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Spatial awareness

Our movements utilise three dimensions at all times:

  1. Vertical

  2. Horizontal

  3. Forwards & backwards

Every movement, is a combination of these three dimensions. It has to be. It is the physics. Width, height, length.


Certain body parts enable us to use three dimensions:

  1. Up & down, using hand and back

  2. Side-to-side, using the waist, hips and legs

  3. Movement between the feet

Pick any exercise or movement and consider it in light of this.

Obvious power (ming jing)

Skilled students must employ the three dimensions consistently in order to cultivate 'obvious power'.
Ming jing involves harder, longer, more effective movements.
Clear lines of force: up, down, shift the weight.

Central equilibrium

Maintaining central equilibrium enables us to use the three dimensions easily and skilfully. If we slouch, lean or slump, the power is dissipated immediately.
The key to sustaining central equilibrium is to remain within your natural range, and to avoid exotic, flamboyant postures. Low stances and wide stretches reduce your stability significantly.


human skeleton is strongest when we are upright. Your tai chi needs to reflect this. If your stance is long and low, it reduces your ability to move.
To incapacitate an opponent, aim whenever possible to compromise their ability to maintain central equilibrium.
Invariably this is accomplished by encouraging them to over-commit, to lose their centre, to forsake their own balance.

A journey of a thousand miles...

A journey of a thousand miles may indeed start with one step. But are you really going anywhere?
This is an important question. Although your physical position may alter relative to external objects, are 'you' actually going anywhere at all? Do you understand?
Tap your chest. You are here. Now walk across the room. Tap your chest again. You are still here. Your body may have moved across the room, but 'you' haven't gone anywhere at all.

Different shapes

If you realise that your body occupies the same space at all times, then you see the form and your relationship with an opponent quite differently.
This is what 'central equilibrium' is really about. The form is merely exploring variations of the three dimensions. You turn the waist, shift the weight, move the hands, the legs, the eyes.
But you essentially remain exactly where you are.

The opponent

Your opponent is also utilising the three dimensions. They have no choice in the matter.
If they swing their right shoulder, rotate their waist, shift their weight into the right foot - in an attempt to hit your jaw - they are employing two dimensions.
They are using the horizontal axis, and moving forwards. Your response must be applied relative to these dimensions.
If you attempt to oppose the incoming force by using an outward-moving 'block' with your left arm, you are going to meet the full force of their delivery. This is not internal.


Doing the right thing at the right time is all a matter of reading the situation correctly, and responding appropriately. Initially, it is quite difficult. With practice it becomes easier.
Learning to follow and exploit the line of incoming force is paramount.


If you make the wrong movement, you will find yourself locked into a contest of
strength. Remedy it by using the three dimensions. A person cannot have strength in all three directions simultaneously.
Change and you will find their weakness.

Choiceless awareness

When you can employ the use of the three dimensions skilfully, you will move in harmony with the assailant. There will be no blocking. No opposing of force.
You will instinctively feel the way to go, and you will adjust to the changes as they occur.

Throughout the Tao Te Ching Lao Tzu is at a loss for words as he tries to describe that which cannot be described. This is also the problem for the tai chi teacher. The teacher could talk for hours about tai chi and never really be able to tell the student what it is. All that Lao Tzu and the tai chi teacher can do is to try to give you glimpses of what the Tao and tai chi are.

 (John Lash) 

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Page created 25 May 1995
Last updated 16 June 2023