What is 'uprooting' in Tai Chi?

First we might want to define 'root'.


'Root' is simply the ability to resist a push. This is most often done in "internal arts" as a 'relaxed' manner and paired with the not losing of one's balance if the other were to quickly withdraw their pushing force. The Tai Chi Classics (TCC) say "Rooted in the feet" to express the idea that the feet are the base, and our ability to produce resistance comes from that friction with the ground.

'Uproot' in Taiji is defined as "alternating pushing and pulling [at 4oz] to sever their root so the other can be thrown out decisively" — TCC. In traditional usage, uproot, is typically used to refer to either:

  • The initial withdraw-and-join of off-balancing (Ti of Ti-Fang); or,
  • it is used to refer to the entire Ti-Fang process (T'ai Chi, Tuttle, 2004, Cheng/Smith pg 88).

Ti severs the root. Fang sends them out with an accelerating push triggering their knee-jerk reflex causing both their feet to leave the ground.

So, 'root' is to resist, 'uproot' is to sever the root by using a gentle touch so they are overwhelmed by a light push.

In modern parlance 'uprooting' is (incorrectly) used to talk about any throwing out of another.

Ti Fang, by any other name...

Ti Fang is a name for the unique, soft uprooting technique in Tai Chi. Throughout Tai Chi's history, the technique has not changed, but its moniker has as each generation attempts to convey it more clearly. The oldest version can be found in the Tai Chi Classic's "Song of Hitting Hands" (打手歌), which describes the technique as: 'Attract into emptiness, join and discharge' (引進落空合卽出).

The following chart attempts to align some of Ti Fang's names to the different phases of the technique. There are many more descriptions/names that can be found in the Classics and other writings, but most punctuate the technique into one of the patterns shown below. Our hope is that this chart makes it clear that these are all names for the same technique—Ti Fang.

Holding and Molding

As a beginner Tai Chi player taking classes with Mr. Robert W. Smith in Bethesda, Maryland, I was introduced to some of Tai Chi’s traditional teaching methods. One of them was what he called “Holding and Molding.” This is simply when the class is asked to hold a particular posture and the teacher goes to each student and molds them into the correct shape.

As students we simply tried to hold the shape that we were molded into for as long as we could. Muscle failure always won in the end! But the idea was to gain some ‘muscle memory’ with the correct shape so that later, as we moved through the postures, our bodies would gently move into and then out of that correct shape.

Thirty-five years later as I work with folks in my open-to-all-styles Push Hands class, I find that some of them are very good about letting me adjust their Push Hands ‘form,’ and others are not as good—either resisting the adjustment or collapsing into an uncorrectable mass. I find myself telling them, “Let me mold you like your teacher did while teaching the form.” It dawned on me that some of these folks did not spend a great deal of time with Holding and Molding.

Thinking about this, I realized that the Molding in Mr. Smith’s classes was done at that very light four-ounce touch. He never said this, but I think that working on “familiarity with correct touch” started on the first day! With this in mind I jotted down some notes that might be helpful.

Molders: To ease into the personal-space activity of adjusting a beginner’s posture, you should ask permission. At first your adjustment should be done with only one hand. Let them get used to this method of hands-on teaching—some take to it quicker than others. Later, you can use both your hands in your adjustments. Each time you Mold them your touch should be like it is in Push Hands. Connect with four ounces with no intention, just for a moment, then move the other into the correct posture. Without saying it, work on correct touch with them, quietly guiding them on how to take the correction.

Holders: As you are being molded, let them move you; do not resist their movement, but also as important, do not pull away from or collapse under their touch. As you are about to be Molded, remain in your posture and let them move you into the new position. This way YOU are also practicing correct touch.

In doing Holding and Molding in this way the student is getting the correction of the postures as intended while covertly becoming familiar with how the correct touch feels. When it comes time for learning Push Hands they will already have some familiarity.

Comparison of Numbering of Postures in Professor Cheng's Works

 Posture # 
   Posture Name     Unique Posture Numbering:
 T'ai Chi (Cheng/Smith)   13 Treatises (Lo/Inn)   13 Treatises (Cheng)   New Method (Cheng) 
1   Preparation 1 1 1 1
2   Beginning 2 2 2  
3   Wardoff (left) 3 3 3 2
4   Wardoff (right) 4 4 4 3
5   Rollback 5 5 5 4
6   Press 6 6 6 5
7   Push 7 7 7 6
8   Single Whip 8 8 8 7
 Posture #     Posture Name    T'ai Chi (Cheng/Smith)   13 Treatises (Lo/Inn)   13 Treatises (Cheng)   New Method (Cheng) 
9   Lift Hands 9 9 9 8
10   Shoulder 10 10 10 9
11   White Crane Spreads Wings 11 11 11 10
12   Brush Knee and Twist Step (left) 12 12 12 11
13   Play Guitar 13 13 13 12
14   Brush Knee and Twist Step (left)
15   Step Forward, Deflect Downward
[, Parry and Punch] 
14 14 14 13
         [Parry and Punch] 15
16   Sealing, Apparent Closure 15 15 16 14
17   Cross Hands (end of First Third) 16 16 17 15
18   Embrace Tiger Return to Mountain 17 17 18 16
19   Rollback (slanted)
20   Press (slanted)
21   Push (slanted)
22   Single Whip (slanted)
 Posture #     Posture Name    T'ai Chi (Cheng/Smith)   13 Treatises (Lo/Inn)   13 Treatises (Cheng)   New Method (Cheng) 
23   Fist Under Elbow 18 18 19 17
24   Step Back and Repulse Monkey (right) 19 19 20 18
25   Step Back and Repulse Monkey (left) 20 20 21 19
26   Step Back and Repulse Monkey (right)
27   Diagonal Flying 21 21 22 20
28   Wave Hands Like Clouds (right) 22 22 23 21
29   Wave Hands Like Clouds (left) 23 23 24 22
30   Wave Hands Like Clouds (right)
31   Wave Hands Like Clouds (left)
32   Single Whip
 Posture #     Posture Name    T'ai Chi (Cheng/Smith)   13 Treatises (Lo/Inn)   13 Treatises (Cheng)   New Method (Cheng) 
33   Squatting Single Whip 24 24 25 23
34   Rooster Stands on One Leg (right) 25 25 26 24
35   Rooster Stands on One Leg (left) 26 26 27 25
36   Separate Foot (right) 27 27 28 26
37   Separate Foot (left) 28 28 29 27
38   Turn Body and Kick with Heel 29 29 30 28
39   Brush Knee and Twist Step (left)
40   Brush Knee and Twist Step (right) 30 30
41   Step Forward and Low Punch 31 31 31 29
42   Right Wardoff, Step up to
43   Rollback
44   Press
45   Push
46   Single Whip
 Posture #     Posture Name    T'ai Chi (Cheng/Smith)   13 Treatises (Lo/Inn)   13 Treatises (Cheng)   New Method (Cheng) 
47   Fair Lady Works Shuttles (right) 32 32 32 30
48   Fair Lady Works Shuttles (left) 33 33 33 31
49   Fair Lady Works Shuttles (right) 32
50   Fair Lady Works Shuttles (left) 33
51   Wardoff (Left)
52   Wardoff (right)
53   Rollback
54   Press
55   Push
56   Single Whip
 Posture #     Posture Name    T'ai Chi (Cheng/Smith)   13 Treatises (Lo/Inn)   13 Treatises (Cheng)   New Method (Cheng) 
57   Squatting Single Whip
58   Step Forward to Seven Stars 34 34 34 34
59   Step Back and Ride Tiger 35 35 35 35
60   Leg Sweeps Lotus 36 36 36 36
61   Bend Bow and Shoot Tiger 37 37 37 37
62   Step Forward, Deflect Downward, Parry, and Punch
63   Sealing, Apparent Closure
64   Cross hands
65   Conclusion
 Posture #     Posture Name    T'ai Chi (Cheng/Smith)   13 Treatises (Lo/Inn)   13 Treatises (Cheng)   New Method (Cheng) 

Dalu, Four-Corner Push-Hands Video

Dalu is Four-Corner Push-Hands

"Both Push Hands and Dalu come from familiarity with the correct touch. From familiarity with the correct touch you will learn Listening Skill. After learning Listening Skill, you will gradually understand Comprehend Skill. After understanding Comprehending Skill, nothing any longer seems touched or not touched, scattered or not scattered, adhered to or not adhered to, followed or not followed. All are unnecessary explanations. They do not touch on the main point." -- Cheng Man-ching

Architecture in the Form

At a recent Dalu Workshop co-sponsored by Wu Wei Tai Chi and Fair Trade Tai Chi, Stephen spoke about the architecture of the Form using his hand as a mnemonic device. Workshop participants asked us to create a one-pager as a take-away and wanted to also share it with you! Your comments and questions are welcome and we hope you also find this mnemonic useful.

Professor Cheng, when writing about the Tai Chi form says, "Generally, each string is followed by the three techniques of Push Hands. The rest of the postures are like this, so prepare in advance." Here, he is talking about the architecture of the form. The form has four Grasp Sparrows Tail segments and five Single Whips (SW). The SW’s divide the form into six sections. Each section has a unique area of concentration. Here is a fun and easy mnemonic for these sections.

Architecture in the Form

Remembering John Walton Lang III

I received the heavy news yesterday that John Lang had passed. He was always kind to this orphan kid and will always be loved for it.

I had the unique privilege of being a fellow student with John in two of his life's passions: Tai Chi and Acupuncture. John was a senior to me by ten years in the Nei Jia (Tai Chi, Pakua, Hsing-I) classes of the late Robert W. Smith in Bethesda, Maryland. Later, John and I were students together at the Maryland School of Acupuncture. In both settings I was able to observe how he approached learning, and life.

With his impeccable penmanship he would work his notes, rewriting and revising them, pouring over the information not to memorize it but to let it flow in. It was a process of being saturated by the material. He studied like he was starting from a disadvantage, unperceived by the rest of us, and his results were always note-perfect. In acupuncture school he devised a set of symbols for the twelve organ systems that could be drawn in one pen stoke each. This aided fellow class members in taking our own notes, and we all learned it. He eventually devised a system to record patient's signs-and-symptoms that captured the Yin/Yang duality of Chinese Medicine. Unfortunately he never published this work, as he was happy making the tools for himself and freely sharing them with others.

In Pa Kua classes, his notes were the ones that we pulled from our wallets, having been turned into quick reference cheat sheets as we were learning the names of the forms. He wrote inspirational saying and placed them around his house to encourage the good to get in - more saturation. He was always disciplined in that soft approach. In Tai Chi classes, he said that he was just trying to get his old, broken body back to health (again, John working as if from a perceived deficit).

He was the quintessential senior student: reserved and respectful of the teacher, deferential to other seniors, and helpful to juniors. John was the example that we, as junior students, looked up to. When Mr. Smith wanted to show a 'function' of a particular movement, John would encourage you with a little nudge to get you to step forward. In this way you 'felt' how the application worked, how it was being applied on you, by the teacher. John was silently teaching that saturation approach - get it in you, pour through the material, and make yourself ready for the knowledge.

I last spoke with John in December about how I had finished the year doing ten rounds of Tai Chi a day. Although I was merely duplicating his earlier training experiments, he said he was jealous of me! He had that way of making you feel your mundane achievements were to be celebrated as victories toward greatness.

John graciously wrote the forward to my first book on Tai Chi, and my second book will be dedicated to his memory.

Breathing in Ti Fang

By Stephen J. Goodson
Septemebr 17, 2015

Breathing in Ti Fang

Using the natural metronome of the breath as we do the Tai Chi Form trains us to operate out of our center-of-gravity. We are asked, "is the master at home?" meaning, "are we operating out of our center?" The goal is not the Breath; rather, the goal is Central Equilibrium.

Change and the changelessness is the first principle of the Thirteen Postures. Change is the continuous exchange of yin and yang, hard and soft. The Thirteen Postures mutually affect and displace one another. Everything changes. The changeless is the principle of the Thirteen Postures which constitute the stabilizing power of the central equilibrium. (13T, Lo/Inn, p85.1)
The center of gravity of the body is referred to in T'ai Chi Ch'uan as chung ting. The chung ting cannot be separated from the tan t'ien. The Classics say, "Pay attention to the waist at all times," "controlled by the waist," and "the waist is like an axle." In other words, T'ai Chi Ch'uan could also be called an exercise that emphasizes the center of gravity of the body. (13T, Lo/Inn, p95.2)

In practicing the form we coordinate the breathing with the body's movements. It is the only reason Tai Chi is done slowly. This slow, sunk, guided to the center of gravity, breathing is not about breath but about putting or mind in our center-of-gravity. That is what is engrained—and it starts from day one in Tai Chi class.

In the two-person exercises we almost never go slow enough to coordinate the breathing (going too slow would hinder listening—play a record too slow and you can't make out the words). On average each breath is about 5-10 seconds long. That is way too much time to let your opponent play about.

All that to say, keep Breathing in the Form (sinking the breath to offset the body floating) and in San Shou training (exhale on the push), otherwise let the breath take care of itself. But the mind! That should always be in the right place.

No Li... Pure Steel

By Stephen J. Goodson
June 6 2015

Here I am just looking at how the poetic lines of the Classics can be pulled on just a bit to help us find their meaning.

Exploring some lines from the Tai Chi Chuan Classic,
Expositions of Insights Into the Practice of the Thirteen Postures

Throughout the body, the I (mind) relies on the shen (spirit), not on the chi (breath).
If it relied on the chi, it would become stagnant.
If there is chi, there is no li.
If there is no chi, there is pure steel.

When doing the form, our mind should be coordinating our body's movements with the natural rhythm of the breath. Sinking the mind to our center of gravity during inhalation and trying to keep the mind there during the exhalation. The coordination is: inhale to counteract the body's floating (ex: while stepping), and exhaling when the body is stable and would functionally be discharging. (Chinese Boxing: Masters and Methods, R.W. Smith, p31)

Pulling on the lines:

Throughout the body, the mind relies on the spirit(/reflexes)
     not on the (coordination of the) breath (with the body).
If the body relied on the (coordination of the) breath
     it would become stagnant [which is why we have reflexes].
If there is (concentration on the coordination of the) breath
     there can not be (brutish) force.
[At a higher level...]
When there is no (concentration on the coordination of the) breath
     (the spirit/reflexes take over and) there is pure strength.