Small circle

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The beginner needs to cultivate connection within the body. This is accomplished by:

  1. Alignment

  2. Stretching slightly

  3. Keeping the muscles as relaxed as possible

A large, rounded framework is established in order to create a network of connected body parts.
Unfortunately, a
beginner has no idea what relaxation means and will use an unnecessary degree of tension.
There is also potentially a likelihood of postural exaggeration; which may limit joint
movement and again produce tension.


Once connection is established, it needs to become something else: peng. Peng and connection are not the same thing.
A karate student can easily gain connection, but the very nature of their system would preclude the possibility of cultivating peng. There is no tension with peng. Peng is a springy, pliable framework.

Strength is in the appropriate position and is responsive,
acting in harmony with the time.

(I Ching) 


When a student makes their framework too small and does not possess peng, their
structure will collapse when pressure is applied to it. This is a failing on two counts:

  1. Structure
    - 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

    - framework is not rounded

  2. Yielding
    - never allow the opponent to apply more than 4 ounces of pressure to your body
    - never employ more than 4 ounces of pressure
    - to accomplish this requirement, yielding is necessary
    - when a student fails to yield to force, tension occurs and it becomes a battle of strength


External impediments

External martial arts often emphasise habits that are not conducive to internal development. Tension is encouraged. Over-stretching. Forcing. Disconnected body movement.
In order to cultivate peng, you must discard anything that impedes neigong.

Peng & groundpath

Every tai chi pattern of movement must contain peng at all times. It is important to consider every single form movement and partner drill to ensure that the optimal peng framework is maintained.
Once peng is present, the student can consider the pathway of force.
Unless the framework has peng, groundpath cannot be transmitted using the wave-like undulation of the spine, waist turn and weight shift.

Large circles

The large frame employed by the beginner is quite ungainly but serves as a foundation for progress. In order to use the tai chi in
partner work, the movements must be quite large and flowing.
These sweeping movements encourage the student to follow the line-of-force instead of blocking it. The larger movements help the student to utilise peng and sustain groundpath.


A beginners-level student has a limited grasp of jing and cannot easily manifest the 13 methods. In lieu of peng and stickiness, tension is often employed.
The student typical overcomes the lack of jing by making large turns of the waist to supplement the large, flowing arm movements.

Improved frame

With practice, a student learns how to shape their body into the optimal framework required. This framework enables the student to express groundpath without effort.
Jing requires medium to small frame for the delivery of kinetic
energy. As the student's skill improves, the physicality of the tai chi diminishes. The frame serves to supplement the mind.
A more subtle physical expression is now possible.


With the improved framework, the student can make smaller movements to larger effect. The aim is to become the centre of the circle. The axle. The fulcrum.
Your opponent is on the circumference of the circle. Their movement are large and sweeping. Your movements are compact, economical and pragmatic.

Small circle

By balancing frame size, relationship with the opponent and intent, a student can ensure that they employ the optimal framework. Every movement produces a more significant effect.
The external movement decreases as the internal work increases. Neigong and intent enable greater effect with markedly less effort.
Instead of sweeping arcs, the student uses twisting, coiling, spiralling action to generate internal pressure in the soft tissues of the body. These are movements-within-movements.
Smooth, fluid, small, hidden, unnoticed.


Partner drills and form application teach the student how to minimalise their movements. Balance, timing, structure, softness and mind combine to create the desired outcome: a twitch instead of an arc.
The effect looks like magic. It looks to be fake. But it is not. To accomplish this level of skill, a very good sense of groundpath is necessary.

Less effort, more effect

Every student must work to reduce the size of their circle. It is martially imperative for your movements to be small. You must move without alerting the attacker's nervous system.
Like a shadow. Like a thought.

The spectacle of an old person defeating a group of young people, how can it be due to swiftness?

(Wang Tsung-yueh)

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Page created 18 April 1995
Last updated 16 June 2023