Tai-Chi, Pal-Gwe & Dao In Tae Kwon Do #4


James A. Noel, PhD

     The yin/yang symbol represents the synchronization of the concept of Tai Chi with the I Chin's (Book of Changes) eight trigrams. All Chinese martial arts-Shoaling, Hsing-I, Pa-Kua, and Tai Chi Chuan-are based on the unity of opposites this diagram symbolizes. Pa-Kua literally means eight gua. Pal-Gwe and Tae Guk [1] are, respectively, the Korean Tae Kwon Do equivalent to the concepts of Pa-Gua and Tai Chi. [2] Master Richard Ch unacknowledged Tae Kwon Do's dependence on Chinese sources for its Pal­gwe and Tae-guk concepts. He wrote: "For the practitioner of Tae Kwon Do, the phenomena of the Universe are explained by the ancient philosophy of Um (Yin) and Yang, as described in the Joo-Yeok, the Book of Chanes. In this ancient Oriental work, the Palgwe symbolizes the phenomena of man and the universe ...it symbolizes the eternal duality of all that exists" (Advancing in Tae Kwon Do).

     The basic notion communicated in the Tai Chi diagram is that the cosmos is comprised of two energies or of types of material force (chi)-Yin and Yang-- existing in dialectical tension. Before creation these forces were non-existent or non-manifest. This was the state of wuchi. At creation, the dualities of being and non-being, light and dark, positive and negative, etc., appeared. There is a unity of opposites. The interplay of these opposing energies is present in all existent matter including individual persons who are microcosms of the macrocosm. The martial artist can maximize his power by understanding and manipulating these energies. The techniques used in chi manipulation involve the coordination of visualization, respiration, stationary bodily stances, and rhythmical muscular movements. Chinese Taoists pioneered many of these esoteric techniques. Taoists sought to become one with the eternal Tao and, also, to prolong human life through chi enhancement. Chinese Buddhists-particularly, those who practiced the C'han version of Bodidhrama-also developed exercises designed to enhance chi. However, connecting breathing exercises designed to increase chi and martial arts routines with the Tai Chi diagram was not possible until the advent of Neo-Confucianism.

     The Neo-Confucian movement began in the Sung dynasty (960-1279). Chou Tun-I or Chou Lien-his (1017-1073) is considered the founder of Neo­Confucianism. Among his works was the T'ai-chi Vu shuo (An Explanation of the Diagram of the Great Ultimate). For Chou Lien-hsi the Wu-chi and Tai-chi were identical. The movement of the Tai-chi generated yin and yang. These, in turn, generated the five agents (wu-hsing): metal, wood, water, fire, and earth. The five agents, in turn, produced other things including humanity. Humanity is endowed with five moral principles: humanity, righteousness, propriety, wisdom, and faithfulness. Shao Yung (1011-1077) combined the I Chin's cosmology to a numerology system. According to Shao spirit produces number; number produces form; form produces concrete objects. The number four was the basis for classifying phenomena. The number four expanded to the number 64, the number of hexagrams in the I Ching.

     The I-Ching which was written around 800 BC and redacted numerous times up to 200 AD. The book evolved from ancient Chinese divination practices that used stalks of yarrow grass-some were long and some were short. The possible arrangements of yarrow grass later became symbolized as straight and broken lines. The two primary energies of yin symbolized as a broken line ( - - ) and yang symbolized as a straight line generate four primary symbols. The four primary symbols represent the interactions of yang & yang, yin & yang, yang & yin, yin & yin. These four primary energies are respectively called: Greater Yang (two solid lines); Lesser Yin (broken line over solid line); Lesser Yang (solid line over broken line); and Greater Yin two broken lines). These four primary energies continue to interact to produce the eight primary gua. Yang & Greater Yang (three solid lines) is Heaven. Yin & Greater Yang (broken line over two solid lines) is Lake. Yang & Lesser Yin (solid line, broken line, solid line) is Fire. Yin & Lesser Yin (two broken lines, solid line) is Thunder. Yang & Lesser Yang two solid lines, broken line) is Wind. Yin & Lesser Yang (broken, solid, broken line) is Water. Yang & Greater Yin (solid line, two broken lines) is Mountain. Yin & Greater Yin (three broken lines) is Earth. Fu Xi is generally credited with the discovery that the trigrams could be circularly arranged. [3] Pa-Kua could not have been invented before this development. Pa-Kua and Pal-Gwe, thus, are means for contemplating and realizing the I Ching's philosophical principles or gua. The martial artists develop a profound understanding of intrinsic and extrinsic chi by constant practice and visualization/meditation on the gua. "As the Tae Kwon Do practitioner executes the Palgwe forms, he must bear in mind the reciprocal commands they represent ...Palgwe, in its most profound and philosophical sense, symbolically expresses all the phenomena of man (sic) and the Universe. It is the most basic philosophical principle contained in the ancient Book of Changes" (Richard Chung, Advancing in Tae Kwon Do).

     Unfortunately, most Tae Kwon Do practitioners are only conscious of one type of chi-- Greater Yang energy (Heaven) called Qian. This is active, forceful, initiating energy. Lesser Yin energy (Earth), called Kun, is passive and receptive and just as important and Qian. Kun brings to completion what Qian initiates. The attributes of the other guas or gwes are also essential to one's martial arts practice and spiritual development. These energies are spiritual, mental and physical.

     The Tai Chi diagram is an aid to the martial artist's visualization. Through it the martial artists is able to visualize his/her location in the cosmos and the relationship between the energies/principles constituting his existence and those of the cosmos. The literal translation of one of China's oldest martial arts styles, Hsing-I, means form (hsing) and idea (I) or mind. Form (Hsing) is the outer appearance and idea (I) is the inner meaning. Form is the body and idea is the mind. Thus, some translate Hsing-I as mind-body boxing. An ancient Korean martial arts manual states that "there are five hang (forms) plus eight Koe. Eight koe means eight directions and five ha­ng means gold, wood, water, fire, and earth. Five hang are divided into internal and external segments" Hsing-I transposed the five elements [4] on to the five points of the compass. Earth was the middle point; water was North; Fire was South; Wood was east; and Metal was West. The Hsing-I practitioner was thus able to re-enact the cycle of creation and destruction in the cosmos while performing his from. Each form corresponded with an element. Metal creates water, water creates wood, wood creates fire, fire creates earth, and earth creates metal. Metal destroys wood, water destroys fire, wood destroys earth, fire destroys wood, and earth destroys water.

     The practice of Hsing-I entails the perception of the idea in the form and the manifestation of idea in form. Taoists developed Hsing-I. The Taoist took their clues as to how to live in the world from nature. Many of the Taoist's self defense techniques were derived from their observation of animals. The principle (I) behind the animal movements was imitated and incorporated into forms (hsing). Here chi (energy or life-force) comes into play and with it the distinction between hsing and i. According to one contemporary Chinese Hsing-I master: "When you correctly cultivate your chi, you gain the ability to visualize the position of chi as it flows through the body. [5] Hsing (form, shape) manifests itself outside the body, while chi exists only within the body." Universal chi is Yin according to the I-Ching; the expression or manifestation of this energy is yang. There are eight phases from extreme yin energy down through extreme yang energy and back to extreme yin energy. These distinctions, however, are still incomplete because chi and virtue were not identical in early Neo-Confucian thought. Chu His (1130-1200) elaborated on the distinction the Ch'eng brothers made between principle and material force. According to him "in the universe there has never been a material force without principle or principle without material force." Principle is "what exists above form." Chu His's version of Confucianism was accepted in Korea. In Korea, Confucian scholars such as Pak Young (1471-1540), So Kyongdok (1489-1546), Yi Onjok (1491-1553), and Yi Hwang (1501-1570) or T'oegye (pen name) tried to explain the relationship between principle and material force. The Korean debate centered around the four beginnings and the seven emotions. Mencius mentions four moral qualities that give rise to humanities original goodness. The seven emotions are human feelings. The debate was how these related to principle and material force and they could explain the origin of evil.

We can see from these debates that Neo-Confucianism in Korea did not regard the augmentation of chi as sufficient for generating virtue. Chi or material force had to be endowed with the proper principle.

     Chi, as pointed out earlier, was understood to be the material force constituting the cosmos. Without the non-material principle, however, there would be no cosmos (order) but only chaos. The Neo-Confucians of Korea's Yi dynasty (1392-1910) posited "a holistic vision of the moral universe in which a unifying moral principle operated in the phenomenal as well as the nonphenomenal world, particularly in the human world. Society should try to conform to this moral order and an individual should try to live in accordance with its principles." For T'oegye (1501-1570) principle (tao) was distinct and prior to material force or nature (hsing). Principle was eternal; nature was changing. Material force brings about the individuation of things in the cosmos. This helped T"egye explain evil. Humanity was originally good-in principle. The human mind is born with an innate knowledge of moral principle. Selfishness and cravings, however, obscure this innate knowledge. T'oegye made a distinction between taosim (Chinese, tao-hsing, "moral mind") and insim (Chinese, jen-hsin, "human mind"). This is remarkably similar to the Pauline distinction between spirit and flesh. The Four Beginnings issued from principle. The Seven Emotions issued from material force. Moral development was necessary to maximize the operation of the moral mind in the individual. According to T'oegye, "Good occurs if principle manifests itself and material force follows, while evil occurs if material force veils principle and principle recedes." In terms of New Testament studies, this is very similar to the kind of dualism found in John's Gospel.

     Feng Zhiqiang, the renown Chen style Tai Chi master, said: "Without de (morality), people use the art to do bad things ...I think my Taiji practice makes my dao higer than the average person. If your de is not good, your art and technique cannot possibly reach a high level ...we have to improve our de when we pursue the art. You can talk about dao after you improve your de and master the art. This dao is no evil dao. It is the big Dao of yin and yang ...it is the goal of our xiulian (practice)."


[1]Tai Chi means the Grand Ultimate. Tae Geuk is the Korean equivalent to this concept. "Tae means bigness; geuk means eternity. Thus, Taegeuk has no form, no beginning, and no end. It is the eternal infinity whose vastness contains the essence of everything, and from which everything in the Universe originates."

[2] An important branch of Pa-Kua was brought to and developed in Korea through the teaching of master Lu Shui-Tian (1894-1978).

[3] "The text of the I ching does not mention the five Elements. The system of the five elements was originated and developed in a culture other than the culture represented by FuXi, King Wen, and Cinfucius. It is said that the Five Elements were developed much earlier than the I Ching...

[4] The concept of the Five Elements was popular during the period of the Warring States (475-221 B.C.). At the very beginning, its principle was simple and plain. Before the Han dynasty (206 B.C.-A.D. 220) the I Ching had no connection with thw system of the Five Elements. It was in the Han Dynasty that scholars of the symbol and Number School began to integrate the Eight Primary Gua with yin and yang, five elements, eight directions, four seasons, the days of the month, pats of the body, and applied them to medicine, the calendar, astrology, and astronomy" (Master Alfred Huang, The Numerology of of the I Ching. A Sourcebook of Symbols, Structures, and Tradional Wisdom).

[5] One very effective exercise utilized in Tai Chi for chi development is to trace the form of the Tai Chi diagram with the index finger of the front hand while standing in the fighting stance position. Pa-Kua practitioners utilize the diagram more self-consciously than any other martial arts style.