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?


10 Answers 10


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.

  • I'd qualify this that the joints of a rooted opponent can certainly be controlled—elbows, knees and hips are ideal. (In controlling the forearms with "tiger mouth", a practitioner with sufficient internal technique can also make it impossible for the opponent to kick.) But this requires "heaviness" & "stickiness" in the arms than only comes via relaxation.
    – DukeZhou
    Commented Dec 1, 2020 at 22:53

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.

  • 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"? Commented May 26, 2012 at 17:08
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    Yep. It is that simple. Commented May 26, 2012 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.) :) Commented May 26, 2012 at 22:45
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    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. Commented May 28, 2012 at 21:33
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    @DaveNewton I need you to explain your point further. Please create your own answer!
    – Anon
    Commented May 28, 2012 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.

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    Someone once said on Bullshido that Chinese martial art is a bunch of sucker punches. That's high praise. Commented Jun 2, 2012 at 2:48
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    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. Commented Jun 2, 2012 at 2:51
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    Great answer. I specially liked the parallel between physical and mental structures. Commented Jun 6, 2012 at 11:34
  • Also important to note that an opponents joints can be controlled without locking. (Hsing Yi, for instance, uses "tiger mouth" to control the elbows, and, with sufficient root and "stickiness", this can prevent an opponent of lesser skill from using the arms or kicking.
    – DukeZhou
    Commented Dec 1, 2020 at 22:31

First we might want to define 'root'.

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'Root' is simply the ability to resist a push. This is most often done in "internal arts" as a 'relaxed' manner and paired with the not loosing of one's balance when/if the other quickly withdraws their pushing force. The Tai Chi Classics (TCC) say "Rooted in the feet" to express the idea that the feet are the base, and our ability to produce resistance comes from that friction with the ground.

'Uproot' in Taiji is defined as "alternating pushing and pulling [at 4oz] to sever their root so the other can be thrown out decisively" — TCC. In traditional usage, uproot, is typically used to refer to either:

  1. The initial withdraw-and-join of off-balancing (Ti of Ti-Fang); or,
  2. it is used to refer to the entire Ti-Fang process (T'ai Chi, Tuttle, 2004, Cheng/Smith pg 88).

When the other is send out with an accelerating push their inability to resist the push and their knee-jerk reflex cause both their feet to leave the ground. More information here.

So, 'root' is to resist, 'uproot' is to sever the root so they are overwhelmed by a light push.

In modern parlance 'uprooting' is (incorrectly) used to talk about any throwing of another. Video here

Some sources:

  • Welcome to the site. This is a really nice answer. Thank you. I slightly edited it for formatting. If, by mistake, I change your meaning you can always edit it yourself. Commented Oct 3, 2018 at 7:35

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.


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.


Having a root means being able to redirect any incoming force into the ground. In Tai Chi, learning to root yourself is a very important part of the training. The method is not to just lower the center of gravity, but to activate the spirals in your limbs and body, so that force from any direction can be redirected to the ground. To achieve this, the joints must be open and the muscles shouldn't be stiff. At a higher level, it seems almost miraculous, but this level is rarely seen, although there are some people good at it and not only from Tai Chi, but also from other internal arts.

To uproot means to break this connection to the ground in your adversary or practice-partner. Uprooting is a fundamental element in any Tai Chi application, there is never an action without prior uprooting. While uprooting normal adversaries is quite easy, trying to uproot an experienced Tai Chi practicioner (or someone from an other art with experience in rooting) is another matter.

Tai Chi has very special strategies to uproot an adversary, which can seem "magical", as they do not use linear strength. As uprooting is always done before the application, it is not done with a visible movement but with the ominous "Chi"-energy. As there is a lot of scepticism about "Chi", I propose to use the term "Chi" as a working assumption for the fine-grained mechanisms used, whatever they might be. In authentic Yang style Tai Chi Chuan, the breathing plays a major role in these uprooting strategies.

Tai Chi is very famous for its uprooting prowesses and there are numerous stories from the Yang family about sending people flying away without any visible movement involved. Don't dismiss these stories too easily! Unfortunately there are not many people left who can demonstrate this authoritatively but sadly there are many trying to mimic those effects using levers and force-redirection which in Tai Chi are only beginner's methods. The few genuine masters demonstrating this skill are ridiculed because it looks even faker than the fakes, notably because it cannot be understood from an oversimplified physical perspective (although I'm certainly not saying that there are no physics involved). Even for knowledgeable people it is not easy to discern the real deal from the fake stuff, but if you ever get the chance to touch hands with such a person, you will know!


Many excellent technical answers, so this answer is merely corollary:

Uprooting can be described and creating a moment of unbalance in the opponent, in which the mind shuts down for an instant, allowing the practitioner to do whatever they want in followup.

This was described to me by a Japanese practitioner (Judo, Jujutsu, Karate, Aikido, Ninjutsu) as the "ultimate martial art" because of that moment of "short circuiting the computer" (i.e. the brain.)

Its surprising how little force may be necessary, even in regard to a strong opponent, when "pushing into their center." There are many methods of uprooting, and, informally, this is a basic technique of all forms of grappling, though perhaps only tai chi might be said to utilize it for pushing as opposed to throws exclusively.


This question contains four questions. I think the first two are roughly the same and will address them as I am not qualified to address the last two. Also, I think the link is dead.

What do tai chi practitioners mean when they use this word?

There are two kinds of tai chi practitioners: those who practice tai chi as an internal martial art (one that uses qi instead of muscular strength in order to generate force) and those who don't. Those who don't use the word uprooting to mean unbalancing.

Those who do have, at some point in their training, cleared blockages from their energy system as well as accumulated extra energy. This facilitates the smooth flow of energy from the sky into the ground through the human creating an actual connection between the martial artist and the ground.

What does it mean to "uproot" someone in tai chi?

The meaning you are probably looking for is 'to break someone's connection to the ground'. If you have no experience of qi, it makes sense that you are unable to identify the specific meaning of this jargon. I would highly advise learning from a genuine master of internal martial arts. Many people are turned off from it because it requires some sacrifice but it will be one of the best decisions you've ever made. Regards.

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    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. Commented Jan 10, 2015 at 23:40
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    @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
    Commented Jan 12, 2015 at 17:04
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    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. Commented Jan 12, 2015 at 18:58
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    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. Commented Jul 3, 2015 at 5:57
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    @sridank: I have come to realize exactly the opposite. If your teacher says it's about "chi", they're not telling you anything useful. They can't teach you how to use it for fighting. Instead, look for someone who can teach you internal mechanics. The mechanics aren't esoteric or mystical. P'eng jing can be learned in person after just a 5 minute interactive demonstration with a good teacher. It doesn't require 10, 20, 30 years of meditation. The jings are purely mechanical, not "energy" exercises. Abstracting it to "chi" means you have a teacher who doesn't know what he/she is talking about. Commented Jul 20, 2015 at 17:29


"Root" is the word used in Anglophone taiji to refer to what is called "base" or a combination of balance and posture in other grappling arts. Likewise, "to uproot" is precisely similar to "to off-balance" such as in wrestling, or "to apply kuzushi" as in judo. Uprooting is disrupting the opponent's structure and stance. An uprooted person is unable to stage attacks since they are out of position: their power generation platform is in disarray.

As one taiji exponent puts it:

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.

This view is echoed in the context of qi and jin by internal martial arts practitioner Mike Sigman, via aikidoka Chris Hein:

One of the confusing things I used to run into was the number of statements about things that were done in a Chinese martial-art; the impression was "these are the things done uniquely in this art". It took a while to realize that almost all of the "things that we do in this art" are also pretty commonly the things that are done in all the other arts, although with occasional variations and permutations. Looking into some of the written lore that is sparingly available in Japanese martial-arts, it's pretty clear that the same basic principles are also found in those arts, again with variations, permutations, and different levels of completeness.

In this reading, uprooting can take many forms. It would therefore qualify as an umbrella term that covers many types of grappling techniques, such as lifting, projecting, and locking.

Other definitions

Most taiji practitioners probably do not mean this when they say "uproot". I suspect that the large majority of that population are asserting that there is something unique (often mystical) about "uprooting" that is not found in wrestling, judo, or other arts.

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    -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. Commented Oct 3, 2012 at 16:40
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    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. Commented Oct 3, 2012 at 17:05
  • It's true that Tai Chi is most prone to "magical thinking", which is why my teacher avoided nonsense words like "energy" except in relation to caloric consumption ("spending money") and to momentum put into a weapon such as a sword. But uprooting is very real, all based on physics and physiology, and there can even be a psychological component such that masters often unbalance the opponent mentally before making contact, just by the way they approach.
    – DukeZhou
    Commented Dec 1, 2020 at 22:33
  • I think what is somewhat unique in tai chi training is the "calm, relaxed" requirement, which enhances sensitivity, and allows power to be generated with maximal effect. But when I watch a master Judoka such as Kayla Harrison, I see the same principles in action. One thing tai chi practitioners do seem to excel at is "pushing into emptiness"—having the sensitivity to uproot, push to get them moving, then push with focus into that motion. (Pushing is done with the waist, not the arms—all that is required of the arms is a stable, rounded structure, & forearms can be used instead of hands.)
    – DukeZhou
    Commented Dec 1, 2020 at 22:50
  • @DukeZhou Coaches in boxing, judo, muay Thai, and BJJ all emphasize calm and relaxation in technique, both in the literature and in my experience being coached. In each of those combat sports, removing tension is a primary goal of skill development, and there are drills to develop it. That's why I see taiji's claim to uniqueness on that point to be false. Commented Dec 2, 2020 at 9:04

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