Holding Center and the Taiji State

by Ketong Lin on 2022/09/24

The thirteen modes of Taijiquan are: Peng(), Lu(), Ji(), An(), Cai(), Lie(), Zhou(), Kao(), Forward(), Backward(退), Observing Left(), Beholding Right(), and Holding Center(中定).

But what is Holding Center, is it the same as Holding
Torso Straight(
立身中正)? Where does Holding Center stand in Taijiquan?
What is the Function of Holding Center?
Peng, Lu, Ni, An, Cai, Lie, Zhou, Kao are methods
of fighting; Forward, Backward, Observing Left, Beholding Right are moves of
switching. And Holding Center is the very core of Taijiquan.
Holding Torso Straight focuses on the uprightness
of the torso. The body must not bend forward and backward, or wobble left and
right. Many traditional martial art schools has the same or similar requirement.
For example, Wing Chun demands that all moves arm at the center line. In another
example, it is said that when Yang Luchuan (the very first generation of Yang
Style Taijiquan) left Beijing for home country, his disciple Wu Quanyou (the
first generation of the Wu Style Taijiquan) went to see Yang leaving. When they
departed at last, Yang said a few words to Wu as farewell gift: “Hold the
center and fight outwards.” Although it is a bit different from that of Wing
Chun’s approach, the requirements of Holding Center are the same.
But Holding Torso Straight is not exactly the same
as Holding Center. Holding Center means that the power of the whole body must
be held at one point in the center of the body, and this point must not be
moved randomly. Therefore, there is overlap between Holding Torso Straight and Holding
Center, but Holding Torso Straight does not equal Holding Center. Under certain
circumstances (especially during pushing hands), the torso may be allowed to tilt
and fling as long as the center is not lost. Holding Torso Straight focuses on
the central line (axis) of the body while Holding Center focuses on one point
of the central line, a much higher and more demanding requirement.
We say Holding Center is the core of Taijiquan because
it is manifestation of Taiji State.
At the very beginning of “Essay of Taijiquan”,
it says, “Taiji is born from Wuji. It is the switch between moving and not-moving. It is the mother of Yin
and Yang.”
And this saying comes directly from the oldest Chinese literature
“Book of Changes” and the earliest Taoist classic “Tao Te
“Book of Changes: Yi Chuan Copula part one” says: “Yi has
Taiji, which produces two instruments. Two instruments gives birth to four
images, and four images give birth to the eight
hexagrams.” Chapter 42 of “Tao Te Ching” says: “Tao gives
birth to one. One gives birth to two. Two gives birth to three. And three gives
rise to all things.” Although the two literatures describe the development
of Dao slightly differently, their internal logic is totaling consistent. Tao
is Wuji (chaos), and it must go through the stage of Taiji before it can evolve
into all things. The Taiji State is the One that contains Yin and Yang.
Throughout its practice and application, Taijiquan must
always maintain the Taiji State, and that is the reason it is called Taijiquan.
All the discussion of the “Essay of Taijiquan” are related to Taiji State, that
is, Holding Center. Taiji State is not only manifested in the beginning of the
form routine(
起势) of form routines and the finish position(定式) of each move, but also in every moment of the movement. Even when
fighting against an opponent (whether in pushing hand or San Shou), you still
can’t let go the Taiji State for a second.
Taiji State is such that the power is pulled back to
one point of the body yet spreads all over the whole body at the same time. The
one point is usually Dantian, which is located roughly at the place behind the
navel and in front of the spine. Spreading all over the whole body means that
the strength should reach any and every part of the body evenly, so that the
tension is the same everywhere and the whole person is like a bouncy sphere.
The sphere mentioned here refers to the distribution of power, not the
structural shape. Of course, the closer the structural shape is to a spherical
shape, the better. In such a state of power distribution, when the opponent attacks,
the force inflicted on the touching point will spread to the whole body, while
the center will not be affected. As long as the center is maintained, the
opponents can hardly win the fight.
Therefore, Holding Center is to safeguard this
central point and maintain the Oneness. Applying the idea of
​​“Book of Changes”, this point is the auspicious position of the
hexagram, which is deemed the best position there is, because it is at the
middle, “no more no less,” so it can deal with any changes accordingly
and be invincible. If I cannot hold center, my power will either getting out of
my realm or not concentrated, which will give the opponent an opportunity to
take advantage.
As mentioned above, the so-called spherical shape
only refers to the distribution of force, not the structural shape. Therefore,
when I touch hand with the opponent, my strength may sometimes seem to have
reached out my realm, but as long as the opponent cannot move my center, I still
have control of the situation.
In a war analogy, the central point is the
headquarters, and the rest of the body are the combat troops. The headquarters
directs the combat troops to fight, and the combat troops protects the
headquarters from enemy attack. Commanding personnel may be on the front lines
during a war, but so far as the combat troops protect it from direct enemy
attack, the situation remains under control.
So when the opponent tries to attack my center, how
can I ensure that my center will be protected? The method is the Yin Yang separation
that Grandmaster Chen Zhonghua taught repeatedly. Once the touching point and my
center are separated, the power of the opponent can never reach my center. When
you are truly skilled in the art, even if you let the opponent to put his hand
on your stomach, he still cannot touch your center. And the method to achieve Yin
Yang separation is spiral wrap.
Holding Center, Yin Yang separation and spiral wrap,
these are the things we need to practice all our life.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Paddy September 6, 2023 at 8:31 am

Thanks for this great article KT


Nikolai October 15, 2023 at 6:38 am

This is an awesome post KT!


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