Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Addressing knee problems in Classical Tai Chi




"It is the heightened negative sensation enable the practitioner to sense that he or she has the wrong posture or body structure, such as a concaved back putting undue pressure on the lower back, or an out turned back foot which create a twist force in the knee, etc. It is these negative sensation guided me to improve my form movement. No teacher can correct every movement of the student. It is up to the student using his own feedback sensation to alert that something is not right. I am always wonder why so many people practice tai chi with such bad posture oblivious of its consequnces. As Jim point out that such feed back sensation needs to be cultivated. It may not be something born with it." on One Yin, One Yang  Master Stephen Hwa

Hello all, 

"I am new to Tai Chi, (practicing for the last two weeks!) and I've been trying to learn the square form from the DVD, before tackling the round form. 

I can do the first two forms (preparation and raise hands)but am encountering some difficulty in the transition to the third (Hand strums Lute).

The first two steps are(from the square form pdf on the ctc site)

(1) The left foot rotates on the heel so the toes point 90 degrees to
the right
(2) Shift forward onto the left leg

And here is where I'm having trouble. Placing the (weightless) left foot at 90 degrees to the right foot seems to create a torque in the right knee. Nothing very painful, but distinctly uncomfortable. Shifting the weight to the left foot makes this more noticeable. This stress is relieved only when the right foot is turned 90 degrees to make feet parallel.

Obviously I am doing something wrong, since Master Hwa does this effortlessly in the DVD. I did check that my weight is fully on my right leg and the left leg is 'empty'. I'm sure my body is stiff (which is why I'm doing Tai Chi!), but I can't figure a way to put feet 90 degrees to each other without straining the weight bearing knee.

If anyone has encountered this before, I'll be very grateful for any suggestions."

Thanks in advance,
A student


As best as one can and with no heroics here are some thoughts, observations and information about the subject:

3. "Hand Strums the Lute...."

“Pay special attention to the feet. This is the first form that subjects the students to complex feet movement. It is easy to be distracted by the complexity of the upper body movements and neglect the details of the lower body”

  • In further consideration of the above instructions  and what you say about “torque in the right knee but nothing very painful”.  
  • I would spend more time paying attention to details of the lower body and forego the upper body movements for now.
  • In other words, do the stepping, weight shifting of the square form without raising the hands and arms whatsoever, put your hands by your sides. 
  •  Do this just as though you were doing the basic walking.
  • The basic walking is the lower body work of the square form. 
  • The square form takes the lower body work and adds turns, weight shifts and complex foot movement, which is why:
  •  You may wish to consider holding onto a post as you practice these lower body movements, just as Master Hwa teaches in one of the Youtube videos.  This will stabilize your upper body and further lessen the chances of becoming uncomfortable.
  • I do this “post” work, even such complex foot movements with my students and they seem to relish not subconsciously worrying about their balance.
        There is not much discussion in Tai Chi instruction “out there” with such iteration about protecting the knees as Master Hwa provides in the DVD series. For the most part however, he addresses the mid size stance which is an optimum choice for most entering students.

              One’s build or one’s prior physical condition or prior knee problems are considerations that cannot be totally covered in a DVD environment. In light of any prior conditions please consult your M.D.    One’s homework ,willingness to try different approaches and consistent observation of the effects are very important.
   
             It is important to realize the extent to which one can address DVD study (although I never received his level of  care and consideration when I had access to "instruction" one on one or in group) and for this reason you may wish to consider making video records of your form work, even occasionally would help.
     
      In light of this however, it is important to consider at least a few, perhaps more, additional factors that he does not cover in depth:

Difficulties in turning from the heel is often due to the following factors:
        Too large a stance or incorrect/insuficient knee bend.  In his situation, when one shifts the weight to front foot, the back foot heel will not be able to touch the ground. 
           
          Finally, much more consideration should also be given to your step size

People have shortened and narrowed their stance almost to the point where the  back    foot goes slightly higher than the heel of the front foot, please note Master Hwa's step size. He is not a tall person and makes this point about "back foot...slightly higher" numerous times and even shows it many times as well as in the image above.

·         This is indeed really a short step size, but perfectly workable given the considerations we discuss here. Please look at Tape 2 lesson 9 where there is also discussion on implications of step size and its trade offs.
       
    If you had knee problem before, your first order of concern is to protect your knee. When you are comfortable with your knee and can do the form movement then add upper body work. P.S. You may wish to consult the new series of videos being published by searching under the name "Classical Wu Tai Chi" on Youtube. 

Sifu J.E. Roach


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