Unit 1 -  Understand the basic principles of Tai Chi philosophy

REP's Candidates CPD course - Please note that you are exempt from Unit 1.

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1.1 Summarise the philosophy that Tai Chi is based on.

There are many components that over time have helped to shape the underlying principles of Tai Chi philosophy. Here we will look briefly at some of these elements and how they relate to the art. We will look at Taoism, Yin Yang, Qi, Meridians and energy points for this unit.

1. Taoism
A monk known as Chang Seng Feng
was thought to have created Tai Chi after watching a crane and a snake fight. He liked the yielding and striking actions of the animals and so developed these into a martial art form through copying nature. Tai Chi Chuan is a soft internal martial art practiced in a smooth flowing manner. Its basic principles are about yielding and sticking to an opponent and not meeting an attacker with opposing force. This is often trained using push hands techniques. It is worth noting that the Chen style of Tai Chi is recognised as the oldest official style. There are many other styles - the main five being Chen, Yang, Hao, Wu and Sun styles. All share similar principles and have links with Taoism. The following should help shed some light on these connections.

Taoism relates to many philosophical and religious ideas in Asia that date back thousands of years. You may sometimes see it written/ pronounced Dao, the word literally translates as "the way" and is closely linked to balance in nature.
In relation to philosophy there is a book that is regarded as the foundation of Taoism called the Tao Te Ching. This was written in the 6th century BC
by a sage known as Laozi and translates as the way of virtue classic. The ideas in this book cross into Tai Chi ideals. From looking at the verses that can be found in the Tao Te Ching one can see how the fundamentals of yielding, staying soft and in ones centre have been influenced.

The main perspective of following Taoist principles is that the Tao (universe) is always around us but it must be cultivated and perfected in order to realize it. Please click on the following link to find out more about Taoism and how it relates to Tai Chi.

Tai Chi and Taoism

In Chinese mythology there are 8 Taoist immortals, each having a special magic power that was often used to help the poor and needy. The 8 immortal flute Tai Chi has a link with one of these immortals known as philosopher Han Xiang. He embodies the Taoist values of naturalness and spontaneity. It is thought that his flute gives life and he is protector of all flautists. The link below should help shed further light on the Eight Immortals.

Although the concepts of Taoism sometimes seem complex hopefully the above should help you make links of understanding. Remember we are not asking you to become masters of Taoism but as the course goes on the principles behind this philosophy should become more apparent.

2. Yin Yang
One of the most interesting parts of the philosophy that underpins Tai Chi is Yin Yang. Let's take a closer look at what this is and how it relates to the art.
Yin Yang stands for complementary opposites within or making up a greater whole. The ancient Chinese recognised that in nature everything has an opposite. For example, man and woman, day and night or hot and cold. Each aspect needs its pair in order to exist, you may have seen the
Taijitu or symbol that represents this aspect of the philosophy.

So what makes something Yin and what makes something Yang?

YIN- Yin is represented by anything that is cold, still, passive etc.

YANG- Yang is represented by qualities such as warmth, activity, light, outside and so on.


Interestingly the Chinese characters for Yin Yang gives a sense of this. The character for Yin translates as "the dark side of the mountain" and for Yang translates as the sunny side. Please have a look at the blue characters opposite, Yin is on the left and Yang on the right.




 The basic principles of Yin and Yang

There are a few main principles behind Yin Yang philosophy. All things in the universe contain Yin and Yang. Within Yin and Yang further aspects can be identified! Thus the phenomena spreads on and on. Take water for example. Steam is a Yang aspect of water and ice a Yin quality. However, both could be seen as a molecular structure with protons and neutrons being Yin and Electrons being Yang.If you know your physics you may be able to take this even further!

Yin and Yang can transform into one another, thus helping to keep balance in the universe. Day turns into night, hot turns into cold and you have to go up to be able to come down.

So how does this relate to our Tai Chi practice? Everything we do in Tai Chi practice is shrouded in Yin and Yang principles. The shifting of weight between full and empty, breathing in and out, internal and external aspects of training and even the tempo can be related. In fact a Tai Chi form is a constant flow of shifting interaction between Yin and Yang qualities.

 3. Qi

Qi (pronounced chee) is a very interesting concept, it loosely translates as energy. Everything in the universe is thought to be made of Qi. In Tai Chi it is useful to see how Qi relates to the human body and health. There are two main types of Qi in the body, pre heaven Qi and post heaven Qi. Let's look at these in a bit more detail.

Pre Heaven Qi- This is the energy we derive from before we are born. The best way to understand this is to think of our genetical make up inherited from our parents. Post Heaven Qi- There are many things we can do once we are born to make our energy strong. Post heaven Qi is the energy that we derive from food, air and exercise once we enter into the world.

Tai Chi practice has a very important affect on both these aspects of Qi in the body. Firstly the circulating nature of Tai Chi enables us to generate energy in the limbs; through practice we are then able to store Qi in the body making us stronger. At more advanced levels a practitioner is then able to direct Qi around his or her body using the intent. This can help when there is imbalance in the body, by directing Qi one is able to help assist healing the body when there is injury. So how does this work? Well, at a basic level if there is tension in the shoulders a player of Tai Chi can direct the intent to the area and then relax the muscles allowing energy to flow again.

Qi and the Dantien

There is a very important energy point that we use all the time in our Tai Chi practice. This point has a big connection to the Qi in the body. The point is known as the Dantien and is found one and a half fingers breadth below the navel and about two fingers breadth back. In Tai Chi and Qigong we regard this Dantien as the place where Qi is cultivated, generated and stored. This lower Dantien is the central co-ordinating point for our Qi and our centre of balance or core.

 4. Meridians

The Chinese use the term "jing luo" which means channel or meridian.

In ancient Chinese medical philosophy the body was mapped with channels very much like we see in the natural world around us today in the shape of rivers and streams. This came from the farmers of old, they noted that the body was like a landscape with rivers and streams very much like the land that they worked each day. These rivers and streams in the body are known as meridians and its thought that our Qi flows around them. There are many types of meridian in the body but we will focus on two of the main groups, the 12 Primary channels and the 8 Extra Ordinary channels.


Try to see the Qi in the body as steam that is driving the engine of the body generated by our warm vital energy. In fact the Chinese character for Qi is based on steam; it can be seen as a pictograph of steam floating up from hot rice.

 Qi has several basic functions in the body. It helps transform, for example we turn food into blood. It can also transport and is seen as the foundation of all movement in the body. This action can be seen in Tai Chi practice because the circulatory system is activated and blood flows better in the vessels. Qi helps protect the body, for example our immune system stops us from catching colds. It has a raising action keeping all the organs in place. Qi helps to keep us warm, keeping the body's temperature balanced.
Take a look at the following link for a more detailed account on Qi in the human body. It can get complex so try to keep things simple to start with. A good understanding of the above should help you on your way to becoming attuned to the Qi in your body.

You may be interested to look up more points, please have a look at the link below. I have also put an energy point attachment at the bottom of the page with some important points that may help your practice, please click on the link and have a look.

Acupuncture point finder

Master Jesse Tsao also has pictures regarding the energy points, on his website.

You can access these by Clicking here and then scrolling down to his DVD on 36 Touch point healing.


If you have little or no experience of Tai Chi and Qigong some or all of the above may seem a little tricky to grasp at first. Please remember that this is just a guide and that you will have time to refine the details of philosophy as you develop your Tai Chi practice. I hope that you have found this guide helpful and interesting and wish you well with the rest of the course.


You should now be ready to move onto Study Guide 2 or the assignment for this Unit.

 Translated Dantien means life essence or elixir field. (Dan - essence of life and tien - field).

You may see it written as Dantien, Dandian, Tantien – all these spellings are correct.


There are 2 other primary Dantiens, one in the heart/chest area and one in the area of the brain or third eye.


There are 12 Primary meridians that relate to the various organs in the body. Interestingly, six of these are Yin and six Yang. For example, the Heart is Yin; organs that pertain to Yin mostly produce store and regulate fundamental substances like Qi and blood! A classic example of a Yang organ is the Stomach; Yang organs tend to be involved in digestion and transmitting nutrients around the body.

Yin Organs 






Yang Organs

Gall Bladder

Small Intestine


Large Intestine



Ok, so we now have an insight into the basic format of the organs. You guessed it, there is more!

There are 8 Extra Ordinary channels separate from the Primary meridians. The best way to understand this is to see these channels as reservoirs. Any excess Qi or blood that is flowing in the Primary channels can be stored in the extra channels for use in the body later should we get ill or run down. There are two of the 8 Extra channels that are very important to us in Tai Chi practice and they are known as the Conception Vessel (Ren mai) and the Governing Vessel (Du Mai).

The Du Mai runs up the centre mid-line of the back and the Ren Mai runs down the front mid-line of the body. Together they make a circuit of energy flow connecting the front (Yin) and back (Yang) of the body.

Remember it is important to harmonize the Yin and Yang in the body during our practice. It is thought that the Du Mai influences all the Yang meridians and the Ren Mai all the Yin meridians. Thus when we circulate energy in these channels during Tai Chi we are affecting the whole body.

So how do we do this? Well remember we talked about storing energy in the Dantien. When you sink your mind down to the Dantien you are circulating Qi down the front of the body hence the Ren Mai. When we straighten the spine towards the heavens we are sending Qi up the Du Mai and the circuit is complete.




Conception Vessel 




Governing Vessel 

 Energy Points

On the meridians there are more than 400 acupuncture or energy points. These are listed by name, number and the meridian to which they belong. When performing Tai Chi there are some very important points to aid our practice. We have already looked at the Dantien so lets look at a couple more to get you started.

Pericardium 8 - Laogong (Labour Palace) Location: When the fist is clenched, the point is just below the tip of the middle finger on the inside of the hand. Actions: Calms the mind. Comments: During Tai Chi practice, this point can be used as a focus throughout all of the form for correct hand alignments. The hands should be allowed to concave slightly, which will activate the Laogong. The thumb should be held away from the other fingers so that the web of skin is slightly stretched. The first part of Tai Chi Bang aims to stimulate this energy point - the Bang is gently held between these 2 points.

 Kidney 1 - Yong Quan (Bubbling Spring). Location: In the depression on the sole of the foot when the toes are curled. One third proximal the distance of the foot in the centre of the sole. Actions: Calms the mind and clears heat. This point has a strong sinking action. Tonifies Yin. Comments: When we relax our feet in Tai Chi practice this point opens. Awareness of this point strengthens our connection to the earth thus rooting and balance is improved.