Shoes for Tai Chi

What to wear when you do tai chi is a common question for (and from) beginners. Loose, comfortable clothing is typical. Shoes are perhaps more important for tai chi and martial art attire. Flat, low volume shoes are the best.

I prefer something I can wear in practice and on the street, but it’s not easy to find a good compromise. A good and light indoor practice shoe will fall apart pretty quickly out of doors. I found a pretty good middle ground with the Bushido (https://bushidomartialarts.com/products/bushido-shoe) that I have gotten at Valley Martial Arts in Glendale, California. The soles in the front are flat, smooth (real) rubber and the rear has a herringbone type of tread.z The drawback for these is that they have a mesh construction over the top, so dust and sand can get inside. I actually don’t have much trouble with that and I still like them for their durability and lightness.

Of course, the ol’ standby from Shanghai, Feiyue (“flying forward”), is probably one of those shoes that every martial artist owns at some point. Bushido makes a Feiyue type shoe with their name on it that sells for $20. I find them to be hot in summer and cold in winter, but I still have a pair and where them around the house all the time to practice. Easy to get at Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/Tiger-Claw-Feiyue-Martial-Shoes).

I’ve had Tiger Claw shoes, too, which lasted a long time (tigerclaw.com). They sport a cool Chinese tiger character on the top. They have only one model and two colors: black and white)

The Onitsuka Tiger by Asics shoe is very close to my favorite. They are long-lasting and you can wear them all the time. There are many models to choose from, including suede and leather. The suede versions get dirty rather easily, but you can wipe them down when you need to with soapy water, a brush and rag. Check it out and let me know what you think. I bought mine from Amazon but you can get them at Zappos, but they cost $75 now.

Adidas makes a martial art shoe that I wore when I first began studying tai chi. I like them because they lasted so long and they have a slightly higher top than other martial arts shoes. However, they are not lace up. The have an elastic, slip-on feature that’s cool, but I prefer lace up because I can tie them as tight or loose as I like. Still, the Adidas shoe is pretty good. Unfortunately, they were sold out a the Martial Arts Mart last I checked (http://www.martialartsmart.com/a90-sk.html).

Skechers makes some shoes I’ve seen others wearing and I think they look really good, but I’ve never tried them out and I think they are overpriced. I’ve seen some Merrells that are made for outdoor trail running that look great, but there again, expensive.

This year (2017) I discovered some great new shoes on Amazon < https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B01HFWHGJI/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o01_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1>  for $18.00. I like them. I use them only for indoor tai chi, not street walking. They have very soft insoles that I find extremely comfortable. The brand is one I had never seen before. The title on Amazon goes like this: TimeBus Chinese Traditional Martial Arts Tai Chi Kung Fu Yoga Walking Jogging Driving Shoes, Breathable Soft & Comfortable, Black. Funny.

Mingren makes a cheap canvas-based shoe that I wear regularly. I use them for tai chi and street, and I don’t care if they’re dirty, because they only cost $18 (Amazon—YUNEE-MINGREN-Athletic-Lightweight).

You’ve probably gathered that there are a lot of options for martial arts shoes out there. Choosing can be a hassle, so my rule of thumb is go with as inexpensive as possible, see what works best for you, especially if you’re just beginning. Then go from there. I still get the cheap stuff myself.

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Tai Chi Central Equilibrium Training Notes

Get connected. Practice central equilibrium.
Get connected. Practice central equilibrium.

… third leg and zhong ding practice.

Zhong ding, or central equilibrium, is a pivotal aspect of tai chi practice. A few years ago, George Xu incorporated the concept of “third leg” to describe zhong ding in motion. The concept of third leg helps to refine the movement by focusing on a point from which to move and how to move. Biomechanically, the motion pivots at a leverage point inside the hip assembly at the base of the spine. The femur and sacrum are connected in motion if not physically. This is from where you pivot and turn. Everywhere else is “loose, open” as Master Xu says.

Weighted in gravity is another concept to help incorporate the third leg in movement. You let the body’s gravity rest on the leverage point while moving. You feel your body’s weight sit there like a rock would on the ground.

Susan A. Matthews’ “Backwards Bicycle” motion (learn more) that she describes is another good application of zhong ding biomechanics. While it may sound simple, incorporating it in practice is a little awkward at first try, especially for unpracticed individuals.

Mind intention is necessary to refine the zhong ding movement, utilizing third leg and backwards bicycle. The mind directs the flow of energy in circle motions, figure eights, or spirals. The body wants to move in these configurations and the mind’s job is to allow it, intending the result, then enjoy the ride while directing it in those shapes and patterns.

No hard corners. Continual focus on movement or the sensation of motion, or flow. Spiraling motion results. Matthews described it once as two cones whose tips are touching and the circling is moving in a figure eight around the outer edge of the cone. You have two points: one fulcrum and the outer circling or waving action. They are always connected, no letting up, no pushing down; just weighted in gravity and in motion. This works well, but when you add the third leg to it, you have an added power-generating activity. More stable and refined. While learning and practicing, I find it fun to focus on incorporating these techniques into the form or basics.

The “I know you, you don’t know me” saying in martial arts

GeoXu_w
Xu Guo Ming (George)

George Xu says, “I know you, you don’t know me,” to describe a key characteristic of his approach to martial awareness. Whether you’re practicing tai chi or qigong, or taking a walk in a park, his refrain applies to how you listen to yourself and to others, even to things. I don’t grasp this fully in practice, but I can tackle some of what he means. Obviously, for one thing, if you don’t know yourself, you are vulnerable if someone else knows your weaknesses. This is true in martial arts and in life.

Master Xu is referring to how you are configured energetically and what is the status of your “qi.”

What is the shape of your energy? Where are you empty, full, concave, convex? In taijiquan, with enough exposure, you hear about peng, liu, qi, an and the other “13 Postures” which refer to these concepts. However, Master Xu is not so formal and traditional, because it can make learners complacent and stiff. So, where are you stuck and stagnant? Where are you too light when you should be weighted and vice versa? What is meant by weighted in gravity? Are you double weighted? Are you clear on the difference between being connected and being stiff, or agile and locked? Are all the parts of your body contributing to the whole? Where are you stiff and sluggish when you should be quick and agile? On and on it goes…

How do you know these things? By listening to the energy, Master Xu would say. Chinese martial artists refer to “ting jing,” listening energy. It is more of feeling performed with the whole being, not just the ears. Perhaps “sensing” is more accurate.

Actually, I like to think that it’s really learning to learn, which is the foundation of taiji training and, I suspect, for training in any mind-energy-body work. You’re taking in information and interpreting it in ways that are tangible, applicable within the context. You’re making sense out of what you feel as a result of engaging all of your senses and maybe one or two you’re not sure you possess, or even exist. Ting jing is a special skill that can be developed through the practice of taijiquan.

For 16 years, I’ve had the fortune to train with Master Xu who has allowed me to videotape many of his lessons, which I’ve compiled in a series of videos for DVD and online streaming. What stands out for me about them as a group is the many ways Master Xu constantly offers learners to imagine the essence of what he is referring to, through, for the most part, metaphors and analogies. If you can relate the concept to something that you are familiar with then a bridge can be built from learning to knowing.

Often his descriptive metaphors have a dramatic quality to them, like “I know you, you don’t know me.”  He often refers to predatory animals, such as a tiger, or even a house cat, who “moves inside his skin as he stalks,” and who covers you with its energy body, which you feel powerfully, before the physical body strikes you down.

Master Xu’s many images from the natural world effectively trigger my imagination and makes learning a little more fun. Not easier, of course, because his terms are often mysterious and esoteric. His martial results are very real and effective, however, so there must a whole lot more to his specialized language than meets the ear at first. So I keep listening.