The first power

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Peng is the first of the 13 methods, and the most important quality to cultivate in your tai chi. It is translated as 'wardoff'. Warding-off involves keep something at bay, at a distance from you.

A bubble

In tai chi peng refers to an unusual quality of integrity that is formed by creating a loose network of body parts.
It is akin to having a bubble around your body; except that the circumference of the bubble is your body itself.
Should any part of the bubble be pushed, it will yield and move. However, the overall structural integrity remains intact and resilient.
There is no resistance. No pushing back or physical
tension (contracted muscles).

Inherent peng

Pressure can be applied to any part of your body and you should feel substantial.
This substance is tangible but not rigid in any way. You must always yield when pushed and never resist the incoming force.
The connection must exist without conscious effort. If you need to employ effort, then the peng is not inherent and will not be there in every movement.


Inherent peng needs to be increasingly subtle. Work at yielding to even the slightest degree of force.
Let your body soften, relax and find internal space. The greater the yielding, the more scope you have for application. Seek to sustain central equilibrium without any use of force.

Inherent peng is not resistance

A good analogy for inherent peng comes from Tao Te Ching:

Yielding, like melting ice.

(Lao Tzu)

There must be substance but not resistance. If pushed, you must yield to force - this is the central precept of tai chi.
The ankles, knees, hips, spine, shoulders, elbows and wrists must all remain very loose and mobile.

Manifest peng

Although peng must be inherent at all times, it can also be expressed. Manifest peng delivers power upward and outwards. Imagine a Swiss ball? One of those large round exercise balls?
If somebody were to roll you off to one side using a Swiss ball, that is what manifest peng feels like. It has give and is springy, yet it is also substantial.
Ever martial application in tai chi relies upon both inherent and manifest peng.

Inherent peng and manifest peng

Ultimately inherent peng must be present in every tai chi movement, without the mind being used. Inherent peng is not a reaction to somebody pushing you, it is there whether they push you or not.
Inherent peng is the receiving of force, whereas manifest peng is the giving/expression of force.
Manifest peng is a particular type of jing; an outward, upward attacking force. Many students do not discriminate between inherent and manifest peng.
They forget that tai chi is unlike other martial arts.

Cultivating peng

We explore a number of exercises designed to foster peng. The main focus is upon loose body connection, mind and softness.
Inherent peng is a question of habitual practice whereas manifest peng is a matter of intent.
Many inexperienced students can manifest peng but tense-up when inherent peng is tested. Tensing-up indicates inexperience and fear.
The loose, springy, effortless strength associated with peng is one of the main focal areas for more experienced students.
It is not difficult to accomplish but some degree of commitment to practice is necessary. The presence of intrinsic peng means that every tai chi movement has substance.

Bow tension

Bow tension must exist in your body at all times when doing tai chi. Without it, your power is limited. It is a refinement of inherent peng.
Bow tension is the elastic readiness that permeates the entire structure without the mind anticipating an application for it.
To develop bow tension you must use the angles of the body effectively. Mild stretching assists with bow tension but this must be coupled with spiralling for the power to build.
Ultimately, progress is made through the use of presence.

5 bows

The five bows are:

  1. Arms (2)

  2. Legs (2)

  3. Spine

However, there are many more bows in the body. Every joint represents a bow.

What is a 'bow'?

Think of a bow and arrow... The bow is the device used to fire the arrow. The bow is pulled into a curve when the string is drawn. Despite the softness of the bow, great power is stored, ready for release.

No bow

It is quite easy to lose bow tension:

  1. Slumping
    - pelvis to costal arch (rib cage/solar plexus) should be lengthened at all times
    - legs must be connected, with the knees neutral

  2. Crumpling
    - elbows are not kept open and the 90 angle is lost
    an unskilled student needs to open their elbow joints way more than
    - the kwa are closed too far


  3. Tension
    - deliberate muscular contraction
    - limited joint mobility
    - failure to let the body weight fall through the limbs


  4. Disconnected movement

  5. Over-stretching
    - exceeding the 70% rule

Without the 5 bows, you cannot fold. Instead of folding, you will simply crumple.


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Page created 18 April 1995
Last updated 16 June 2023