XXIX – “Whoever lays hold of it will lose it”

Whoever takes the empire and wishes to do anything to it I see will have no respite. The empire is a sacred vessel and nothing should be done to it. Whoever does anything to it will ruin it; whoever lays hold of it will lose it.

Hence some things lead and some follow;

Some breathe gently and some hard;

Some are strong and some are weak;

Some destroy and some are destroyed.

Therefore the sage avoids excess, extravagence, and arrogance.


The message becomes more and more clear to me: the sage neither struggles nor conspires to achieve and sustain the power of the state.





XVIII – “The greatest cutting does not sever”

Know the male

But keep to the role of the female

And be a ravine to the empire.

If you are a ravine to the empire,

Then the constant virtue will not desert you

And you will again return to being a babe.

Know the white

But keep to the role of the black

And be a model to the empire.

If you are a model to the empire,

Then the constant virtue will not be wanting

And you will return to the infinite.

Know honour

But keep to the role of the disgraced

And be a valley to the empire,

Then the constant virtue will be sufficient

And you will return to being the uncarved block.

When the uncarved block shatters it becomes vessels. The sage makes use of these and becomes the lord over the officials.

Hence the greatest cutting

Does not sever.

There is gentleness in the role of the female, and depth in the ravine; on the other hand there is the black, the strong, the uncarved block. Make use of officials’ knowledge, not their conspiratorial obsequiousness (disgrace is lack of favour; do not court favour). When you rule, cut, show you can cut, but do not sever.

XXVII – “To value the teacher”

One who excels in travelling leaves no wheel tracks;

One who excels in speech makes no slips;

One who excels in reckoning uses no counting rods;

One who excels in shutting uses no bolts yet what he has shut cannot be opened;

One who excels in tying uses no chords yet what he has tied cannot be undone.

Therefore the sage always excels in saving people, and so abandons no one; always excels in saving things, and abandons nothing.

This is called following one’s discernment.

Hence the good man is the teacher the bad learns from;

And the bad man is the material the good works on.

Not to value the teacher

Nor to love the material

Though it seems clever, betrays great bewilderment.

This is called the essential and the secret.


The one who excels in teaching leaves no trace of himself, because the one taught comes into deepest possession of his own learning; the one taught has become his learning, not merely an imitator or devotee. A student does not learn to write, he becomes a writer: His teacher is a writer who helps others become writers.

And so when I practise the form, I am making it for myself, I am embodying tai chiTai chi is not being given to me, nor am I simply imitating my teacher, as if the task were to be like him or do it like him.

I greatly value my teacher who has helped me become this. And he loved me, the one who was becoming good.

XXVI – “The heavy is the root of the light”

The heavy is the root of the light;

The still is the lord of the restless.

Therefore the gentleman when travelling all day

Never lets the heavy-laden carts out of his sight.

It is only when he is safely behind wall and watchtowers

That he rests peacefully and is above worries.

How, then, should a ruler of ten thousand chariots

Make light of his own person in the eyes of the empire?

If light, then the root is lost;

If restless, then the lord is lost.


Oh to let the heavily-laden carts of my life’s work out of sight! Oh, to be secure within myself… to be safe within my walls and watchtowers, to rest peacefully, to be rooted. In tai chi, I practise this by scanning my movements. I see how a stable, rooted right leg makes for an active, light left leg. When I stand still, I know that I am rooted to the earth, and that I can move on the earth too, when I choose. It is when I practise that I am safely behind walls and watchtowers, and if I don’t, I am lost.




XXV – Man models himself on earth

There is a thing confusedly formed

Born before heaven and earth.

Silent and void

It stands alone and does not change,

Goes round and does not weary.

It is capable of being the mother of the world.

I know not its name

So I style it ‘the way’.

I give it the makeshift name of ‘the great’.

Being great, it is further described as receding,

Receding, it is described as far away,

Being far away, it is described as turning back.

Hence the way is great; heaven is great; earth is great; and the king is also great. Within the realm there are four things that are great, and the king counts as one.

Man models himself on earth,

Earth on heaven,

Heaven on the way

And the way on that which is naturally so.

In the stars man finds gods; in the earth he finds himself. He finds himself in trees, rivers, mountains and seas; in wind but not in the sun, in rain but not lightening. Man is made of earth and not light; man breathes and the stars wink. But the waters can glisten and the mountains can host gods; trees have spirits; men and women smile; and so the earth reaches up to the heavens. The way is nimble like a sparrow.

XIV – “He who tiptoes cannot stand”

He who tiptoes cannot stand; he who strides cannot walk.

He who shows himself is not conspicuous;

He who considers himself right is not illustrious;

He who brags will have no merit;

He who boasts will not endure.

From the point of view of the way these are “excessive food and useless excrescences”. As there are Things that detest them, he who has the way does not abide in them.

To run swiftly it is important to be well-balanced. Each foot should strike the ground evenly, securely, yet fleetingly. You must not strain, but run smoothly; you mustn’t run as you think you should or could, you must run as you can. Then you will run fast.

XXIII – “To use words but rarely”

To use words but rarely

Is to be natural.

Hence a gusty wind cannot last all morning, and a sudden downpour cannot last all day. Who is it that produces these? Heaven and earth. If even heaven and earth cannot go on forever, much less can man. That is why one follows the way.

A man of the way conforms to the way; a man of virtue conform to virtue; a man of loss* conforms to loss. He who conforms to the way is gladly accepted by the way; he who conforms to the virtue is gladly accepted by the virtue; he who conforms to loss is gladly accepted by loss.

Where there is not enough faith, there is lack of good faith.

(*or, heaven?)


Some words are sunset

Throwing shadows across the close of day;

The sun descends softly below the horizon.


Some words are sunrise

A child peers hopefully over the garden wall

His gaze drawing earth’s shadows inwards.


Some words are downpour

Floods course through the city’s streets

Strangers are clustered in dripping shelters.


Some words are cold winds

Who forbid flippant platitudes or cheer

Who push, slam doors and curse.


Long spring or summer’s days’ words

Words which follow the way gladly

Are sung by birds and distant callings.