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Characteristics of Tai Chi
origins, meanings, lineage, analyses and exploration

Form Characteristics & Aspects

chest
A relaxed chest is slightly sunken. Avoid pushing your chest out for this position will cause your upper body to be heavy and your lower body to be light.
coordination
Co-ordinate and unify the movements of the arms with those of the legs. Arm and leg movements originate from the torso (the Tan Tien is the centre from which all movements start, before finishing at the extremities). If one part of the body is in motion, the rest cannot remain still. The whole body should move in one breath. Go through each sequence one by one in order to synchronise the steps.
comfortable
Postures must feel comfortable. Listen to your body for aches and pains. Adjust any position or movement if it hurts.
concentration
Tai Chi should never be practised Awareness and concentration mindlessly. are functions that you control. As you make each move within the Form, concentrate on all the characteristics that apply to the sequence.
control
Always consciously guide all of your body movements when performing Tai Chi. The process of imagination must also be included. Visualise all movements before doing them. Use perhaps a picture derived from the name of the posture, or in reality the practical self-defence application. Create this mental picture and then practice with complete concentration. Do not let your thoughts wander. Your mind guides your body - your body will follow your thoughts.
flow

Always be in a flowing motion from start to finish, continually shifting your body weight and position. Chi is blocked when the f low is impeded or a pause occurs within the sequences. Once you have stopped it takes several further postures before you are again "on the right track". Never stop moving.

footwork
When moving forward touch the heel down first, when moving backward touch the toe down first. Gradually shift your body weight into the foot, letting the rest of the sole proceed into place. Your body weight should be shifted from one foot to the other in a very distinct movement, but not clumsy or stiff. This assures not only stability of the body but agility during changing of steps. This method of walking also reduces the possibility of muscle cramp and general tiredness in the legs. Walk like a kitten, light yet firm.
gravity

Allow natural gravity to always work for you. This applies, in particular, to the flexibility of movable joints and to the "heaviness" of the limbs.

hands
The hands must follow a natural curve and should neither be fully limp (relaxed) nor fully stretched (tensed). This requires to have a slight straightening of the fingers thus creating a modest stretching of the palm. Hands should be felt to be "alive,,. When you turn your hands, do it very calmly, evenly, and relaxed. Move the hands as if pulling a silken thread; any sudden jerks will break the silk. Use the mind to transport chi to the hands, particularly the palms. Chi must then be moved from your palms into your fingers, for that is where it expresses itself.
harmony
Posture movements must be similar to the way the body naturally operates, i.e. steady, relaxed and harmonious.
head

The neck muscles must remain relaxed without letting the head bob about, lean to either side, or fall forward or backward. The head should therefore be in a natural erect upright position. This is important since the head, torso and spine configure a unit. Consequently, the position of the head influences the posture of the body. It is said that in order to have a good deportment you need to 11 suspend the head by a thread - carrying the crown of the head high", but not stretched. This helps to raise energy to the top of the head. The head must be moved in unison with your body when you change direction or position, i.e. the head where possible always remains square to the shoulders and never turns alone.

height
The level of the body remains generally the same, no rise and fall from shifts of body weight. This is determined by maintaining a constant knee bend throughout the sequences. Beginners should moderate the knee bend to avoid too much strain. Once stamina and leg strength have been increased through consistent training, then the knee bends can be adjusted, i.e. by using a wider and lower leg stance. Consider this knee bend action to work similar to the mechanism of a shock absorber on a car -it smoothes out the movement.
knees
The knees should always remain slightly flexed -never locked straight. Although the knees must be relaxed the tension within the knees must be skilfully changed whenever it is required by a particular movement. Bent knees provide springiness to your legs. Strength and flexibility of the sinews of the knees determine to a great extent the strength and effectiveness of the whole body.
legs
The stability of every Tai Chi movement comes from the legs. The position of the legs will determine the expression of the exercise. In order to move the body, energy is first generated by the legs. Therefore the legs must behave like springs, ready to rebound the power. Pay particular attention to the weight distribution between both legs. Never be in doubt which leg supports the full body weight (fullness) and which leg is only carrying a small amount (empty). Most postures require a weight distribution of approximately seventy percent in the "full" leg and thirty percent in the "empty" leg.
mind
The first requirement is to clear the mind, relax the body, and circle the chi. Chi follows the mind so that wherever you put your attention, chi accumulates. This is the reason that mental self-discipline is so important. Ultimately, everything depends on your will or mind, and not on the external appearance of the movements.
moderate
Be moderate and avoid all extremes. Do not overreach or restrict. Never be stretched or tight in movements.
mouth
The lips must lightly touch and the mouth should curve upwards at the corners as if to make a smile.
movement
Each movement must be light, nimble and continuous. In all movements the inner strength is rooted in the feet, developed in the thighs, controlled by the waist, and expressed through the fingers. The two complementary factors, emptiness and solidness, must be distinctly differentiated in each and every inch of movement. When one part of the body moves, all other parts of the body move. When one part of the body comes to a standstill all other parts of the body come to a standstill.
pelvis
The pelvis should be slightly turned forward and up, i.e. tucked in. This adjusts the angle of the pelvic girdle and creates a vertical posture allowing for an equal distribution of weight on the lower back. The spine is coaxed into an optimum vertical position. Tension and stiffness are then relieved in individual vertebrae.
persevrance

Tension and frustration are almost inevitably associated with learning new, apparently complex movements. Every student must learn movements slowly. How fast or how much you learn is not important. What is important is taking the time to learn the Form step by step. If you have a problem with a particular movement or difficulty in remembering the routine, then do not proceed. Instead, practice and try to solve the problem by referring to basic principles. Perhaps further tuition may be required? It is a long hard demanding lesson, but one proven through experience. There are no short cuts and you must make haste slowly. You cannot get away with nothing. Perseverance is required when learning the Tai Chi Form. Try to perform the Form every day to complement any class or group activity. Find a quite place with plenty of fresh air. Practice regularly, even after you have mastered the whole Form. Remember practice makes perfect. However, perfection is seldom achieved but with regular performance you can raise the level of expertise.

relax

You must always be relaxed and have no tension in the body. This is the first and foremost requirement of Tai Chi practice.

round moves
All movements are performed in an arch-like, rounded fashion, rather than in a straight line. This conforms to the yin / yang philosophy expressed in the Tai Chi symbol. Even when the final gesture is straight it is usually preceded by a rounded movement, or a sweeping curl of the hands and arms. Soft circular movements that follow the natural motion of the body's joints will reserve energy, negate tension, enhance relaxation, and will be functionally extremely efficient.
shoulders
Shoulders must be slightly rounded, hang low and be fully relaxed. This allows supple and gentle movements to be performed. Since all your joints are part of one another, having a relaxed shoulder means to have a relaxed elbow. Shoulders, arms, and hands should all move in unison. If you push your hands too far forward your arms will be stretched. This makes it impossible for your shoulders and elbows to hang down, therefore going against the least resistance to the pull of gravity. The shoulders should never be forced backwards during any technique.
smooth
Every movement in the sequence should be performed smoothly.
speed/tempo
When performing the Form a constant speed and pace for the separate postures must always be maintained. With only a few exceptions the Form should be practised in this way from the first to the last sequence. However, the speed of the entire Form may be varied. Never rush or delay movements in order to complete the Form in a set time.
spine/pelvis
The spinal column is the central axis for the body's movements. This is why a good body posture (deportment) is so important. Keep the spinal column as relaxed as possible ensuring that all movements are free of tension, whether moving forward or backward, turning, or shifting your weight.
strength

To deliver strength you must remain calm and relaxed and allow the centre of gravity to sink downward. You must be able to focus this energy in a single direction. To be able to handle oncoming blows from all sides you must remain still, remain centrally poised, well-balanced and expanded.

stress
Because the arms and legs are always moving in a slightly bent position, this activity alone carries its share of physical stress. The legs are therefore most affected, particularly when first learning new individual Tai Chi postures. Shifting your body weight may make your muscles sore, but with regular practice your legs will become stronger and the soreness will gradually go away. Signs of stress include dizziness, limpness, weakness, fast pulse rate, and heavy perspiration. A good indicator to any stress is a pulse rate that is twenty beats per minute higher than it was at the beginning of the exercise. Stress may be the result of perhaps using wrong breathing techniques (laboured breaths); practising the Form too fast or performing too many sequences; using a wide leg stance requiring an excessive deep knee bend; using too much tension in the movements; practising Tai Chi while you have a current illness of some kind.
symmetry
Movements that are performed on both the left and right sides of the body must be balanced in proportion, i.e. mirror image of each other.
tan tien
The Tan Tien in the abdomen is the source of chi. It must be stimulated in order to fill up with chi so that the abdomen is tight like a drum. However, the muscles in this area must be relaxed in order to pass the chi.
tongue
The tip of the tongue must curve up onto the upper palate of the mouth and lightly touch a point directly behind your upper front teeth.
waist
The waist must be flexible as it controls your energy in both offence and defence. The waist acts like a steering wheel, giving direction to all movements, i.e. intrinsic energy is the rim of a wheel; the waist is the hub of the wheel. The order for movement is issued from the waist.
wrists
The wrists must not be allowed to hinge flap forward or backward. Have no tension or stiffness in the wrists.

text originally supplied by Ray Wood (possibly from another author?)

 
Always consciously guide all of your body movements when performing Tai Chi. The process of imagination must also be included. Visualise all movements before doing them. Use perhaps a picture derived from the name of the posture, or in reality the practical self-defence application. Create this mental picture and then practice with complete concentration. Do not let your thoughts wander. Your mind guides your body - your body will follow your thoughts.
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