In the 1980s I asked Madam Sun Jian-Yun (Sun Lu-T’ang’s daughter) and Wang Xi-Kui (Sun Lu-T’ang’s disciple) many questions over the years. Here are two explanations provided by Madam Sun, and further substantiated by Wang [unfortunately Wang passed away only a couple of years after studying with him]. The explanations below are the initial explanations that were given when entering into neijiaquan practices. Further detailed clarifications were given with each palm or fist set.
Q: Would you explain the true meaning of 三體式(san-t’ishi), according to the explanation of
your father [Sun Lu-T’ang] and his teacher, Master Guo Yun-Shen?
Compiler’s Notation: The Chinese character 體(t’i), according to period dictionaries during the lives of masters
Guo and Sun, means: the whole body; a frame consisting of many parts; substance; essentials; to embody; a solid; a
partition; completeness. The character (體) is composed of two radicals: bone [the human skeleton] and sacrificial
vessel. These meanings will help you to understand Madam Sun’s response. As she had been an art teacher of fine
painting methods, she explained this written character according to its two radical parts, and to the teachings of her
father and Master Guo. Therefore, 三體式 (san-t’ishi) can, in part, be translated as: Three Embodiments Posture;
Three Substances Posture; or Three Essentials Posture. It is safe to say that collectively, these three translations of
三體式 will bring you closer to understanding its inclusive meaning. I have chosen to use ‘embodiment’ as the fore
fronting translation based upon clarifications presented by both Madam Sun and Wang Xi-Kui (Sun Lu-T’ang’s
A: There have been so many general explanations of this meaning, most falling far from its true
explanation and significance. Let me clarify this meaning as I was taught. First, are the san-
wait’i(three external embodiments): one’s head, hands and feet. The tip of the head [one’s
nose], the tips of the lead hand [fingertips], and tips of the lead foot [tips of the toes] must
point toward a central forward position. These are often referred to as san-duanshi(three
sections posture], and are but one part of the Three Embodiments.Second, are the san-neit’i
(three internal embodiments). These are the san tan-t’ien(three pill fields [cauldrons of qi]),
Located in the upper, middle, and lower regions. The outer three are paired with kai (to open
[extend]), while the inner three are paired with he’r(to unite [contract]. Thereby, outer and
inner conjoin to transform within the principle of kai-he’r(open-unite) within the three
neijiaquan arts: taijiquan, baguazhang and xingyquan. We can now form an overall
understanding of 三體(san-t’i). The character三(three) refers to three things: the outer three,
inner three, and the three neijiaquan arts. The character 體refers to the complete interior and
exterior structure of the human body as a vessel [sacrificial vessel], which is the embodiment,
unification and transformation of the 三. Three further represents: Heaven, Man, and Earth.
Q: Your father taught the 十六處練法Shiliu Chu Lian Fa (Sixteen Governing [Distinguishing] Training Methods). Would you explain the meaning of each of the governing skills and how each applies to neijiaquan practice?
1. A be an exact inch, but rather a step that is very, very small, near to that of an inch. My father taught that brutish force stems from large, aggressive stepping that relies upon muscular generation. The smallness of an inch in stepping requires that largeness [force] must come from the many parts of the body conjoining to produce ‘unified force’ that is issued through only a single inch of advancement or retreat. In this manner the other fifteen governing parts [developed skills] merge to become an overwhelming force and are carried by a single inch, thereby totaling the sixteen methods. When we practice taijiquan or any boxing art,the action of cunbu(inch stepping) can be used throughout the form or in specific movements. Such stepping is the governing foundation to practice cunji(inch striking) in which whole body strikes and can hit an adversary with great force from only an inch away. This is the union of the upper [hands] and lower [feet] regions. Both regions reflect and support the other. Fault in one shall result in fault in the other region. This is why I often remind all of you to adhere to the shiliu fa (sixteen methods), as they form the structure for correct inner and outer development and attainment. Do not forget!
Translation note on the character 寸 :Formed of the radicals: hand and one beneath it, to denote the pulse of the wrist, an inch from the hand. The Chinese inch or punto, which is regarded as equal to the middle joint of the finger; it measures one-tenth of a cubit or foot, thereby meaning ‘a very little.’
踐Jian(Trample on or over); from the radicals: foot and in a narrow, small place. 踐Jianrefers to your feet [including the legs] feeling as if they are like that of a wild horse’s hooves and are able to swiftly trample anything in their path. This feeling, as if to restrain a horse about to gallop, is kept abet by the tether of one’s spirit. Jian is the skill of moving with overwhelming force, yet without such force. It is the ability to initiate the impetus of movement within the cocoon of tranquility. This means that jian(trampling) can assume [take] any position that is desired, as nothing can stand against its force. One can step fully, half-step, obliquely step, withdraw or jump, each possess the method of jian. However, within jian it is essential to maintain one’s zhong din (central equilibrium), else improper leaning and loss of balance will cause one to fall, thereby the skill of ‘trampling’ instantly vanishes. Though correct stepping methods forefront jiangong(trampling development) it is zhangshen(long [the entire] body) that must be applied toward skill attainment. Students have further asked if the hands also follow the practice of jianfa(the trampling method)? My father told his students that the hands and feet are like the four hooves of a horse, all are the same; all adhere to 踐.: Yes, I will present the fundamental explanation according to how my father taught this within our family. You must remember that each governing skill must be so very carefully practiced and refined over the years. The mistake that most students make is that they learn of these skills though never pursue the secrets of each. Without unlocking these skills, the essential parts of true development within neijiaquan cannot be attained. The order of these skills is not so important, as some students must begin with the seventh, another with the thirteenth. It is the integration of all parts that is most important and most necessary.
Notation: Madam Sun’s explanations were presented to us while attending classes. However, I felt it important to explain each Chinese written character according to radicals and explanations from Chinese dictionaries that were period to the days of Master Sun Lu-T’ang and his teachers.This approach significantly helped me to understand Madam Sun’s meanings in a more comprehensive manner. In fact, she was impressed by this method that she asked the other members of the class do the same. For me, it was a matter to understand how to correctly practice the 十六處練法Shiliu Chu Lian Fa (Sixteen Governing [Distinguishing] Training Methods), as one misinterpretation, according to Madam Sun, would unravel the thread that binds the sixteen together.
2. 寸Cun (Inch) ~ refers to one’s foot taking a step that is near to that of a single inch. Whether the step is forward, to the rear, or to an angle the entire force of the body must be generated through and into an inch of stepping. This step is referred to as cunbu(inch step).