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Walk like a cat?
Despite Wu's suggestion from The Tai Chi Classics, very few tai chi people walk like a cat. Many students treat the art like an external system and rely upon deeply bent knees and wide stances for power.
Their seeming root is accomplished through physicality not intention. The jing of 'root' is created by not-doing, by allowing - not by squatting.
Deep, solid stances do not emulate a cat's walk. A cat is a vibrant creature, supple and soft. Its body is extremely flexible and agile.
A cat's paw is placed softly and tentatively. It can withdraw the paw upon placement because the weight has not been transferred immediately. The paw also opens and closes as the cat steps.
How to cat step...
There are 3 phases:
Place the heel
Place the toe
Shift the weight forward into the lead leg*
* for repulse monkey, the toe places first, then the heel, then
the weight shift
It is imperative that you do not commit the weight until phase 3. During phases 1 and 2 ensure that you can peel the foot off the ground and withdraw at any point.
Beginners can't cat step
We don't teach beginners how to cat step because they are uncoordinated and need to focus on cruder motor skills initially. A beginner struggles to get stances right. They need to keep things basic.
Cat stepping is taught during section 2 of the Long Yang form.
A cat's step is soundless and gentle - like Kwai Chang Caine walking on rice paper back in the early 1970's.
Walk like a cat.
How do you step? Sensitively? Feeling the weight shift within the foot? Softly? Carefully? Or are you a tai chi rock, planted deep in the ground, self-assured in your immovability?
Do you just walk on your toes?
Many students refuse to walk like a cat, and deny their own vulnerability. When they are attacked with the rubber training knife they are slow to move.
Instead of stepping cleanly and naturally, they lumber from fixed stance to fixed stance like a rusted robot. (They also fail to evade the training knife).
Agile & responsive
Have you ever watched how a cat responds to perceived danger? The entire body moves as one, drawing away from the threat, coiling and expanding.
This is akin to the amoeba-like movement tai chi students acquire from reeling silk exercises if they take their training far enough. The cat evades and counters without hesitation or doubt. It moves.
Watching Sifu Waller perform his bagua was like watching a
cat hunting or
preparing for a fight. He had a single focus of attention to the exclusion
of everything else. And a raw power, just waiting to be
unleashed should the
need arise. You were in no doubt about the outcome, if you were facing
A cat can go from complete passivity to combat readiness instantaneously. It does not tense muscles and prepare. It just moves.
The cat does not psyche itself up, rock, dither or demonstrate any of the characteristics you often see demonstrated by human fighters.
Only a skilled tai chi person tends to move smoothly and calmly in response to threat. Most students are jerky and tense.
The appearance of youth
People spend lots of money on beauty products, therapies, treatment. They run, they go to the gym, they cycle. 50 year olds undertake military-style 'boot camp' training that was designed for 18 year olds.
Other people dress young, act young and play at being young. But how healthy are they really?
A person may have surgically-altered features that emulate youth, injections to inhibit muscle movements... etc. Look past this. Watch them move. This is the giveaway.
You cannot pass yourself off as young when you move like an elephant.
There was a samurai who had a rat in his house and
could not get rid of it. He acquired a superb cat, stalwart and robust. But the
rat was quicker and simply made a fool of it. Then the samurai got another cat,
more cunning and astute. But the rat was on his guard and hid except when the
cat was asleep. Then a Zen monk from a nearby temple lent the samurai his own
cat, the most ordinary-looking cat you could imagine, that spent all its time
drowsing and napping and paid no attention to anything around it. The samurai
shrugged and said the cat was no good, but the monk insist he keep it. So the
cat stayed and slept and slept, and soon the rat grew bold again and began
trotting forth right in front of the cat, which showed absolutely no interest in
it. Then one day, with one swipe of its paw, it caught the rat and pinned it
down. Strength of body and technical skill are nothing, without vigilance of
How does a fit person move?
A healthy person is akin to a cat:
They can squat with
ease, get up without groaning, without effort.
They do not have a bad back, stiff
shoulders, stiff neck,
headaches or bad knees.
Their footfalls are light, they can move freely and spontaneously...
So why are we thinking about cats?
If you read The Tai Chi Classics it speaks of softness and subtlety, quietude, of the weak defeating the strong.
The Wang Treatise teaches sensitivity, adjustment and grace: A feather cannot be placed, and a fly cannot alight on any part of the body.
The Wu Treatise talks about cats: The form is like that of a falcon about to seize a rabbit, and the shen is like that of a cat about to catch a rat.
The Chang Treatise also emphasises lightness: In motion the whole body should be light and agile, with all parts of the body linked as if threaded together.
Yang's 10 Essentials: Suspended from above. This will lighten the feet, increase agility and nimbleness, improve balance. Lithe in appearance, but powerful in essence.
These quotes highlight the importance of being lithe, cat-like and nimble.
Emulate a cat
A cat possesses the innocuous spontaneity and suppleness we seek with Sifu Waller's approach to taijiquan. The cat moves easily and comfortably.
It does not adopt extreme stances and finds balance without effort. It rests when it is tired, finds food when it is hungry.
Tai chi re-trains the body to move naturally and freely. As a student moves through the syllabus, they are challenged with increasingly sophisticated stepping patterns.
The cat-like grace of tai chi encourages agile, strong movement, excellent poise, high energy levels and a feeling of vigour. Learn how to move with the easy, relaxed balance of a professional dancer or a large cat.
If animals could speak, the dog
would be a blundering outspoken fellow; but the cat would have the rare
grace of never saying a word too much.
Small and subtle
In the world of tigers and bears, the cat is small fry. Ordinary. A cat minds it's own business but will defend itself if required. It goes where it pleases. A cat is also an 'apex predator'.
• The authentic self
Page created 1 November 2009
Last updated 16 April 2012