About Tai Chi Chuan, Grandmaster Yang Chengfu had a concise and straightforward statement: “Those who practice Tai Chi Chuan do not move their hands. If they move their hands, it is not Tai Chi Chuan.” He also said, “The root is in the feet, issued from the legs, controlled by the waist, and expressed through the fingers. The hands must follow and cannot move independently.”
What does “not moving the hands” mean? How do you practice Tai Chi Chuan without moving your hands? The Grandmaster explains it clearly: the hands must be coordinated with the waist and legs, and they should not move independently. The esteemed disciple of the Grandmaster, Master Li Yaxuan, also said, “With your mind, spirit, and intention, gently command your waist, spine, and back to move, thus influencing your limbs, arms, and legs… You must not move on your own, without interruption, without localized movement, without excessive movement, and without unwarranted movement.”
Both of these masters have provided profound explanations. The concept of “not moving the hands” is in relation to the waist, body, and legs. Mr. Yang Zhenji, the second son of the Grandmaster, said, “All movements should rely on the waist to initiate them. The waist leads, pulls, and turns, connecting the waist, feet, and hands… No matter how you turn, whether it is a big or small turn, upwards or downwards, left or right, you should not rely solely on swinging your arms and hands.”
So, what is the significance of “not moving the hands” in practicing Tai Chi Chuan? And how can one achieve this?
- The Value and Significance of “Not Moving the Hands”(a) “Not moving the hands” aligns with the essence of Tai Chi Chuan, which emphasizes the use of intention rather than force, and embodies qualities of relaxation, tranquility, lightness, and internal solidity.Tai Chi Chuan is an internal martial art where the mind and intention play a primary role. Whether it is performing the forms or engaging in push hands or combat, the internal factors are of utmost importance. Hence, there is a saying of “using intention instead of force,” “being relaxed, tranquil, and light,” and “internally solid while appearing at ease.” When discussing the practice of Tai Chi Chuan, Master Wu Yuxiang said, “Move the Qi with the mind and focus on achieving calmness, which allows the bones to condense. Move the body with the Qi and focus on achieving smoothness, which facilitates alignment with the mind.” Grandmaster Yang Chengfu also stated that in Tai Chi Chuan, one should use intention rather than force, “relax the entire body, avoiding any trace of clumsy strength… and then be able to move effortlessly, with circular and smooth motions.” These explanations demonstrate that Tai Chi Chuan is primarily guided by the mind, intention, Qi, and spirit, with the waist, body, and legs as secondary components. This aligns with the principle mentioned in Tai Chi Chuan theory that “the spirit is the commander, and the body is the driver.”
- How to Achieve “Not Moving the Hands”In order to achieve “not moving the hands,” the key lies in coordinating the movements of the waist, body, and legs with the hands:
- The waist serves as the central axis and the source of power. It initiates and drives the movements, transferring power from the lower body to the upper body.The body needs to be relaxed and connected, allowing the movements to flow naturally without tension or stiffness.The legs provide stability, rootedness, and support for the body, generating power and facilitating movement.The hands should follow the movements of the waist, body, and legs without acting independently. They are an extension of the internal power generated by the coordinated actions of the entire body.
In practicing Tai Chi Chuan, due to the concept of “not moving the hands,” all movements and techniques rely on the coordination of intention and the waist and body. By using intention to activate the waist and body, and using the waist and body to drive the limbs, it becomes easier to achieve a state of not exerting force. The movements and techniques should flow like flowing water, smoothly and continuously, with a feeling of pulling silk thread. Describing a complete Tai Chi Chuan routine in this way is an accurate depiction of practicing it correctly. If there is no mindfulness, intention, and spirit, and if there is no involvement of the waist and body, merely using the hands and feet to perform simple physical movements, it will lack the charm and characteristics of Tai Chi Chuan. In push hands and combat, it will appear stiff and rigid, lacking relaxation and sinking, without internal power, and easily controlled by others.
- “Not moving the hands” facilitates relaxation throughout the whole body and the harmonious unity of the internal and external, leading to a marvelous state of seamless integration and oneness.
As mentioned earlier, “moving the hands” refers to isolated movements of the limbs, which easily generate force (clumsy strength, brute force). When force is exerted, the entire body becomes stiff, the lower body loses its rootedness, the body becomes elevated, and the internal and external are not in harmony, resulting in an unstable center of gravity. Conversely, by practicing “not moving the hands,” the focus is on the spirit, which allows the body and mind to relax, and the internal energy to be abundant. This enables the internal (mind, intention, spirit, and Qi) and the external (waist, body, arms, and legs) to merge. The result is a state of oneness and seamless unity. Grandmaster Yang Chengfu said, “The framework is based on the principles of emptiness and fullness, which means not only opening the hands and feet but also opening the mind and intention. It also means not only aligning the hands and feet but also aligning the mind and intention. When the internal and external aspects merge into one Qi, there is a state of complete unity.”
- “Not moving the hands” facilitates the movement of the waist and legs, achieving a state of “when in motion, nothing is not in motion, and when at rest, nothing is not at rest,” allowing the upper and lower body to move together as one.
As we know, Tai Chi Chuan involves movement of the entire body and is not reliant on the hands and feet to perform techniques and actions automatically. It is the waist and body, guided by intention, that accurately position the hands. This enables a state of “when in motion, nothing is not in motion, and when at rest, nothing is not at rest,” where the upper and lower body move together as one.
When practicing Tai Chi Chuan, if one only focuses on swinging the arms and hands, actively and locally performing hand movements, the intention will inevitably be focused on the hands, unable to drive the waist and body or engage the hands and feet. This results in a rigid and stiff performance of the forms, with disconnected and disjointed movements between the hands and the waist and legs. If one practices in this manner, it may be a lifelong struggle to truly grasp the essence of Tai Chi Chuan, and the further one practices, the further they may deviate from the essence of Tai Chi Chuan. It has been said that “without understanding the principles, one will never achieve the true essence of Tai Chi Chuan, no matter how long they practice” or “even practicing for 7 years will not lead to mastery.”
- “Not moving the hands” facilitates the circulation of intention and the expression of internal power, making it easier to develop proficiency in Tai Chi Chuan.
By not relying solely on the movement of the hands, the practitioner can focus on the circulation of intention and the expression of internal power. This allows for the development of Tai Chi Chuan skills with greater ease.
- “Not moving the hands” promotes the smooth circulation of meridians and enhances the effectiveness of improving physical fitness and treating illnesses.
Tai Chi Chuan is a dynamic exercise method within the Wudang system, combining martial arts and internal cultivation. It not only develops profound martial skills but also possesses special functions in promoting health and longevity. This was the original intention of Zhang Sanfeng, the founder of Tai Chi Chuan. He said, “To extend the lifespan of heroes in the world, it is not merely about mastering superficial skills.” The “Thirteen Postures Song” states, “By comprehensively applying intention, what is the ultimate goal? Extending life, rejuvenation, and eternal spring.” This indicates that Tai Chi Chuan encompasses both martial skills and health benefits, complementing each other. Therefore, practicing Tai Chi Chuan with the principle of “not moving the hands,” utilizing intention and Qi to drive the movements, allowing the waist and body to lead, while maintaining relaxation and composure, facilitates the harmonious coordination of the whole body, resulting in more pronounced health benefits. Master Zhao Bin also stated, “Tai Chi Chuan is gentle, slow, and continuous. By leading Qi with intention and moving the body with Qi, it can promote the smooth circulation of meridians and the flow of blood and Qi.”
In summary, the concept of “not moving the hands” in practicing Tai Chi Chuan emphasizes the importance of intention, the coordination of the waist and body, and the integration of internal and external aspects. It leads to relaxed and connected movements, improved internal power, enhanced health benefits, and a profound understanding of the essence of Tai Chi Chuan.
- How to achieve “not moving the hands” in practicing Tai Chi Chuan:
(1) Guided by classical principles, cultivate the practice of using the mind to guide Qi, using Qi to move the body, maintaining relaxation and composure, and harmonizing the whole body.
Tai Chi Chuan belongs to the Daoist cultivation method of Wudang, where internal intention and Qi circulation guide the movements, while the external body moves in a coordinated manner. This is the essence and internal meaning of Tai Chi Chuan. Every movement and posture should be practiced according to this principle. For example, in the movement called “Cloud Hands,” if the intention and Qi are not properly directed, and the waist and body do not follow, only the hands move up and down or left and right, it will be difficult to achieve the smooth and connected Tai Chi skills characterized by relaxation, composure, and the harmonious coordination of the whole body. As Master Li Yaxuan said, without practicing according to this principle, one will not truly grasp the essence of Tai Chi Chuan, and it will remain merely a name without substance. The same principle applies to other movements and techniques, such as the traditional Yang-style technique called “Grasp the Sparrow’s Tail,” where all movements are driven by intention, Qi, and the coordination of the waist and legs, while the hands remain relatively still. Actions such as warding off, rolling back, pressing, and pushing are accomplished through waist rotation, bending, and pulling, without relying on automatic hand movements.
Therefore, the key to achieving “not moving the hands” lies in using intention, Qi, and the waist to drive the movements of the limbs.
(2) All movements are initiated from the waist, achieving integration of the waist with the hands and feet, rather than solely relying on arm movements.
This is a common saying from Grandmaster Yang Zhenji’s practical principles of Tai Chi Chuan. There is a saying in Tai Chi Chuan, “Tai Chi comes from the waist, Bagua comes from the palm.” This emphasizes the importance of the waist in Tai Chi Chuan. It is well known that Grandmaster Yang Zhenji, the son of Yang Chengfu and a renowned modern Tai Chi Chuan master, has unique insights into the use of the waist. He stated that all movements should be initiated from the waist, such as “waist leading, waist pulling, waist stepping, waist and foot and hand… generally, the hands and feet should not move unnecessarily, but rely on the waist to drive the movements… no matter how you turn… you must pay attention to the leading of the waist…”. When I learned Tai Chi Chuan from him twenty years ago, he frequently emphasized the importance of the waist. For example, when performing the movement called “Grasp the Sparrow’s Tail,” he reminded me to pay attention to waist rotation. This movement involves seven waist movements and one waist pull. When performing movements like “Brush Knee and Twist Step,” “Step Back to Repulse Monkey,” “Cloud Hands,” and “Single Whip,” he would say, “First, establish a solid stance, then rotate the waist. Without a solid stance, you cannot rotate the waist.” In the movement “Wild Horse Separates Its Mane,” he emphasized the waist leading the hands, as the waist leads the two hands to rise and fall. It must be acknowledged that currently, many people practicing Tai Chi Chuan in society fail to achieve the integration of the waist with the hands and feet, instead relying solely on arm movements.
At the same time, the waist has different applications in various movements. Grandmaster Yang Zhenji not only emphasizes the waist but also distinguishes different uses of the waist, such as rotation, pulling, shifting
, swinging, bowing, arching, relaxation, and sinking. Among contemporary Tai Chi Chuan practitioners, no one else has divided the waist movements into such detailed categories as the grandmaster. By using the waist correctly, it is possible to avoid automatic and unnecessary hand movements.
(3) The correctness of the movement direction is also a key factor in the coordination of waist, hands, and feet.
Master Wu Yuxiang stated in his book “Brief Analysis of the Thirteen Postures”: “If there is an upward movement, there must be a downward movement; if there is a forward movement, there must be a backward movement; if there is a left movement, there must be a right movement. When the intention is directed upward, it implies a downward intention…” Although this principle is mentioned in the context of combat, it is also applicable to the practice of forms. It suggests that when engaging with an opponent, one should adapt and be aware of the concepts of upward and downward, forward and backward, left and right. For example, when aiming to strike upward (block) in the movement “White Crane Spreads Its Wings,” one should first incorporate a downward intention by sinking the hips and legs, simultaneously pulling up the left hand while lifting the waist, and sending the right hand to the front of the forehead. In this way, the upward-pulling and downward-sinking movement of the waist creates a balanced and stable tension. Similarly, in movements like “Step Back to Repulse Monkey,” “Elbow Strike,” or “Golden Rooster Stands on One Leg,” after completing the movement, when the right hand is about to push forward, it implies a backward intention—shifting the waist to the right and turning the right hand toward the right ear while simultaneously stepping back with the left foot and generating a counterbalancing force with the waist and legs to push the right hand forward. The same applies to the movement “Step Back to Repulse Monkey” on the left side, with left and right exchanging positions. The principles apply to other movements as well. Only by doing so can we effectively overcome the drawbacks of automatic and unnecessary hand and foot movements.
(4) How to achieve “not moving the hands” in movements that lack obvious waist movement?
Some students have raised this question during their practice. They mention that movements with clear waist rotations are easier to coordinate with the hands and feet, but how can one coordinate the hands when there is no obvious waist movement, or even when the waist remains still? This is a good question. Indeed, there are several movements in the form that do not exhibit obvious waist rotations, such as the Opening Posture, “Hand Strums the Lute,” “Raising the Horse’s Mane,” “Golden Rooster Stands on One Leg,” “Raise Hands and Step Up,” “Kick with Left/Right Foot,” “White Crane Spreads Its Wings,” “Step Forward and Seven Stars,” “Cross Hands,” and the Closing Posture. How can these movements be coordinated with the waist to achieve “not moving the hands”?
As we all know, the essence of Tai Chi Chuan lies in the internal aspects rather than the external form. The movement of the waist, whether obvious or not, relies on the intention and Qi to drive the coordination of the limbs and complete the movements of the form. For example, in the Opening Posture, when the intention and internal Qi guide the slow upward raising of both hands, imagine the waist as a flexible “spring waist” that can contract freely. Then, use the intention to slowly pull up the “spring waist,” thereby coordinating the movement of the hands. After the hands reach shoulder height, gradually lower the “spring waist,” activating the downward pressing of the hands and returning to the preparatory posture (the principles for the Closing Posture are the same). Similarly, in the movement “Kick with Left/Right Foot,” when the hands separate to the left and right, imagine the chest cavity as a set of horizontal “springboards.” Use the intention to pull them apart, coordinating the
separation of the hands to their respective positions. Then, raise the “spring waist” to the right, driving the right foot to kick diagonally upward. The principles for “Kick with Right Foot” are the same, with left and right exchanging positions. The same principle applies to the movement “Cross Hands,” where the waist is lifted, the legs sink, and the two arms come together forward and upward, with the waist and arms slightly extending forward.
The waist is coordinated in a similar manner for other movements as well. “Hand Strums the Lute,” “White Crane Spreads Its Wings,” “Raising the Horse’s Mane,” and “Golden Rooster Stands on One Leg” all involve a slight upward pull of the waist. “Raise Hands and Step Up” and “Step Forward and Seven Stars” utilize relaxed and sinking waist movements. In movements where the spine is pulled upward, the hips and legs must simultaneously sink downward to create a state of upward and downward counterbalance, maintaining the stability of the body.