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Tai Chi Step: The 5 Methods

The Five Stepping Methods of Taijiquan
By Erle Montaigue

There are around 14 different stepping methods from Taijiquan. However, these are divided up into the five methods of the step. Forward, Backward, Look Left, Gaze Right and Central equilibrium. The steps are used for receiving and issuing Qi. Both in push hands and in form training.

1/. Break Tai Chi Step: An entering forward step.

This step is one of the main stepping methods of Taijiquan. The front foot is placed down on its heel, then as the body moves forward, the toes are placed. However, the weight does not come any more forward than the middle of the foot. The thighs and knees are curved and collecting while the rear thigh is less curved than the front. We never retreat in Taijiquan and we can do this because of this stepping method. The rear foot controls the waist in yielding and throwing away the attacker's strength. The waist is controlled during this step by the rear foot. There is an old Taijiquan saying: "To enter is to be born while to retreat is to die". So we never retreat, we rely upon the rear leg controlling the waist for our power and evasiveness without moving backward.

It is easy to revolve in this step as the toes come up with the revolving done on the heel while when contracting and issuing force, the toes touch the ground. A posture that uses this method is, Brush Knee and Twist Step.

2/. Backward Break Tai Chi Step: A Move Backward Step.

This step is only used in the posture known as 'Step back & repulse Monkey'. The toes settle first followed by the heel with the waist being controlled this time by the front leg.

3/. Rolling Tai Chi Step: A Looking Left Step.

The foot sticks to the ground when you turn it to follow what the body is doing and in accordance with what the opponent is doing. This creates friction and can be used to gain energy. Using this stepping method, we do not have to lean forward or backward to move. The weight is placed upon the heel and the foot is concave as it is rolled to the left or right depending upon which foot is forward. The postures such as: 'Step Up, Parry & Punch', 'Hit Tiger Left & Right', and the movement just after 'Inspect The Horse's Mouth' all use this stepping method. This step along with the break step is the foundation of Taijiquan stepping and footwork.

If a student finds difficulty in moving when the weight is placed onto the moving foot, then the 'rolling step' has not as yet been mastered. It should impart an easy and comfortable way in which to move.

4/. Rising Tai Chi Step: An Equilibrium Step.

This step uses the power of one leg to cause the body to rise such as in Golden Cock Stands on One Leg. It trains the upper thigh's P'eng jing and the thigh must move in a circular manner such as when lifting the right leg, the left leg must move in a clockwise direction in order to gain the fa-jing necessary for this movement.

5/. Sinking Tai Chi Step: A Central Equilibrium Step.

This movement trains the lower thigh P'eng jing and is used when the leg is lifted up and placed down while moving the body weight downward. The thigh does a circular movement the opposite of the above. So when performing Needle At Sea Bottom from the Old Yang Style, the right thigh does a counter clockwise circle keeping the backbone vertical.

6/. Withdrawing Tai Chi Step: A Looking Left Step. It can also be called a Looking Right Step.

This step moves from 'inside to outside'. The thigh makes a circular movement in the case of Ride The Tiger back To Mountain, from the Old Yang Style, the right thigh will do a clockwise circle in order to give the left palm great power. The eyes look firstly to the right then to the left.

7/. Gathering Tai Chi Step: A Looking Left or gazing Right Step.

This step is done from outside to inside as in Wave Hands Like Clouds from the Old Yang Style, the cross-stepping method. The hands and legs must have Lu Jing. The feet must move constantly stepping effortlessly. The 'gathering' is when the whole body is twisted when one foot goes behind the other. The right toe is placed first, followed by the heel as this can be the releasing of the Qi after the gathering.

8/. Curved Tai Chi Step: A Looking Left or gazing Right Step

This is that step such as in Parting Wild Horse's Mane. It is called an 'outside drawing of silk method' as the leg attacks in a curve from the outside of the opponent's body as in a kind of sweep to his legs as the hands also attack. It is used for both attack and defence.

9/. Slant Tai Chi Step: A Looking Left & Gaze Right Step

This step is taken to the corners diagonally such as in any other corner steps but more importantly Slanting Flying. The balance and timing must be perfect so that the step can step forward or backward at any time without hesitation.

10/. Horse Riding Tai Chi Step: A Central Equilibrium Step.

This step such as in Single Whip when the rear leg is also sunk but not as much as the front and Fair Lady Works Shuttles, The weight is sunk onto both legs with slightly more weight being placed onto the front leg. Because of the controlling factor of the front or rear leg, it is said to have double P'eng jing whereby the legs are in constant push and pull mode. I call this having the engine in idle ready to go.

11/. Fishing Tai Chi Step: A Central Equilibrium Step.

This step moves to left or right as in the normal way of performing Wave Hands Like Clouds. The feet move directly to either side and the thighs must circulate, the left thigh makes a clockwise circle while the right one does a clockwise circle. This must be in accordance and complete harmony with the hands crossing.

12/. Fairy Tai Chi Step: A Central Equilibrium Step.

This step is when the point of the toe is placed onto the ground but is insubstantial. There is a rotation of the right thigh counter clockwise and a very slight lifting of the upper body and then a sinking.

13/. Turning the Body over Tai Chi Step: A Looking Left and gazing Right Step.

This involves fa-jing so the spine is the main factor in this step. It is placed into such a position as to gain much power for a downward hammer fist to his arms followed by a chopping hand strike to vital points. The power is gained when the spine turns violently right to left to right. The thighs must be in control mode as in outward and inward drawing of silk so that the spine remains vertical to issue the power.

14/. Push Tai Chi Step: Move/Enter Forward Step.

The rear foot follows the turning action of the front foot so that the body ends up facing 90 degrees to the right or left as in Apparent Close Up. The front foot (left usually) pushes the energy over to the right as the rear foot moves in accordance with what the front foot is doing. The pushing motion is necessary because of the martial application of this movement. The front foot contains P'eng jing energy.

It is important to know that although I have tried to place each step into category of energy, all steps contain a measure of each of the different energies. So a looking left and gazing right step will also contain moving forward step, and all of the steps MUST contain central equilibrium.

The stepping method of Taijiquan means the natural manner of stepping. Once you understand about central equilibrium and lightness and heaviness, then your timing will be perfect. You will not use an incorrect stepping method for a certain type of attack. This is why we practice form, to learn about the stepping methods and how to perform them effortlessly and without thinking about them. The body moves in accordance with what the attacker is doing to us, so there is never a time when we will make an incorrect step. The stepping methods are there so that we can move quickly, releasing power as we move quickly, sinking as we lift and releasing as we gather. This method is not in any other martial art other than Bagwa and H'sin-I.