The Ten Essential Points of Tai-Chi (Taijiquan)

oral transmittion from Yang Cheng Fu

Recorded by Chen Wei Ming

There are numerous versions of this text in literature and throughout the web. This version combines and corroborates the texts of several translations in order to ensure clarity and correctness.

  1. The Energy at the Top of the Head Should Be Light and Sensitive. “Energy at the top of the head” means that the head should be carried erect so that the spirit will reach to the very top. No strength should be used otherwise the back of the neck will be stiff and the blood and chi will not be able to circulate. There should be a natural, light and lively feeling. Without this light and sensitive energy at the top of the head the spirit cannot rise.
  2. Sink the Chest and Raise the Back. There is a slight drawing in of the chest to allow the “chi” to sink to the “tan tien”. Never expand the chest or the “chi” will be held there and you will be top heavy. The soles of the feet will be light and you can easily be uprooted. Raise the back and the “chi” sticks to the back. Sink the chest and the back will naturally rise. Raise the back and strength can be issued from it and you can overcome anyone.
  3. Relax the Waist. The waist is the commander of the body. If you can relax the waist then the legs will have power and the lower body will be firm and stable. Changes between full and empty are derived from the rotation of the waist. It is said that the source of the movements lies in the waist. If you have no power then the fault is in the legs and the waist.
  4. Differentiate full and empty. This is the first principle in tai-chi. If the weight of the body is resting on one leg then that leg is full and the other is empty. When we can distinguish between full and empty our movements will be light and nimble without effort. Without this distinction our stepping will be heavy and slow. Our stance will be unstable and we will easily be unbalanced.
  5. Sink the Shoulders and Elbows. The shoulders must be completely relaxed and open. If you cannot relax and sink them then they will be raised, the “chi” will rise with them and the whole body will be without power. Sinking the elbows means they relax downwards. If the elbows are raised then the shoulders cannot sink and you will not be able to discharge people far. Your energy will be broken like that of the external styles.
  6. Use Mind and not Force. The tai-chi classics say all of this means using mind “I” and not force “li”. In practicing tai-chi the whole body should be relaxed. Do not let one ounce of force remain in the blood vessels, bones, sinews or ligaments to restrict you. Then you will be agile and able to respond to change spontaneously. You will be able to turn freely and easily. Some doubt how you can be strong without being forceful. The meridians of the body through which “chi” can flow are like waterways in the earth. When there is no obstruction then the water flows freely. Similarly if the meridians are open then the “chi” can pass through. If hard force blocks the meridians then the “chi” and blood will be obstructed and our movements will not be smooth and agile. By just pulling one hair the whole body will be unbalanced. If you do not use force, then wherever the mind goes the “chi” will follow. The “chi” and the blood can circulate. If we practice this way daily then we will eventually attain true internal power. The classics say that when you are extremely soft, then you will become hard and strong. To master tai-chi is to have arms like iron wrapped in cotton wool; they are extremely heavy. Practitioners of external styles reveal strength when they use it but when not using it they are light and floaty. It is obvious that their strength is external and locked together. Strength derived from external training is easily led and not to be admired.
  7. Coordination of Upper and Lower Body. The tai-chi classics state that the root is in the feet, issued through the legs, controlled by the waist and expressed by the fingers. The feet, legs and waist act together in a continuous circuit of “chi”. When the hands, waist and the legs move; the eyes follow. This is the meaning of coordinating the upper and lower body. If any part is out of synchronisation then the whole body is disordered.
  8. Inside and outside coordinate. Tai-chi practice trains the spirit. Therefore it is said that the spirit is the commander and the body subordinate. If we raise the spirit then our movements will be naturally agile. The postures are no more than full and empty, opening and closing. When open, not only are the hands and feet open but the mind is also open. When closed, not only are the hands and feet closed but the mind is also closed. When you can make the outside and inside become one then it is complete.
  9. Unbroken Continuity. The power of external styles is brute force. Therefore it begins and ends. There are connections and breaks. The old force is exhausted before the new force has been born. At these moments it is easy for others to take advantage. Tai-chi uses mind rather than force. From beginning to end it is continuous, circular and unbroken. It is revolves and has no limits. The Classics say it is like a great river flowing unceasingly and that the circulation of jin is like reeling silk from a cocoon. This all refers to continuity.
  10. Seek Stillness in Movement. External styles consider jumping and crouching to be skilful. They expend all their energy and are inevitably out of breath after practice. Tai-chi uses stillness to counter movement. There is stillness in motion. Therefore when practicing the form, slower is better. If it is slow the breath becomes long and deep. If it is slow one naturally avoids the effects of elevated pulse or engorgement of the blood vessels. Students who carefully consider this will grasp its meaning.


Yang Cheng Fu; The Ten Essential Points of Tai-Chi (Taijiquan) spacer