"Let me see your neck,"
Coach Pei instructed, as we prepared to do the form in our Saturday
morning class. I thought to myself, my neck, see my neck, this
is not one of the Ten Essences Coach had talked about and it definitely
was not part of what I thought I needed to work on today.
"Let me see your neck,"
Coach Pei again stated.
"As you expose your neck you
open the point on the crown of you head. As you expose your neck
you must be conscious to keep your shoulders down. As you expose
your neck you lift your spirit, he continued. Now do the form
and let me see your neck," he repeated.
Coach Pei in his unique style again
had with only a few words instructed his advance class in first
two Essences. He did not restate the Essences for his advanced
students but simply stated what he wanted to see and of course
what he knew would happen if we followed his instructions. We
focused on the first two Essences in a new way one more time.
Taking us deeper and creating an opportunity for us to appreciate
the meaning of the Essences.
The U.S. WUSHU Academy in Falls
Church, Virginia where Coach
Christopher Pei the founder and teacher instructs is grounded
in the Ten Essences as taught by Yang Chen Fu. I will quickly
and concisely list the Ten Essences.
The Ten Essence
1. Head, neck, spin upright
2. Shoulder sink, elbows lose
3. Loosen chest, round back
4. Loosen and turn waist
5. Weight change - substantial & insubstantial
6. Coordinate upper & lower body
7. Continuity - no interruptions
8. Coordinating internal & external
9. Mind not force
10. Stillness in Motion
For the reader unfamiliar with the
Ten Essence do not be deceived by
the simplicity and assume understanding from merely reading the
list or memorizing them to use as a guide for your form. Within
the Ten Essences are the essential instructions to do any Tai
Chi form, as the form was intended and to reap the many benefits.
Only through experiencing the Ten Essences is one able to truly
understand and thus appreciate more fully the treasures of the
I am working on the 7th and 8th
Essences. When I started today's class I felt confident in this
assessment, as I had demonstrated Essences 1-6 in a testing situation.
Therefore, I was confused by Coach's words instructing us to show
him our neck. After a few moments I figure out that Coach was
refocusing on Essences 1 & 2, I wondered to my self, I know
these Essences; I came to work on 7 and 8. Having been in his
class before with a similar feeling I quickly let go of my desire
and followed his instruction - "Show me your neck".
In so doing much to my surprise
I learned several things. First I experienced and realized how
the First Essence of lifting my head and the second keeping my
shoulders rounded were interconnected. I could show my neck by
stretching my neck but this would also lift my shoulder, so I
had to focus on both Essences at the same time. Two energies moving
in two directions. I remembered a statement Coach Pei frequently
makes "Tai Chi is made of two forces - Yin and Yang energies."
I was experiencing the effects of two energies when I was correctly
showing my neck.
As I focused on letting Coach see
my neck, I became aware of how it effected my form in other ways.
My kicks appeared more balanced. I had been focusing on my rooting
in the past classes to make my kicks more solid, today I noticed
that my balance seemed to come from the top and then to the ground,
making for a more solid feeling. I also noticed in doing Fair
Lady Works the Shuttle that I was able to block more cleanly and
with less effort. This is a move that has frustrated me for some
time. I rarely experience the move as smooth with my intent creating
any power. Surprisingly, by showing my neck I was more fluid and
This later aspect was what I thought
I needed to work today, coordination of top and bottom without
interruptions (7th Essence). How is that Coach Pei knows how in
such a few words to challenge his classes to discover for ourselves
the meaning of the Ten Essences? I do not have a complete answer
for that but is it is clearly the reason I will be back for the
next class with my goal, my agenda and what I think I need to
learn. I will again listen to Coach Pei and be frustrated with
his instructions. Again, I will learn what I need to know. This
is the process I have come to appreciate.
Being grounded in the simplicity
of the Ten Essences I have come to appreciate Coach Pei's experience
and recognize he has returned to the Ten Essences many more times
than me. He is my teacher and I his student. My task through his
instructions is to experience and discover my own meaning of the
Ten Essences. Sometimes I needed to be reminded that there are
many small steps in this discovery and it takes time. One never
knows all that can be learned from the Ten Essences because each
day is new and each time we do the form it is the first time again.
It is up to me to seek the lessons of the Ten Essences each time
I do the form. I am glad I was able to show Coach my neck today
and discover another new meaning from the Ten Essences.