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.

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