By Tyler Rea
In ancient China, in times long past, there emerged a combat art like no other—a method all-encompassing in its approach to combat, with a prowess and power that drew the dedicated interest of the wealthy, the military, and the politically powerful.
That martial art is Taijiquan, “The Supreme Axis fist” or “The Supreme Ridgepole fist.” Today, however, the art is more widely known in the west by an incorrect name: Tai chi chuan or “The Supreme Ultimate fist” or “The Supreme Energy fist.”
It is in the term Taiji or Supreme Axis that the true prowess and power of this art is grounded. Knowledge of this mechanical detail that solidified the reputations of Taiji masters as the preeminent teachers of bodyguards, private security, and the military.
Before we look at The Nine Supreme Pivots, the original mechanical details that unlock martial power, I must first recount an important conversation about Taiji power between a master and student. At the turn of the 19th century, a student of a famous Taiji master asked his teacher, “What was the secret of the master’s ability to transmit power instantaneously to an opponent when touched?”
Surprised by the directness of the student’s question, the master paused to consider his response. The master then folded the fan he was holding, approached his student and offered him the folded fan, and asked: What is the single most important part of this Fan? I will the answer share with you at the end of this Blog.
The Nine Supreme Pivots
Cultivating the first and most important axis of rotation begins by rooting the knee of your lead leg. Keeping the shin bone of the leg completely perpendicular to the ground and unperturbed by force is a must. To do so immediately transfers mechanical rotation force up from the foot to the hips and establishes an axis that rises upward from the hip joint of the lead leg to the lead shoulder.
This creates a 1/3 third ratio of reserve mass that provides back-up stability to augment power when needed.
This quote from Grandmaster Cheng Man Ching, from the book Wisdom of Taiji Masters, is insightful: “When we are fighting or engaging in push hands we must never use all our strength. There must always be strength kept in reserve. When our opponent uses strength, don’t resist. When he stops using strength that is the time for you to uses your, and reverse the situation.”
This means that from the vertical demarcation line of the lead leg’s hip to the lead side shoulder you have one third force to the lead bridge arm and two thirds in reserve behind the vertical demarcation line.
The second pivot builds on and extends from the first to manifest at the shoulder. The most important element of this pivot location is that the shoulder must always root downward and avoid rising at all costs. If the shoulder rises power is immediately lost and leaks out backwards from the line of incoming force, which can collapse your structure.
The Third pivot is the elbow of the lead arm, always sinking and rooted downward. From the tip of your middle finger through the wrist to the elbow, be aware of an axis of rotation through the forearm. During the movements of Shun & Ni, this axis must point from the lead elbow to and anchor in the region of the Dan Tien as much as possible. This unites movements of the arm to the rotational power source of the kwa (hips) and stance arch. Shun: the movement of rotating the palm upward with the little finger side of the hand in toward your centerline. Ni: the movement of rotating the palm down or outward with the little finger side of the hand out away from your centerline.
The fourth pivot is the combination of the first three pivots. When this is accomplished, each of the three pivots provides redundant structural back-up when your structure is being compromised by an opponent’s pressure. Throughout training, each of the three pivots must maintain its individual integrity. When all three are stabilized and integrated, they combine to produce one of the most mysterious effects of issued power called “trilateral vectored force.” This vital detail of internal martial cultivation is hidden to the uninitiated through the trigrams of the I-Ching or Book of Change.
Each triagram contains 3 broken or unbroken lines which are categorized in the following way: The top line is heaven, the middle is man, and the last is earth. Each is a placeholder for a vital directional vector of force. Heaven represents rotational force from an unwobbling pivot. Man represents the movement of going forward, reflecting the human impression that our lives move forward through time.
Finally, the movement of earth is grounded downward. These three combined vectors of force—rotation, forward extension and downward rooting must all be executed at exactly the same time in a steady, balanced, commensurate way to issue power. This mysterious power is a multi-directional, instantaneously expansive power known as the “Peng energy.”
The fifth pivot is to root and integrate the previous four into the Dan Tien region of the body. This area is the geographic crossroad and mechanical transition hub for the entire body. As such, this region is both the ground zero of stability and the command center for power discharge.
Pivots 6-9 to be continued…
The Master’s Answer to the Fan
After considering the master’s question, the student, in desperation, chose the paper that covered the fan as its most important part. Disappointed, the Master said, “No. Try again.” The student then said the bamboo bracing strips were the most important part.
Again the master said “No,” and reaching to take hold of the fan, he slowly removed the pivot pin which held the fan together, causing the fan to fall apart. Smiling, the master held up the removed pin and said, “With just a single pivot one can overturn Heaven. Taijiquan has 81 pivots and thus the Gods tremble.”
A closing quote from, Wisdom of Taiji Masters:
“Every aspect of the Taijiquan curriculum is important. You must learn the alphabet before you can read words; and you must be able to read words before you can read sentences. Everything in Taiji that you train is important, but you may not realized it’s importance until you have completed the Taiji curriculum.”
“Here is a treasure, a resource of proven and practical wisdom which inspires and instructs how to proceed to the highest levels of what Chinese believe to be the only truly unbeatable style of kung-fu.” –Herb Borkland, Goodreads
“Sutton’s book works not just on a technical level, but also an emotional level.” –Ben Judkins, Chinese Martial Arts Studies
“Nigel Sutton has done us a great favor in compiling this book… heartily recommended.” –Bernard Kwan, Be Not Defeated by the Rain
“Sutton’s interviews with these masters offer broad and deep insights into the multi-faceted art of Tài Jí Quán.” –Nick Scrima, Journal of Chinese Martial Arts
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May I know the source of this taiji information? I see a lineage of Chen Fake -> Hong Junshen -> Chen Zhonghua based on the pictures. Thanks for the clarification.
You may contact the author directly for more information, if you like. Tyler Rea. [email protected]
I’m a disciple of Master Chen Zhonghua. The silhouette is obviously my Shifu, which leads me to wonder where are the citations and bibliography?
You may contact the author directly for more information, if you like. Tyler Rea. [email protected]
Books and treatise are excellent beginnings and guides to perfecting the supreme ultimate fist that Wang Zongyue wrote about when describing the execution of Great Extremes Long Boxing….. which by the way is a weapons based pugilistically combative martial discipline…. No soldier or bodyguard or preying bandit engaged combatively without an weapon. Unarmed combat is practiced and used to disarm or get your weapon back. This information deals in only one very well known aspect of neijia quan structure… kinetics…. There is much much more in the modalities og cognitive and affect behavior.
When Taiji Quan is practiced as an energetic weapons based, pugilistically combative system … one understands and finds many of these postulations helpful. i would not use the word pivot. This term is a yielding action thataccompanies the fullness of rolling back.Nnexus points sounds more like what the author is conveying. Kinetically structure is important but moving and feeling is the next step and the hardest to master in the effort to pugillistically, root and evade while staying in the pocket.
My book, The Art of Western Tai Chi Chuan: The Supreme Ultimate and Sweet Science of Boxing with Ten Limbs, discusses many of the postulates presented in this article. It is sound wisdom. My scholarly translations come from Lee Schelle. He would dissagree with your translations as would all of the translators of the Wu Family Goldbook and the Illustrated Explainations of Chen Family Tai Chi Chuan. But scholarly debate and reflections on applied application notes should be challanged… conclusions should be checked and verified. My only take on this author’s emphasis is the he seems to say everyone else is wrong and ge is right….
I have a new book coming out in volumes called Western Long Boxing: The Tao of Ten Gated Changes,,,,, My approach to our disipline advocates evolution and integration of vedic and taoist, stilling and moving meditation with an emphasis of training in the extremes of martial and energetic science to achive a fuller realization of modal behavior and in time to transcend it…. And to do so to begin a martial emphasis of conncting to the sword. Although there is a reemphasis from contemporary dogma there is no relegation of past views that are not consistent with my own…. and my postulations which are evidenced in video presentation …. can hardly by seen as novel even though critics call it so in amazon, IMOS Magazine and journal and in the Americam Tai Chi and Qigong Association… I have not read this work… but it looks interesting and may be very important. If the author sends me a copy i would love to do a review in my magazine and on amazon if sold there. If he would like an interview on Temple Underground Radio I would like to invite him….
Using another person’s forum to peddle your own goods (using Tambuli’s comments section which is intended to provide a forum for comments relating to the article in-question, not as a format to advertise your own products) does nothing except cause the reader to dismiss your observations altogether. I’ve read your book. Your conclusions are flawed and your source material is innacurately represented. Your sole intent here is obviously to hawk your own goods and critisize a lineage of information to which you do not belong. Your actions reflecf very poor taste, at even absolute best. At worst, you showing yourself to be an absolute ass. Take your pick:)
Very interesting article! Was eagerly looking for “Pivots 6-9 to be continued…” but cannot find Part 2. Should be very informative. Can someone direct me to the Part 2 article? Thank you!