Primal 13 Tai Chi Small Circle Form.

The Primal 13 Small Circle Form

The Primal 13 Small Circle Form is designed to introduce the essential movements and postures of traditional Yang style Tai Chi Chuan in a format that is both easy to learn and easy to practice. The simplified format can be performed in less than three minutes, and only requires about the same space as an average Yoga mat. Unlike most other forms, the Primal 13 form is not named based on the total number of sequences, but rather on the embedded thirteen core functional movements of Tai Chi. These include the Five Steps and the Eight Powers from the original forms of Tai Ch.

Although simple to learn, the Tai Chi Primal 13 form provides layers of study. On the surface, it is a moving meditation where mindfulness is enfused into gentle standing movements. On a deeper level, you can explore and experience the cultivation and utilization of Qi or life energy. Finally, on a practical level each of the 13 movements represent realistic techniques for overcoming the threat of physical violence.

Practice of the form takes you through all three levels. At the mindfulness level, you’re concentrating specifically on the form and the linked postures themselves. At the energy cultivation stage you add visualization and related Qigong (energy work) exercises. To learn and practice the self-defense aspects, we introduce simple games, advance to reflex development drills, and ultimately practice street defense scenarios.

Small Circle

While the common name for this Tai Chi format is “Small Circle,” a more accurate translation would be Small Cycle or even, paradoxically, Small Infinity. The form is not arranged in a circle, but the movement follows a path similar to an “infinity” symbol: starting from the center you will spiral left, return to center, spiral right, and then again return to center. It creates a seamless loop, ending right back where you started.

In your daily practice you can choose to do a single cycle, or if you have time, you can link cycles together and repeat as needed. For example, if you have 20 minutes available for practice, you can spend 10 minutes with the warm-up exercises and loop through the Primal 13 form five times. With each repetition you can focus on ever-more subtle levels of details.


Below is the complete list of Primal 13 postures, followed by a link to a printable PDF for easy reference during your practice. In the next section, we’ll walk through each movement in detail so we will have posture, arm position, leg position and every other aspect exactly correct.

  1. Opening Form/Hold the Ball - Ding/Jin Bu - Central Equilibrium + Spiral Forward
  2. Grasp Sparrows Tail Left - Peng/Lu/Ji/An - Ward Off, Roll Back, Press, Push
  3. Catching Stars - Lu/Peng - Roll Back, Ward Off Variations
  4. Forward Kick Left - An/Jin - Push + Advancing Energy
  5. Play the Lute - Ji/Lie - Compressed Press + Leg Sweep
  6. Single Whip - You Pan/An - Step Right + Push Variation
  7. Hold the Ball - Ding - Central Equilibrium
  8. Grasp Sparrows Tail Right - Peng/Lu/Ji/An - Ward Off, Roll Back, Press, Push
  9. Carry Water to Temple - Ding/Ji - Central Equilibrium + Press (Lift/Compress)
  10. Needle at Sea Bottom - Cai - Pull Down
  11. Step Forward and Raise Elbow - Zhou Jing - Vertical Elbow Stroke
  12. Horizontal Elbow and Brace - Zhou Jing - Horizontal Elbow Stroke
  13. Step Backward and Brace - Tui Bu/An - Step Backwards + Reverse Energy Push
  14. Forward Kick Right - An/Jin Bu - Push + Advancing Energy
  15. Box the Ears - Ji/Jin - Press (Slap) Inwards + Advancing Energy
  16. Play the Lute - Ji/Lie - Compressed Press + Leg Sweep
  17. Reeling Silk - Zuo Gu - Stepping Left (with Reeling Silk energy)
  18. Part Wild Horses Mane Left - Kao Jing - Shoulder Stroke Left
  19. Part Wild Horses Mane Right - Kao Jing - Shoulder Stroke Right
  20. Pluck Lotus/Present Gift - Ding/Cai - Central Equilibrium (Base) + Upwards Pluck
  21. Closing Form- Ding/Qigong - Central Equilibrium + Breathing Meditation

A printable version of this posture list is available in the Primal 13 Tai Chi Form Student Guide which can be downloaded as a PDF. The Student Guide also lists the Eight Energies and Five Steps that together make up the Primal 13, along with a list of the fundamental stances.

Now that you’ve seen what’s included in the practice, it’s time to begin learning the form itself. In the Learning the Primal 13 section we will walk through every sequence and every step with clear instructions. We’ll also get to exercise our imaginations just a bit, so get ready for beach balls, butterflies, buckets and deadly ninjas.