Beginner’s Glossary


Terms are listed alphabetically. For the most part, terms in Chinese are listed in the Wade-Giles format for Chinese spelling, followed by (pronunciation, as you will hear terms used in class) and [Pinyin] style spelling. The source of each definition is indicated by (number), which corresponds to the list of Sources on page 3.

AOL: Always One Leg; a reminder always to sink down 100% weighted in one leg

Breath: should be long, fine, quiet, and slow (2, 6); in and out through the nose (3)

Ch’en [chen]: to sink; to become more stable by emptying the strength from your upper torso into your legs (3)

Ch’i (chee) [qi]: breath or breath energy (1, 2); vital energy (10); life force [ki (Japanese), prana (Sanskrit), pneuma (Greek), spiritus (Latin), élan vitale (French)] (8)

Ch’i hai (chee high) [qi hai]: Sea of ch’i (1, 2) or energy ocean; acupuncture term that corresponds with the martial term tan t’ien

Ch’i kung (chee gung) [qi gong]: vital energy work (10); cultivating ch’i (8); exercise or work of the internal energy (8), having static and moving postures. Tai chi is a sophisticated form of ch’i kung; not all forms of ch’i kung are tai chi.

Chung ting (chung ting) [zhong ding]: central equilibrium; centrally balanced and firmly rooted; the substance of tai chi (2)

Five excellences: painting, poetry, calligraphy, medicine, tai chi. Cheng Man-ch’ing was known as the “Master of Five Excellences.” (7)

Form: the Solo Exercise consisting of 37 basic postures, as distilled by Cheng Man-ch’ing in 1939 when he was director of martial arts at the Whampoa Military Academy. With repetitions, the Solo Exercise consists of about 65 postures all linked smoothly together. (3)

Grasp Sparrow’s Tail: a series of four postures (wardoff (P’eng), rollback (Lu), press (Chi), and push (An)) which form the basis of the Solo Exercise (2, 3). The series appears four times throughout the Form.

Shoulder width: the outside of your heels corresponds to the width of your shoulders when your heels are side by side.

Sung (suhng) [song]: to relax; complete relaxation (3). Not too tight, not too limp.

Tai chi (tie jee) [tai ji]: the “Supreme Ultimate” (3); a concept in Chinese philosophy denoting the evolution of the cosmos from wu chi into two antithetical forces, yin and yang. Tai chi literally means when yin and yang are in harmony. (10) The tai chi concept is represented by the familiar yin and yang circle.

Tai chi ch’uan (tie jee chwen) [tai ji quan]: Grand Ultimate Boxing (8). Its principles
are based on the traditional yin/yang philosophy. Ch’uan means fist. The written wisdom says, “Tai chi hinges entirely upon the player’s consciousness” (3) and “the mind leads the energy, the energy leads the body.”

Tai chi principles: 1) relax (sung) & sink (chen); 2) spine upright & open; 3) center leads; 4) differentiate yin & yang; 5) wrists relaxed and straight (beautiful lady’s hand) (10)

Chief Tai chi technique: sink the ch’i and the heart/mind to the tan t’ien (2, 6, 7)

Tan t’ien (don tee in) [dantian]: physical, energetic and mental center of body, located about 1.3 inches below the navel, closer to the navel than the spine (2). ‘Tan’ indicates your special elixir; ‘t’ien’ means field of cultivation. (7) Associated with ch’i hai.

Wu chi (woo jee) [wu ji]: void; nothingness. A philosophical concept describing the primordial state of the universe that gives birth to the tai chi or yin-yang polarity. (5)

Yang style lineage: Yang Lu-ch’an (founder of modern tai chi; d. 1872); Yang Chien-hou (d. 1917); Yang Cheng-fu (d. 1935); Cheng Man-ch’ing (d. 1975); Robert Smith (d. 2011); Warren Conner (10)

Yin/yang: substantial (heavy) and insubstantial (light); complimentary pairs of dynamic opposites.



1. Chen Wei-Ming. T’ai Chi Ch’uan Ta Wen, Questions and Answers on T’ai Chi Ch’uan. Translated by Benjamin Pang Jeng Lo and Robert W. Smith. Blue Snake Books, Berkeley, CA (1985)

2. Cheng Man Ch’ing. Cheng Tzu’s Thirteen Treatises on T’ai Chi Ch’uan. Translated by Benjamin Pang Jeng Lo and Martin Inn. Blue Snake Books, Berkeley, CA (1985)

3. Cheng Man-Ch’ing & Robert W. Smith. T’ai Chi, The “Supreme Ultimate” Exercise for Health, Sport, and Self-Defense. Tuttle Publishing, North Clarendon, VT (1967)

4. Ellis, Andrew; Wiseman, Nigel; Boss, Ken. Grasping the Wind. Paradigm Publications, Brookline, MA (1989)

5. Lo, Benjamin Pang Jeng; Inn, Martin; Amacker, Robert; Foe, Susan. The Essence of T’ai Chi Ch’uan: The Literary Tradition. Blue Snake Books, Berkeley, CA (2008)

6. Lowenthal, Wolfe. Gateway to the Miraculous, Further Explorations in the Tao of Cheng Man-ch’ing. Frog, Ltd., Berkeley, CA (1994)

7. Lowenthal, Wolfe. There Are No Secrets, Professor Cheng Man Ch’ing and his Tai Chi Chuan. Blue Snake Books, Berkeley, CA (1991)

8. Smith, Robert W. CHINESE BOXING — Masters and Methods. Blue Snake Books, Berkeley, CA (1990)

9. Tedeschi, Marc. Essential Anatomy For Healing & Martial Arts. Weatherhill, Boston, MA (2000)




Copyright, 2018, Warren D. Conner, all rights reserved. With special thanks to Lorie Nierenberg.