10 Essentials – #4 Separate Empty and Full

The 10 essentials are as follows:

1 – Empty, lively, pushing up and energetic

2 – Hold in the chest, pull up the back

3 – Relax the waist

4 – Separate empty and full

5 – Sink the shoulders and droop the elbows

6 – Use intent rather than force

7 – Synchronize upper and lower body

8 – Match up inner and outer

9 – Continuous, without interruption

10 – Seek the stillness in motion


#4 – Separate empty and full


This essential is often referred to substantial and insubstantial.

The physical understanding of this essential is fairly straight forward. When you have the majority of your weight on one leg, that leg is full or substantial thus the other leg is insubstantial or “empty.” When someone pushes you on your left shoulder you allow that shoulder to empty which thus makes your right side full (and you issue your strike from this source). Being rooted makes your lower body substantial and thus your upper body becomes insubstantial and thus soft and fluid like. Mastering this essential physically allows the player to neutralize and issue energy at all times regardless of the situation. Push hands is the preferred training methodology to master this essential.

Energetically this essential might be a little harder to master.

Think of the last time you got into an argument. There was probably a lot of energy transferred back and forth between yourself and the other “player”. This is energetic double weighted-ness and thus a NO-NO in taiji. We must learn to use the same principles as we did physically. We learn to become insubstantial when psychic or auditory energy is thrown at us and then we issue that same energy (plus maybe a bit of our own) when we reply. After all we cannot have yin without yang now, can we?

The mastery of empty and full is in the conscious recognition of the situation and the conscious and correct application of the principle.

Food for thought. Understand that empty and full can only be relative truths. Meaning, that you will never be completely empty or completely full as symbolically detailed with the small circles in the Yin Yang symbol. Embrace this truth and learn to work with it.

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