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Unit 2 - Understand the fundamentals of Tai Chi


This study guide takes you through the fundamentals of Tai Chi - all the basic things that you need to know to ensure safe, correct and well informed practise.


2.1 Perform and justify correct fundamental body alignment.

In this first section we will look at how to hold the body correctly.


Alignment of the pelvis

It is important that you keep the coccyx tucked under to ensure correct body alignment.

The coccyx is very slightly tucked under and the back is straight. Try to keep relaxed in this position.

Head Alignment

It is important that you keep the head straight with the chin slightly tucked in.

The chin is slightly tucked in, the shoulders relaxed and the back straight.



Knee Toe Alignment

The knee toe alignment is very important. Injuries to the knees can occur due to incorrect alignment.

In the Bow stance  you should still be able to see the tip of your toe if you were to look down towards your front foot and the knee should not be allowed to 'drop' inwards. 


The following two terms are important for your practice.


Rooting is about being balanced and 'rooted' to the ground. It is developed by keeping bent knees and ensuring correct body alignment. In the Central equilibrium stance/foot pattern ( see 5 Steps below) , weight must be divided equally between both feet - 50% in one and 50% in the other - an example of this is Opening the Form. The feet must stick to the ground and this can be achieved by gently relaxing the feet 'into' the floor. The lower part of the body should be heavy and the upper part, light - imagine the roots of a tree and this may help.

Full & Empty

To experience the concept of Full & Empty, try standing in with your legs a good shoulder width apart. Then slowly shift your weight very slowly from one side to the other. Start with 50/50 and slowly change to 70/30 then 90/10.The leg that has 90% of the weight in it is said to be the full leg and the other leg is empty.

If you are upright and balanced, this will allow you to 'feel' the weight sinking into one foot. When you are able to feel the difference between full and empty you will be able to take this into your Tai Chi movements.

Here are the important points to remember for fundamental body alignment: 

1. Stand straight, with the coccyx very slightly tucked in. Keep the head upright but with the chin very slightly tucked in. The head should be 'held up by a thread'.

2. Chest and back alignment - Do not protrude your chest. Ensure that you keep your back straight and sink (relax) your shoulders.

3. Relax the waist.

4. Distinguish between your 'full' and 'empty' stances.

5. Keep your shoulders in a relaxed, natural position.

6. Use mind not muscle.

7. Co-ordinate the upper and lower parts of the body - root the feet.

8. Focus the mind.

9. Move the whole body as one - follow up with down and down with up.

10. Connect all the movements to achieve a continuous flow.

These 10 points are known as Yang Chen Fu's 10 Essentials.

Click here for a detailed explanation.

The 10 essentials also provide us with the link between mind and body. If you look at point 6 in the link - Use Intent Rather than Force (Use mind not muscle), you may begin to understand the link between and mind and body in Tai Chi practice

We call this intent, Yi. The mind commands (Intent). Then the body moves. Then qi flows.



2.2 Show an understanding of the fundamentals of Tai Chi movement and core postures.

In this section, we will look at the core postures and fundamentals of Tai Chi movement - how to stand and how to move correctly.

There are 4 main stances that are used in the Tai Chi Form.

They are:

  • Horse Riding stance
  • Bow Leg stance
  • Empty Leg stance/One Leg Empty stance
  • Low stance


In the Tai Chi Bang you will be performing 3 of these stances - Horse Riding, Bow Leg and One leg Empty stance. Examples of these stances can be found in Movement 19 - Horse Riding stance, Movement 9 - One leg empty stance & Movement 5 - Bow stance.


Horse Riding stance (narrow or wide)                 Bow stance                                                    One Leg Empty stance


There are 13 postures (gates) that are core to Tai Chi Forms. These are called the 13 Core essentials. A list of these can be found as an attachment at the bottom of the page. Do NOT get confused between the core stances and the 13 Core essentials - they are different things.  For this course we are going to look at the the 5 Steps (which are part of the 13 essentials). They are the major foot movements of all Tai Chi Forms:

  • Forward Step
  • Backwards Step
  • Step to Left side
  • Step to Right side
  • Central Equilibrium

And the 4 Primary hand postures ( again these are part of the 13 core essentials)

  • Ward off left or right
  • Roll Back
  • Press
  • Push

You will cover these movements during your practical work but a few key points can be found below.

Step forward. We step forward by placing the heel of the foot on the ground first. Slowly change the weight and follow through by placing the whole of the foot down on the ground. You need to keep a space between the feet - don't walk on a tightrope! The width between the 2 feet should be approximately the length of the Bang.Think of a rectangle and place your right foot at the bottom right hand corner. As you step forward with your left foot, step to the top left hand side of the rectangle. You will see this posture throughout the Tai Chi Bang but an example of it is movement 6 - Go with the Flow

Step backward. We step backward by placing the toe onto the ground behind us. This is followed by the rest of the foot and finally, the heel. An example of this posture is movement 8 - Repulse Monkey. The key here is to not walk backwards on a tightrope!

Turn to the Left/Turn to the Right. It is important to remember that the waist (or Dantien) must initiate a turn in either direction. An example of this posture is as we change from movement 4 to 5, into Brush Knee Step

Central Equilibrium. This is equal weighted with the feet and the stance is used at the beginning of all Forms. In Tai Chi Bang the first movement is called Opening the Form.

Ward off Left or Right. The key to this movement is extending the energy from the core (Dantien) to the outside. This is a defensive move in martial art. Movement 3 - Casting the net, is an example of this.

Roll Back. This is a yielding or redirecting movement (see push hands link) and it is important to remember that the body must lead the hands. Movement 8 - Repulse monkey, is a good example of this.

Press. In Movement 6 - Go with the flow, this is one of the pressing/squeezing movements.

Push. Energy from the core centre is used for this push. Look at Movement 13 - Pouncing Tiger



Although you do not have a written assignment for this unit, you will need to know the names of the 4 stances (although you only do 3 of them in the Bang) and the first 9 of the 13 Core essentials for your final practical.



2.3 Explain correct breathing

One of the first things that people ask about, is usually not how to breath but when to breath. There are two ways of thinking about breathing, one from the martial art point of view and the other from an energetic point of view.

Think of movement 10 - Strike Bell. If you were to inhale as you made the forward movement I'm sure that you would realise that it didn't 'feel' right. Inhalation, seen from an energetic point of view, is bringing energy INTO the body, whereas exhalation can be seen as a release of energy. So, exhaling with this forward movement allows more power to the movement . Generally speaking, exhale for forward or downward movements (Yang) & inhale for up and in movements (Yin) .

You may have read that Tai Chi & Qigong use a number of different breathing techniques, so which is correct? The three main types of breathing that you may have heard about are Natural, Abdominal & Reverse breathing.

What can confuse things at times is that often, when people say natural breathing they actually mean abdominal! Most Masters suggest that natural breathing is used for Tai Chi. Natural here means not forcing the breathe, breathe the way that you normally would.

You will also find that different Tai Chi Masters sometimes recommend different styles of breathing and that in some Forms different styles of breathing are used for different postures.

When performing Tai Chi Bang we use abdominal breathing through the nose. If we breathe through the nose the mouth is naturally closed and the tongue is naturally placed against the roof of the mouth, touching the back of the front teeth. This positioning of the tongue completes a connection between the Ren and Du meridians - the Conception & Governing Vessels - allowing qi to circulate through these extra meridians.

It is important that you don't focus your mind on the breathing though, so if you do not naturally use abdominal breathing, it is something that you can work on through Qigong practise rather than worry about it when learning this new Form.


For those of you who are unfamiliar with abdominal breathing, an explanation is provided below.

Abdominal or Diaphragmatic Breathing

Abdominal breathing can also be called Qi breathing. The theories of this are not dealt with here, so for this course all you need to remember is that our internal energy, or Qi (Chi) , is developed through this type of deep breathing and is stored in a place called the Dantien (our centre which is just below the navel).

Place one hand on your chest and the other on your abdomen. Which one moves when you breathe in? Babies breathe naturally, that is they are natural abdominal breathers. As we get older we are told to stand up straight and hold our tummies in. By doing this we can only breathe using our chests.

Chest breathers:

  • Waste a lot of effort just to get air into their lungs.
  • Tend to raise their shoulders and employ incorrect muscles in breathing.
  • People that are chest breathers tend to take more breaths per minute than abdominal breathers.

Abdominal breathers:

  • Employ mainly the diaphragm to get air into the lungs.
  • Use this efficient method of breathing to obtain greater oxygen transfer.
  • Can use breathing as a strategy for stress relief and relaxation.
  • Abdominal breathing is also known as diaphragmatic breathing. The diaphragm is situated between the chest and the abdomen and is attached to the lower ribs.



The mechanics of abdominal breathing

As the diaphragm contacts it descends: this increases the volume of the chest cavity.

There is a subsequent decrease of air pressure so the greater air pressure outside the body, forces air into the lungs.

As the diaphragm relaxes the diaphragm moves upwards and so air is expelled from the lungs

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You should now be ready to move onto the Study Guide 3.