The images above are old maps of Acupunture channels, also known as meridians. These images are in the Illustraded Cannon of Chen Family Taijiquan (Tai Chi), the manual used by the Chen clan to study the theory writen and passed down by their ancestors. What are Acupuncture maps doing in a martial arts manual?
Yin-Yang in the body
Taijiquan (Tai Chi) was created in 1644. By that time, Acupuncture had been around for at least three thousand years, and the first classic on Chinese Medicine had been writen for two thousand years. Knowledge about how Ying and Yang are reflected on the body, and how this determines its workings, was solidly established. Someone that devotes his life to the study of the body – like Chen Wangting – would know far more than the average person, just like a Physical Therapist tpday knows far more about joints and muscles than the average patient.
How does Acupunture see the body, then? The upper part is Yang, the lower part is Yin. The back is Yang, the front of the body is Yin. The outside and the extremities are Yang, the inside and the center is Yin. So the hands and feet are Yang in relation to the hips and belly. The arms are Yang and the legs are Yin. The skin is Yang and the bones are Yin.
If you look at a Taijiquan (Tai Chi) master demonstrating, with some practice you will be able to see that his body perfectly complies with these norms.
Good transmission of power is dependent on good alignment and precise movement of the joints. Grandmaster Chen Xiaowang loves to use car analogies, he would say: if the gears and shafts are misaligned, only a fraction of the engine power will be delivered at the weels. Increasing engine power will help, but the gears will also suffer more wear. It is also neccessary to care for the gears and shaft alignment.
In our culture, we apply this idea to the human body only to a certain extent only. One would say: the hips shouldn’t be tilted forward (anteriorly) or backwards (posteriorly), the hips should be in a neutral position. But exactly where is neutral? We don’t have a complete system that describes the alignment of the whole body at the same time, and we don’t have a movement system designed to teach the body how to move while keeping all the alignments. Even the most advanced systems, like Anatomy Trains, postulate that the arms only link to the body in certain positions.
Enter Taijiquan (Tai Chi) and Acupuncture channels. The Channel Theory in Acupuncture states that the body is irrigated by energy carried by 12 main channels, mirrored on both sides of the body, and two extraordinary central channels, one on the front and one on the back of the trunk. These are the main channels, which are directly linked to the organs and viscera. There’s also a huge network of secondary channels, among which our main interest is on the muscle-tendon channels. These are basically the pathways of the muscles surrounding and along the main channels.
In Taijiquan (Tai Chi) the body should be aligned according to the channels. It takes an enormous precision of posture corrections and individual training to teach your body how do this.
The perfect way to state this would be: there is an optimal alignment of the body which is the reason why the Acupunture channels have their paths as we know them.
The logic result is that when the body is positioned according to this natural alignment, the transmission of energy and power is optimal.
Three External Harmonies
In Taijiquan (Tai Chi), the body is described as being linked in six ways, threee of which related to specific joints. These are the Waisanhe, or Three External Harmonies: shoulders and hips are connected, elbows and knees are connected, and hands and feet are connected.
In Acupuncture theory, it is said that the better doctor treats disease distally. A good Acupuncturst will not needle the knee if the patient has knee pain, he will (in most cases) needle the appropriate points on related channels in the elbow. The patient has no knowledge about Waisanhe, but gets better anyway, because the links are natural to the body. What we do in Taijiquan (Tai Chi) is learn how to stand and move according to them.