I recall my early days of study, particularly those in which I had teachers who were long on enthusiasm and short on experience...some with only 1 year more than me. In retrospect I recall them telling me to "sitback, sitback, sitback..." with no accompanying instructions on HOW to sitback correctly or WHY I was doing it wrong. Obviously, I was doing it incorrectly, I thought, otherwise why would they keep repeating "sitback, sitback, sitback..." in a stacatto fashion? Master Stephen Hwa addresses "sitback position", HOW, WHY, WHEN, "forward position" and more in a 12 minute segment taken from a 2011 workshop. The segment is more appropriately named "The correct body structure of Classical Tai Chi". You can go to the Youtube video of the segment by clicking on this link:
Master Stephen Hwa:
I went to Shanghai and a relative of mine told me his Uncle is a big guy in Yang Style Tai Chi in Shanghai. He is also a Catholic Bishop there and so they use the church to practice Yang Style Tai Chi. They are like this. And then when they are older, in their “60’s”, the whole group, everyone has bone spurs in their lower back. Because the compression, the stress on the lower back caused bone spurs. You know this stress sometimes causes bone spurs, right? That unusual stress on the joints causes bone spurs. Every one of them has bone spurs in the lower back.
Student: Master Hwa, you talk about the sensations occurring in the back, do you talk about the sensations occurring in the front as well?
Master Hwa: Some, but mostly in the back. Also, remember when he spoke? He just raised an excellent point. Remember, we said, going forward, all the weight has to be on the front foot? Now, the whole back is not entirely relaxed because there is a stretch in the lower back, down to the heel, try to maintain the touch of the heel on the ground. Now, do you feel that stretch? Now you don’t have weight on it, but you should feel that stretch. You work to maintain the heel touch the ground. So the leg is kind of straight, not with bent knee. Not with bent knee. So you want to maintain some force on the leg to maintain the stretch. Not bending the knee.
Student: Do you sense that stretch continually when you are transferring weight back?
Master Hwa: Yes, when you are pulling back, there is more in the front now. When you are pulling back, and again using your abdomen. Pulling your body back like this, again pulling with your back foot. There is more sensation comes more in the front. The sensation comes more in the front. This sitting position actually is a very awkward position. But again, when we do push hands, when we do the push hands, you will realize this is such a very important position. One of the most important positions, but it is a very awkward position. A lot of people do not know how to do that correctly, a so called sitting motion.
Okay, any other questions on this segment?
Student: Can I ask you a question about sitting back? When you are sitting back are you tucking the buttocks and sitting at the same time?
Master Hwa: Yes, tucking and sitting back at the same time. When you are sitting back, it depends how you do it. You can sit deeper and deeper, the deeper you can sit the better. With the sitting back, you still should be able to turn your body. Because that is the purpose of your sitting back. You sit back, you turn and the guy falls.
Student: Master Hwa, when you are sitting back are you shortening the length of the abdomen?
Master Hwa: Not too much. If your shoulder is too much (hunched over), your turning is limited, you cannot turn very well. You still need that length of body, so you can turn. When I sit back, it is not just sitting back, I have to turn, to redirect. If you are too (hunched over) it is harder to turn. If you keep your body stretched (lengthened) then you can turn better.
Student: It is a pelvic tilt?
Master Hwa: Yes, the crease is not abdominal, it is creased in the pelvis.
Student: The farther you are down, the more your back stretches up?
Master Hwa: Yes, right, you find your back is kind of pulled up. Certainly, if your step is big, your sitback is naturally quite low, OK? Now, we don’t teach the large frame. The large frame, the step is big and it does teach you how to sit low. Now if you don’t sit low correctly, you are not sitting, your body weight is more toward the front. When you sit back correctly, the thighs have to be even (parallel). Now my body is facing forward, if I am not sitting back, my body is facing to an angle. On such an angle, I have a strong side and a weak side. So when I sit with thighs parallel, my teacher checked it. The reason he says this is “you are facing the opponent squarely and not crooked”. If you face an angle, then you face opponent at an angle, so he is using the “thigh” guage. Most other martial arts are facing the opponent really at an angle with the body. We are facing the opponent squarely and you will be able to redirect the opponent to either direction. If I face him at an angle, I can redirect to one side only but cannot redirect to the other very well. So you are giving a signal to an opponent that you have a strong side. So if you do push hands with “outside” practitioners. So how can you handle him to take advantage of his weak side. Then not falling into his trap of succumbing to being pulled by his strong side.
Student: When I sit back like this should my thigh feel tight?
Master Hwa: Yes, really tight
Student: When I sit back this leg muscle is very tight. I have a weak right knee so I notice this.
Master Hwa: Then you need to take a smaller step. If one has knee problems you always keep your step small.
Student: Could you address the importance of tucking the chin?
Master Hwa: Right, when your chin is not tucked, and people push you hard enough, you head may snap back. If your head snaps back like this you are very weak. We constantly stretch our head up using the neck muscle to support the head rather than using the cervical vertebrae part of the spine to support the weight of the head. In doing so, you also develop the neck muscle. The neck muscle is important in preventing whiplash. When you sit back you have to feel the tuck of the chin, the stretch of neck muscle and that is why you feel the back is pulled up.