13 methods

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13 postures?

'13 postures' is a misleading and incorrect translation, perhaps derived from a false yoga parallel. There are no static postures in tai chi.
Chang San-feng said:
Tai chi is like a great river rolling on unceasingly. Despite this, most tai chi people refer to shi san shi as being 13 postures...

The Chinese word 'shi' though commonly translated as 'postures' has the meanings of 'appearance', 'situation', 'patterns'... Therefore, the more accurate translation of 'shi' here should be patterns. Tai chi is constructed from eight fundamental basic strategic moving patterns and five manoeuvring stepping techniques.

(Yang Jwing-Ming)

Shi san shi

Tai chi contains 13 underlying expressions of kinetic energy. All tai chi movements - whether form, drills or combat - involve 13 expressions/methods of power (jing).

13 methods

Wardoff, rollback, push, squeeze/press, pluck, split, elbow, shoulder/bump, advance, withdraw, look right, look left and central equilibrium.

More than movement

It is quite possible (and indeed common) for students to perform tai chi movements in an accurate seeming manner without any jing whatsoever.
The movement itself is not enough. Disconnection and the inability to transfer kinetic force can render the tai chi useless in application. Test your practice rigorously.

Internal power (jing)

The 13 methods are expressions of internal power (jing); kinetic energy/force. Each expression has a distinct character. It produces a unique outcome. e.g. 'rollback'.
Rollback involves taking incoming force, drawing it back, to the side and down.

8 powers

Wardoff, rollback, push, squeeze, pluck, split, elbow, shoulder/bump are 8 manifestations of whole-body movements that apply specific fighting skills in combat.

8 techniques?

An occasional mistranslation is '8 techniques'. This indicates that the exponent does not know the difference between jing (internal power) and a technique (a step-by-step method).


Without peng nothing will work in tai chi. Wardoff should be considered manifest peng - expressed peng - rather than inherent peng.

Rollback is the signature move

Rollback is tai chi's signature skill. The ability to rollback successfully and readily from a variety of situations is vital. There is large rollback and small rollback.
The movement combines peng, split, withdraw, elbow and pluck (optional).

Thought tends to create fixed structures in the mind, which can make dynamic entities seem to be static.

(Will Keepin)

5 elements

Advance, withdraw, look right, look left and central equilibrium are called the 5 elements. The first four pertain to both movement and perception, whereas the fifth is about stability in movement.

5 steps?

A common mistranslation is '5 steps'.
This is wildly inaccurate since it is possible to advance and withdraw without stepping, look left and look right are perceptual and central equilibrium need not involve any movement at all; let alone a step.

Line of force

Advance is frequently mis-translated as 'forward step' and withdraw as 'backward step'. To step forward is to step right into the punch.
Anybody with any
martial arts knowledge is fully aware that a student must avoid the incoming line of force.
This is achieved by employing an X-shape movement pattern relative to the incoming force. It may necessitate a step but it may not.

Withdraw is not evade

'Evading' does not involve establishing and maintaining a dynamic relationship with the incoming force. It is just about getting out of the way. Normally, evading is accomplished by stepping.
Withdraw is different to evade. The aim is to create space without being out of range for countering.
Unless the tai chi student sustains dynamic tension whilst making space, they cannot immediately affect the attacker.
Advanced practice requires the student to keep the attacker slightly off-centre and off-balance whilst withdrawing.

Central equilibrium

Tai chi requires the student to be totally balanced at all times. To achieve this, minute internal adjustment is necessary.
A dynamic process of awareness and subtle change enables the tai chi exponent to remain stable whilst in motion.

The form is an exploration of the 13 methods

Each form movement is comprised of a combination of the 13 methods.
If a student does not understand how and why the 13 methods operate, their practice lacks whole-body power and cannot be applied martially in a tai chi way.

Kinetic force

Positioning, frame, alignment and weight distribution are the means by which you shape and express kinetic energy. The 13 methods represent this new way of moving.
Each quality can only be made manifest by a specific kind of physical action. Form is a moving network of associated body parts, whose purpose is to cultivate and release power.

Tai chi fighting method

Some of the training methods in tai chi are slow; this is to develop strength, accuracy, balance and control. It enables the student to perform the pattern correctly.
As the student becomes adept, the movement speeds up considerably.

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Page created 18 April 1995
Last updated 16 June 2023