“The true health benefits and the foundation for martial arts application of Tai Chi can only be achieved when the practitioner incorporates “Internal Discipline”…using internal movement/internal power to direct and empower external movements into Tai Chi” . The difficulty with doing this is that there is so many things that can go wrong in the process of sensing where the movements are originating from. “For the beginner, the difficulty lies in the mental discipline in which all attention has to be concentrated on the core of the body”. (In the debate about use of hips vs. waist), If the beginner thinks even one little bit about the hip for instance, then a turning move, etc. will partially be initiated from the hip.
In Classical Tai Chi we have to become not only aware of the sensory signals of our body but also to focus and catalogue them. As I am falling asleep at night I can often both feel and hear my heartbeat, I feel when my posture has excess muscular tension. I can, much like the weightlifters flex certain muscles which I feel (without using weights). Finally and most appropriate to Classical Tai Chi I can not only feel but also acutely control the movements of my body core. The problem for beginners in Classical Tai Chi is that all of these tactile “feelings” must focus on relatively miniscule nerve signals of sensation. Those small nerve signals are overwhelmed by the background “noise” of the other body sensations. This is why, for example, when I was learning to shoot the M14 rifle in the Marines I learned instinctively to hold my breath and “squeeezzze” the trigger. It actually is a delicate and complex task to fire a rifle accurately (my breathing with its innate sounds and tactile sensations in the body can interfere with the coordination of firing). The same goes “in spades”, for the multi-faceted and complex movements of Classical Tai Chi.
So we want to cut down on the background signal “noise” and in the case of Classical Tai Chi this means several things not the least of which is reducing the amount of extraneous or “external” movement from the body. Specifically, I mean the extraneous movement from the limbs. Our nervous system (my teacher says a “well tuned nervous system is prized in China”) is hard wired to take things like tactile stimulation in terms of its ratio to other senses, it does not do this in absolutes.
There is even a “law” governing this that was coined by E.H. Weber in 1834 that essentially states our “ratio” of signal to noise is constant however. Speaking of “signal” to “noise”: Looking at the videos attached to some of the other blogs, we see Master Hwa speaking in what is quite a noisy environment. He had to speak up to be heard over the ambient room noise, the sounds of the students, etc. So it is not a simple matter of my increasing the volume on the video when before I render it, for to do that would also increase the room noise. If we were in a really quiet environment he would only have had to whisper. I’m not sure if the law always holds true but as a rule of thumb it does seem to work.
In Classical Tai Chi we do some work with Tui Shou or “push hands”. If you close your eyes as we push and I press down with one pound of force on one of your hands, then I added another pound of force you would notice the difference immediately. That extra force sent a “signal” that equaled the intensity of the original force. If I took a feather and put it on the “one pound hand” you would not notice the extra weight. A feather has a sensory input that is too miniscule to be “heard” or in Tai Chi lexicon “ting jin” over the initial one pound weight. If you are pushing me with 100 pounds of force, then I only need a figurative“feather” or as the Classics say “4 oz.” properly applied (internal energy) at the right angle, with good timing…to send you flying. Now looking at the "after" image with Master Hwa and a student here you can see the results of 4 oz. properly applied:
Why is this a “ratio”? In Tai Chi there is a saying that “a feather cannot be added; nor can a fly land without setting the practitioner in motion”. Well, if a fly lands on your “push hand” instead of my one pound of force, then I add a feather (we will all need good luck with getting the fly to stand still long enough) you will notice the difference in weight right away.
Our perception of any sensation uses the same ratio principle, particularly when we focus on it. The “signals” that a beginner senses from their movement of the core are much too small of a “ratio” to make it through the many external distractions of their environment, their extraneous movement of their bodies, the many extraneous thoughts of the mind, etc. A student of Master Hwa’s had achieved some internal movement but complained about cold fingers. Watching her form he noticed that she had “flourishes” type movements, the extra movements were unnecessary. These are “extraneous movements’ or nerve signals along the path of qi. Other examples are extraneous shoulder, arm, elbow, finger, etc. types. These disrupt the flow of qi (nerve signal) between body and fingers, body and feet, etc.
As Master Hwa says: “It is important to keep localized nerve activity dormant and let the qi from the body take over…all good reasoning why one should also learn “Square Form” so practitioners can get used to movements with steady arms and hands and thus no localized nerve impulses. “
Thus, here for instance, are only a couple examples of why we do not want to add in things like extra “breathing techniques” (breathing qigongs) a “top down discipline” to the “bottom up” discipline of Tai Chi; why we do not want to do Tai Chi to music, adding weights to the hands, why we want to stand still while our teacher is explaining how to do something in Classical Tai Chi (our time will come to do it with them), why we want to stand still while our teacher is demonstrating how to do something for that matter (our time will come to do it with them), why we don’t want to “push” or “turn” our opponent with a lot of force if we are trying to keep focused on their movement.
As you can see from the picture above, Master Hwa has allowed the practitioner to generate lots of momentum in a straight ahead direction, (he did not resist or push back with lots of force when the opponent attacked) then when he was stretched out, Master Hwa used a “feather” to attack from the angle. The opponent was generating so much “noise”, he could not hear any other “signals”, namely the “feather” of 4 oz. that Master Hwa used from the side angle. As a teacher I experience this "signal to noise" paradigm from students who just start to learn both the form and push hands. Even more experienced push hands players have to be reminded of this, please take this to heart.
In the Tao of Martial Applications video of Master Hwa and a student pushing hands, he speaks of the “cooperative” as well as “competitive” push hands. In either case one has to (along with other requirements) use fluidity of movement, sensitivity to the opponents movements, stick to the opponent, follow rather than resist the opponents force and finally use four oz. to deflect a thousand pounds of incoming force. If Master Hwa is pushing back with a thousand pounds on what “ratio” will he have to rely? “Ratio”…what ratio?