The art of effortless movement.
If you want to take a step forwards, it’s impossible to move efficiently if you still have weight on one foot, even a minute percentage.
This is like driving off in a speed boat whilst still anchored.
To move effortlessly, you have to observe not only how you shift your weight from one foot to the other, but also how you use your muscles. Are you relaxing all those muscles that are unnecessary for the job, or are you holding on to some because, either you simply haven’t noticed that they’re tight, or they’ve been tight for so long that you just don’t feel them anymore?
Is your body well aligned? Are you bending to step? Are you looking at the floor? Have you lifted your shoulders to step? Have you tightened your neck?
Stepping forwards, backwards, or sideways.
Whichever direction you want to step, the main question is, how do you do it with ease?
“With ease” means that your balance is perfect, which in turn means that you have complete confidence in it, and that it is done with relaxation.
We’re not talking about using body momentum here; yes, it’s possible to ‘throw yourself through a movement’ and as a result not notice it – a kind of simultaneous ‘in’ and ‘out of’ control, but the real skill is to do it very slowly whilst feeling comfortable (no effort, no tension) throughout.
The 100% rule.
To move one foot you must place the weight on the other foot. Of course it’s obvious, but most people don’t do this. Beginners (and some more advanced) in tai chi and qigong fall from one foot to another, using momentum to step; this might be okay when you’re walking but isn’t so good when you require control in, for example, a martial art – although I’m aware that not everyone is interested in this aspect.
Stepping with awareness.
Only by shifting 100% of your weight on to one side of your body can you free up the other side of the body. By doing so, you ‘enable movement’, in other words, you allow movement to take place because the other side of your body is free to move. This is also known as ‘full and empty’.
Next you have to step with the free leg, but if you just stick it out ahead of you, the heel won’t touch the floor. However, by bending the knee of the leg on which you’re standing, the heel will now touch.
Only when the heel has touched the floor should you start to move the spine forwards (or sideways or backwards)… in other words, only then do you shift your weight to the other foot.
If you want the step to be bigger, then you have some options:
- Either you’ll need to bend the supporting knee more. (Don’t try to increase the length of the step by ‘launching’ yourself into the step; when you do that, you are briefly falling in space before the foot lands on the floor).
- Turn your hip; i.e. If you’re stepping with the left foot, then turn your hip to the right.
- A combination of the above two points.
And a neater version…
That’s all pretty messy when you do it in stages like that, so you need to try it simultaneously:
• Transfer the weight on to one leg, whilst simultaneously turning and sinking the body and extending the other foot. The extended foot has no pressure on it in this exercise. Only then do you move the weight on to the foot that you’ve extended.
The art of movement with massive effort.
When described, ‘The art of effortless movement’ sounds like quite the opposite, but in fact it’s very close to the way that a cat, or tiger creeps up to its prey.
Details of Tai chi and Qigong classes with James Drewe here.