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Tai Chi Styles
introductions to other styles and aspects beyond the Yang From

An Introduction to Tai Chi Ruler


tai chi ruler - Matt BackhouseOne Tuesday morning, I gathered my trusty Canon XL1 and took it down to the park in Southampton, where I met up with Gary and a close member of the ‘group’ Matt Backhouse, who specialises in Tai Chi Ruler. With great light as the sun came out and only one heckler (“are you making an advert?”), for a couple of hours I filmed him going through a series of Ruler exercises for our forthcoming DVD project: ‘Tai Chi Ruler’. A fairly rare and uncommon, curious but simple mixture of tai chi and chi kung, this is the first time I had seen this form practised in any length and I was fascinated and intrigued by it. This is the first time that Gary and myself have collaborated with another away from our own ‘specialism’ and has it been educational.

There seems to be quite a lot of variety and differing of opinions as to the origins of Tai Chi Ruler. One source has it down as 100AD; another has it during the Sung dynasty from about 950AD, invented by Chen Hsi-I, a legendary Taoist. Chen was friend to the first Sung emperor Chao Kong Yan and taught him many martial arts (Ruler included); who then passed it down through his descendents right up to the twentieth century. At the same time it is also credited as being Chen Chu, a legendary conjurer who befriended by the emperor (not Chen His-I, unless I am missing something important) who used the principles of early Chinese medical concepts laid down by Huang Ti – the Yellow Emperor – around 2600BC. I have seen Zhao Zhong-dao credited during the mid 1800s for inventing what he called Tai Chi Stick Chi Kung; and much later Chu Man-yi is credited with inventing both Tai Chi ruler and Tai Chi Ball just before the 1920’s. Chu’s form was based upon the concepts that the simple turning and twisting movements could replace the tai chi form itself, which was too complicated for some. He also injected western gymnastics into the mix.

tai chi ruler - matt backhouseWhatever its origins, of no doubt are its benefits. A form of Taoist chi kung (or yoga), tai Chi Ruler utilises a wooden rod/ruler about ten inches long, said to have originally been derived from sword handles. This is known as a ‘chih’ and you might see this form called Tai Chi Chih. The practitioner then goes through a series of simple (I say this only in the context of the more complex tai chi form, as its not that ‘simple’!) twisting and turning exercises holding the ruler lengthways between his/her palms – on the pericardium meridian point in the centre of the palms. I have practised a version of one of the excersises of this myself years ago - without the ruler itself, and you can see this on the taichido website under ‘chi kung/tai chi invisible ruler’. Each exercise uses chi kung and deep, slow breathing within a tai chi framework. The practitioner focuses movement, breathing, visual and mental concentrating along the central meridians flowing along the body, aligning movements with the three energy dantiens (energy centres) a couple of inches above the navel, around the sternum in the chest, and in the head. So like chi kung, this focuses, cultivates and balances chi.

According to www.Yamatanidojo.com, Ruler exercises the entire body and improves posture, circulation, metabolism, neuromuscular functioning, and boosts the immune system. The principles that achieve this are (lifted from their website word for word):

1. The body is in a state of complete relaxation;
2. all movements are circular and spiralling;
3. all movement is controlled by the turning of the waist;
4. the spine is held straight and erect;
5. the eyes are constantly focuses on the ruler;
6. breathing is coordinated with all movements;
7. breathing occurs at the rate of two breaths per minute.

This makes sense as in it we can see much of the fundamental principles of tai chi: circular movements, focus on breath, erect posture, relaxed stances, etc

Once more there seems to be some variety as to the exact exercises and number. Some say eight exercises in repetition, other say seven exercises followed by eight more advanced ones. Matt simply says that there are – and I quote - ‘loads’. I am sure that I will get some emails from readers enlightening me about Ruler – and I would welcome them of course, as I have only ever found this sort of correspondence constructive. Like tai chi it seems that there are a number of forms and ideas – but the common thread is that the benefits are wonderful. Have a Google for it or check out our forthcoming DVD collaborating with Matt that will be available later this year.


conversations with Matt Backhouse


A form of Taoist chi kung (or yoga), tai Chi Ruler utilises a wooden rod/ruler about ten inches long, said to have originally been derived from sword handles. This is known as a ‘chih’ and you might see this form called Tai Chi Chih.
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