2nd International Push Hands Meeting in Prague
Notion of Movement in Tai Chi
“The Unity of Internal and External. What Tai Chi Chuan trains is the spirit.
Therefore it is said, “The spirit is the leader and the body is at its command.”
If we raise the spirit, then our movements will naturally be light and nimble.
The postures are no more than full and empty, opening and closing.
What we mean by opening is not limited to just the hands or feet,
but we must have the idea of opening in the mind as well. What we mean by closing, too, is not limited to just the hands or feet, but we must also have the idea of closing in the mind.
When the inner and outer are unified as one chi, then there is no interruption any where.”
From ten points by Yang Cheng-fu about principles of Tai Chi practice
T’ai-chi Touchstones: Yang Family Secret Transmissions
Compiled and translated by Douglas Wile
The name of Tai Chi: “Meditation in Movement” emphasizes a characteristic of a Tai Chi activity of mind when practising a form.
During the practice we endeavour to make every movement consciously.
That way we develop the ability of observation, a sense of feeling and understanding of subtle changes more and more.
We explore how complex process the simplest move is. We learn the rules of balance, proportion and the ability to use them in a practical way. At the same time the questions arise in us:
-What exactly is a movement?
-What is a movement from the point of view of Tai Chi?
As the answers to these questions change along with gaining the experience, which results from the practice, our ability of seeing and feeling a movement changes simultaneously.
It is possible to compare this process to learning how to draw a portrait.
Everybody remembers and recognises the faces of familiar people quite easily. However, when we ask them to draw a portrait of a close person they meet daily, it turns out that the level of the observation ability necessary to draw a realistic portrait is insufficient.
Sometimes we can’t answer an outwardly simple question: What colour are the person’s, we meet daily, eyes?
As soon as we take on learning portrait drawing, we go through the learning process of seeing. With our teacher’s help we learn to notice the proportions of a face. We begin to pay attention to the details, we have never noticed consciously before. Our ability of seeing enters a higher level. We see the faces of people in another way, with more trained eyes and mind.
Cultivating Tai Chi is a similar process. We are led by our teacher, step by step, in order to be able to observe the phenomenon of a movement consciously and on a higher and higher level.
Our understanding of a movement is changing. At the beginning we can see the outside motion of the form performed by a Tai Chi player. On this level we turn our attention first of all to the general expressions connected to the seen movement. We notice a character and a dynamics of the motion, for example, we can see, characteristic for Tai Chi, a slow pace of a movement. Sometimes, some details attract our attention, most often the position and motions of the hands; we seldom or less consciously notice the movement of the legs.
Depending on the level of our observation ability and our life experiences, we can see more or less, but we notice, at that time, only motion of the form.
However, when we cultivate Tai Chi for a longer time, fulfilling the mentioned principle of a conscious movement, our notion of movement extends more and more.
We begin to notice that a movement isn’t only a motion of a person shifting in space, going, running or exercising a Tai Chi form.
We notice that a movement, its harmony and coordination, depends on the state of our balance, breath, its depth and quality, on the state of our concentration.
We notice the subtle dependences between the outer and internal movement more and more often. Our knowledge about movement extends and gets deeper.
We explore that a notion of movement in Tai Chi is very broad, it’s practically unlimited. From the point of view of Tai Chi, every change is a movement; even the most subtle changes following in the space surrounding us, in the whole nature, in the universe, in us, a change in time or in our life. Everything in the whole universe is a continuous motion and everything is undergoing continuous changes. Sometimes they are dynamic and easy to notice, as, for example, the dynamic movement of a person performing a form or a sudden change of weather. Sometimes these changes are very subtle and hard to notice, as a change of the colour of the plants in a park, influenced by the sunlight or the influence of depth and rhythm of our breath on our state of balance.
Breath is an example of an internal movement.
It has its own rhythm, depth and proportions.
The quality of breath depends on the quality of the air we breathe in.
The wind, its force and the changes of air temperature, a dependence on the changes of weather, on the changes of the seasons of the year, they all are interesting phenomenon of the movement, too.
The quality of the sunlight changing in the course of a day has the influence on our eyes. The state of eyes is also connected with a breath’s quality. The light and gravity are the outer expression of the energy of the universe; the changes it undergoes have the influence on every process in the nature.
In Tai Chi we work consciously with gravity dealing with the balance and its influence on the functions of our organs, coordination of the motions and the quality of our breath. Breath depends on the state of our balance, tension or its release and the experience of emotions.
It also has an influence on the state of balance, the functions of all our organs, the efficiency of the action of our brain, the ability of seeing and the functions of eyes, the state of relaxation, the correct tonus of our muscles and on our emotions.
Breath is deeply connected with our emotions. Anger, irritation, fear, change the rhythm, depth and quality of the breath and vice versa, when we work with our breath, we can calm down our emotions and go back the state of our internal balance.
This is an ability developed and cultivated throughout thousands of years not only by masters of martial arts. From the point of view of Tai Chi, the changes of emotional states inside of us are also movements. They are also a subject of the internal observation. Emotions are connected with our thoughts. What we think, what we remember, on what we focus our attention and how deeply we can concentrate, these are changes as well. That’s the kind of an internal movement Tai Chi deals with.
A movement takes place not only in space, but also in time. Like the form, which, in order to be exercised, takes some space in a room or a park and lasts some time during which its rhythm and dynamics change. The changes of time and rhythm are movements we are also interested in. Similarly, our life is a continuous change, which takes place not only in the space we live, but also in time. Everything that happens inside and outside of us is the process of changes, the process of movements.
A Tai Chi player, fulfilling the principle of conscious observation of a movement, researches into all of the processes, their mutual connections and the way they influence one another.
He learns how to use them practically and how to control them.
He develops in himself the ability of noticing the most subtle phenomena:
-The ability to adapt to the changes, the perception, the skills of taking better-considered decisions. Decisions which are based on more extensive knowledge about a situation.
-The perception of the process of changes and multidimensional thinking.
The ability to notice the aspects of events often overlooked by others, to think unconventionally and creatively.
-The ability to notice and change the habits disturbing us.
These skills are useful in the martial arts, business and whole life.
In Tai Chi perceiving motions and changes as so complex gives us the possibility to make the most of the training time and to improve the quality of our practice.
Thanks to these skills the methodology of training becomes more efficient and cuts the way to achieve the high level of our practice short.
Acquiring such a notion of movement and practising Tai Chi with this kind of attitude, we begin to notice that not only the whole universe is on the move, but there is also the whole universe is in each smallest movement.
March 2007 Austria