The Tai Chi Classics

What are the Tai Chi Classics?

In Tai Chi Chuan many documents are considered to be “classics”, such as the Yang 40 Chapters, Chen Xin’s manual and various commentaries written by Yang Cheng-Fu and/or Cheng Man-Ching. However, there are 5 core manuscripts that tell you pretty much everything you need to know about the art of Tai Chi Chuan.

sepia photography of green plant on top of open book
The Tai Chi Classics contain the essence of the art (Photo by Ylanite Koppens on

These are what I generally mean when I refer to the “Tai Chi Classics”.

The first is called simply, The Tai Chi Classic and is traditionally attributed to the immortal Taoist Chang San-feng (although probably written by one of the Wu brothers, or it’s simply a collection of older sayings, perhaps inspired by the Xing Yi classics). This is probably the most important work and contains many of the most quoted sections.

The Tai Chi Classic

In motion, the whole body should be light and agile,
with all parts linked as if threaded together.

The chi should be activated,
The mind should be internally gathered.

The postures should be rounded and without defect,
without deviations from the proper alignment;
in motion, your form should be continuous, without stops and starts.

The jin should be
rooted in the feet,
generated from the legs,
controlled by the waist, and
expressed through the fingers. 

The feet, legs, and waist should act together
as an integrated whole,
so that while advancing or withdrawing
one can take the opportunity for favorable timing
and good position.
If correct timing and position are not achieved,
the body will become disordered
and will not move as an integrated whole;
the correction for this defect
must be sought in the legs and waist.

The principle of adjusting the legs and waist
applies for moving in all directions;
upward or downward,
advancing or withdrawing,
left or right.

All movements are motivated by Yi,
not external form.

If there is up, there is down;
when advancing, have regard for withdrawing;
when striking left, pay attention to the right.

If the yi wants to move upward,
it must simultaneously have intent downward.

Alternating the force of pulling and pushing
severs an opponent’s root
so that he can be defeated
quickly and certainly.

Full and empty
should be clearly differentiated.
At any place where there is emptiness,
there must be fullness;
Every place has both emptiness and fullness.

The whole body should be threaded together through every joint
without the slightest break.

Long Boxing is like a great river
rolling on unceasingly.

Peng, Lu, Ji, An,
Tsai, Lieh, Zhou, and Kao
are equated to the Eight Trigrams.
The first four are the cardinal directions;
Ch’ien [South; Heaven],
K’un [North; Earth],
K’an [West; Water], and
Li [East; Fire].
The second four are the four corners:
Sun [Southwest; Wind],
Chen [Northeast; Thunder],
Tui [Southeast; Lake], and
Ken [Northwest; Mountain].
Advance (Chin), Withdraw (T’ui),
Look Left (Tso Ku), Look Right (Yu Pan), and
Central Equilibrium (Chung Ting)
are equated to the five elements:
Fire, and
Taken together, these are termed the Thirteen Postures

I’ve produced my own commentary on The Tai Chi Classic, split into two parts:

Part 1
Part 2

The other Tai Chi Classics:

Translations vary. The ones linked to above are by Lee Scheele and are very complete. My favourite translations are by Louis Swaim and appear in his translation of Fu Zongwen’s book Mastering Yang Style Tai Chi Chuan.

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