5.a.xx.beginning-training- Section

Beginning Training in Taijiquan

 by Nick Gudge - 1999 - updated June 2012

Welcome to the world of Taijiquan (or T’ai Chi Ch’uan as it is commonly spelled in the West.) If you are reading this, you are probably a complete beginner so I would offer three recommendations to you:

 1. Practice relaxing to develop loose (internal) strength not stiff (external) strength

 All the early benefits of taijiquan rely on this one central skill. Wherever you feel your body stiffen, try and relax so your body remains loose. Train yourself to recognise when your body is stiffening – then learn not to stiffen. The progress you make will be directly proportional to your ability to do this. Initially the most significant service that your teacher will provide is to help you understand when your body is stiff, to show you where your body is stiff and provide you with a process to learn how to move without stiffening.

 2. Do not hurt yourself.

 As a beginner, if it hurts you are probably doing it incorrectly! As a beginner, pain nearly always comes from a strained joint. In taijiquan you are looking for loose strength with balance. While the process of becoming stronger, physically, mentally, psychologically or spiritually is fraught with pains of sorts, invariably they are indications of stepping from the path not along it. Generally speaking ignoring pain is a short cut to long term problems and damage. If you have regular pain then your focus should not be on learning more postures but on learning to stand and then to move without pain, that is, to find a better balance.

3. Enjoy Yourself - life is too short not to!

Unless you are training for significant gong fu, taijiquan should be fun - hard work also at times but always inspiring, thought provoking and a labour of love. If it becomes a burden, examine your perspective or put your taijiquan aside. Try to understand what it is you want out of taijiquan and keep your eye on your progress. If you are aiming at significant gong fu then your experience will be similar to that of any serious athlete – hard work and lots of it!


Developing relaxed or loose strength and connecting the body without stiffness are not ideas that can be transmitted by paper (or by video for that matter). They require individual adjustments from someone with experience and knowledge. If you wish to learn taijiquan, books and videos at best save time and money. They do not substitute for an effective teacher. The choreography of the internal arts is not the internal arts: merely its external appearance. It is simply the framework within which most teachers work.

In my experience, most people who come to study taijiquan are not interested in the martial arts. They are interested in relaxation, stress reduction, centring/grounding, healing, improving physical conditions, helping concentration, improving mental, physical and spiritual balance, power and an interest in things Eastern, Chinese, spiritual or esoteric. All these things are fine aspirations for the study of taijiquan. Most people consistently make a serious, erroneous assumption: that these interests can be achieved within taijiquan without working to rid the body of stiffness and to learn how to stretch out the body while it remains loose to produce strength.

For most people, strength equates with hardness: they equate hardness with stiffness. In fact many equate hardness with the opposite of the attributes which they seek. In taijiquan this is not true. In taijiquan a practitioner is hard or soft as the situation warrants. However, a taijiquan practitioner should not become stiff. A certain quality of looseness or relaxation is central to the principles of taijiquan. This looseness (the Chinese word is song) is not limp or dead but alive and vital. This strength is both of mind and body. This looseness must be capable of being simultaneously strong, otherwise it has no use. Hardness and softness are merely a demonstration or concealing of this strength.


Nick Gudge is a student of Wang Hai Jun and teaches Chen style taijiquan (tai chi) classes in Limerick.