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postures' is a misleading and incorrect
translation, perhaps derived from a false yoga
There are no static postures in
Chang San-feng said: Taijiquan is like a great river rolling on unceasingly. Despite this, most tai chi people refer to shi san shi as being 13 postures...
The Chinese word 'shi' though commonly translated as 'postures' has the meanings of 'appearance', 'situation', 'patterns'... Therefore, the more accurate translation of 'shi' here should be patterns. Taijiquan is constructed from eight fundamental basic strategic moving patterns and five manoeuvring stepping techniques.
Shi san shi
Taijiquan contains 13 underlying expressions of energy. All taijiquan movements - whether form, drills or combat - involve 13 expressions of power (jing).
The 13 patterns are called: wardoff, rollback, push, squeeze, pluck, split, elbow, shoulder/bump, advance, withdraw, look right, look left and central equilibrium.
More than movement
It is quite possible (and indeed common) for students to perform taijiquan movements in an accurate seeming manner without any jing whatsoever.
The movement itself is not enough. Disconnection and the inability to transfer kinetic force can render the taijiquan useless in application. Test your practice rigorously.
Internal power (jing)
The 13 patterns are expressions of internal power (jing); kinetic energy/force. Each expression has a distinct character. It produces a unique outcome. e.g. 'rollback'.
Rollback involves taking incoming force, drawing it back, to the side and down.
Wardoff, rollback, push, squeeze, pluck, split, elbow, shoulder/bump are 8 manifestations of whole-body movements that apply specific fighting skills in combat.
An occasional mistranslation is '8 techniques'. This indicates that the exponent does not know the difference between jing (internal power) and a technique (a step-by-step method).
Without peng nothing will work in taijiquan. Wardoff should be considered manifest peng - expressed peng - rather than inherent peng.
Rollback is the signature move
Rollback is taijiquan's signature skill. The ability to rollback successfully and readily from a variety of situations is vital. There is large rollback and small rollback.
The movement combines peng, split, withdraw, elbow and pluck (optional).
Thought tends to create fixed structures in the mind, which can make dynamic entities seem to be static.
Advance, withdraw, look right, look left and central equilibrium are called the 5 elements. The first four pertain to both movement and perception, whereas the fifth is about stability in movement.
A common mistranslation is '5 steps'.
This is wildly inaccurate since it is possible to advance and withdraw without stepping, look left and look right are perceptual and central equilibrium need not involve any movement at all; let alone a step.
Line of force
Advance is frequently mis-translated as 'forward step' and withdraw as 'backward step'. To step forward is to step right into the punch.
Anybody with any martial arts knowledge is fully aware that a student must avoid the incoming line of force.
This is achieved by employing an X-shape movement pattern relative to the incoming force. It may necessitate a step but it may not.
Withdraw is not evade
'Evading' does not involve establishing and maintaining a dynamic relationship with the incoming force. It is just about getting out of the way. Normally, evading is accomplished by stepping.
Withdraw is different to evade. The aim is to create space without being out of range for countering.
Unless the taijiquan student sustains dynamic tension whilst making space, they cannot immediately affect the attacker.
Advanced practice requires the student to keep the attacker slightly off-centre and off-balance whilst withdrawing.
Taijiquan requires the student to be totally balanced at all times. To achieve this, minute internal adjustment is necessary.
A dynamic process of awareness and subtle change enables the taijiquan exponent to remain stable whilst in motion.
The form is an exploration of the 13 patterns
Each form movement is comprised of a combination of the 13 patterns.
If a student does not understand how and why the 13 patterns operate, their practice lacks whole-body power and cannot be applied martially in a taijiquan way.
Positioning, frame, alignment and weight distribution are the means by which you shape and express kinetic energy. The 13 patterns represent this new way of moving.
Each quality can only be made manifest by a specific kind of physical action. Form is a moving network of associated body parts, whose purpose is to cultivate and release power.
Taijiquan fighting method
Some of the training methods in taijiquan are slow; this is to develop strength, accuracy, balance and control. It enables the student to perform the pattern correctly.
As the student becomes adept, the movement speeds up considerably.
18 April 1995
Last updated 28 March 2019