Wu Tai Chi Chuan: Correct Attitude and Training
By Xue Nai-yin
The essential practice of Wu style Tai Chi Chuan(from Wu Yuxiang) is one which must include a conscientious attitude which prevails throughout one's posture and movements. A state of relaxed alertness must be evident as the foundation of one's endeavors. This attitude translates into straight postural alignment with torso erect, shoulders relaxed, and elbows down. Each step must involve no forward bending with hips and buttocks in alignment(not prominent)and the head up, straight and perpendicular, with eyes looking ahead. When pushing hands, one's fingers must be straight , open , and even. The final position of hand movements is perpendicular, starting gradually from the forward push where your hands are at a right angle with your arms. One's orientation throughout the whole form is defined by the placement of the legs. The majority of movements involve a "bow step", followed by a "half-step" and include an outward pause while turning to face the eight points of the compass throughout the entire form in a consistently relaxed, yet systematic and clearly defined manner. One is either oriented to a forty-five degree position or on the north-to-south or east-to-west axis.
Consequently, each movement continues as an unfolding dynamic equilibrium from the beginning to the end of the form, moving each time to a place of certainty without pause, hindrance, or resistance. It is inappropriate to desire more action or to want to move speedily or hurriedly, as this will precipitate an imbalance of chi and will invariably cause mistakes and make your posture unstable. The benefit lies in slow movements with conscientious and patient progression, as one strives to achieve the correct postures and their accompanying physiological balance and as one's energy flows more evenly throughout the entire body. Correct posture is imperative for any benefit to accrue to the central nervous system. An erroneous posture imbalances the torso in relation to the waist, thus throwing out one's chest and stomach muscles, which consequently creates blockages of the flow of chi.
These fundamental basics of Tai Chi need to be understood and respected so that their application can be practiced with ease and skill. An individual can then realize the benefits through a greater sense of wellbeing, which in turn promotes deeper understanding and leads to improve motivation and practice.
For a good and accurate
posture, the methodology of Tai Chi places emphasis on the
positioning of step form, or footwork, which enables a steady
center of alignment to be maintained throughout the form. A step
that is too small or short, for example, will cause an unstable
posture and will not allow the orientation of body and movement
to be executed properly. All steps must be performed at the
correct positioning and angle, calmly and deliberately; go
forward , go backward, glancing right, glancing left, and keeping
and maintaining "Bai hui" to "hui yin" on one
Once the correct positioning, in which the angle of the food placements leads to a correct and balanced body has been achieved and is free from excess and deficiency, one is in the correct attitude of strength and flexibility. One is then able to maintain position, adjust to changing circumstance, and establish oneself firmly, as the wheel of limbs always remains same. Maintaining this steady center is the essential ingredient for the creation of style, the maintenance of dexterity, and quickness in action.
It is important to comprehend these main points in experiential terms, as failure to do so leads to panicky moves, which cause wrong foot moves, imbalances, and deficiencies. One can practice Tai Chi steps by oneself in an attempt to ensure good entry rotational speed, and centrality similar to "floating clouds," "flowing water," or a flowing style of writing. Ease of movement is emphasized here, with little resistance either from within oneself or from outside circumstances. It is the most important thing to find your own center in practicing.
Once the basic methodology has been achieved, one is able to move a very relaxed, coordinated, and flowing manner when switching stances through the eight directions. Being self-possessed and conscious in the practice of Wu Style Tai Chi Chuan leads to the foundation of a stead center, which consequently lead to the maintenance of a steady flow of chi and the creation of natural skill, inner strength and well-being, and beautiful style.
3. In Sequential Harmony
This is the foundation level for the form. In Tai Chi practice, it is important to coordinate the whole body, mind, and emotion into a sequence means that although the form is practiced in a flowing way, in actuality each move must be completed before starting the next. Joining the moves too early brings lack of coordination. In order for the flow of qi to be prevalent, each move must be over the entire body, as outside and inside merge into an organic whole. This can only come over time and through practice, as one continues to improve and perfect each sequential step of the form.
The coordinated movement of hand and feet, for example, allows internal energy to steadily permeate from the heels through the legs, the waist, the shoulders, and through the arms and into the fingers, in one sequential flow with little or no resistance. This sequential flowing of harmonized movement is the goal of T'ai Chi practice. This continuation progressively trains the mind and the heart to a state of balance and attunement, and to sourceful energy in each movement, of which you can direct the flow as you continue to perfect the art of pushing hands.
4.Leisurely and Even
In all aspect of T'ai Chi, correct posture and orientation of action should be leisurely and relaxed, but not weak, maintaining a unity of being the movement in motion like " pulling raw silk from cocoons ". There should be no marked irregularities in the movement, like " ups and downs ", unless they are an integral part of some aspect of the form. All twists and turns are expressed in the same chain of equilibrium and flow of sequential harmonies, so one must take one's time to practice slowly, but diligently, in order to refine one's style and eliminate stiff, clumsy, and uneven movements. Taking steps like a cat is a very good analogy, as most cats are masters of movement.
Any one sequence or move of the T'ai Chi form means that the whole body moves. All over the body movement means that the waist is centralized to put in motion the raising of the arms and the lowering of the legs. The hands and feet all flow together in a follow-up motion. To continue to exert oneself in this way allows the training of an even velocity throughout, rather like the motion of waves. When motionless, the whole body is motionless, as the waves are held in check or lie beneath the surface. When in motion, the whole body is in motion, but the practice becomes one of stillness in motion.
It is important that the eyes remain concentrated and focused, looking straight ahead, in order to achieve this state of inner calm combined with dynamic harmony in motion. The Chinese analogy of " floating clouds " or " flowing water " are profoundly meaningful in this context. T'ai Chi is an integral system of physical harmonics. Therefore, it is a perfect " self-healing " discipline. As you practice along the prescribed lines, the qi, or " life force", becomes more prevalent and active in the physiology, opening meridians throughout the body, and increasing well-being and good health.
When one has raised the body and mind to a greater level of conscious harmony through diligent and disciplined practice, the realization of qi come forth from greater levels of subtlety. They come from both within the concepts of "self " as a conditioned separate entity, and also from natural energy systems within the environment and beyond. The process of self-development, through alignment and merging with the natural order, increases one's skills tremendously because far less energy is being wasted through stressful reactions to life experiences. So, the concepts of practicing in a " leisurely and even style " becomes more and more apparent as one progresses through the fundamentals of this art.
Another essential aspect in the practice of T'ai Chi Ch'uan is the emphasis given to coordinated breathing as the vehicle for exerting power through the flow of qi, or " natural life-force " energy. As an integrated system leading to whole being " functions, the breathing method is one that can only be learned through experience and continued practice. When the student has learned the postural movement of the form to a reasonable level of skill and a level of coordination has been realized, the whole process deepens, as breathing becomes more natural.
One can then be more aligned with the passive, receptive yielding energy and the active, positive outgoing aspects of the form. At this point, it becomes easier to apply focused attention to deeper aspects of breathing and controlling it with the diaphragm. As one sinks down into a lower center of gravity with the knees bent, the breath is also focused lower, down into the region known as the dantian, which lies in and around the pubic region.
Thus, the flow of breath, coordinated postural movements, and alignment in the body, as well as the fully conscious of control of diaphragmatic regulation of breathing, all help to accumulate natural life-force energy. You can then learn o store and flow with this energy as a way of being. When stepping into the posture, you breath in with an internalized and focused manner, coordinated with an inward " receptive " attitude combined with the movement. When you step out, and especially as you straighten the legs and arms, you breath out in a natural manner coordinated with the outward active movement of the form in a sequential way.
The diaphragm controls the abdominal and tabular muscles, which are used to promote the continuous movement of breath and flow of qi, in a high regulated, yet naturally relaxed manner. The inward and outward breathing is done slowly. The inner breath, combined with receptive movements, is an act of fully relaxing and conserving strength, thus storing up energy while in the process of yielding. The external or positive breath is utilized in all outward aspects of the form, and the qi flows outwardly through the whole body, coordinated with the outward breath and especially through the hands, as one develops through the pushing hands techniques. Each outward posture is concerned with directing the flow of qi to the striking point.
The natural breathing technique is unusual in that it is contrary to the normal breathing technique. In the practice of T'ai Chi, when one breathes in, the diaphragm goes up. When one breathes out, the diaphragm goes down. It is important that one does not become overly conscious or excessive in relation to learning the breathing technique, as relaxation is a primary requirement of this practice. All breathing must be natural and relaxed. A good analogy is one in which the growth of plant shoots can not be accelerated by pulling them upwards, since the natural processes of growth must be fully appreciated and respected.
In the same way, the practice of T'ai Chi must be one on which excessive enthusiasm needs to be avoided, while consistency of patient endeavor is practiced. Natural coordination of the inner and outer aspects of being with time and patience, leads to the development of a steady, harmonious flow of qi, or internal energy, which in turn leads to overall vitality and good health.
6.Unifying Hardness With Softness
After some time of patient endeavor and practice, Wu style T'ai Chi has the look rather like " floating clouds," " floating water, " or a free-flowing style of writing. All learning is done in a step-by-step manner, in order to couple the principles of hardness with softness. The practice is one of unifying these opposites into an integral whole. These principles exist side-by-side and play a part together. The originator of Wu style T'ai Chi Ch'uan is Wu Yuxiang, who emphasized that after being very soft, you become very strong and hard. The alternation process is one in which the hard inside becomes soft, and the soft inside becomes hard.
T'ai Chi power accelerates the physical elasticity ant tenacity, and the energy flow can be opened in a moment ( or in the blink of an eye ). Patient and diligent practice is necessary in order to accomplish the embodiment of relaxed concentration of speed and maximum physical power, returning to softness immediately after the power is released. Concentration on softness is necessary in order to accomplish hardness. " The shade does not leave the light, and the light does not leave the shade, as they are coupled together as an integral part of the whole." Taking the analogy further as a means of comprehending the strength which lies at the beginning, middle, and end of each movement, one may need to mediate in the source which underlines all form, which is a unity in diversity.
Each movement contains two complementary elements: open and shut, void and solid, and hard and soft. In other words, a movement looks open, including shut; it looks soft, including hard; and it looks void, including solid. Thus, in the practice of T'ai Chi, after being open, the inside is shut; when shut inside, one is open. When void inside, one is solid; when solid inside, one is void. When hard inside, one is soft; when soft inside, one is hard. The principle of coupling hardness with softness can only really be fully understood in experiential terms, usually after many years of practice and is the most mysterious and misunderstood aspect of T'ai Chi.
The practice of Wu T'ai Chi is one in which the development of integrated internal strength is necessary in order to accomplish the goal of a display of fully functioning power. The second generation of Wu style says: " Whole body coordination operates as one power, which sends out the source of power beginning at the heel, through to the waist, and from the back through the arms to the fingers."
In combat, the whole spirit(qi) must be focused on the other party's power being sent. Your power must be coordinated and timed to reach the other source of power before it impacts upon you. The initial reaction is like the suprise of your skin being on fire, and the second reaction is to repel, using both your internal and external power in an integrated way. Its action is like the suprise of spring water suddenly gushing out from the source. The other party's aggressive(therefore unbalance) power is transferred to you, and it is both dynamically expanded and simultaneously used to repel the attack. Thus, the development of one's own internal strength in a fully integrated and coordinated way is necessary as a means of a fully functioning continuation of power in movement.
In order to achieve this development, the mind should be completely free of any interruptive thoughts and distractions, so that 100% attention can be involved in the whole-being function. Full, yet relaxed, conscious attention must be given to all aspects of body movement, such as the arms turning and the delivering power to the hands, and in particular, the thumb and small finger highlighting full power, while the other fingers follow as the mind permeated and directs the linking of the fingertips and the tips of the toes. These principles can only be exercised after long-term practice, with particular attention paid to the merging of the hard and soft through mutual interaction, as the void and the solid become one and the same.
From the beginning of practice to the various levels of accomplishment the principles of Tai Chi truth can only be understood through a step-by-step endeavor. The precise application of all these principles leads to an exquisite strength of a fully integrated nature, and this is the goal and truth of Wu Style Tai Chi Chuan.
8. Movement follows Mind
To practice the Wu Style Tai Chi Chuan form, the spirit must be full, as the whole being moves with rhythm or flow of qi. As each movement becomes a natural, unfolding sequence of mind, the movement is in the mind before the movement takes place. This is to say that the mind walks before the move takes place. The mind also follows the previous move. This deeply meditational act is one in which you become the participant and witness to the whole process of the form.
The body, itself, is heavy , yet totally flexible and of an even and temperate nature. What takes place after long-term practice is the appearance of a completely calm yet lively manner, which is rich in unity of the mind and reflects gracefulness and inner power. Because the mind and body become more unified in the expression of life-force energy(qi) and essentially become one and the same, the power of expression follows from the mind itself, and equals power in movement. From start to finish , you feel the heart sensation inside equalized with the outer expression of gracefulness and power.
Each movement follows the mind . The heart is at peace and still, and the body is flexible. Qi moves throughout in an unfolding sequence of expression, gathering and flowing, gathering and flowing. in an unbroken chain of activity combined with stillness of being. The 4 the generation grandmaster Li Jin Fan quoted thus;"Balid heel, straight back, eyes looking far into the distance, and level heart." In simple terms, it is an expression that arises from the elimination of all-distracting thoughts and feelings. What arises is that every action becomes one of natural movement. Qi sinks down to dantian; qi in bones; qi follows mind; qi moves body; eyes take in six-way vision; and ears listen in all directions. Thus, pure awareness exists, attentive to all activity, as energy fields are in motion all around you.; "Movement follows mind" would be the foundation of a deeper aspect for development in practicing Wu Style Tai Chi.