An Article by Bernard Murphy, Ph.D.
(The Beginning of Ten Essences)
"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 form.
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 coordinated.
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.