Tai Chi Philosophy

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The Philosophy of Tai Chi Chuan - Taoism (Daoism)

Yin Yang

The indigenous religio-philosophical tradition that has shaped Chinese life for more than 2,000 years.
In the broadest sense, a Daoist attitude toward life can be seen in the accepting and yielding, the Yin and Yang, of the joyful and carefree sides of the Chinese character; an attitude which offsets and complements the moral and duty-conscious, austere and purposeful character ascribed to Confucianism. Daoism is also characterized by a positive, active attitude toward the occult and the metaphysical (theories on the nature of reality), whereas the agnostic, pragmatic Confucian tradition considers these issues of only marginal importance, although the reality of such issues is, by most Confucians, not denied.

Zhuangzi, (Chinese: “Master Zhuang”)Wade-Giles romanization Chuang-tzu, original name Zhuang Zhou, (born c. 369 BCE, Meng [now Shangqiu, Henan province], China—died 286 BCE), was the most significant of China’s early interpreters of Daoism, whose work (Zhuangzi) is considered one of the definitive texts of Daoism and is thought to be more comprehensive than the Daodejing, which is attributed to Laozi, the first philosopher of Daoism. Zhuangzi’s teachings also exerted a great influence on the development of Chinese Buddhism and had considerable effect on Chinese landscape painting and poetry.

Zhuangzi taught that what can be known or said of the Dao is not the Dao. It has neither initial beginning nor final end, nor limitations or demarcations. Life is the ongoing transformation of the Dao, in which there is no better or worse, no good or evil. Things should be allowed to follow their own course, and men should not value one situation over another. A truly virtuous man is free from the bondage of circumstance, personal attachments, tradition, and the need to reform his world.

An ancient Chinese divination text and the oldest of the Chinese classics, possessing a history of more than two and a half millennia of commentary and interpretation, and representing one of the best-known Taoist writings (and the oldest in existence today) is the I Ching ( ), often translated into English as Book of Changes.

The I Ching contains 64 hexagrams (sets of 6 lines, the lines being of two types: solid/yang  --- and broken/yin - - ).

The 64 hexagrams denote movements in nature. Every movement in Tai Chi Chuan can be directly associated with one of the 64 hexagrams. It is also from the I Ching that the set of 8 trigrams (sets of 3 lines, of the same type as in the hexagrams) known as the Pa Kua (8 entrances/gates) and the set of 5 trigrams, called the 5 steps, representing the 5 elements, have been taken. It is these 13 trigrams that make up the 13 principle movements (postures) that Tai Chi Chaun is based on.
Tai Chi is based on the principles of the Yin/Yang symbol. This symbol relates to the constant changes in Tai Chi from hard to soft, full to empty, open to closed. Also the "Wu-hsing, the five elements of Fire (Fou), Earth (Tu), Metal (Gin), Water (Sui) and Wood (Moo) which relate to the five basic stances in the form, Advance (Metal), Retreat (Wood), Look Left (Water), Look Right (Fire) and Central equilibrium (Earth). These are the five characters around the Yin/Yang symbol in Fig 1.

The hand technics are described by the trigrams of the I Ching and consist of eight basic changes: P’eng (Ward Off), Lu (Roll Back), Chi (Press), An (Push), Ts’ai (Pull), Leih (Split), Tsou (Elbow), K’ao (Shoulder). The Five Foot and Eight Hand technics make up the "Thirteen Postures" of Tai Chi.

The eight sets of lines around the outside of this symbol are called the " Ba-Qua" or Eight Trigrams. They are made up of Yin and Yang lines, a Yin line being a broken line , and Yang, a full line

English Chinese
Yale / Pinyin
Trigram / Element

8 Entrances
Pa Kua

4 Primary Hands
Ward Off
Pang / Peng

South; Heaven
Roll/Pull Back
Lei / Lu

North; Earth
Press Forward
Jai / Ji

West; Water
Push (Forward)
On / An

East; Fire

4 Corner Hands
Pull Down
Choi / Cai

Southwest; Wind
Sit Back/Bend Backwards
Lit / Lie

Northeast; Thunder
Elbow Stroke
Jau / Zhou

Southeast; Lake
Shoulder Stroke
Kau / Kao

Northwest; Mountain

5 Steps
Chin Jeun / Qian Jin

Hau Teui / Hou Tui

Look Left
Jo Gu / Zuo Gu

Look Right
Yau Paan / You Pan

Central Equilibrium
Jung Ding / Zhong Ding


Other Taoist writings

The other best-known Taoist writings are the Tao Te Ching/Dao De Jing ( ) by Lao Tzu/Lao zi ( ) and Chuang Tzu/Zhuang zi's ( ) self-titled book. Lao Tzu was the first widely-popular Taoist author. The Tao Te Ching is an excellent place to find out more about Taoist philosophy. Chuang Tzu is another (some say more readable) example of Taoism. This book is full of hilarious but profound stories which say a lot about Taoism. Both of these books are still in print today under numerous translations.

Tai Chi Chuan is a Taoist practise. The yin and the yang, the thirteen principle movements (postures), "Maximum results from minimum effort"; all of these things are Taoist. To practise Tai Chi Chuan, though, you needn't know in detail what Taoism is. So long as you follow the thirteen principle movements (postures) and follow some simple advice from the Tai Chi Classics