
I’d like to know if that’s ok for you. Thank you all anyway, and good practice!


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