About the principles of wu-style taichichuan (Taiji Yuanli)

Ma Jiangbao                          

Translated by J.R. Raynal and D. McGiff

Tai chi is a Chinese martial art based on taoistic principles. It can prevent illness and prolong lifespan. It reinforces the bones and muscles and regulates blood pressure. It is a means to promote health.

There are three aspects to consider whilst studying Tai chi.

The first aspect is the form (Taijiquan).

The form exercises the body and reinforces the constitution.

The movements of the form must expand naturally through the joints without strength and in a calm manner. They must also be correct and precise. The spirit must be relaxed and natural, without forcing oneself, it must be naturally at ease. The breathing should be calm and even. It should, however not be consciously controlled, but instead be left unrestrained, "completely natural".

Only with correct body posture can the movements and breathing be in harmony. During every movement the coccyx, the back, the neck and the head have to be in one line, the line being not bent to the side, forwards or backwards.

The movements of the form must be alive and fluid. They must be linked together without a break whether moving forwards, backwards, or turning. One must first learn the 5 basic stepping methods (ping xing bu, xu bu, gong bu, ma bu, ding zi bu). When turning, the hand moves first, then waist, hips, feet. When playing the form, the back must be slightly rounded with shoulders and elbows relaxed down and the chest depressed slightly inward. Only when practiced this way can the chi sink to the dantian. The eyes must be directed forward (at around 15 meters) looking straight ahead or at the hands. Only when directing the eyes can the center be maintained. Otherwise one can easily lose his/her equilibrium.

After long practice one can reach a high state of concentration.

For this concentration it is important that whilst practicing the form you should not think. If you think about how you should be performing the movement or the application of the movement, your concentration will be poor, leading to disharmony and breaks in the form.

I have felt through my own experience that all these are very important points.

The second aspect is push hands (Tuishou)

Push hands relates to applications of the form.

It follows the tai chi way of stillness and quietness using the subtle change between empty and full for its applications. It is concerned with both psychology and mechanics. In push hands the movements must be soft and fluid. The spirit must be relaxed and the postures correct, being straight and always centered no matter in which position. Only with a stable center it is possible to expand or contract and advance or retreat correctly. When you start to learn push hands, you learn how to neutralize. Never let the intention of attack enter your mind.

Characteristics in push hands:

  1. Overcome hardness with softness (Yi Rou Ke Gang).
  2. In tai chi you should not use force against force contending for the first offensive move. This way only the one with greater strength can beat the weaker one and where speed dominates the slower one. To try to use force is in contradiction to the principles of tai chi. The important thing for the beginner is to learn neutralizing and avoid unnecessary conflict.

  3. Meet the offensive with calmness (Yi Jing Dai Dong).
  4. One of the principal strategies of tai chi chuan is to meet your opponent with calmness. Calmness is essential, because without calmness effective ting jin (listening) will not be possible.

    Without ting jin your actions will not be effective. The classics say: he doesnít move, I donít move, he starts to move, I move beforehand. To do this is to meet the offensive with calmness.

  5. Beat the opponent with less strength but more skill (Yi Xiao Sheng Da).
  6. One method to be used is to neutralize first and then follow and adhere to the opponent until he moves into a "dead" point. Because of his loss of center of gravity he manifests broken-strength and distorted posture and he will fall even with a single touch.

  7. Retreat in order to advance (Yi Tui Wei Jin).
  8. In push hands the feature of prime importance is to adapt and move with the changing conditions of your counterpart. The circular movements in tai chi are the image of the symbol of tai chi, which is evolving, comprising the changes of moving and adhering within a circle.

  9. The circular movements (Dong Zuo Zou Hu Xian).

The patterns of interchange between yin and yang are all based on circular movements and connected by "sticking " to the partnerís intension. Because there is no interruption in a circular movement, it is easier to reach the partner than in a forward or backward straight line. Another benefit is that it is easier to change your acting force or direction at any point of the circular line.

Only through long and sustained practice can these principles be felt and brought to life.

Because push hands can be applied for fighting purposes, the attitude of the tai chi student must be concentrated and peaceful.

The third aspect is the theory (Lilun).

Those who study tai chi must also consider its theory. The theory of tai chi is a method to guide us in our tai chi practice. Only when the method is correct, can one study tai chi properly. Every kind of academic subject poses a theory. For instance when one studies medicine one must learn physiology, pathology, pharmacology etc. Therefore those of us who study tai chi must also consider the tai chi classics, the records of tai chi, the theory of tai chi and the tai chi songs. Because these different theories have all been passed to us through the accumulated experiences of former generations, we must not only research, but also absorb their meanings.

By bringing oneís experiences from practice together with the study of the theories from the old texts, one can improve his/her tai chi faster. By bringing together the outside form and the inside feelings one can experience the theories through the form and feel them. One must go through these experiences to put tai chi into application. This means, if you are only able to do tai chi, but you havenít understood the theory well, this is only an exercise, conversely if you only know about the theory, but are not practising tai chi, you are just showing off. Both people are not practising good tai chi. You have to combine theory and practise.




Principles are deep fundamental truths that have universal application.  Principles are guidelines for human conduct that are proven to have enduring, permanent value.

~ Steven Covey