'Song' is the secret!

'Song' is the secret!


GM Cheng Man Ching and GM Huang T'ai chi ch'uan (太极拳) literally translates as "supreme ultimate fist" or "great extremes boxing". Tai Chi is based heavily on Taoism (道 'The Way') philosophy, where the concept of the "supreme ultimate" represents the harmony of Yin and Yang into a single ultimate, represented by the Yin-Yang symbol. Taoist ethics emphasize the Three Jewels of the Tao; compassion, moderation, and humility. Taoist thought focuses on non-action, spontaneity, transformation and emptiness. An emphasis is placed on the link between people and nature, and that this link lessens the need for rules and order, leading one to a better understanding of the world and one's surroundings. Therefore practising Tai Chi helps to adapt to changes in life and helps to balance the opposing forces that give existence to life. A balanced life is a healthy and ultimately a happy life.

Tai Chi Chuan is a Wu-dang-quan (internal Chinese martial art). It is a soft style martial art using internal power, which distinguishes it from that of the hard martial art styles. Tai Chi can be practiced for various reasons: health, relaxation, exercise, social, meditation, competition or as a martial art. Therefore there are many different styles and ways to practise and train. While each style shares the important foundation principles, there are differences in their approaches to training.

Modern tai chi traces its development to at least one of the five traditional schools: Chen, Yang, Wu/Hao, Wu and Sun. The oldest modern documented tradition is that of the Chen family from the 1820s, but the origins of all Tai Chi can be traced back to the Taoist monk Zhang Sanfeng at Wu Tang Shan Monastery in the 12th century.

Anyone of any age or health can practice Tai Chi. You only need to persevere with the practise according to the teachings and have an enquiring mind to receive the many benefits.

Practising Tai chi chuan primarily involves three aspects:
    - Health: training concentrates on relieving the effects of stress on the body and mind. Since the early 20th century many people worldwide practise purely for health benefits with little or no interest in the martial aspects. Many studies have found tai chi to be effective for various health conditions.
    - Meditation: focus, concentration, clarity and calmness is cultivated by the slow, precise movements.
    - Martial art: study of the appropriate response to outside forces, whether using hands or weapons. Of yielding and blending with outside force rather than attempting to meet it with opposing force, thereby avoiding injury.

GM Huang using a neon-light tube to show song when throwing Nov 1987 in Singapore

There are 2 parts to training:
    - the first is the solo form (taolu), a slow sequence of movements which emphasize a balanced posture and a natural range of motion (of being 'song' - soft/relaxed) and movement from the qua (waist). The spine is straight, chin tucked in as if head hanging from a thread, tailbone (wei li) tucked in, weight evenly distributed in foot/feet and body not leaning in any direction. Think of a vertical line passing through the top of the head (bai hui point), through the centre of the body (perineum - hui yin point), to the middle of the supporting foot (yong quan point). Initial practice consists in learning to relax the body and quieten the mind; GM Huang using song to throw Nov 1987 in Singapore

    - the second is pushing hands or sensing hands (tui shou) exercises with a partner. By maintaining the principles of tai chi you can train sensitivity or 'listening' to the other's body movements so as to affect their 'centre' or balance. You must yield at the opponent's slightest pressure and follow them at the slightest retreat, respond quickly to fast action and slowly to slow action. At every place the Yin and the Yang, or empty and full, must be distinguished. Advancing, the opponent feels the distance incredibly long, retreating he feels it exasperatingly short. The entire body is so light that the slightest touch will set it in motion.

You can learn the external movements from a video or book but it is very important to find a good teacher to show you the way to make your tai chi internal. Someone could be doing a Tai Chi form in the park and not be doing Tai Chi, while someone walking past could be doing Tai Chi!


Huang Xingxian (Huang Sheng Shyan) was born in Minhou County, Fujian Province, China in 1910. He started training at the age of 14 in White Crane Kung Fu (Baihe Gung Fu) and Taoist Healing (Nei Gung) under Xie Zhongxian (1852-1930). He later studied Fujian White Crane under Pan Chun-Nien, who also taught him Chinese medicine and the Literary Classics. He became a renowned fighter in his home province. He opened a martial arts school in Shanghai, and studied Taichi with Wan Lai-Sheng (China Martial Arts Champion 1938). He fought in the Chinese Army as a sergeant during WWII.

GM Huang at 1st International Training Camp Mt Kinabalu 8th June 1983 He moved to Taiwan after the war and in 1949 was so impressed by Cheng Man Ching's (Zheng Manqing 1902-1975) Taichi martial ability that he gave up White Crane to study Tai Chi under GM Cheng. After 3 years he was accepted as a disciple of Cheng's and trained under him for a further 5 years. In 1959 under the instructions of Cheng, he moved to Singapore and later Malaysia to teach and propagate the art of Tai Chi.

In 1955 GM Huang along with eight fellow students of Cheng Man-Ching represented the Shih Chung Association in the Provincial Chinese Martial Arts Tournament. GM Huang was champion in the Taiji section and runner-up in the open (all martial styles) section. Two of his own students came 2nd and 3rd in the Taiji section.

In 1970, at the age of 60, GM Huang demonstrated his abilities in Tai Chi by defeating Liao Kuang-Cheng, the Asian champion wrestler (Shuai jiao), 26 throws to 0, in a fund raising event in Kuching Malaysia.

Grandmaster Huang introduced his Tai Chi into Singapore in 1956 and started his first Tai Chi Association there in 1959. He brought his Tai Chi to Kuching (Sarawak) in 1959, Sibu in 1961, Bintang in 1962, Sarikei in 1963, Miri in 1966, Api Api (Kota Kinabalu) in 1968, Beaufort, Keningau and Tenom in 1975. He set up his Malaysian Tai Chi association in 1973. He set up his Malaysian Tai Chi association in 1973. The Association is now international with many branches throughout Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, Taiwan, Hong Kong and China (Shenzhen). There are also many schools dedicated to Grandmaster Huang's art in Europe, USA, Australia and New Zealand.

He spent all his adult life refining his martial arts skills. Slowly going from the hard external style of Kung Fu to the soft internal style of Tai Chi Chuan. In the last 10 years before he died in 1992, he refined his art even more by finally giving up on any hardness in his martial art. He firmly believed that Tai Chi should always have song as it's foundation, and not have even the smallest instance of force or hardness. (song is pronounced soong, there is no literal translation into English but it kind-of, sort-of means soft or relaxed).

GM Huang form - 'separation of left foot' Huang's exceptional skill has been praised by many tai chi and martial artists. In his book 'Chinese Boxing: Masters and Methods', Robert W. Smith says "[William] Chen probably climbed higher than any of Cheng Man-Ching’s students, except the converted White Crane boxer Huang Sheng-Hsien (who after learning t’ai chi moved to Singapore and acquired some fame there...)" (p77).

You will find many videos on the internet showing GM Huang throwing people. He loved to 'push hands' and would take every opportunity to 'push hands' with people. He makes it seem so easy that it looks fake, but it is not! He had refined his 'listening' skills to such a fine degree that with the barest touch he could read someone's body, control their centre, use their own force against them and throw them; all in a split second.

He was once asked how long it would take to learn all aspects of Tai Chi and replied "300 years". Even at the age of 82 years old and recognized as a great master of Tai Chi, he still felt he had much to learn.


Grandmaster Huang stressed that the most important thing in tai chi is song (soong - soft/relaxed).

You MUST find song in all aspects of your tai chi practise, so that eventually it is also in your everyday life. You must have Ting (centred mind and body - calmness), stillness and absence of fear. Once you start to achieve song then you can introduce yi (intention/mindfulness) into your body and chi (energy) will come naturally. Song without yi is useless. Yi without song is useless. But first you must have song. To achieve song, you must be diligent and continually practise mindfully on introducing song into your body. If there is a secret, then this is it!

You must be song step by step, don't forget the upper body and just jump straight to the hip joints. Do each body part in sequence, eventually it will be internal with very little movement. When more advanced, you can concentrate on yi being in each part of body, which will bring song into all your body (beginners will not be able to do this). Do not move onto next part of body until the previous is totally song.

Use song to dissipate the force through the whole body. Tai Chi is not letting the force sink into the feet, otherwise the feet are fixed to the ground like a building. The soles of the feet are light, like floating on water. Yi is in the whole body and in the feet even when stepping. Yi spreads through the whole body and stays there.

To help achieve song, GM Huang developed an exercise he called Hun Yuan Zhan Zhuang and also the Song Shen Wu Fa (Five loosening exercises). Please go to 'lessons' in the Classes section. There you will find video, class instructions and a brief description of the exercises. Remember, you need to have personal practical lessons; reading and video can not be used to substitute for a teacher. From these exercises you can learn to introduce song into your form and push-hands practise.

Huang Tai Chi is, as is Tai Chi in general, NOT about one person or one style. It is about learning the basic principles to make your Tai chi effective and true to the spirit of the art. But you need to balance this with finding a good teacher and learning as much as you can from them without jumping from teacher to teacher or style to style too much, until you master the principles.

Huang Tai Chi Tenom Malaysia is dedicated to teaching the art of Taichi (Taiji) as taught by Grandmaster Huang, but also firmly believes in the adage 'One Tai Chi Family' so all are welcome to visit and practise with us.

GM HUANG - 13 Questions and Answers Grand Master Huang, Mount Kinabalu 8th Oct 1987

Q1. Are there different schools or sects of Tai Chi?

Tai Chi embodies a comprehensive set of knowledge, developed and handed down by our learned predecessors with mystifying principles and profound philosophical learnings. The Tai Chi movements are scientific, as the principles are based on scientific fundamentals. Our predecessors developed the art for improving human health, warding off sickness, slowing down the ageing process, achieving longevity and defending oneself. All this benefits mankind and society. Good character formation is promoted. An adherent imbibed with the Tao (or philosophy as a way of life) of Tai Chi would contribute towards proper governance of the country and universal peace. Tai Chi is not a martial art meant for bragging and antagonistic purposes. A Tai Chi exponent would need to understand the principles and philosophy of Tai Chi. No one should deviate from these principles and philosophy. The movements can be developed and modified but the principles are eternal. The external forms may differ from person to person but the principles are standard and unvarying. Because of this, there is no basis for differentiation by schools. Instead, a spirit of a single family should prevail. Common interest of the art should take precedence over personal interest. An open attitude should emerge, bearing in mind the spirit of the founder and predecessors to propagate the philosophy of Tai Chi throughout the world so as to improve the health of mankind.

Q2. How should we practice Tai Chi in order to reach accuracy?

The gap between accurate and non-accurate achievement is wide. Remember the words of the old master, Wang Tsung Yueh, that the body must be naturally and vertically balanced. Bearing in mind the principles of being relaxed, rounded and awareness of the various parts of the body. During practice of the set movements, one must be careful, conscious or alert, observant and must feel where one is moving. Otherwise there is form without substance and deception to people. To achieve accuracy, the principles of Tai Chi must be followed in addition to correct methods of practising. A good master is necessary coupled with one's own constant research. The art must be learned progressively, having to be on firm ground first before advancing to the next step. Personal requirements are also important. One must be determined, confident, persevering and motivated. A secure means of livelihood and having normal environment coupled with single-mindedness, constant learning and practice, and clear understanding of the principles thoroughly - all this will lead to achievement of accuracy. This is in contrast to those who want to learn fast, who concern themselves with the external forms and who learn to practise sporadically. These hope to learn first and be corrected later not realising that it is worse than having a new person learning from scratch. Others take the principles of Tai Chi lightly or superficially and liken the art to a common exercise, drill or dance. All this has form but no substance. One's body must be likened to a perfect machine where a wrong spare part will affect the operation of the machine. The founder of Tai Chi said, "Achieving the Tao is important, acquiring the skill in the art is secondary; not learning my Tao, he is not my student." Therefore also important would be honesty and righteousness or a good moral character.

Q3. There are different forms of Tai Chi, are the principles different?

The founder created the art. But through the years, the forms of Tai Chi have differed: some have 24 basic movements while others have 37; some have 64 set movements and some have 72; while others have 108 movements or even 124. There are long sets and short sets. Movements have been large and expansive and have been small and compact. Some emphasised high postures; others opt for low ones. Some practise slowly, others practise at a faster pace. All this divergence is written by men. What is important is that the principles remain the same. Different masters with different temperaments have been following the basic principles through the ages. They have engaged in continuous research and training. They have reviewed and improved the art until the ultimate objective is achieved; where form becomes formless, limbs are no more important, brute force becomes nonexistent and stiffness has given way to being fully relaxed. Character formation has advanced to the stage of "non-self" and of non-resistance so that the whole body is used and hands are no more used as hands. Youthfulness and longevity are attained. It is easy to master correct forms, as the Qi and the principles of the art are internally harmonised. Harmonisation is also to be achieved between the upper, middle and lower parts and between the left and the right body. Even though difficult it is relatively easier to master correct forms compared to acquiring skill in the art. This is so as in training or practising there are a number of normally undetectable parts of the body that are difficult to keep under control from the aspects of speed, timing, rhythm and balance. Because of this, skill in the art is difficult to acquire. But then as the founder says, "Understanding one portion of the art would mean being enlightened on all portions or parts. Then all schools and sects become one."

Q4. Is it better to practise Tai Chi more frequently or less frequently?

There are no extremes in Tai Chi. The essence is in the training method. If the method is not correct, it is no different from ordinary drills with a lot of time spent but relatively little achievement. So it is not a question of practising more or less frequently but practising correctly. That is, the central equilibrium must be vertically maintained. Every movement must be disciplined such that the posture is vertically balanced. The principles remain unchanged; there is straightness in a curve and vice versa. There must be constant learning and practice, understanding the principles and the less obvious points. Mastery of this will produce skill naturally. There is no question therefore of practising too much or too little, but rather of practising correctly.

Q5. Is it correct to practise the art fast or to practise it slow?

The earth rotates at a constant and specific rate. Similarly, Tai Chi should not be practised too slowly or too fast but should be practised comfortably. The human body must be moved naturally otherwise there would be weaknesses. If the practice is too fast, breathing is affected resulting in uneven respiration, breathlessness and the heart pulsating too fast. If the practice is too slow, the limbs and the joints become stiff. Qi is blocked and is locally stagnant: intent or consciousness is employed but the Qi is not flowing. Internal force and Qi must be synchronised. Internally, there is the harmony of the libido, energy, Qi and spirit while externally, the mind, consciousness (or intent) and body are also harmonised and in turn both the internal and external harmonies are synchronised. Muscles must be relaxed and all parts of the body are naturally without tension. It is not possible therefore to say practising fast is correct or practising slow is correct, as this has to be based on the standard or level of achievement of the student. One must practise until the whole body is relaxed and comfortably balanced. Once there is internal and external synchronisation, then the question of slow and fast in practice is unimportant. At this stage, one gets the feeling that the upper portion of the body is like the drifting of clouds and the lower portion is like the flowing of water. Consciousness is continuous and is harmonised with movement. All parts of the body are natural and are unified. There is then no question of being fast or slow.

Q6. Is it correct to have either high or low postures in the set movements of Tai Chi?

The art of Tai Chi does not distinguish high and low postures, but is rather based on the idea of four "balances" or equilibriums:
1. balance in the magnitude of the posture or movement such as both sides of the body must have a "balanced" amount of spatial displacement when moving;
2. accuracy or precision achieved simultaneously by all parts of the body;
3. bodily balanced when moving or turning;
4. steadiness, particularly when moving.

External and internal balance or harmony must be cultivated, so there is no slanting of the central axis of the body. when hind force is invoked, the hind knee being bent will move up or straighten slightly though the height of the body remains unchanged. This is so as consciousness (or intend) and Qi would "close" centrally instead of coming up while the bent knee is used to adjust accordingly. Consciousness is used to lead the muscles in relaxing. Joints, muscles and ligaments must then be loosened, relaxed and "thrown" open but still linked. The body is then erect and comfortable. Consciousness is also used to "move" Tai Chi principles to parts of the body. Having achieved "four balances and eight steadiness", the question of high and low postures is then answered individually.

Q7. How can substantiality and insubstantiality be distinguished between left and right or between top and bottom parts of the body?

The muscles, the skeleton and the nerves are parts of the body system. When practising the movements, the use of consciousness to sink and relax the body is most important. The centre of gravity is moved while preserving the uprightness of the central axis of the body. It is important to focus on steadiness, tranquillity, relaxation and rootedness. The movements propel the external movements in a continuous or uninterrupted fashion. Internal force is generated with turning movements. After a long time, the whole body is in balance. When left and right is distinguished, one is substantial and the other insubstantial along the pattern of "cross alignment". For instance, together with the distinction between top and bottom parts of the body, when the left upper part of the body is substantial, the left lower part is insubstantial. Similarly, when the right upper part of the body is substantial, the right lower part is insubstantial. This pattern of cross alignment is used in shifts of the centre of gravity from one leg to the other. This is similar to the "cross-roads" of the nervous system. When moving Qi, therefore, one must separate substantial from insubstantial, move the step without moving the body or moving the body and not the hand. If in moving a step, the body also moves, then it is not separating substantial from insubstantial. If in moving the body, the hand also moves, then the shoulder and the hands are not relaxed. It is important to follow the principles of using consciousness to propel movement. The top and bottom, left and right portions of the body must be coordinated. A rounded grinding stone may move but the centre is not moving. All parts of the body become one system characterised by lightness and agility, roundness and smoothness, even respiration, alternate opening and closing like that of the sea. Where with movement from one part of the sea, all parts are also moved. The movements are guided by consciousness and are properly regulated like the regular movements of the waves in the sea.

Q8. How could the movements be practised in order that they can be usefully applied?

Take the five loosening (or relaxing) exercises as an illustration. These exercises are based on Tai Chi principles. During practice there must be full concentration since any distraction will nullify any effects. Bear in mind the three points of non-mobility: the head which must be locked on to the body, the hands which must not move of its own volition and the soles of the feet which must be still and rooted to the ground. Consciousness (or intend) will lead the Qi along. Steps are made without affecting or moving the body. Turning movements start from the waist and hips with hands propelled from the waist and hips in accordance with the principle that all movements originate from the waist. Principles must be understood and no movements are separated from the principles. Once you make it internally you are also "through" externally. Once you are fully relaxed, you can change according to circumstances and can therefore, neutralise an oncoming force. You would have reached that position of "non-self" where the whole body is the weapon and the hands are no more used as hands. If you are not able to usefully apply your movements then you still have not understood the basics of the five relaxing exercises. If you have not mastered the essentials, then there is no point of talking about application of the movements.

Q9. What is the rationale for relaxing the abdomen and withdrawing the coccyx (or tailbone)?

Qi is stored in the Dan Tien as a result of using consciousness to sink the Qi to this point. From here Qi should circulate to the whole body. If Qi just remains in the Dan Tien, then the abdomen will have the sensation of being stuffed. Only when Qi circulates throughout the body will the abdomen be relaxed and pliable. After a time, the abdomen will acquire some "bouncy" or "springy" effect and Qi would have been circulating to the whole body. Qi can be occluded or absorbed into the backbone. The Song of the Thirteen Postures says, "If the abdomen is thoroughly relaxed, then the Qi will rise." So do not just store the Qi in the abdomen otherwise it will simply bloat. Having the coccyx withdrawn means there is no protrusion of the buttocks while making sure at the same time that the hip joints are not "sliding" forward. This must be combined with relaxing the abdomen and both requirements must be met at the same time. Otherwise, there is no rootedness while the waist is stiff resulting in vertical imbalance or disequilibrium. It is important to maintain the uprightness of the central axis of the body in order to achieve central equilibrium. A test can be made as follows to see whether all this has been done correctly all along; use one thumb to press the abdomen and release the thumb suddenly. There should be a bouncing or springy effect of the abdomen. At the same time, the seat of the buttocks behind should be very soft to the touch.

Q10. What is the true spirit of Tai Chi?

Good and famous masters of Tai Chi teach the same stuff but students will learn differently. This is because students differ in natural endowment and physical make-up. The real acquisition of the art is not in just mastering the external forms but also in mastering the principles and philosophy. The learner must be a man of reason having learnt, practised and understood the art successfully. He applies those principles and philosophy to his daily life. He will not take unfair advantage or be selfish. He is wholeheartedly devoted to Tai Chi. He shares the founder's spirit of striving for mankind to be physically and mentally healthy. This would be the true Tai Chi spirit.

Q11. How many times must we practice the set movements everyday?

The important principle is moderation. The practising technique must be correct in the first place. Some people say you must practise the whole set of movements ten times a day with one set lasting about 25 minutes. This only focuses on quantity and is wasting Qi and energy. It is contrary to the basic principles of Tai Chi, succeeding in only making you sweat and reducing weight. It is not beneficial to the development of the internal force, internal organs or generally the body internally. Grandmaster Cheng Man-Ching has said, "I practise the mobilisation of the internal force and Qi using the 37 basic movements every day. One set of movements lasts only 7 minutes." Practising too much or too little is subject to whether it is practised correctly or not. Utilising my experience and following my practising technique, students are encouraged to practise every morning and evening using about 5 minutes to practise a particular movement or posture (dividing each of them into 2 parts) over and over again. Those students who do so are likely to succeed.

Q12. Some students have been learning and practising Tai Chi for several years and are yet unstable. Why is this so?

A lot of students are using wrong learning and practising technique. Students must start with understanding the Tao of philosophy, then the principles, then using the correct method and finally putting in the effort. Students must understand the relationship of man and his surroundings, or the universe, and use the method of Qi to practice. He must be humble and persistent in his practice. Slowly, rootedness will result and the method of practising be understood. Understand the principles and be aware of the less obvious and unnoticeable aspects in slowing acquiring skill. Being rooted and having internal force can never be observed externally. They can be accomplished through correct method. In practising the movement and developing the internal force, the joints of the body must be loosened and yet linked. The whole body is relaxed and is not easily pushed over by an opponent. Substantiality is distinguished from insubstantiality. Aim to be flexible and pliable like a snake whose tail will come in to help if you attack the head, or vice versa or whose tail and head will assist when the centre is attacked. Be responsive to consciousness (or intent), then tranquillity and pliability can be achieved. It is easier to lift off a 200 catties iron rod than to lift up a 100 catties iron chain [1 cattie = 500 grams]. This illustrates the principles of thoroughly relaxed joints. Students must also understand the application of yin and yang in the movements and push hand exercises. Yin and yang principles are in Tai Chi which encompasses the universe; all movements, whether divided according to upper and lower body, right and left, front and back, internal and external, must not deviate from the principles of substantiality and insubstantiality. Moving and stillness alternate continuously; Yin does not depart from Yang and vice versa. When Yang moves, Yin also moves and vice versa. This principle must be understood when practising the set movements. The body and the character is trained together as is the acquisition of the Tao and the art. Tao is likened to yin while the art or skill is the yang. Yang is evolved from yin at yin's completion. Being relaxed, stillness and being rooted become yin components. Neutralisation of force forms the basic foundation where no strength is used. Stillness is like that of the mountain. No change is seen but it is capable of a lot of changes. The founder has said, "Tao is the basis, art is the consequential". One must therefore acquire Tao by learning not to resist, for only then will the body learn to be obedient. In attacking and defending, one must understand the method, then acquire insubstantiality and quietude. Only then will the defence be solid. Attacking will also be successful as one is naturally comfortable. In pushing hands exercise, one must learn to achieve non-resistance and stickiness. Having achieved stickiness, then one can achieve the ability to neutralise force. With adequate reserves, the neutralising ability is applied with an involuntary exertion of internal force.

Q13. How should a student relate to his teacher?

In the present day science is very advanced, affecting all aspects of human endeavour day by day. This gives rise to stress and keen competition in business, having a telling effect on the spirit. This is a common malady. This is why Tai Chi an ancient art, is popular and a common practice. It has no secrets. It is equitable to all as it discriminates against no student. But students often commit errors in practising the art. Students should bear in mind the following pointers:
1 Respect the teacher and accept the philosophy or Tao of the art;
2 Be honest and do not take unfair advantage;
3 Be conscientious and serious, think, observe and feel, or being aware during practice;
4 Progress step by step;
5 Be humble and practice constantly;
6 Follow all the principles mentioned earlier when practising by themselves.
[FIN - Grandmaster Huang's 13 Q & A]