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In Master Cheng's New Method of Taichi Ch'uan Self-Cultivation Master Cheng states:

"The four secret words for proper breathing are: fine, long, calm, and slow."

Please help to correct my misunderstandings in my following description. I assume that these four words are a translation of a teaching that from Master Yang or his readings of Chang San Feng. If this is the case then any help in understanding the original meaning would be very helpful.

Long: Extending the breath is a great way to increase relaxation.

Calm: You should allow the breath to come with ease.

Slow: Unhurried, in it's own time.

Fine: This is where I have difficulty differentiating. Most of what I could say about my understanding of how you would breathe 'finely' would be a reiteration of the above. It would seem to be important, though, as he states this as the first of the 'four secret words'.

Google gives back 精细 Jīngxì. The closest I can find to this in my dictionary is jīngzhìde which uses the same character '精' for jīng but has a different second character. The second character xì '细' is used in the same block, and appear to mean a fine distinction. There are probably many different translations it could have given, though, and this seems to be the wrong track.

Does he mean a thin stream? With my low level of skill in Mandarin I fear that I'm hopelessly stuck trying to understand beyond this.

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I do not think it is necessary to seek out and translate primary sources for breathing. My understanding is that taiji, bagua, and xing yi share Daoist qi gong breathing; guidance from any of these sources should be in agreement.

The Root of Chinese Qigong by Yang Jwing-Ming uses alternate words (p124) to describe breathing:

In the first stage of regulating your breath, it becomes calm, smooth, and peaceful. Once you have have reached this point, the next step is to make your breathing deep, slender, long, and soft.

I would understand this "fine" as a combination of peaceful, smooth, slender, and soft. You should not hold your breath. You should not change the rate of air moving by pulsing your breathing. Your interpretation of a thin stream is good under this description.

I advise not getting too caught up on the precise words. The meaning becomes more clear as you practice and develop. The most important points are:

  1. breathing is very important
  2. you need to practice breathing consistently with these goals in mind
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    Thank you for your answer. I wanted to explore the words deeply because there are often implications lost in translation that could be very small, but could have a large effect on my practice in the next few years.
    – Glahf
    Jun 19 '19 at 22:01
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Tai Chi uses the old taoist method of "turtle-breathing". This breathing method embodies the named qualities. The turtle was considered a sacred animal in ancient China, notably because of its longevity. The taoists thought of the turtle's special slow breathing as its secret to its longevity:

  • fine: don't breathe large amounts of air, breathe like through a straw.
  • long: the stream of air should be continuous over a long time (a specific number of seconds).
  • calm: the state of mind should be calm, so should the breathing
  • slow: the breathing should be slower than "natural" breathing. One wants to slow down the breathing intentionally to get the desired effect and mental state.

I do not read Chinese, so I don't know exactly what the distinction between the four terms are in the Chinese original. As you can see, with the English terms the meaning overlaps, with an understanding of the Chinese terms I could probably give a more precise answer. But you get the idea, we don't need to split hairs to understand the right way to practice!

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This is a corollary answer, as the Dr. Yang and turtle breathing answers are good, but I'd strongly reinforce relaxed. Specifically:

  • the throat should not be constricted

It's good to practice steady airflow during training techniques where the breathing would naturally be disrupted.

(At one point, my teacher, a master of some note, had the student sing a single note during training to convey that the throat remained relaxed. It was a very effective training method.)

Most important thing is to no allow your breathing to make you body unrelaxed during tai chi practice. As you gain proficiency and abdominal strength, you'll have greater and greater control over your breath in practice. Breaking out breathing training from forms in the beginning is also useful for this reason.


It is even said that a high-level tai chi master can do a form in a single breath, one long, relaxed exhalation.


Strategic Application: The advantage to controlling breathing is that one can then conceal their breath patterns from an opponent. If an opponent is breathing heavily, once can time ones attack to the beginning of exhalation, which seems to confer some advantage. Heavy breathing can also indicate diminishing energy reserves, a potential indicator of when to switch from defense to attack against a more powerful opponent.

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This martial art philosophy means Empty your mind and stand with no form or stance. And in that empty place in your imagination make your opponent that wing chun wooden dummy trying to grab you.

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    Are you an AI based chat bot by any chance? :) Jun 20 '19 at 4:57
  • No. I also was starting to think people who were in the comments where bots. Jun 20 '19 at 4:59

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