• The 13 Postures

The 13 Postures is a short set of movement which introduces the core movements and ideas of Tai Chi Chuan. Though simpler than the Open Hand Form (First Duan, etc…) it encapsulates many core ideas  of both Tai Chi and Taoism and is worthy of much study.

The 13 Postures are split into three segments, each repeated four times in four directions. The first two segments are directed towards the cardinal directions (South, East, North, West). The third segment is directed towards the diagonals.

Taken together, the three segments point towards the eight points of the compass, but more importantly at the eight points of the Bagua, the symbol of the I Ching. These eight points  (marked by a trigram) represent the eight permutation of Yin and Yang energy.


• Circles and Squares

Another core idea is that one uses:

Circles to Deflect, Squares to Attack

This means that moves that are considered offensive will follow straight lines. Moves that are defensive will be circular.

Defensive Moves are Ward Off and Roll Back. These two moves are actually mirror images of each other. They both draw a line around the body as the arm sweeps through space, with the hips the center point. It’s as if one is wearing a barrel which spins around, deflecting attacks.

Ward Off is considered Yang, powerful, and is used to push an attack away.

Roll Back is considered Yin, soft, and is used to deflect and redirect an attack.

Offensive Moves are Push and Press. The other Moves are also offensive, but are considered secondary. They will be covered later.

Push covers all and any projection of energy in a straight line away from the body. A punch is a Push. A two-handed shove is a Push. A Push is like shooting an arrow.

Press is a compression strike, sending a short shockwave through an opponent. The energy is not sent through the opponent, but into his or her center. A Press is like slamming a hammer down.

Pluck, Twist the Joint, Elbow Strike and Shoulder Strike are offensive moves which are less general than Push or Press. They have their own bio-mechanics and can only be used in specific ways. Push and Press, on the other hand, describe types of energy.


• Why 13 Postures?

A quick answer is because there are 13 postures in the form:

1st segment: Grasp the Sparrow’s Tail, Seal it Closed

2nd segment: Drag Down, Brush Knee, Play the Pipa

3rd segment: Pluck or Drag Down, Twist the Joint, Elbow Strike, Shoulder Strike, Ward Off, Roll Back, Push, Press.


Another more fruitful approach is to consider the Eight Moves and Five Directions (8 plus 5 is 13).

The Eight Moves are as follow:

Ward Off, Roll Back, Push  and Press (Peng, Lu, An , Ji in Chinese) are the core moves, and are associated with the four cardinal directions of the Bagua.

Pluck, Twist the Joint, Elbow Strike and Shoulder Strike are considered secondary moves, and are associated with the diagonals of the Bagua.

Notice that the third segment covers all of the Eight Moves.

The Five Directions are traditionally labeled Step Forward, Step Back, Glance Right, Glance Left, and Central Equilibrium. We can think of them as forward, backwards, right, left, and up and down ( ie the vertical dimension versus the horizontal dimension that is covered by the other four directions).

Each of the Eight Moves can be performed in Five Directions. So there are far more than 13 Postures possible, but the ancient Taoist were sticklers for numerology. The real result is Eight times Five, but the details are a little more complicated than that. As we’ll see, not all Moves can be done in all five directions for reason of bio-mechanics and simple common sense.

It is possible to further refine the Five Directions and split the direction of the body movement and the direction of the Move itself. For example, it is possible to step forward while performing a Ward Off upwards.

To repeat, the Eight Moves and Five Directions are crucial because from them come ALL the moves in the form.

For example, Brush knee can be deconstructed as a Roll Back backwards ( the English makes it seem awkward), followed by a Ward Off to the right and a Push forward.