Martial Tai Chi™

Martial Training Association

De-mystifying the Mysterious

The Six Harmonies

(3 external + 3 internal)

correct posture

The Three External Harmonies (san wai he) are the nuts and bolts of posture:

  1. Your hips harmonise with your shoulders.
  2. Your knees harmonise with your elbows.
  3. Your feet harmonise with your hands.

Your hips harmonise with your shoulders means that your shoulders be driven by your hips at all times.

Turning power is generated by the turning of your hips, and your shoulders should follow them. Basically if you are shifting your weight onto your right leg, then your whole torso, as a unit, should also turn right. If your weight is shifting on to your left leg, you should turn your whole torso to the left. The turn commences once your weight has passed the half way mark, the new weight-bearing leg taking more and more weight as you turn. Typically, you would open your right hip fold (kua) prior to shifting your weight on to your right leg, then close it as you turn your body. Your limbs would follow the turning of your body. We would also typically turn in the toes of the rear foot when turning so that no part of the body was left behind and your entire body power was committed to the new direction.

Your knees harmonise with your elbows means that your elbows often stay directly over your knees. When your feet and hands move, your knees and elbows should move with them. For a more detailed explanation see "Timing" below. Another way that the elbows and knees can be thought to harmonise is that when the body coils or shrinks the stance might close - the knees, in line with the legs, turning inwards from the hip joints. At the same time, the upper body might also adopt a shrunk posture - the elbows moving inwards at the same time as the knees. When the body expands, the knees might turn out and the elbows might do likewise.

Your feet harmonise with your hands means that you should point your toes at your target, pivoting on the heels for maximum power and keeping the feet flat to the floor. For example if your right hand is pushing straight forwards, the toes of your right foot should also point forwards. If your right hand is delivering a sideways (hook) punch towards your left, your right toes should also point to your left. Your lead hand is often held directly over your lead foot. Your feet and hands should also "arrive together" (move at exactly the same time).

While turning power is generated by your hips, pushing power is first generated by your feet and legs. As well as intiating all of your movements, weight shifting should continue throughout every movement. Whenever you perform a forehand movement with a given hand, the foot on that side of your body should push against the ground to shift your weight (substantiality) over onto your opposite leg. Avoid rising up - try to translate that push into purely horizontal movement, staying sunk deep into your stance. When your weight crosses the half way mark, you will also turn your torso in the direction of the weighted leg as your weight continues to increase on that leg. The movement finishes when 100% of your weight reaches that leg. Whenever you perform a backhand movement, the opposite foot will push against the ground, bringing your weight onto the same side leg. You will also turn your torso as a firm unit towards the weighted leg once your weight crosses the half way stage. Whatever it is doing, any arm in use will twist continuously throughout the entire movement process. This is the key to good basic body mechanics within these styles.


The precise timing of movements depends on the level of structural integrity throughout your posture - you should employ a generally firmer body state for long, smooth power release techniques such as throws, and a softer body state for short, abrupt movements such as strikes. For the former, the limbs move very much in unison. The legs push the arms into place from the ground upwards, but because the muscles are switched on just enough to prevent any structural collapse, the body appears to move as a unit - there is no time delay between the upper and lower portions of the body. For short power release, each joint in the chain is allowed to compress, giving the next muscle group time to generate additional momentum. This results in a short time delay between the individual muscles of the legs and arms, though the entire body still ceases moving at the exact same moment: "the foot and the fist arrive together" and "when one part moves, the whole body moves" should be seen as universals. The best way to understand this is that in actual combat, the body, by and large, appears to move fairly similarly for either kind of power release - the difference is often too subtle to see - but the muscle state and precise timing of engagement occurring inside the body is different. Another factor that makes the time delay or undulation harder to see is when the direction of force is running lengthways through the body and limbs as opposed to travelling through the space around it (e.g. in the case of a straight punch contrasting with a hook punch).

This potential difference in timings actually presents the fighter with an entire spectrum of movement options depending on the desired result. The shorter the power release, the more surface damage may be caused, the longer the release, the more the opponent is likely to be pushed in the striking direction. Additionally, it is possible, with practice, to deliver a short power strike that transforms into a long power push, providing the fighter has not committed all of his or her body mechanics to the initial impact. Conversely, a long power strike can stop suddenly to attempt to deliver a shock wave of impact that penetrates the opponent's body so far and then goes no deeper (some practitioners place great emphasis on this, though I'm personally rather dubious as to how much "internal disruption" can be caused in this way and how reliable the method is).

Hopefully this explanation has gone some way to clearing up why it is said that the portions of the body "harmonise" rather than simply moving together. Harmony means that the body sections should connect to each other in the optimum way for the desired result and this is variable.

The Three Internal Harmonies (san nei he) are:

  1. Your spirit or "emotional mind" (xin) harmonises with your intention (yi)
  2. Your intention harmonises with your breath and physical momentum ("qi")
  3. Your breath and physical momentum harmonise with your physical strength (li)

For a more detailed explanation please see my article on the Plum website. You can also view the film below (taken from our Taiji Concepts DVD) for an in-depth examination of the three internal harmonies.

xingyiquan DVD
Martial Tai Chi™