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If your movements feel like postures then you are way too tense.
You need to be free to move in any direction without difficulty or hesitation.
Remain natural, free and pliable at all times.
Tai chi movements are not postures. Form is not static. Tai chi is not yoga.
A posture is a fixed and tai chi is too flexible to be fixed.
Facing off to somebody - held in a posture - is not the tai chi way.
What will you do when a second opponent appears to your side?
Footwork and body must flow freely from counter to counter without fixity or tension, and nothing can be held.
If you practice tai chi as though it were yoga, karate, wing chun or boxing, you will go astray.
The tai chi body shape is protean; adapting to the on-going change of circumstance.
The main role of form is to sculpt the body into a certain shape as you move.
In tai chi this shape is rounded.
Every movement of the form is constructed of curves, spirals, arcs and circles.
There are no linear movements.
This emphasis upon curvature is fundamental to the nature of tai chi.
Imagine that your body is a large ball or sphere.
The spine represents a vertical axis running through the centre of the ball.
The waist represents the horizontal axis.
The ball can rotate in three dimensions.
Anything that impinges upon the circumference of the ball is rolled around the outside as the sphere turns.
We accomplish this rounded form by using 'bow tension'.
The arms are two bows, the legs two more and the spine makes up the fifth.
The 5 bows must emulate the elastic tension of a bow and arrow being pulled.
Think of the limbs being the bow and the spine being the string.
Although the bow is drawn, neither the wood nor the string is actually tense - both remain soft and springy.
If either were inflexible or brittle, there would be no bow.
The energy of the wielder animates the weapon; storing the energy within the structure, ready for release.
The flexibility of the bow itself makes this possible.
The muscles of the arms move the elbow and wrist joint, whilst deeper muscles in the torso are responsible for strength.
Tai chi is designed to utilise the deeper muscles for power and leaves the arm muscles to provide a relatively passive connection.
The joints of the body must remain relatively open at all times, although they open and close naturally as a consequence of overall body movement.
When a joint remains 90° open, the path of force is transmitted through the soft tissue (muscle, facia, tendons and ligaments).
When the elbow angle is less than 90°, the path of force feeds into the elbow joint - which will buckle and collapse.
Overuse of elbows and knees leads to common sports injuries.
e.g. an unskilled student needs to open their elbow joints way more than 90°.
The arms and legs must be connected to the torso in tai chi, so that the entire body can move as one unit.
This is completely different to external systems where the limbs move independently.
Tai chi was designed with this type of movement in mind and the form movements are deliberately intended to craft the body accordingly.
Neigong is the tool for fine-tuning this type of whole-body connection and making it totally natural and intrinsic.
You could not perform a tai chi form or karate kata in a tai chi way - the angles are all wrong.
The tai chi form aims to cultivate the optimal framework at any given moment; offering you the greatest degree of stability and balance, without resorting to muscular tension or bracing.
Your body needs to cultivate, store and release energy as it moves - comfortably, easily and naturally.
Tai chi aims to be like water.
The framework establishes a flexible scaffolding for the soft tissue to flex, twist and undulate.
It is important to keep the joints very mobile and the muscles relaxed, so that nothing impedes the natural flow.
Any residual muscular contraction will ruin any possibility of spontaneous energy release.
Tai chi is famous for its flowing nature.
One movement seamlessly merges into the next, with no gaps or discontinuities.
There is an inherent smoothness of movement, a quietude of demeanour.
Training the form encourages this flowing quality to emerge.
A cooker heats food and a refrigerator cools it.
They cannot be combined - the very notion is absurd and functionally not viable.
Each is separate and must be kept separate.
The same is true of internal and external martial arts systems.
Whilst many people cross-train or import ideas into tai chi, this is not conducive to progress.
To gain the shape of tai chi you must train tai chi.
There is nothing simpler than this.
Consider the use of the arms and shoulder.
In tai chi, the pathway of power must bypass the shoulder - moving from the middle to the extremity, with no real elbow and shoulder work.
Press-ups, isolated weight training and other such arm-oriented exercises perpetuate the over-use of the shoulders and elbows.
All external martial art systems use the arms and shoulder in a manner that differs from tai chi.
If you practiced wing chun or karate alongside your internal tai chi, your body would encounter a conflict of interests.
Wing chun and karate emphasise linearity, and are usually practiced in a hard, strength-oriented manner.
Tai chi is totally different, remaining loose and rounded, with the power being produced by circular whole-body waves that strike like a whip.
Some beginners maintain that you can choose between styles in application and this may well be the case.
However, we have found no evidence to support this.
Inevitably, the hard, tense habits of the external habit dominate and the internal never becomes manifest.
The tai chi taught by Sifu Waller is not about choosing between systems - it is concerned with developing a fundamental, natural way of moving that sustains the optimal framework at all times.
Self defence will not allow you time to choose your preferred method of body use.
The tai chi way needs to be habit - or more specifically the habit - and a choice is not a habit.
There is a time in the study of
all great systems and theories when the student understands the ideas, but
experiences them as external to herself; and then there is a time when one
internalises the ideas and principles.
They become absorbed into the psyche, a part of one's everyday understanding. When this happens the system begins to grow and expand, as the student applies it to other areas of life.
18 April 1995
Last updated 29 September 2019