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What is groundpath?

Groundpath is connection + sinking + intent. When you touch your opponent, they should immediately feel the weight of your groundpath.
It should be a very distinct sense of weight in your hand; a downward pressure that is not the consequence of pushing.
If your opponent were to lean their body into your groundpath, it should penetrate into them and be most uncomfortable.
Pushing peng and posture testing exercises are designed to develop the presence of groundpath.
Be very careful to remain passive.

Peng & groundpath

Groundpath is different to peng but interrelated.


When somebody is testing your inherent peng, an immediate connection to the ground should be experienced.
This quality of substance is created by your mind and represents one aspect of groundpath.
Should you choose to make your body immediately more substantial, you can. This is 'resistance' jing, but is not the same as fighting-back or tensing-up.
It is a yin body skill.

The body is like a floating cloud.
In push-hands the hands are not needed.
The whole body is a hand
and the hand is not a hand.

(Cheng Man Ching)


The most common example of groundpath is the effect experienced when you make physical contact with the opponent.
Manifest peng provides structure.
However, in addition to intention, framework and connection there must be bodyweight.
As soon as you touch the opponent, they should experience an oppressive sense of heaviness.
This will drain them and make their body feel weakened.


Groundpath involves putting your bodyweight into someone else.
This is not merely a matter of connection, structure and alignment.
It also requires yielding.
Your entire framework must be soft and loose, but integrated.
Let your weight fall through your body into the other person, without in any way compromising your own balance.
You must yield.


At the beginning of tai chi training the groundpath depends upon an obvious physical structure.
Later, it is created by using the mind.
Fa jing requires the groundpath to be a constant feature in every movement at all times.
If you lose groundpath for a second, your body will crumple as you deliver and the fa jing will hurt you rather than the opponent.

When we attack with the internal energy, we are not attacking with the left or right hand, but with a line of energy that originates in the foot, is channelled through the legs, waist and back,
and only emerges from the hand.

(Wolfe Lowenthal) 

Without substance, with substance

When you are receiving incoming force, the other person should not be able to find purchase.
You should be able to dissipate your substance in accord with their exertion.
To them, you feel to be without substance.
Yet, if they try to compromise your structure, peng will be evident.
Should you choose to push or strike the opponent, they will immediately feel your groundpath.

Softness feels heavy

Being soft allows the body weight to be transmitted to different parts of the body.
To another person, your limbs will feel very heavy.
To you, they just feel loose and relaxed.
This heaviness can be used to transmit the groundpath through somebody else.

Walk like a cat

commonly drop deep into the floor and stomp around like an elephant.
If your footsteps are loud, the groundpath is in your feet, not in your hand.
Your footsteps need to be as agile and light as those of a cat.
Imagine Kwai Chang Caine walking on rice paper?
If your noises advertise your movements, they are way too loud. Noisy footwork and clumsy habits reflect your lack of sensitivity.
Slow down. Stop rushing. Let your scattered mind settle

Use mind not force

Remember that groundpath involves body weight and mind.
Be as gentle as you can be. 4 ounces of pressure should be second-nature.

Path of power

Mastery of the groundpath is a fundamental tai chi skill. You need an unbroken connection from your heel to your hand.
You learn how to align your body behind the striking limb and use your body to deliver along that pathway.
There must be no interference from bodily tension. This connection must be completely loose and fluid.
It must be present at all times.


By unquestioning or narrow adherence to outmoded standards, or habitual principles,
one is unable to react honestly or effectively to the present.

(I Ching)


The surface area that makes contact with your opponent needs to be focussed.
Think of the Sun Tzu principle: If I concentrate while he divides, I can use my entire strength to attack a fraction of his.
A stiletto heel expresses this precept with most of the body weight descending down a narrow shaft.
One single finger might contain more power than a leg or a fist.


Penetration needs to be gentle and smooth; dreamy.
Coarse, brutal application of force demonstrates no actual skill and
hurried action shows inexperience.
You must find an opening in your partners defences and gently slide in.
They may not initially be aware of what you are doing, until the groundpath is felt deep within.

The bridge

In partner work the groundpath must go right through into your opponent.
Many of the drills train this skill, particularly pushing hands and weapons work.
The bridge ultimately resides in the groundpath, not the peng.
Any part of the body can become the bridge providing that the mind is present, and the connection is lively and sensitive.

Moving groundpath

The challenge with tai chi stepping is to have a sustained groundpath, with listening, sensitivity and stickiness - whilst in motion.
This is harder than you might imagine.
The tendency will be to step. And then affect the opponent. Which is two phases, not one.
This is not correct.
The opponent must be affected as you are stepping.
When training form, you should be capable of maintaining groundpath throughout the form sequence.


Make sure that the angle of contact when striking is optimal.
Maintain the 5 bows and avoid hitting hard areas on your attacker's body.
Do not squander strikes with half-hearted taps.
Find the groundpath and drop your weight deep into their centre.
Do not forget about your legs, hips, back, shoulders and the length of each arm.
People quickly become hand-oriented and neglect to use every single part of their body.


Playing patter-cake with your attacker is bad practice. It indicates a lack of groundpath.
You must always affect the assailant.
Tapping the outside of their body will not harm them in any way or deter their attack.
If anything it will do the opposite because you will have shown the ineffectual nature of your counter.


Let your limbs be heavy and loose; like flaccid tentacles - boneless and solid. Use gravity skilfully.
Without yielding, you cannot employ gravity.
Groundpath is not the same as connection. It requires you to place your body weight in your hand.
If you want to increase your striking power, yield even more. Use less strength.

Holding down the pillow

As your skill with groundpath continues to grow you recognise that this ability enables you to direct power easily and comfortably using intention.
Initially, you learn 'growing' jing: penetrating an opponent's defences, smothering their attack.
Later, you learn how to 'hold down the pillow'.
Holding down the pillow requires you to sustain an intimidating groundpath regardless of what the attacker is doing.
You maintain an incoming path of force by adapting constantly to whatever movement is being made, and continuing to apply groundpath.
This requires considerable sensitivity.
The attacker feels overwhelmed, off-balance and unable to stage a counter.

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Page created 18 April 1995
Last updated 16 June 2023