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In a forward-weighted stance, the front leg kneecap should point over the centre of the foot. When you feel the ball of the foot absorb the weight and then push back, you should stop.
The knee needs to be firm (but relaxed) and not buckling inwards or outwards.
Rear foot angle
For the rear foot, the Yang-style traditional guideline is 45°. This is fine if you can comfortably square your pelvis without twisting the rear knee. If you experience problems, maybe adjust to 30°?
Beginners often stride rather than step. Over-commitment leaves you vulnerable and exposed. You put mild strain upon your body and compromise your balance.
When standing we should have a sensation of being more in our heels than the front of the foot. However, there should be no tendency to tighten the toes or lift them off the floor. Let the toes lie freely and allow the whole foot to 'soften'. Let the weight go down 'into' the floor so your feel grounded. This gives a firm base from which to think of lengthening upwards. Free your ankles so there is a little sway available to help discover upright balance. In order to enjoy standing without strain we should never get fixed in position.
The human body is meant to squat. It is how we naturally go to the toilet. However in modern Western culture we have the sit-down toilet. This 'convenience' has led to the legs becoming weak.
The lower back and knees are also affected.
Exercise your squat
We can carefully re-train the legs by squatting whenever appropriate. When something is on the floor and needs picking up, squat.
If this feels awkward, then you are probably used to bending at the lower back and neglecting the legs.
If squatting hurts your legs, start slowly and carefully. Use the wall/door frame/a stick for support. Make the movement slow and smooth. In time, your legs will get stronger.
Only squat to pick things up
Do not try to maintain a squat or do your taijiquan in a low squatting stance. Be realistic. Everyday squatting is natural and healthy. If you are unused to this, re-habilitate.
The horse stance is a great strength building exercise if performed correctly and not held for lengthy periods of time. It can serve to open the hips and develop strong leg muscles.
Yang style taijiquan does not typically employ the horse stance in form practice or in combat. We use it purely as an exercise.
When you wish to bend, you must first hinge the hip joint. This enables the front of the body to lengthen and the spine is supported. Bending should occur in the hips, not the lower back or waist.
Correct bending frees up the waist and allows rotation to occur without impediment.
If you plan to lift anything up you will need to bend the knees and squat. Lifting a heavy object from the ground using a hip bend will strain the lower back.
Squat instead. Draw the object closer to your torso. Then stand.
Leave the pelvis alone; it does not need to be consciously tilted in any direction.
Deliberate tilting or tucking-under is exaggerated and affects the knees adversely because you are now leaning back slightly.
If the pelvis is moved too much during taijiquan practice, you will lose your centre and this will affect the knees. You need to open and close the hip kwa and sacroiliac joint instead.
Knees often fold inwards, towards one another. To compensate, 'think' of the outer edge of the foot whilst standing or walking. Do not force anything. Simply think about it.
The knee needs to remain in line with the second toe (the big toe is the first toe). If your knees are bad, try to keep the lead knee as vertical as you can without holding or fixing the joint.
Some people twist their knee joints sideways rather than move it forward. The joint moves inward or outward rather than forward.
This fault can be corrected by slowing down weight changes and paying attention to the way in which the foot is connecting with the ground.
Outward-pointing knees require greater emphasis upon the heel, ball of the foot and big toe. Inward-pointing knees require more attention on the little toe or outer edge of the foot.
Many faults are caused by exaggerating the size of a movement or action. Movements that come from the centre involve weight transference, waist and spine action.
If you over-emphasise the waist turn, this may well affect the knees. Similarly, reaching your hands past your feet can create imbalance.
Squaring the pelvis
Tai chi practitioners may seek to square their pelvis to the front during a bow stance. If the stance is too long, too narrow or the individual lacks the requisite flexibility, this could be a problem.
Often, exponents seek to overcome the obstacle by buckling the rear knee (or straightening it) rather than the more obvious solution which is to square-up only to the degree that is comfortable...
The word slowness refers not only to action but to
a state of mind free from impatience and anxiety. Haste seldom solves
anything. Slowness is needed to alleviate the tense desire for
progress and success.
Martial artists/sports people
In taijiquan, the only people who get knee trouble are those with an existing history of hard style external martial arts, sports injuries or occupational damage.
Those people need to be very slow and careful in order to rehabilitate the knees. Often, the student is bending the knees unnecessarily: particularly when standing, walking or doing taijiquan.
Knee pain can go away quite quickly once the student relaxes the knee rather than bending it.
6 balanced pairs
When a student can squat easily and perform a horse stance with ease, it is worth thinking about coordinating the '5 bows'.
Elbows & knees are one of the 3 external harmonies. Elbows and knees must both be naturally relaxed and in line. Elbows and knees store and release together.
Arms back problems feet hands hip & Groin joint health Knees legs pelvis shoulders
18 March 1997
Last updated 29 April 2021