Guo Shilei Taijiquan Lecture Series - Part One

Who is Guo Shilei (郭石磊) … and where’d he get his ill gongfu skillz?*
(See videos for proof)

According to an excellent interview available on his own site … Guo Shilei began his deeper studies into the Chinese Internal Martial Arts (CIMA) when he was 15. That is when he met his teacher, who is the renowned Shi Chongying (石崇英), a 6th generation inheritor of Ma Weiqi style Bagua as well as a 7th generation inheritor of Yang style taiji. Guo’s own words express his relationship to his teacher the best:

“When I was 15 I met my teacher Shi Chongying and, thinking that my iron arm was already pretty awesome, I asked him to hit my arm. To my surprise, a light touch from him was enough to numb my arm for an entire afternoon. After that experience, I was determined to study neijiaquan (meaning xingyi, bagua and taiji) with [Master] Shi…

My teacher took his training really seriously, a lot of other people thought he was a weirdo. For example, one time he was taking the train with his colleagues, instead of playing cards with the others he locked himself in the toilet to practice his gongfu! Also, my teacher is a bit of a hermit, he very rarely makes public appearances or enters martial arts tournaments, so the only people who know about him are other martial arts masters.”

- Guo Shilei
translated from an article in the Guanzhou Daily

Guo’s skill has been building up quietly for many years. His story is quite interesting, involving the struggle that many martial arts teachers face: attracting enough students to sustain a healthy income, mixing the martial arts lifestyle w/ everyday life, and much more. He is articulate & very candid in the great interview from which that quote is extracted. We’ll revisit Guo’s story in a later post … but for now:

Guo Shilei: Important Concepts In Push Hands & Sparring


For the very brief length of these two videos (<15 minutes!) … this is one of the best introductions to tai chi push hands I have seen anywhere. The concepts are presented very clearly, and the subtitles are excellent.

We are very indebted to whomever translated & added those subs, because they will help even us wai guo ren (外国人) understand young Master Guo’s concepts. Here are some of his concepts that I think are most important to note:

Wen Jin (问劲) or “Asking Energy”

Guo Shilei is one of the few CIMA masters I have heard emphasizing Wen Jin so much. This “energy” or feeling or “quality of touch” is much less discussed than the many more familiar jins of taijiquan & the CIMA, such as:

  • tīng jìn (聽勁) :: Listening energy
  • péng jìn (棚勁) :: Ward off energy
  • chán sī jìn (纏絲勁) :: Silk reeling energy
  • etc … there are probably hundreds to consider …

Regardless of its less frequent inclusions into the CIMA conversation, the importance of high attainment in wen jin cannot be overestimated.

In the way Guo speaks of the subject – by my interpretation – the effectiveness of any type of feint one attempts would be governed, ultimately, by one’s attainment in wen jin. In other words, while listening energy (ting jin) is required to comprehend the opponent … it is the proper use of asking energy (wen jin) that allows you to actually successfully attack w/o ending up on the receiving end of a painful counter.

Here are some of the important sayings & Chinese vocab that Master Guo uses to better explain the deep & complex topic of wen jin

Important Wen Jin related sayings / vocab:

Zhi Shang Da Xia (指上打下) … To “point above & strike below” — this is presented as a type of Wen Jin, in that the feint (a “question”), elicits the opponent’s potential weak points to be attacked (the “answer”).

Bi Shi Ji Xu (避实击虚) … To “avoid the substantial & attack the empty” — this, as another type of Wen Jin, is a bit deeper level of Zhi Shang Da Xia. Rather than use external trickery, Bi Shi Ji Xu is about actually understanding the Yin Yang relationship in the opponent’s body (and exploiting it to one’s advantage). A related vocab, worth noting, is the idea to da kong” (打空) or hit the empty (see video 1 @ 6:10 for a good example).

Concluding Points:
5 Steps to Better Internal Power from Master Guo Shilei

(as researched & embellished by me.)

 1.) Exercises of the Yao & Kua – All CIMA rely heavily on the body’s naturally strongest areas: the Yao (low back / waist) and Kua (inguinal crease / hip joint). To truly be able to throw the opponent long distances and/or instantly end their ability to continue a fight, it will require many, many hours of training the Yao & the Kua through foundation exercises.

2.) Connecting the Arms to the Yao & Kua Power – From my perspective, this is all about “getting rid” of the arms. As one of my teachers says: “In taijiquan, there are no arms.” Perhaps a more poetic example that clearly articulates this fully integrated “whole body” power is found in the Tai Chi Classics, often referenced here:

The chin (also spelled jin) should be
rooted in the feet,
generated from the legs,
controlled by the waist, and
manifested through the fingers.

-The Essence of T’ai Chi Ch’uan
Translated & Edited by Benjamin Pang Jeng Lo

3.) Shàng Xià Xiāng Suí  (上下相随) :: Upper & Lower in Mutual Harmony – This is one of Yang’s (Yang Chengfu’s) 10 Important Points (#7 – also translated as “Coordinate upper & lower body”). By correctly training & developing the Yao & Kua, as well as integrating the arms to the whole body power, one begins to achieve this necessary objective for any martial arts mastery.

4.) Clearly Perceive the Opponent’s Strengths & Weaknesses – This is closely related to the Wen Jin discussion above. One obvious caveat to perceiving the opponent’s strengths & weaknesses is then being able to skillfully invade & attack the opponent’s weak spot! To see an example (though hard to repeat if you do not understand it), check out video 1 at 5:38, 6:06, and 6:10. Another good way Guo describes this is that the key is in attacking down a path along which the opponent has no balance.

 5.) Roll Like a Sphere & Do Not Allow the Opponent’s Force to “Rest” Upon You - The idea here, as Guo explains it, is to keep your opponent’s balance unsettled as if he is trying to rest atop a round ball. I’m not sure whether or not this is the same concept, but I have heard a similar description of the peng jin energy (“ward off”). Put simply, the idea is as if the opponent’s force is a small boat, and that boat is floating on the surface of the big sea (which is you). While the surface of the sea is not exactly a sphere … the effect & biomechanics are quite similar to the rounded body demo’s shown by Master Guo in the above videos.

5 comments to Guo Shilei Taijiquan Lecture Series – Part One

  • Wil

    Hi Marshall:

    I stumbled onto your website last night and so far I’ve only looked at the video clips of Master Guo and your notes on his lessons. Those were very helpful and I can tell that you’ve put quite some effort into this website in the hopes of sharing Tai Chi and Qigong wisdom. Therefore I wanted to thank you for performing this valuable service for the Tai Chi/Qigong community.

    I hope that you are enjoying the CMC 37 form. That’s what I started out with as a child. I still have Prof. Cheng’s original book on the 37 form, in Chinese, which is at least 40 years old. That book also talks about applying Tai Chi in combat using the concept of a sphere, much as Master Guo teaches . What Prof. Cheng said was that, in defense, the ball is used to neutralize and transform incoming energy but, in offense, the ball can turn into a round gear with many sharp “teeth”, and churn into the opponent.

    After a hiatus of many years, I later studied with one of Prof. Cheng’s students, Master Wlm CC Chen (another excellent teacher). The principles that I learned from Master Chen still form much of the foundation of what I practice, but nowadays I tend to focus more on a Qigong set that I learned in China in 2004. The latter requires more strenuous physical effort, somewhat like Yi Jin Jing, so it suits my nature. However, I still do “maintenance” Tai Chi using Master Chen’s form. I’ve also developed some shadow boxing drills using Tai Chi principles which is a bit more aerobic.

    Keep up the good work and thanks again. I look forward to learning from the rest of your website.

    Regards.

    Wil

    • @Wil,

      Thank you very much for your thoughtful & detailed comment! It is very good to see that a kung fu brother has arrived at this site through the interwebz. Comments like this make my job much easier & motivate me to work harder at providing more value here :-D

      I too have studied with William CC Chen, but the CMC 37 form I practice is closer to the Ben Lo version as learned by my teacher Lee Scheele. I guess one of these days I better put up some videos of myself, but I always think “I will when I get better … I will when I get better.” Considering the videos I generally put on this site, I’d be among some pretty daunting company — and its hard to imagine my own level even close to worthy of these masters depicted here.

      You make a very good point about Professor Cheng’s writings on the circle & its “teeth.” It is a good insight to think about how truly similar it is to young master Guo’s expression in the lectures above, and goes to show that there really are no “different” “styles” of taijiquan.

      It made me remember the way, in Professor Cheng’s book, that he talks about the circle & its relationship to the “triangle” (or more accurately – “pizza slice” shape). I think that Master Guo would also appreciate this, and I wonder how he would modify the Professor’s insights considering Guo’s strong background in Baguazhang.

      Either way, thanks for commenting, and I hope you will keep reading more here!

      If you are ever in the Cincinnati, OH area, or plan to be in Los Angeles, please do shoot me an email and we can perhaps meet for some push hands practice.

      Thanks for reading,

      -Marshall

  • Danny Kim

    I was wondering if you knew anything about the tai chi chuan classics and their interpretations. I’d really look forward to know if you have come across any knowledge in what they could mean. The following I believe are the classic treatise of tai chi chuan. The language used in these treatise come from ancient times, and are very obscure. I think it would make an interesting article for this site, if you are taking any suggestions.

    T’ai Chi Ch’uan Ching attributed to Chang San-feng
    The Treatise on T’ai Chi Ch’uan attributed to Wang Tsung-yueh
    Expositions of Insights into the Practice of the Thirteen Postures by Wu Yu-hsiang
    Song of the Thirteen Postures by Unknown Author
    Songs of The Eight Postures attributed to T’an Meng-hsien
    Song of Push Hands by Unknown Author
    Five Character Secret by Li I-yu
    Essentials of the Practice of the Form and Push-Hands by Lee I-Yu
    Yang’s Ten Important Points by Yang Cheng-fu

    • Hi @Danny Kim,

      I am no expert on the Tai Chi Classics, but I study them a lot.

      I also quote them in almost every article on this site, because IMO they are the most reliable source of Tai Chi wisdom.

      I generally have steered clear of devoting an entire article to attempting to clarify or elucidate the Classics, simply because it is so difficult. Generally, I spend more time just quoting a particular section of a particular Classic when I find it to be appropriate to the discussion at hand.

      However, I will take your suggestion into consideration, and eventually make the effort to devote an entire article (or, more likely, series of articles) to deciphering the Taijiquan Classics.

      BTW, FWIW, my favorite translation of the Classics is this one, by Ben Lo (et al):

      The Essence of T’ai Chi Ch’uan: The Literary Tradition

      Translated by Benjamin P. Lo, Martin Inn, Susan Foe, and Robert Amacker
      (Ben Lo is my Kung Fu Grandfather, and the primary teacher of one of my main teachers)

      Thanks for your always relevant and detailed / specific comments @Danny Kim. I appreciate the added conversation you contribute to this site.

      Sincerely,
      -Marshall

      PS – That is my affiliate link to the Ben Lo version of the Classics, so if you buy it there, I will get a tiny amount of $$ :-D

  • Danny Kim

    Thank you for your kind words. Currently I do not have the extra cash to buy it, but once i do, it will be a worthy investment. I would like to contribute to your articles as well. There are a couple of interviews done by Scott P. Philips of George Xu, and I think Sifu George Xu comes across some good points as well as some interpretations of few of the Tai Chi Classics. I’m not to sure of forum rules but if its okay with you, these are links to them.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QoIVOFT-gfU&feature=plcp
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sJ-v2mXqkg4&feature=plcp

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