Relax and let go

Mr Moy, like many Tai ji teachers, told his students to relax. What he actually said was fang sōng放 松.

Perfectly relaxed: a pine tree.

Sōng is an essential quality for tai chi practitioners. It means loose, but the character also means a pine tree. You can see the pictographic representation of a tree in the left hand half of the character, with branches hanging down from the trunk – this is more clear in an older version of the character which has more branches. The branches hang loosely, but the tree retains its structure – something that is no longer implied by the word “relax” in English, which today could easily refer to someone collapsed on their sofa, with no structure.

Fang means release. Fang sōng thus means something like “let go of all excess tension”.

Towards the end of his life, Mr Moy started telling his students, in English, to let go, a translation of fang sōng which avoids the ambiguity of the word relax. I like to think of it as: relax and let go.