T’ai-chi Beauteous Hands (美人手)

Andrew Kok Ken Sen / 2021/05

In his book entitled, ‘T’ai-chi, the “Supreme Ultimate” Exercise for Health, Sport, and Self-defense’, Robert W. Smith, in co-authoring with Cheng Man-Ching to the book, listed “Beauteous hand” as one of the 13 items ‘must do’ in the checklist to start in learning the art of T’ai-chi.

Though it was briefly touched on in the 112 pages book, the beauteous hands, called “mei ren xou” in mandarin, appear clearly in the pictures of 35 of the 37 steps shown. That explains why Smith and Cheng say putting on beauteous hand is a ‘must do’. Unaware by many T’ai-chi beginners, when beauteous hands are formed, lau kung is naturally in place.

In exercising Cheng’s style of T’ai-chi, we move our hands and body and legs in flowing form with the two beauteous hands staying in absolute form. In contrast, a boxer waves his fist enveloped in a glove, when fighting. A taekwondo player spars with his fist clenched. In comparison, a cultural dancer, whether a Thai or a Balinese, displays graceful hand movements with the fingers in form. To a certain extent, in particular, the hands of a ballerina resemble our T’ai-chi beauteous hands. The picture below taken of my grand-daughter, a beginner in ballet dancing, poses a demi -second ballet step showing both hands with the fingers in form.

In executing fa qing or nei gung, the epitome of Cheng’s style of T’ai-chi, the hands may seem to move unilaterally. In reality it is a force garnered within our body moving from the foot centres, yung quan, upwards passing through the torso containing most of our internal organs and then branching outwards through the hands and finally at the beauteous hands through the lau kung the force is delivered to the opponent in 3 tenths of a second. Therefore it is a discipline to be observed by the disciples of Cheng’s art of T’ai-chi: exercising T’ai-chi triggers no hand movement and moving the hands during exercise is no T’ai-chi.

Putting on the beauteous hands in Cheng’s style of T’ai-chi should never be overlooked during exercise. With the beauteous hands in form, a T’ai-chi practitioner can execute, at least, all the 37 steps with minimum effort but in flowing style and achieving maximum effects.

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