Footwork and weight shift during tai chi form

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    I had originally learned the Yang style long form tai chi some years ago, from a disciple of Chu Gin Soon who himself was a disciple of Yeung Sau-Chung, the oldest son of the lengendary Yang Cheng-Fu.

    My teacher made a point that while stepping foward and transferring weight from, say the rear foot to the front foot, NO FORCE was to be used by the rear foot , while placing 100% of your weight on to the rear foot. The same concept was true for backward stepping.

    Bruce’s instruction appear to disagree, and that indeed, while stepping foward the rear foot should actually be pushing off until all weight is centered on the front foot, and visa versa when stepping backwards.

    Do the importance of this concept, I would like some feedback, ideally from Bruce if possible.

    Thank you,
    Karl Plofker


    Hi Karl,
    I’ve been trying to answer this for decades.
    Fundamentally, it seems to be part of the Tai Chi
    (and Bagua) paradox:
    use no tension, only internal energy,
    use some external energy to push off the runner’s starting-block.

    Bruce calls the unweighted rear leg “the full leg”
    (full of Qi, that is)

    Others call it “the insubstantial leg”
    Others call it “the substantial leg”
    (full of yang Qi)

    Do you want to be a sprinter
    launch off your front leg as if jumping across a stream?

    Are you pushing a car out of a snow bank
    rebounding Qi in Push Hands”

    It’s a critical characteristic of Tai Chi.

    Good luck


    Thanks Robert: I understand most of what you are saying, but perhaps you can clarify so I can try to figure out my dilemma :

    1. Do you believe that when practicing the form, Bruce is saying that one should push off the weighted leg internally when shifting weight off of it, or to actually use an external push-off in conjunction with the internal work as well?

    (if pushing externally, would we push vertically down with the whole foot or mostly with the heel, do you think?)

    2. When you state at the end of your post, “It is a critical characteristic of Tai Chi, I am not clear as to which characteristic are you referring to?

    I have searched everywhere I could on the internet, and a few tai chi yang style books, so far, with no help anywhere.

    thanks again,


    Hi again,

    A basic rule in class is to follow the instructor.
    You’ve chosen Bruce as your instructor,
    follow him only.

    So, pick one posture from Bruce’s course and follow it carefully.

    With this common ground, maybe you and I could further discuss questions.
    This Forum has limitations for answering tough questions.

    What one posture do you really like?



    Thanks Robert,

    Just to let you know, I have begun gently pushing off my foot when shifting weight throughout the form, and I have to tell you that it does not only feel right, but also helps me with body alignment along with a 100% weight shift..

    Also, I am told that the old Yang Style form, which is presently my main practice, will in the near future, be available within the Training CIrcle, , and so I am eager to see Bruce’s instructions then and get some closure on many issues. (I am too old too start learning a whole new form so I am excited for this to happen).

    To answer your question, since I can feel the most energy during the Push posture of Grasp Sparrow’s Tail, so that, for sure would be one of my favorite postures.



    Hi Karl,

    The posture PUSH in

    Grasp the Sparrow’s Tail:

    1. Ward off (Peng)
    2. Roll Back (Lu)
    3. Press (Compress) (Ji)
    4. PUSH (An)

    After 3 (Compress) you have just completed Press,
    including shifting your weight back to the back leg,
    and 100% of your weight is now on your back leg (say your left leg)
    Your back Left leg is slightly bent.
    Your Right front leg is weightless and extended/lengthened/stretched.

    There are 2 ways to shift your weight forward to your front Right Leg:

    A. Externally
    B. Internally

    (see Taokua’s comment in this Tai Chi Mastery Program Private Forum,
    on the topic “Rebound” )

    But we have been told that Tai Chi is an INTERNAL Martial Art, right?

    Actually, these 2 labels (External and Internal), themselves confuse the issue. Let’s forget them at the moment.

    Here’s Bruce’s take from the Old Yang Style Tai Chi Edition, Month 4, Tai Chi Session 2,
    Movements of An,
    * Shifting of weight coming from legs
    * Pushing back with the legs brings power to the hands
    * Arms bending and extending at the same time

    1:43 your back leg is going to Push your body to get your weight forward

    2:40 your front leg has been straightened
    4:09 your hands, palms facing down, have been pushing down in An
    4:10 then your hands curve to the sides with peng
    4:30 your left hip has turned out counterclockwise

    your weight is now 100% on your back left leg

    now your hands will want to go up
    5:05 you will “wrap” torso and hands like they’re going around a giant rock and are lifting it straight up–palms turning up

    coordinating these hand movements with the legs

    6:37 your hands will have gone half way up with your weight still 100% on your back left leg
    6:55 you are now doing peng with your weight on your back leg
    7:06 your knees bend (front and back)
    7:14 your palms reach shoulder height
    7:20 now you’re going to do the motion of An
    7:37 your hands turn over, palms facing out
    7:51 two palms curve in slightly
    7:57 the two palms triangulate to a point in front (not pushing out yet)
    8:05 the An action has finished

    Bruce compares this to pushing the back of a cue stick with a slight twist to put a little English on the cue ball

    Michael Gilman has talked about the transmission of a car:
    Rear-wheel drive pushes the car forward
    Front-wheel drive pulls the car forward
    All-wheel drive engages rear and front wheels simultaneously

    Bruce: you don’t want to get An and just Push.
    8:58 No, it’s a very clear energetic movement

    Then the hands close and this is when a fa jing occurs
    (projecting power)

    I note that Bruce hasn’t said that you develop fa jing by pushing off the back heel.
    In bagua mud-walking Bruce does talk about pushing off the back heel like a sprinter pushing off the running-block.
    This is to move the back leg forward,
    not to project fa-jing
    (this is just my opinion here–I’m a rookie at bagua)

    Taokua (this Forum) and James (bagua) seem to be experts here.

    I can’t tell what guys in videos are doing.

    I think Master Dr. Xie Peiqi (youTube Qigong master projecting his chi energy) is clearly only internal
    He’s projecting Qi with no body movement at all.
    (assuming it’s not staged)
    He just stands there and his stooges fly away.

    Others, like Arthur Cunningham (another youTube) clearly is pushing off one leg or the other)

    Taokua (this Forum) thinks I’m mistaken to think that Scott Meredith is pushing off his back leg.
    Here’s Meredith’s protocol:

    Your Mind focuses on:
    1. Center of the brain to qihai and lower dantain
    2. then to the soles of the feet
    3. from the soles of the feet (not the “Bubbling Spring” point or the heel) back up to the qihai
    4. quihai to weilu (coccyx)
    5. weilu to lingtai (between the shoulder blades at 6th torso vertebra)
    6. lingtai to Center of the brain
    7. Center of the brain to daling (yin wrist point) and hands

    No mention of pushing off the heel here.

    You have to listen for what a teacher is not saying.

    Arthur Cunningham sees a basketball-sized ball of Qi in the feet and then he compresses it as it travels to the hands as a baseball-ball-sized ball of Qi.

    I do 6 variations of the Yang Style Long Form.
    Most do not mention internal energetics, as does Bruce.

    But be advised that Bruce’s “Old Style Tai Chi Edition” is not a complete Long Form, but an Intermediate form of 36 of the more basic postures.
    I mean the Long Form is really LONG.

    I started out with an 88 Form.
    T.T. Liang’s version is 150 postures.
    Yang Jing-ming keeps to the standard 108 postures.
    A version by Tchoung Ta-Tchen has 120.

    Even the great Cheng Man-ching cut it down to 37 postures.
    William C.C. Chen expanded that back up to 60 postures.

    But Bruce is the only teacher I know of that explains the internal energetics.

    If you do only one posture, PUSH, with precise internal energetics you’ll have a deeper understanding of Tai Chi.

    I listen to nature to figure out how the precise energetics feel.

    Good luck.



    Hello, I’d been pondering your post since I saw the first, and then your second follow-up… it is a big issue, one needs to have covered.. and I think there are different ways (in the same way that many taichi systems may look similiar on the “outside” but inside, have nothing (or little) in common…
    like the ole move your arms (and legs) like step and reach just use your muscles sh&hips like a mechanical crane, vs int’l connections.. (or how “solid” your frame feels to resistance.. many styles are done holding an arm or leg out/up, but if touched its like a string mobile, vs jelly-body, vs tense-muscles (vs ‘steel’.. which seems quite rare), but I digress…

    I had a thought (and went to write this and see some references Robert made to my writing perhaps having something, which is kind, and hopefully this will, I just have focused on this issue in particular for a while).. again, I think the how of the whole method seems to gestalt (it is not just what you do when you step, but how that is done affect all the other parts of your method (I hope that makes sense).

    I find- just as something to look at (along with the aforesaid, listen, review, and take notes of what the teacher you are learned from has taught– having a video makes this easy.. live instructors I’ve had… espec before video was prevalent.. didn’t like to repeat themselves during a lecture (what can you go over xyz again? …) let alone a month later.. but mp4/on a webpage we can just click again and again (I’ve watched and paused and replayed parts of some videos to catch a little comment Bruce has made.. and noted them down.. and later reading my notes, or re-viewing video, and then got a different (why didn’t I get this before?)…. so there is that first…:)

    but just something that might be of value- Bruce spoke on videos in referenced courses (I believe in TaiChiMastery-Wu.. as well as in Old Yang… have you viewed the TaiChiMastery? from your comment seems perhaps you didn’t as much as you didn’t want to learn a new form, but just translate what he is saying to your form (stand and do the moves you know, as he teaches what ever part.. and see what it reveals… each posture is optimized to illustrate certain dynamics.. but then those dynamics apply to all postures.. In some ways (some more than others)…
    …… the above is a generalization, so hopefully it isn’t seen too far off..

    anyway- Bruce has mentioned one thing he’s seen which is weight-shifting in taichi of sort of falling-leaning, like standing on one-leg, reach the lifted leg and step forward, and then sort of tip and fall onto the front leg (keep the back leg straight to just lever it.. then by bending and adjust the supporting leg and your hip joint to keep-adjusting your spine supported up….

    like holding a sword point up, and then lean to the side and lay down while adjusting the sword to stay pointing up as you move…)….

    this is how many people walk, but even less controlled than walking (as much TaiChi can be be done flowery-flowing, so to have the legs/hips just enough to hold.. -this being fine if your style is based on that.. but the internal-pumping for health, and espec the connections for martial, this doesn’t seem too good.

    * This is how I understand Bruce explaining why he made a point of this… (Deng-jyau the backward push relates to how/at what lvl/ you are working Empty-Full… which leg is “full of chi” and which is “full of weight”… and the fascial-yin/yang surfaces is separate from this….. )
    I’d recommend, to see what you find, doing just stand and lift one foot and reach it out (step-fwd.. but also “backward step”) then put it down and compress onto the new.. and do this with socks on a hardwood slippery floor (if this works, would be best to have the kind of foot to floor where it is like ice, if press along it would slide).. see what you find..
    .. likely to make it work you’d need a much smaller step (to start out).. so try above (and then after some boring stepping doing this, then do the form your know), with steps close enough that you can put your foot down in step so that that shin is vertical and you can use your striding to press your weight directly down (like you have your foot on something you want to pin and press down with all your body weight)… and while you do this, keep your other foot connected to the ground… ie it isn’t floppy-leg, but as the weight is off of it, there is still some connection of the torso weight along the leg to the that foot (the mirror to how the stepping foot starts.. so do the first part just 5% or 20% shift your weight, and go back.. watch what the stepping foot does as you shift weight off it (back to your supporting foot).. and note how that leg needs to keep adjusting to keep the angle hip-to-foot so that the knee-shin is linked to the ground (the foot in the ‘Front” will have a vertical shin.. while a foot in the “rear” will not, but still the shin connects and presses down- per the arch)..

    so does the foot-sole-heel press down vert or press-backward? both.. (ie if you try the slip on ice or “socks on slippery hardwood” or whatever.. you need feel the pressure in your feet, don’t “try” and press down, just don’t fall… feel the pressure under your feet, and yet your do have the non-weight-bearing leg connected to the ground.. and thus it seems you are pushing foot out and away (the key being… if you were on bark or loose dirt, and someone gave a slow and steady strong pressure on you, in a stance, and you shifted forward into them…. would your feet slide back along the bark/loose dirt, OR would your feet be pressed down and in? (if you just try and lean and step only vert down ‘directly’ ~trying to do that, vs that is what is happening.. then you wouldn’t be able to press forward or perhaps be able to withstand the push)…

    so could you be able to resist their steady pressure-push, and shift forward- driving them back, and not slide on the ground (which is implied) .. This second example allows a bit more friction-grip than the first (ice-slip or sock on hardwood).. but the same concepts apply.. see what works.. (these being drills to experiment, then from what you find, do your form- not just generalize, but I’d recommend try and see, and later try again- may see more).

    . a key I’ve found, if you use the normal, treading (like a horse, or god, paws the ground, like clawing/pulling it down and in) that uses the muscles in your hip/lowerback/gluts and Kwa area, which tenses and locks that up… see if you can move and stand without locking that area up with tension and then find what that area can do.contribute instead…

    just some thoughts– let us know what you find


    As a comment shorter than my other post on this…

    Reference the line from the classics “If there is an error, look to the waist (kwa-yao) and the legs…” (espec in regards to root, and what that means.. also, embody the mind in the body)

    [Also in my other post-comment there are a few steps, if you take one it may seem to contradict either your prior teacher, or Bruce, yet I think if you take the whole cluster of points (each is added to the prior), that might help you- from one person’s perspective only- until/unless you have an instructor/coach work with you/give direct fdbk….

    * (even if you found someone to go to, even if you travel, just to show you’re movement and form, and get some refinements.. someone that has the understanding and ability to do/be what you seek, even if they don’t do your ‘style’ perhaps..
    even a single comment, that might take 5 or 10 mins could save yrs of drifting…)

    -just an idea.. but until then, luck- let us know what you find….

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