Tai chi principles

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Quality is what you really should be seeking from a class. It is far more important than gratification, or confirmation of your expectations. But what constitutes 'quality'?
To answer this, you need to have some measure of understanding regarding the essence of the art. How can you assess the quality of something if you do not even understand what it is?
(Consider doing some research...)

Why do I see things this way?
Because this is the Way things are.

(Lao Tzu)

Learn the basics

Tai chi teaches certain basic

  1. How to connect the limbs to the torso

  2. How to yield

  3. How to create space

  4. How to be flexible

  5. How to work without tensing-up

  6. How to be composed

  7. How to move your whole body

  8. How to be loose and heavy

  9. How to go with the flow

  10. How to respond without thinking

These skills are accomplished by implementing the key principles.

5 missing pieces

Many tai chi classes lack 5 important elements necessary in order for tai chi to function as a martial art:

  1. Neigong (whole-body strength)

  2. Martial concepts (what combat constitutes and how to do it effectively)

  3. Chin na (the art of seizing)

  4. Shuai jiao (take downs)

  5. Jing (whole-body power)

Without these 5 components, tai chi is lacking something and may not work in combat.

Key principles

An instructor should possess these generic skills:

  1. An understanding of the following:
    - 36 Strategies
    - The Art of War
    - Chuang Tzu
    - I Ching (Book of Changes)
    - how to teach
    - mutual arising
    - Tai Chi Classics
    - the Tao
    - Tao Te Ching
    - te (essence)
    - tzu-jan (of itself so)
    - yin/yang
    - Zen

  2. The ability to explain and demonstrate:
    - 13 methods
    - 4 ounces of pressure
    - 6 balanced pairs
    - biomechanical considerations
    - change
    - chin na
    - fa jing
    - folding
    - groundpath
    - jing
    - mushin (surrender/immersion)
    - neigong
    - opening & closing
    - reeling silk
    - shen (emotional content)
    - shuai jiao
    - sinking & rooting
    - softness
    - substantial & insubstantial
    - sung
    - weaponry
    - wu nien (not preparing)
    - wu wei (not forcing)
    - Yang Cheng Fu's 10 essential points
    - yielding
    - zanshin (continuing mind)

  3. The application of the principles in combat:
    - without emotion
    - without being tense
    - without opposing the incoming force
    - without necessarily hurting the assailant

These precepts are not something that you can expect to grasp overnight. They are what make the art 'tai chi'. The list is not comprehensive.

In many martial arts schools the practice was carried out in secrecy and the school's very existence was frequently concealed from the authorities. For example, tai chi is based on body of principles known to be around 2000 years old yet it was not revealed until 1750.

(Howard Reid)

Sifu Waller's tips

These 5 points highlight straightforward criteria for practicing your tai chi:

  1. Practice & study
    - learn what the essence of tai chi really is
    - keep the practice authentic, practical and functional; rooted in biomechanics, the realities of combat, The Tai Chi Classics, martial principles and Taoism/Zen
    - practice every day, but don't go overboard


  2. Biomechanics
    - keep your focus on the human body: muscles, skeleton, joints, tendons, ligaments, facia - rather than qi
    - healthy skeletal alignment, ergonomics, balance, ambidextrous use of the limbs, gait, poise
    - whole-body strength/movement/power


  3. Just enough
    - tai chi is about relaxing and releasing rather than over-stretching
    - adjust when necessary to maintain biomechanical advantage
    - rely on positioning, sensitivity, jing, yielding, stickiness, pressure, balance and centre rather than force
    - avoid extremes, over-stretching and excess


  4. Play in the joints
    - this indicates sung and the capacity to fold
    - change and nimbleness are easy to achieve
    - rely on kwa
    - avoid collapsing the joint or straightening the joint

  5. Smooth & continuous
    - square on the inside, round on the outside
    - cutting the circle
    - move from the centre and avoid start/stop

It is possible to perform tai chi in an external manner that is aesthetically pleasing but not actually internal. Applying the 5 points as assessment criteria will serve to instantly confirm correct practice.

Martial arts

A good instructor should be capable of demonstrating the tai chi fighting method without hurting you. They can demonstrate striking power on a focus mitt. Do not be afraid to ask questions.
Gauge the effectiveness of what they show you:

  1. Did it work?

  2. Did they compromise themselves? Were they over-committing?

  3. Was there any adverse feedback?

  4. Did they allow for multiple attackers?

  5. What did it do to the opponent?

  6. Were they forcing an outcome? Or did it flow?

  7. Was it easy to perform?

  8. Smooth or jarring?

  9. Was it hurried and quick? Were they calm and composed?

  10. Can they evade an armed opponent?

Tai chi i
s an art where all the principles of other martial arts have been turned upside down.
They practice fast, we practice slow.
They practice hard, we practice soft.

(Cheng Man Ching)

Page created 18 April 1995
Last updated 16 June 2023