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The Monkey King

The Monkey King is a popular and well loved character in Chinese folklore. He possesses immense power but is extremely naughty, playful and mischievous.


The character can be found in the classic story The Journey to the West. An excellent cinematic example of The Monkey King is Jet Li's portrayal in The Forbidden Kingdom.

Tai chi

In our school, monkey is the main animal used in tai chi. All 5 animals have their place, but for us monkey predominates. Monkey is very hard to make manifest.


Monkey requires the student to have fun. Taking yourself too seriously, being uptight or macho is pointless. Humour, playfulness and friendship are essential. Many modern people struggle with this.

Finding monkey

The 5 animals are usually very easy to see. The movements are large and obvious. To some extent - bear, bird, snake and tiger could be identified by anyone who knew to look.
But monkey is quite, quite different. Students always admit that they would never have noticed monkey until it was pointed out to them and the full range of its potential demonstrated.

The way of the monkey is to play the fool.

While you laugh at his antics, he bites you from behind.

(The Silent Flute)


Of the 5 animals, monkey is perhaps the hardest to locate, understand and manifest. It resides in the small, innocuous transition moves, which most people dismiss as being 'between moves'.
You must remember that tai chi is not some final postural structure. It is the movement itself. There are no 'transition moves' as such, no moves for monkey to hide between.

Monkey qualities

• Inventive
• Improvisational
• Quick-witted
• Inquisitive
• Innovative
• Problem solver
• Self-assured
• Deceptive
• Manipulative
• Cunning

Applying monkey

If you find it hard to locate monkey in the form, you may find it even harder to apply it. Monkey is extremely subtle. It is yin in nature - passive, evasive, understated, indirect, cautious.
The applications typically involve withdraw, and assume an excellent grasp of jing. Should you use too much force, monkey will not work and you will be clumsy. You will fail and be compromised.

Sneaky monkey

Most of monkey takes place on the rear leg, in a rear bow or false/empty/cat stance. This is similar to bird, except that bird is high and often open, whereas monkey is always low and closed.
Monkey has no real strength. It cannot commit powerful blows.


Monkey is an opportunist.
It takes advantage of your opponent's aggression and force. His complacency.
The power comes from sneak attacks that disrupt the centre and offer a brief opportunity for punch, elbow, slap, seize or knee.

Monkey skill

Becoming adept at monkey is entirely relative to your ability to understand the nature of the skill. This may sound obvious.
However, having a sense of monkey and knowing monkey are two different things entirely.
Once you can see what monkey is about and can manifest monkey in your form (discreetly) and in your applications (covertly), you are in a position to really explore this skill.


Monkey's scope and purpose extend much farther than you may initially imagine. You have a surprisingly diverse range of possibilities at your disposal.
The key to becoming adept at monkey is jing and smallness. Never reach out, never commit. Stay small. Be humble. Be sticky. Let your attacker come to you.

Concealing monkey

The presence of monkey in your tai chi should not be advertised.
Keep it hidden. Stealth is the very essence of monkey.
Monkey is quiet, unremarkable and shy. There is no show of power, strength or speed. You should be the only person to see monkey in your tai chi.
Your partner should be entirely unaware of its potential. Concealing monkey is to your advantage.

onkey paws

Monkey paws could have been called anything. Yet it wasn't. The name is important; it is deliberate. If you perform monkey paws without embracing the nature of monkey, your training will be incorrect.


Monkey paws requires the students to pay close attention to their training partner. Feel what is taking place. Look for mistakes. Help them recognise and overcome tension and resistance to change.
This is not a fighting set. It is a learning tool. It serves to eradicate self-consciousness.

onkey attitude

Monkey is not evil. It is just a little naughty. It likes to cause chaos and mayhem. You must learn to laugh. At yourself. At life. At other people. At society. Emotional authenticity is vital.

Sifu Waller

Although our instructor can readily manifest all aspects of the 5 animals, he really feels that monkey is the most important for tai chi. It stops life from becoming too serious.
Sifu Waller is exceptionally playful at home. This is reflected in his application of tai chi. He could easily use brutal, sadistic methods and cultivate machismo. He chooses not to.
Instead, we have a lot of fun...

The Prince of Wu took a boat
to Monkey Mountain.
As soon as the monkeys saw him
they all fled in panic and hid in the treetops.

One monkey, however, remained, completely unconcerned,
swinging from branch to branch -
an extraordinary display.

The prince shot an arrow at the monkey,
but the monkey dexterously
caught the arrow in midflight.

At this the prince ordered his attendants
to make a concerted attack.
In an instant the monkey was shot
full of arrows and fell dead.

Then the prince turned to his companion Yen Pu’i,
“You see what happened?
This animal advertised his cleverness.
He trusted his own skill.
He thought no one could touch him.
Remember that!
Do not rely on distinction and talent
when you deal with men!”

When they returned home,
Yen Pu’i became a disciple of a sage
to get rid of everything that made him outstanding.
He renounced every pleasure.
He learned to hide every distinction.

Soon no one in the kingdom
knew what to make of him.
Thus they held him in awe.

(Chuang Tzu)

school database

Page created 4 April 1997
Last updated 16 June 2023