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Tai Chi
Feedback - Tai Chi Essentials 1-3

13 Jan 2015

Last month I began a series of columns starting with the general question, does Tai Chi have standards? From there I proceeded to write individual columns about each of Yang Cheng-fu's Tai Chi "essentials". Three columns into it and I've already accumulated enough feedback to pause and recap what has been said. To put these comments in context, I publicize each column heavily on two Twitter feeds, @DaleNapierLV and @TaiChiYourLife. The tweets are deliberately provocative in the hope of drawing readers and comments. And it works! I generally agree with the comments I received, but would like to add some footnotes to emphasize the basic points of each column.

Column #1 - The Essence of Tai Chi:
Tweet -
What is Tai Chi? Are their standards? Does anything go? Guidelines to go by.

susan harkins @susanshark3
@LCTKD @TaiChiYourLife yes there are standards, its a meditative movement and a martial art.

H.M.E. Taiji Int. @HeavenManEarth Dec 9
@TaiChiYourLife Judge a practice by its results. Historically, "non-martial" practice is qi gong. Anything goes, until you choose a goal.

The last comment is interesting in a couple of ways. Dr. Yang Jwing-Ming, a prominent author and teacher of Chinese martial arts, refers to Tai Chi as "martial qigong" in his book Taijiquan Theory, which pretty well agrees with @HeavenManEarth's point. However, the term qigong has been in usage only for the last thirty years; qigong is really the coalescing of four separate practices, not all of which correspond to Tai Chi. To refer to Tai Chi as qigong, therefore, puts an extremely modern spin on Tai Chi that, by all signs, did not exist before. The temptation to hold the two as nearly equal comes from the fact that there is some overlap, but Tai Chi is very specific goals while qigong is available for just about any goal you care to make up, at least according to its popular promoters. @HeavenManEarth makes this point well by saying "anything goes until you choose a goal". For the martial artists among us, this is exactly what is wrong with practicing Tai Chi for non-martial purposes: there is no basis for setting standards.

Tai Chi Essential #2 - Sink the chest
Tweet -
Sink the chest, raise the back. What is the energetic reason for this Tai Chi essential?

Sean O'Donohue @SeanSeanod Dec 28
@TaiChiYourLife @CynthiaQuarta to connect your arms to your spine and then to your Dan Tien and your root. Body becomes round, connected.

Agreed. The column speaks only of rounding the upper back, but the higher goal is to round the body so that all parts are connected.

Tweets -
Tai Chi's 2nd essential is called "anti boot camp". Is that good or bad?
Tai Chi's 2nd essential is called "anti boot camp". Is that good or bad?

Tai Chi Cheshire @TaiChiCheshire Jan 4
@TaiChiYourLife "anti boot camp" from the classics right? nonsense :)

Hehehe, this statement reflects a slight misunderstanding. I never said the classics call it anti boot camp! That's my own phrase, just a catch word to help remember a couple of principles. But the principles are straight out of the classics.

Essential #3 - Loosen the waist
Tweets -
Tai Chi waist is superior to karate's hip. Why?
Karate says use the hip, Tai Chi says use the waist. Which works best? Why?

Sean O'Donohue @SeanSeanod Jan 6
@TaiChiYourLife I don't know who is right. The TCC classics liken the waist to an axle to turn loose and relaxed to get power from the root

Michael Joyce @chencenter Jan 6
@TaiChiYourLife waist or "kua" in Tai Chi can be multi-directional. Using the "hip" in ext. styles emphasizes sudden rotation. Just my take

Medway Tai Chi @MedwayTaiChi Jan 5
@TaiChiYourLife Different phrases, same idea.

Jade Sun Tai Chi @JadeSunTaiChi Jan 4
@TaiChiYourLife @qigongqi Use the Dantien. Deep healing and true power comes from the inside out. @JadeSunTaiChi

Michael and Medway reflect opposing viewpoints. I agree with Michael: they are for different purposes. Karate's first and most enduring secret is that punching power that comes from acceleration through hip rotation. That's a very specific usage. Tai Chi's waist usage is not specific: it covers everything. In a sense my comparison was not valid, but it did serve as a useful basis for highlighting the point of Tai Chi waist, and it answers a question that none of my teachers could ever answer for me. So in this column I lay out the reasons as I have discovered them. To anyone who believes waist and hip are the same, I encourage you to dig deeper.

On a final note, I ran across an online article from Black Belt Magazine that backs up my point and then some. You might want to check it out here.

Next up: Essential #4, Empty and Full.

You may also like this related article: Tai Chi Essential #1: Crown Up (195)
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