The Ji Xiao Xin Shu of Qi Jiguang

The 继效新书 Jì Xiào Xīn Shū (New Book of Effective Fighting Techniques) was published by General Qi Jiguang 戚继光, (1528-1588) in 1560. A handbook on military strategy, the Ji Xiao Xin Shu is not included among the Tai Chi Classics, but according to some, it may have had significant influence on some of the earliest practitioners of Tai Chi.

323px-Qi_JiquanQi Jiguang was known as the Tiger General. From his father, who fought for the founding Ming Emperor, Qi held a hereditary position as a military leader, which he assumed at the age of 17. Within a very few years he had distinguished himself in battle against the Mongolians who threatened Beijing from the north.

Qi then assumed leadership of a garrison in Penglai. During the next decade Qi secured his place in history by defeating the Japanese (and Chinese) pirates that had been terrorizing the entire east coast of China.

Qi’s book,  the Ji Xiao Xin Shu, was concerned mainly with military strategy and the use of weapons, but he included a chapter on unarmed combat, not because he believed it was useful on the battle field (he didn’t) but because he considered it good physical training and discipline for troops. He was aware of a wide variety of martial arts and identified 32 postures in particular as being useful.

In a 1993 doctoral thesis, Clifford Gyves translates the 32 verses of the Quanjing Jieyao Pian, chapter 14, the Boxing Canon, and argues that eight of the postures named and described appear to be common to Tai Chi. The eight postures are:

  • Dan bian (single whip)
  • Jin ji duli (golden rooster stands on one leg)
  • Gao tan ma (high pat on horse—but he translates this as spy technique!)
  • Shang bu qi xing (step up seven stars)
  • Tui bu kua hu (step back to ride the tiger)
  • Bai he liang chi (white crane spreads wings)
  • Xiashi (snake creeps down)
  • Zhou di chui (fist under elbow)

However! I am guessing that in 1993, Gyves was unfamiliar with Chen-style Tai Chi, or he could hardly have missed the similarity of the movement described in Verse 1 to Lanzhayi:

Casually hitch up your clothes and let your body assume the Going Out the Door position. Change to a lowered posture and momentarily take the Single Whip stance.

In an appendix, Gyves compares names from the Ji Xiao Xin Shu with those of Yang and Wu practitioners. But, reading through all 32 verses, I see names and descriptions that sound like moves from Laojia Yilu and Erlu: the Beast Head Pose (Shou tou shi), for example, and Ride the Dragon Backwards (Dao qi long).

And surely this is Cannon Overhead (Dang tou pao) in Verse 30:

The Canonball (sic) Against the Head maneuver assaults the person’s fear; Advance your steps with tiger-like erectness and drive in with both fists.

417px-Ji_Xiao_Xin_Shu;_pg_464Without access to the text in Chinese (which I haven’t yet found online) I can’t take this much farther, but I’d be willing to bet that many more, if not most, postures in the quanjing can be identified in the old Chen forms.

Gyves stops short of saying that postures of Tai Chi were derived from the Ji Xiao Xin Shu; he says instead that they may simply reflect a common martial arts heritage. But it is interesting to note that Chen Wangting (1580-1660) was a Ming Dynasty military leader, in addition to being the head of the Chen family at the time and originator of Chen-style Tai Chi. It is entirely possible that he would have been familiar with an influential military handbook like the Ji Xiao Xin Shu.

Gyves points out that there is no reason to believe that General Qi’s practice was internal, so he cannot be said to have had a hand in the origination of Tai Chi. But Qi may very well have contributed to the selection of named martial arts postures and applications that Chen Wangting transformed into the earliest practice of Tai Chi.

Article from the Shanghai Daily about General Qi:

Translation of Chapter 14 by Clifford Gyves:


Origins of Tai Chi

From the time of Chen Wangting (1580-1660), the history of tai chi is fairly well known and documented. However, it is widely believed that tai chi has roots going back at least a couple of hundred years more.

1224rainZhang Sanfeng (张三丰), a Taoist monk, is a legendary figure said to have been inspired when he witnessed a snake fighting a crane in the Wudang mountains (left, Wudang mountains  in spring 2017, my photo). Zhang allegedly wrote the Taijiquan Jing. Jīng (经) means classic text or canon. The Jing is the earliest of the documents called the Tai Chi Classics. Here are a couple good online translations:

The Jing includes the basic tenet that Jìn (劲) is rooted in the feet, generated though the legs, directed by the waist, and expressed through the fingers. Jin, in the context of tai chi, means force or energetic power.

The eight energies are enumerated in the Jing—掤 péng, 捋 lǚ, 挤 jǐ, 按  àn, 采 cǎi, 挒liè, 肘 zhǒu, and靠 kào—as well as the five directions: 进步 jìnbù (advance), 退步 tuìbù (retreat), 左顾  zuǒ gù (attend to the left), 右盼 yòu pàn (anticipate right), 中定 zhòng  dìng (hold the center). Together these are identified as the thirteen essential postures of tai chi.

Below, Taoist temple from the summit of Wudangshan (my photo, 2017):


That the body should move as a unit, that the form should be continuous and unbroken: these familiar and central principles of taijiquan are contained in the Jing attributed to Zhang Sanfeng. Here is a good biography (so to speak) of Zhang:

Another legendary figure in the obscure origins of Tai Chi is Wang Zongyue (王宗岳), who may or may not have been a student of Zhang Sanfeng. Wang is generally credited with authoring a second classic text, Taijiquan Lun, the Tai Chi Treatise. Lùn (论) means theory or treatise.

Here are a couple of good online translations. The first offers an interesting note about the authorship of the treatise.

The entire section on the martial arts in the Qi Encyclopedia ( is an excellent source of translations and articles about the classic texts of Tai Chi. So is Lee Scheele’s online tai chi notebook: (

The Taijiquan Lun contains the idea that taiji begins with wújí (无极), which translates as eternity or infinity but in practice, it seems to mean stillness, neutrality, or more specifically the neutral, quiet, meditative stance from which every moving form begins.

From wuji, when the movement begins, yin and yang, the opposites, become distinguishable. Left and right. Fast and slow. Upward and downward, hard and soft, and so on. Every movement within the form is definable in terms of yin and yang, opposites. When movement stops (at the end of the form), yin and yang once more come together into the quiet meditative state.

Some additional vocabulary for these basic concepts: dòngjìng (动静) is movement (dong) and stillness (jing). The characters in the treatise are traditional. The simplified characters for yin and yang are阴阳 (yīnyáng). Yin and yang separate (分 fēn) and come together (合 hé).

There should be neither lack nor excess: I interpret this to mean that there must be a balance of yin and yang in every movement—this is something that one of my teachers, Grandmaster Aiping Cheng, has just recently been telling me. The challenge is to identify the yin and the yang in a movement, and then to understand how to balance them.

Two more important concepts from the Lun: 走 zǒu and粘 zhān or nián. Romanizations vary for these words. What I have just given is the standard Pinyin and simplified characters. Zou is sometimes written Tsou, zhan as chan. Zhan and nian mean the same thing: sticky.

Zou (or tsou) is the word for yielding to force. Zhan or nian is the word for sticking, the technique of following your opponent, maintaining contact, and matching his speed (fast or slow) and position (high or low).

Wherever the opponent attacks, he should find emptiness; when he withdraws he can’t get away. These fighting skills are not easily mastered, but they are critical: without technique, fighting can never be anything but the strong overcoming the weak with brute force.