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Why building Qi and Yi into your Tai Chi Quan practice is Key

Why building Qi and Yi into your Tai Chi Quan practice is Key

If we were to learn “Tai Chi” as an exercise, instead of practicing it as an internal art form, 太极拳 (Tai Chi Quan), then we do not need to bother with Qi and Yi.

There are so many definitions of 太极拳 or Tai Chi Boxing floating around that it has been shortened to just Tai Chi in English, which is incorrect. However, « 太极 (Tai Chi) » does not refer to the martial art of Tai Chi Quan, as we know it. Rather, « 太极 (Tai Chi) » is a concept in Chinese philosophy meaning our supreme potential. The character, « 拳 (Quan) » means “Fist” as in a martial art form, or a type of boxing, a sparring form. Without an understanding of Chinese culture and Mandarin, it is no wonder that it is widely misinterpreted and misunderstood. 

Thus, we have it that Tai Chi Quan is sometimes erroneously likened to qigong as well. Qigong is more a repertoire of stationary breathing exercises whilst Tai Chi Quan is a choreographed routine of movements which is coordinated to your breathing as well. But, if you take away the Qi and Yi from your Tai Chi Quan practice, then it becomes nothing more than a mere exercise and not an internal martial art form.

Certainly, as with all exercises, Tai Chi exercise improves physiological and psychological health outcomes when you persevere and embark on a regular exercise program. Even if you practice Tai Chi Quan loosely as a sort of exercise, you will still reap health benefits. Many studies have already proven the efficacy of Tai Chi Quan for a large array of health conditions such as balance and stability in older people, reduce pain from knee osteoarthritis, ease fibromyalgia pain, and improve quality of life in people with heart disease, cancer, and those with Parkinson’s disease. 

 reference : Nccih.nih.gov. 2020. [online] Available at: <https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/tai-chi-and-qi-gong-in-depth> [Accessed 28 May 2020].

Already, practising Tai Chi Quan comes with so many health benefits. Imagine if you were to practise it as a martial art instead with the intervention of Qi and Yi? Then, its benefits multiply manifold. Building Qi and Yi into your training will unlock the 太极 or supreme potential in you.

Tai Chi Quan was created based on the doctrine that our universe is governed by the principle of interactive contrasts, delineated in the I Ching, “The Book of Changes”. It is believed that there is a complement for every aspect of our existence. The movements in Tai Chi Quan mirrors a state of dynamic balance between contrasts in speed versus slow, power versus gentle, action versus stillness, upper body versus lower body, etc. 

To practice Tai Chi Quan as an internal martial art form means that you focus your training under the principles of body focus, mind focus and breath focus. Let’s take a step back to consider what Internal means in the context of Tai Chi Quan. 

Internal – meaning inside. Inside your body, inside your mind and your intention. Therefore, your body focus is the 神 (shen), or body awareness. Your mind focus is the 意 (yi), or intention. The aim of the training the shen and yi focus is to cultivate your 气 (qi), or internal energy. The goal of your training will be to harmonise these three internals. When you can harmonise your 神 (shen), 意 (yi) and 气 (qi), you will be able to apply them at will into your techniques.

So how does yi fit into Tai Chi Quan training?

Yi, or intention can be thought of as the active aspect in training. Yi is the mental ability to fixate on one thing and our intent to do something. It is the driving force behind our movements. It also guides our movements. For example, when you are young, when you try to move your eyebrows, you have to focus your yi on your eyebrows and keep trying until you can move them in the way that you want. So similarly with Tai Chi Quan training, we use our yi to command the way we move and how we move. Hence, the articulation of our yi will determine the efficacy of our movements. The more refined we can direct our yi in detailing our movements, the better the results of our movement. So, another key point is not getting distracted by our surroundings during training. Without distractions, we will be able to focus more on commanding every muscle, joint, tendon, ligament, and tissues according to our intention. Hence, it is very important  to focus on that present moment or mindfulness when we are training.

In order to have very fine control over our movements, we need to spread our yi throughout our whole body so that it spreads through every joint and reaches the tips of our fingers, toes and top of our head. A good analogy would be to borrow a phrase from Bruce Lee, we need to let our yi spread throughout our body and “be like water”.

“Start by doing what’s necessary, then what’s possible; and suddenly, you are doing the impossible.”

~ Saint Francis

For example, when we are doing silk reeling, the dynamics when we are exhaling should look something like this:

Externally, when doing song kua, shift your weight, then turn / rotate your torso.  Internally, when turning, you need to sink your yi into every muscle, and throughout your tissues. Bear down with your weight into the rooted leg, and melt into the ground/floor.   At the same time, as we exhale, breathe out and downwards to enhance your sinking. As you breathe downwards, you are putting pressure into your diaphragm, your belly should expand out in all directions (front, side and back of your belly).  Now put your awareness on your soles. Your weight should be equally distributed between the ball and the heel of your feet and not the blades of your soles. Gently press into your rooted leg and you should try to feel the reaction force from the ground.  Then try to direct this energy or the qi to your fingertips. Don’t tense up or your qi will be blocked along the way. Calming your mind will help you to song further and relax your body thoroughly.  This will then enhance the flow of the Qi.

This is all happening simultaneously. As a beginner, you train by concentrating on one area first. Keep training in each area until your body accustomises. When you keep doing this over a period of time, your body will gradually execute them at the same time.

Chenjiagou(Chen Village) Taijiquan Training

Chenjiagou(Chen Village) Taijiquan Training

Many of you will have seen older folks in the gardens, parks, community centres and such, doing their slow gentle exercises in the mornings. Taijiquan (太tai,meaning big, 极ji means extreme 拳quan meaning fist or Tai Chi Chuan) nowadays is commonly practised with a very gentle and relaxed pace, such that it gives rise to the misunderstanding that this is what Taijiquan is all about. Then again, most old folks taiji (Tai Chi) as a form of gentle activity than as a martial art, which suits them just fine. Sadly, most so-called Taijiquan instructors lack a real understanding of its martial and health benefits. The original martial application has been left out, and Taijiquan as most will know it today has evolved into those competitive forms (Jing Sai Tao Lu) instead. These forms are mostly devoid of any combative elements and their primary focus is on aesthetic appearance! This is really, really sad.


The end goal is to achieve such a state of balance in the body that there is always a Peng Jing (expansion energy in every direction) inherent in every posture that it takes. And when the body is in motion, the movements should create a spiralling force arising from the Dantian Qi at the waist area. In order to cultivate strong Qi, beside being relax mentally and physically you need to have strong leg muscles, as they are the pillars of your body. Your legs form the foundation on which your body stands. The firmer the foundation, the stronger will be the force that you can exert. Hence, the most basic training goal is to develop your leg power, which will enable you to maintain your “bow-stance” at a fixed height throughout the routine, and so be able to root yourself into the ground.


Pushing Hands

Pushing hands is meant enhance your sensitivity to an opponent’s exertion of force. This is practised against another partner. One learns how to apply your body in directing your opponent’s energy in order to overcome them. The governing principle lies in “Using four ounces to overpower one thousand ounces”.


Training in the use of weapons is usually not encouraged until you have attained a certain level of mastery in the Basic Old Form. Just for knowledge, the Chen Style weapons training include the Sword, Broadsword, Pole and Spear. The same Chan Si Jing or spiralling energy needs to be applied to the weapon and this takes a great deal of skill – that’s why you need to be well-versed in the Old Form first. The weapon has to be treated as an extension of your own body.


Internal Development

Your Qi is developed through regular practice. Slowly by slowly, depending on your rate of development into Taijiquan, your Qi will gradually build up. First, you notice it in the tips of your fingers where a feeling of numbness will occur as the blood rushes into them. At the next level, you should develop a prickling sensation in your hands like many needle pricks or ants’ bites. This is the beginning stage in the development of Qi. However, experiencing Qi in isolated areas as the hands or fingers and actually controlling your Qi through the various gateways of your body are worlds apart. The development is definitely incomplete!! There are further stages you need to progress through before you can even think of mastering your Qi. As our masters often advise us, you need to practice seriously and very hard in order to break through the different stages.

The specific development of the mind in using it to control the body is essential to Taijiquan. This is important in that you have control over your body just by using your mind’s intent.

Taijiquan is actually a highly refined science of the dynamics of the human body. It teaches not only self-discipline through the its mental focus, but it teaches the body to seek a state of optimal balance. In terms of Taijiquan, optimal balance means seeking a physical position (posture) which enables a person to achieve a maximal creation of power with the minimum of effort. This brings us back to the principle of “Using four ounces to overpower one thousand ounces”.

To All Beginners

CHEN STYLE TAIJIQUAN is a distinctively unusual pugilistic art, which deserves more study. It is definitely worth learning and you can start learning it at any time of your life. It is a holistic health regiment that everyone should be encouraged to build into their lives.

Generally, you will notice that your muscles and joints become stronger, suppler and you have better motor coordination.

Martial application Fair Lady Works on shuttles 玉女穿梭 用法

Martial application Fair Lady Works on shuttles 玉女穿梭 用法

This is one of the application for “Fair Lady Works on shuttles” in Chen Tai Chi Laojia or old frame, one of the oldest kata for Tai Chi.

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Martial application Fair Lady Works on shuttles.

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Why we call Chenjiagou Taijiquan and not Chen Style Tai Chi?

Why we call Chenjiagou Taijiquan and not Chen Style Tai Chi?

There are many variants of Chen Style Taijiquan being practised all over the world. Chen Style 56 movement-competition routine, Chen Style 83 movement, Chen Style 37 movement particular to the Beijing/Shanghai area just to name a few, Chen Practical Method etc. However most of these which are taught – are quite different in characteristic in comparison to what is passed down within Chenjiagou (Chen Village). So in order to differentiate ourselves from the commercialized (or ”sport”) versions out there, the “Chenjiagou” (Chen Village) tag is used here to single ourselves out, in deference as well as in concurrence with the wish of our teacher, Grand Master Zhu Tian Cai. 

In Chen Village, the following forms are practiced:
1) Laojia Yilu 72 movement (Old form first set)- This is the compulsory basic foundation for all beginners.

2) Laojia Erlu 59 movement (Old form second set)3) Xinjia Yilu 83 movement (New form first set)
4) Xinjia Erlu (New form second set)
5) Xiaojia (small frame)

In traditional training at Chenjiagou, only when one has at least 2 years plus of Laojia Yilu experience, the Master will then proceed to teach the students this routine.

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