Tai Chi | Tai Chi Basics

Movements are connected and practiced in one slow continuous set without stopping. Emphasis is placed on proper body alignment, correct comfortable foot placement, deep abdominal breathing with soft relaxed movements.


Head top suspended: Your head should feel like it is being suspended by a string, completely relaxed over the center of your shoulders.  Allow the neck muscles to relax without letting the head lean to either side, or fall forward or backward. Listen behind, we tend to project to much to the front.  The head should therefore be in a natural erect upright position. This is important since the head, torso and spine configure a unit. Consequently, the position of the head influences the posture of the body.  The head where possible always remains square to the shoulders and never turns alone.

Place the tip of the tongue on the top of the mouth: The tip of the tongue must curve up onto the upper palate of the mouth and lightly touch a point directly behind your upper front teeth.

Sink the chi:  Allow the energy to sink without bending the knees.  Surrender the energy into your legs.  Imagine the flesh sinking while the skeleton remains in position.  Begin each move by allowing the release of energy, surrendering the energy through the body.

Relax the chest: A relaxed chest is slightly sunken. Avoid pushing your chest out for this position will cause your upper body to be heavy and your lower body to be light.

Open the kua: Relax the hip-crease.  Allow the hips to open, keeping the knees aligned with the direction of the foot placement.  The hips should always move as a natural consequence of actions initiated in the legs.

Round the shoulders: The shoulders should be relaxed and slightly rounded. Since all your joints are part of one another, having a relaxed shoulder means to have a relaxed elbow. Shoulders, arms, and hands should all move in unison. If you push your hands too far forward your arms will be stretched. This makes it impossible for your shoulders and elbows to hang down, therefore going against the least resistance to the pull of gravity. The shoulders should never be forced backwards during any technique.

Allow the pelvis to turn slightly upward: This adjusts the angle of the pelvic girdle and creates a vertical posture allowing for an equal distribution of weight on the lower back. The spine is coaxed into an optimum vertical position. Tension and stiffness are then relieved in individual vertebrae.

Quiet the mind:  Allow your mind to be free from distractions. Chi follows the mind so that wherever you put your attention, chi accumulates. This is the reason that mental self-discipline is so important. Ultimately, everything depends on your will or mind, and not on the external appearance of the movements.

Fair maiden hands:  The hands must follow a natural curve and should neither be fully limp (relaxed) nor fully stretched (tensed). This requires a slight straightening of the fingers thus creating a modest stretching of the palm. Move the hands as if pulling a silken thread; any sudden jerks will break the silk. Feel the chi in your hands, particularly the palms.

Hip-tracking: The hip-track is the simple path that relaxed hips naturally travel through when weight is shifted from one leg to another in Tai Chi practice. Moving through the hip-track ensures rootedness as it ensures alignment between the thighs and the base in the feet and effortlessly prevents the torqueing and twisting in the knees and ankles.

Be mindful of the knees:  The knees should never extend over the center of the shoe.  The knees should always point towards the toes and remain slightly flexed -never locked straight.  Bent knees provide springiness to your legs. Strength and flexibility of the sinews of the knees determine to a great extent the strength and effectiveness of the whole body.

Develop your root:  This requires proper foot, knee, and hip alignments. Search for the feeling of having your leg planted six inches below the floor.

Tai Chi movement:  Each movement must be light, nimble and continuous. In all movements the inner strength is rooted in the feet, developed in the legs, controlled by the waist, and expressed through the limbs. The two complementary factors, emptiness and solidness, must be distinctly differentiated throughout every movement.

Stay inside your box:  Don’t overextend your limbs.  Be moderate and avoid all extremes. Do not overreach or overstretch.

Try to maintain a consistent flow:  Always maintain an even flowing motion from start to finish.  Don’t rush the transitions.  Continually shift your body weight and position. Avoid double movements. Chi is blocked when the flow is impeded or a pause occurs within the sequences.

Move with intent:  Feel the contact with your opponents as you move through the form. Martial intent leads the chi and opens the meridians.

Tai Chi stepping: When moving forward touch the heel down first, when moving backward touch the toe down first. Gradually shift your body weight into the foot, letting the rest of the sole proceed into place. Your body weight should be shifted from one foot to the other as if pouring chi from one leg to the other.  Always maintain some stickiness to the floor with each foot.

Loosen waist:  The waist must be flexible as it controls your energy in both offence and defense. The waist acts like a steering wheel, giving direction to all movements, i.e. intrinsic energy is the rim of a wheel; the waist is the hub of the wheel. The order for movement is issued from the waist.

13 Energies

These eight gates and five directions make up the energetic and conceptual core of tai chi chuan training.

Ward Off (Peng): Peng Ching (Jing) is outward expanding and moving energy.  Peng is often referred to as a kind of “bouncing” energy.  Example: Grasping the Sparrow’s Tail – Ward Off

Roll Back (Lu): Lu Ching is receiving and collecting energy, or inward receiving energy.  Li is the use of force in a sideways direction, such as where we intercept and move with a forward directed attack, simultaneously diverting it slightly to one side and thus to the void.   The greater the force of his attack, the greater the resulting loss of balance on the part of our opponent.  Example: Grasping the Sparrow’s Tail – Rollback

Press (Ji/Chi): Chi or Ji Ching is pressing and receiving energy.  This is an offensive force delivered by following the opponent’s energy, by squeezing of sticking forward.  Example: Grasping the Sparrow’s Tail – Press

Push (An): An Ching is downward pushing energy. Pushing power comes from the legs pushing into the earth.  Pushing or pressing with both palms in a downward direction, peng energy directed downward.  When applied it is like flowing water.  Examples: Grasping the Sparrow’s Tail – Push, Fair Maiden Works Shuttles

Pluck/Pull Down (Tsai): Tsai Ching is grabbing energy.  A force delivered by a quick grab and pull, usually of an opponent’s wrist, both backward and down.  Sometimes called ‘inch energy’.  Like picking fruit off a tree with a snap of the wrist.  Example: Needle at Sea Bottom

Split (Lieh): Lieh Ching is striking energy that splits apart an opponent.  Examples: Parting the Wild Horse’s Mane, Slanting Flight, Stork Spreads Wings

Elbow Strike (Zhou):  Chou Ching is elbow striking energy.  Example: The Big Overhand

Shoulder Strike (Kao): Kao Ching is a full body striking energy.  The peng energy is mobilized throughout the entire body, and then the entire body is used as one unit and the force is delivered with the shoulder or back.  Example: Shoulder Strike

Advancing Steps (Jin): Example: Brush Knee and Twist Step

Retreating steps (Tui): Example: Step Back like a Monkey

Stepping to the Left Side After Faking Right (Ku):  Examples: Part the Wild Horse’s Mane, Clouds Hands, Punch Tiger, Deflect Parry and Punch, Single Whip

Stepping to the Right Side after Faking Left (Pan):  Examples: Part the Wild Horse’s Mane, Punch Tiger, Brush Knee and Twist Step, Slanting Flight

Central equilibrium (Ding): Examples: Wuji Stance, Golden Cock Stands on one Leg, Needle at Sea Bottom, Fair Lady Works the Shuttles


Dantian (elixir field, there are three dantians: lower, middle and upper)
Qi (vital energy)
Song (a specific way to relax)
Wuji  (no extremes, before yin and yang)
Tao  (The “way” of the universe)
Mingmen (life gate, a major energy gate located in the small of the back between the kidneys)
Laogong (labor palace, the point at the center of the palm of the hand)
Yongquan (bubbling well, the point at the centre of the sole of the foot)
Yin and Yang (opposites,  complementary elements in the tai chi philosophy)