Principles of Tai Chi Movement

Newsletter 18th April 2016

Here is some information on the objectives of the classes from the Tai chi perspective. I will talk about objectives of the meditation from the iron shirt and meditation perspectives another time:


• Student displays correct alignment of basic postures and stances that are relaxed and in harmony with internal energies.

• Participant is able to relax and sink energy into the lower tan tien.

• Student’s movements are dictated by chi rather than by intellectual intention, and are consequently light, agile, and coordinated.

• Practitioner maintains a posture that allows easier passage of jin. Movements consequently carry power.

• Student displays smooth transition between postures and compliance with the principles of substantial and insubstantial.

• Form encompasses martial meaning.

• Form embodies spirit.

• The student presents well, shows respect, and is well attired.


Progress is measured as the student moves from meditation to standing postures, to the connections between postures in the short form, to simple Push Hands. Wu Gong-Tsao says Tai Chi’s “theory of movements and calmness is consistent with sitting Gong . . . it is the moving Gong . . . because it contains the same body of the Tao.” This progression entails mastery not only of chi and jin, but also of the body and mind that encompass them. The purpose of practicing Tai Chi is not to gain fame or adulation through demonstrations or success in competitions. The purpose of Tai Chi is to discover the Tao. Paradoxically, though, by engaging in competition one can let go of such non-Taoist principles such as attachment and fame. Lao Tsu says:


Thus we may see

Who cleaves to fame

Rejects what is more great.


Andrew Jan and Master Chia practicing push hands


That which is great is the mother of all things, which comes from the Tao. In order to perform well in a competition one needs to not care about winning or losing, or about having a remarkable reputation. Ideally, progress flows from the inside out. As the student opens up his inner energetic worlds, subtle changes occur in his postures and forms. The first step for students is to let go of muscular force and monkey-mind intention. Then awareness of chi gradually improves. Later, the spontaneous appearance of jin occurs, and the laws that govern jin have to be mastered. Finally, the adept experiences the phenomenon of being spirit directed rather than monkey-mind directed. This entails not only being directed like a puppet by the movement of chi, but also allowing the emotional and intellectual aspects of the self to be subordinated to the spirit of each form. Ultimately this spirit is one step closer to the source.The goal of this progression is to get to a point where all manifestations of substantial and insubstantial, closing and opening, and attack and defense are dictated by something beyond. This something beyond is the central theme of the Wu style—the return to the uncarved block that is juxtaposed with the Wu Wei.


From the stillness of the Wu Wei, the spirit of the Wu style is born. While the nature of that spirit is both elusive and ever changing, masters describe it as more feminine, snake-like, and tendon stretching. These descriptions move away from the flamboyance and external power of earlier styles of Tai Chi. The Wu style is something dictated by the chi, jing, shen, and stillness within. Finding that spirit means releasing and having no hold on any aspect of one’s being. Letting go is the ultimate way in this inexact spiritual art form.