The Thirteen Postures
As I was taught, the Five Steps are the primary patterns the body follows when moving through space. They are not specific techniques of stepping (although variations of footwork methods are included), they are directions.
Qian Jin (forward advance) refers to either stepping or transferring the weight directly forward.
Hou Tui (rearward retreat) refers to stepping or shifting your weight backward.
Zuo Gu You Pan (gaze left, look right) refers to stepping or shifting the weight toward your right or left side (usually at an angle).
Zhong Ding (central stability) refers to keeping the centerline of your body stable as you rotate around the central axis.
Strategically, the steps are oriented on an eight point compass (with the cardinal directions and “corners”), or with the eight points of the Ba Gua diagram. The steps can be combined so that you can move in one of eight directions. For example, when facing off with an opponent, he is standing directly N of you. If you move directly forward toward the N, it is “Forward Advance,” moving directly to the rear is “Rearward Retreat”… Moving to the “corners” (NE, NW, SE, SW) at a 45 degree angle is a combination of either Forward Advance/Rearward Retreat and Gaze Left/Look Right.
Turning around your central axis occurs no matter where you step or how you shift your weight, so Zhong Ding is a constant. When the steps are combined, you can step or shift the weight in any direction and maintain stability.
The importance of understanding the Five Steps and their directions is that the directional strategy of technique is “encoded” in the solo forms. All of the traditional Taijiquan forms are constructed around the Bagua or eight-point pattern. Every step in the form follows either the cardinal points or one of the corners. The direction the body moves in the form tells the practitioner from which angle that particular technique is to be applied in a fight.
The four primary energies of Taijiquan are “Peng” (energy rising), “Lu” (energy moving to the rear), “Ji” (energy moving forward) and “An” (energy moving downward). “An” is usually translated as “push” (in Chinese it is the common verb for pushing down on a button for example) and describes force that moves in a downward direction. Many people that practice Taijiquan will refer to a forward shove or “uproot” as “An,” when these kinds of techniques should properly be referred to as “Tui” (“to push” as in Tui Shou or pushing hands).
The “Four Directions” (Si Zheng) are the four primary methods of generating force (up, down, forward and backward). They are done in specific directions. The “Four Corners” (Si Ou) are technical applications, Plucking, Rending, Elbowing and Body Striking (“Kao” is more properly translated as “body striking” and can be applied with any part of the torso, including the head, not only with the shoulder. It is a technical application, not a set direction of force). These Four Directions are just labels used to describe the particular directions of the force. Also, there is a certain type of force associated with each that has proven to be most efficient in those directions.
All power in Taijiquan is supposed to come from the force of the whole body used in a coordinated unit (the broader meaning of “Peng Jing”). Using the force in different vectors and speeds is what gives rise to the various names used to describe the variations of the force. So when a Taijiquan practitioner refers to the force of “Ji,” he is referring to whole body power used a specific way in a specific direction.
“Split” is the energy of opening the front of the body and moving the arms in opposite directions. It is used very often in joint-locking and throwing techniques. The effect is “coupling,” movements in opposite directions that causes a rotation around a central point (like turning a ([like] steering a wheel).
Closing movements in opposite directions causes a “squeezing” type of force and is akin to “Ji,” or pressing.
“Cai” is plucking energy, a sharp inward jerking force.
“Lu” is rollback energy, taking force around your sides toward the rear.
“Peng” is energy that rises upward and away from your body.
Any technique in Taijiquan can be done with either (or both) hands to either side of the body.