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Andy Bulka's Tai Chi Notebook

(as of 28/July/2001)

Introduction: The following principles and thoughts are a work in progress. Most notes are based on discussions with my teacher Andrew Barry, as well as my own subsequent practice, reading and reflections.

Note - my thinking has grown a lot since these notes were made. - Andy 2007.

These notes begin with the Professor Chen Man Ching's 5 principles, albiet slightly restated. Then the next five principles as perhapps they might be, beginning with the principle of comprehension of cross-substantiality. What then follows is a grab bag of tips in no particular order.

1. Relax esp. upper torso esp. shoulders and back. No arms.

2. Separate yin & yang. Solid and empty stance, 100% not 99.9%

3. Body upright, suspended headtop, with chin slightly in (see 3-step Alexander Technique, below)

4. Move & turn with the waist leading

5. Beautiful ladies hands. Resilience in the wrists during push hands.

6. Cross substantiality

7. Switch from being in one leg or the other. Never 50-50. Even in seventy thirty one hip 'owns' the weight.

8. Chung yun (preserve vertical uprightness). Resilience and rootendness. Relax but don't collapse. Be resilient and rooted, but relaxed, soft and listening.

9. No hollows or projections. Maintaining the 'zone' of correct body structure.

10. Listen and don't let pressure build up - adhere and neutralise


Now for some Misc. Tips


11. Relax and organise body structure as if you were going to hold that posture for 10 mins. This may be related to generating soong.

12. Keep ward off arm up, but don't resist too much. Give yourself space by moving your body away, turn with the waist leading, ward off arm rotates strangely along multiple axis...

13. Don't overturn such that you get caught rotating back across your centre when you have no room

14. Rollback must be connected to the leg and the body structure, offer slight resistance and be like a set of gears - responding.

15. Capture the other person as a whole, feeling their balance. Even when neutralising in roll back, you should have them

16. Be neutral. Preserve body structure. Always the possibility of Neutralising or Advancing in the same moment. Don't telegraph. Intent is to be present. Deeper intent is to challenge yourself and your push hands partner. Deepest intent is to learn tai chi together and have zero ego.

17. Body structure adjusts as breath changes. Do standing mediation. Many people talk about chi circulation in chi-goong like stances. People experience chi differently. I currently experience it as the conscious awareness of the constant real time micro adjustments to the body structure required in order to relax and soong, as I breathe.

18. Non collapsed relaxedness is the ultimate criteria by which to adjust body structure by.

EXTRA - Upper and lower Coordinated by the waist - to preserve body structure and prevent force (A.Barry)

19. On heavy hands (special day with Andrew Barry). Good to have arms so relaxed that they almost feel heavy. Heavy and cross substantially connected hands/arms, generating bold, connected ward-off's.

19a. A stable relaxed posture is like a triangle with the tip up and two other tips on the bottom. When there is tension the triangle inverts and the top is wide and the sole tip is on the floor - quite unstable, ready to be attacked from underneath the centre of gravity (which has risen up).

19b. Capture as a whole. Offer some gear like, leg connected resistance then capture the whole piece of your opponent then keep listening continually, always maintaining that sense of capturing.

20. Be internally accurate which leads to external accuracy. Not the other way around.

21. Purpose of tai Chi is to personally tap into the science and Objective nature of it. In push hands it is to achieve the sense of hearing the whole of your partner at all times, being connected and not running away. Maintaining relaxed and connected body Structure, following the principles. Anything more, like pushing someone, is a mere bonus, and is not the primary purpose. the purpose is to attain a personal skill.

22. In push hands there is a RADB configuration (Rollback Arm Diagonal to Back leg) and a non-RADB side for each of the two fixed leg positions (left leg forward or right leg forward).

22a. RADB side appears to give a slight back leg bracing, rooted, pivoting advantage. Non-RADB side requires one to rely soley on the waist to consciously yield and turn.

22b. When beginning a push-hands session or beginning the hand-on-shoulder "circular return" exercise, you need to initially, consciously and formally achieve an authentic "root connection" with your partner, which is four ounces of slight gear-like resistance into the back foot. Now that you have connected to the root you should ignore the temptation to use it as a brace or pivot point since this indicates rigidity, a lack of fluidity, and a lack of yin yielding. The trick is to connect and stay connected to the brace/root but to not allow pressure to build up. Insted of bracing and pivoting, it is more important to turn and yield whilst retaining body structure, like you must do when doing roll back on the non-RADB side (where there is no back bracing leg to rely on and pivot on). So yield/yin perfectly without running away, always listening to the partner as a whole via the four ounce rooted pressure, always keeping arms in contact, keeping the four ounces of pressure constant, maintaining the root connection, not over-reacting. An increase in pressure on the arm must cause a corresponding yield in the hip on that side - the waist yields and simultaneously returns with the hip on the other side. This returning yang should be expressed by timing, position and body structure - not by force. So what then, is root good for, after making such a fuss to make a formal connection with it? The root is a mysterious conduit, making possible correct neutralization and issuing. The root is more obviously and practically helpful at the point of issuing and this power appears to be available from either foot - not just the back foot in a RADB configuration, but even the front foot in any configuration.

22c. When some one over commits in a press during push hands the response of moving forward into the front leg and turning into a Smaller circle or pulling them towards and away from you with perhaps a guiding hand on their shoulder depends on the side of the press and depends also on the particular left or right RADB configuration (Rollback Arm Diagonal to Back leg) or particular left or right non-RADB configuration.

23. Tips on turning

- Transfer the weight then at 50/50 turn the waist into a 70/30 posture.

- As the left hip moves forward the right hip moves back - yin and yang perfectly synchronised.

- Arm shape changes constantly with the turn. Of course the hips lead the turn (and in some sense the first response is from the thighs and feet which lead/drive/respond first - before the hips.)

- Having part of your attention follow the yang arm is beneficial (also try focusing attention on your YIN arm and leg)

- Follow the details of the cross-substantial changes that are ocurring as you turn. Eg. Which is the yang leg at the beginning of the posture? Answer - the weighted leg. The yang arm is diagonally opposite the yang leg. Follow the change as the yang arm becomes the yin arm.

- Correct Arm shape whilst turning required in me more 'contained and compact' arm positioning, which means the hands ward off closer to the body, rising and turning faster, palm passing your eye at the 50/50 stage.

- Stay connected in your ward off as you turn - substantial yang wardoff arm becomes almost insubstantial by the end of the turn (3O%) yet this ward off arm should have massive connected ward-off power.

- The connectedness of a moving ward-off posture in the form (e.g. ward off left) is related to the connectedness needed in the 'slightly resistant' four ounce ward-off posture/movement in push hands. In both cases there should be a correct and relaxed body structure and perfect timing and position, plus a real gear-like connection to the hips and the feet. The flavor however, of the connectedness in both these situations is also slightly different: for example the turning ward off posture in the form feels almost like an offensive move rather than the neutralising/defensive flavor of the ward off in the opening move of push hands. Though it is also important to keep in mind as an over-arching principle that every moment should feel like both offence and defence at the same time (I call this being in the postural peng energy 'zone', ie. upright, relaxed but not collapsed. Neutral, listening, just as ready to comfortably move forward in a push, or move back in neutralization.

23a. Elbow tips

- Elbows and shoulders relaxed and sunk.

- Elbow moves and follow the hips, which follow the pressure on your arms . Elbows should almost feel like they are hanging although there is alive body structure in the mix as well. Elbows seem to constantly drop into yet another comfortable and appropriate position as you turn. Try it during the backward step of 'step back and repulse the monkey' (A. Barry): the elbows drop and help lead the turn. But remember also that the elbows are perhaps essentially following the hips and gyroscopically participating in the arm as one piece rotation.

23b. On moving back in neutralization:

Offer rooted resistance, but never actually allowing a force to increase its existing four ounce pressure on you, which means listening and neutralising. At no point in your movements should you be committed soley to defence or to offence, but always be neutral and ready to move either forward or back.

24. Important overarching principles - tai chi could be said to be about decoding the old proverb 'relaxed but not collapsed'. Relaxedness versus Peng jing / appropriate body structure.

- Soong is aquired gradually over the years (though can speed up soong by immediately doing each posture as if you had been holding it for 10 minutes). Soong helps peng.

- Chung Yun princiuple - the head and lower spine should be in a straight line. Some way this line should be upright, others say it's ok to sometimes lean as long the the spine is still straight and open/stretched.

- Some say stretched, open joints and muscles are a key to successful peng. Others say it is simple correct body structure with soong that gives you peng - and that stretched muscles indicate unecessary tension.

The politics of REAL TAI CHI

At some stage someone needs to write about why CMC tai chi is unique and how it came to be. Is CMC tai chi the most evolutionary and correct tai chi? There are many tai chi styles, what makes tai chi real tai chi? What do the classics say - how can we look to the past writings and at the same time evolve past prior styles of tai chi?

Do tai chi styles have to have the martial aspect esp. push hands practice in order to 'prove progress' in the principles. I personally think so.

More tips II

Footnote to principle three. Here is a three step formula for something like 'suspended headtop' according to 'Alexander Technique'. I have found it a useful algorithm:

1. Let the neck be free

2. Let the head go forward and up

3. Let the back lengthen and widen

Absorb some of the force first when establishing 4 oz connection.

When neutralizing magnetise and keep connected in order to take advantage when their posture becomes incorrect.

If follow all the time then as Soon as your partner makes a mistake you will automatically be inside their circle. You will have found the smaller circle without conscious effort.


Maintain your uprightness and your Peng. When being pushed, neutralize and use hips and legs to return, yield without bracing and going hard. Maintain Peng.

Don't Be stiff in the back leading into the waist - one piece stiffness is no good.

Place the foot down before transferring the weight using hips and legs and with the inherent driver of the turn of the waist. Place leg and foot without stiff ankle or tension. Place foot flat, usually with heel leading. The turn of the waist with the possibility of a small circle always there, always connected whilst doing the form.

Sword must come from the centre. If Holding the Sword further away from the body, still must connect and come from your centre.

Some interesting scientific findings: 1. Before you make a decision to move, your subconscious body has already begun to move. 2. You can consciously intervene/override a body preparing for movement but not yet moved. What I think this means to tai chi - that you need to train and rely on your body mind to react for you, and override when necessary.

The elbow joint is the same design as a knee joint. Same for the other two correspondences shoulder=hip, wrist=ankle. These classic correspondences seem therefore to be based on the type of joint and its range of movement.

When you fill a gap that's created, this doesn't necessarily mean you gain ground - if you cannot gain ground then just staying connected and listening is enough to discharge your 'fill the gap' obligations. :-)

2001 Tips


Remember the vertical axis when pushing. Remain connected, yield very slightly (but without disconnecting and without powering through blindly) and drop underneath the other person and lift and uproot their centre.

Never lean or commit to applying pressure unless you are absolutely sure the other is overbalanced

Do not twist when doing rollback - be instantaneous - keep posture and structure intact.

Always come from the ground.

When turning esp. neutralizing, drop and release in the hip. The first movement should be in the hip. You are turning in the horizontal axis and dropping in the vertical axis. Combine this with the appropriate disappearing of the elbow. The ward off arm with flat beautiful ladys hand rotates appropriately inside the opponents centre.

When neutralizing a push, as you turn you might consider getting rid of the hand on the elbow first by turning and dropping in the hip. Then the roll back can deal with the hand on your wrist and over your chest / centre.

When neutralizing a push, as you turn and get 'caught in the corner' you can collapse and slide forward but you will probably get picked oft ON the way through 50-50 - better to turn the body as one piece and roll opponent off. Disappear / pull the opponent into the corner as you turn. Use minimum effort and turn.

As you turn and neutralize a push you need to perceive the whole torso not just the arms coming at you.

Need more instantaneous return but dOnt use force in the rollbacK arm, instead 1. perceive their torso 2. Pull them down and around, drawing them in as you return with the rollbacK arm.

Need more instantaneous return with no collapsing, no going hard, no pressing down into somobody (this actually helps their stability) and no gliding forward, or gliding sidewards and forward. Keep the peng, turn and generate a Straight line generated by the turn of the waist legs and hips. keep the torso and hips as one block.

Feb 28 2001 : Elbow must escape and move with the turning waist. Ward off Elbow to waist distance must be smaller than hand to chest distance. Always get the magic ward off arm movement happening correctly.

Always yield and do not brace or use force. If in trouble check you have yielded and not allowed force to build up.

Shift weight to back leg when in final stages of rollbalk and don't be caught 50/50. Don't come forward - better to stay back and listen and follow until partner over commits and over eXtends and loses their root.

Perceive the whole of your partner and be guided by that.

In push hands (and of course push hands) be in either one leg or the other, and vertically align body over the weighted leg, which gives the roll back a more powerful, grounded, rotational, pivotal quality. The opposite to attempting to rollback whilst 50/50.

Three Methods to handle Someone escaping and leaning. Use gravity and push/ drop down. Make a movement and let them react and then push. Last, just wait until they move and then push.

Keep arms esp elbows down when warding off. Almost pull down. Use a bit of down gravity. I have a tendency to raise the elbows and the action high. Should pull by a turn the waist etc.

Instant return.

Don't give away your mind intent, either in pushing or retreating.

Instant return, keep your body structure intact and turn / return.

In doing sword, like in regular form, always Should feel like you are connected to someone. In the case of the Sword, the blade is always connected to Something and always cutting.


June 2001


In push hands Wardoff and rollback on the back leg, press and push ON the front leg. Don't even apply rollback arm/elbow force until your weight is on the back leg.

Don't brace when rolling back, instead be with the other and turn it into the hips waist leg rather than bracing with the arm structure and upper torso. A key for me in this was to relax the back and the two shoulders.

Don't go over 70/30 - hold back a little, turn a little earlier.

Learn your upright line. And where your centre of gravity is. And move with confidence with the Whole body in a relaxed centred way. Give yourself full permission to move in the space around you, rather than tentatively and cringingly moving.

Iconoclastic subversive thought: Rather than avoiding 50/50 etc, perhaps try celebrating the wholeness of 50-50 the way you do in standing meditation- its also maybe a good synchro point where the posture is especially neutral and stable a good calibration point during transition. And celebrate the quickness and every day functionality of 70/30.


Push hands with ROFL side is especially difficult. Make sure you sink back onto the back leg, and always know where your stable back leg is. This means moving a little diagonally towards and sinking into the stable back leg. As you move back neutralizing, be with the person. Get your weight onto the back leg before attempting rollback. Get the weight onto the front leg before attempting push and press.

Think in and down, don't brace, move with the person.

Andrew Barry says replace the opponents centre with your own.

During push hands, even the INTENT to stay in the font leg and be solid is enough to put you at a disadvantage. Your intent must be neutral. The only intent is to be with the other person. Then, if there is a structural, positional or timing defect then you can take advantage of it.

In rollback perhaps use the arms as bumper bars whilst the bottom half looks after the precise mechanics of the weight shift to the back leg. Move with the other person without offering anything braced or hard. Practice all this in your form.

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