T’ai Chi Ch’uan For Health and Self-Defense

T’ai Chi Ch’uan For Health and Self-Defense; Philosophy and Practice, by Master T.T. Liang (published 1974, 1977)

This week I’ve begun reading this book. I’m about halfway through it and it has not disappointed. It is making me think I should start practicing T’ai Chi. Here is T. T. Liang’s poem with which he opens the book;

At first I take up T’ai Chi as a hobby,

Gradually I become addicted to it,

Finally I can no longer get rid of it.

I must keep on practicing for my whole life-

it is the only way to preserve health.

The more I practice, the more I want to learn

from teachers and books.

The more I learn, the less I feel I know.

The theory and philosophy of T’ai Chi is so

profound and abstruse!

I must continue studying forever and ever…

It is the only way to improve and better myself.

The text begins- “T’ai Chi Ch’uan (commonly called T’ai Chi) is an ancient Chinese form of classical dance for health and self-defense created by a Taoist named Chang San Feng of the Sung Dynasty. There were originally 13 postures: Ward Off, Roll Back, Press, Push, Pull, Split, Elbow-Stroke, Shoulder-Stroke, Advance, Retreat, Gaze to Left, Look to Right, and Central Equilibrium.”

One interesting thing about these 13 postures is that 8 of them correspond to the 8 trigrams which we use in Taekwondo, beginning with our 8 color belt Taeguk forms; and the other 5 correspond to the Chinese 5 elements, which we also incorporate in our practice, especially recently as we have been working with the 5 element forms at our meetings, and even more recently as Master Pearson has informed us of Shin Ho Kwan’s imminent splitting in to 5 schools corresponding to these elements. See the article about that here-


Three texts known as the “T’ai Chi Classics” appear translated and with commentary by the author. The first is called “T’ai Chi Ch’uan Classic,” by founder Chang San Feng of the late Sung Dynasty. The other two are “Treatise on T’ai Chi Ch’uan” and “Mental Elucidation of the Thirteen Postures,” both of which are attributed to Wang Chung Yueh of the Ming Dynasty.

In reading these classics (I am part-way through them) I have come across some things Master Pearson has said that have stuck with me, though I hadn’t remembered where he had gotten them from. Two things from “The Mental Elucidation of the Thirteen Postures-” From the translation- “If your opponent does not move, you do not move. At his slightest stir, you have already anticipated it and moved before-hand.” The next translated passage reads “The energy appears relaxed and slackened but is in reality powerful and firmly rooted. The arms are ready to stretch, but not to the fullest extent. The energy may be broken off [i.e., discharged], but the mind-intent remains.” And it is in the commentary for this passage that the author states “In striking, your energy appears soft and effortless, but internally it is powerful and strong. Your hands and arms are like steel bars wrapped in cotton.” It is this visualization of the arms and legs as steel wrapped in cotton that I have striven to be like. I think I heard the expression in a Kali (Filipino stick fighting martial art) class so I thought for a long time that the idea came from Kali. Now I know better.

Another principle which I am discovering comes from classic T’ai Chi (also discussed in “The Mental Elucidation of the Thirteen Postures”) is the idea of “folding-” as it is explained in the commentary, “When your opponent strikes your hand, you withdraw it and immediately strike him with your wrist. When he strikes your wrist, you withdraw it and immediately strike him with your forearm (Ward Off posture). When he strikes your forearm, you withdraw it and immediately strike him with your elbow. When he strikes your elbow, your withdraw it and immediately strike him with your shoulder. When he strikes your shoulder, you withdraw it and immediately strike him with your forehead. This is called “folding up technique,” and is also called the “variation of substantial and insubstantial.”

One more thing I would like to share in this post comes from the forward to the book which was written by Paul B. Gallagher.

He describes the “destruction cycle” of the 5 elements, then continues “In the context of T’ai Chi Ch’uan, “destroy” can mean neutralize. Thus, different steps can be used to neutralize each other. However, in every movement, indeed at every moment in practice, one must maintain the condition of Central Equilibrium, symbolized in the diagram by the Element Earth. In this sense, for purposes of T’ai Chi practice, one can regard Earth as the fundamental Element.” To Pa?

More to come- here is more from Master T. T. Liang-


  1. Ms. Doll,
    I have recently started up with Tai Chi and I have discovered I get very warm even in winter doing Tai Chi even though it has been called “the old man’s martial art” ( no my name for it). Is this normal? Also I have discovered my hands get very very warm when I practice my moves and find that the slower I go the more intense the heat is what would you say is happening? We also mediate before we begin our Tai Chi form and I find I have the hardest time concentrating on anyone thing …do you have any suggestions on how to prepare yourself before hand or how to get ones thoughts from spiraling out of control or is that the point of meditation? Thanks again.

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