Sunday, December 18, 2011

The essence of tai-chi square form

Practitioners of tai-chi may have heard about the square-form (方拳) of tai-chi. My understanding is that it was first developed by late Wu-style lineage Master Wu GongYi (吳公儀) and was later better popularized by late Wu-Cheng style Grandmaster Cheng TianHung (鄭天熊). Of course, I might be wrong about the origin, but the interesting thing is that both Masters had competed in the ring, and with good results (which was quite unusual for tai-chi masters of those days, or even nowadays)! Unlike general workout that most tai-chi enthusiasts practise nowadays, ring combat requires more power-training, in addition to other strenuous workout regimes.

The question is: How is the square form related to power generation, if at all?

The physics of punching dictates that a strong power needs two things to accomplish: firstly, a strong structure and secondly, an effective power generation mechanism. And I shall use punching as an example.

The answer to the above question is, in a nutshell, the square form can help building a stronger structure as well as allowing a practitioner to feel the internal path of power transmission in the body.

The square form requires a practitioner to freeze momentarily between each single movement. And therefore sometimes it looks rather robot-like. The "negative" aspect to do the square form is that it is rather difficult to sustain the chi (and of course, the proper requirement is "to sustain one's chi despite having to stop momentarily between single movements"). Actually from the outward appearance, it really doesn't look like "doing tai-chi"!

But what is the benefit of having to stop momentarily between each movement? Or a better question will be: What should a practitioner do or pay attention to when he stops momentarily between movement?

The answer is he has to finely adjust his joints (in particular his ball-and-socket shoulder and hip joints) to the correct positions (together with mind point-focus) during the "freezing" moment. Then he should subtly redirect his chi at the required points of his joints (again in particular his ball-and-socket joints), so that a strong structure is set up. And in the next movement, he can then subtly direct his chi to deliver better power (i.e. better power transmission) WITH a more aligned stronger structure. With good practice of the square-form, power can be delivered naturally.

PS: As with other tai-chi (or meditation) explanations, it is oftentimes difficult to explain in writing: because most things happened inside one's body, and these things are "managed" primarily by a practitioner's mind!


  1. From what I saw the square form in Wu-Cheng lineage is taught first. I also started with it. The explanation given was that in that way it is easier for you to memorize the sequence from one side and this allows your teacher to correct your posture and stance on every single movement on the other. No directing chi, no power generation.
    Actually when a person is a newcomer to tai chi even simple pushing hands drills as Four Directions or Seven Stars step look too complicated, at least it was for me.
    Two people transferred the style in UK, then Europe, with its full 5 component syllabus – Dan Docherty and Ian Cameron.
    What Ian sais for the square form :
    1. The first form, called the Square Form, is taught to beginners. All of the movements in this form are performed to a fixed count which helps beginners remember the movements and keep in time during group practice.
    2. The second form is the Round Form. This is taught after the square form has been learnt. The movements are smoother, more flowing and do not rely on a fixed count.
    When you are taught to write, you first learn the shapes of the individual letters, and the style of writing is akin to printing. Only once that has been mastered, do you move on to "joined-up" writing. This parallels the square and round forms
    Used source:
    On the other hand this article of Dan looks interesting, discovering more of Wu-Cheng style :, together with the intro to his short forms on youtube :


  2. Thanks for sharing your learning experience with us here...

  3. The square form was created by Wu KamChuen (Chien Chuan), it's still practiced by decedents.

  4. Thanks for your input. Wu KamChuen was the father of Wu GongYi. I believe that practicing tai-chi as a square form (or a hybrid of square/round) is a great insight, and will be beneficial for all tai chi styles. My approach is that square form should not be practiced only as a beginner form (beginner should focus more on chi-generation).


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