Martial Art Philosophy principle taiji

Taiji Diagram and Yang Style

by Mei Ying Sheng Translated by Ted W. Knecht


In Yang Chengfu’s book entitled Applications of Taijiquan, there is a section which states that “the meaning of the Taiji diagram is in the production of Yin and Yang; the mutual relation between hardness and softness; and the changing nature of all things; Taijiquan originates out of this concept”. The Taiji Classics state that “when expanding and contracting, one must never depart from Taiji”; “the fist is a small Dao and Taiji is the great Dao”; and “to arrive at emptiness and lightness, all arises out of the Taiji diagram”. From inspection of the various Taijiquan classics, one can see the preeminence of the Taiji diagram with regard to the practice and application of Taijiquan. The ancient principles of the Taiji diagram have greatly influenced the way in which we practice the Yang style. That term “Taiji” is used in both the martial art of Taijiquan and the diagram was not a matter of coincidence; in fact, Taijiquan was born out of the Taiji diagram. Consequently, we need to return the original high status of the Taiji diagram back into the principles and applications of Taijiquan.

The Composition of the Taiji Diagram

The Taiji diagram is designed after the sphere. There are two symmetrical tear-drop shapes within the sphere. These tear drop shapes are known as the Yin Fish and the Yang Fish. Dividing the two fish within this sphere is an S-shaped line. The black colored side is the Yin fish and the white colored side is the Yang fish (Figure 1). Using the Yin fish side of the Taiji diagram as an example, we follow the outside portion of the diagram from B on Figure 2 in a clockwise manner up to A on the diagram. This arcing line traces out the back and tail of the Yin fish. Tracing out the Yin fish from B to C in a counterclockwise manner, we trace out the head of the Yin fish. Finally, moving clockwise along the Yin fish from C to A, we trace out the abdomen and tail of the fish. An “eye” of opposite color is drawn in the two fish to represent the notion that within Yin there is Yang and within Yang there is Yin. From the drawing of the Taiji diagram, we can come to realize the idea behind the saying in Lao Zi’s Daodejing: “The Dao produced the one, the one produced the two, the two produced the three, and the three produced all natural things. All things carry Yin and hold to Yang. Their blended influence brings harmony.”

The Common Characteristics of the Taiji Diagram

The Taiji diagram is one of China’s cultural and philosophical treasures born out of a long and rich history. Since the beginning of the philosophical thought of Taiji more than several thousand years ago, there have been numerous groups and individuals who have taken the Taiji diagram as their trademark. Examples include traditional Chinese medicine, qigong, traditional Chinese religions, and others. In fact, the Taiji diagram has become a symbol of China’s ancient civilization. Even outside of China the Taiji diagram has become a very popular symbol to many. Examples include the use of it as trademark for an international publishing company, an element in the flags of South Korea and Mongolia; and a part of the insignia of the Singapore air force. By far the group that has used the Taiji diagram the most would be the Chinese martial arts. And within the Chinese martial arts, the art which is most directly related to the diagram is Taijiquan. The Taiji diagram is directly related to the art of Taijiquan both internally and externally. In fact, it can be said that the Taiji diagram is the precursor of Taijiquan’s theory and application.

Special Characteristics between the Taiji Diagram and Taijiquan

Life is represented by the motion of the circle. The Taiji diagram takes the circle to be its shape. The circle is simple in shape and stable in form. It is lively and natural and can change with ease. Because the resistance of a sphere is minimal, its ability to disperse force is great. The sun, Earth, moon, and stars are in the shape of a sphere. A rock that has been eroded into a stream will gradually become rounded and circular in shape due to the processes of nature. It erodes toward the path of least resistance. The image of a sphere is both natural and harmonious. The Taiji diagram uses an S-shaped line to divide the circle into two parts. This symmetrical separation is stable, balanced, and natural. Like humans and all other living things, the external shape of the body has a symmetrical left and right side. The beauty of the human body is due to its rounded or arc-shaped symmetrical composition. In terms of Taijiquan’s theory of motion and application, there is a top and a bottom and a left and a right. The postures of Taijiquan stress the need for symmetrical balance. This rounded character of Taijiquan is a typical manifestation of China’s artistic heritage. Taijiquan’s natural beauty is brought about due to its circular character. The Yin and Yang fish which signify the Liang Yi (Two Bearings) of Yin and Yang represent the common character of all natural things. All things within the universe can be divided into two large categories of Yin and Yang. The form, change, and development of all things can be placed within the cycle of Yin and Yang. From the relationship of the Liang Yi contained within the Taiji diagram, we see that “the Yin polarity creates Yang and the Yang polarity creates Yin”; and that “a single Yin cannot form Yin and a single Yang cannot form Yang.” “One is needed to produce the other”. Lao Zi said that “all things carry Yin and hold to Yang.” The Yellow Emperor’s Internal Classics state that “Yin and Yang are the way of heaven and earth, the web of all things, the mother and father of change, and the originators of birth and death.” The theory of Taijiquan encompasses the changing processes of the antagonistic character of Yin and Yang as representing movement and stillness, opening and closing, hardness and softness, yielding and issuing, substantial and insubstantial, as well as many others. It sees the universe as a large Taiji and the individual as a small Taiji. By bringing together the universal and individual Taiji spheres during the practice of Taijiquan, a boxing style was created with a profound sense of meaning and theory. Spiral motion is a very high level form of movement or exercise. There exists an S-shaped line between the two Yin and Yang fish of the Taiji diagram. From the side view of the diagram, the S-shaped line appears in the form of a wave and from the top view it appears in the shape of a spiral. These two shapes contain the overall developmental steps found in the universe and within the human body. The natural rotation of the earth, the growth of a sprouting plant, the coiling of a snake, and the rotation of a car tire are all based upon the law of motion found in the movement of a spiral. Even though the reeling silk movements of Yang style are not as obvious as those of the Chen style, the naturally harmonious reeling silk movements of Yang style will give the over 650 muscles found within the body a very beneficial workout and massage. This reeling silk motion will improve the quality of muscle strength that is commonly required in daily life. Only one third of our muscles are used in daily life.

Taijiquan Postures in Relation to the Taiji Symbol

Yang style Taijiquan is an upright, full, and rounded style and has an artistically beautiful flavor produced from the regulation of the Taiji diagram. Just as Yang Chengfu once said, “no matter what the posture or movement is there must be large circles, small circles, or half circles, and the steps must be based on emptiness and fullness; all of which are manifestations of the Taiji diagram.” The author will use the first few postures from the traditional Yang style long routine based on Fu Zhongwen’s book (Yang Style Taijiquan) as examples of how each movement must trace out the Taiji fish. For convenience in describing the following postures only the right hand will be used to illustrate this phenomenon. “Commence Taiji (Qishi)”: The movement will be observed from the right side of the body as the right hand begins to move in an upward motion. The right arm moves up to shoulder height while tracing out the outside portion of the tail and back of the Taiji fish. The elbow sinks down while carrying the palm down in a pressing manner to the front of the right hip. The motion of the hand moves in an S shaped fashion tracing out the head, abdomen, and the inside portion of the tail.

From this side view of the commencing form of Taijiquan, one can see the hands pass along the tail, back, head, abdomen, and to the tail again. In this way, the hands trace out a precise drawing of the Yin and Yang “fish”. “Left Wardoff (Zuo Peng)”: Upon completion of the commencing posture, the right hand follows the turning of the body along the front of the abdomen while gradually moving up to the front of the right chest. This is shown in Diagrams 3 and 4 from Fu Zhongwen’s book titled Yang Style Taijiquan. The right hand traces out a three-dimensional S-shaped line moving from the head of the Yin and Yang fish to the abdomen and then to the tail. Following, the right hand makes an arc toward the right front pulling down to the side of the right hip to trace out the back of the fish and its head (Diagram 5). “Right Wardoff (You Peng)”: After completing Left Wardoff, the right hand moves in a left-arcing motion to the front of the abdomen. This motion proceeds from the right hip to the front of the abdomen and traces out the tail and then the back of the fish. From here, the body turns to the right and at the same time the right arm conducts wardoff toward the west. This movement is controlled under the direction of the waist and spine. The classics state this by saying “the spine is the flag pole, and the arm is the flag”. This portion of the technique traces out the head to the abdomen of the Yin and Yang fish. The overall motion creates a naturally formed S-shaped line. “Rollback/Press (Lu Ji Shi)”: Continuing from Right Wardoff, the waist gradually turns to the left. The right arm spirals inward turning the palm down as it moves to the front of the left chest. This motion of the hand traces out the head, back, and tail of the fish. Following on, the body turns slightly to the right as the right arm spirals out to allow the right palm to face in toward the body. The right arm forms a horizontal arch across the front of the chest as the body shifts forward and the arms press to the front. Within this motion the right hand traces out the tail and abdomen and connects back to the head of the Yin and Yang fish. During the process of conducting Rollback and Press, one can see that the right hand traces out the head, back, tail, abdomen and finally returns to the head. “Push (An)”: Continuing from Press, the right arm spirals inward to allow the right palm to face down. Both elbows gradually sink down while carrying the palms down and back toward the front of the shoulders. Following, the palms push forward in an upward arcing manner to the front (west) with the wrist stopping at shoulder height upon completion. Within this motion, one can see the tracing of the tail, back and head and then the tracing of the abdomen and the tail. “Single Whip (Danbian)”: After completing Push, the right palm wipes toward the east. This wiping motion to the east traces out the tail and the back. The right hand turns into a hook hand and moves back toward the chest, out to the front (south) and continues to the southwest. This sweeping motion traces out the head, abdomen, and the tail of the fish. The overall motion of the right hand traces out a complete, horizontal Yin and Yang fish.

In the large frame postures of Yang style Taijiquan there is not a single movement that does not contain an arc-shaped pattern or a complete tracing of the Yin and Yang fish symbol. From the most simple lifting of the hands to the complex stepping postures, all moving sequences within the Yang style contain at least a portion of the Yin and Yang diagram and thus conforms to the principles of the Taiji Classics. A summation of Taijiquan’s overall characteristic can be stated as “Taiji is based on Pengjin energy with motion occurring in spirals.” “Pengjin energy” is the core of Taijiquan. In order to manifest pengjin energy one must regulate the limits of the muscle groups to work in coordination with each movement. These movements do not appear on the outside, but are hidden within the soft energy of the body. While under the control of the intent and qi, this energy is concentrated in certain spots within the body to be issued outward onto a target. In order to develop this type of internal strength, you must base your practice on the foundation of spiral reeling silk motion. The Taiji diagram is an image of spiraling motion. In other words, the pengjin energy of Taijiquan should be developed on the principles of the Taiji diagram. When watching a highly skilled practitioner perform each movement in Taijiquan, one should note the roundness of the postures and transitions. As the Taiji classics state “there is no point that isn’t Yin and Yang;” “the whole body becomes Taiji;” and “motion and silence is one integrated entity.” The author’s teacher, the late Fu Zhongwen, often mentioned the importance of roundness in Taijiquan. There are also a number of stationary postures within the Yang style that manifest the shape of the Yin and Yang fish symbol. Examples of postures which show this shape include “Strike Tiger Left”, “Strike Tiger Right”, and “White Crane Spreads Wings”. In all of the above stationary postures, the two arms and shoulders form the S-shaped pattern of the Taiji diagram. There is a symmetrical balance on the left and right as well as the top and bottom. “Fan Through the Arm” illustrates this shape as well. The right arm forms the head of the Yin and Yang fish; the two shoulders and left arm form the back and tail of the fish. By conforming to the principles of the Taiji diagram, the postures become rounded and full of energy. No matter if we speak of the internal principles of Taijiquan or the external shape of its postures, both originate out of the Taiji diagram. Since the time of the Northern and Southern Liang (502 AD to 557 AD) up to the present 20th century instruction by Yang Chengfu, most transmitters of Taijiquan based their teachings on the theory of the Taiji diagram. However, due to the profound nature of the Taiji diagram, it has not been easy for people to comprehend. During the last half of this century due to the changing culture, people have made the Taiji diagram a symbol for religion or a sign of feudalist thought. This has caused many people to mistakenly take the highly philosophical and advanced martial art of Taijiquan to be just a common form of sport. And so, the author asks, should Taijiquan become only a sport that strives to win gold medals? The main intent for writing this article is to bring attention back to the original meaning of the Taiji diagram and Taijiquan as well as the rich cultural tradition of ancient China. In addition, it is hoped that we can utilize the great achievements from the ancient past to expand and develop our own present knowledge for the benefit of Taijiquan. This article is by no means a complete discussion on the theory of the Taiji diagram in relation to Taijiquan. It is just a way for the reader to become more acquainted with the depth of such a topic.


Fu, Zhongwen, “Yang Style Taijiquan (Yang Shi Taijiquan)”, People’s Sports Publishing Company, 1982.
Yang, Chengfu, “Applications of Taijiquan (Taijiquan Shiyongfa)”, Wenguang Printing Press, 1931.

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