Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Delivering AND receiving force can help OR harm your health

Master Hwa tells me that he receives a lot of discussion after people see his DVD’s and the Youtube videos.  During a recent workshop he talked a bit about this and the question which seems to be central to the discussion:  “Can I incorporate internal discipline into MY form”?  I have “incorporated” some great deal of what he said on that subject in this blog and it is almost verbatim.

“Can I incorporate internal discipline into MY form”? Now there is a question that shows practitioners want to get into the real “nitty-gritty” of the movements and not just have ethereal discussions or talk of whether MMA can beat Tai Chi, etc.   He also talked about this with me when we shot the DVD called “ Tao of Martial Applications”.  

The conclusion is one really cannot “incorporate”, like some have asked this , even those who do Wu Style.  At the time of the initial discussion on the DVD, we really did not pinpoint why you cannot do this. Why can’t one incorporate internal discipline into other people’s forms?  

He tells me that  when he  wrote the book  “Uncovering the Treasure” and  he had to rethink this discussion,  he  found that you really have to have the correct body structure to incorporate the internal discipline into other people’s forms. The reason why people cannot do this is that they have the wrong body structure.

There is also a misunderstanding of not only what is wrong with their structure but also what is  the most important component of the  body structure. This most important component  is the forward lean and it is really central to the discussion.  It is so important to your health that  one has  to constantly insure the body structure is correct. Outside practitioners do it  with the body perpendicular and the spine is compressed too  much.  The correct way is to lean and stretch out the body. 

He wants all of us students to experiment with  variations from this leaning posture.  One variation is certainly bending your back and making yourself perpendicular. Now you do not have the stretch.  Another variation is to turn your rear foot, like most practitioners do, 90 degrees to the side.  You do not have the stretch here either.  Another variation is to raise your rear heel.

As I do these experiments (very carefully) myself I am reminded of my many early days of studying “Yang” Style, “Taoist” Style.  In those studies, I recall vividly and somewhat painfully how my knee pains were a result of turning that rear foot 90 degrees to the side. It seems now as it did then that this conclusion was not a result of “rocket science”.  Yet, there seemed to be no teachers who would agree with me.  Perhaps it did not bother those teachers who had started Tai Chi when they were 6 years old.   One wonders how long they can continue down that path however.  Like the great dancers who started (turning out the feet) when they were young and speak now in their middle age of aches and pains in the joints.  I have met a few who tell me they are grateful for this  body structure where one does not turn out the back foot.

Sorry, I digress but  the second point besides the stretch is that the body weight has to really be on the front foot during the forward lean.   If you shift back a little bit, you lose some of the stretch.  So with all of these slight body posture variations, you will not achieve the result.
Also, we usually start going to this posture from a sitback posture.  If we do not lead into the leaning posture correctly, we do not achieve the stretch.  To lead correctly, the front foot pulls with the abdomen pushing in to itself, the “internal discipline” of the movement.  Once you reach the endpoint, you naturally have that stretch.  A variation of this is to do it incorrectly by pushing from the back foot and you will not reach the “endpoint” correctly.   The corollary is when you have the stretch, you feel like your body is connected as well as stretched from the top of the neck to the heel.   You feel that you have no break in the stretch, when you stand perpendicular, you have a break in the small of the back.

Now when you are stretched like this and there is a force coming at you that force will go down to the ground without absorbing in the middle of the body.   If you are perpendicular, the force will absorb in the middle of the body and likely hurt your back. Also, if you hit someone from leaning and stretched, the rebound force will go through your body and into the ground, not so if you stand perpendicular.  So the stretch becomes/is the indicator that your body is the right posture for both delivering and receiving the force.

This is really more important for the health viewpoint, this forward stretch.  If you give more work through stretching thusly, lower back problems will gradually improve.   If you tuck your chin in , you also stretch your cervical vertebrae.  It is good for cervical spine problems to stretch in this manner.

 So this is almost a central theme that you will be able to have your energy transfer from the neck down to the heel.  The energy can flow through the middle of the body without stopping at the spine. This will just transmit all the force to the ground.  Do you see how this lean is such a very important component of the body structure?

Monday, September 10, 2012

Your Tai Chi "Roots"

The Blog article "Your Tai Chi Roots" is found at and (along with many articles) is located at the upper left corner of the page  Other sites of interest include and my teacher's great site at

In   (search at the book   "Uncovering the Treasure" by Master Stephen Hwa, he makes reference to a peculiar phenomenon that occurs when one demonstrates Tai Chi Form to students. "...their attention will always be attracted to the upper body movements first and neglect footwork."  As a teacher I make it a point to address this issue and I take measures to pinpoint their concentration back to footwork.  In both the figurative and literal sense, Master Hwa refers to footwork as "...the foundation of movements."

 I get much inspiration from my annual trips to the wondrous Adirondack Mountains and forests of NY State. In hiking the many trails of the Adirondack Forest each Summer my attention is honed to a laser sharp point.   I speak of the many twists, turns and never ending obstacles that one comes across in any walk.  As just one example of maintaining concentration,  one is forced to  watch for the obvious and not so obvious  "roots" in the ground but one has to also keep the upper body relaxed.  The upper body has to be kept relaxed with hands and arms able to fend off rebounding branches, and if you are walking a dog there are additional concerns.

In the "Tai Chi Walk" exercise (see this link to video) students get a first lesson and a truly visceral understanding  on how to delineate between what is moving and what is still in the body.   Please go to to see this video as well as many others.  This is none other than the delineation between Yin and Yang for a student's first experience.  As Master Hwa states: "This is the first lesson on how to keep clear a differential between the energized and the relaxed parts of the body working side by side".  The problem in both the Tai Chi studio as well as on the Adirondack hikes however, is that most people  find difficulty in keeping the upper body relaxed.

In traversing over those many Adirondack obstacles I find many appropriate "lessons":  Proper body posture, proper foot position, proper body weight distribution as well as learning a very unique walking dynamic.  In other words, "roots" are excellent teachers and always give good lessons.  I sometimes take this methodology into the Tai Chi studio, having students step over objects placed on the floor but doing so only using Tai Chi Walk. Thus bringing our "roots" for training into the studio as well.

The important characteristics of the "Tai Chi Walk" exercise are trained:

  • Use core power for the movements of the legs and this encompasses lifting and stretching the legs.
  • How to keep one's center of gravity under control.  One does not revert to "controlled falling" which is the mainstay of the everyday, common walking movement.
  • One learns to pull the body forward or backward and not push with either leg.
  • This last characteristic involves using the "contractive" power of the core.  Specificially one contracts the lower abdominal muscles and pulls with the lead foot to move the body.  
  • This characteristic is sometimes described as a sensation of feeling the entire body "sucked" forward or backward with no accompanying and overt sensation of muscle strain in the legs.
What is "normal" in our everyday life is not the norm in the internal movement of Classical Tai Chi.  It would be difficult if not hazardous to walk through the Adirondack woods in the manner that one walks around a city environment. Rushing here, rushing there, speaking on a cell phone, not watching where one is going, smoking, drinking while moving,  etc.  I illustrate the problems associated with "controlled falling" (everyday walking) as a teaching methodology for the "Tai Chi Walk".  The problems as I see them are:

  • Normal walking pushes with both front and back feet to provide for movement but it also "...engages both feet stuck to the ground until the body completes its move".  
  • This is commonly referred to as a form of "double-weighting" and besides being an entirely "external", not an optimum body position and it does not qualify as a "Tai Chi" movement.
  • One's center of gravity is not under control.  The "controlled falling" of everyday walking can often spiral out of control with the individual losing their balance and sometimes falling.
  • The loss of balance in such situations, for instance,  can partially be attributed to the uncontrollable momentum force that occurs in a body that walks very fast.  One often sees this at street corners when people "lurch" off the curb in their zeal to get places in a hurry but do not concentrate on what they are doing at the time.
  • One certainly does not want to add to the incoming force of an opponent that is coming at you by pushing your own body back with the front foot do you?  In Classical Tai Chi, this push is sublimated by the Tai Chi Walk training and one "pulls" in order to adhere or stick to an oncoming opponent.  This allows you to neutralize the oncoming force and not be bowled over as the front heel (not pushing) acts to also absorb some force.
  • Certainly "pushing" with either front or back feet is "natural" for us ever since our parents encouraged us to stand up and walk.  In Tai Chi paralance however, the "push" is further developed in what is referred to as Large Frame Form.
  • Everyday walking with the "push" motion is always the culprit when one slips on ice and falls.  The scenario is always where one lands the weight on the front heel with the back foot pushing off on the toe.  This is the template for disaster.  Using the "pull" eliminates these kinds of mishaps.
I encourage you to adopt the Tai Chi Walk as the overwhelming favorite to replace "Everyday (controlled falling) Walking".  Keep the "characteristics" of Tai Chi Walk in mind but you do not have to walk as though you are actually doing a Tai Chi lesson...this would be a bit sillified.  The object is to generate internal movement, that is powered by internal energy but controlled by internal discipline.  I find that I now do this on my everyday long walks with my family and our dogs.  One of the keys to doing this is "keeping the weight back" in order to control things. The Tai Chi Walk is truly both the literal and figurative path where one takes the "first step of a thousand mile journey".