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Four Fundamental Qualities of Tai Chi Movement

by Sifu David Goldstein

Part 1


Once you have learned the basic moves the Tai Chi form (it doesn’t matter which style or which form), you no longer need to concentrate all your efforts on remembering which move comes next. You can then begin to explore the real Tai Chi within the form. Enhanced performance of the form requires that you develop and simultaneously utilize four qualities in your movement: Chen, Song, Jing, and Huo. 

Briefly, the qualities can be described as follows:

  • Chen (not to be confused with the family name, and thus the name of one of the main styles of Tai Chi) means sinking your Chi,

  • Song means relaxing, loosening and opening your joints,

  • Jing is quietness of mind, and

  • Huo refers to a cat-like agility and lightness.

At times these qualities may seem at opposition to one another. How can I be both Huo and Chen? With time, concentration, and practice, however, you can come to understand how these qualities actually support and complement each other and can be done simultaneously.

In this four-part article I will explain each of these qualities and discuss how you can practice them, individually, and together.

The Quality of Chen

Chen is that quality of “sinking your Chi to the Dan Tian.” There are three Dan Tians, the upper (located in the middle of the head above the eye brows – third eye), middle (located at the heart) and lower Dan Tian (located at a height of about 2 inches below the navel and a depth of the middle of the body).   When not specifically describing which Dan Tian is being referenced the literature is usually referring to the lower Dan Tian, as is the case here.

As you do your form, relax your shoulders as your pull your head up. Make sure your chest is relaxed and the shoulder blades are slightly separated; not pinched as when you force your shoulders back[1]. Feel as if your weight is sinking, filling your Dan Tian. Absorb this weight by tilting your hips slightly forwards; i.e., tuck your butt in. This hip action flattens your lower back, reducing the natural curve of you lower back (the Lumbar Curve) slightly. Feel this sinking weight as you do all the moves. This gives you the subtle feeling of moving down-hill as you move into each stance.

Eventually this feeling of weight will be replaced with a feeling of warmth and finally by a feeling of Chi; especially, as you work on the quality of Song, as explained in the next part of this article.

Work on building an awareness of the Dan Tian, pay attention to it, and feel that you are centered there and that it is the source of stability in all your movements. After working on this for a few weeks and feeling that your stances and transitions are sinking and pooling in the Dan Tian, move on to work on the next quality, Song.

[1] Some Yang-style practitioners actually hunch their back slightly. I believe this is related to their interpretation of Yang Cheng-fu’s principle “Sink the chest and pluck up the back”.


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