Tai chi is logical and its practical progression from one move to the next requires knowing only a few fundamentals and foundational exercises. Understanding and applying them in motion is perhaps elusive at first, but tai chi is replete with much more difficult and sophisticated practices. You have to start somewhere. One thing is certain: you never outgrow the fundamentals, nor should ever abandon them.
You use the fundamentals to perform foundational exercises. You could say that we use foundational exercises (as I have incorporated those I know) to discover the fundamentals in our own particular beings while in tai chi movement. This teaching is directly from my teachers. My understanding is fairly accurate, but I’m working on execution.
Zhong ding: central equilibrium
Dan tian: field of elixir
Sink qi—sunk, weighted in gravity
Some foundational exercises:
Six directions: up/down, left/right, forward/backwards
Power stretching, bone stretching (see description by Susan Matthews)
These things have to be brought to the attention of learners who are new to the language and practice of tai chi. Others might not call these foundational, but I see them as core movement practices for the practitioner. Moves are simple in the beginning. The actual directions, changes in direction and other features of transition, and shapes and patterns (circles/8s) are the basis of practice (thus foundational and fundamental). However, they may not be as important in the short- or long-term as understanding how to do a move by directing the energy with mind intention and then allowing the body to follow through, or go along (neigong). The attention will eventually be on internal work (neigong).
In essence, the end goal is ultimately the initial goal, the beginning. The beginning seems to always be at the end as well. Understanding this will get you further along. Don’t anticipate the result of the move. Don’t leap from part to part. The move should be a continuous, unbroken flow…like a rope, or wind blowing and water flowing, or electricity. If the beginner thinks about what this means and what it looks, you will eventually feel it in practice.
It takes concentration at first, and may take a long time to get a feel for it—not to mention how long it can take to learn to wield it proficiently. The good news is you could quickly feel benefits.
The fundamentals really form the basis for an art of movement, and art of contemplative movement, too. One task is to release long-held preconceptions, habits of thought that you have not noticed. They are feelings, assumptions, expectations, etc. seated in various parts of our bodies. They hinder your ability to shift and move freely. Once you recognize them you can let them go.
Energy and the mind’s interpretation might have emotional, even traumatic waves, which in turn, might make you reluctant to move your body very much. You hold on instead of letting go. Sometimes the energy is so intense you might opt to let go only a little. Where are you loose and free and where are you not letting go? Do you look for where you’re clenching, are tight, are tense? Can you release without having to recognize where you’re holding back?
These posts were initially intended to supplement lessons that I provided to students. I still write for beginners and intermediates, although more advance practitioners have commented positively about them. I have taught little since the coronavirus pandemic, so these posts are missing a vital component of lessons: i.e., in-person training. If you benefit from them in your practice, please let me know by commenting.