Tag Archives: taijiquan

You’ve Left Your Hips Behind.

‘Natural’ movement.
We don’t usually think much about the way that we move around in our everyday lives; we just do it. However, when people take up tai chi or qigong, they often start moving very self-consciously, and a movement that they would normally do both smoothly and gracefully becomes clumsy whilst the body posture gets lost completely.

For example, moving the body from a rear foot to a front foot (this could be a push) is one of those things that brings out the differences.

Moving from back foot to front foot.
If you already have one foot ahead of you, you’re sitting on your back foot, and you want to move your weight forwards on to your front foot, all you do is to push your body off the back foot on to the front foot, and… well, that’s it … your body moves forward, still upright, as though you were walking.
Without any hands being involved, the majority of people will move correctly, as though walking with an upright body.

The unintentional re-wire.
But when you start to involve the arms, something in the brain alters, you no longer just move the body forwards, you also start to lean forward, and the body is no longer upright.  The focus is now entirely on the arms, and everything else is forgotten.

How to strain your back.
If you look at someone side-on as they do the movement this way, you’ll see their upper body angled forwards and their hips behaving as though they’ve been left behind.  Instead of pushing from the centre of the body, they have started pushing from the upper body, and their hips will hardly have moved forward at all.

I’m not saying that the body cannot lean, it can; but if the bottom starts to either ‘lift’ or become ‘left behind’, the posture is not only weakened, but is also potentially damaging to the lumbar area.

In the second picture, assuming that the subject of the photo is doing a tai chi posture, you can see that his body is leaning, but more than that, there is also a ‘disconnection’ (for want of a better word) in the shoulders, which are lifted.  To do his push, he has in effect taken his arms out of the shoulder sockets, so now  the strain will be taken by his upper spine.

Pushing in tai chi.
The problem seems to be created by the absence of anything physical to push in a solo tai chi form.  You’re pushing empty air, but you still want to feel as though you’re really pushing something.  If you were really pushing, say, a piece of heavy furniture across a room, or pushing your car, you just wouldn’t do it like that as it would have less power (although picture 1 would possibly disagree with me, where his lumbar spine is under considerable pressure).
Done in that way, with the bottom ‘lifted’, i.e. a sort of reversed pelvic tilt, the push from your back leg into the ground wouldn’t transmit up your leg, through the hip, up your spine, and along your arms.
Instead, having transmitted up your leg, it would reach your hip, and then, because the ‘line’ had been broken due to your sticking your bottom out, it would get stuck in the lumbar area of your spine and would quite likely hurt you.

Pushing a bent stick.
A slightly simplistic way of looking at why this happens is that, if you were to use a straight stick (e.g. a snooker cue) to push an object, the energy of the push is transmitted from the end that you’re holding, straight through to the other end. If you push with a bent stick, the energy of the push arrives at the bend and is then ‘split’.  Depending on the angle of the bend, some of it tries to go to the end of the stick, and some of it attempts to bend the stick further.

So, when moving the body forward in solo tai chi or in qigong, just do what you would normally do when walking, bring your pelvis toward your front foot, and not only the upper body.  Just let the upper body go along for the ride on top of the hips.

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


‘Enabling’ Movement

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:

  1. 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).
  2. Turn your hip; i.e. If you’re stepping with the left foot, then turn your hip to the right.
  3. 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.

A Bit Hard

Getting heavy.
I had a problem in a class recently. Someone stopped ‘feeling’ and began ‘doing his moves’.

We were doing some partner work, and one of the participants did what he thought might be the next move.  In other words his ‘next move’ didn’t evolve from his partner’s previous move; his move came about as a result of attempting to follow a pre-defined pattern which bore no relation to anything that his partner was doing.
He did this without noticing that the other person wasn’t going with him, and as a result, he applied force, ending up by hurting his partner (no broken bones, just a strain).
Of course, you could argue that the partner should have ‘followed’ the over-assertive movement, but unfortunately that isn’t what happened.

‘Trying to do the next move’ is not such a problem in fixed-step pushing hands, where movements are fairly repetitive, but in the Dui Lian (2-person form) it is a big problem.
This is a set routine and each person is meant to follow her part, but at the same time if you just ‘do your moves’ it’s all a bit meaningless, and just becomes a dance.  In fact done this way (which is how I learnt it for years), I don’t think there’s much point to it other than to show some basic applications.

So what do you do?
In 2-person work (and this applies to pushing hands also), when your partner does an action which affects you, you need to put him in such a position that there is only one way for her to get out of it, and that one way is whatever is the next move in the 2-person form. In other words, you close down all other options so that he can only escape through the loophole that he creates.
This way, one move follows on naturally from the previous move, and nothing is forced.

This doesn’t stop the problem of someone being over enthusiastic, but it does mean that, in the act of attempting to close down all options for the other person, you’re feeling what the other person might be able to do at any point if you give him the slightest opportunity.  In this way, all of the connecting movements for both partners stay very alive and conscious.

It’s a game.
The whole 2-person game is like playing chess, or in fact any game. You try to reduce the other player’s options, ideally forcing her into a position where she has to sacrifice something.
That ‘sacrifice’ is the moment where his energy runs out, her control is lost, or his energy is dissipated. This then allows you to do your move, which can’t be done if the other person is still able to control youand that’s the crucial point.

When you walk, you can’t step forwards with your back foot if you still have weight on it.  In 2-person work, you can’t do your move correctly if the other person is still partially in control, therefore limiting your movements!

But it’s unusual!
I should say that it’s rare for someone to be hurt.  Working with someone else is a dialogue via the senses, and occasionally verbally, and this was actually the first time that I’ve had the problem occur, although in the past I myself have been hurt on many occasions through my partner ‘doing his stuff’ without any awareness of the result of what he was doing.

…And there are places where practising any 2-person work is, to say the least, … dodgy!

Details of Tai chi and Qigong classes with James Drewe here.

When You Move, I Move.

… or to put it another way, if something around me changes, I need to change as well.

By and large we don’t like change, unless we consider it to be positive. Change is worrying for
newton-ball-cradle-2many reasons, perhaps the main one being that we have to remain conscious – we can’t afford to go to sleep because we don’t know what’s just around the corner, and it means we can’t rest; we feel that we have to be on our guard. This isn’t just ‘going with the flow’ stuff, it’s extremely practical. Perhaps it’s really about fearing and not fearing; it’s about taking life as it comes and adjusting to the new situation.
As Alan Watts would have put it, this is ‘The Wisdom of Insecurity’.

It’s making your relationships work; it’s getting what you need out of your work; it’s about not being stressed by events; it’s about coming to terms with change, even when the change isn’t what you’d hoped for; and, not very surprisingly as this is about tai chi & qigong, it’s also doing both solo tai chi as well as doing partner-work.

Practising changingDominoes falling
Normally no one practises adaptability or change; there are no mechanisms in place, no lessons in school, no times in our lives when we deliberately work on accommodating change.  By and large, we learn it through trial and error, with the help of parents and friends perhaps.  Even then we don’t really focus on the process, we’re more interested in getting through the uncomfortable moments than in understanding the process and mastering it.

Practising adaptability in solo tai chi & qigong
In solo practise, exactly the same thing is happening but is much harder to feel because no one is there to help you, you only have your own body.
You therefore have to start paying attention to what is going on inside you, feeling how not only the sides of your body support each other, but also how the front and back, and the head and the feet do precisely the same.
To take a couple of examples, if your left arm moves nearer your centreline, then your right arm somehow needs to create a balance.  Or if your hands push forwards, then something needs to go backwards.

Practising adaptability with another person
It’s easier to achieve this end in tai chi two-person work because you have to feel what is taking place in your body due to the changing pressures being exerted upon it by someone else.

First you create an event; for example, the simple action of your partner pushing against
your arm.  If you do nothing you will be pushed backwards. Symbolically the event has trashed you!
The great thing about this is that, whereas most normal events only happen once, in this case you can get your partner to repeat the event as often as you want, i.e. you can practise.

change-2So what do you do about the push?  Perhaps you lift or lower your arm, or move it left or right… it’s not important, what is important is that you are finding the best way to deal with the issue, and what is more, you are starting to ‘listen’ to what is happening is the event, in this case the push.  The more you listen, the more nuances you will find in the push; no single push will be the same as another.

You will start to notice the subtleties in:
and how all of these can alter.

You will also start to notice:
…How you tense or freeze…
…How sometimes you only move one part of you without the rest being involved…
…How difficult it is to find the balance between excess strength and weakness…
…And then you’ll begin to notice how the person with whom you’re working has similar problems and, even whilst pushing you, doesn’t balance him/herself correctly.

Tai chi and qigong classes with James Drewe here.

Yang 24-Step Form: Horizontal & Vertical

‘The word Peng’ (pron. ‘pung’ as in ‘sprung’) is used in a general way to explain the feeling of expansion/protection of the body as though you are inside a large balloon; the front and back, left and right, and top and bottom are all working together equally, so that, for example, if you were to push forwards, you would feel an equal expansion backwards.  The operative word here is feel, because you naturally wouldn’t be able to ‘push’ your back in the same way behind you!

However, the word ‘Peng’ is also used to describe one of the 13 Principles, occurring in every style of tai chi in one way or another.  In the Yang 24-Step form it appears at Forms 7 & 8, following the 4th Repulse Monkey (Step Back and Push); at this stage in the set of movements – assuming you began the form facing 12.00, you are facing 9.00.

In Form 7, the movement consists of the left arm simultaneously sinking (lowering) and drawing in (towards the body), before lifting up the centreline of the body to project forwards again at approximately shoulder height.
Peng directionIf you turn your body to the right during the sinking-and-drawing-in process, the movement that follows, i.e. the lifting of the left arm, changes from Peng to ‘Lie’ (or Lieh, depending upon your preferred method of spelling the word… Pinyin versus Wade-Giles ).
‘Lie’ is a sideways or horizontal movement, and is another of the 13 Principles. You can see this being used in Parting the Wild Horse’s Mane (i.e. Form 2 in the Yang 24-Step), first by the left arm, then by the right, and then by the left again.PTWHM Direction

In the previous form, i.e. Form 6 (Repulse Monkey), each of the 4 backward stepping movements is initiated by turning the body to right or left; so it’s almost automatic for beginners (and sometimes for more advanced practitioners also) to turn the body once again.
However, it shouldn’t turn, or at least it should only be a very small amount.

To stop the urge to turn the body to the right at this point, focus on the role of the right hand. Instead of allowing it to wander aimlessly out in the 1 o’clock direction (assuming you began the Form facing 12 o’clock), give it the intention of reaching towards 9 o’clock as though to grasp your opponent’s clothing, or shoulder, or even the back of his head. The right arm will still lift up into something resembling a ‘hold ball’ shape (although in reality you’ll never arrive at this shape), but the right hand’s intention will stop the body from turning to the right because the hand is leading and is reaching forward.
All of a sudden the body will feel better balanced in this movement, the left and right sides of the body will coordinate better (see the previous blog on ‘balance’), and the right arm will no longer feel so ‘useless’, or functionless.