The legendary master of taijiquan, named Chang San-Feng, is credited with writing the following description of the art he taught. While almost unknown in the West, it is considered scripture within the Chinese taiji community:
“In taijiquan your body should move in smooth waves like a long river. What is taijiquan? It is Ward Off (sky), Roll Back (ground), Press (river), Push Down (lightening), Split (thunder), Take (wind), Elbow (lake), and Shoulder (mountain). These are the eight energies. The five elements are Step Forward (metal), Step Backward (wood), Step Right (fire), Step Left (water), and Hold To The Center (earth). When these thirteen are combined it is called the original Tai Chi style.
When moving your body, every part should be coordinated correctly. Your internal energy should be focused three fingers below the navel. Seek perfection in your movements. Moving too much or too little and your body will not be coordinated. The feet stick to the ground. Power comes from the legs, is controlled by the waist and extended through the fingers. Power starts from the feet, then goes up the legs through the waist and then out the fingers in one coordinated and perfectly timed wave-like movement. If everything is coordinated then you can move effortlessly in any direction. If not adjust your stance.
Memorize the movements to make them instinctual. For every up there is down, go right then left, if you move forward you must go back. Clearly feel light and heavy in your body. This will allow you to sense light and heavy in your opponent. When you can do this, you will easily defeat your opponents”. The first energy of taiji is called Ward Off it moves forward and upward. It meets an attacking force head on, and upon contact it leads the incoming force into a curve through a spherical rotation. It is like pushing on a sphere that is spinning upwards. Force applied to this sphere rolls off the top of it.
Taiji forms all move from the physical center of the body located about three fingers below the navel. Along with this is keeping the hands and feet, the elbows and knees, and the shoulders and hips all aligned, and it is this that creates a spherical rotation that is the foundation of all taiji technique. The only thing that changes are the contact points that move steadily closer to the body and the direction of rotation. In the end, any part of the body that makes contact with an attacking force can roll it off itself.
What this means is that by just mastering one technique such as the first one called Ward Off, you perfect all the others as well. This is one of the reasons taiji is called the supreme ultimate martial art. It can actually be mastered in a very short period of time. The old taiji masters sometimes called taijiquan; ward off style, because of this principle.