Taiji - Questions
Questions on the Aplication of Taiji.
Q. When progressing to the Free Pattern Pushing-hands, do the ideas and techniques from the Fixed Pattern Pushing-hands apply without modification?
A. The situation is different but the method is the same. You must understand and have achieved a degree of naturalness in all aspects of the method of receiving, neutralising and returning the partners efforts as follows: with a relaxed body and sensitive Mind, without resisting and without losing contact, listen deeply to detect your partner's changes, then withdraw in the exact direction of their energy. Next, by changing direction always a little ahead of the partner, draw them in a gentle curve. When the partner's energy withdraws, merge with their Mind-energy-body system and release a wave of internal energy. This is practised and refined within the Fixed Patterns and used within the Free Pushing-hands.
Q. In Taiji it is said that the soft overcomes the hard and the slow overcomes the fast. How can this be true?
A. Soft internal strength is free to change faster than hard external strength, so defeats it by controlling it, not by opposing it, while sensitive timing can defeat speed.
Q. If I always wait for my partner to move and my partner is fast, how is it possible to prevail?
A. Although the partner is fast, it requires a perceptible moment to attain that speed. In that short space we can take the initiative.
Q. But the margin for error is so small, in a dangerous situation can we rely on such a method?
A. The method of waiting for the partner to move is just for beginners. To ensure complete control we must advance to the level of seeing and responding to their intention as it forms within their Mind, not waiting for their body to move.
Q. How do we move from large circles to small circles within the Taiji-form and the Pushing-hands?
A. The idea of large circles is connected with external movement while small circles are connected with internal changes. It is a mistaken concept, sometimes promoted in Taiji, to imagine that making the large external circle smaller transmutes it into an internal circle. In the beginner the internal circle barely exists. With correct training this circle should gradually be enlarged. As the internal circle expands, then the large outer circle can gradually be reduced. With time, effort and understanding, these 2 circles may merge.
Q. The use of Taiji for fighting and the training for spiritual refinement seem like opposite poles of the one art. If I concentrate on one can it interfere with the other?
A. Many who have good skill in the art of fighting are devoid of inner refinement. This is a tragedy for the art and those people. Remember the ideal of balance. Understanding this, Taiji as an art of skilful movement supports and ultimately disappears into the art of Taiji for inner refinement.
Questions on the Principles of Taiji.
Q. Should the weight be kept at the 'bubbling well' point or move forward and back in the feet as we move?
A. Moving weight forward and back in the feet is a completely incorrect concept. Master Huang never taught such a thing. However, neither is the centre of pressure in the feet at the bubbling well point but further back, exactly under the ankle joint in fact, as this (as any engineer can confirm) allows the muscles of the lower legs to be most relaxed. That placement generates greater pressure in the heels than in the balls of the feet. Pressure travels down the bones of the lower leg and passes through the ankle joint several centimeters above the sole. From there the pressure spreads into the foot according to the angle of the line between the centre and the ankle, at that moment - so in the normal forward stance the centre of pressure in the back foot is slightly back (from the centre of the ankle) and slightly to the outside, whereas in the front foot it is slightly forward and slightly to the outside. If sitting fully back on the back foot then the centre of pressure in the back foot is almost directly under the ankle joint. If turning out the front foot and advancing into it in order to step, then the centre of pressure is slightly forward and slightly to the inside (from the centre of the ankle).
Q. It is usually taught to breathe naturally in the Taiji Form?
A. To 'breathe naturally' is both true and a way of hiding the truth. Though often taken to mean do nothing with the breathing, that is not what is really meant. In daoist literature there is a technique called 'natural breathing' while the opposite is called 'reverse breathing'. Usually we allow 'natural' for beginners and teach 'reverse' to the more advanced students. In either case the breathing is matched exactly to the movements. In natural breathing the energy is drawn down to the lower dantien as the breath is drawn in to the lungs and the stomach area expands. In reverse breathing the energy is drawn up to the top of the head on the inbreath while the muscles of the perineum and lower abdomen may draw in slightly. Breathing out is the reverse of the above in each case.
Q. How should the principle of cross-alignment be incorporated in our movements?
A. Master Huang often talked of the 'cross-alignment' for optimal passage of Taiji-jin. This is just like the reverse punch of karate (left foot forward, right hand punches forward) or the right cross of the orthodox boxer, as opposed to the front punch or left jab of the boxer which is much weaker. This is also the natural way of walking, when the left foot steps forward the right hand (and shoulder) is moving forward. Note that the cross-alignment arises not because upper and lower body should do opposite movements at the same time - this is merely the observed result. The cause is the timing of the passage of force from the ground to the top of the head and fingertips. By the time the rising force that sent the waist to the left reaches the upper body to send it left, the next wave of rising force is already sending the waist back to the right.