Some books start the form facing South (S) others start facing North (N). The literature tells us that it does not matter which direction you face to start. Yang Chengfu in his 1934 book wrote:
“…one need not adhere to fixed orientations, and may experiment with all four sides and corners” (Yang, 2005, p. 12).
Fu Zhongwen in his 1963 book confirms that:
“…he or she can choose at will the direction according to the shape of the practice site; one need not necessarily start by facing south in the preparation posture” (Fu, 2006, p. 24).
Instructional books on taijiquan will often specify a starting direction to assist with the explanation of the movements. On occasion clock notation is used to describe a position, with 12:00 o’clock, facing forward, 3:00 o’clock to the right, 6:00 o’clock to the rear, etc. However, the most common directional notation used in taijiquan books is the compass points. The historical Chinese taijiquan literature uses South (S) as the starting direction; whilst modern Western books use North (N). This is to do with cartography traditions of the time. Historically, maps from China were oriented with South at the top of the map and in the West, we tend to use North orientation on our maps.
Because in the West we are most familiar (and comfortable) with North orientation the tendency is to use North to describe the starting point for our practice. This is not to say that we actually face north, rather than North is the direction we are facing when we begin the form. Thus, East is to our right, South is behind us and West is to our left. The direction between the points is described as North-East (NE), etc.
Over time in different societies and cultures, varying influences have determined map orientation. This has resulted in maps using different directions (N, S, E and W) at the top of the map to achieve a specific desired outcome (e.g. geographic, religious, political etc.). For more information on map orientation and an interesting clip from the television series ‘The West Wing’ describing some of the outcomes of specific orientation choices… click here.
Fu, Z. (2006). Mastering Yang Style Taijiquan (L. Swain, Trans.). Burkeley, California: Blue Snake Books (Original work published in 1963).
- Yang, C. (2005). The Essence and Applications of Taijiquan (L. Swain, Trans.). Berkeley, California: North Atlantic Books (Original work published in 1934).