All Tai Chi movements are circular and spiralling; the circularity of Tai Chi corresponds with the structure of the human body, and allows unbroken continuous movements; the spiralling of Tai Chi works in perfect consonance with all of the body’s systems because the Chi is spiralling around the body. Outwardly these movements propagate centripetal and centrifugal power which arises from the turning of the waist from side to side. The power spawned flows through the body causing the wrists and hands to spiral inwards ( yin ) and outwards ( yang ). This in effect stimulates massive energy into the hands, and the fingers feel the sensation of fullness. The subtle rotations of the joints, together with the spiralling, twisting movements of the torso, produces tremendous Chi which emanates from the energy reservoir ( Tan Tien ); it streams like a great river around the body, spiralling up and down around the arms and legs. At a very high level the Chi materializes like a tidal wave and vibrates prodigiously through the body, precipitating the fingers to shake while performing Tai Chi. This also unblocks the blockages in the meridians within an instant, and makes the body very healthy.
The slow, continuous, circular, smooth, flowing movements of Tai Chi are conducive for Chi to flow in a very healing way, thus balancing any imbalances, eliminating any blockages, and healing any damage. Also by practising Tai Chi slowly one can enter a meditative state and nurture one’s awareness of the body and the self; as a consequence the movements become smoother and more fluid, with greater cortical control. People who wish to cultivate the healing effects of Tai Chi just go through the Tai Chi form at a slow tempo such that can be done with ease; then they gradually slow further to half speed, and subsequently to half that speed. It is arduous and awkward to move very slowly in Tai Chi, particulary for beginners, because it needs good coordination, flexibility, timing, and balance. Nevertheless the correct timing, etc in the forms will come gradually as one progresses in their Tai Chi practice. Eventually, as one advances in Tai Chi one should be able to move very slowly yet with so much energy. When movements flow, Chi flows freely. When there is lower and upper body connection, Chi ensues throughout the body – soothing, mending and yielding a state of wellbeing and mental calm. When done slowly the Chi will flow in unison with the movements, energizing the whole body.
Timing is also crucial in Tai Chi. Each body part must move in concert with every other body part, completing the movements with great precision prior to proceeding to the next form. This “connection” between body parts is necessary if one is to experience the full benefits of Tai Chi. Eventually this becomes complex because in Tai Chi not all of the forms are even in their velocity. To make the matter even more intricate some forms in Tai Chi have different speeds within the form before conclusion. Most people incorrectly believe Tai Chi to be slow and at an even rate. To practise all of these varying speeds in Tai chi one needs special advanced knowledge about the forms such that one can distinguish which need to be slower or faster, when to do them, and in what circumstances.
Here comes the crunch: all of this must come naturally from within the body. So do not control the speed, for example – it must happen spontaneously; It all originates from the superconscious and is guided by the spirit body. One does not have to think about it because when one is ready, it will tell you exactly how to perform the movement. Once this is achieved it will be the first time one’s Chi and movements are in ultimate harmony. It opens a whole new world to one’s training, and one will never go back to the old way of practising Tai Chi.
Sung (pronounced soong) means to completely relax mentally and physically; releasing any tension in the mind and body. The muscles, tendons and ligaments, the joints in the back, shoulders, neck, hands and legs, and all other body parts such as the chest and belly must be sung. Equally consequential, the mind also must be sung whereby there is no thought. Once they are sung, each joint and muscle is dropped individually towards the ground. In this condition each joint can move independently of the others. In other words, one’s hands can move independently to one’s feet, and each hand and each foot independently of each other. So when one moves, each joint is pulled downward by the body’s weight and then bounces back up. This creates internal pressure within every movement, engendering a flow of momentum through the body. The mind in the state of sung must flow along with the momentum, enticing Chi to flow freely through the body. When the body moves effortlessly without pause the Chi moves freely.
At all times the mind, Chi and the earth must be connected with every movement created by the body. One’s Chi and weight must be sunk to the Tan Tien and thus to the ground; it denotes one’s connection to nature, and one comes alive with this spirit. Sung is the most important part in Tai Chi practice. Without it, one’s Tai Chi is nothing, merely becoming another physical movement like all movements people do in their daily routines. It is formidable to be sung in Tai Chi, even for Tai Chi experts, as it is easy to introduce tension and use muscle strength when performing the Tai Chi forms. In self-defence, if one’s muscles tense they contract, and this will restrict an extending strike forward. Tension also impedes the flow of Chi and blood, and makes movements clumsy and heavy, whereas in a relaxed state one can extend one’s arm smoothly. In Tai Chi even at the point of impact there is no muscular tension.
Sung is also an indispensable precondition for the cultivation of Chi. When one is in a state of sung mentally and physically there is much more Chi, and the body becomes more supple, elastic and resilient. In sung one easily sinks downward and all of the joints open up in the Tai Chi posture. One is at ease and alert, calm and focused, and can move loosely in the Tai Chi forms and with much energy. The centre gravity is lower, resulting in greater physical and mental stability and balance.
Rooting is one of the most significant aspects of Tai Chi practice. Rooting means the feet are rooted into the ground by physically sinking the body weight. The whole body must be sung and the Chi must sink to the Tan Tien ( located two fingers-width below the navel ) so that the power generated from the feet can be transferred to the upper body. Each joint and muscle drops individually towards the ground, enabling them to move independently of each other. When one is rooted the upper body is empty, the lower body full. With the whole body connected and working together, this initiates immense energy. Rooting also permits one’s inner Chi to flow and connect with nature, and harness the energy coming from the earth.
Performing Tai Chi movements requires good balance otherwise when one moves one loses power. Rooting will give one good balance, therefore power. When the body is rooted into the ground one can stand on one leg to raise the other and kick slowly – one feels that the leg could stay there forever, and one can stand down again without hurrying because one’s balance is perfect. Once one is rooted the various joints and parts of the body act as one; the whole body moves together as one unit. The mind should be centred and connected to the movement of the whole body. So, coordination, timing, balance, sung, the mind and the correct postures must be maintained if one is to stay rooted. At either extreme – if the body is too rooted or it is too limp or loose – the rooting will be broken.
There are a few ways to develop rooting. One can stand still by holding postures for long periods of time. With precise body alignment these static postures will attach the joints and various parts of the body together, and thus to the ground. When this eventuates one’s lower body feels like it is planted into the ground like a huge tree, and the upper body is able to move freely, the Chi moves up through the body from the feet rooted into the ground. Another exercise is to practise moving the root, shifting weight from one leg to the other. One is pulling the root out of one leg and putting it into the other. The body must not rise up in shifting from leg to leg, because the power generated will be dissipated and lost. When the weight is on one leg the body’s structure is naturally aligned with that leg. One can also foster rooting by going through Tai Chi forms, however this is more difficult because one must be able to do the forms correctly e.g the body alignments, coordination, and moving the joints and various parts of the body as one unit etc. It is desirable and easier to start with just “Tai Chi walking”, without the hand movements, to develop rooting. This sinking practice is active and subtle at the same time; it relies heavily on being relaxed and on going slowly in order to feel this sinking, but remember the Chi and weight must be sunk to the Tan Tien. Lastly, the posture must be correct – see the in-depth explanation in the previous article, titled The Correct Tai Chi Posture.
All body movements in Tai Chi must be directed by the waist. This transfers the power from the lower to the upper body; the waist directs the rooting power from the Earth and the legs. It uses that power to generate a great amount of centrifugal and centripetal force by turning the torso from side to side. It also releases a tremendous amount of Chi from the Tan Tien, which then flows throughout the body. In Tai Chi forms this enormous energy is manifested in the palms and fingers; this occurs when all movements and power are unified. If another part of the body, rather than the waist, directs the movements, than the movements become segmented, the energy and power are greatly diminished, and the full health benefits are lost.
An exercise, called “Tai Chi waist turner”, which demonstrates that principle is practised as follows: one should stand with slightly bent knees, and with hands at the sides and limbs relaxed. In this position one should begin twisting the waist back and forth in a circular manner such that the centrifugal force of the twisting causes the arms to flail outward. This movement contains great power but is totally effortless; the whole body goes with it, the body weight shifting from side to side. In this exercise the centre of gravity must remain at or near a constant height above the ground. This seemingly simple movement has many benefits: it helps to realign the vertebrae, particularly in the lumbar region; it massages the internal organs that lead to improved circulation, better digestion, and increase Chi and essence; it also proliferates the flow of blood and urine through the kidneys. Twisting also helps reduce unwanted fat on the waist and targets the “obliques” – an area that can accumulate excess fat. Centrifugal and centripetal waist power is also used when one raises the foot and stretches out, resembling a kick. It is the same principle as the “Tai Chi waist turner” technique with the arms; the waist and belly turn back and forth and the legs are thrown out and back. So, when one kicks, first the body moves, then the foot. It is the same when one executes a hand technique: first the body moves, then the hand. One should go through the whole Tai Chi form very slowly to develop centrifugal and centripetal waist power, and move the waist half a second before the rest of the body moves. With much practice this would unify the movements; the feet, waist and hands appear to move at the same time.
To amplify internal power in Tai Chi the lower body ( hips and waist ) should move half a second ahead of the upper body, and the lower and upper body must be united, so that the power will be obtained and transfered to the upper body. The energy is stemmed from the bubbling well point ( K1 ) on the soles of the feet just behind the pads; it moves through the thighs, is directed by the waist and manifests in the hands and fingers. If the movement is segmented, the torque power from this countermovement is lost and the Chi does not flow freely. Moving the lower body a split-second before the upper body massages the thoracic diaphragm and internal organs. When the lower and upper body are connected the entire body can move as an integrated whole: movement of the legs is coordinated with the movement of the arms, the elbows are coordinated with the hips, and the feet are coordinated with the hands; this is indeed so because there must be a weight change with every hand movement. In fact, each part of the body is synchronized with all other parts of the body, and as such the movement of the arm must be initiated from the centre of the body; thus the movement of the arm is correlated with the movement of all other parts of the body.
In Tai Chi each move must connect to the next move, which means each part of the body is attached to and moved by a part that moved just before. This initiates a smooth wave of energy through the body created by the rhythm of movement and the circumstances in which each part of the body is aligned and joined to each oher part. Each movement begins in the feet, rises up through the legs which rotate the waist, which turns the ribcage, which then moves the arms. The hands follow last of all. In every Tai Chi move every connection is maintained, but sometimes one connection is emphasized over the others, though they are all still happening simultaneously. The emphasized connection can be from the left foot or leg to the left arm or hand, or it can be from the right foot or leg to the right arm or hand ( a same-side connection ). It can also be diagonal, from the left foot or leg to the right arm or hand, or from the right up to the left. In maintaining the connection, the body coordination and the timing of the move are the determining factors. Each part of the body must reflect every other part, and must move effortlessly whereupon this engenders a smooth transfer of power through the body, and every part appears to move at once.
Tai Chi movements must not become double-weighted; that is having fifty percent of the body weight on one leg and fifty percent on the other. One must always have more weight on one leg, such as seventy percent on one leg and thirty percent on the other, or one hundred percent on one leg such as in “the kick” and other forms and transitional movements. When one has one hundred percent of the weight on one leg it is called fullness, and the non-weighted leg is termed emptiness. So one should distinguish fullness from emptiness in Tai Chi movements. The words “fullness” and “emptiness” are commonly equated to “substantial” and “insubstantial”. In Tai Chi when the body weight is constantly shifting from leg to leg, usually having seventy percent of the body weight on one leg and thirty percent on the other; this results in the natural flow of the movements. Double-weightedness however will not result in the smooth flow of both Chi and movement through the body, and so agility will be diminished. Double-weightedness must also be avoided in the hands, particularly for advanced practitioners.
Practising Tai Chi is not only about physical exercise or getting fit, nor only about techniques – one has not become a master once all of the techniques have been learnt proficiently. Tai Chi is also about being able to come to the realization of the essence of one’s being; there is energy and spirit everywhere – not just physical bodies – and they interact and connect energetically and spiritually. Therefore, one is not limited by just the laws of physical mechanics, rather one can sense and integrate into energy dynamics and vast spiritual forces. Tai Chi techniques are a means, not an end: they are the means to realize there is an internal world – the aspects of oneself – and an external world, and both relate to one another, and should be integrated. Tai Chi techniques are also a method to activate dormant senses through training, whereby the cultivation of the physical, energetical and spiritual body is achieved. When the dormant senses are awakened one can perceive and relate with both the energy and spirit worlds: the atmosphere, land, plants, trees, etc. One can see a vibrant glow shimmering in the air, which is alive and full of energy and spirit. One can also sense and interact with the Chi of other people, and one has the ability to channel energy through oneself to heal others. At a higher level one can attain enhanced intuition, and empathy; at the highest level one can interact with the divine spirit which is the greatest of all: it is real, and endures forever because it does not involve belief or faith. This author empathizes with the divine spirit, which resonates to the conscious level.
To awaken the dormant senses one of the prerequisites is for the conscious mind to be tranquil and free of intruding and negative thoughts, whereupon mental and physical tension is released, and enlightening insights from the superconscious can manifest themselves while one is practising Tai Chi. Also Tai Chi techniques and postures, including some Qigong postures, enable the giant reserve of untapped energy to awaken and stir the awareness to a deeper part of one’s being. Through regular practice of Tai Chi one experiences moments of deep insight and clarity of everyday life, which sometimes results in great creative work or the solution to a problem.
When one has achieved the highest level of Tai Chi whereupon Tai Chi goes beyond techniques and the physical body, one’s is a different world of Tai Chi – one phenomena of the highest level of Tai Chi is apparent as soon as one begins the first Tai Chi move: one’s Chi not only flows and vibrates tremendously but also it flows everywhere and penetrates everything in the body – it envelops the whole body inside out, it covers the whole skin surface, and the whole body structure moves differently. This means the practice of one’s Tai Chi has progressed BEYOND THE PHYSICAL BODY, and hence the highest level of Tai Chi has been accomplished. The physical body is just too limited in what it can achieve. Techniques come with the physical body, so they too are just as limited in what they can fulfil. God has no technique, and is not a physical matter. This is the first time the phenomenon of Tai Chi practice at the highest level has ever been told and written about because one can only tell others or write about it when one has achieved it, otherwise it cannot be explained lucidly and precisely. This author has withheld the rest of his experiences about the phenomenon of Tai chi at the highest level of Tai Chi practice. This is done to protect the public interest around the world from anyone exploiting the general public commercially by claiming extraordinary achievements and skills in order to add to their credentials for commercial advantage.
In Tai Chi the objective is to unify and integrate the different aspects of one’s being with the aspects of the external world such that one is not only cognizant with all of the different aspects, but one and all become unified and integrated. This is achieved when all of the correct Tai Chi postures, the correct internal principles of Tai Chi, and the methods of Tai Chi practice have been learnt and absorbed. They are the prerequisites; they are a vehicle to reach a higher level of Tai Chi.
Author: Great Grand Master Kellen Chia, May 7, 2006
Tai Chi Principles in Daily Life
There’s a fighting game in Tai Chi called, “push hands”. It’s to learn how to read another’s energies and use it to your advantage. The goal is to break their footing (root to Mother Earth) and move them. Contact must be maintained at all times, if there’s a disconnect – game’s over.
The goal is to match energies. When person A and person B are equally balanced in force, they become one. Stay empty. One subtle movement from the one that is egoless can them move the other. The power beyond just the physical force is where’s it’s at.
It takes very little energy, subtle energy is a better description of what it takes to drop another to the floor. Where the legs just go out from under them and their down without any pain. Before one realizes what happened, they are picking themselves up off the floor. You find their center and shift it.
Awareness is the secret. By overcoming the fear and blinders, we awaken to that subtle yet powerful resource. We step into what is sovereign and available.
It’s a whole new energy game. It’s doesn’t take decades to build energy from martial arts training or meditations. There’s an energy shift that is to our advantage. We are awake enough now to know, it’s about belief and trust of Yourself, Higher Self. Cultivate right mind, body, and spirit and the energy is quickened.
Awareness is the secret. Then we can get on with the business of co-creation; create other ways of seeing, inventions, solutions, assisting others across time, etc.
This is one of the most illustrative videos about the practical use and effect of the subtle energy body.
This is Lama Dondrup Dorje, this video was filmed 2004 at a workshop at the Singapore police headquarters.
Developing an awareness of this energy and cultivating it is of key importance.
Like the Chinese Wudang mountains, tai chi history is the stuff of legends and mist. Even simple questions, such as “How did tai chi begin?”, have no simple answers.
The origin of tai chi can’t be easily summarized. We don’t know who founded tai chi or in what year (or century) that occurred. Instead, there are three major theories about the origin of tai chi.
Read more below and find the one that seems most appealing. Or simply immerse yourself in the stories, background, and legends around the origin and evolution of tai chi.
Theory 1. Snake vs Crane. The origin of tai chi may in fact spring from the Wudang mountains in the 12th century. Some hold that the Taoist sage Chang San Feng was there when he happened to observe a deadly fight between a snake and the crane. The crane attacked, stabbing and jabbing at the snake. Somehow, the snake managed to evade. The snake fought back with whip-like attacks of its own. But, the crane deflected these attacks by fiercely spreading its wings.
Inspired by this scene, Chang San Feng went on to create the soft internal martial art of tai chi. He included moves inspired directly from the crane and the snake. His new fighting style was very different from the external Shaolin Temple gung fu, emphasizing relaxed movements. Being a high level Taoist, he also infused it with the wisdom, military strategies, and longevity methods of Taoism.
Theory 2. A Mysterious Stranger Brings Tai Chi to the Chen Village. Tai chi was passed down to Wang Tsung Yueh, a mysterious stranger who travelled to the Chen village. While at the local inn, he let loose with a string of insults about the village’s martial arts. The Chen villagers responded accordingly and fiercely attacked Wang.
Although outnumbered, Wang was the clear victor. The next day, he became the official Chen village martial arts teacher. Wang taught the villagers how to modify their Shaolin-like martial art with the internal principles of his style.
Theory 3. A Seasoned Chen Fighter Creates Tai Chi. Others argue that tai chi was created in the Chen village by a Chen warrior. The headman Chen Wan Ting (1600-1680) had mastered numerous martial arts techniques while serving as a general in the Chinese army. He combined the best aspects from various combat styles he’d learned, then added components from Chinese medicine and the acupuncture meridian system to create a tai chi fighing style to protect his village.
The martial applications of tai chi–with underlying Chinese medicine principles and some internal Taoist practices—was known, thriving, and also well-guarded in the Chen village by the 17th Century.
Chen Village: First Known Tai Chi School. The list of stories on the origin of tai chi goes on. But most agree that the first records of tai chi as a distinct martial art stem from the Chen village. How long it had been practiced prior and by whom may well remain a mystery.
The Yang Style Arises from the Chen. The secrets of the Chen style tai chi may have remained locked within the borders of the Chen village for many more years, if it weren’t for the dedication and ingenuity of Yang Lu Chan (1799-1872). He initially infiltrated the Chen village but eventually gained their recognition and respect—and equally or more importantly, became an official student of their martial arts.
After mastering the techniques, Yang left with the blessings of the Chen village and travelled throughout China. He went on to serve the Chinese emperor with his martial arts skills, and to found the Yang style of tai chi.
The Wu Style Arises from the Yang. In addition to being an amazing martial artist, Yang Lu Chan was also talented as a teacher—not a common combination. One of his top students was Chuan You (1834-1902), who went on to found the Wu style. That’s not a typo. It’s called the Wu style because the family was forced to change their surname for political and safety reasons.
Chuan You’s son, Wu Jien Chuan (1870-1902), as well as Chuan You’s grandchildren, went on to create their own variations of Wu style tai chi.
Changes in the Early 20th Century. In the early 20th century, more people were able to learn about the health benefits of tai chi. This was due to the more open teachings by descendants of the Yang and Wu style founders, including Yang Shaohou, Yang Chengfu, and Wu Chien Chuan.
Tai Chi Goes Underground in China. The creation of the People’s Republic of China in 1945, as well as the ensuing Great Leap Forward (1958-1961), and Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), brought about great changes in the practice of tai chi. This was a time of wanton destruction of ancient buildings, artifacts, and knowledge.
Tai chi was likewise suppressed because of its notable history and links to the Taoist and Buddhist religions. Potential fighters and rebels were targeted by the government. Within China, tai chi masters stopped teaching, hid their skills and went underground in order to survive.
Tai Chi in the West. Some tai chi masters managed to flee. Outside of China, tai chi began to be taught more openly, as these teachers sought to keep the knowledge of their lineage alive.
Cheng Man Ching, highly schooled in Yang style tai chi (as well as other arts including traditional Chinese medicine and calligraphy), moved to New York and began to teach in 1964. He, and other skilled practitioners, brought tai chi out of China and to a range of students in the West.
Tai Chi for National Health in China. Although disdainful of the religious aspects of tai chi and also wanting to suppress the potential threat posed by skilled tai chi fighters, the Chinese government nevertheless embraced the health benefits of tai chi.
The government even created and promoted simple forms of tai chi. In 1956, the Chinese Sports Committee created the Beijing short form, probably the most popular form practiced today. Read more about this in the section.
Tai chi is now the national exercise of China. With support from the government, tai chi has since moved out from the underground and into universities and government-supported sports and martial arts programs in China.
Tai Chi Today. Currently, there are over 200 million practitioners of tai chi throughout the world. From its roots in China, its popularity has spread to become a form of exercise appreciated around the globe for its health, stress control, and self defense benefits.