The Magical Line

by Sun Zhonghua on 2011/09/27

Chen Style Taijiquan Practical Method pays a great deal of attention to the lines on the human body. No matter in the performance of the routines, or in push hands, the body will naturally form energy lines. Some lines are formed quite naturally while others are formed gradually only after specialized training.

If one does not know about these lines and does not know how to utilize these line, one does not know taiji. It will be impossible to practice the routines correctly and to improve push hands abilities.

Center Line

When a person stands up, a line is formed from the top of his body to the the bottom of his body. This is the center line. In general terms, a person turns the body by revolving on this center line. The martial adage says, “The head must be upright, body twisted, top and bottom one line.” is a perfect analogy for the taiji center line requirement. As the central axis for body vertical rotation, this line cannot bend or twist. Therefore we have the saying “suspended head”, tuck in the botucks, and body straight, when practicing the routines and push hands. Otherwise, when rotating the body will be unstable without a centered axis. The old saying, “A student with protruding bottucks and bent back shows that the teacher is not skilled.” talks about this point. My friends, do not believe for a minute that you can do it because it is so clearly laid out in front of you. If you pay some attention, you will notice that many people including some famous masters practice the routines with protruding bottucks.

On the other hand, if you can use your center line as the axis to let your opponent revolve around you and throw him out with the cutting line, you are using your center line correctly. In pushing hands, the center line is the vital point of attack. Correct attack can rock his center. If you take a look a the human body accupuncture chart, you will see that all the meridian lines connect to this center line. This is why not only in Taijiquan but also in all other martial art systems, the center line is always the first choice.

人 Shaped Line

In addition to the center line, another two lines can be produced through specialized training. These two line start from the top and split into two at the lower reach. It looks like the shape of the Chinese character 人. Sometimes it looks like a reversed version like 丫. The top of this line can be on the head, the shoulder, the dantian, the waist or the kua. Either of the two lines can be used as the axis. But the two lines cannot be used as axis at the same time because that would be “double heavy”. The magic in using this 人 line is the switching of the axis from one line to the other, for example, switching from the left line to the right line in order to throw the opponent out. I have personally seen Mr. Chen Zhonghua skillfully use the switching of these two lines to throw opponents. I call this technique “Two line switches”. Chen Zhonghua replied with a laugh that, “You have a name for it now!”

Energy Line

Another line is very important in Practical Method. For example, when issuing long power to attach the opponent, one’s own power must stay on one straight line. To be more precise, one’s own front hand and rear foot must form a straight line. But the human physiology makes this impossible to do so. Precisely because of this, the Practical Method specifies many body requirements so that the body parts can instantly form a straight line in action. At the same time, it also requires that the body parts between the front hand and the rear foot can only transmit energy, they cannot produce energy or interrupt the proper energy flow. Energy can only be issued from the rear heel. Another requirement is that the energy transmitted must be a concentrict stretching power, which means it cannot be a power of the hand and foot going to the same direction. Practical Method does not allow power of two places to go towards the same direction. I have stated in the past that “Power must have a source and must have a destination.” This is also to say that the originating and resulting power must be clear. This statement is correct but only after I learned the Practical Method from Chen Zhonghua and practiced for several years that I felt the real connotation of this statement. Since this is the key, we then must form this line when attacking the opponent. We must both form this line ourselves and interrupt the opponent from forming this line. We can also utilize the line formed by the opponent. We can also say that in general practice, the line does not have to be straight and does not have to originate from the rear foot, it can be a curved line and stop at any point. As long as the requirement for issuing and transmitting power is met, the energy line is set. We are not getting into details here.

Response Line

There is another kind of line, which is an energy line for the issuer but for the reciepient, it is a line in response to the oncoming power. As it is a line caused by the response to power, we call it “Response Line”. In dealing with oncoming power, the Practical Method requires the body to form a straight line to transmit the power to the rear foot and then to the ground. No matter how great the oncoming power is, it will disappear into thin air. In push hands, there are various energy changes under complex conditions. And the complexity of the body physiology will cause a miriad of these response lines. They can be long, short, straight and crooked. They can be two-dimensional (on one plane) or three-dimensional (in real physical space). For example, they can be on the shoulders, back or side of the torso. We should use our observation skills and experience to ascertain the position of the opponent’s “response lines” so that we know where to attack. We can also force the “response line” onto a certain part of the opponent’s body. Once achieved, success is instant. There are also other “lines” that we will discuss in another article.

Guitar String (line)

Of all the lines we discussed above, which one is the line to attack? We recommend you to hit the line in the middle. According to the law of geometry, when you hit the middle, the power on the two ends is larger than your original force. The longer the line, the greater the two forces created. It can even be multiples of your original force. When used properly, your two fingers can cause the opponent to bounce out. 50 pounds of power can create several hundreds of pounds. The martial result is obvious. I call this “Guitar string line”. The theory is not difficult to understand as we have learned enough in middle school already. Even if you have not studies this, as long as you know it is useful, it is adequate for you. Sometimes we are not accurate when attacking the middle of the “guitar string line”. As long as we can hit the line, a bit of inaccuracy does not matter (it won’t work only when you miss the guitar string). According to the laws governing parallelograms, the two forces created will not be equal but will be adquate enough to defeat the opponent. Highly skilled masters will sometimes miss the point intentionally so as to use the larger force for attack. I personally cannot do this yet. Grandmasters such as Chen Fake and Hong Junsheng, and today’s Chen Zhonghua can do this, and they can do so without any effort.

Masters with real skill could issue opponents in ways defy Newton’s Law of physics. Here I like to remind readers that in order for the “guitar string line” to take effect, one must first of all, fix the two end of the line. This is also called that you must first “harmonize with the opponent”. When attacking the “guitar string line”, one must keep the “harmony”. Not one movement is allowed. If one thing moves, the opponent is released. This is just like the strings on the guitar, only when the strings are tightly fixed can music be made. In another word, all lines must have strength and tension to be used as leverage points, axis or guitar strings. How are the strength and tension created? It is concentric stretching, compression and spirals. As for the line, the straighter the line the high level of quality and more powerful.

The above are all “lines”. If some people don’t believe in the importance of the lines, I hope my words here can help.


{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Allan Belsheim September 29, 2011 at 6:28 am

Thanks for the translation – as usual a very excellent article clearly explaining fundamental principles.


don mcgrath September 29, 2011 at 2:38 pm

Great article would love to see some illustrations on the lines


Carlos Hanson September 30, 2011 at 2:59 pm

Thank you for this article and its translation. I found it very clear and enjoyed discussing it with one of my students. I haven’t really stopped thinking about it.

I thought about a stick, one hard and one soft. The hard one looks like it will always keep its Center Line, but when bent, the Center Line is broken and the stick breaks. The soft stick can be bent and still rotate around its center. Even while bent the Center Line is not broken.

If you fix the two ends of each stick like a Guitar String, pushing the center of the hard stick will cause it to break. It has no elasticity. The soft stick, on the other hand, will feel the increased force, but have some ability to resist it through its elasticity. If it can then rotate on its center while bent, it has the advantage.

It is easy to see that if you take each stick and poke it straight into a wall, the hard stick will transmit the energy more easily along the Energy Line because nothing moves. The soft stick will lose its poking power as it bends. However, more power through the hard stick may cause it to break while the soft stick will not. If the soft stick can be made hard while using its poking power, it will transmit the power to the wall without breaking, since it still has its elasticity.
How does the soft stick become hard? Stretch.


Kelvin Ho September 30, 2011 at 3:00 pm

In the last Toronto workshop (Sep 22-25, 2011), these lines all of a sudden were starting to appear in front of my eyes as I watched Master Chen’s demonstrations of the moves (pardon my use of the term, I know that we are supposed to rotate, and not move). The feeling was very exciting and indeed magical. I hope that this is like riding a bicycle, once you know how to detect the lines (ride a bicycle), you won’t forget.


Su Lei October 3, 2011 at 5:06 pm

I will try to find these lines!


James Tam February 23, 2013 at 9:12 pm

Which type of line (the energy line or the response line) is being referred to with respect to “hit the line” in the following sentence of the article?
“Of all the lines we discussed above, which one is the line to attack? We recommend you to hit the line in the middle.”


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