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Students train whole-body strength but deny themselves the benefits of their hard work by clinging to old habits of tension. It is not enough to perform qigong, form and neigong.
If you want to use whole-body strength, then you must employ it. This means letting go of your past.
So long as you dither and doubt, and persist with the use of local tension, there will be no internal skill. Resisting force is simply not the way of tai chi.
External bad habits:
Force against force
More than 4 ounces of pressure exerted by you or expressed by you
Localised arm and shoulder movement
Deep, long or wide stances
Fixed legs - disconnected upper & lower
Over-emphasis of the waist/hips
Incorrect use of the pelvis and hips
Pushing upon impact
These will all perpetuate an
external approach to tai chi. You must remain calm and composed,
relaxed and easy. Rely upon yielding, not upon force.
Those who use force soon exhaust themselves.
And what can be accomplished with exhaustion and struggle?
But those who follow Tao become one with the Tao.
Because they move with the world, they become one with the force of its moving.
Because they are one with the world, great things easily happen.
Therefore, those who trust the Way of the world are empowered by the world.
Falling into the
Letting go of your old habits and trusting that whole-body strength is present requires a leap of faith. You must simply move and then evaluate the consequences later. How do you do it?
There is no doing. It is like the koan: When you can do nothing, what can you do?
Whole-body strength will be there when you stop all the doing, all the preparation, anticipation, the physical and psychological tension.
The doing was all the work that developed your whole-body strength. Like ingredients used to bake a cake.
To apply whole-body strength, you must simply relax and move as softly as you can - using the whole-body.
Being soft and gentle is the key - the less effort you make, the more whole-body strength will emerge.
You must never resort to force or brute strength. The moment you start to tense your muscles, your whole-body strength is gone.
A lower level student has difficulty coming to terms with the nature of whole-body strength.
The reason why you train it for years is so that you do not have to consciously apply strength when you need it. Whole-body strength is inherent; it is there all the time.
If something never comes or goes, why would you need to deliberately summon strength?
Until you understand this for yourself and have the faith that comes from pressure-testing your whole-body strength, you will remain a beginner.
The use of jing is concerned with energy. It is not some metaphysical concept. It is about the physics of touch. Cause and effect. Fine-tuning your nervous system. Developing awareness.
Old & young
The Tai Chi Classics tell us that an old man defeats a gang of youths. But he cannot be using strength. So how does he do it? A young, fit person can tense their muscles and force a result.
An old man cannot. He must rely upon:
The quality and effect of his touch (jing)
Whole-body strength (neigong)
Alignment (qigong and form)
His capacity to respond appropriately (combat)
Timing, positioning, rhythm
As you grow old, your external strength will drain
away. Whole-body strength does not fade in quite the same way.
With understanding, and the correct application of the tai chi principles, you can hope to maintain a level of fitness and martial competence well into old age.
A tai chi person must behave as though they had the limited strength of an old person, and rely upon the internal rather than the external.
18 April 1995
Last updated 16 June 2023