In taiji we are doing two things at a time. Maybe four. All require and active and present mental awareness. We are moving physical and energy and we are tracking both with the right and left hemispheres of the brain. Don’t ask me which because I’m not neuroscientist. Susan Matthews could answer that question.
All I know is that you are moving physical body and the qi flows through the body and outside of it and it is as though you must separate the brain’s halves to track each. I know that we are capable if it. Our human resources are infinite if we are willing to step beyond perceived limitations.
I learn different things from George Xu and Shifu Matthews but they are in alignment on at least one thing that I have learned from both. The fundamental universal thing common to all martial arts. Maybe you know to what I refer. Hopefully it resonates in some wordless part of you, because words fail me when I try to describe what it is exactly. That is no doubt the key and we all are looking for the key that unlocks the mystery.
For so long we have referred to “qi,” without actually describing what qi is so that we all know what were are talking about. Lifeforce, energy and so on are words. Through experience we interpret them, but if you have no experience, defining qi becomes more elusive.
Qi is change. Not like “spare change” as in money, but shifts that occur in the position of the body, for example. In order to shift you probably need a shift in the mind. Perspective has to change. You need to discern more subtle positions of the body and the feeling of flow. Qi flows. One way to identify qi is to seek out places in the body that have nothing flowing through them. This understanding is achievable by everyone who tries, I believe.
A (serious) beginning tai chi student must remember and practice a number of things. For example: dantian, zhong ding, spiraling, structure, energy, chi, harmony, opposing force, yin-yang, mind, and spirit. That’s only the beginning.
Work on refining these things continually and you will eventually experience the greatest rewards for practicing this ancient art. Many people feel the difference even after only a class or two with a good teacher. Practice with a friend(s). Obstacles exist. Forget them.
It’s sounds like a lot. You better get started today. Look on the bright side. Have fun.
The secret to standing in zhang zhuang or yi quan is not in how still you can be, rather how you adapt and adjust subtle energies in the body so that you will be relaxed yet strong, calm yet alert. Trying not to move can create tension and defeat the purpose of standing. Start with the muscles and look for where energy is not flowing freely. If not, then you are holding on to something that hinders flow.
Another secret is to understand the concept of “two bodies”; one energy and the other physical. Separate them as yin and yang separate, but remain as one.
You can incorporate standing principles when you pause in a posture in the form; then maintain the sense, or sensation cultivated in standing, as you move through transitions from one posture to another. That alignment, central equilibrium, zhong ding, qi going through and circulating through everything is the essence of taiji. Susan A. Matthews refers to this as “stillness in movement.” Wuchi never goes away even thogh you ar moving. Very yin-yang.
Don’t know what standing, or Zhang Zhuan, refers to? You can learn more by reading The Way of Energy by Lam Kam Chuen. I downloaded recently it as a pdf here.
free the muscles
when wiping a wet glass off with a towel after washing it I found myself with tension, stiff neck, tense shoulders and all the associated muscles … kind of frozen, no qi flowing through or very little.
to catch this in the midst of it happening is an opportunity to let yourself release that tension and let the qi flow … go deeper into your marrow to open the jar, wiped down the countertop or clean the windows.
Ever since my teacher, George Xu, first talked about the concept of two bodies, I’ve wondered what he meant exactly. Intellectually I thought I knew what he was referring to. But, since little in taiji is as obvious as it first appears, I had to ponder it over time to understand more clearly.
My “pondering” took place in my practice, in the movement of taiji itself, not in “thinking” about it, which is word chatter in the head. So I arrived at this articulation: Two bodies refers to the physical body and the energy body as two distinct units of our total beings. What I have since clarified, at least in my own mind for now, is that the quest of the tai chi practitioner is to distinguish between the physical and energy bodies, then learn to direct their activities separately. For example, while moving the body up, while moving energy down. Or the other way around. This touches on the concept of “opposing forces” in tai chi, which isn’t really accurate because “opposing” suggest going against and that is not what is intended. It means, as the yin-yang symbol shows, that there is an up on any down motion and vice versa.
With extended practice, you learn how to remerge them into a new, more powerful entity.
Last autumn I wrote in the Dragon Journal blog about doing tai chi on beaches. Recently pondering the question of the best places to do tai chi, I recalled the feeling of my bare feet in the beach sand as I practiced and the important role the surface I’m standing on plays in my tai chi experience. The interface of feet and surface is integral in tai chi. In fact, the bubbling well (yongquan) behind the balls of the feet is a major focus. It is a gate through which qi flows and where you establish an important connection with Earth.
Wood stone water earth metal…Soft hard wet cold warm hot.
I find that different surfaces produce different effects at different times. Stone water earth metal wood, soft hard wet cold warm. Each emits particular sensations depending on its unique qualities. Bare feet on warm stone on a cool evening, or cool stone on a hot day. Bare feet in wet or dry sand, solid or soft, cool or warm. The way each accepts your body’s weight and how you sink into it.
So many different kinds of earth stone wood water present infinite characteristics, compositions and qualities. Stone may be stronger than Earth; it gives a sense of stability, feeds back hard, unyielding, but somehow responsive. Earth is softer perhaps, but can be burning hot or cold like stone. I once walked a labyrinth in Estes Park, Colorado one summer afternoon, the sun high above, barefooted. That was dumb. The soil had tiny crumbs of stone mixed in with it’s own dust. My bare skin had blistered by the time I got back to my shoes at the entrance.
The type of shoes you wear makes a difference in your experience of the surface upon which you do tai chi, of course. Martial artists around the world fiddle with getting the best shoe, which as far as most are concerned is a low volume, light shoe; the next best thing to barefooted while providing support for long periods of training and don’t slow you down.
Water is perhaps more alien, since we can’t stand on it, only in it. But I’ve stood in hot mineral waters and moved with healing sensation and since I am big wood, water is particularly healthful.
Wood surfaces are nurturing and I feel a familiarity with them. I remember discovering training pylons in a meadow outside an abandoned temple in rural China where monks trained kungfu. I stood atop that maze of wooden posts projecting a couple of feet out of the ground and hopped from one to the other, practicing horse stance and doing single basics. I imagined how those now silent posts might have felt under the feet of the countless kungfu artists who sparred and exercised on them.
Most practitioners probably take for granted the surface upon which we practice but still and have certain expectations. Flat, level ground is better for most of us; but uneven, slanted surfaces present a challenge to adapt to and change. Somewhere in the back of their minds they are cognizant of the interaction they have with the surface upon which they practice.
My experience with each of the various surfaces I’ve practiced on changes, too. I adjust my weight according to each and over time that relationship changes. The way in which I spiral bones on each type of surface differs and evolves over any practice session. My whole body becomes infused with the quality of that particular matter upon which I am moving.
If I had to choose one over another, I couldn’t because each has such variation and I discover so much more than before each time. But summed up, any of the best places to do tai chi is going to include a special relationship with the surface you’re training on.