Shock and awe (in Tai Chi)

city weather thunderstorm electricity

Photo by Torsten Dettlaff on

Tai Chi Chuan has the 13 postures as its basis, which consist of the 8 powers and 5 directions.

The first 4 powers are well known – peng, lu, ji and an – while the second 4 tend to not be so well known. Li (split), Tsai (Pull down/shock), Zhou (elbow) and Kou (shoulder).

These 8 ‘powers’ are the most common expressions of power in Tai Chi Chuan. No technique in Tai Chi Chuan is really purely a single power – they’re all combinations of all 8 of the powers.

It’s this pull down, or shocking, power I want to talk about today.

Shock is often called Pull down because that’s the direction it’s most often used in, however, it’s actually directionless. I prefer “shock” as a description as that’s what it feels like, rather than a pull. Even if performed while pulling, it’s a sudden burst of focussed energy rather than a long expression of energy over time, like say a push.

A lot of people practice Tai Chi with its soft flowing movements yet are unable to coordinate the body together to produce a single isolated burst of power that’s required in the application of many of the movements of Tai Chi Chuan. Depending on how a Tai Chi form is done it’s quite common to see all the shock power removed altogether in favour of soft, flowing, relaxed movement. Yet without it, something is lacking. You’ll never make your techniques effective.

Take an armlock that’s supposed to break a limb. There’s no way you’re going to get that to achieve the desired effect if you can only do the move slowly and softly.

I’m not talking about a sudden burst of tension there either. A good ‘shock’ is delivered by coordinating the body movements together and generating power from the dantien, legs and waist.

Here’s a video I made whilst working on some Tai Chi – see if you can spot where the shock energy is.


2 thoughts on “Shock and awe (in Tai Chi)

  1. Pingback: Shock and awe (in Tai Chi) — The Tai Chi Notebook – SMA bloggers

  2. Graham, the four main directions of jin are Peng, Lu, Ji, An: those are shown in the eight trigrams in the North, South, East, and West positions, because of their importance. Cai, Lieh, Jou, Kao are called the corner techniques, but they are really just variations of usage for Peng, Lu, Ji, An. For instance, you mentioned Cai, which is sometimes called “Pluck” or “Pulldown”. Another name for Cai, traditionally, is “Da Lu” or “Big Jin Force toward the Body”. I.e., it’s just a variation of Lu. Cai is supposed to be done like “plucking a fruit from a tree branch”, so the picture is of grasping an apple on a tree branch and slightly extending it (take out the slack) before suddenly snapping the apple off the tree. 😉


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