13 T’ai Chi Ch’uan Postures

(copas)

General Remarks

1.  Ward Off – Peng

2.  Roll Back – Lu

3.  Press – Ji

4.  Push – An

5.  Pull Down – Tsai

6.  Split – Lieh

7.  Elbow – Chou

8.  Shoulder – Kao

9.  Advancing Steps – Jin

10.  Retreating Steps – Tui

11.  Stepping to the Left Side  – Ku

12.  Stepping to the Right Side – Pan

13.  Settling at the Center – Ding

 

General Remarks

 

The Thirteeen Postures (8 Gates and 5 Steps) are referred to in various ways by T’ai Chi
Ch’uan authors.  Some call them the “Thirteen Powers = Shi San Shi.”  Others call them
the Thirteen Postures, the Thirteen Entrances, the Thirteen Movements, or the Thirteen
Energies.

The most frequent references to the 13 Postures are in the writings and teaching in the
Yang Style of T’ai Chi Ch’uan.

The first Eight Gates or Eight Entrances (Ba Gua or Pa Kau) can be divided into the
Four Primary Hands (Ward Off, Pull Back, Press and Push) and the Four Corner Hands
(Pull Down, Split, Elbow and Shoulder).

The first eight (Pua Qua or Ba Gua) of the Thirteen Gates are often associated, for mnenomic
or esoteric purposes, with  the eight basic trigrams used in the Chinese I Ching: Book of Changes.
In the order of the first Eight Gates (Pa-Men), the eight I Ching trigrams are Heaven, Earth,
Water, Fire, Wind, Thunder, Lake, and Mountain.

All thirteen postures, or course, involve some movement of the feet and legs, but the final Five
Gates involve more extensive movements of the feet and legs.  These are collectively referred
to as the Wu-hsing – Five Elemental Phases of Change.  The final five gates are associated
with the 5 elementary processes (Wu-xing) involving:  metal, wood, water, fire, and earth.

 

Eight Gates
(Eight Stances, Postures, Energies, Ways)

 

1.   Peng – Ward Off

Peng – Ward Off

Peng Ching (Jing) is outward expanding and moving energy.  It is a quality of responding to incoming
energy by adhering to that energy, maintaing one’s own posture, and bouncing the incoming energy
back like a large inflated rubber ball.  You don’t really respond to force with your own muscular force
to repel, block, or ward off the attack.  Peng is a response of the whole body, the whole posture,
unified in one’s center, grounded, and capable of gathering and then giving back the opponent’s
energy.

Peng is aften referred to as a kind of “bouncing” energy.  It is also considered the fundamental
way of delivering energy and embodied in some way in each of the other Eight Gates.
Example of Form movements:  Grasping the Sparrow’s Tail (Ward Off)

“When moving, receiving, collecting, and striking, Peng ching is always used.  It is not easy to complete
consecutive movements and string them together without flexibility.  Pen ching is T’ai Chi boxing’s
essential energy.  The body becomes like a spring; when pressed it recoils immediately.”
–  Kuo, Lien-Ying, “The T’ai Chi Boxing Chronicle,” p. 44

 

2.   Roll Back  –  Lu

Roll Back – Lu

Lu Ching is receiving and collecting energy, or inward receiving energy.

Form movements:  Grasping the Sparrow’s Tail – Rollback

“Li is the use of force in a sideways direction, such as where we intercept and move with
a forward directed attack, simultaneously diverting it slightly to one side and thus to the
void.   The greater the force of his attack, the greater the resulting loss of balance on
the part of our opponent.”

3.   Press – Ji or C’hi

Press – C’hi, Qi or Ji

Chi or Ji Ching is pressing and receiving energy.
This is an offensive force delivered by following the opponent’s energy, by squeezing
of sticking forward.

Form movements:  Grasping the Sparrow’s Tail – palm pressing on forearm.

“What is the meaning of Pressing Energy?  It functions in two ways: (1) The simplest
is the direct method.  Advance to meet (receive) the opponent, and then adhere and
close in one action, just like in elbowing.  (2) To apply reaction force is the indirect
method.  This is like a ball bouncing off a wall or a coin tossed onto a drumhead,
rebounding off with a ringing sound.”

4.   Push – An

Push – An or On

An Ching is downward pushing energy.
Pushing power comes from the legs pushing into the earth.
Form movements:  Grasping the Sparrow’s Tail, Fair Lady Works the Loom
Pushing or pressing with both palms in a downward direction, peng energy
directed downward.

 

What is the meaning of An energy?
When applied it is like flowing water.
The substantial is concealed in the insubstantial.
When the flow is swift it is difficult to resist.
Coming to a high place, it swells and fills the place up;
meeting a hollow it dives downward.
The waves rise and fall,
finding a hole they will surely surge in.
–  T’ang Meng-hsien, Song of An

 

“What is absolutely necessay in the beginning is to follow the imagination.  For instance:
when the two hands form the Push gesture, there is an imagined intent to the front, as
if an opponent was really there.  At this time, within the plams of the hands there is no
ch’i which can be issued.  The practitioner must then imagine the ch’i rising up from the
tan-tien into the spine, through the arms and into the wrists and palms.  Thus, accordingly,
the ch’i is imagined to have penetrated outwards onto the opponent’s body.”
Chen Yen-lin, 1932, Cultivating the Ch’i, Translated by Stuart Alve Olson, 1993

 

“An Examination of T’ai Chi Push Methods.”  By Hiu chee Fatt.   T’ai Chi: The
International Magazine of T’ai Chi Ch’uan
.  Vol. 27, No. 2, April 2003, pp. 21-25.

 

“Arn: This posture is normally called to push.  However this is also incorrect as it means
to ‘press’.  This is again a yang attacking movement coming from the whole body issuing
yin and yang Qi into the attacker’s vital points on his chest.  Many make the mistake of
looking after their legs when they hear about not being ‘double weighted’ but neglect their
hands.  Never in Taijiquan is there a two-handed strike or attack using the same power
in each hand at the same time. There is a ‘fa-jing’ shake of the waist causing one hand
to strike just before the other. The hands are firstly yin, then yang thus releasing yang
Qi into the attacker.”

5.   Pull Down – Tsai

Pull Down – Tsai or Cai

Tsai Ching is grabbing energy.
A force delivered by a quick grab and pull, usually of an opponent’s writst,
both backward and down.
Form movements:  Needle at Sea Bottom.

“Tsai: Sometimes called ‘inch energy’.  Like picking fruit off a tree with a snap of the
wrist.  Often on hand will be placed right on top of the other wrist to assist in the power
of this jerking motion.  It is not a pull of his wrist but rather a violent jerking fa-jing movement
that can knock him out by its violent action upon his head jerking backwards and kinking
his brain stem.  Again, the power must come from the centre and not only from the arms
and hands, and a follow up attack is also necessary.”

“Tsoi is where our opponent loses control of his centre of gravity, and we use a technique
to disrupt his balance to such an extent that he is uprooted completely from his position. It
is something like a strategically placed lever lifting a heavy rock.”

6.   Split – Lieh

Split – Lie or Lieh

Lieh Ching is striking energy that splits apart an opponent.

Form movements:
Parting the Wild Horses Mane
Slant Flying
Wild Stork Flashes Its Wings

“Song of Split:
How can we explain the energy of Split?
Revolving like a flywheel,
If something is throw against it,
It will be cast off a great distance.
Whirlpools appear in swift flowing streams,
And the curling waves are like spirals,
If a falling leaf lands on their surface,
In no time will it sink from sight.”
–  “Yang Family Manuscripts,” Edited by Li Ying-ang
“T’ai-chi Touchstones: Yang Family Secret Transmissions,” 1983, p. 33

 

7.   Elbow – Zhou

Elbow – Zhou or Chou

Chou Ching is elbow striking energy.
Turn and Chop with Fist
“What is the meaning of Elbowing Energy?  The function is in the Five Activities:
advancing, withdrawing, looking-left, gazing right, and fixed rooting.  The yin and yang
are distinguished according to the upper and lower, just like Pulling.  The substantial
and insubstantial are to be clearly discriminated.  If its motion is connected and unbroken,
nothing can oppose its strength.  The chopping of the fist is extremely fierce.  After
thoroughly understanding the Six Energies (adhering, sticking, neutralizing, seizing,
enticing, and issuing), the functional use is unlimited.”

8.   Shoulder – Kao

Shoulder – Kao

Kao Ching is a full body strinking energy.  The peng energy is mobilized throughout the entire
body, and then the entire body is used as one unit and the force is delivered with the shoulder
or back.

Football players are familiar with this use of energy.

 

Five Steps
(5 Steps, Directions, Footwork Techniques, Movements)  –  Wu Bu

 

Nimble, responsive, and coordinated footwork is essential to success in all styles of martial arts.
Taijiquan requires precise footwork and legwork.  The placement and movement of the legs and
feet as they relate to the powerful and coordinated application of energy in Tai Chi stances and
postures gets extra attention by Taijiquan teachers in form work, drills, and push hands.

 

“In Chinese martial arts, Bu is a general term referring to stance and foot/leg work. If we keep in mind
our general definition for the Shi San Shi or the 13 Powers, an ideal translation for Wu Bu might be
something like: “powers based on the five stages of footwork” or, “the five implicit behaviors of the
stance” or even (considering the interactive nature of the Wu Xing), “the five innate powers and
conditions arising from the natural cycle of stages within the stance”.  It is the inherent behaviors,
strengths and stages that are the subject in the Wu Bu, not the shape or position of the stance as
such. The innate conditions for power in stance work. We are also referring to the cyclical way in
which these powers emerge and dissolve. Also, as importantly, we are speaking of the natural
constraints inherent in the legwork.”

“Wubu are the five footwork skills. Wu means five. Bu means step. In fact it is more about Shenfa – body
movement skills because footwork and body movement have a very tight relationship.  They should be
combined together.  It is said “the body follows steps to move and steps follow the body to changed”,
“Body movement and footwork skills cannot be forgotten. If any of these is omitted, one does not need
to waste his time practicing any more.” The body movement skills and footwork skills are about how to
move the body in fighting. Only when the body can move to the right position (distance and angle), can
the hand skills work well. Thus, it is said Wubu is the foundation of Bafa.”

The association of various Kicks with the Five Stepping Movements (9th to 13th Gates) is based solely
upon a kickboxing training regiment that I use while doing walking or running exercises.  The associations
are my own, and, to my knowledge, have no connection whatsover to traditional stepping theory in internal
boxing.  Tai Chi Chuan does use front heel kicks, toe kicks, jump kicks, sweeping kicks, and knee strikes.
The Five Stepping Movements (i.e., forward, backward, to the left, to the right, and staying in place) all
primarily involve movements of the legs and feet, with little emphasis upon the arms or hands.  When kicking,
the arms are used to balance the body, facilitate the control, power, or speed of the kicks, and  to have the
arms in a defensive position.  It seems to me appropriate to associate kicking techniques with the Five
Stepping Movements.  In Tai Chi Chuan practice, kicking is done slowly, effortlessly, gently, and smoothly;
and considerable balance and strength are required to extend the legs fully, slowly, and in strict form.  In
kick boxing practice the kicks are done with much more speed and power.  These are the Yin and Yang
approaches to kicking; and, both approaches are needed by martial artists.

 

9.   Advancing Steps – Jin

Advancing Steps, Stances, and Looking (Jin Bu)

Brush Knee and Twist Step

Generally speaking, when moving forward, step forward with your heel first.  Carefully transfer
weight to the forward foot, while being prepared to retreat the step as needed.

” This step is one of the main stepping methods of Taijiquan. The front foot is placed down on its heel, then as
the body moves forward, the toes are placed.  However, the weight does not come any more forward than the
middle of the foot. The thighs and knees are curved and collecting while the rear thigh is less curved than the
front.  We never retreat in Taijiquan and we can do this because of this stepping method.  The rear foot controls
the waist in yielding and throwing away the attacker’s strength.  The waist is controlled during this step by the
rear foot.  There is an old Taijiquan saying: “To enter is to be born while to retreat is to die”. So we never retreat,
we rely upon the rear leg controlling the waist for our power and evasiveness without moving backward.”

Consider the advance movements in heel kicks and toe kicks with the right or left leg.

Forward movement is associated with the Element Metal.

 

10.   Retreating Steps – Tui

Retreating Steps, Stances, and Looking Back (Tui Bu)
Step Back and Repulse Monkey

Generally speaking, when moving backward, step backward with your toe first.  Carefully
transfer weight to the backward moving foot, while being prepared to return the foot
forward as needed.

Conside the turning backward set up for a back kick with either the right or left legs.

Backward movement is assocated with the Element Wood.

 

11.   Stepping to the Left Side After Faking Right – Ku

Left Side Moving Steps, Stances, after Gazing to the Right (You Pan) or faking to the right.
Rolling on one foot

Parting the Wild Horse’s Mane
Waving Hands Like Clouds
Strike the Tiger
Deflect, Parry and Punch
Single Whip

Toe kicks with the left leg.
Heel kicks with the left leg.
Sweeping kicks with the left leg.
Jumping kicks with the left leg.
Side kicks with the left leg
Spinning kicks with the left leg.

Movement to the left and looking to the left is associated with the Element Water.

 

12.   Stepping to the Right Side after Faking Left – Pan

Right Side Moving Steps, Stances, after Looking to the Left (Zou Gu) or faking left.
Rolling on one foot

Parting the Wild Horse’s Mane
Strike the Tiger
Brush Knee and Twist Step
Slant Flying

Toe Kicks with the right leg
Heel Kicks with the right leg
Sweeping kicks with the right leg.
Jumping kicks with the right leg.
Side kicks with the right leg.
Spinning kicks with the right leg.

Movement to the right is associated with the Element Fire.

 

“Song of Look-Right:
Feigning to the left, we attack to the right
with perfect Steps.
Stricking left and attacking right,
we follow the opportunities.
We avoid the frontal and advance from the side,
seizing changing conditions.
Left and right, full and empty,
our technique must be faultless.”
–  “Yang Family Manuscripts,” Edited by Li Ying-ang
“T’ai-chi Touchstones: Yang Family Secret Transmissions,” 1983, p. 37

 

“Gu (or Zuogu – left look around) means to go forward sideways; that really means to close up to the opponent
indirectly.  Here Zuo (left) means sideway; Gu (look around) means look after or being careful. Usually in martial
arts this term means defensiveness within attacking skills. So the main idea of Zuogu is how to rotate and advance
forward from sideway with some defense skills. It is usually called rotate attack. It is wood which means straight
and grow up continually.  It belongs to Ganjin (Liver Channel). When the key point Jiaji is focused on, the qi will
automatically urge the body to rotate and advance forward.”

13.   Settling at the Center – Ding

Settling at the Center, Rooting Stances, and Holding Still – Zhong Ding

Golden Cock Stands on Right Leg – Left Knee Strike
Golden Cock Stands on Left Leg – Right Knee Strike
Needle at Sea Bottom
Fair Lady Works the Shuttles

Centering, holding to one’s center, maintaining equilibrium, settling, moving downward,
and staying balanced at one’s center are associated with the Element Earth.

Knee strikes with the right or left knee.

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