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A lot of taijiquan people like to talk about 'qi energy'.
In fact, most of their focus seems to be upon qi energy.
According to The Tai Chi Classics it means breath not energy.


There are three kinds of energy that can be explored with certainty and conviction:

  1. Do you personally feel tired or energised? 

  2. Trapped energy

  3. Kinetic (movement) energy

1. Energy levels

The first consideration needs to be energy levels.
This is about whether you feel fatigued, tired or vigorous.
Some activities leave you feeling wiped out, whilst others don't.
People can also drain you; with negative emotions and being needy/demanding.


A lot of things can make you feel drained:

- bad poise/posture putting the body under duress
- not being moderate; doing too much
- failure to rest, relax, stop
- time management/commitments, personal life, work
- strong stretching, exaggeration, over-commitment, disconnected movement and exertion are all physically taxing; wasting energy
- tensing the muscles e.g. body building, being sedentary, being uptight

Energy deficit

Modern life saps energy.
People are often exhausted, unhappy, frustrated...
They are frequently emotionally, physically and psychologically unbalanced.
Feeling drained is commonplace. Getting angry is normal.
This is not a healthy way to live...

Spend your time wisely

You can address a lot of things to conserve energy:

  1. Balance

  2. Posture

  3. Poise

  4. Ergonomics

  5. Healthy joints use

  6. Flexibility

  7. Healthy skeletal alignment

  8. Optimal body use

  9. How your muscles work

  10. Coordination

  11. Timing

  12. How and why to relax your body

  13. Balanced use of the body

  14. Proprioception (relative position of body parts/awareness of how much strength is being applied)

  15. Rhythm

  16. Mind/body unity

  17. Leverage

  18. Kinaesthetic awareness (knowing where your limbs are positioned without needing to look)

  19. Biomechanics

  20. Footwork

  21. Biofeedback

  22. Ambidextrous use of the limbs

  23. Gait (manner of walking)

Faux energy

Sugar, caffeine, energy drinks, alcohol, drugs, cigarettes, sweets, over-stimulation, over-activity, loud music, TV, distractions... these all provide bad energy.
Why is it bad?
Some of these energy sources affect your mind and your emotions, whilst others provide a short-term gain which costs you in the future.


Many people are essentially borrowing energy from the future just to get by.
None of the faux energy sources affect your life in a good way.
Over time you start to look old and feel really strung out.


When tired, rest.
Eating food or taking stimulants to stay active and alert is unhealthy.
Seeking activity is unwise.
Just stop and rest. Your body needs to stop. It needs to repair, recover and grow.

2. Trapped energy

If you took a towel and twisted it very tightly; the towel would contain stored energy for as long as you held it.
Like a loaded spring...
When the towel is released, it will unfurl; producing kinetic energy.


Our muscles operate in a similar way to the towel...
An inefficient muscle holds trapped energy because it is tense and weak.
Relaxing the muscle releases that energy.
But this has nothing to do with qi (breath).

3. Kinetic energy

The other kind of energy used in taijiquan is more to do with physics.
It involves the storage and release of 'kinetic' energy - movement energy.
Like a rock launched from a catapult or an arrow launched from a bow...
We use kinetic energy in combat.


When torrential water tosses boulders,
it is because of its momentum;
when the strike of a hawk breaks the body of its prey;
it is because of timing.

(Sun Tzu)

The effect

Kinetic energy can be seen by a simple demonstration.
Strike a focus mitt but do not push upon impact.
As soon as you hit the mitt, stop and withdraw the hand.
The effect of your strike should cause the mitt and the arm holding it to continue moving.
This is different to an external strike, where your aim is to punch through the target.

Whole-body strength

Whole-body strength is different to external strength.
You never tense the muscles or lock the joints.
Your limbs feel mobile and relaxed at all times. They are imbued with inherent strength.

Neigong is cultivated by paying attention to how an action is undertaken.
Rather than move the body in a 'normal' manner, a whole-body action must be trained.
Once the new way of moving is familiar, you no longer realise that you are moving in a contrived manner.

Energy transmission

The taijiquan movements serve to supply a pathway for the transmission of kinetic energy.
Energy travels from the ground into your hand.
Your body simply provides the means by which the energy can be transferred.
If you are stiff and unyielding, disconnected or flaccid - this transmission will be unsuccessful.


Once you regard your body as being a channel for the transmission of energy, you can start to understand what taijiquan striking involves.
You do not punch or kick using local muscle groups.
The energy is transferred from the ground, passing through your frame and out into the opponent.
Your limb is simply the part that makes contact with the opponent.


A student learns how to generate an undulation wave.
This is passed throughout your entire structure, storing and releasing kinetic energy.
We develop this wave by learning whole-body movement.
Every strike involves every body part moving as one.
It is this rippling action that performs the delivery, rather than local muscle strength.

Coiling & releasing energy

Imagine twisting a towel as tightly as you can and then letting go?
The towel will unfurl by itself.
Why? Your twisting action stores energy.
This is what opens the towel again.

Taijiquan twists and turns the body in order to store and release energy using the soft tissues of the body.
If your body is connected and has peng, you will be capable of greater release.

Dead movement

With awareness it becomes possible to feel when the kinetic energy is flowing and when it is impeded.
Certain movements performed incorrectly will create 'dead' movements - these are actual stopping points where the kinetic energy flow is lost.


It is quite easy to maintain the kinetic flow, just avoid the impediments:

  1. Tension

  2. Stiffness

  3. Compressed cavities

  4. Closed joints

  5. Collapsed muscles; usually thighs and front of body

  6. Stopping

  7. Over-commitment, pushing and exertion

  8. Hands too close to the body or too far away

  9. Disconnected movement; arms and legs moving independent of the body

  10. Thinking

Awareness alone should prevent any of these mistakes from occurring; it is essential to feel the blockage.

13 postures

All styles of taijiquan employ 13 expressions of power.
These 13 postures were detailed in The Tai Chi Classics.
Every taijiquan movement is essentially a combination of the 13 kinetic energy expressions.

Our energy is more precious than all the gold in the world. It is a more powerful anti-aging tool than anything else.
  Energy regenerates our liver and other tissue cells, flushes toxic waste from the body, helps maintain our ideal weight, keeps our skin smooth and our hair healthy.
 The more energy we have, the better we feel and the more beautiful we become.

 (Kimberly Snyder)

Page created 12 January 1995
Last updated 05 August 2017