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Lacking the necessary balance, connection, coordination and flow, most students resort to local arm strength and brute force during partner work. But that is not tai chi.
'Connection' is a major theme for tai chi students: it is the most simplistic neigong concern. Without it, nothing will really work in application.
Qigong teaches basic connection by lengthening the soft tissues of the body whilst the feet are static.
Form explores an enormous range of dynamic connection possibilities whilst moving. The feet are required to step in coordination with the rest of the body; ensuring length strength at all times.
Standing every day will encourage connection. Although standing requires tangible muscular effort, the exercise must be performed using the least amount of effort.
Over-stretching pulls the joints adversely and therefore represents one extreme of 'disconnection'. The other extreme is sagging; whereby insufficient connection prevents whole-body movement.
For every form movement, the student has the opportunity to sustain length and cultivate the optimal configuration of unified body parts. This is a real challenge.
Mindful, slow, careful practice is essential. There is no scope for spacing out.
With internal martial arts, you control your whole
body, and bring its entire power to bear with each movement. That is the
internal martial arts way of thinking.
(Luo De Xiu)
With sustained daily form practice, the tendons, ligaments, fascia and muscles become united.
The exponent can use less and less effort for each movement. This means that the muscles are less tired and do not hold residual tension.
There is no longer a need to exert. Whole-body strength is now present continuously.
No discernable source
Partner work is a good avenue to explore connection. Try strong stretching during a drill, then sagging. Feel the difference? Now try mild stretching instead...
If performed correctly, there should be no localised use of power. The power should feel to come from throughout the entire frame.
Everything should feel joined together: united. Like an amoeba. When one part moves, all parts move. This is what connection is working towards. If you cannot feel it, then you haven't practiced enough.
Connection cannot be used in combat unless the exponent is already very familiar with moving in a connected manner. Combat is the wrong time to be worrying about connection.
It should already be there. Daily form practice is the answer.
Without a daily reminder to move in this way, the body will revert to its previous external habits once more. The combat expression will not be internal.
Pushing hands and martial sets are opportunities to explore connection and disconnection with an active opponent.
The student who is unfamiliar with form will flounder from the onset and struggle to make progress.
Connection is the most basic form of neigong. It is not peng though. An inexperienced student may be 'connected', however the overall body is not really soft enough to be peng.
Their body lacks pliability.
There are some broad stages of 'connection' development:
- what you started class with
- tension, resistance, exceeding 4 ounces of pressure, local limb movement
- obvious, discernable, lengthened framework
- reliance upon a more 'robotic' structure
- framework less evident
- freer overall movement of the limbs without disconnecting once again
- 70% stretch
- springy, flexible, adaptive
- present without conscious effort
is an early neigong concern, and must be combined with a variety of others
during the course of the training.
Once established, the onus is upon maintaining its presence whilst developing more sophisticated neigong qualities.
Sung feels like the limbs are moving by themselves; all doing is gone. It is more advanced than either connection or peng.
Form is the main chance you get to cultivate sung.If the sequence feels like a karate kata or dance, you have entirely missed the point. It should be flowing, soft, relaxed, yet substantial.
Invest in your form
In order to apply the form, your form needs to be something worth applying. If your form is disconnected, careless, clumsy, unbalanced and sloppy... then how can you expect your applications to work?
They won't work. That is the sad truth.
Practice every day
To gain skill with connection, you need to train form every day and practice connecting at every opportunity throughout the day.
And things are not always what
they seem to be.
18 April 1995
Last updated 17 September 2019