Take the 2-minute tour ×
Martial Arts Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for students and teachers of all martial arts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

What does it mean to "uproot" someone in tai chi? What do tai chi practitioners mean when they use this word? I can tell there's a specific meaning to this jargon, but can't identify it. I see the term used to imply simply off-balancing:

cutting the root to disrupt balance

but also as a synonym for "defeat", "throw" or "project", and "lift". Is the transliteration this simple? What Chinese terminology are we reflecting here, and has that kanji changed in meaning since it was used in the taiji classics?

share|improve this question

7 Answers 7

Someone who is "rooted" to the ground is difficult to move or control and can use this property to move and control others more easily. It's all about body structure. Here is a video of a short demonstration of being rooted.

Uprooting someone is when you break their connection to the ground or the structure that connects them to the ground so that they become easy to move or control. Uprooting is what you do to remove their connection, then you can throw, lock, etc. Here are some examples.

share|improve this answer

Being rooted means having a stable center of gravity (CoG).

Uprooting someone means to go under their CoG and take control of it. Once that is done, defeat, throw, project, lift are just possible courses to follow.

This answer to a question about a seated Daito-Ryu technique makes allusion to it even by the wording used - the teacher takes control of the uke's root. This other answer to the same question splits the concept (for the purposes of that particular question) into the first two bullet points.

There are many ways to uproot someone, depending on the situation - but it comes down to controlling the CoG.

share|improve this answer
I didn't see the word "root" used in the first link...? And for the second link, are you saying that uprooting means "unbalancing" and "locking"? –  Dave Liepmann May 26 '12 at 17:08
Yep. It is that simple. –  Ho-Sheng Hsiao May 26 '12 at 22:25
@Ho-ShengHsiao So, unbalancing and locking, or unbalancing or locking? Or are they somehow the same thing and I'm not getting it? (If it takes more than a sentence or so, your own answer would help.) :) –  Dave Liepmann May 26 '12 at 22:45
IMO "uprooting" doesn't mean just "lifting" (i.e., under CoG) it means breaking the connection to root; this can come from twisting, pushing to the triangle, etc. Your own phrase "controlling the CoG" hints at precisely that--it has more to do with control of CoG than getting under it. –  Dave Newton May 28 '12 at 21:33
@DaveNewton I need you to explain your point further. Please create your own answer! –  Trevoke May 28 '12 at 23:26

This answer is in reply to @Dave Liepmann's query, and is in support of Trevoke's answer. No need to upvote this one.

Dave Liepmann asked, "So, unbalancing and locking, or unbalancing or locking?"

This is a common way to frame this concept. When your body has not learned this stuff, your mind wants to put this into neat boxes because the underlying principle is still too abstract.

This isn't the full explanation, but it will do for now: Every human being has structure underlying their bodies and mind. The structure that underly the human body is the skeleton; the structure that underly the human mind is the ego (learned self). Disruption of the structure is what allows a weaker person to defeat a stronger person: you don't fell a mighty tree by toppling it from the top.

Uprooting is one tactic by which someone disrupts structure (by undermining the person's power base). Locking is one tactic by which someone disrupts structure (through unexpected and/or painful manipulation of structure). They are different, yet they are the same.

Disrupting "balance" is an many-layered inside-joke whose first layer of meaning refers to "kicking someone out of their comfort zone." Falling is one of the two basic fear instincts wired into the human body since birth. When we feel we are in free-fall (aka, "unbalanced"), we tend to instinctively and immediately try to stop falling. For the untrained, this instinct is powerful enough to override higher-brain function. By undermining or manipulating someone's structure in a way to trigger this instinct, that person will be so busy trying to right himself that he will not notice what you are really doing.

And some art derive their entire art from falling (and rolling out of falls).

This is also why, one way or another, all combat-effective traditional arts spend so much time on body structure. (Why would you give your enemy a broken structure? Well ... ) You learn the right way to carry yourself; you learn how to disrupt structure by experiencing your weakness.

This goes much, much deeper. (For example, why did Cheng Man-ch'ing say, "Invest in loss?") If you want the full explanation, you'll need understand what Sun Tzu, Musashi, and Col. John Richard Boyd were saying in common.

share|improve this answer
Someone once said on Bullshido that Chinese martial art is a bunch of sucker punches. That's high praise. –  Ho-Sheng Hsiao Jun 2 '12 at 2:48
The reason this will "do" for now: if you create these rigid boxes in your mind to understand the art of strategy, those become structure easily exploitable by someone who wants to take advantage. –  Ho-Sheng Hsiao Jun 2 '12 at 2:51
Great answer. I specially liked the parallel between physical and mental structures. –  Roland Tepp Jun 6 '12 at 11:34

This question is specifically about uprooting in tai chi chuan. "All strength comes from the ground". Your CoG is less important than your peng path or ground strength vector. As I said in other posts it's not a mystical experience it's a mechanical process - see for example the articles here http://ismag.iay.org.uk/.

To uproot someone means to disrupt the efficient resultant vector from their feet upwards. It's often associated with "cai" - to pluck - one of the classic 8 methods of tai chi chuan and can refer to a downward force as well.
I'm a tai chi guy who started in jujitsu (Nihon Shorinji Kempo) and it's not at all the same as base. I would say they are analogous but the differences are non-trivial. I'm not one of these neijia guys who says neijia are better. But they are different.

share|improve this answer
I'm not sure what your issue is, but I don't see anything wrong either about Dave's edit. –  Matt Chan Nov 29 '12 at 3:25

When you are well-rooted in Tai Chi you not only have good balance but your joints are unlocked and muscles relaxed. This gives the illusion that you are literally "rooted to the ground" because of the ability to absorb energy into the legs without moving of the feet.

A simple and visible uprooting is when someone is knocked off their feet.

A slightly more subtle uprooting is when they have to move their feet to respond to an attack.

The ultimate in uprooting subtlety is when they have not yet had to move their feet but they have lost that softness in their body - they are like a tree not yet removed from the earth but no longer anchored, as if all the soil around its roots had been taken away.

share|improve this answer

The traditional taiji answer is that uprooting your opponent means breaking their connection with the ground that is created by having chi flowing smoothly through them from the sky into the ground.

share|improve this answer
The trouble with this answer is it doesn't give any better understanding of what uprooting actually means and how it can be seen or felt. I think answers like this are often from misunderstandings or misinterpretations of ancient Chinese manuals, which themselves talk in cryptic ways, perhaps intentionally. In-person transmission is required for these kinds of topics, because clearly this sort of traditional mumbo-jumbo language fails us. –  Steve Weigand Jan 10 at 23:40
@SteveWeigand This is the literal meaning of uprooting and also how it can be seen and felt (having your connection to the ground broken can be felt). It isn't metaphoric language for something unusual. "Mumbo-jumbo" language only fails for people who lack the experience. If you've never gone swimming and you ask me what it feels like, telling you swimming is difficult and tiring even though you feel lighter doesn't help you understand swimming. You need the experience. –  sirdank Jan 12 at 17:04
Great, so show the chi moving from the sky to your head, then from your head to the ground. And publish that in a peer reviewed scientific journal and get back to me. It's not a metaphor, you say. So it must be real. If it is real, it shouldn't be hard to get your article published. –  Steve Weigand Jan 12 at 18:58
@SteveWeigand I've had many discussions on similar topics. The challenge that English likes to define things by our language, while the Chinese prefer to define their language by things. The Tai'Chi masters identified something useful that they could feel, and all agreed upon a term for it. You were expected to learn and grow as a master taught you what uprooting meant. Contrast that to English, where you can expect a thing to be defined by words, and you can tailor your practice to those words. –  Cort Ammon 2 days ago
No, I don't buy it. I understand that there are books about this, written in Chinese, which say things similar to what Sridank wrote. But I also understand that authors of cryptic stuff like this aren't going to tell you anything you don't already know. Ie, you either know it already, and it makes sense to you, or you don't know it, and the text makes no sense to you. I understand uprooting. But I also see that quote as deliberately cryptic and utterly useless for telling someone else what uprooting means. It's a non-answer. –  Steve Weigand 2 days ago
up vote -3 down vote accepted

Taiji 'Root' = BJJ 'Base' = opposite of Judo 'Kuzushi'

According to one taiji practitioner with experience in san da, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, boxing, and wrestling, "root" is precisely similar to "base" or "balance". Likewise, "to uproot" is precisely similar to "to off-balance" such as in wrestling, or "to use kuzushi" as in judo. To wit:

Any claim that taiji is more mechanically sensitive than, say, Greco[-Roman wrestling] is -- IMO -- silly. The way of talking about it is very different, but the actual ideas about balance, base, &c, are ultimately the same.


[The] systematic description of leveraged pushing and pulling (lu, an, ji, &c) is just another way of teaching grip and kuzushi. I honestly don't feel there's anything unique in the techniques themselves, just in the way they're described. This vocabulary is, I think, much of the problem. The Chinese call "base" "root," "off-balancing" "uprooting," and so on, which prevents us from having reasonable conversations between disciplines.

In this reading, which is convincing to my mind, uprooting can take many forms. It would therefore qualify as an umbrella term that covers many types of grappling techniques, such as lifting, throwing, and projecting.

To be clear, most taiji practitioners do not mean this when they say "uproot". I suspect that the large majority of that population are asserting that there is something unique about "uprooting" that is not found in wrestling, or that it is a skill or phenomenon with mystical origins.

share|improve this answer
-1, theoretical speculation unbacked by personal experience or experimentation. Question is asked about "uproot for someone in taiji", but the author does not practice taijiquan or any of the related arts. –  Ho-Sheng Hsiao Oct 3 '12 at 16:40
Yes, I am aware that you gave yourself an exception to book knowledge. I don't see how that is different from reverse engineering, though it is obviously acceptable to SE in general. In addition, you provided a bunch of your own opinions, conclusions, and interpretation based on those quotes in the last two paragraphs. –  Ho-Sheng Hsiao Oct 3 '12 at 17:05

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.