by Wee Kee-Jin
In Taijiquan, we must know the direction we want to head in, then focus on the process not the result. Practising the right process will take you to where you want to go. Even knowing and preaching the Taijiquan ‘classics’ will not amount to anything, if you don’t practise it.
The ‘classics’ state that; the body has to be upright as if the head is suspended from above; the hips have to be relaxed and seated into their sockets; the chest should be hollowed; shoulders relaxed and elbows dropped. These requirements combined create the taiji ‘structure’.
However if all the attention in placed on the structure without having an awareness of the processes and details in the movements, the structure will be empty and without substance.
To develop substance we must learn the sequence of how the body moves in the taiji way. Any raising or lowering always having always originated from the feet, before passing through the ankles, knees, hips (kua) body torso, to the shoulders, elbows, wrists, palms and then fingers. All turning is motivated by the hips turning the waist, body trunk, arms then hands. Both the ‘opening’ and ‘closing’, stem from the ‘centre’. Expanding outwards from the ‘centre’ produces the ‘opening’ and contracting inwards from the ‘centre’ produces the ‘closing’. Similar to how an umbrella is opened and closed. A balloon inflates from air being blown into the centre expanding it outward, and deflates when the air is allowed to escape from the centre.
Most taiji practitioners sequence their leg movements (feet, ankles, knees then hips), and arms (shoulders, elbows, wrists, palms then fingers), but neglect the changes through the body trunk. The legs and arms may be co-ordinated, but are unconnected and therefore moving independently. The ‘classics’ state that when one part of the body moves every part of the body moves, when one part changes – every part changes along with it, and when one part arrives – every part arrives together. Therefore every movement originating in the legs must ripple through the body to produce the movement in the arms.
This releasing of the body trunk is produced by mind awareness visualising a melting sensation as it travels through the body muscles. Only then will the movements of the legs be connected to the arms and the whole body change as one.
Once the sequence of movement is established and connected, the sequence should be timed to synchronize the whole body. If we divide the body into three groups of parts; base (from the feet, ankles, knees to the hips); body trunk (abdomen, chest, spine and shoulder blades); and arms (shoulders, elbows, wrists to the hands and fingers), the changes must be timed to be in relation with each other. So if the base has released 10%, the body trunk should have released by 10% and the arms also 10%. 10% in the base but only 5% in the body trunk and 20% in the arms means that there is a disconnection between the base and body trunk, and you are holding yourself up, and the arms are collapsing into the body.
Throughout the Taiji ‘form’ from the beginning to the end, the whole body is continuously changing and synchronizing, and the mind is initiating wave after wave of sinking. Master Huang maintained that sinking is the main theme of the ‘form’, and Taiji is all about changes. Sinking throughout the ‘form’, not only ensures that we are stable and grounded, it produces a continuous supply of ‘relaxed force’ (jing). To cultivate sinking we initially work it in three stages as follows;
1) When moving the insubstantial foot (e.g. stepping), we send the mind awareness through the body visualising a melting sensation, into the ground under the substantial foot.
2) During the transition (e.g. adjusting the substantial foot and turning the body) we send another wave of awareness and melting visualisation from the crown of the head, through the body into the ground beneath both feet.
3) When issuing the ‘relaxed force’ (fa-jing) from the feet, through the legs, body arms, palms to the finger tips, we visualise the melting sensation as the awareness passes through the body.
Eventually these stages must be combined into one continuous sink.
The ‘form’ is the foundation of Taiji. Whatever process happens in the ‘form’ will translate into the fixed ‘pushing-hands’ and ‘free-pushing’. We should therefore work on the same things in each. If we were to practise one way in the form, another way during fixed ‘pushing-hands’ and something different for ‘free-pushing’, it is like leaning the English words, using a German sentence structure (or grammar) and writing an essay in the Chinese direction (top to bottom left to right).
‘Pushing-hands’ is not just being able to neutralise an incoming force, or being able to stick to your opponent and follow his or her changes. When we are neutralising and the opponent is still grounded he or she can still come in from another direction. When we are advancing although we may be sticking, he or she can still change if they are connected to their base. Both in neutralising and sticking we must take them out of alignment so that they become immediately disconnected. Without a base they will have to rely on you to keep their balance so that effectively you become their centre. Being able to disconnect a partner from their base and use a ‘relaxed-force’ to uproot and throw them is a good level, but the ultimate is not to have to use any of your own force, rather absorbing the force of your partner and returning it to them. A public company operates and grows using the funds from shareholders not their own money.