Knee Position in Cheng's Tai Chi
William C. Phillips

In Cheng Man-Ch'ing's Tai Chi, a lot of emphasis is placed on aligning the knee with the base of the toes. But why is this so important?

Mariano from Argentina asks:

"Why is it important to put the knee over the root, or base, of the toes?"

An important principle of Cheng Man-Ch'ing's Tai Chi is keeping the knee positioned directly over the bottom of the toes while in the postures. During transitions, it is ok, and often necessary, to allow the knee go past the toes, but when this happens in the postures themselves, it is considered over-extension.

There are two main types of reasons that the knee should not be allowed to extend past the toes in the postures: structural and energetic.

Structural reasons: Structurally speaking, we keep our knee aligned with the base of our toes in postures to maintain balance and front/back stability without leaning forward. If you look at yourself in any given stance and your front knee is too far forward and needs to be adjusted, this can be achieved by dropping your back knee. If you drop your back knee while keeping your weight forward, you can achieve a lower stance which should pull your front knee back and into the proper position.

Energetic reasons: With the front knee over the toes and the back knee dropped, you should have a straight line from the armpit to the side of the knee pit. This lets your spine be as true straight as it gets, and encourages the ch'i to flow more easily up the spine. Professor Cheng used to use the analogy of piling go chess pieces on top of one another, indicating that this is an ideal position of the spine.

Finally, while we are on the subject of knees, it's important, no matter what style of Tai Chi you practice, to never allow your knees to hurt. In Cheng's Tai Chi, we keep the front knee straight over the base of the toes and not tilted to the inside. This is not only correct form, but should help avoid knee injuries.

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In T'ai Chi,


William C. Phillips began his study of the martial arts in 1965. He currently holds a 7th degree black belt in Karate, and a 5th degree black belt in Ju Jitsu. He began his studies of Tai Chi in l967, studying with Prof. Cheng Man-Ch'ing from '70-'75. He became the most junior student ever to become a teacher in Cheng Man Ch'ing's New York school, the Shr Jung. Sifu Phillips became interested in the field of holistic health in the early 1970's, when a lifelong allergy problem was alleviated with Chinese herbal medicine. Since then, he has studied widely in that field as well. Sifu Phillips is available for seminars, lectures and demonstrations. He has produced two very successful Tai Chi DVDs, and is currently working on a book on Tai Chi form and a third DVD.For more information...

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