Chapter 13: Oral Secrets, #4

Fourth Saying: Empty Sensitive Crown Jin (
xu ling ding jin)


This (saying) means the jin at headtop (crown of head) is empty (xu) and sensitive/lively (ling).
This is also called the “yi of suspended headtop”.


 “Suspended crown”: this is like
a person with a queue (braid) tied to a beam above.
The body will also be suspended, hanging above the earth.
In this situation, the body can rotate,
but the head-section cannot bend (bow or look up) and
cannot go side-to-side (left or right).


xu ling ding jin
is just the same as the
yi of suspended headtop (hanging crown).


When practicing the form,
be sure to position the yushen bone erect (vertical).
Then the shen and qi
cannot help but mutually meet at the crown.



This saying is not only difficult to translate meaningfully, but there are multiple versions of the saying, using different characters in various texts. The version CMC uses here unsurprisingly matches that from Yang Chengfu. We usually just leave it untranslated and then discuss the meanings of the characters, since saying something like “Empty Lively Headtop Jin” isn’t really an improvement over xu ling ding jin.

xu is the same word as in “separate empty and full”, meaning empty, insubstantial, receptive, vacuous, unoccupied.

ling appears in multiple tai chi texts. It means lively, sensitive, clever, agile, alert, and flexible. The old character for ling showed a sorcerer praying for rain; the modern character shows a hand warming itself over a fire. ling appears in Li Yiyu’s 5 secret words (shen ling or agile body). ling appears in the yang family 8 secret words in the compound qing ling (轻 灵) which has been explained to us as meaning lightness and changeability in body and mind, qing referencing the body and ling referencing the mind. And ling is in the sword move “alert cat catches the mouse” (ling mao bu shu).

The compound xu ling appears in some neo-Confucian texts (per Louis Swaim), as part of xu ling bu mei meaning “unclouded mind” and in xu ling ming jue, where ming is brightness and jue is consciousness. Swaim quotes Metzger defining xu ling ming jue as “intelligent awareness in its pure, naturally given, cosmically indivisible form, empty of any consciously specific concepts or sensations”.

ding just means top, peak, crown (of head). And jin is our old friend referring to the tai chi internal strength.

Thus, we can translate xu ling ding jin as Empty Sensitive Crown Jin, Receptive and Agile Headtop Jin,  and so forth.

The phrase xu ling ding jin is a quote directly from the Wang Zongyue tai chi classic. In some versions of the classic, the character ling is replaced by a similar character 领, also pronounced ling, which means neck, collar, lead.  This suggests meaning such as Emptiness Leads the Jin to Headtop and Empty Neck, Crown Jin.

yi of suspended headtop”: Ben drops yi from this phrase in his translation: “This is also called suspended headtop”. Wile translates yi as “idea”: “the idea of what is called ‘holding the head as if suspended from above’”. I’ve left yi as a technical term, since I suspect this instruction is pointing to a particular configuration of yi.

“practicing the form”: the interesting word here is 练功 liàngōng -- practicing or training. lianggong  is literally the gong or skill (ala gongfu) of liang or practice. So, this phrase reminds us to develop our gongfu of practice -- this is training.

yushen bone”: The yushen point is the “jade pillow” point on the back of the neck at the base of the skull. Presumably the yushen bone is the bony protrusion on the skull (the occipital bone) just above the jade pillow. The jade pillow is one of the three gates in the spine. These gates are listed as either the ming men (roughly behind the lower dantien), the jiaji (sometimes called the upper mingmen, between the shoulder blades) and the jade pillow, or the sacrum/base-of-spine, jade pillow, and crown of head.

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Translation Copyright (c) 2013 by Lee Fife
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Zheng-zi 13 Chapters, Translation by Lee Fife is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
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