Internal/whole-body power

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Conventional power relies upon contracted muscle strength, bone alignment and the rotation of the torso. This is referred to as 'li' or 'external' power:

  1. Over-contracted muscles

  2. Locked joints

  3. Using the arms independently of the body

  4. Aggression

  5. Force against force

These habits do not work in a tai chi class. They represent a major impediment to progress.

Whole-body strength

Whole-body strength (neigong) is quite different to li. The muscles remain relaxed throughout every action. This is seen as being 'soft' because the muscles do not tense-up.

Whole-body movement

Whole-body movement (form) can be a sequence, a drill, a solo qigong exercise or any partnered exercise. In fact, all aspects of tai chi are opportunities to use the body in this way.
Every movement you make should involve the entire body moving as one.

Whole-body power

The ability to employ whole-body strength and whole-body movement effectively is called 'jing' and is part of what makes tai chi an 'internal' martial art.
Power generation and practical application are major areas of development.

Kinetic (movement) energy

What matters in a martial art is the effect of your actions. Jing can be defined as 'your opponents experience of the kinetic energy you manifest'. It is sometimes spelled 'jin' or 'chin'.


Jing is a physical skill. It is about how the body is moved and what you do with that movement.
Skill with jing requires the student to become very aware of their own body; with their own muscles, tendons, ligaments, fascia, nervous system and skeletal alignment.

3 levels of skill

There are 3 levels of skill with jing:

  1. Obvious power (ming jing)

  2. Hidden power (an jing)

  3. Refined power (hua jing)

Ming jing is harder and longer, more forceful. An jing is softer, shorter and requires greater skill. Hua jing is subtle; covert. It employs elastic strength, twisting, change and gentleness.
All forms of jing should feel effortless to perform. If there is any struggling or forcing, this is li.

Energy release

Tai chi chuan (dynamic balancing boxing)
is interested in how the body generates power and also the kinetic energy itself. We discover how to store and release kinetic energy in an effective manner.
In order to be skilled, we must differentiate between different forms of energy release.

13 methods

There were designed to express kinetic energy:

  1. Wardoff

  2. Rollback

  3. Push

  4. Squeeze/press

  5. Pluck

  6. Split

  7. Elbow

  8. Bump/shoulder

  9. Advance

  10. Withdraw

  11. See the left

  12. See the right

  13. Central equilibrium 

Every movement in tai chi involves a combination of these 13 methods.


The purpose of 'form' is to shape and use kinetic energy martially. Form explores a massive variety of combat applications featuring the 13 methods.


Kinetic energy is only one aspect of jing study. Some jing pertain to sensitivity; considering the way in which you feel (through touch) your partner's movement and actions.
Sensitivity jing are not intended to be felt by your partner. The skill is to use them unnoticed. The obvious ones are 'listening' and 'understanding' jing.
Listening jing is your ability to feel what your partner is doing through touch. Understanding jing is how you interpret and respond to that information.
In both cases, your awareness must be unconscious. If you are thinking, there is no jing. You must practice until you no longer realise you are using them.

Your attacker is teaching you how to defeat them

In terms of listening, your opponent is everything. Without them, you would have nobody to evade. There would be no need for combat.
You must become a shadow, echoing your attacker, exquisitely sensitive to their every movement. The aim is to move as one. This takes you into the realm of meditation.
Unless you are present, you will not see/feel what is happening right in front of you.


Listening skill is far more than pushing hands. If you cannot put the listening skill into actual combat and use it effectively, why bother training it at all?

Maintaining contact
(stick & adhere)

Tai chi requires you to locate the opponent and make physical contact. This contact has to be maintained. They move, you move.
When you both move as one, they cannot strike you. As soon as the contact is broken, they are free to attack again.

Page created 2 March 1995
Last updated 16 June 2023