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What you start with

New starters always commence class with a significant amount of muscular tension. They are very stiff and inflexible.
This is usually supplemented with emotional and psychological stresses. Typically the student is only vaguely aware of these problems.


The preliminary training our students undertake was designed to introduce people to this tension.
To train their nervous system to actually feel it in their own body. It usually comes as a surprise; and this is the drawback of habitual poor body use: the dulling of the senses.

The difference between experienced fighters and beginners is the speed of muscle relaxation, which is 8 times faster in champion fighters. For an inexperienced fighter, the speed of muscle relaxation is too slow for the leg or the fist to gain enough speed when striking a blow. Keeping the antagonistic muscles contracted automatically slows down the movement.

(Frederic Delavier)

I am relaxed...

If all you know is tension, then relaxation is a term that you understand relative to your own experience. Can you see the drawback?
You are perhaps not the best person to determine how tense or relaxed you are. This is a Zen maxim: the eye cannot see itself and the knife cannot cut itself.

Don't worry

Remember: every new starter is tense. There are no exceptions. The good news is that you have come to the right place. Our aim is to rid you of tension... but we will need your help.

How you can help

There are many ways in which you can help us to reduce your tension:

  1. Practice a little at home between classes

  2. Reduce the amount of stressful activities in your life

  3. Try to find time to lie down on the floor and rest each day

  4. Read some of the books from the reading list and/or this website

Mental fixity

Commonly people seek to understand new things on the basis of old experiences. This clearly has limitations.
It is important to recognise that change requires the introduction of the unknown, the unfamiliar. Many of the things that you think, feel or believe will not aid you in tai chi.
The habits you came to class with must be shed like a husk: in order for the nimble, supple, freer you to emerge.
This process of unlearning operates side-by-side with learning. As a student you are continually shown the usual way of doing things, and then offered a whole-body alternative.


You may certainly talk the talk, but are you genuinely soft enough?
Often experienced tai chi people do not fully understand just how soft you need to be in order to meet the specifications of The Tai Chi Classics.
Tai chi is exceedingly gentle. The art requires extreme sensitivity, grace and subtlety. This will take time to achieve...

Habits outside class

Everyday body use can promote ongoing, chronic muscular tension as your contracted, clenched body inhibits freedom in the joints.
How you stand, sit and move can profoundly affect how much physical tension you experience. Cultivate your awareness. Study yourself in action.
How do you use your body? Do you strut, slouch, stride or stumble? Are you tired, vigorous, lively or dull? Is your speech calm and clear or do you mumble or speak rapidly without breathing?


No matter how relaxed you think of yourself as being, be aware that you can relax further. Relaxation of body and mind are a constant ongoing endeavour.
You cannot force it. Once again, you must let-go. Cease activity and allow everything to settle. Let your body be like jelly: super-relaxed, heavy - even clumsy-seeming at first.
No holding, anywhere. Let them grab you, throttle you, push you. Do not prepare for what may come.

The source

Most people's arms are extremely tense and they don't even realise it. Why? Why are people's arms tense?
Your hand is the primary tool employed by the mind for the exploration of reality. You touch, you hold, you press, you pull, you manipulate most things using your hands.
Jacob Bronowski wrote "The hand is the cutting edge of the mind." There's your answer. A tense arm is the by-product of a mind that is not in any way relaxed and at ease.

Staying tense

There is a direct correlation between mental tension - over-thinking, anxiety, frustration, worrying, anger, stress - and physical tension in the body.
Indeed, students who are actively sharing news snippets and regurgitating political views on Facebook are inevitably the most tense in class, have the most trouble concentrating and subsequently make little or no progress through the syllabus.
Their brains have been hijacked by the mass media. If you want to stop being tense, you need to switch it all off.


Standing qigong helps the body to find structure without tension, breathe and calm the mind.
If you find the exercises difficult, the solution lies with relaxation. The hardship is not caused by the exercise itself.
Keeping your muscles perpetually contracting is what wears you out; the discomfort is caused by your own tension. Soften.


Form is an ideal way to take this relaxation into movement. The softer you are, the easier it will be.
Slowing the movements down or settling at the end of each movement will help your body to become sensitive and calm. If your limbs feel heavy, they are beginning to relax.


In any given activity, beginners usually apply 100% of their strength when only 1% is needed.
This wears them, tiring their muscles and limiting joint/vertebra movement. Beginners must work at using the absolute threadbare amount of strength on an everyday basis.
There should be absolutely no discernable tension whatsoever. When your muscles are functioning efficiently, you no longer even notice them.

Can you be like an infant that cries all day without getting a sore throat?
Or clenches his fist all day without getting a sore hand?
Or gazes all day without eyestrain?
You want the first elements?
The infant has them.

(Chuang Tzu)


Page created 18 March 1997
Last updated 16 June 2023