Gu Dang Tai Chi Chuan

Gu Dang (or Gudang) is the ‘holy grail’ of Tai Chi. It is the concept that comes closest to encapsulating the essence of the art.  Meaning ‘Resonating Drum’ or similar, a key part of the classical description of Gu Dang reads as follows:     


“…motion and stillness, substantial and insubstantial, breathing in and out, opening and closing, hard and soft, slow and fast, (full and empty). The combination of these factors gives rise to Gu Dang.”  


In his book ‘Tai Chi Chuan Revelations’, Master Ip Tai Tak also includes a profound and beautiful interpretation:


“Combining the mind and ‘Chi’ brings about changes in Yin and Yang that are like tidal waves and hurricanes, clouds drifting and the continuous flow of water, the running of rabbits and eagles preying, sinking and floating, appearing and disappearing, dramatic changes in the atmosphere and unpredictable weather.”



The first quotation describes the cyclical fluctuations between two pairs of complementary opposites; the interplay between different forms of Yin and Yang that give rise to Gu Dang. It describes the basic nature of things in the most simple terms, that is in terms of reciprocal pairs of opposite states.  Whilst nature dictates that it is impossible to attain 100% Yin or Yang, an authentic Tai Chi practitioner must navigate/experience the full spectrum of movement towards or away from any of the states described above, thoroughly & relentlessly testing the boundaries of what is possible.  Otherwise, how will you know the limits if you do not try?      


To acquire Gu Dang one has to maintain continuity and coherence whilst changing continuously in response to the requirements of a given moment in time.  By way of a slightly crude analogy, the Tai Chi practitioner who has acquired Gu Dang is like a champion surfer who always stays on her board, whatever the conditions. That is, she is able to maintain both continuity of movement and composure whilst everything changes around her. The only way she can maintain total composure is by being intimately responsive to the relentlessly changing forces created by the movement of water.    


However, this does not mean that she adopts the passive attitude of ‘going with the flow’, which is in fact an overreaction (excessive Yin) to the opposite attitude (excessive Yang) and simply creates another dysfunctional extreme (leading in this case to ‘wipeout’).  ‘Going with the flow’ in practice means that although she learns the essential art of ‘letting go’, if she takes that attitude to its logical extreme she sacrifices any control over a given situation and is therefore at the mercy of external events and forces.  Instead, to master the art of surfing she has to ultimately know the flow; she must feel the patterns of flow intimately and perceive what is necessary to adequately reflect them in her mind-body system. This leads to what the Tai Chi classics call ‘Interpreting Energy’.   


This is the true meaning of ‘being at one’ with the ocean or with nature.  To do this the human being needs to know/understand the underlying patterns (of energy) enough to enable a fuller, truer expression of them.  As understanding is improved, there is less getting in the way of (impeding) the expression of the associated energetic vibrations.  Linking back to the Gu Dang concept, this ‘unblocking’ of vibration enables humans to progressively achieve a higher state of resonance with the ‘drum’ of creation.  In other words, spiritual development!


To summarise in simple terms, the task for the individual is this:


To understand, copy (reflect) and embody nature.


This is why in the second passage, Master Ip poetically describes various natural processes and events; to inspire us to work towards authentically expressing the power of nature.


Unless one has really challenged oneself as far as possible to explore and embody extreme softness, for example, or extreme fullness or emptiness, one cannot say that one is practising Tai Chi; one is pretending, in blissful ignorance!  So we must first strive to create/incubate these qualities in our bodies and minds if we wish to be worthy of the name of practitioner of ‘The Great Ultimate’.  


Why is this so?  The great scientist Richard Feynman put it best when he said:


“What I cannot create, I do not understand!”     






Gu Dang Tai Chi Chuan

London & SE England


t:  07812 469133

e: alex@guildfordtaichi.co.uk



Demonstration of

Gu Dang Internal Power


“The ultimate stage of push hands… known as ‘surfing the waves’… uses the Jin (essence) of Gu Dang power to make the opponent vibrate as if he was in a boat, trapped in a hurricane, helplessly going through the troughs and crests of the waves, rolling precariously to and fro”


Grandmaster Ip Tai Tak