Tag Archives: shadow boxing

Putting Backbone Into It (Shadow Boxing)

The Spinal Line.

  • Crown of head (not to be confused with the hair whorl)
  • Perineum (muscle between genitals & anus)
  • Point directly on the line between your 2 feet (variable if moving your weight back/forward between the feet).

The Spinal Line (when pushing an object/person).
When working with someone else, or even a static object, the correctly connected line of the spine becomes even more important.
In effect, a force against the body needs to be evenly distributed throughout it, so as to lessen the chance of damage to one part, and the spine is the main method of distribution (like the mains water pipe into the house before distribution to other outlets).

To continue the water analogy, it’s the pressure of the water behind your tap that causes the flow, not the water itself.  So, for example, when shifting a piece of heavy furniture, if you overuse the arms, you can strain them (or the shoulder joints); or if you don’t use the spine correctly, you can hurt your back.  In this example, if you treat the body this way, you’re trying to push water out of the system without backup from the mains.

How do you ‘connect’ the spinal line?
When a you push someone/thing, the force passes
⇒ down your arms,
⇒ through the shoulder joints,
⇒ connects across the bridge of the shoulder girdle to the spine,
⇒ runs down your spine to the pelvis,
⇒ passes sideways via the bridge of the pelvis to the thigh bones (mainly the rear leg thigh bone if you’re in a Bow Stance), and
⇒ travels down the leg(s) to the heel(s). (Depending on what you’re doing, it might then move to the toes, and possibly the tips of the fingers at the other end).

Or is it the other way around?
It’s also arguable that instead of thinking the force starting at your hands, you think of it starting at your rear foot, but because it’s a push, most people don’t think it this way.

Pushing furniture.
You need to move a piece of furniture in the room, and you don’t want to lift it.
You put your hands against the side of it and shove.  If you shove with only your arms they’ll get tired, and you might well hurt your neck and back (probably lower).
To move it, (1) you need to connect yourself to the piece of furniture correctly, (2) you need to push correctly, (3) you need to relax whilst pushing (strangely), and (4) your intention needs to lead you in the right direction.

1) Connect yourself:
You apply a gentle push, without intending to make it the object/person move, and you feel the connection between object and your rear foot.
You are creating an energetic line from rear foot to hands, and the easiest places to ‘break’ that line are at the shoulders and/or lower (lumbar) spine.
If the shoulders are raised, the energy from the push will run up the arms, reach the shoulders, and will then ‘leak’ or be ‘blocked’ at the shoulders; some of it might reach the rear foot, but most of it will be dissipated in the upper body.  You are ‘leaking qi’, which, in effect, means that the pipeline from hands to foot has a hole in it.
Similarly, if you haven’t relaxed your pelvis, allowing the lower spine to settle and release, the energy ‘leaks’ from the lumbar part of the spine, and you will possibly risk straining your lower back.

2) Expand/lengthen your line in an integrated way.
In this instance, expanding means forwards and backwards (‘Every action has an equal and opposite reaction’).
Integrated means that you distribute the force equally through your spine, arms, and rear leg.

3) Relax.
This might seem odd, bearing in mind that your pushing something, but sticking with the pipeline analogy, when you lay pipes, you need to ‘bed’ them correctly; in a long run of pipes, if you only support the two ends, the pipe will gradually start to bow over time, so the pipe needs to be able to rest.
So when pushing your object, connect to the object and feel the floor with the pushing foot, but then try to ’empty’ the middle… rest it.

4) Your intent.
Your intention simply focuses the energy, like shooting at a target.  The more finely you focus, the easier the action is.  Rather like a hosepipe, the finer the nozzle on the end, the further the water will travel.

And the point in relation to Tai Chi and Qigong is?
When you have a force that is pushing you, or conversely you are pushing someone/thing, it’s comparatively easy to feel this.  The challenge is to apply and feel this concept when doing solo tai chi or qigong.  Hence the expression “shadow boxing”.


James Drewe teaches Taijiquan and qigong in both London and in Kent. Details of weekly classes can be found on the website, and there are classes for 2-person Taijiquan on one Saturday a month.

Email: taijiandqigong@gmail.com
Phone: 07836-710281 or 020-8883 3308


Balance in taiji

‘Balance’ in taiji

One of the aspect of taiji is to allow ‘freedom of movement’, so that the body never inhibits itself.

‘Freedom of movement’

In order to exist, a solar system must work in harmony. If one planet in the solar system were to go out of alignment, the system would become unstable.
If you see your Da Vinci Vitruve Luc Viatour (1)body as a solar system, the torso being the sun at the centre of the body, and your hands and feet and head being individual planets within that system, those planets always need to ‘balance’ one other.

Left/Right; Front/Back; Up/Down

‘Ease of movement’ is produced first of all by relaxation. Any tension means that the body is fighting itself and therefore restricting movement … it is ‘inhibiting’ itself.

Ease of movement is also created by the interaction not only of the four limbs, but also of the upper and lower body.  Horizontally, it is about using one side of the body to help the other side, and on the vertical aspect, it is the upper half of the body helping the lower half.  In tai chi, movement never happens with only one unit of the body (e.g. one hand or leg), it is always reflected throughout (as in Newton’s 3rd law: ‘For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction’).
As an example of vertical balance, you only have to think of a tight-rope walker to get the idea – he uses a long pole that stretches to either side of him to increase his ability to balance (the pole distributes mass away from the vertical axis which is the pivot point, which increases inertia).  The point is that left and right have to be balanced for this to work.


Physiologically, when damaged, the body can balance itself automatically over a period of time when left alone.
An example of this is that if you have ever damaged your lower back causing the lumbar muscles to go into spasm, you will know that your neck can be affected. After a while, the neck gets used to the new state of affairs and adjusts itself.  You go to the osteopath who sorts out the lumbar problem, and your neck gets sore again, eventually recovering as it again adjusts itself.


Returning to the solar system analogy, the ‘magnetic’ push/pull of the planets, which holds them in their orbits, is comparable to the physical action of breathing.
At the most basic level, an in-breath has to become an out-breath; you cannot go on breathing in forever.  This translates as ‘open/close’ (Kai/He); an ‘open’ must become a ‘close’ – you cannot continue opening forever, nor can you ‘open’ without having closed first…
E.g. it’s impossible to punch with your arms already outstretched; you have to draw them inwards first.
Neither can you have only one side of the body ‘opening’ because the body then becomes unbalanced.
E.g. when breathing in, it is obvious that the chest expands; but the back must also expand.
It is more obvious that when breathing in, not only does the left side of the ribcage expand, but the right side also expands.

Two-Person Tai Chi

Two partners, working together in tai chi, e.g. in Pushing Hands, are like two solar systems interacting; for mutual existence, one needs to sense the actions of the other and respond accordingly.  It is this interaction between the two partners that produces the softness of tai chi.

Natural rules of movement

The odd thing is that, in the everyday actions of our day-to-day lives, we follow these ‘rules of movement’ 90% of the time.  But when learning tai chi and other forms of movement, we start thinking, and all of a sudden our natural movement habits seem to vanish!  So we have to re-learn the principles of what we would normally do without thinking.  It’s also worth pointing out that when we don’t follow these principles in our daily lives, through distraction, stress, hurrying, or laziness, we often injure ourselves (e.g. picking up a heavy object from the floor without balancing the front and back of the body).

Daily use

A simple example of our daily use of the body compared to our ‘learnt’ use of the body:
If you wanted to pull a very heavy object, for example a wooden table, across a room, you might begin with one foot in front of you and one behind, you’d take hold of the edge or leg of the table, and as soon as you started the pulling action, you wouldn’t leave your elbows stuck out to the side, (you’d drop them), nor would you leave your bottom sticking out, (you’d tuck it in).  If the table were extremely heavy, you would additionally engage your abdominal muscles, possibly sucking them in…
As you dragged the table across the room, it would start to feel as though you were using your back to help pull it; and that’s exactly what you’d be doing, you’d be balancing the front leg (that you’re using for pushing) with your back.

Learnt use

 However, when it comes to learning tai chi, most people just move their weight backwards (from the front leg to the back leg), do nothing with the pelvis, don’t even drop the elbows, and just pull their arms back (bending the elbows) as though the arms are a couple of additions to the body that just happen to be in front of you.  All they see is the superficial movement of a body moving backwards from the front leg to the back leg, whilst withdrawing the arms.

So in many ways, doing a solo form of tai chi is much harder than doing tai chi with a partner where contact is involved.  In solo tai chi, it’s harder to feel that you are pulling or pushing as there is nothing to pull and push.  Your body therefore behaves differently.  It’s almost easier to perform movement efficiently when working with a partner, because often (though not always), the body will balance itself automatically, and will cease to inhibit itself.
Which is why, when performed correctly with the intention involved, solo tai chi is often referred to as ‘shadow boxing’.