• 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.


• The Multiple Dimensions of Tai Chi Practice

One of the more fascinating aspects of Tai Chi is its multi-dimensionality. I often view it as a giant three-dimensional puzzle, with rotating parts composed of physical moves, energy centers, emotional states and spiritual components.

There are two core ideas that need to be kept in mind at all times in order to grasp this strange puzzle.

The first is that “As Above, So Below”. The work on the body is a mirror to the work on the spirit, and working on the spirit affects the body. For Taoists, the Chi, or life-energy (or simply the breath) is the connective tissue between the physical body and the spiritual body. The whole forms a system that is integrated, and talks to itself. There is no body without spirit, and no spirit without body ( more on that later).

Secondly, fighting is the metaphor for the interaction of our ego with the world around us. A fist flying towards our face traces the same pattern within us as an insult hurtled towards our self-esteem.  Similarly, there is no distinction between an object falling and a fist thrown, both are kinetic events, both require a reaction, but the quality of the reaction is shaded by our ego’s perception of the event. One is a surprise, the other feels like a threat, but both are physically similar. So the martial art aspect of Tai Chi is our training ground, the place we come to in order to learn how to face our daily life with calm and serenity.

The Tai Chi form becomes a place of enquiry. Each move expresses a specific response to a physical act. Some kinetic event has occurred and the body must move. As I step, questions arise; where is my center, what is the quality of the movement (soft? Forceful?), how is the energy directed towards me handled?

These same questions are mirrored on an emotional level. This kinetic event can be an emotional one, an insult. How is it handled? Where is my emotional center? Do I fight back or side-step the insult or the argument? Where is my response coming from?

The beauty of Tai Chi is that it gives us a unified set of answers. How do I react to a physical event? How do I react to an emotional event?

Find your core, nurture it, strengthen it, move from it.

And that’s why Tai Chi is also a moving meditation. The meditation allows the Tai Chi “player”, or practitioner, to find that core, and nurture it.



• What is Tai Chi?

Tai Chi, in the West, is often thought of as a series of slow gentle movements that old Chinese people do in the park. It is often recommended for people who need some sort of stress relief, low impact exercise or who have trouble with balance.

In reality, there is no such thing as “Tai Chi”. What falls under the umbrella of Tai Chi is a wide range of exercises and techniques, based more or less on a Chinese martial art. The real name is Tai Chi Chuan, or Taijiquan, depending on which translation one uses.

“Tai Chi”, the term, is often translated to Grand Ultimate, the underlying reality of our physical existence.  “Chuan” roughly means “Fist”. So Tai Chi Chuan means Grand Ultimate Fist, or “Method of punching someone in accordance with the divine laws of the Universe”. Roughly.

The important piece of information here is that Tai Chi Chuan is both a martial art and a method of acting in accordance with the laws of the universe. In Taoist terms, acting in sync with the universe is synonymous with enlightenment, with reaching our full potential and becoming “Truly Human”.

Both aspects need to be developed in order to obtain the full benefits of tai Chi Chuan.

In addition, Tai Chi Chuan is further broken down into “families” or styles. The original styles were developed within families, so the Chen style of Tai Chi Chuan was first created by the Chen family.  As Tai Chi Chuan progressed, the art became more widespread and more of a sport. It lost its connection to families and instead grew within the Chinese sports association.

Today the most common Tai Chi Chuan style is the Yang Style, as well as the more modern versions which are referred to simply by the number of moves in them. Hence now people talk of the 24 Forms, the 48 Forms, etc…

The more traditional Tai Chi Chuan forms are still referred to by the family names. The core ones are the Chen style (the oldest), the Yang style, Sun style, and a few other variations as sons and students branched off and developed their own versions.

On this blog we will mostly talk about the Hidden Tradition of the Yang Family style of Tai Chi Chuan, or the Michuan Style (from the full Chinese name, Yangjia Michuan Taijiquan). This is supposedly the original Yang Family style, which was never taught to the greater public. I found it to be closer to its martial art roots than any other Tai Chi style I have studied. It also correlates very strongly with the writings found in the Tai Chi Classics, the collection of 18th and 19th Century texts on Tai Chi.

But all forms of Tai Chi are based on the same principles. The details vary, but the core teachings remain the same.



Welcome to the first post!

The purpose of this blog is to host my ramblings on topics related to Tai Chi and Taoism. It is mostly an easy format for me to jot down the thoughts that have been bumbling around in my head regarding the place of Tai Chi in our modern world. It will also, hopefully, be a resource for students who are interested in deepening their practice.