I have practiced taiji for some time. I also practiced shaolin styles for some time. However, when practicing stuff like sparring I feel I could do it better if I understood stuff like traditional chinese anatomy concepts about energy, meridians, and joints (when I learn a concept in that topic, no matter how tiny it is, most related applications make sense to me and never forget them).

Should -meaning: is, doing this, well-seen inside the practice, with a precedent from advanced practitioners or shifus in this site- I ask my shifu about my interest on learning (guidedly) about those topics? It is usually expected that a student asks those questions to a shifu or should wait for the shifu to tell that to the student?

  • Why are you putting meridians and joints together? Are you thinking about joints in an energetic or mechanical sense?
    – mattm
    Mar 23 '16 at 1:41
  • Mechanical. By meridians I barely remember stuff like some tui na exercises to recover from punches. So I quoted them as examples. It should be implied the fact tbat I know few to none, by the post I wrote. Mar 23 '16 at 2:41
  • Dont take the two things strictly literal. Is not even the core of the question Mar 23 '16 at 2:42
  • PS It's fine to ask you sifu questions, but don't necessarily expect an answer if it's not what they want to teach at that moment. 99% of my questions were answered with "research" (ie. "practice"), but that 1% that yielded answers were pretty helpful too. To me, this is all medicine show stuff—western boxers don't do this, and they're every bit as formidable as Chinese boxers, so my feeling is it's more gimmick than anything. This is distinct from validated requirements, such as "emptying the chest" in tai chi, which has several functions, as an example.
    – DukeZhou
    Aug 10 '21 at 23:15
  • "Sink the elbows" has more practical value than all of the material ever written on things like meridians because you can learn to do it without knowing the theory, without even words. By contrast you could be the world's top expert in theory, but haven't put in the reps, you can't do.
    – DukeZhou
    Aug 10 '21 at 23:16


This one is easy. Yes, your martial arts instruction should cover joints extensively. This includes things like the use of joints, the training of joints, striking with joints, striking at joints, the protection of joints, and health maintenance of joints. But this is not something I would call theory; there is very little abstraction when talking about joints.


General meridian theory is not really helpful for learning to fight and train; it is not going to tell you that your shoulders are not flexible enough to hit hard, you haven't developed sufficient sensitivity to pressure to avoid overcommitting, or your feet need more coordination.

Your system should have a roadmap for body and skill development, and it is important that you understand this roadmap. Your sifu should be a guide in this respect, helping you to understand where your body's feedback puts you on the roadmap, and what training elements are necessary to continue your journey. Understanding your body cannot come solely from book knowledge; you have to put in the training hours. If your system roadmap is written in the language of qi, you should develop a clear bodily feeling/understanding of what is meant by this language for your system for particular exercises.

Continuing with the roadmap analogy, a good martial arts system will:

  1. Lead you to a useful destination. This can include things like ability to fight and understanding of how to improve/maintain health.
  2. Have enough clearly-marked signposts along the way that you can tell what direction you are heading. Understanding of meridian theory may be of side interest when feeling that when your foot gets warm your leg also feels full, but your understanding of whether your foot has achieved sufficient coordination and relaxation will not be impacted.
  3. Have teachers and other students to assist your navigation.

If you have been training for years and do not understand what you need to practice to progress, there is a problem.

Traditional Chinese Medicine

This is not something that will help you fight directly. TCM theory will do things like help you determine diet, treat injuries, and address physical problems, but it will not help directly with striking, throwing, and other fighting skills.

I would actually expect skills to be more transferable going the other way; many of the physical practices associated with martial practice will help a medical practitioner understand a patient's physical state and how they can be treated. Exercise (mental and physical) is a primary mechanism of health preservation and improvement in TCM.


A good teacher-student relationship includes the open asking of questions. A teacher may not be able to answer all questions or may tell you that you are not ready for the subject (the inner-door issue), but there should not be an issue with asking. Do not expect your teacher to be a mind reader; if you do not express interest, then your teacher has no way of knowing about your interest.


It is common for Shifus to have knowledge of TCM theory. It is also common for them to explain TCM theory to students.

However, it is equally common for Shifus to withhold such information. Such information may be deemed the province of closed-door disciples, not for disclosing to normal students. For better or worse, CMA has a tradition that most students are only there to pay the bills. Only some will inherit the entirety of the martial art.

The new school of CMA holds such "secrets" as useless relics of the past. Indeed, some styles have died because of this type of withholding of information. Yet some traditions die harder than others.

Whether your Shifu is withholding this information is a matter of conjecture with the information you have provided. If he/she does not speak of it regularly in class, chances are your Shifu either does not know the information or is withholding it. It is extremely unlikely that a Shifu who teaches Taiji will not know something of (or at least think they know something of) TCM theory.

If it makes you feel any better, I do know something of TCM theory, and I do not particularly feel it has enhanced my capacity to practice Taiji.

  • 2
    Very true. TCM is a red herring. Many people (myself included) chased it only to find out it's basically nonsense. Many hundreds of hours wasted. It's time better spent training. People think they're going to learn TCM and gain all kinds of super powers. Ask yourself this: Has anyone come along yet, who isn't a fictional character in a kung-fu movie, that has these super powers and can demonstrate them working in a real fight? And I'm not talking about rumors, myths, legends, etc. Total fantasy. Shame on us for not figuring it out yet, as a community. People still insist it's real. Mar 23 '16 at 3:24
  • Actually I dont expect any superpower but everytime I deeply learned a common grabbing technique, I understood it better by the involved TCM precedents and history Mar 23 '16 at 13:14
  • You're an evil person. Today -thanks to your comment- I thought about Wu Wei in KF Panda saga and now I'd like to ask my little turtles about this topic. Mar 23 '16 at 15:21
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    ... For example, a chicken / crane's beak "attack" to the head. This is often explained in kung-fu and taiji as a finger tip strike to the pressure point on the top of your opponent's head. Death is supposedly the result. Nonsense. Go ahead and try it to your sparring partner. It won't work. He'll say, "Quit it! You're annoying me." No, that technique has a valid marital application, but it doesn't involve chi or dim-mak. To understand it, you have to look at how it's setup in the form. What comes before it? It can be an ear grab, for example. It can be a wrist chin-na followed by ... Mar 23 '16 at 17:17
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    ... extending your opponent's arm out. In Taiji, most forms of Taiji will do this chicken beak "attack". But the setup in Chen style Taiji (the origin of all the other forms) shows a circular motion is performed close to your body first before extending that chicken beak out to the side. Aha! There's the chin-na on the guy's wrist. The extending out is a grab to his wrist while twisting and locking his arm. The next move is a palm strike in the other direction. This can be a hit to the chin or a shoulder dislocation or an arm break. All perfectly valid, and don't involve mystical nonsense. Mar 23 '16 at 17:20

It's not uncommon, especially for internal styles. By my teacher was a Chinese national champion in internal and said it's not necessary. "Feeling" is essential, and I can elaborate more if interested, but really it just comes down to training hard and consistently over a extended period. (Years for basic competence, decades for even basic mastery if part time.) Essentially, you gotta put in your 30,000 hours, so talking a little theory is good, but classes where there's more standing and talking than training are not.

"Tai Chi takes a lifetime."

I never spent much time on theory because I had an acknowledged master to follow—I learned almost entirely by doing, again and again and again and again—and constantly seeking to improve. But one doesn't need a famous teacher—a teacher who can teach the basics correctly is sufficient starting out. (If you find you want to go deeper, and have outgrown your first school, you can then seek out a more skilled instructor.)

But, just being honest, a lot of teachers in the Chinese system use theory to cover lack of rigorous training, and that part of why Chinese martial arts have such a diminished reputation at present. There was always a medicine show element to attract new students, but that's not the core of the arts.

I know a very accomplished Sifu who also has a PhD in physical therapy, and he shares his knowledge as he goes, but doesn't have specific seminars or classes for that. (There's not enough time for essential training as it is, when most of us also have day jobs!)

What you want to look at in a teacher is "How good are their stances, how stable is their balance, how clear is their movement, how well do they move, do they look like they've done this movement a million times, literally?"


Soapbox time. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is dangerous quackery. It is right up there with homeopathy and the healing power of crystals. While some of the 'magic potions' TCM practitioners peddle are harmless, many are dangerous concoctions of unregulated plant materials and cheaply made pharmaceuticals. That's right, many TCM remedies have hidden doses of prescription drugs which are undeclared on any labeling (when a label is even present). Even in the best-case-scenario where a TCM remedy is completely inert (see also, every homeopathic treatment), the practitioner is still paying an opportunity cost. People die every day because instead of getting treatment via science-based medicine, they waste their resources and limited window for treatment (i.e. money and time) on 'potions' that either do nothing to treat their illness/injury or actually case harm to the patient. We cannot embrace, or even turn a blind eye to, things like TCM. Wanton ignorance hurts all of us.

  • TCM includes things that are becoming scientifically validated, including meditation and deep breathing. That is why you have to study it to decide what is worthwhile and what is quackery (I certainly do not deny there is quackery). Here is recent NPR coverage of woo woo treatment being more effective than painkillers for back pain.
    – mattm
    Mar 24 '16 at 17:42
  • This answer is pointless regarding the stuff I asked for, i.e., in martial applications. There's no place for fake remedies (if any) or even true remedies in a battle, but my question was regarding whether theoretical concepts like meridians and so were useful on a battle to help to better understand movements. Perhaps (and I keep it for sure) I don't know many concepts well, but this answer is blatantly out of scope (which is, again, battles). Mar 24 '16 at 17:57
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    TCM is rooted in magical traditions and fraudulent practices. Whether it is shilling tiger penises as a cure for erectile dysfunction, prescribing dit da jow for training injuries (despite having no genuine medical value), or promoting chi development for general health (even though chi and meridians are unsubstantiated bunk). TCM is not in any way scientifically supported. Any plants used in TCM which may have medicinal value are scientifically research by pharmaceutical companies and the active agents are isolated an refined. That isn't how TCM works. TCM is unregulated and inconsistent.
    – Zen_Hydra
    Mar 24 '16 at 18:23
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    Here are some supporting links to the dangers and fraudulent nature of TCM: link The NPR coverage you linked was bad journalism: link Here is another article about TCM acupuncture and their ridiculous nature as argumentum ad antiquitatem: link
    – Zen_Hydra
    Mar 24 '16 at 18:30
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    Luis Masuelli: You mentioned TCM practices in your original question, and my response addressed the nature of TCM. Chi and meridians are a part of the fraud that is TCM. Our bodies aren't filled with magical lines of power. Our breathing cannot impart special healing, resistance, or combinative properties. Traditional Chinese Medicine uses a body model which is completely detached from actual human anatomy. Pretending that any of the magical elements is real is at best indulging in flights of fancy, and at worst it could get you killed.
    – Zen_Hydra
    Mar 24 '16 at 18:37

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