My Journey in Learning T'ai-Chi Ch'uan

By: Al Duncan - updated 12 May 2003



The road to successful learning of the principles of T'ai Chi Ch'uan (Taijiquan) can be different for each person. The following comments are from my struggle to reach my current "beginner" level in Yang style after about 8 years of study. These comments represent my interpretation of what I have learned and may not necessarily be how my teacher meant it to be interpreted. I have also included some information obtained from the internet and from other sources. Hopefully you will find some part of it useful in helping to improve your level of Taijiquan.

Some Thoughts on Taijiquan

There is more than one Chinese-to-English translation system in use. Under the older "Wade-Giles" romanization system, T'ai-Chi Ch'uan (or just Tai Chi Chuan) is used; but under the newer "Pinyin" romanization system, the spelling is Tai ji quan or usually Taijiquan (note that in both systems the pronunciation is almost the same even though the spelling is different). The internal energy called "ch'i" in the Wade-Giles system is spelled "qi" in the Pinyin system (but both are pronounced the same). Usually in books (especially those written in North America) the apostrophe is omitted in the older Wade-Giles system, so that many people mistakenly think that the "Chi" in Tai Chi and the internal energy "ch'i" is the same word. This mistake is corrected in the new Pinyin system where they are spelled "ji" and "qi" respectively. To further confuse the issue, another system called "Yale" romanization is still used by some.

The meaning of Taijiquan is not "Grand Ultimate Fist" or "Ultimate Fighting Style" as many people think. Taiji (T'ai Chi) (sometimes translated as "the grand ultimate") refers to the concept or philosophy of opposites (yin-yang). It also refers to what occurs when "nothingness" divides or "stillness" ends. Quan (Ch'uan) refers to "fighting style" or martial art system. Thus, Taijiquan can be translated as being a martial art system based on the philosophy of the taiji.

The most common short form taught today is the "simplified Taijiquan" form also known as the "combined" form, Peking form or 24 forms. This form is not the Yang short form as many people believe. The 24 forms was created by the Sports Committee of the People's Republic of China in 1956 by masters from several different styles, as an easy to learn form primarily for health purposes "for the masses". There is a Yang style short form created in China in 1989 by taking selected parts of the Yang long form to make what is called the "40 forms". The 40 forms is used as the Yang style competition form.

Some people call Taijiquan a "moving meditation". This is incorrect as meditation consists of stillness and emptiness. The person meditating sits motionless and attempts to empty his mind of all thoughts. Taijiquan is not Qigong (Ch'i Kung) either, as Qigong consists of inner motion with stillness outside. The person doing Qigong (energy work) is focusing on moving the Qi around inside his body, while on the outside his body is still. There are moving Qigongs where the bodies motion aids in the Qi circulation. Most Qigong includes structured breath work. The breathing in Taijiquan on the other hand is modified to the requirements of the martial application being carried out at that moment.

It is important to be serious about learning Taijiquan, but don't be too serious while doing Taijiquan. This means that one should practice often and sincerely, but being too self-critical or concentrating too much on how to do the movements correctly will prevent you from maintaining the proper "relaxed attentiveness" while doing the form.

Some people refer to themselves as "Tai Chi Players" or say that they "play" at Tai Chi. These are not the best expressions to use, as they instil a meaning contrary to the concept of dedicated and sincere practice of Taijiquan.

It is extremely important to pay attention to proper body alignment and details such as foot angle, step length and width, knee position etc. when first learning Taijiquan, as this will allow you to more quickly advance to higher levels. By having these "little" details become automatically correct at an early stage, you will be free of such "worries" later when many more-complicated learning problems will occupy your mind. Not properly learning these basics can prevent you from ever reaching a higher level (such as doing joint-hands or developing a properly "connected" body).

The two-person practice or interaction is often referred to as "push-hands" in North America. This is not a good name as it implies a contest of force or strength. A better name sometimes used is "joined-hands operation" or "joint-hand operations". In true joint-hands, there is no contest - the two people are simply practising to become better, the other person is simply a "training aid" with no winner and no loser. The real contest is with oneself.
Push-hands or tui shou is used in judged competitions (especially in North America) and does focus on who the judges think is better, and thus does produce a winner and a loser.

Many people wonder how the slowly performed Taijiquan form could have any martial capabilities. The Taijiquan form is not what one would use in combat, rather it is the principles learned from doing the form (and joint-hands) that allow one to use Taijiquan as a martial art. The form trains the body not to have tension, which permits the body to move more quickly and accurately as a connected unit. The form also trains the mind-body connection and greater strength of control of the mind over the body. The mind or yi moves the qi and the qi moves the body.
Again - one does not just fight with the form, but with the body knowledge learned from doing the form and joint-hands. When one does fight, it is at a speed that is as fast as the mind/Yi wishes to move the body.

It is important to do Zhan Zhuang (pronounced "Jam Jong" meaning standing like a tree, or standing like a post) and Qigong (pronounced "chee gung" meaning Qi work or energy work) as part of your Taijiquan training. It is also important to do "quieting of the mind" exercises such as meditation. To develop Qi circulation within the body, do a Qigong such as the "Microcosmic Orbit".

There is much discussion on whether Taijiquan should be learned simply as an "exercise" for health purposes, or only as a martial art system. Learning the form for health purposes often really means paying less attention to perfection in all the many details. This can also mean putting less than optimum physical and mental effort into each movement of the form, and usually no training in joint-hands. Also, there is usually little taught on where to place the attention of the mind to circulate the qi during each movement of the form. Still, even this style of "Exercise Tai Chi" has benefits for many.
The interesting thing is that those who do try to learn Taijiquan as a martial art also get all the health benefits, only usually to a much greater degree due to the higher level of physical and mental effort that must be applied.

There are no "belts" or rank levels in Taijiquan, one is a student, a teacher or a master (and teachers can be considered to be students until they become masters, while masters are always striving to reach perfection - the eternal student). When performing joint-hand operations, someone who is very good can "know" your skill level after only a few seconds. Pretending to be better than you really are can only impress those of  lower skill level than yourself, all others will know the truth.

A beginner in Taijiquan is one who does not have enough body awareness and knowledge of basic principles to correct his own mistakes. Once a student achieves a high enough level of proficiency so that he can be self-correcting, then he is no longer a beginner.

Some Stages of Ability in Taijiquan

The first or beginning stage can be referred to as the "muscle stage". This is because the body is usually supported (kept from toppling over, or collapsing) by muscle power, and all motion is performed through the muscular movement of the limbs and body. Balance is poor, and at this point the teacher will be telling you to "relax, relax" meaning to remove tension from muscles of the body that are not required during the execution of that part of the form. Relax in this case does not mean to let the body slump, slouch or go limp.

There is an intermediate stage that can be referred to as the "qi enlivened muscle stage". At this point, the movement of internal qi can be felt to be at least partly causing the muscles to move. This is most apparent in the arms. The student will have learned how to remove much of the tension from the muscles (and the mind) at this point, allowing the qi to flow, and he will think he has gained great accomplishment in his Taijiquan, but this is only halfway to the next stage.

The next stage can be referred to as the "bone stage" (I don't have a complete understanding of this stage at the current level of my Taijiquan). Although this is a natural next step in the study of Taijiquan, many never reach this stage. It is mostly a matter of paying close attention to proper alignment of the skeleton. When this proper alignment is reached, the body will suddenly feel lighter since it is the bones that are supporting the weight and not the muscles. The muscles can remain mostly relaxed (called "emptying the body") allowing one to begin to develop "listening" ability, or the ability to feel what your opponent is going to do during joint-hands training for example. The "straighter" the body alignment and the more completely empty the body becomes, the better will be ones sensitivity or "listening" ability.
The body alignment also leads one to discover the true meaning of "substantial and insubstantial" or "full and empty" in the legs. Once you have found this, you will find that you have great balance and stability, even when standing on one foot.
Also, as a result of reaching this stage you will be able to develop " jin" which is an outward expansion of your energy and body, like a balloon full of air producing "internal strength/power"; and "sung" which is similar to being totally "loose" or without tension, yet being full of strength. One must be sung before he can express jin.

Order of Learning Taijiquan

In learning Taijiquan, many things are dependent upon understanding many other things. In other words, the "basics" must be properly learned which will allow one to learn "slightly greater" things. Accumulating the knowledge of several of these "slightly greater" things will allow one to learn "a much greater" thing, etc. etc. Becoming good at Taijiquan requires having a solid "foundation", no shortcuts can be taken. Remember that learning must take place in two areas, the mind and also the body. Many things appear "easy" to understand in the mind, but almost impossible to perform with the body.

Another thing I learned from my teacher is that what is correct one day may not be correct (good enough) the next day. This means that what I was doing at the level I was at (my current level of understanding) was OK; but once I improved in my ability and understanding, then what I was doing was now not good enough, as it was missing much finer (often internal) details which I should now work toward being able to understand and do.
This process which my teacher refers to as "returning to the beginning" has happened over and over during my learning the form and joint-hands, and is still happening. Now when one of my friends ask if I have finally learned the Taijiquan form yet after practising "so many" years, I just smile - there is always a requirement to "return to the beginning" and relearn at a deeper level of understanding.

In the beginning, there are too many things to remember and pay attention to while learning the form. One must first memorize the sequence of movements in the form so that doing it becomes automatic, and no thought is required to remember "what comes next". Then you will be more relaxed and the mind can become clear of those types of thoughts and real training can begin. But while learning the form, one must also be paying attention to the "basics".

Initially, the student follows and tries to imitate the movements of the teacher. The teacher tries to correct the mistakes of the student and help him discover proper body alignment in his form. This learning system eventually enables the student to detect faults in himself so that he can correct his own alignment in the form.
A point is finally reached when the student must stop imitating or exactly copying the movements of his teacher and must start to "fit" the Taijiquan into his own body. This "customizing" of the Taijiquan for your own body must be in strict accordance to all Taijiquan rules and basics.

The form should be learned first and studied until you have developed a good understanding of the basics plus developed some body connection before attempting to learn joint-hand operation, the sword or other weapon form.

Required Taijiquan Basics

Proper stance and step width is very important and should be approximately shoulder (hip) width apart. When measuring distance between feet, measure between the "Yongquan", or "bubbling spring" acupuncture points on the bottom of the feet.

To check the width of your step, slide the front foot straight back so it is in line with the rear foot, then pivot the rear foot on the Yongquan point so that the insides of the feet are parallel. The distance between the Yongquan points should be the same "shoulder width apart" as before the step was taken.

The inner sides of the feet must be parallel in the opening and closing of the form, and also while doing standing practice/Zhan Zhuang. In the beginning of the form where the left foot moves "shoulder width apart", one foot should not end up in front of the other (even half an inch is too much).

The inside of the feet should be parallel during stepping in "Waving Hands like Clouds". The feet should be no closer together than "shoulder width" at the narrowest and about one and one-half shoulder widths when stepping out to the side.

Proper step length - the heel of the front foot should be at least just in front of the toes of the rear foot. As one learns to perform the form in a lower stance (the lower back relaxes and Mingmen opens), the step length will become greater. You should always be able to retrieve the front foot after stepping out (but before shifting the weight). If you cannot, perhaps your step length is too long at this stage in your development.

When stepping out, the front foot should point in the direction of travel, the rear foot is usually at 45 degrees to this direction of travel. This 45 degree foot angle will feel comfortable only if the step width/length is correct and the hips/lower back are relaxed enough to allow the body/pelvic-girdle to turn as one unit so as to face in the direction of the front foot.

When stepping out, the weight is not shifted to the front foot until after the front foot is properly placed. Taijiquan stepping is not walking, where the weight is already shifting forward before the front foot is properly placed on the ground. As mentioned previously, the front foot should be able to be retrieved after stepping out (before the body weight is shifted). The heel lands on the ground first in Taijiquan stepping (except when stepping backward as in "Step Back to Repulse Monkey" or sideways as in "Waving Hands Like Clouds").

After stepping, the weight is shifted forward so that the front leg is now the "substantial" leg and the rear leg is now the "insubstantial" leg. The kneecap should be moved up to, but not allowed to extend beyond the tips of the toes. The knee must also remain above the centre of the foot and not be allowed to move left or right. You now sink on the substantial hip to set up a proper alignment from the Yongquan point through the hip joint and up through the body. The body weight should feel centred on the Yongquan point.

Sinking doesn't mean bending the knees to lower the body more. Sinking actually involves a relaxation of the supporting muscles of the hip joint and the lower back. The upper body may appear to drop lower, but the knees have not bent any further.

The English translation generally leads to a misunderstanding of the meaning of the term "waist" as used in the many Taijiquan classics. This use of waist refers to the entire area from below the hip joints up to the dantian (located just below the navel). When the classics say to turn with the waist, they don't mean to twist in the area between the bottom edge of the ribs and the top of the hips. The shoulders are to remain aligned over the hips, and the turning takes place in the ball and socket of the hip joint.
At first it is difficult to locate the "brain connections" to the muscles that can control the rotation of the hip joint, most North Americans tend to use their hip joints as if they were a hinge rather than a ball and socket. Relaxation of the muscles supporting (and usually freezing) the hip joints must be accomplished in order to turn in the hip joint.

When turning using the hip joint, the spine remains straight and vertical and does not twist. The neck is straightened by the feeling of being supported from above. This feeling of lifting from above will occur once proper alignment from the weight supporting foot up through the hip, to the upper part of the body has occurred.

Work on relaxing the muscles in the inner and outer thighs and the butt. These major muscle groups usually have a tendency to remain tense (even though you may think you have them relaxed). This is especially apparent when doing standing (Zhan Zhuang).

Keep the shoulders and elbows relaxed and down at all times when doing the form, standing (Zhan Zhuang), or joint-hands. Keeping the elbows pointed down (dropped) will help to keep the shoulders down, lifting the elbows to point outwards will tend to raise the shoulders and produce tension there.

Much of the requirement to relax and remove tension is actually an attempt to eliminate the effect of muscles working against each other in the body. Often when we move a part of our body, such as an arm, we use one set of muscles to move the arm in the desired direction and the opposing set of muscles to "control" the movement and to keep it from going too far. This use of contradictory muscles causes stiffness and tension and reduces sensitivity to outside forces. Also, there is a much greater expenditure of energy causing one to tire and possibly feel out of breath from doing the form.

The first experience I had with the elimination of the use of contradictory muscles was in my legs. In learning how to relax tension from the muscles not required to hold my body up, there was a sudden feeling of release in the legs. Standing now suddenly felt different, almost like the legs were continuously pushing the feet downward.

Try to maintain a light-hearted disposition, a smile helps relax the facial muscles. Relaxing the facial muscles helps to relax the jaw muscles. Relaxing the jaw muscles helps to relax the neck muscles. Relaxing the neck muscles helps to relax the shoulder muscles. Relaxing the shoulder muscles helps to relax the back muscles. So you can see that frowning or clenching the jaw can definitely adversely affect the quality of your Taijiquan. When trying to relax the face muscles, start by relaxing the eyebrows, forehead and scalp).

Another important factor is maintaining a clear or quiet mind. Too many thoughts or worries will adversely affect your Taijiquan. Meditation is the training technique to obtain a quiet mind.

One of the more difficult requirements is the proper relaxation of the lower back, and dropping of the tailbone (coccyx) to re-adjust the "pelvic girdle" to permit proper" sinking of the hip". You must release the tension in the muscles in the lower back and tailbone area (the Mingmen area), as well as in the weight bearing (substantial) hip to allow this "sinking" to occur. Exhaling or "breathing down" into the hip will help relax these muscles. The muscles in the knee and hip (including the muscles on the inside and outside of the thigh) of the insubstantial leg must also be relaxed before shifting weight into it. When the body is shifted forward, and the hip-sinking is performed after taking a step, an alignment is to be set up from the Yongquan point through the hip joint and up to the shoulder. Proper alignment will produce a lifting sensation at the top of the head (baihui point).

The weight of the body should remain physically and mentally centred on the Yongquan points of the feet at all times. To obtain this effect in the opening stance (and Zhan Zhuang stance), the hips must often be moved forward to place the centre of the hip joint over the Yongquan point of the foot. Initially, this will give the sensation of almost falling forward, until the lower back and hip muscles properly relax, then a realignment takes place which feels more stable.

Proper skeletal alignment and relaxation of the lower back muscles will give the sudden sensation of the body weight dropping into the heels. This is the beginning of building a strong "root" and feeling of being attached to the earth.

Any tension in the back muscles can give the sensation of lifting the weight off the heels or a floating sensation, thus breaking your root. "Standing" (Zhan Zhuang) is the method to build a strong root.

Avoid the tendency to lean forward (as in "Fair Lady Works at Shuttle" ), backward ("Step Back to Repulse Monkey"), or to the side ("Shoulder Stroke" or "Slanting Flying"). The body must maintain a rooted vertical alignment to maintain stability.

Easy turning of the body when doing the form (or joint hands) can only occur if the body is in proper vertical alignment. When this alignment is obtained, it feels as if the body is rotating on a vertical axle and much less effort is required to turn the body to face any direction (misalignment is like trying to rotate on a "bent axle"). A second requirement for easy turning is the proper relaxation of muscles in both hip/kua areas.

After the proper relaxation and control of the hips and relaxation of the lower back has been obtained, and proper stepping width and length is observed; you can work on proper turning of the pelvic girdle and upper body to face in the direction of the front foot. By maintaining enough room in the width of your step for the pelvic girdle to rotate toward the front, and by relaxing the muscles in both the hip supporting the body weight and the "empty" hip; it is possible to comfortably rotate the whole upper body with the pelvic girdle so that it is facing the same direction as the front foot. This would be used in "Brush Knee, Twist Step" for example.

Remember that the shoulders remain over the hips, there is no twisting of what we generally call the waist (the soft area above the hips and below the rib cage). Also remember to bring the hip forward and to the side far enough over the substantial foot to obtain proper alignment. The knee of the rear (insubstantial) leg must also remain slightly bent (open).

In form sequences such as "Grasp Birds Tail, Press and Push/Punch ", there will be a tendency to move the knee of the front foot from side to side as the upper body turns back and fourth. Try to keep it from doing this as a soreness in the knee can result after doing the form. This tendency will disappear after proper vertical alignment has been learned, relaxation of the muscles in the hip joints (opening up) has occurred, and you have learned to differentiate between substantial and insubstantial in the legs (proper weight shifting has occurred).

Body connection is obtained through proper release of tension in all parts of the body, while maintaining correct body alignment (becoming sung ). Developing proper body connection will enable one to perform the movements as the classics say: "when one part of the body acts, all parts act; when one part of the body stands still, all parts are still".
The first part of the body to feel this connection is usually the arms. When first learning Taijiquan, the arms tend to move totally independently of the upper body ("arm waving").
The initial stage of connection is usually more of a relaxed locking of arm motion to upper body motion. The arms are driven by the upper body motion (turning in the hip), with the distance and speed of arm motion being the same as the body (as in "Wave Hands Like Clouds").

Later, the feeling changes to be more like two gears, the body being a large gear, and the arms being a smaller gear. The gears cannot slip so that the arms are connected to the body, but because the gear representing the arms is smaller, the arms can move farther and faster than the body moves/turns (as in "Strike Opponent's Ears With Both Fists").

The upper and lower body must also become connected together. This means that there can be no twisting of the soft area between the hips and ribs, but the muscles of this area and of the lower back must remain relaxed. This upper/lower body connection will allow the movement of the pelvic girdle (using the hip sockets) to directly move the upper body (as in "Wild Horse Ruffles its Mane"). You must relax (hollow) the chest to "raise the back" to obtain this connection between the hips and the shoulders.

Some Other Points to Remember

Weight is constantly shifted back and forth from one leg to the other during the movements of the form. Except for the opening and closing, nowhere during the form should the weight be equally divided between the legs. Actually even in the opening, the weight is not made equal in both legs. The form has begun when the weight is shifted to the right leg and the left leg separates to the left. This is the change from Wuji to Taiji.

When shifting the weight during the form, about 70% should be on the substantial leg, with the other 30% on the insubstantial leg. In order to shift the weight properly from the full leg to the empty leg, the empty leg hip joint must be relaxed/dropped (this is done by relaxing the hip joint muscles, not by bending the knee further). You must obtain correct alignment down through the empty leg (hip/knee/ankle) to the Yongquan point, only then should the weight be shifted from the full to the empty leg (which now becomes the full leg). Immediately relax/drop the hip joint of the now empty leg and find its alignment to complete the weight transfer. If you have done this correctly, the full leg will already have the correct alignment and you will only have to verify that there is no tension in the lower back/hip/knee/ankle.

One way for beginners to initially improve body alignment after shifting the weight onto one leg is to visualise the tailbone aiming at the heel of the foot supporting your weight. You can also visualise the body momentarily in the "horse stance" as the weight is shifted to the front leg, as in "Single Whip".

When standing in the bow stance, relax and open up the groin, rounding the inner thighs (legs/groin should feel like a "U" not like a "V"). The knees must be kept properly centred over the feet so there is a "straight" line down to the ground (through the Yongquan points).

Keep the shoulders and elbows down, and keep the lower back relaxed with the butt tucked in to straighten the lower spine and open the Mingmen.

The tailbone should be vertical ("plumb the coccyx") with the natural curvature of the lower spine removed. This can occur once the muscles of the lower back are relaxed and the tailbone "drops".

After the shoulders and muscles around the shoulder blades (scapula) are relaxed and dropped, the chest should also be allowed to drop with the feeling one has after a complete exhalation of the breath. This "dropping" or hollowing of the chest will lead to the "raising of the back" sensation. This is the feeling that the surface of the back is pressing toward the rear (note that raising the back is a horizontal effect, not a vertical one). The hollowing of the chest and raising of the back (make sure the lower back/Mingmen is relaxed/open) will allow the proper connection from the ground up to the arms.

In "Brush Knee", ensure that the hips are turned to face the front and the knee is forward to the end of the toes. The hand centred (e.g. when the right hand is pressing forward, it should fall on a vertical plane through the right eye). The elbow should be far enough forward to be in the same plane as the toe and kneecap. Remember to keep the elbow and shoulder down and tailbone tucked under.

To obtain the proper movement when shifting the weight across from one leg to the other, the hips and groin area must be open. Stretching exercises should be done so that an angle of at least 135 degrees can be maintained between the knees/feet while maintaining proper alignment (this is required in the long form to get from "Repulse Monkey" to "Slanting Flying" for example). This flexibility will allow one to properly place the left foot with the left knee properly aligned over it when moving into "Single Whip" or "Brush Knee".

When shifting from one leg to the other, the body should glide across, not vault with the head moving up and down. The tailbone (and butt) should remain tucked under throughout the movement. In "Single Whip" for example, the body weight moves into the "properly aligned" left foot/knee/leg, then there will be a point where the hips/upper-body and the right foot will "suddenly" pivot to face 45 degrees from the direction of the left foot. If the body is properly aligned and relaxed, this "point" where the body and foot turn will occur naturally and will not have to be forced.

Don't turn the body further than the foot angle (45degrees). Don't twist the body to turn it, relax the hip joints and open with the insubstantial leg/knee to turn the body. The sinking of the hip and turning in the hip occur simultaneously.
Also open up (relax) the hips and kua to allow the body weight to shift sideways from one leg to the other in all movements, this will help prevent the knees from wobbling from side-to-side.

Keep the head erect (chin slightly tucked in and head slightly to the rear to straighten the spine at the back of the neck - this must be done gently/naturally), with the feeling of being suspended by the crown from above. Don't keep looking down to check what your body or feet are doing, this will keep you from maintaining proper body alignment and balance.

Relaxing (opening up) the hip joints and the muscles of the lower back will enable one to do the form in a lower stance while still maintaining proper alignment such as not letting the knee extend beyond the toes.

Don't let the toe of the front foot lift off the ground as the weight is shifted to the rear foot. Likewise, don't let the heel of the rear foot lift off the ground as the weight is shifted to the front foot. The bottom of the foot should feel "glued" to the ground. This will occur naturally when the ankles are relaxed and the tail bone is "tucked under" so that the small amount of weight (20 to 30 percent) remaining in the insubstantial leg keeps the foot flat and "attached" to the ground.

Always keep the weight evenly distributed across the width of the foot. Lengthways on the foot, the weight should feel centred on the yongquan point.

The feet can only obtain the proper "attachment" to the ground if the body has been properly aligned over them with the tailbone "dropped" and lower back relaxed (slight pelvic tilt), the inner thighs relaxed and bowed slightly outward, and the ankles kept properly relaxed.

To help obtain stability, exhale ("breath down") into the hip to help it to sink (relax). This is done after each weight shift to obtain stability on the substantial (weighted) leg. This should also be done when kicking with the insubstantial leg.

Don't hold your breath or breathe too shallowly while doing the form as this will result in a feeling of being out of breath. The breathing should be natural for the martial requirements of the movement. Timing or synchronizing the breathing to the movements is not desirable as this is a Qigong (Ch'i Kung) technique, not a Taijiquan technique.

Examples of breathing requirements are to exhale when you have shifted onto a different leg to assist in obtaining alignment and "root". Another is to exhale when pressing or punching in "Grasp Birds Tail, Press and Punch". Note that in "Press and Push/Punch", weight shifting is also occurring at the same time.

The upper body should be connected to the lower body so that after "Grasp Birds Tail Left", for example, as the weight shifts to the right leg and the body turns to the right to do "Grasp Birds Tail Right", the left foot should turn with it at the same instant and should not lag behind.

The head should not tilt in any direction or the body will tend to lose balance. Maintain the feeling of head being suspended from above at all times.

The two shoulders should be level, don't raise one shoulder or drop the other when performing movements such as "Shoulder Stroke".

Keep the fingers extended, do not let them curl while doing the form (or when doing joint hand operations). Extend the Qi into the finger tips (as in the forward/striking hand in "Brush Knee" for example), don't let it stop in the palm of the hand.

Although the elbows should be allowed to "hang" toward the ground, don't hold the arms in against the body. When the shoulders and scapula are properly relaxed/dropped, and the arms are allowed to "round up/out" (as in standing practice), the shoulder joint will open up and a feeling as if one is holding a small ball in each armpit will occur. This is called "hollowing the armpits".

When the right arm is moved from the 9 o'clock to the 12o'clock position it is called "parry". From 12 o'clock to 3 o'clock is called "deflect", 3 to 6 is "parry" and 6 to 9 is "deflect". When moving the right arm in the other direction, 9 o'clock to 6 o'clock is "parry", 6 to 3 is "deflect", 3 to 12 is "parry" and 12 to 9 is "deflect".
When the left arm is moved from the 3 o'clock to the 12 o'clock position it is called "parry", from 12 to 9 is called "deflect", from 9 to 6 is called "parry" and from 6 to 3 is called "deflect". When moving the left arm in the other direction, 3 o'clock to 6 o'clock is called "parry", 6 to 9 is "deflect", 9 to 12 is "parry" and 12 to 3 is "deflect".

Wear shoes with thin flexible soles so that you can feel the surface of the ground through them. This will also prevent you from depending on the firm, flat sole of a shoe for balance instead of developing your own proper balance.

When balancing on one leg and kicking with the other, it is important to drop the tailbone and obtain almost a tucking under of the tailbone sensation as the unsubstantial leg lifts up. Also retain the "hollowed chest", these techniques will help maintain alignment and balance.

The attention should be placed in the part of the body that is moved, such as in the fingers (or index finger) when the arms are lifted at the commencement of the form, and the heel of the palm as the arms reach their lowered position. The attention should be in the outer part of the forearm (between wrist and elbow) in the ward-off movement.

After this stage in learning has been reached, the body will feel vertically straight and stable. All turning will feel easy and without effort, and the insubstantial leg will feel light and effortless in lifting and kicking. Shifting the weight from one leg to the other in the form will be smooth with no up and down motion of the head, and a proper body alignment will instantly occur. Sinking of weight to the foot of the substantial leg will give the feeling of great weight and stability in the lower body. Meanwhile there will be a feeling of lightness in the upper body and a lifting sensation at the crown of the head.

Standing Practice/Zhan Zhuang

Standing practice or "standing on stake", or "standing like a tree" (Zhan Zhuang) is a very important training method for the learning of Taijiquan. The most common form is with the feet shoulder width apart, insides of feet parallel, with the body weight equally divided between the two legs. The arms are raised to about shoulder level and allowed to "roundout" (this pose is sometimes called "embracing the tree" or "holding the balloon").

When I was first learning Taijiquan and had to stand for all of 10 minutes like this, I didn't think I was going to make it. My arms were getting heavy and my shoulders ached, my knees and legs ached, my feet were getting sore, sweat was pouring down my chest and back, and I was beginning to feel out of breath and having difficulty maintaining my balance. All of these things were due to improper body alignment and relaxation (release of tension).

Begin from the starting position as in Taijiquan, with both feet together, hands hanging by sides, fingers extended. Calm the mind, shift the weight to the right leg and step to the side with the left leg.

The insides of the feet must be parallel, shoulder width apart, with neither foot ahead of the other.

The knees are slightly bent, do not bend the knees too much or knee muscle pain will result. Just bend them enough to obtain an alignment of the bones to support the body weight and to assist in "dropping the tailbone".

You want to eliminate the curvature of the lower spine as much as possible by relaxing the lower back muscles and allowing the rear part of the "pelvic girdle" and the tailbone to drop (opening the Mingmen). This gives the effect of having the butt tucked in with the coccyx aiming vertically toward the floor.

Slowly raise the arms to about shoulder height, let the shoulders and scapula drop by relaxing the tension from them. Remember to hollow the armpits and round the arms. When this is done correctly, the arms will settle slightly and feel like they are being supported by something.

Centre the body weight over the yongquan point on the bottom of the feet. A vertical line should be set up from the center of a line drawn between the two yongquan points, up through the huiyin (located between the anus and genitals), to the bahui located on the crown of the head.

The soles of the feet should feel that they are maintaining a slightly arched shape with the toes lightly gripping the ground (but the entire bottom of the foot must remain in contact with the ground). This is called "emptying out the soles of the feet". Sometimes the proper weight distribution on the feet can be obtained by "imagining" that the big toes are about a foot long. The ankles must remain relaxed.

Tuck the chin in to help remove the curvature of the spine in the neck and suspend the head as if by a string from above.

Think of your inner thighs as being the sides (supporting structures) of an arch. Open the hip joints and slightly raise the huiyin, which will increase the feeling of the legs forming an arch or bridge.

Gently pull in the muscles just above the pubic bone while allowing the rest of the abdominal (belly) and chest muscles to relax so as not to interfere with breathing.

Relax and drop the chest by exhaling fully and then maintaining that dropped/relaxed feeling as you continue to breath slowly.

Some reasons for practising standing

All the above is then applied to the form so that the form is performed with the body in the "shape" of the standing practice (Zhan Zhuang).

When I was first learning Taijiquan and standing, I was told that the two were done the same. Since I was doing them totally differently I could not understand how anyone could say they were the same. It took two years of study before I finally found that they were the same.

One example is in "Brush Knee". The arms take the ward-off shape of the standing (embracing tree) prior to each "Brush Knee". The body alignment, root and roundness learned in standing should be contained in every part of the form.

There is another technique based on squatting (also called Wall Squatting) which can help straighten the back, strengthen the legs and develop good alignment.

Joint-Hand Operations

In joint-hands, all the knowledge one has learned in doing the form and doing Zhan Zhuang is put to the test. This also includes the "knowledge" that your body has learned, as in proper alignment, structure and movement. You may feel you are doing things correctly, but if there are any deficiencies, things will "fall apart" or collapse quickly once external force is applied.

I am only just beginning to study some joint-hands concepts and have much to learn and understand.

One of the first difficulties to overcome is a "fear" of the other person and of dealing with the force he is applying to your body. This "fear" will cause tension, which will make it easy for him to find and apply force to your centre. A feeling of almost detachment must be maintained so that your body can remain properly relaxed. This can be thought of as doing joint-hand operations as if the other person doesn't exist. One way to aid this "detachment" is to keep the mind in the "waist".

Do not let yourself become angry or despondent due to your inability to do joint-hands with someone who is better. Much practice is required to become skilled. In many cases, this inability can be traced to improper stance, body alignment, sinking or elimination of tension.

There is a tendency to revert to the use of muscle power (Li) in an attempt to handle your partner's incoming force (due to fear). This tendency turns the joint-hands practice into a muscular "battle". Using arm muscles to "fight" with your partner's force causes tension in the shoulder, this tension will make it easier for your partner to push you off balance (assuming that he is using proper Taijiquan techniques). An old saying is "use Yi not Li", meaning use the mind/qi not just the muscles.

It is very important to observe all the "rules" and "basics" of Taijiquan while doing joint-hands. Look to body alignment and to the waist and lower body for many of the problems you may be experiencing. This also includes problems in the upper body.

Initially, the many repetitions of doing joint-hands help you to mentally and physically accept this practice with another person as a normal thing. Accepting this will help remove mental and physical tensions. Not fearing your partner or his actions will allow you to become detached and more like an observer watching your body. This will enable you to clear the mind, and react instantly to your partner's movements.

In the early stages of learning joint-hands, keeping the eyes closed can help one stay focused on what is taking place. The eyes should only be a source of information and not a source of emotion.

One movement that can be practised by yourself to improve your joint-hands is a repetition of Grasp Birds Tail, Press and Push/Punch. During the sequence, concentrate on proper body alignment and weight shifting, sinking fully on the substantial hip. Also pay attention to loosening the ankles and keeping the feet "nailed" to the floor with the body weight properly centred over them. Use the opening of the insubstantial hip/knee to start the body turning as the weight is shifted to the rear leg (don't turn more than 45 degrees). About 20% of the weight should remain on the front foot as you sink into the rear leg, turn and move forward again. Don't let the front leg/knee move from side to side, open the kua (relax the inner thigh) of the front leg and open the front knee before moving forward. Also remember to properly relax the chest.

To maintain softness in moving the arm, think of moving the arm away from the body by pushing from the inside of the arm. Think of moving the arm toward the body by pushing from the outside of the arm.

All the joints of the body (e.g. arms and legs) should remain open during all movement. This can be aided by thinking of the joints (for example: the shoulder, elbow, wrist, and finger joints) as "separating" slightly making the arm feel like it is becoming longer. A joint is also considered to be "closed" (not open) if it has reached the end of its range of motion.

It is important that one pay close attention to the feet and ankles. The ankles must be kept properly relaxed so that the weight can distribute evenly across the foot to keep it from becoming slightly twisted with slightly more weight along either the inner or outer edge. The weight must be properly centred over the feet in order to distribute across the width of the feet. Improper foot alignment/ankle relaxation can cause improper knee alignment, which can result in difficulty in relaxing/sinking the hip. One should wear shoes without a raised heel to aid in proper weight distribution on the feet.

After one has learned to properly relax the ankles and drop the tailbone (open the mingmen), so that the weight of the body feels like it has dropped into the heals; the body alignment over the feet can be adjusted. The weight should be moved over the yongquan points by adjusting the tail bone and the pelvic bone (not just by moving the body). Because of the structure of the foot (the heel is slightly behind the ankle), a lever is formed which will cause the body weight on the heel to force the front part of the foot onto the floor. Although the weight may have been adjusted more toward the heel by the opening of the mingmen, the force on the floor is still centred on the yongquan point. The foot will feel much different than when the weight and force are centred over the yongquan point, having the sensation of lightly but firmly grasping the floor. Although the sole feels glued to the floor, it doesn't feel as full, or like it is being flattened by dead weight. This is referred to as emptying out the sole of the foot.

There are several "body connections" that must be developed. One is the connection of the hand to the shoulder. When the back, shoulders and elbow are properly relaxed and "dropped", the arm can be allowed to settle slightly until a feeling of external support occurs. The hand now feels connected directly to the shoulder without any sensation from the parts of the arm in between (the elbow, upper and lower arm are "empty").

When the shoulder is properly relaxed and dropped, and the back is properly aligned (by relaxing/emptying the chest to raise the back), the shoulder will appear connected to the spine and the spine connected to the waist (by proper relaxation/alignment of the lower back - "plumbing the coccyx" and "opening the mingmen").

After the hips are properly relaxed, knees slightly bent and aligned in the direction of the feet, and the feet nailed to the floor (relax the ankles), the feet will appear connected to the hips. The knees and other parts of the leg will feel empty. You can then "sit" on this supporting structure, the feeling is like sitting on the edge of a stool.

The "6 harmonies" refers to the development of connections between the wrists and ankles, elbows and knees, and the shoulders and hips. This will occur through the practice of Zhan Zhuang, the form and joint hands.

When standing (or when doing joint-hands, or a form), the "centre" of the body should be "empty". This will enable the internal strength to appear on the outside of the body (in the arms for example).

 Before the commencement of Taiji, when in the Wuji stance with the feet together and knees slightly bent, the lower back should be opened by dropping the tailbone. The knees should remain lightly touching each other, relax the muscles in the thighs, hips and across the buttocks. Keep the head upright with chin slightly tucked in, arms hanging with fingers extended and relax/hollow the chest. This position is usually held for several seconds until one is satisfied with their body structure and level of relaxation before shifting the weight to separate the feet and begin the form.

 After stepping out (as in Brush Knee), The distance between the rear foot and the front foot should be considered to be divided into 4 equal parts (between 5 points). The rear foot occupies the 1st point and the front foot the 5th point, with the3rd point halfway between the two feet. As the body is shifted from the rear foot to the front foot, turning in the hip joint should begin at the 2nd point while sinking in the hip and lower back should begin as the body passes through point number 4, and everything should be completed as the body reaches point number 5.This will also ensure that the front knee moves far enough forward (to the end of the toes).

The division between full and empty, while shifting weight between legs, can be made more clear if one ensures that the inner thigh (and groin) muscles remain relaxed on both legs (in addition to the lower back muscles) at all times during the weight shifting. This technique can be practiced even while walking during your normal working day.

Practice standing as in Zhan Zhuang (standing like a tree), but put the attention on the outer part of the forearms. Extend the hands so the fingers point forwards with the palms facing the ground. Allow the wrist to relax (drop) slightly so that a sensation of the wrist resting on something has occurred. Keep the shoulders and elbows dropped and put the attention (ch'i) into the finger tips.

While performing Joint-hands, you must maintain a vertical or straight line from the top of the head to the ground. Many people do not understand this concept, and think some experts in Taijiquan have their bodies "leaning" when actually it is straight. One example is in the pictures of Howard Choy. In the 4th of the black-and-white pictures where he is starting to push the person on the right, note that he is maintaining the straight line from head down to the centre of the leading (right) foot. In the next two pictures note that he never lets this vertical straight line move in front of the front foot (if he did, then he would be leaning). In Wu style, for example in the pictures of Wu Jianguan, the body is aligned differently giving the appearance of lean. When compared to Yang style, there are several pictures with the head in front of the front foot, although the shoulder structure is not. In Wu the head can be aligned with the spine, giving the appearance that it is too far forward.

The Eight Energies

There are 8 different energies or jins used to make up all the forms and applications of Taijiquan. Some of the movements in the form are named after these energies to indicate that they primarily consist of this particular energy practice.
1. Peng (p'eng)  ward-off/inflate
2. Lu rollback/pull downwards
3. Ji (chi) press/follow
4. An push
5. Cai (ts'ai) pluck or grasp
6. Lie (lieh) split
7. Zhou (chou) elbow strike
8. Kao (k'ao) shoulder strike or lean

Proper application of "push" with both hands involves proper body alignment and connection to the ground (empty and full legs properly defined), vertical tailbone (sink fully), upper body straight, shoulders properly relaxed (with shoulder blades/scapula flat), elbows hanging heavily toward the floor and attention in the finger tips.

Listening energy or ting  jin used in joint-hands, is actually a form of an jin (push).

Proper application of "ward off" includes everything listed above for "push". The "ward off" energy is like the surface of a balloon - springy and yielding, yet resisting external force. The power of "ward off" comes not only from body structure/sung, but also from the internal energy (qi/ch'i ) and raising of spirit (shen).

The ward off energy or peng jin is the most important energy and its aspects should be contained in all parts of the form. Practising "standing on stake" (Zhan Zhuang) will help develop ward off energy.

All movements in the form should not just consist of only one energy, each should contain 3 or more energies. This is accomplished through the use of Yi.

The Five Steps

In stepping there are five basic changes in motion used throughout Taijiquan:
1. Jin advance (forward) as in the Brush-Knee
2. Tui retreat (backward) as in Repulse Monkey
3. Gu look around - left
4. Pan observe - right (left and right are similar to Wave Hands)
5. Ding still (central equilibrium - Zhong din) as in Raise Hands

The eyes (and Yi) control the hands, while the steps (the feet) control the body.

Some Concepts of Joint-Hands

One must learn not to try to win; learning to follow, in a balanced centred manner is much more important. Do not reach out or follow too far, keep your centre. As one's sensitivity improves, less force is required in contacting the other person. The force applied should only be enough to balance the other person's force and no more or less.

A very important thing to learn is how to connect the body from the feet up to the hands (or whatever part of the body is in contact with your partner). You must then learn how to connect into your partner's body. This will enable you to instantly feel when your partner is beginning to move so that you can redirect/neutralise his force before he can use it.

Proper body alignment (from the sole of the feet to the top of the head) is one key to obtaining this connection, a relaxed mind plus a properly relaxed (sung) body are other requirements.

Do not chase a point of contact so that you will be led off balance or into a disadvantageous position. The point of contact can and should change depending on the situation at that moment, and you can use other parts of the arm, elbow, shoulder, back, hip (even the head) etc., in addition to your hand and fingers.

The forearms should always be "rolling" or rotating both during joint-hands and while doing the form. This rotating is a result of changes in the energy being used, eg. ward off, press or push etc.

If your partner stops moving, you should also stop and wait for his movement to begin again. Don't make extra/unnecessary movements, just follow.

Silk Reeling Exercises (Chan Ssu Chin or Chan si jing)

An important training technique to obtain circular smooth body connection required for joint-hands (and proper performance of the form) is Silk Reeling. This involves using the tailbone/diantian and hips to begin and drive the movement of the body and arms/hands.

Silk Reeling prepares the individual for forms practice and strengthens the body through its coiling motions. It teaches one to always move in uninterrupted circles, and to keep the qi flowing.

When performing Silk Reeling, use natural and relaxed motion. Turn the waist and allow the hands to follow. Don't use force to push the Qi along as this will prevent you from developing "looseness".

When practising the basic two-handed silk reeling exercise, keep the attention in the inside of the forearm near the wrist. This would be the point of contact if there were an opponent.

Square within Circle - Circle within Square

These are two of the concepts that define what is an "internal" martial art. Taijiquan motion is continuous unbroken circular movement. When one strikes or discharges energy (jin) from within the circle, a point or corner is created. This is the "square within the circle".

After one has created a corner in his movement (such as in "Shoulder Stroke"), the body motion cannot be allowed to end or stop but must continue unbroken. Thus a new circle must be created at the end of the linear motion by the turning of the body. This is the "circle within the square".

Some Aids to Training

In addition to performing the solo form, there are many individual exercises that are usually done as a warm-up before the form. These exercises train such things as body connection, body alignment, and filling a similar purpose as "silk reeling exercises" (Chan Ssu Chin).

Individual parts of the form such as "Wave Hands" and "Grasp Birds Tail - Press and Push", or "Brush Knee" can be repeated several times on each side. The raising and lowering of the arms (as in the beginning of the form) is a good warm-up to help get rid of tension in the shoulders and lower back.

Practice holding the Wuji stance (described earlier) for several minutes. Focus on relaxing tense muscles so that the knees will remain touching each other. Don't forget to relax/hollow the chest.

You can also practice stepping and weight shifting. For example, practice a sequence of stepping (with proper sinking on the substantial leg) while crossing right foot over left and left over right, stepping forward and back etc.

At least a 30-minute warm-up should be performed at the beginning of a 2 to 3 hour training session.

Ten to twenty minutes of standing practice should be done during each training session, usually after warm-ups and one round of the solo form have been done. In the beginning, this time will be mostly spent continuously "scanning" the body to find and relax tense muscles. Also it takes time "finding" the proper body alignment and learning how to continuously maintain it.

Another good training exercise is performing "Raise Hands" or "Play the Fiddle", holding the pose for five minutes (or more) on each side. Weighting should be about 90% on rear leg and about 10% on front leg. Body alignment is the same as for Zhan Zhuang.

It is important to have someone correct your body alignment for standing (Zhan Zhuang) to ensure that you keep the hips far enough forward and do not lean backward.

The bahui (crown) should be in vertical alignment with the huiyin (in front of the anus) and the centre of a line drawn between the yongquan (bubbling spring) points of the two feet.

You can check that your back is properly vertically aligned when doing Zhan Zhuang by standing just in front of a wall. The back should be parallel to the wall, and if you lightly press against the wall, there shouldn't be any space between the wall and the lumbar (lower back) area.

Wear inexpensive canvas rubber-soled shoes when practising rather than joggers. The jogger provides extra support that will make it easier to balance on one foot, but this will also prevent you from developing proper balance as the body will become dependant upon this extra support. The shoe worn should give a feeling similar to wearing no shoe, then proper balance and alignment can be developed.

I have found walking to be a very good training aid. An approximately 2 km walk "around the block", which includes some slightly uphill and downhill walking, while focusing on maintaining proper alignment and connection of the body (as in doing Taijiquan) has improved my balance and Taijiquan form. Walking downhill is important to initially find your vertical alignment as most people walk with the hip joints too far behind the centre-point of their feet ("butt sticking out").

To check to see if you are bringing the front knee far enough forward (or not too far forward) in movements such as "Brush Knee", perform the movement in front of a flat vertical wall with the toes just touching the base of the wall. The front knee should be just touching the wall when you have properly sunk into the substantial (front) leg.

To practice turning in the hip joint, try the following exercise: Stand with your shoulders and butt touching a wall with the knees slightly bent as in the opening of the form. Roll from side to side on the wall so that you move from the right shoulder/hip to the left shoulder/hip (don't try to turn the body more than 45 degrees to each side). The knees should remain pointing straight forward and not move from side to side (only slightly forward and backward) as the body is rolled on the wall. You can have someone hold your knees so that the only way you can roll from side to side is by rotating the ball and socket joint of the hip. Remember that the shoulders are to stay vertically above the hips during this exercise (no twisting the waist).

A good training aid for joint-hand operations is the Tai Chi Ruler. This is a 12 to 14 inch length of 1 inch or larger diameter wooden stick with both ends rounded to comfortably fit in the palms of your hands.
Lightly hold the stick between both hands with the rounded ends pressing the laogong accu-points in the palms of the hands (keep the fingers straight). Holding the stick in this manner while performing the movements of "Grasp Birds Tail, Press/Punch" will force you to turn the body from the hip. Twisting at the (soft) waist will tend to move the arms independently and you may drop the stick. This practice will also develop body connection with the arms.

Note that training in the sword or other weapon should not be attempted until you have developed good body connection and internal strength. Otherwise there will be the tendency to move the sword using only muscle power.

Philosophy of Taijiquan

One of the concepts of Taijiquan is the development of mind and body, for health and martial purposes.

The shen referred to in the classics is ones "spirit". In western culture we often use this term when referring to a horse as being very spirited, or in expressions such as visiting someone who is not feeling well to help raise his spirit. It is also common to refer to someone who is happy as "being in good spirit".

In order to "be in good spirit" or to "raise ones shen", a person has to be happy and satisfied with himself and the life he lives. He should avoid things that depress his spirit such as arguing or fighting with others, and substance abuse (such as alcohol) for example. Anything that causes tension, depression, stress, conflict etc. should be avoided if one is to experience the satisfying and happy feeling of the "raising of ones spirit". Remember to think "happy thoughts" while doing Taijiquan.

A sensation seems to occur in the top of the head, which is why in the classics the phrase "lift the spirit up to the crown" was used. To "let the spirit ascend to the crown" will also create the sensation of being suspended from above. Note that proper body alignment is required (straightening the spine, or "plumb the coccyx") to permit this to occur.

Why there is much emphasis on the development of ones shen or spirit is because this will lead to the natural flow of qi in the body and is also the requirement which leads to becoming light and agile in your movements (again this also depends on proper body alignment).

The development of the spirit or shen also helps in the free flow of qi throughout the body. One of the reasons why older people have less trouble mobilizing the qi in their bodies is due to having a more strongly developed shen, often a result of experiencing less stress in that period of their lives.

Although some of the health benefits are obtained through development of the shen and qi, it is also important to develop the body. Muscles must be stretched out to allow joints to obtain full range of motion. This greater range of motion will enable the body to be properly aligned, permitting the skeleton to carry the body weight. Muscles can then be relaxed, improving the circulation of blood and qi through the body. The legs must become stronger so that the body weight can be easily supported on one leg. Much of this "body development" work can be accomplished through diligent practice of the Taijiquan form.

The long form (or several repetitions of a shorter form) is preferred since it takes a 20 to 30 minute workout to obtain the most benefit.

The Secrets of Taijiquan

Many people say that there are no secrets, many really good teachers offer to teach all they know. Others say that there must be secrets otherwise why aren't there more high-level Taijiquan practitioners if everything is there for the learning.

Some of the "secrets" of Taijiquan are in plain sight but are ignored or overlooked by many students; after all, "anything that important can't be that simple".

Of course one of the most important things is to have a good teacher to guide you. In learning Taijiquan it is easy to be "off by an inch" - leading one to "miss by a mile". Having someone of a high enough level to properly correct your mistakes can greatly speed up the process of learning Taijiquan.

It is also important for the student to put forth the effort to learn Taijiquan. The teacher is wasting his time if the student has no real interest in learning what he has to offer. In today's world it is difficult to devote oneself entirely to the study of Taijiquan in addition to the commitments of family and job.

Zhan Zhuang - one of the most important training "secrets" of Taijiquan.

Qigong - one good source of  information is Tom Tam's book - Tai Chi Dao Yin.

Meditation - a site covering Taoist Meditation is Master Han's Meditation Techniques.

A student of Taijiquan must understand the importance of proper body alignment. Only if correct alignment is obtained, can proper removal of unwanted tension occur. After removal of tension, then proper learning of Taijiquan can begin.

There are many good books on various aspects of Taijiquan, this is a link to a list of some I have found useful.


Pronunciation Guide to Pinyin Romanization

The Pinyin system of translating Chinese to English writing was created in the 1950's and is now considered to be the "official" system. At least two other systems (Wade-Giles and Yale) were in use prior to this, with the Wade-Giles being the more popular.

Following is a list of Pinyin characters and their pronunciation.

"a" a vowel, as in "far"   "n" a consonant, as in "no"
"b" a consonant, as in "be"   "o" a vowel, as "aw" in "law"
"c" a consonant, as "ts" in "its"   "p" a consonant, as in "par"
"ch" a consonant, as in "church"   "q" a consonant, as "ch" in "cheek"
"d" a consonant, as in "do"   "r" a consonant, pronounced as "r" but not rolled, or as"z" in azure
"e" a vowel, as in "her" with the "r" being silent   "s" a consonant, as in "sister"
"f" a consonant, as in "foot"   "sh" as "sh" in "shore"
"g" a consonant, as in "go"   "t" as in "top"
"h" a consonant, as in "her"   "u" a vowel, as in "too"
"i" a vowel, 2 pronunciations: 
as in "eat", or 
as in "sir" in syllables beginning with the consonants c, ch, r, s, sh, z, zh
  "v" is used only to pronounce foreign words and local dialects
"j" a consonant, as in "jeep"   "w" used as a semi-vowel in syllables beginning with "u" when not proceeded by consonants, pronounced as in "want"
"k" a consonant, as in "kind"   "x" a consonant, as "sh"
"l" a consonant, as in "land"   "y" used as a semi-vowel in syllables beginning with "i" or "u" when not proceeded by a consonant. 
pronounced as in "yet"
"m" a consonant, as in "me"   "z" a consonant, as in "zero"
      "zh" a consonant, as "j" in "jump"


Pronunciation Guide to Wade-Giles Romanization

The Wade-Giles system of converting Chinese characters to the English alphabet was in widespread use prior to the adoption of the Pinyin system. It is considered to be a more difficult to learn system and requires the use of the apostrophe. If the apostrophe is omitted (as in many books and articles), then the proper pronunciation of the word cannot be determined.

Following is a list of some Pinyin and equivalent Wade-Giles characters.
Pinyin Wade-Giles Pronounced
b p "b" as in "be" (aspirated)
c ts', tz' "ts" as in "its"
ch ch' as in "church"
d t "d" as in "do"
g k "g" as in "go"
j ch "j" as in "jeep"
k k' "k" as in "kind" (aspirated)
p p' "p" as in "par" (aspirated)
q ch' "ch" as in "cheek"
r j similar to the "j" in French "je"
s s, ss, sz "s" as in "sister"
sh sh "sh" as in "shore"
t t' "t" as in "top"
x hs "sh" as in "she" (thinly sounded)
z ts, tz "z" as in "zero"
zh ch "j" as in "jump"

Finals (word endings)     Some Words
Pinyin Wade-Giles   Pinyin Wade-Giles
-i -(z)u   er erh
-ie -ieh   si szu
-ian -ien   ye yeh
-ui -uei   yen yan
-ong -ung   you yu
-uo -o, -uo   zi  tzu
-i -ih

Taijiquan (in Pinyin), is spelled T'ai Chi Ch'uan in the Wade-Giles system. Another example is the city name Beijing (in Pinyin), which is spelled Peking in Wade-Giles.

Some People's Names
Pinyin Wade-Giles   Pinyin Wade-Giles
Chen Fake Ch'en Fa-k'o   Ren Guangyi Jen Kuang-i
Chen Zhangxing Ch'en Chang-hsing   Sun Lutang Sun Lu-t'ang
Chen Wangting Ch'en Wang-t'ing   Tang Hao T'ang Hao
Chen Qingping Ch'en Ch'ing-p'ing   Wu Jianquan Wu Chien-ch'uan
Chen Xiaowang Ch'en Hsiao-wang   Yang Chengfu Yang Ch'eng-fu
Li Bantian Li Pan-t'ien   Yang Luchan Yang Lu-ch'an
Qi Jiguang Ch'i Chi-kuang   Zhang Bojing Chang Po-ching

Note that many people in China were called by more that one name and each of these names can be converted to English (romanized) using more than one system. Pinyin and Wade-Giles for example could produce two different spellings for the same person, leading you to think they were two different people. In addition to this, names will be different depending if the romanization is from Mandrin or from Cantonese.

Web links relating to romanization:

Pinyin to Wade-Giles conversion chart

Pinyin to Wade-Giles equivalents

Wade-Giles to Pinyin equivalents

Word mapping table for Pinyin, Wade-Giles and Yale romanization

Some On-line Chinese Tools

Chinese Romanization Guide

Other information  (obtained from the TaiChi Mailing List)

Here are some terms used to define martial art relationships. (In Pinyin, transliterated from Cantonese, with Mandarin in brackets)

1.   Sidai (Shidi):  Male classmate who joined after you
2.   Simui (Shimei):  Female classmate who joined after you
3.   Sihing (Shixiong):  Male classmate who joined before you
4.   Sijeh (Shijie):  Female classmate who joined before you
5.   Sifu (Shifu):  Your teacher whether male or female, your teacher's wife is Shimu
6.   Sisuk (Shishu):  Your teacher's Sidai - the male honorific used for both male and female
7.   Sibak (Shibo):  Teacher's Sihing - male honorific used for both male and female
8.   Sigung (Shigong):  Your teacher's teacher -used for both male and female
9.   Sijoh (Shizu):  Teacher of Sigung (most commonly used for the style's founder)
10. Todei (Tudi):  Students - often used to denote formal initiates who have undergone the baishi
11. Tosuen (Tusun):  Students of your students
12. Tong Moon (Tongmen):  Follower of the same style

A Si-Dai, is someone who "came through the door" after you.
A Si-Hing, is someone who came before.

The same goes for peers of your teacher.  Thus someone who is a peer to your Sifu but came before he did to the school, is called Si-Bak.  Someone who came after is called Si-Suk. In Chinese, these are both terms for Uncle.  You insult an uncle if you don't put him above your "father/teacher" when he should be and you insult your father/teacher if you put him below someone who he shouldn't be.

It must be noted that the terms do not reflect skill in anyway or manner. It only reflects a chronological hierarchy.

Also, it hasn't carried over to the large groups but in a family, all the siblings are called by their number in age: Brother 1, brother 2, etc.


Glossary of Qigong and Taijiquan terms

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