Understanding Real Tai Chi Part 2

Experiencing the physical and mental concepts of Tai Chi

Learning the sequence of postures while we were concentrating on relaxing our bodies took time and effort. Actually I thought that I was totally relaxed, however the instructors kept pointing out my faults. Real relaxation, I was to learn, meant relaxing the connective tissue deep down in our bodies. We needed to come into contact with our tendons and ligaments and feel them relaxing. This could take decades depending on our practice of the form. As our connective tissue started to relax we would start to feel as though we were one unit and not independent parts moving at random. The form gave us the context in which to understand true relaxation. True relaxation brought us into discovering the Tan Tien. The Tan Tien is located in your center of gravity. Your center of gravity is located approximately 1″ under your navel and 1/3 the distance from the front of your body to the rear of your body. In other words it is located where your body weight would condense if relaxed. It is here that your intrinsic energy or chi would tend to accumulate if your body were relaxed. Furthermore if you were to focus your concentration on this point you would move more energy to this point. Eventually the chi would overflow the Tan Tien and move down to the base of the spine and up the spine to the top of your head.

All this had a mystical ring to it, however I was still stuck learning the form. Eventually after about one year of training at the school once a week and at home as much as possible, I finished the form. Now I was able to enter the correction class, which went on indefinitely. It was here that we perfected the moves of the form. Each posture represented a self-defense move and we were told the name and shown the reason for it. I still could not understand how any strength could be derived from doing these self-defense postures in slow motion while concentrating on my Tan Tien. I felt as if I were peddling hard going nowhere. It was at this point that my instructor explained to me that by gradually relaxing and opening the body I would understand how to develop power and strength. Tai Chi, I was told was an experiential art form. Only by experiencing the physical and mental aspects would I understand what I was doing.

It was three years into my practice that I started to feel the chi or energy moving in my body. It first felt like club soda moving in my brain. Soon after, I experienced it in other areas of my body. Finally it began to accumulate in my Tan Tien. Now, becoming a believer, I slowly gave up my karate teaching and concentrated on my Tai Chi. It had taken me three years to get to the front door of Tai Chi. Now was my chance to open it and immerse myself in the practice. The first step thru the door was starting the push hands class. Here we would work with a partner attempting to move our energy and interpret our partner’s energy, while doing a series of prescribed postures. It was always best to work with the opposite sex as a partner, lest our egos get in the way, and the push hands developed into a pushing match.

It was here in push hands class that we could gauge our state of relaxation and try to somehow develop strength from the tendons instead of from the muscles. By depending on strength from the muscles, we were only fooling ourselves. This was the area where all of us initially failed. We reasoned that depending on strength was our only way to practice, not understanding that we were caught in a catch 22. We had to give up our lifelong concepts of strength in order to develop another more powerful method.

To Be Continued