Eight Energies

Each of eight forms of energy (or power) has a traditional name in Chinese and is associated with an element such as Earth, Air, Fire or Water (which, to the imaginative, it resembles). On a practical level, each corresponds to a movement in the first part of the moving form and to a technique used in combat or in the sparring game called push-hands. These are techniques for meeting and defeating (or at least deflecting) an opposing force.


Each form of energy is defined as a combinaton of Yin and Yang — yielding or resisting — first on contact with an attacking force, then at the center, and then at the end, or release. The yin-yang nature of each form of energy is represented by three straight (yang) or broken (yin) lines. The trigrams representing the eight energies can be seen in the symbol above.

In general, Yin is the defensive weapon of the smaller and weaker of two opponents. It is axiomatic in Tai Chi that a small, weak opponent may defeat a bigger, stronger attacker by yielding (and using the attacker’s size and weight against him). The eight energies are:

  1. Ward-off: Peng corresponds to SKY, trigram yang yang yang.
  2. Pull-back: Lu corresponds to EARTH, trigram yin, yin, yin.
  3. Press: Ji corresponds to WATER, trigram yin yang yin.
  4. Push: An corresponds to FIRE, trigram yang yin yang.
  5. Grabbing (pull-down): Tsai corresponds to WIND, trigram yang yang yin.
  6. Breaking (splitting): Lieh corresponds to THUNDER, trigram yin yin yang.
  7. Elbowing: Zhou corresponds to LAKE, trigram yin yang yang.
  8. Shouldering: Kao corresponds to MOUNTAIN, yang yin yin.

Peng is all hard opposing energy. Ward off meets the attacking force with unyielding resistence, uses outward opposing force, and holds its ground. It is a straightforward exertion of strength, but also is achieved by correct alignment and positioning.

Lu all yielding, soft energy. Pull back gives and turns away from an attacking force, allowing it to pass by. The attacker’s own energy is used to propel him past you.

Ji rebounds with hands connected, to repel the attacking force. This is the energy associated with water, which is soft on the surface but irresistably powerful force at its center.

An meet a force with resistance, then yields momentarily before surprising with a strong thrust.

Together, Peng, Lu, Ji and An comprise the familiar combination called Grasp the Bird’s Tail, or Lan Que Wei, found in nearly every Yang form.

Tsai commits to a string pull downwards, throwing the opponent all the way down to the ground before releasing.

Lieh yields, turns, and then breaks with splitting force at the finish. Repulse Monkeys and Slant Flying are both splitting movements using Lieh.

Zhou first yields, folding the elbow, before striking. The water is again soft in contact, but powerful at its center, and the lake is unyielding at the bottom.

Kao is unyielding at contact, striking with the shoulder, but then becomes rooted and immovable like a mountain.

Ten Important Points

Yang Cheng Fu, grandson of Yang Luchan and foremost proponent of modern Yang-style Tai Chi, published two books in Chinese, one of which has been translated into English (by Louis Swaim).


The master’s most famous written legacy is the list of “Ten Important Points” for the practice of Tai Chi. Numerous translations are available for this part of Yang Cheng Fu’s teachings. For the first and second degree tests, we are required to know and understand (not necessarily to quote) the ten important points.

I was delighted to find that Lau Sui Taijiquan provides the ten important points in Chinese! The Chinese phrases are direct from Yang Cheng Fu’s classic text. For the English, Master Gohring relies on CK Chu, so that’s what I have used here.


  1. Xu Ling Ding Jin. Head suspended. Be light and swift, as if the head is suspended from above, so the spirit can rise to the top. Do not use strength or become stiff, or the chi will not circulate.
  2. Han Xiong Ba Bei. Chest concave. This allows you to lift the back so the chi will sink down. If the chest sticks out, the chi rises and the center of gravity is too high.
  3. Song Yao. Waist loose. If the waist is loose, the root is strong. The change from substantial to insubstantial should come from the waist. If you are not strong, pay attention to the waist.
  4. Fen Xu Shi. Differentiate substantial from insubstantial (Video).This is essential to light and swift movement. If you cannot differentiate, footwork will be heavy and clumsy.
  5. Chen Jian Zhui Zhou. Sink the shoulders and elbows. If the shoulders are held up, the chi will not sink, the center of gravity will be too high, and you will not be able to repel opponents far.
  6. Yong Yi Bu Yong Li. Use mind not force. The whole body remains loose and open. There is no localized muscular force. Instead, the whole is light and swift, and chi flows freely throughout the body.
  7. Shang Xia Xiang Sui. Coordinate upper and lower body. “Root starts in the feet, springs from the legs, is executed through the waist and expressed through the fingers.” And “eye spirit follows them all.”
  8. Nei Wai Xiang He. Internal and external coordinate. Movement is nothing more than substantial and insubstantial, and opening and closing, and this occurs in the mind and heart as well as the body.
  9. Xiang Lian Bu Duan. Continuous and connected movement. The strength of Tai Chi is like a chain, unbroken and continuous, moved by mind and circulating without end.
  10. Dong Zhong Qiu Jing. Stillness in movement (“the slower the better”). Tai Chi uses quiet movement with long deep breaths, and the movement does not cause panting and shortness of breath.

For verbal instruction on the ten important points, also refer to Master Gohring’s YouTube playlist on this subject.

The Yang Family website offers a translation of the ten essential points: Part 1 and Part 2. Their version is based on a transcription from Yang Cheng Fu’s oral teachings.