Fundamental and foundational tai chi

You use the fundamentals to perform foundational exercises. You could say that we use foundational exercises (as I have incorporated those I know) to discover the fundamentals in our own particular beings while in tai chi movement.

(Revised 11/22/2022)

Tai chi is logical and practical in its progression from one move to the next. You need to know only a few core exercises upon which to build a practice. Understanding and applying them in everyday motion is perhaps elusive, but if you know where to begin you have fundamental and foundational exercises to build upon.

I think foundational exercises listed here help to discover the fundamentals while in tai chi movement. These are from my teachers, presented in a way to help connect them. Master Xu and many others talk about the following core principles.

A few fundamentals: 
Zhong ding: central equilibrium
Dan tian: field of elixir
Sink qi—sunk, weighted in gravity
Neigong—internal work

Some foundational exercises:
Figure 8s
Six directions: up/down, left/right, forward/backwards
Power stretching, bone stretching (see description by Susan Matthews)

Learners who are new to the language and practice of tai chi can build a practice on these core movement practices. Moves are simple. Shapes and patterns (circles/8s) are the basis of practice (thus foundational and fundamental). Add, the direction of movement, changes in direction and other features of transition, and it gets more involved.

However, they may not be as important in the short- or long-term as understanding how to do a move by directing the energy with mind intention and then allowing the body to follow through, or go along. The attention will eventually be on internal work (neigong).

To go further, don’t anticipate the end result of a move, thus leaping ahead. This leaves gaps. The move should be a continuous, unbroken flow…like a rope, or wind blowing and water flowing, or electricity. It takes concentration to get a feel for it and wield it proficiently.

One task is to release long-held preconceptions, habits of thought that you have not noticed you have. Feelings, assumptions, and expectations seated in various parts of our bodies hinder your ability to shift and move freely. Once you recognize them you can let them go.

Energy and mental interpretation might have emotional, even traumatic waves which could trigger a reluctance to move. You hold on instead of let go. The energy is so intense sometimes, you might manage only let go a little. Where are you loose and free and where are you not letting go? Do you look for where you’re clenching, are tight, are tense? Can you release without having to recognize where you’re holding back?


I initially wrote these posts to supplement lessons to beginner and intermediate students, although more-advanced practitioners have commented positively about them. I welcome comments.


Break tai chi down to its simplest components

Single basics, or ji ben gong. Easier to remember. Easier to do. Offers quick results in a number of areas: repetitive movement facilitates mental plasticity (see Matthews Brain Workshop). While you do one action over and over, your mind is freed up to take into account various other components of the movement. I talk about single basics in past posts if you want to read more.