Tai Chi Theory

Beijing 24 form was the result of an effort by the Chinese Sports Committee, which, in 1956, brought together four Taiji teachers – Chu GuitingCai LongyunFu Zhongwen, and Zhang Yu – to create a simplified form of Taiji as exercise for the masses. The creators truncated the traditional family style Taiji forms to 24 postures; taking about six minutes to perform and to give the beginner an introduction to the essential elements of Taijiquan, yet retain the traditional flavor of traditional longer hand forms


Yang Cheng Fu, grandson of Yang Lu Chan the creator of Yang Style Taiji, left ten instructional insights to correct training. The newsletter will carry an introduction to these one at a time so they can be studied and relished.

NUMBER 1 The head should be upright so the Spirit (Shen) can reach the crown.

To do this employ the mind (Yi), don’t use strength (Li) and thereby stiffen the neck. The stiffening of the neck restricts both the circulation of the blood and the energy (Qi) to the crown (Baihui).

The feeling should be light, lively and natural, with the spine relaxed, allowing the spirit to rise.

NUMBER 2 Sink the chest and draw up the back.

The chest should be relaxed naturally so that the Qi can sink to the centre of gravity (Dan Tien). Do not protrude the chest as required in a military posture. Do not collapse the chest either, the emphasis should be on the natural. If the energy (Qi) rises to the chest the feet will not be rooted. Sinking the Qi to Dan Tien allows the back to effectively rise up.

NUMBER 3 Sung (relax) the waist.

The third instruction clearly follows the second. If the upper body (sink the chest) is relaxed (fang sung), the Qi can more readily sink to the Dan Tien, the gravity can then be transferred to the legs bringing stability to the lower limbs. This facilitates energy rising from the ground and being controlled through a softened waist and relaxed upper body.

NUMBER 4 Distinguish between Substantial and Insubstantial.

If we are able to clearly distinguish between empty and full (in the legs) a 180 degree turn becomes easily negotiable. The word “Xu” (empty or vacuous) is the key if the entire body weight is placed over the left leg then it is said to be substantial, leaving the right leg empty (Xu). Turning motions will become light and agile. If the weighting is not clear, turning and stepping will become awkward and heavy. Substantial and Insubstantial, Empty and Full, are analogous for “Yin and Yang”. Although the majority of commentary discuss these points with regard to the legs and progressive stepping, substantial and insubstantial can also refer to the ebb and flow of the torso and upper limbs.

NUMBER 5 Sink the Shoulders and Elbows.

To lower the elbows will naturally draw the shoulders down so one really implies the other. With the shoulders lifted one cannot lower the diaphragm and therefore bring the energy to the Dan Tien. With either elbows or shoulders lifted it is impossible to relax the upper body so one of the prime rules of Taiji is violated. With the elbows and shoulders raised it will be difficult to bring the Qi to the hands and fingers and execute the method of Fajin. (Master Chu King Hung said with the upper limbs elevated the Qi escapes from the elbow or flies from the shoulder).

NUMBER 6 Use the mind and not force

The Taiji Classics and all ancient and modern commentaries emphasise he need to cultivate the use of the mind and resist the use of brute strength.

Chen Wei-Ming has recorded: “All of this means use i (mind) and not li (force). The whole body must relax, not one ounce of force should remain in the bones, ligaments, tendons or blood vessels. Then you will be agile and able to move freely and turn easily. If you doubt the non use of strength how can you increase power?”

He goes on to say that if the whole body has hard force (not relaxed) the meridians are choked up and the flow of the blood and Qi is checked. Alternatively if the meridians are not obstructed by hard force the Qi can flow freely.

If you use i (mind), not li (strength), hard force can be replaced by a power that is issued from a state of deep relaxation. This implies that relaxed power directed by the mind allows the Qi to follow the i. The Taiji Classics says: “When you are extremely soft, then you are able to become extremely strong and hard”.

If we practice in this way every day after a long time we can obtain real internal force (Nei Chin).

“Someone who has extremely good Taijiquan skills (Gong-Fu) has arms like iron wrapped with cotton wool. Without this skill, just pull one hard and the whole body will lose its equilibrium.”

NUMBER 7 Coordination of the upper and lower body

The Taijiquan classics tell us that all movement should be initiated from the ground, that is of course through the feet. So the feet are the roots and the motion should be released through the legs and controlled by the waist with the energy finally expressed in the hands and fingers.

When the four component parts (feet, legs, waist, hands) combine to make one harmonious whole. The eyes should follow the action to signal the involvement of the mind.

Comment: The ten pointers for correct practice are usually associated with excellence in form practice, however all can equally be addressed to both application and push hands training. You can refer to the last issue and Yang’s important point number six for more detail in the use of the upper and lower body moving in unity. I feel from my own experience that one training route to this body unification/harmony can be found in the regular practice of the Chen style silk reeling.

NUMBER 8 Coordination of the Internal and External

Perhaps the word unification of the internal and external is more appropriate in this particular instruction. A beginner struggling with the coordination of the trunk, lower and upper limbs and eyes will find it easy to put this instruction on the back burner.

To engage the spirit is a prerequisite in the practice of Taijiquan, so we are advised: “the spirit is the commander and the body its subordinate”. Then one’s movements will be natural and agile. The opening and closing, solidness and emptiness (Yin & Yang) is an essential part of Taiji practice but the experience is difficult to realise.

This reference implies (number 8) that not only the limbs and body experience opening and closing but also the mind/heart (spirit). This instruction may suffer from translation as it is not apparent what advantage there would be to closing the mind. The simplicity of Òwhen you can make the inside and outside become one, then you become completeÓ, has an altruistic appeal.

Perhaps again the ten instructions should be reviewed as a whole. The Taijiquan adage, cotton wool on the outside, steel on the inside (and vice-versa), is a clue to unify the internal and the external.

It’s certain that this unity could not take place without the raising of the spirit (mind/heart). When practising forms our outward appearance should be relaxed and comfortable, internally the heart/mind (spirit) should be focussed and sharp.

NUMBER 9 Continuity Joined and Unbroken

This instruction/guideline refers directly to the Chen style principle of Silk Reeling (Chan Ssu Jin). One of the classic principles of Taijiquan is that oneÕs Jin (inner energy flow) is like the movement of a silk thread being drawn from a cocoon. Some commentators say that the drawing of the silk is coordinated with the turning of the cocoon, this implies that the turn of the centre from the Dantien is a spiral-like trajectory to a point of contact. I have found in my own teaching and training that students who combine some training of the Chen style or the silk reeling exercises grasp this principle sooner rather than later.

The Chinese classics refer to Òa river flowing continuously, never ending to the seaÓ. This reference conveys the clear idea of stringing our Taiji form movements together harmoniously. In the commentaries that I have come across they make reference and comparison to the force of the so-called schools of external martial arts: ÒThe external schools employ brute force which is stiff and unnatural, this force stops and starts and moves in a jerky fashion. In Taijiquan we employ the mind throughout and the movements are continuous without ending.

It is quite easy to see the inference of the internal and external but not so easy to bring the concept to everyday practice. This comparison is more practical in the practice of forms but difficult to conceive in the context of a real fight. This form of training is unique to Taijiquan.

NUMBER 10 Stillness within motion

Commentaries refer almost entirely to the physical side of Taijiquan, however stillness of the mind should also be considered.

The so-called external schools employ exertion of energy (Qi) strength and speed. This form of training leaves their Qi exhausted and they find themselves breathless.
In contrast Taijiquan employs Stillness combined with Movement. Therefore in the practice of Taiji forms we are encouraged to appreciate the concept that the slower the better. When practising slowly the breathing will become slow and deep.

Energy can naturally sink to the Dantien, one avoids an excessive increase in the pulse rate and raising the blood pressure. Students who carefully consider these points will grasp the meaning.

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