Empty the centre

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Internal approaches

The three main internal martial arts have different attitudes concerning the centre:

  1. Xingyiquan firms your centre and attacks the opponents centre

  2. Baguazhang moves your centre and circles the opponents centre

  3. Taijiquan empties your centre and destabilises the opponents centre

This is quite a simplistic summary but serves to illustrate a broad difference in approach.
A taijiquan person must make their own centre intangible, whilst simultaneously disrupting their opponent's centre. This is not as easy as it sounds.

Central equilibrium

Central equilibrium asks you to maintain your centre but this does not mean that you should be tense or in any way resistant.
Taijiquan is all about yielding, and sometimes the best way to maintain your centre is to give it up. This may sound paradoxical or contradictory...

6 balanced pairs

Emptying your centre is not the same as losing balance or falling over. You must initially move past the notion that your centre is solid, like a tree trunk.
Your vertical centre is not contingent upon the torso being solid and your body immovable. To maintain your vertical centre you just have to keep your shoulders above your hips.
This is part of 6 balanced pairs and is a basic requirement in taijiquan.
So, providing the hips and shoulders remain in harmony, you are free to flex your spine and skeleton to whatever degree seems appropriate.


Beginners loathe the idea of yielding. It has a connotation of failure and submissiveness. These perceptions are a serious hindrance to the student, because yielding is what the art is all about.
Water yields without exception and is always powerful. Taijiquan takes its lessons from water.

Letting go

When somebody exerts force upon you, do not allow more than 4 ounces of pressure to be applied. Soften your body and allow it to fold and move.
By drawing deeper into your centre, you will take your opponent further out of theirs. Being in the centre of the circle is powerful. Being on the circumference is weak.

Consider the Long Yang form

If you look at the first few movements of the form - right up to brush knee and twist step - how much stepping is there? Not much really.
That whole sequence involves almost no movement in terms of physical space.


Most of the movements from section 1 are repeated throughout the Long Yang form. Why? Because the principles are significant and worth practicing.
This is why students need to know the pattern of section 1 pretty well.


Section 1 of the form requires you to generate power within each movement. This entails movement between the feet, within the kwa, the spine, and the various joints.
Your body must undulate and flow in order to produce each unique kinetic wave. Where are you finding the power? You create space by emptying the centre, by opening and closing, by reeling silk.

Empty vessel

In Taoist and Zen literature there is a common motif: the empty vessel. Only when a vessel has been emptied can it be used for something. Being empty means that it has potential.
It has function and purpose.

Full is no good

When the vessel has been filled, the potential is gone. The vessel has served its purpose. It cannot be used again until you empty it.


If you practice taijiquan with stiff legs, fixed joints and an unyielding torso, you may well feel strong but you are doing it wrong.
What you are feeling is your own tension. Nothing more. Tense muscles are weak muscles.
If your body is toned and relaxed, you will feel the movement itself rather than your body producing the movement. This is part of sung.

Shock is a result of your own resistance to an external force. When you allow this force to come into you and spin around with you, you can have fun with it. This is an example of being vulnerable, of not being afraid to be flexible, and open to receive.

(Chungliang Al Huang)


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Page created 18 April 1995
Last updated 17 September 2019