Saturday, March 17, 2012

Hidden Depths of Tai Chi


Tai chi looks simple, but it has hidden depths that can only be discovered through practice, study, and more practice. Everyone, from a beginner to a Master, continues to learn new things as they practice tai chi. On one of his Tai Chi for Arthritis teaching videos, Dr. Paul Lam said,

"One of the most fascinating things about tai chi is that it looks like we are repeating the same thing. But each time we do that, there is something else that is deep and meaningful to it. So, I invite you, when you do your practice, to approach it with a fresh feeling each time and look at the movement from different aspects and to see if you feel that you have learned something fresh and gained some extra depth in the movements."

In order to find these hidden depths of tai chi, we need to learn about the basic principles of tai chi. When we know what these principles are, we can look for them in our tai chi practice. These principles have been written about and taught for generations. There are many variations that have been published over the years, but I think Dr. Lam's are the simplest to understand.

He describes the principles like this:
Movement:
1. Make the movements slow and continuous, developing control of your muscles. Read more here
2. Move as though there is a gentle resistance, as if you have to move through water. This helps cultivate internal force (intention). Read more here.

Body:
3. Be aware of weight transfers. Control your balance, alignment, and posture. Read more here.
4. Be aware of body alignment. Keeping your body in an upright posture. Read more here.

Internal:
5. Song – loosen the joints. Stretch and loosen the joints. Be aware of this as you practice. Read more here.
6. Mental focus – try to keep your mind from wandering. This helps to integrate the internal and external. Read more here.

One way to discover these hidden depths is to study one form at a time. Learn what one of these principles means for that form. Practice it dozens of times. Then move on to another form. Continue on and work with each form. Put them together into the entire set. Then return to the principles and start over with another principle. 

After you have worked through all the principles, go back to the beginning again and start over. You will be amazed at the new things you continue to learn after you think you understand what you are doing.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

© 2012 Eric Borreson
PS: you can read about Yang Chen Fu's 10 principles here and here.