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Author: sprath

Why Practice Tai Chi?

Tai chi differs from all other forms of exercise in the way that it approaches the body, mind, and health holistically.








Think of your favorite hobby.  Does it speak to health, exercise, fun, history, and culture?  If so, good for you.  You are going to embrace tai chi.  If not, think of tai chi as a great hobby that you can run with in any direction.

Think about your favorite physical activity.  Does it cause injury?  (or) Do you get excited about tweaks or sore muscles because they are messages that you’re improving?  Is there an age when you won’t be able to participate?  Do you get better with age or worse?
practice tai chi

Tai chi provides an integrated system to improve health, have fun, stay interested, and build on your progress as a lifelong learner.

We have created our own version of David Letterman’s Top Ten with our:

Top Ten Reason’s to Practice Tai Chi

  1. Health:  Innumerable studies indicate better functioning of the central nervous system, digestion, and reduced blood pressure.
  2. Balance:  This refers to balance in life and also physical balance.  Tai chi exploits dual forces (yin/yang, hot/cold, left/right, up/down…) to show how they complement each other rather than oppose.  People who practice tai chi benefit from direct and immediate improvement in physical balance.  They benefit indirectly from being able to apply balance to work, life, and work-life situations.  How do you know what hot is?  Because you describe it in terms of not-cold.  That one is easy.  How do you know what not stressed is?  Hmm.  We are suggesting that tai chi teaches a framework that can be used to evaluate how to move away from a polarity that you want to change in life.
  3. Stability:  Like balance, we have some immediate tangible physical benefits that we see in students who practice tai chi for only two weeks.  Additionally, the “sense of stability” can be used as a lens to view areas of life.  It taps into a robust gut feeling and we make the decision that feels more like the sensation when we are pleasantly rooted on two legs.
  4. Flexibility:  This deserves its own post as more western studies are pointing towards harmful effects from standard stretching which include reduced strength, pulled tendons, and reduced flexibility.  Flexibility in skin, muscles, joints, and thinking = youth and health.  When you proTai chi accomplishes this by performing continual movements with good posture.  The depth of posture that you admire in some practitioners was not developed from going lower.  It is developed from pulling up at the crown of the head and down at the tailbone.  This should sound counter intuitive and should also get you excited.  Westerners do static stretches, “exercise” and suffer joint pain and reduced flexibility.  Easterners do not stretch statically, often walk in the evenings with their hands behind their back (posture!) and retain flexibility.   Who is right here?  Are you getting interested?
  5. Reduced Stress:  Tai chi is mental and physical.  Stress is directly related to mental and physical tension. Let’s look an example.  Tai chi requires movements that are opposite to how you and I move throughout the day.  We walk in tai chi with the same hand and foot moving forward at the same time (versus opposing hand and foot).  This re-patterning moves us out of habitual postures (physical) and demands concentration (mental) which give our brain a break from our repetitious thoughts that we can be bludgeoned with all day long.  This additionally leads to cultivating creativity, improved sleep, etc.
  6. Increase Energy:  Tai chi builds strength and energy rather than taxing the body’s system to be followed by a recovery.
  7. Martial Application:  Partner work and movements are designed to develop an acute awareness of an opponent’s intentions.
  8. No Physical Limitations:  Everyone can benefit from tai chi and the forms can be modified or enhanced to match levels of abilities, age, and physical limitations.
  9. Social Support:  The same research that launched Crossfit has been benefiting tai chi practitioners for centuries.  Human’s crave community and share the desire to contribute or participate in something greater.
  10. Competition: Practitioners can attend tournaments for pushhands competitions or form performance that include open hand and weapons forms.

How to Choose a Tai Chi Class

If you are beginning at tai chi, how do you know what good is?







We are going to take a different slant from most of what we have recently read on how to choose a tai chi class because we would like to bring the reality of our financial, physical, and geographical situation into the picture.  Suggestions surrounding how to choose a class usually prioritize “finding a good teacher.”  We see a lot of holes in this argument.  Here is why.

Choose a Tai Chi ClassIf you are beginning at tai chi, how do you know what good is?

Of course we want a good teacher but tai chi isn’t as prevalent as soccer.  What is available in your neck of the woods?

A school that is a good match for you can introduce you to good material, people with like interests, and connect you with the many teachers who are traveling and giving classes throughout the world.

Suggestions can be made such as: make sure you find a highly qualified teacher, don’t pay too much, you have to pay to get good instruction. 

Here is the problem with these general assertions:  This preconceived notion of “good” reduces the number of people actually practicing tai chi because the bar is set too high.  We feel that many people who can benefit from, add to, and enjoy tai chi struggle to find a good class and just give up.

How do we know who is good and what is worthwhile?Choose a Tai Chi Class

The truth is that most people that have developed tai chi skills have spent some time at a mediocre school.  Worthwhile means that you are enjoying yourself, learning something, and hopefully interacting with great people.  You learn to recognize people who are truly skilled and know if your instruction is of value.  Worse would to not begin tai chi at all if you are being drawn to it.

Here are some general guidelines before choosing a tai chi class:

  • Attend a class and participate without paying.  Attending a class will let you meet your future classmates, understand the class style and pace, and assure that the commute (traffic!) make your attendance possible.  Some classes, such as workshops and university classes cannot be attended ahead of time.  These normally have a fixed short timeframe so a short commitment is reasonable.
  • Decide if health, flexibility, or martial applications interest you the most.  Tai chi contains both health and martial benefits but a school’s philosophy can determine what percentage of the curriculum is spent on either or both.
  •  Do you like the people and atmosphere?  Let’s face it, our time is precious.  Interactions in a martial arts school can be extremely rewarding and fun.  You can learn more from an average teacher in a humble environment than from a good teacher in a bad environment.  The bragging/infighting will bother you, your attendance will fall off and unless you find another school then the martial arts community will lose another great addition – you.  For example, a student of mine was moving to a small community and he asked my opinion on the schools in town.  I contacted them and actually suggested that he attend a Judo school.  Why? The people were great and kind, it was fairly priced and their eastern focus (inclusion of culture and respect) had all the benefits that a martial arts school should entail.  He has since joined a new tai chi school but remained training and invested in his development for those two years.

Choose a Tai Chi ClassThe benefits of tai chi are too numerous to count.  Meeting new people, improving your health, and becoming part of a 2000 year old tradition is only a class visit away!

A Practical Explanation of Qi Gong Development

Qi gong is a vehicle for us to navigate between esoteric and tangible progress.





Let’s start with a great definition of Qigong and then discuss what role qigong plays in your tai chi development.

Dr. Gayl Hubatch, in Fabric of the Soul, sums up the process of qi gong development nicely.  “Coordinating breath, intention, and movement increases energy flow.  Increased energy flow is healing and restorative.”   Eloquent and simple.  We engage in tangible, understandable activities (moving, breathing, intention) and reap health benefits.

Qi gong DevelopmentHere is what makes qi gong development difficult:

  • It is normally a far cry from any medical advice we have ever received.
  • While the activities are easy and enjoyable, developing sensitivity to identify what is going on internally takes a while.  Without knowledge of how qigong is developing you internally it is easy to abandon because “you don’t feel like you are doing anything.”
  • It is esoteric.  Let’s be blunt.  We are talking about moving “energy” around a body we feel pretty familiar with.  Not something I did during high school PE.

Explain qi gong development with enough western perspective so that I buy-in and keep practicing.

The tissues and fluids of the body are made up of minerals and chemicals with magnetic properties.  The earth is a magnetic field and food and air also serve as energy.  We can perform activities to alter blood flow and temperature which interacts (matches) the earth’s properties.  These properties are closely aligned with what we conceive of as healthy.

Practitioners of tai chi are normally pretty open to anything.  They hear of qigong and want to feel what is described and begin by being quite hopeful.  With an understanding of the full developmental progress we can stop doubt from creeping in.

Developing the Energy of Qigong

I am going to provide a spectrum of development based on my interactions over the years.  Insert yourself into this paradigm and see what’s to come.

Let’s Bake a Cake
Turning the oven on A practitioner is brand new.  Their interest is piqued and they are just learning to relax into a meditative stance.
The oven is heating up Progress at relaxation allows the energy to move around the body correctly
All the ingredients have been found They are interested to new terms like dantian and are actively trying to use them
The ingredients get mixed They can think about their center when meditating and have an understanding of keeping their hip joints, arm pits, lower back soft.
The oven beeps and is hot enough A different sort of warmth, from the inside exists after practice.  It is general and fleeting
The ingredients are one big blob and enter the oven The body moves collectively or in order from the center out
A quick initial rise happens Intention on the hands or dantian yields a perceivable heat that goes away
A long time passes and the cake browns We work to try to make this feeling come back and it does at times.  Our overall relaxation and higher body temperature come quicker
We check it with toothpicks and send it back in for more time We can warm our hands and loosen our center easily.
Time for frosting We can create and feel energy and can bring it to one spot within the body if we concentrate on the spot
Time for decoration We can move the energy in specific directions, alight on a space and move on to another

Qi gong development is a silent conversation with your autonomic system

I hope this playful explanation hints at the huge amount of foundational work that you are benefiting from when you “don’t feel anything.”  We are talking about interacting with autonomic processes and being able to affect your health, literally, from the inside.  Of course this process shouldn’t be quick or easy.

The Experts Weigh In: 6 Ways to Avoid the Greatest Tai Chi Roadblocks

Every (every!) movement in tai chi involves the entire body. Do not forget about the appendage that is not doing the dramatic movement. Where is your left hand when your right hand is punching?







On a break during a recent workshop with practitioners and teachers of many years expressed their envy to a newbie for being “so new” and for having the foresight to attend a workshop early on in his development.  The new student was confused by this and said “What do you mean, I don’t know anything!  I am new!”  The teachers responded nearly in unison “exactly.”

This led to a spirited conversation of “I wish I would have known…” or “This sounds silly but I would have made so much progress if I…”  What follows may seem simple.  But focus on these ideas across all of your movements and your progress will be great.  The greatest tai chi roadblocks stem from not using the body in unison.  We must learn the individual movements but then dial our focus away from the microscopic movements and treat our body as a whole.

6 Ways to Reduce the Greatest Tai Chi Roadblocks

1.  Move your body parts in unison

Every (every!) movement in tai chi involves the entire body.  Do not forget about the appendage that is not doing the dramatic movement.  Where is your left hand when your right hand is punching?

2.  Identify which leg is weighted and which is empty

When we stand normally we 1) do not pay attention to where our weight is and 2) typically weight evenly.  In tai chi there is always an empty and full leg and weight is distributed in a percentage (90/10, 60/40, etc.).

3.  Breathe naturally

Your movements match your breath in tai chi.  Often new learners change their breath to match their movements when it is the other way around.  Learn to relax and lengthen your breath and move your body to match.

4.  Reduce tension

Show me a student who has been told to relax and I’ll show you someone who is frustrated.  This one drives many of us nuts for years (Relax please. I am relaxed d#@% it!).  Assume a posture, drop your shoulders, squeeze the whole body and then relax each body part in succession.  Now you are relaxed and can move.

5.  Avoid rushing

Yes you want to learn the form but work diligently to enjoy the process.  Then the form won’t matter.  This is partially the onus of your teacher because they should be providing material that makes you feel as though you are progressing continually.

6.  Welcome precision

Sink into each stance instead of flowing between movements.  Why?  Each posture develops specific skills.


There you have it.  Simple right?  Yes it is simple but we all wish that we would have had this collection of pointers years ago.

Breaking the Tai Chi Long Form into Teachable Segments

All of the truly verifiable history of tai chi date back to Chen Village in the 1700s and the first records of the Old Frame First Road (Lao Jia Yi Lu).





In a recent workshop with Chen Zhenglei he presented the Old Frame in a manner that caught the significance of the overall form by breaking it down into digestible sections.  It was an eye-opening explanation of the purpose of each section and how they tie together.

Learning the tai chi long form takes a while but it is a worthy pursuit because the payoff is huge.  The tai chi long form is the equivalent to a moving Tai Chi Long FormBible.  It is the culmination of thousands of years work by many contributors.  Those who have this “bible” can focus on a myriad of topics such as health (qi, meridians, flexibility, agility), martial applications (strikes, kicks, locks), culture (history, language, movement names), or philosophy.

Teachers and students alike have the challenge ahead of them to learn the entire sequence but the sections and explanations below create small successes and better understanding.


Old Frame First Path — Lao Jia Yi Lu — 老架一路

Tai Chi Long Form Section 1

Character:  The first section is made up of 15 movements set out in a very clear path.  There is a clear transition between empty and full legs and you settle into each posture and pause before moving on.

1. Preparation Form — Tai Ji Chu Shi — 太極初勢

2. Vajra Pounds Mortar — Jin Gang Dao Dui — 金刚捣碓

3. Grasp and Tuck Clothes — Lan Zha Yi — 懒扎衣

4. Six Sealing, Four Closing — Liu Feng Si Bi — 六封四闭

5. Dan Tian Change — Dan Bian — 单鞭

6. Vajra Pounds Mortar — Jin Gang Dao Dui — 金刚捣碓

7. White Goose Spreads Wings — Bai E Liang Chi — 白鵝亮翅

8. Oblique Posture — Xie Xing — 斜行

9. Embrace Knee — Lou Xi — 搂膝

10. Twist Steps — Ao Bu — 拗步

11. Oblique Posture — Xie Xing — 斜行

12. Embrace Knee — Lou Xi — 搂膝

13. Twist Steps — Ao Bu — 拗步

14. Hidden Hand Punch — Yan Shou Gong Quan — 掩手肱拳

15. Vajra Pounds Mortar — Jin Gang Dao Dui — 金刚捣碓

Tai Chi Long Form Section 2

Character:  The second section has 13 movements.  Six of these movements were in the first section.  We enjoy familiar processes so the second portion compliments you for learning the key movements and adds seven more.

16. Brushing Body Fist — Pi Shen Quan — 撇身拳

17. Green Dragon Emerges From the Water — Qing Long Chu Shui — 青龍出水

18. TwoHanded Push — Shuang Tui Shou — 双推手

19. Palm Under Elbow — Zou Xia Kan Quan — 肘下看拳

20. Step Back and Push with Arm — Dao Juan Gong — 倒卷肱

21. White Goose Spreads Wings — Bai E Liang Chi — 白鵝亮翅

22. Oblique Posture — Xie Xing — 斜行

23. Flash the Back — Shan Tong Bei — 閃通背

24. Hidden Hand Punch — Yan Shou Gong Quan — 掩手肱拳

25. Six Sealing, Four Closing — Liu Feng Si Bi — 六封四闭

26. Dan Tian Change — Dan Bian — 单鞭

27. Moving Hands — Yun Shou — 运手

28. High Pat on Horse — Gao Tan Ma — 高探马

Tai Chi Long Form Section 3

Character:  Section three teaches how to release energy that you have developed or energy from an opponent (San Tom Bay).  Movements are purposely learned slowly so that energy release can be learned quickly.  70% of the steps and kicks from the form can be found in the 13 movements of the third section.  Six types of kicks exist.  The toe, heel, side of foot, jump kick, inward swing kick, and outward swing kick.

29. Thrust with Right Foot — You Ca Jiao — 右擦脚

30. Thrust with Left Foot — Zuo Ca Jiao — 左擦脚

31. Kick with Left Heel — Zuo Deng Yi Gen — 左蹬一跟

32. Advance with Twist Steps — Qian Tang Ao Bu — 前趟拗步

33. Immortal’s Embracing Grip — Shen Xian Yi Ba Zhua — 神仙一把抓

34. Turn Around, Double Kick — Fan Shen Er Qi Jiao — 翻身二起脚

35. Protect the Heart Punch — Hu Xin Quan — 护心拳

36. Whirlwind Kick — Xuan Feng Jiao — 旋风脚

37. Kick with Right Heel — You Deng Yi Gen — 右蹬一根

38. Hidden Hand Punch — Yan Shou Gong Quan — 掩手肱拳

Tai Chi Long Form Section 4

Character:  Section four of the tai chi long form focuses on energy transmission.  The goal is to have “harmony force” between the hands joints and body.  “Harmony Force” us the use of both hands simultaneously to push or strike with the force originating in the feet and traveling through the body.

39. Small Capture and Strike — Xiao Qin Da — 小擒打

40. Cover Head and Push the Mountain — Bao Tou Tui Shan — 抱头推山

41. Six Sealing, Four Closing — Liu Feng Si Bi — 六封四闭

42. Dan Tian Change — Dan Bian — 单鞭

43. Forward Trick — Qian Zhao — 前招

44. Backward Trick — Hou Zhao — 后招

45. Part the Wild Horse’s Mane — Ye Ma Fen Zong — 野馬分鬃

46. Six Sealing, Four Closing — Liu Feng Si Bi — 六封四闭

47. Dan Tian Change — Dan Bian — 单鞭

Tai Chi Long Form Section 5

Character:  Section five is the most rigorous  and mentally taxing.  It combines the four movements  of walking, backward walking, lateral movements, and twining.  It has the furthest jump (48), the lowest posture (54), and the most stretched (55).  It also has the  most movements.

48. Fair Maiden Works the Shuttle — Yu Nu Chuan Suo — 玉女穿梭

49. Grasp and Tuck Clothes — Lan Zha Yi — 懒扎衣

50. Six Sealing, Four Closing — Liu Feng Si Bi — 六封四闭

51. Dan Tian Change — Dan Bian — 单鞭

52. Moving Hands — Yun Shou — 运手

53. Swing the Leg — Bai Jiao — 擺脚

54. Drop and Split — Die Cha — 跌叉

55. Golden Cock Stands on One Leg — Jin Ji Du Li — 金鸡独立

56. Step Back and Push with Arm — Dao Juan Gong — 倒卷肱

57. White Goose Spreads Wings — Bai E Liang Chi — 白鵝亮翅

58. Oblique Posture — Xie Xing — 斜行

59. Flash the Back — Shan Tong Bei — 閃通背

60. Hidden Hand Punch — Yan Shou Gong Quan — 掩手肱拳

61. Six Sealing, Four Closing — Liu Feng Si Bi — 六封四闭

62. Dan Tian Change — Dan Bian — 单鞭

63. Moving Hands — Yun Shou — 运手

64. High Pat on Horse — Gao Tan Ma — 高探马 

Tai Chi Long Form Section 6

Character:  Section six has a strong connection throughout the movements and is the most difficult to teach and learn.  There are no pauses between movements like in the first section as each movement transitions right into the next.

65. Cross Foot — Shi Zi Jiao — 十字脚

66. Groin Punch — Zhi Dang Chui — 指裆捶

67. Apes and Monkeys Search for Fruit — Yuan Hou Tan Guo — 猿猴探果

68. Dan Tian Change — Dan Bian — 单鞭

69. Ground Hacking Dragon — Qie Di Long — 切地龍

70. Step Forward and Form Seven Stars — Shang Bu Qi Xing — 上步七星

71. Step Back, Spread Arms — Xia Bu Kua Gong — 下步跨肱

72. Swing the Leg — Bai Jiao — 擺脚

73. Head on Cannon — Dang Tou Pao — 当头炮

74. Vajra Pounds Mortar — Jin Gang Dao Dui — 金刚捣碓

75. Closing Form — Shou Shi — 收勢


Understanding Jing Energy in Tai Chi Chu’an and Life

Jing energy is strengthened and available simply due to knowing that it exists and choosing to be a student of its instruction.







Two major definitions are acceptable for Jing energy depending on how you look at it.  There is a spiritual connotation that describes an energy that is created from your essence.  On the medical side,  Jing takes on a biochemical characteristic that is found in all fluids and continues to originate from our center due to DNA.  Both definitions allude to Jing being a substance or amount.  Decisions we make such as drinking alcohol or too much sex deplete Jing.  Exercise, good eating, and qi gong fill it back up and strengthen it.

But there is a bit more to it than having a celestial bucket that you can tap or fill and this is where Tai Chi comes in.  Jing energy is strengthened and available simply due to knowing that it exists and choosing to be a student of its instruction.  Tai chi expands on jing energy and gives us a means to understand it and benefit from its implications.

Let’s take a look at jing energy as it is described in a variety of energy forms.  We have included a translation, definition, way to practice it in class, and positive implications for developing Jing.

Ting Jing Energy

“Listening energy”  A heightened attention.  While “ting” is translated as listening, it includes a heightened sensitivity in the hands.

Pushhands Real Life (work)
Intensely focusing on a lightness in your own hands and sensitivity to perceive flexing of muscle, a change in pace, or rounded movement becoming angular. Ting Jing prevents us from being caught off guard.  It involves having a total sensory experience at work by picking up on subtle changes in the office that telegraph disaster.  The punctual person begins to be late.  The chatty assistant who is quiet before the big meeting.  The normally quaffed boss who is disheveled.

Dong Jing Energy

“Understanding energy” Noticing the direction that a force is moving towards you.  Dong Jing Energy refers to being aware of an opponent’s intention.

Pushhands Real Life (work)
Understanding which direction a person’s energy is coming from and when they are going to use force. Rapidly pursuing the source of discontentment rather than being caught up in the emotion that discontentment displays.  A boss is furious about the outcome of a report.  Non dong-jing people are defending, worried about their job, and reacting emotionally.  You are separated emotionally and find the cause.  You are in a place to find a solution and bring the team back around to solving issues.

Hua Jing Energy

“Neutralizing energy” Redirecting of energy due to an understanding of timing and use of circles and angles.

Pushhands Real Life (work)
Not combating a push’s force but rather meeting it and angling it off to a side causing the partner to retreat. These are the face-saving events where you sense that a colleague is blinded by their own emotion or ambition and you think of an outcome that does not make them wrong but also does not allow her to err.

Fa Jing Energy

“Discharging energy” The ability to apply energy due to an alignment of proper body mechanics, relaxation, and focused intent.

Pushhands Real Life (work)
Aligning your body and discharging your energy in a push or joint lock. Sensitivity to a situation where upon,  when you choose to act, you have the buy-in (understanding) and support (alignment) prior to “pulling the trigger.”  Your efforts are more focused and successful than your peers because you have tied the project to their aims and they are therefore more receptive.

Tai Chi Chu’an is designed to deal with tough, quickly evolving situations.    Invest in your own future by investing in failure.  Take controlled chances so that you are driving your own development and you are applying your ideas to real-life situations.  You are applying a sense of yourself because you are highly perceptive and not allowing emotion or ego to make things cloudy.  Now we are getting closer to understand Jing Energy; essence.

Which Tai Chi Style is the Best?

The question often arises:  Which tai chi style is the best?  The answer:  Which is the best in your neighborhood.










An Overview of the Main Tai Chi Styles

My daddy is tougher than your daddy.  We have all lived through this playground paradigm and see the adult version reimagined in all sports and especially tai chi.  So why does this mentality exist and what is the answer to the age old question?  It is understandable that when someone is newly dedicated and excited, or invested for a long period of time that a strong opinion forms.  Tai chi is great but the virtues of one style do not have to be extolled at the detriment to others.

which tai chi style is the bestWhat do I risk by believing that any one tai chi style is better?

You alienate yourself from an already small number of participants.  Everyone who has made any tangible progress in tai chi has interacted with other practitioners.

What do I gain by seeing all these separate efforts as contributing to the same development?

You have access to everyone in your community that practices and you find value in all that has been written on tai chi.

Let’s begin by refuting the arguments and then we will conclude with a summary of all of the main styles:

which tai chi style is the bestX Style is better:  Each style has gained fame and millions of followers for creating real value in the form of writings, forms, instruction, and future teachers.  Creating value is the only way for an activity to continue to exist.  Therefore, the longevity of each existing style proves its merit.

X Master was the best:  Most masters did not live at the same time.  Those that did live at the same time were each other’s colleagues, teachers, and students.  There are few records of competition between any great practitioners.  You would have to create a tai chi version of fantasy football to get to the bottom of this.

X Style is the most popular:  There is some truth to this but the first question is popular where?   Yang developed out of Chen, but Yang is by far the most popular style.  It has benefited from being supported by the political elite, and being in the city that sent out most of the early immigrants from China.  Chen Village contrarily, is considered to be in the countryside and the region did not receive favorable treatment in the past from regimes.  It was even seen as a threat during certain political time periods.  So popularity has more geographical and political implications than it has stylistic proof.

So what do the tai chi styles have in common?

What don’t they?  For every difference you could list 100 similarities.  That is to say that each style is working to develop a connection between internal power and external movement.  Acting in accordance with nature and not opposed.  Based on and adding to 2000 years of knowledge. What you see as stylistic differences are a group’s take on certain concepts that they are trying to convey to the masses.

Five main families (styles) are recognized in China and several popular additional lineages exist.

Five main families (styles) are recognized in China and several popular additional lineages exist

Yang Style Tai Chi Chuán

Yang Style was founded by Yang Lu ch’an in the 19th Century.  The proliferation of tai chi can be attributed to him as the popularity was spread after he was hired to teach tai chi to the royal family.   His understanding of tai chi led to the development of the 108 posture form and his teachings directly influenced three other main styles of tai chi.  It is characterized by big and open movements and is the most popular form of tai chi studied today.

Chen Style Tai Chi Chu’an

Developed across several generations of Chen village, Chen Tai Chi is the oldest form and parent to other styles.  Chen Wangting codified the practices of tai chi into main forms (frames) which included a 108 long form and an aggressive second frame – Cannon Fist.  Chen Tai Chi entered the world scene as Chen Zaopei and his uncle Chen Fake moved to Beijing in 1928 and their tai chi was seen as being a radical departure from what was popular at the time.  Several challenges resulted in defeats for their opponents and cemented Chen tai chi’s legacy.  Currently, several 19th and 20th generation family members travel and teach today.

Wu Family Style Tai Chi Chu’an

Founded by Wu Ch’uan-yu, a military officer of the forbidden city, Wu Style is based on Yang Tai Chi but is shorter and more compact.  The compactness of the style is intended to build up and retain energy rather than allowing the energy to expand into extended arms and legs.  The stance is equally tight with a limited range of kicks and steps.

Wu/Hao Style Tai Chi Chu’an

Founded by Wu Yuxiang, Wu Hao founders are credited with creating and preserving early texts on tai chi.  The art is recognizable for high short stances and smaller movements.  Wu Yuxiang studied under Yang and Chen masters and synthesized his understandings of their teachings into a new style.  By the 1920s tai chi was gaining popularity and the Hao family de-emphasized broad and difficult movements and made tai chi accessible to large numbers of students.

Sun Style Tai Chi Chu’an

Sun Style Tai Chi Chu’an was developed by Sun Lutang, a master of two other internal styles, Xing Yi Quan and Ba Gua Zhang.  Sun style incorporates the movements of the other two arts.  For example, as one foot moves, the other follows in the same direction (Xing Yi) and.  Small circular movements of Ba Gua are also found in the hand movements.

Zhaobao Style Tai Chi Chu’an

Zhaobao Style is a modern form of tai chi that consists of a large (108 moves) and small (75 moves) frame practiced at different heights.  It is an offshoot of Chen tai chi and is named after the village where it was practiced.

Cheng Man Ch ‘ing Style Tai Chi Chu’an

The Cheng Man Ch ‘ing form was brought to the west in the 1960s and is popular in Taiwan, America, Europe and parts of South America such as Argentina.

Cheng Man-Ch’ing studied medicine, calligraphy, painting, and poetry and began studying Yang Style in Beijing in 1932.  He taught tai chi at the military academy and simplified the Yang 108 form into 37 moves.  He fled China to Taiwan after the Communist takeover and moved to the United States in 1964.  He established himself as a great teacher and produced many distinguished students.

Visit Wikipedia for more in-depth information on each style of tai chi.


Which tai chi style is the best and which tai chi should I choose?

The answer should hopefully be obvious by now.  Tai chi development is based on 1) continual practice, 2) positive interactions with other practitioners, and 3) access to materials and teachers that are working towards internal development.  So choose a style based on your schedule and commute to keep you practicing.  Choose a class that is putting its effort into positive development and sharing information and not on conceit, comparison, or justifying why they are great.  Focus on why you are doing something and not the minor stylistic differences.  For more information refer to our Choosing a Tai Chi Class .

One of the Most Important Tai Chi Concepts: Hsu and Shih

Hsu and Shih offer us a way to grasp some of tai chi’s more complex ideas simply by practicing the form.







Tai chi abounds with cryptic, mystical statements that circle around back to themselves.  Let’s take a look at a few from the famed sage Lao Tzu:

“If you would take, you must first give, this is the beginning of intelligence. “

“Those who know do not speak. Those that speak do not know.”

“If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.”

“Anticipate the difficult by managing the easy.”

But here he sums it up best:  “The words of truth are always paradoxical.”

All clear now?  I didn’t think so either.  While tai chi is notorious for looping language it also gets credit for creating actual, physical activities that let you experience the concept to gain a personal understanding.  Let’s be fair to the sages and trust that they experienced something monumental but struggled in finding the words to share their ideas.  Luckily they also gave us the tai chi form so we can get out of our head and roll up our sleeves.

Hsu and Shih is important tai chi concepts.  They offer us a way to grasp tai chi’s dualities more easily simply by practicing the form.

Let’s take a look:

Shih; (pronounced similar to “she”) substantial, solid, positive, measured, and careful.

Hsu; (pronounced somewhere between “Sue”and “Shoe”) negative, lively, spirited, flexible, and easy moving.

Let’s start with the lower body because that is easy.  If you have your weight on your right leg it is solid, not really moveable, and important tai chi conceptsintent on supporting you (Shih).  Your empty leg can step, kick, or be kicked (Hsu).  Normally the moving leg gets all the attention while the planted leg does the dirty work. But BINGO! It shouldn’t be this way.  In tai chi you should be concentrating on keeping a strong stance AND what to do with your empty leg.  This is Hsu/Shih; taking both into account at the same time.  Direct your mind to make the stable leg more stable and the light leg lighter.  Don’t favor.

Hang with me while we visit the upper body.  Whichever body part you are thinking about is positive (Shih) because it has your intention.  Do not perform a stance without focusing on one of your hands. If you are performing a move, put your mind on the part.  For example, when you are punching, put your eyes and your mind on your fist.

Why should I be concerned with the tai chi concept Hsu and Shih?

There is great benefit in being able to simultaneously conceptualize both extremes of a concept.  For example, it makes you balanced or gives you a way to improve your balance.  It can be frustrating if someone tells us to be balanced because we think we already are.  Same goes for being told to “just relax.”

Point 1:  Shih and Hsu are constantly changing.  When you take a step the empty leg becomes stable and full and vice versa.  Without Hsu/Shih you are in a stance, you come out of balance, you go into another stance.  Hsu/Shih allows the progression to be continual.

Point 2:  Shih and Hsu are always taking place simultaneously.  This is an important idea because you don’t practice one and then the other as both should always be occurring.  You add your intention to the movements, clean them up, and differentiate them.

Point 3:   What is the overall purpose of this?  We begin by putting “thought” into one part of the body.  This then leads to being able to put thought into all parts of the body to produce martial force or healing.

Point 4:  Where else is this leading?  Feeling Hsu/Shih begins in our bodies but is the basis for “feeling” when an opponent has shifted their weight (intention) and is planning a defense or attack.

As a practical measure stop and think, which leg is stable?  Can it be more stable?  Which leg is empty?  Is it truly light?  Which hand am I focusing on?  Is the other relaxed?

important tai chi conceptsHow does this apply to real life?

Think of the tai chi form as an experimental playground.  You work on your form and, for arguments sake, get to a point where you can feel what balanced is.  It is just that, a gut feeling.  Then when you are at work and about to play your expected role in an argument, it doesn’t feel right so you move your thinking to this central place.  Now you are more open to see each side of an argument, and trust me, more valued as an employee.  Or, you are cooking and think that a meal is “missing something.”  You bring the base ingredients into balance and then add more of the one that you want to stand out (spicy, sweet, etc.).

Shih Prepares for Hsu, Hsu prepares for Shih.

Tai chi 101 : Is it Tai Chi, Taiji, taichi, or T’ai Chi Chuan? Yes.

Tai Chi is not only filled with new, difficult-to-define words but there is disagreement on how they are spelled.  This disagreement has then led to variations on how words are pronounced.








Here is a little history and an explanation.

Chinese is made up of characters and ideograms to represent the concept of what they are writing about.  Whereas the writing you are currently reading  is a string of sounds that your brain puts together to get the concept.  Up until recently, most writings on Chinese topics in English used the Wade-Giles system.  This is a system that was developed by a British ambassador to China (Wade) in the mid 1800s and refined into dictionary format (Giles) in 1892.  However, the letters that were written did not always match the sound.  In the late 1950s linguists from China developed the Hanyu Pinyin system which does a more consistent job at representing the same sound with the same letter.  Where this leaves us today is that most resources on taichi mix the two systems such as in this recent blog post title: “Finding the Tao (Wade-Giles) in Qi Gong (Pinyin).”

What do I need to be concerned with?

Below is a chart of words that are commonly spelled in different ways.  Be comfortable and accepting of the different spellings, know the common pronunciation, and be familiar with what is being referred to.


Common Words Related to Tai Chi

Pinyin Wade-Giles Pronunciation Defined
Dan Tian Tan T’ien Don Tien Elixir Field
Dao Tao Dow The Way, a philosophical pursuit
Dao De Jing Tao Te Ching Dow Day Jing Daoist Classic
Lao Zi Lao Tzu Lao Dzuh Daoist philosopher
Qi Ch’i Chee Life Energy
Qi Gong Ch’I Kung Chee Gung Energy Work
Taiji Quan T’ai Chi Ch’uan Tie Jee Chuan Taiji Martial Art

Tai chi 101 results:  The Linguists Weigh In

For those of you who really take interest (nerd out) on the intricacies of the language I will present the phonological explanation for all of the confusion.  The differences in spelling are due to one sound being perceived as a sort of sister sound.  “Minimal pairs” are sounds that share the same articulatory placements.  For example, the mouth movements for /b/ and /p/ are identical except that /b/ has the voice box turned on.  You can put your hand on your throat and whisper puh and buh to experience this.  The common minimal pairs with common errors in taichi words are:

D – T Dao – Tao tongue touches behind the teeth
G – K Gong fu – Kung fu tongue touches high in the back of the mouth
J (from judge) – CH tai chi – taiji tongue touches the palate

On computer tests of dialect differences a recording begins by making a hard voiced sound (B!).  Little by little the voicing (vibration) is removed and the listener has to tell when the /b/ has turned into a /p/.  Participants with different native tongues identified different places.  What this adds up to is that languages can have two slightly different sounds and both call them /b/.


You can read more about the naming of tai chi here.