CMC 37P TAI CHI FORM: Check Empty Foot

Check Empty Foot
Cheng Man-ch'ing 37 Postures Tai Chi Form
Barefoot, front view - 9/16/13 (Summer)


Tai-chi Grandmaster William Chen discusses Tai-chi and Demonstrates his Form
In this 1975 black & white video William C.C. Chen speaks of the importance of balancing on one leg at a time while practicing tai chi:

2:09 - 3:12
"...Even look at the legs
The foot steps you'll see very soft and very very loose
All these slow motion moves will help you relax
So when you are relaxed, everything is relaxed downwards
See, you'll find out, is... have better balance
Because most of the time, doing tai chi, weight is put on the leg
Because relax is down
Because weight is dropping down
So have better balance
All the balance will rely on the one leg
So therefore the other leg will be very relaxed
And step slowly forward
If you have no balance
You can't stay on the weight on one leg
So you have to stay on two legs"

3:12 - 3:49
"So, another part of tai chi chuan is
Concentrate on the weight drops down
We call "sink"
More you sink more you have balance
And more you feel the bottom have balance and more sink
You feel bottom of the body is heavy
And then top will feel light
So therefore the hands
Just like... like water flows
Or like a bloom flows in the water"


"Check right foot." "Check left foot." These are phrases I heard Ben Lo repeating many times throughout the course of several week-long tai chi workshops I attended some 25 years ago.

As the class worked its way through each posture of the Cheng Man-ch'ing 37 Postures Tai Chi Form, Ben Lo would always remind us during every 100/0 moment (100% weight in one leg, 0% weight in the other leg) to check the empty foot, to make sure it could be lifted off the floor easily without wobbling or rearranging the rest of the body.

I took Ben Lo's "check empty foot" lessons to heart, and made them a component of my daily tai chi practice. Even though I haven't seen Ben Lo for many years now, I can still recall him saying "check right foot" or "check left foot" whenever I do my tai chi form. His lessons have stayed with me through the years, and continue to permeate my personal practice.


In this video I am reviewing every instance of a 100/0 moment that I come across in the CMC 37P Form, and I check my empty foot by lifting it off the ground to make sure I'm not depending on it to support me during that moment; I verify that all my weight is passing only through my other leg at that moment.

I am also "stepping like a cat," as the Tai Chi Classics instruct. Before transferring weight onto my empty leg, I retract it, to confirm that all of my weight is still passing through my one supporting leg.

A cat feels its way from step to step, not committing body weight onto a front paw until it is sure that the surface it is about to step upon can support its weight. If it senses that the surface is unsteady, it changes course, pulls back its paw, and sets the paw down a little to the right, or left, or further ahead, or draws backward (to re-evaluate the situation).

Unlike a cat, which has 3 other legs to support it while it retracts its empty "exploratory" paw, a human body has only one other leg to stand upon when the empty foot is being retracted. Therefore, balance has to be quite precise on the one remaining leg which supports all body weight, or else the body will tip over.


Although I do not physically lift my empty foot off the ground while practicing the regular CMC 37P Form, the concept of checking the empty foot is always in the back of my mind. It prevents me from taking too large a step forward, sideways, or backwards, so I don't become "stuck in the ground" in an over-extended, double-weighted position.

I'm always aware that at any moment throughout the CMC 37P Tai Chi Form, whenever I am in a 100/0 position, I should be able to easily disconnect my empty foot from the ground.
I should not rely on two feet to support me, but balance my weight completely on one leg at that time.

One of Yang Cheng Fu's "Ten Essential Points" for tai chi practice is: "differentiate substantial and insubstantial" / "separate weight completely."

"Stand on one leg" is another way of stating this same idea. Or, perhaps more accurately, "stand on one leg, knee well-bent." The longer the better.

The more time a tai chi practitioner spends balancing the weight of the entire body on one leg at a time, the stronger each leg becomes. In its slow-moving manner, Tai Chi practice becomes a very effective form of "weight bearing" exercise, which helps drive calcium into the bones and strengthens the entire skeletal system

Some other "stand on 1 leg" exercises:


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Added on November 26th, 2017
Last updated: June 23rd, 2020