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Look around you
It is useful to look at how other arts use the body. Examine the differences with an open mind. Become more aware of human anatomy and determine medically sound ways of using the human body.
Look at why common sports injuries occur and what the usual remedies entail.
Be open minded enough to look at your own training and your own daily habits of body use. Are you stooping? Do your knees hurt? Is your back sore? Your neck stiff?
Do you experience problems with balance? Question long-held historical practices. Do not assume that a method is ideal simply because it has always being performed that way.
It can be very useful to look at how you use the body in everyday life. Alignment, ergonomics, range & reach, poise, gait, posture, imbalances...
Many people sit and stand in an adult version of the foetal position: an appalling by-product of modern technology.
Chores, hobbies, gardening, work, sport, leisure and exercise can all be considered in terms of the manner in which the body is being used.
Most people are not very energy efficient. They put strain on certain muscles, tax a particular joint, meanwhile other parts of the body no longer move correctly (e.g. sacroiliac).
What 'feels right' is not necessarily healthy or advisable - since 'normal' is outcome of habit and familiarity - not understanding.
It is very common to see people over-reaching, over-striding or over-working without any awareness that they are doing these things.
Taijiquan form is uniquely complex. It is very different from the katas and forms found in external martial arts.
The three dimensional nature of human movement is explored in exquisite detail; tai chi has refined movement into a work of art.
A novice or a non-practitioner could no more understand the biomechanical complexities of form than they could play a Mozart piece on the piano or dance Swan Lake.
It takes years of practice and tuition to dismantle even one form (and the Yang system features several forms).
Beyond the use of balance, leverage, weight shift, spiralling, bowing, turning, hinging, rising and falling of the body there is the in-depth question of how those movements are to be used in combat.
Effort to reward ratio
If you approach taijiquan combat as though it was kung fu, karate, judo, ju jitsu, aikido or kick boxing... you will go astray. Taijiquan is altogether different. The art is far less concerned with results.
It is much more interested in how the results were achieved. By working on the 'means' the student is able to produce a greater result with far less effort.
Taijiquan applications that are fuelled by external sensibilities look wrong from the onset. There is local arm movement, tension, extended body use, holding, blocking, force against force.
Instead of using blending, yielding, sensitivity, stickiness, jing, centre and balance - a crude parody is being practiced.
You will begin to feel that your taijiquan practice
goes beyond simple form training, and you will be able to perceive things as
energetic combinations, rather than as static physical objects. Your
training partners will appear to your senses as dynamic patterns of energy,
rather than as clumsy physical bodies. When this happens, you can skilfully
switch strategy and tactics in any situation.
Learn how and when to breathe
Once a movement pattern is ingrained, a student learns how to 'breathe' the movement. The breath is the bridge between intention/mind and the body.
It will lead to greater bodily unity and an increase in power. People often seek to add breathing into their form; resulting in a predictable, regular rhythm which is martially unsound.
The main challenge facing the student is their own prevailing habits of body use and their ability to comprehend the complexity of the tai chi skills.
Students typically underestimate how hard it is to move in an internal way; and lack the patience to let the art unfold by itself. Forcing a result will lead to failure.
How can I tell?
If you want to determine whether or not your use of the body is skilful, consider the following questions:
Were your actions successful?
Did you achieve the desired outcome?
Did you compromise yourself?
Were you over-committing?
Was there any adverse feedback?
Did you allow for multiple attackers?
What did your actions do to the opponent?
Were you forcing an outcome? Or did it flow?
Was it easy to perform?
Smooth or jarring?
Was it hurried and quick?
Were you calm and composed?
Did it feel comfortable?
How tiring was it?
Did you connect the limbs to the torso?
Was yielding employed?
Were your limbs flexible?
Did you tense-up?
Were you composed?
Did you move your whole body?
Were your limbs loose and heavy?
Did you go with the flow of the attack?
Did you respond without thinking?
Give it time
The sophisticated body mechanics of tai chi are the result of many years of daily practice. Cultivate your own sensitivity, awareness and understanding of how and why the body is used in tai chi.
Then be patient.
The wisdom of using
soft against the hard was originated from Lao Tzu. It is from this concept
that taijiquan was created.
5 October 2003
Last updated 15 May 2020