Free the movement
Whole-body movement

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Beginners always learn the form in a piecemeal manner - they move slowly from structure to structure in a stilted fashion. This allows attention to be placed on the accuracy of pattern of movement.
Unfortunately it has a serious drawback in that it leads beginners to regard form as being a sequence of structures.
Chang San-feng said:
Tai chi is like a great river rolling on unceasingly. Tai chi is the movement itself, not the structure.


The Tai Chi Classics describe the form as being like a great river rolling on unceasingly - it is one long movement.
Robot-like structures seem to miss the point; your body must become liquid and flow.


From beginning to end it is continuous and not broken.
It is circular and again resumes.
It revolves and has no limits.

(Yang Cheng Fu/Chen Wei-ming)

Shape the movement

Form serves simply to shape movement. Without shape, the movement would be random and meaningless.
A pattern of movement provides focus, intent and purpose. It teaches you how to transmit the groundpath easily and economically, without discomfort or muscular


Curves are the best shape for the transmission of physical force in tai chi; energy is released and then it returns again.
Sharp angles break the flow of movement, so your body must to learn to bend and re-shape itself.

Square on the inside and round on the outside

Our intention and line of force must be linear, but the spine and waist action create circularity. This is called 'square on the inside and round on the outside'.
Without the linearity, the force is blunted. Without the circularity, the force is projected but does not return.

How we move conveys energy and youth not how buff we are.

(Anne Elliott)


You must find the essence of each pattern of movement and find out how the power is employed. Adjust your body so that physical tension does not prevent that movement from flowing.


With the scaffolding of form movements in place, a beginner can add neigong to the movements. The student builds the structure to a point where the scaffolding is no longer required.
At that stage, it is actually an impediment. The higher stages of the syllabus frees the essence from the scaffolding. Very few students reach this stage of practice.
Inexperienced students interpret words like 'formless' to mean various things including 'freedom of expression' - which really involves doing whatever you please.


'Formlessness' is a condition where you are essentially doing tai chi all the time. Even though the master form looks to have less precision, the structure exists within the movements.
The form is not ignored - it is absorbed. This is the very heart of the word 'internal'.

Standing in your own way

The training is concerned with the storage and release of energy. We need to emulate water, allowing our bodies to become a medium for the transmission of movement.
Tension is the enemy of movement. The more tense you are, the less you can move. Stiffness is not strength, it is just stiffness - do not stand in your own way.

Kinetic energy

In order to reach and strike the opponent, you must move. This movement is 'kinetic energy'.
Our way of moving creates waves of kinetic energy as you practice the exercise. Neigong deliberately restricts certain movements, twisting the elastic tissue.
Potential/stored energy is built up and then released as kinetic energy. You cannot strike an opponent with anything but movement.

You will begin to feel that your tai chi practice goes beyond simple form training, and you will be able to perceive things as energetic combinations, rather than as static physical objects. Your training partners will appear to your senses as dynamic patterns of energy, rather than as clumsy physical bodies. When this happens, you can skilfully switch strategy and tactics in any situation.

(Yang Jwing-Ming)

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Page created 18 April 1995
Last updated 16 June 2023