Principles And Practices In Taijiquan
By Peter Lim Tian Tek

Taijiquan is both a martial art and a health art. Its correct practice brings benefits in both areas. To practice correctly, a proper understanding of the theories behind the practice is required. Here is a short discussion on some of the more important ones pertaining to both health and combat.


Loose, No Tension (Sung)

Relax and loosen all the joints and sink them so that they are flexible, connected and are able to integrate into proper structure. Proper structure is held with the minimum of muscular exertion with gravity providing the downward stacking providing power from the root into ground. Proper relaxation of the musculature provides more efficient use of it resulting in a pliable strength rather than tensed strength.

I prefer translation 'no tension' than the word relaxation which can imply limpness. Why is there a need to sung? Very simply because if you don't the muscles are not able to work efficiently. Tensed muscles occur when the antagonistic muscle groups have in some way impeded the motion of each other, as such tension is the retained energy (inefficiency) of the move. This results in reduced mobility, promotes fatigue and reduced power. Jing travels through a strike much like a wave or pulse with relaxed musculature conducting it with no retained tension, much like a whip which has no tension but is able to deliver a telling strike.

Stability By Sinking (Wen, Chen)

Stability is a result of coordinated body structure in relation to the downward pull of gravity resulting in a net force against the earth from both body weight and downward projection of mass through a singular point identified as the root. Lowering the centre of gravity is essential to stability, we should lower it to the centre of the sphere of influence of our physical body.

Agility (Ling)

Agility is a result of non-double weighting and non-dead rooting. By only maintaining one point of substantial contact with the ground you gain the ability to move quickly, much like a ball which moves easily across the ground because it only has one point of contact with it.

The key is the word "centre". We should avoid "dead rooting". The idea is to lower your centre of gravity to your proper centre which is at the Tan Tien, there it should have a net downward force but is "hung" from the torso in the correct location. This would give you a centred but light feeling. If you are trying to get your centre to the oot of your feet, that is not centredness. Ask yourself where the centre of your body should be and there is where the mass of the centre should be. Some information on the external and internal methodologies adopted to train this. The external way of training is to force the centre down as far as it can go and then slowly the reaction force from the ground would build up the musculature to support the downward force back up to where it should be centred. The internal method would be to centre the centre of gravity first, get a proper structure to support it and when that is done then slowly lower the stance through time to foster proper development without sacrificing efficient structure and alignment.

Sensitivity (Ming Gan)

One of the keys in TCC combat, trained by bringing the mind (Yi) along each point of the motion and each point on the body. Use the concious mind to bring the focus but train the subconcious to respond and become more aware. We need Senstivity to detect where the centre is and where there are flaws in the structure that can be exploited., also to detect where his energy is and its movement.

Yuan (Roundness)

The roundness of the structure denotes a smooth connection and efficient transfer of force and energy. Hence in your postures, seek roundness. Roundnessalso helps in the dissipation of incoming energy like an egg or a sphere.

Not Losing Contact, Not Resisting (Bu Tiu Bu Ting)

This means literally "not losing contact, not resisting" and is perhaps one of the most descriptive terms of Taiji combat. Peng and its characteristics is what enables this to occur. Peng is expansive in nature, it has the qualities of sticking and bouyancy and stability. If your opponent retreats, it follows, if he advances its sticks and redirects.

In cultivating this principle, we need to understand that sticking is necessary in order to "listen" to your opponent's strength and understand it in order to counter it by turning it against himself. It makes it possible for you to detect gaps and flaws in his structure and balance and turn them to your advantage. At the same time the bouyant quality makes it hard for your opponent to detect your centre.


Breathing initially should be natural and into the abdomen but as you learn how to "swim in air" and air attains a heavy quality not unlike water, you will find that it takes relaxed "effort" to generate the movement. As a result of this the breathing pattern will naturally change to your abdomen expanding when you push out, much like the way it does when you are pushing a car. This is the point where reverse breathing becomes natural. It should be a natural transition and should not be forced. Practicing reverse breathing by itself to isolate the tan tien and its movements in qigong should also not be forced. (Reverse breathing is to pull in the abdomen on inhaling and extend it on exhaling)


The Three Heights And Four Frames (San Pan Si Jia)

The three heights and four frames. The three heights are high, middle and low, the four frames are slow, fast, large, small. These denote the different ways of doing the form, each for a specific purpose.

The Three Heights

This is the normal way we practice with the knees bent and the body lowered. Here is where we learn the movements, their coordination, transition and focus.

At this level, our thighs should be at least parallel to the ground. It gets to this level progressively from the middle frame. It adds to the difficulty of the form and aids in further development in regards to endurance, body connection and coordination, stability and strength.

At this level, we refine the connection and coordinations so that the techniques can be effected with minimal movement.

The Four Frames

This is where we learn the coordination and transitions, focus and putting the many factors that make good boxing together.

This facilitates stretching and developing resiliancy, good circulation and proper muscular development through large movements. It also allows the movement in the technique to be savoured and fully understood. It is usually done slowly as well.

This is where the techniques are executed quickly but without loosing the qualities obtained by training it slow and large.

This is to refine the techniques to their essentials so that they can be effected with minimum effort and movement.

Normally in training, after the learning the set in the middle height and slow frame, we go on to fast at a slightly lower height whilst retaining the same relaxedness, sinking and connection as the before. Then we go to low height at a lower speed with a large movements. And finally to a high height with small movements. This was the way Yang Pan Hou trained his students.

Form And Training

The form teaches us the content of the art, allows us to know ourselves and how we function. Tui Shou and other two man exercises expand on this knowledge and teach us also how to know others. In knowing ourselves and knowing others we can conquer them a hundred times out of a hundred. The form teaches us how our body can function efficiently and how it moves, what makes it live and and what makes it effective. We learn here how to experience and control what we loosely refer to as "energy", "vitality principle", "vector energy", "jing" or "qi". The form is a means to experience, cultivate and learn how to effectively use this energy.

This energy is manifested through opening and closing and has its origins in breath. This energy movement denotes the internal form (nei xing) and the physical movement denotes the external form (wai xing). In the beginning the internal form comes from and is molded by the external form but later the external form follows the dictates of the internal form. In the beginning the mind directs the movements and is distinct from it, later the mind and the movement are one. The mind and body, internally and externally, fused to become one entity, one reality. This is necessary for quick reactions and for the body and mind to act together to make the most of the situation. This mind-body coordination and synthesis should become instinctive.

As one becomes more dependent on the internal form, or flow of eergy, the external form becomes less focused upon as the energy is manifested through it and it acts in accord. Till both internal and external fuse and become one with the internal form determining the external form and one reaches the level where mind and energy are the only considerations. Here is where the mind-energy being one acts as the mind dictates and the body acts as the energy that powers it dictates. Ego has no place, nor thoughts as one reacts accordingly, to the principles of the energy, to blend, nullify and balance (read direct back to origin) with the incoming flow of energy from your opponent's attack. The physical weapon is driven by the force within it, the force is an energy that is distinct from the weapon, it is upon this that we act. This is internal boxing and its internal strategies in combat.

Push Hands (Tui Shou) and Sparring Hands (San Shou)

In Taijiquan, Tui Shou is a practice to achieve several major goals:

(1) Develop sensitivity to your opponent's motion and its origin

(2) Develop the abilty to effortlessly redirect your opponent's motion by detecting and utilising the weak vector of his motion

(3) Apply and practice a flexible rooting with fixed and moving steps whilst responding to your opponent's strength and motion.

Tui shou was also called Rou Shou (soft hands) to emphasize non-resistance. It is not a combat practice. San shou which is the application of the sensitivity and effortlessness developed through tui shou in a combat situation (blows, kicks, locks, grabs, etc) is the actual combative training in Taijiquan.

Free fighting is free form san shou and is as close as you can get to combat without being actually having someone out to hurt you. The Yang school has an 88 posture (44 per person) fixed form san shou which is akin to fixed form sparring to slowly guide the person into free form fighting or sparring. Ting jing is paramount in Taijiquan as only in being sensitive enough to detect your opponent's motion, its qualities and its origin (this is the most important) that you can control him.

The two man Taijiquan set have specific training methodologies and goals. Fixed steps trains the sensitivity, stability and power within a limited range of motion. Moving steps expands this to a simple back and forth motion with transferance of centre and control of it in motion whilst keeping it from being under control of your opponent. Ta Lu adds the corner movements so that the it the repetoire is not limited to back and forth and teaches that retreat is alsoa form of attack, plus the use of the remaining four fundamental techniques. Free form push hands combines all the elements but still limiting it to basic push hands parameters. The goals:

(1) To acheive sensitivity though contact

(2) To use that sensitivity to find the flaws through "not resisting and not letting go" which should be proactive in that you don"t resist his motion but redirect it using its flaws in a motion that not on neutralises it but in turn is an attack on his centre

(3) To apply the principles cultivated in the form (correct posture, rooting, sensing energy, knowledge of your own centre, etc) in a reactive situation with a partner

(4) To learn the basics of attack and defense through the use and neutralisation of effortless power born of proper rooting, posture and motion.

Attracting to emptiness simply means presenting the opponent a target which is actually a trap to lead him into emptiness (neutralising and causing his force and momentum to act againsthimself), when done properly your opponent's thousand pound force can be deflected and used against himself by the simple application of four ounces on the weakest vector of the incoming force to alter its trajectory back to the origin. One of the keys of Taijiquan is to never use more than four ounces and never receive more than 4 ounces (not exactly four ounces mind you, it simply indicates a light force). Space creation and distruction is necessary knowledge.

Is pushing hands a win or lose competition? No, it isn't. It is a form of training in which both parties benefit. Oft times you will get good teachers who will let one party do the pushing and the other do the countering to teach one to detect the centre and the other to avoid detection and to counter. Winning or losing should not be important at this level of training as the goal is for the partners to train each other in knowing themselves and each other.

Beating Big with Small, Fast with Slow

Beating Big with Small usually means overcoming a big force with a lesser one. This is attained by not directly opposing the big force but redirecting to our advantage by adding a smaller force to change the trajectory of the larger force.

Beating fast with slow means beating a fast opponent with a slower technique. How is this achieved? No matter how fast an attacking limb is, it is always slower than the body behind it or the last joint between it and the body. By affecting the body directly via the centre, by avoiding the fast moving end and attacking the middle or last joint of the limb, we need not move as fast as we would normally need to meet the fast end of the limb and stop it. It is also easier to change its ultimate trajectory by affecting it closer to the trajectory"s origin.

Ultimately by focusing in on the origins of his strength which is his centre and his root, we need not move as fast as his attacking limb since that is not our focus.

Training the Mind's Eye (Perception)

The Mind's Eye is the way we perceive the outside world in relation to ourselves. In Taijiquan we alter the normal perception via the way we practice. In doing the set slowly and with full intent, we become aware of the transition of the movement through time and creates a internal division of time according to the stages of movement. When doing the movement quickly this internal division still applies but because it was previously set at a slower pace, the movement though quick to others still has the same quantity of time internally which allows us to function at speed without losing perception due to it.

Much of how we perceive time, space and movement is determined by how fast that information reaches the seat of our conciousness. If our attention is divided by many internal messages coming in, an external stimulii, even if slow, will appear quick and catch us by surprise. Fear and discomfort are two major causes of such internal 'noise' that clouds our ability to perceive "real time". Hence the requirement for most martial arts to develop a clear mind. By calming ourselves, sinking and relaxing to reduce tension and discomfor, losing our ego to put aside the fear of loss we can see what is coming much more clearly and the quick is no longer that quick because you know where its coming from and going to, and when it will arrive.

Point Focus In Jing Generation

An example of point focus using the An (Push) posture:

Taijiquan technique is manifestation of having qi in your meridians powering the musculature. Qi is what gives the musculature the tenacity or tonus to manifest the technique using the bones as a base (at least according to the chinese). The qi would travel through the meridians originating at Yung Chuan (Bubbling Well, K1, wonder why its called that, now you know) causing the musculature to be "qi-filled" to exhibit tenacity directed to a focal point denoted by mental focus at Lao Gong (Hard Work, P8, now you know why its named like that). Which is why there is the saying that the mind leads the qi. This tenacity is what gives the five bows of the body (i.e. the back which is the main bow, and the four limbs which are the secondary bows) the stored potential energy which can be released or 'shot" into your opponent. The back needs to be loose but straightened to allow the unrestricted use of tenacity from the muscles connected to it and to provide a clear 'signal' with as little peripheral stimulus to the nerves emenating from the spinal cord to the muscles.

The connection path and the manifest energy is referred to as jing (sometimes transliterated as chin). Hence Taijiquan movements are often described as 'propelled'. Qi is present in the body all the time but it is its specific gathering, focus and transmission that makes it relevant in terms of martial arts.

All comments are most welcome.

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