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There are different centres to consider in the tai chi fighting method:

  1. Vertical centre/axis

  2. Physical centre/tan tien/centre of gravity

  3. Centre of balance

  4. Centreline

  5. Centre relative to an opponent

1. Vertical centre

Literally: 'Suspended from above'...
The vertical centre of your body is an imaginary line which falls from the crown of the skull down through the body to emerge between genitals and anus, down to the ground.
It terminates at the front of the heel and directly affects balance.

2. Physical centre

The physical centre of your body is located below the navel, inside the body where it bisects the vertical axis. All movements in tai chi must start from the physical centre.
It is your centre of gravity. In tai chi, the centre of gravity is moved closer to the ground in order to stabilise the body and make it stronger.

3. Centre of balance

The centre of balance exists between your two feet. It should always be beneath the torso. If you over-extend, the centre of balance is moved beyond the feet and you become unstable.
The centre of balance moves relative to which leg is primary at any given time. If you are forward-weighted then it is nearer the lead leg, and if rear-weighted it is near the rear leg.

4. Centreline

The centreline is an imaginary line right down the front of your body. This is where your zip would be if you wore a jacket. Along this line are many vulnerable points.
Your tai chi structure is designed to protect the centreline when moving.

5. Centre relative to an opponent

When faced with one or more opponents, it is essential to think in terms of centre. To strike you, the opponent must find your centre. This is fundamental physics; a question of positioning and angles.
By moving your centre from where they are striking, you cannot easily be hit. The centres must be unified relative to the opponent.
By maintaining the vertical centre, moving forwards and backwards, side-to-side, protecting the centreline and originating all movement from the centre - you become an evasive target.

Taking the centre

You must always attack your opponent's centre. De-stabilising this will prevent them from effectively countering. Subtle pressure can take their balance.
Once off-balance, they become structurally weak.

Small circle

The ability to move from the centre becomes more sophisticated as a student progresses within tai chi.
Very subtle stepping and waist movement will allow close quarters fighting to occur without any loss of striking power.
The exercise known as 'pushing hands' can train this ability if practiced softly.

Xingyiquan, bagua, tai chi and centre

It is said that xingyiquan firms the centre, bagua moves the centre, whilst tai chi empties the centre. What does 'emptying the centre' mean?
An opponent should not be able to find or take your centre; it should feel insubstantial to them.


An important feature of meditation is the ability to remain 'centred'. This means present, clear, grounded and alert. Bring the attention to the physical centre. Breathe.

This centred freedom-to-respond is predicated on inhibiting the entire neuromuscular habit pattern associated with conflict.

(Michael Gelb)

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Page created 18 March 1997
Last updated 16 June 2023