How to judge correctness?

How to judge correctness?

Postby Audi » Thu Nov 22, 2001 3:18 pm

Hi everyone,

I would like to ask a question I find interesting at several levels: determining the overall direction of T’ai Chi study, how to do form on a regular basis, and how to perfect individual postures. My question is: How do you know its right? More specifically, I am curious about people’s personal perspectives on this question and the “tricks of the trade” people use.

One easy answer to this question is: “Ask your teacher!” As important, useful, and necessary as this strategy is, I do not believe it is sufficient for the vast majority of practitioners, for various reasons. Even if one assumes a teacher with perfect knowledge and perfect accessibility, such a strategy presumes that one can always hear and see what one chooses to listen and look for. I do not believe this to be the case.

Since I have a fanatical interest in linguistics, let me illustrate the dilemma with an example from English. The “t” in the word “tie” is very different from the “t” in “sty.” Any native speaker of Chinese, where a similar distinction is fundamental, can plainly hear the difference; however, few native speakers of English can, without tutoring. If you are one of the many who do not know what to listen for, hearing these two words over and over again will probably not help much. Even talking with someone who can tell the difference, but who cannot articulate it well. What one needs is a gate or a key that opens up or at least facilitates a path towards understanding.

Problems like this are particularly insidious, because one can work around them. One can speak and understand Chinese without grasping the distinction I have described above, but doing so almost guarantees preserving a thick, slightly annoying accent that will be all but impossible to overcome.

I believe much of T’ai Chi is the same. Merely listening to someone who knows what is right does not guarantee one can correctly hear and understand what is important about what is being communicated. Merely seeing a posture correctly performed does not mean one can recognize what is really going on. Some rare people know how to illustrate principles with words or movements to help overcome these barriers. They know how to point out gates or provide keys that are appropriate for each individual. Unfortunately, few individuals can consistently demonstrate this ability. It is also not necessarily linked with the presence or absence of T’ai Chi skill itself. Even where everything is “perfect,” who is in a position to get individual attention from such a teacher hour after hour, day after day, and week after week?

If you subscribe to any of what I have said, or at least can suspend judgment, I would be curious to hear what strategies you use to overcome these barriers. I know many of the linguistic gates and keys, including those to the “t” problem I described above, but what like to hear about the T’ai Chi ones. How do you personally determine what is right in deciding the course of your studies, in judging the course of your practice sessions, and in figuring out what to imitate?

Since I am proposing an exchange of “tricks of the trade,” so to speak, I feel obligated to begin by describing a few of my own.

At the level of deciding my course of study, I have begun to look more and more for statements or writings from people who I respect, who share relevant parts of my world view, but who express ideas that sound ridiculous, wrong, or odd. I do not mean that only or all such statements represent correct T’ai Chi, but rather that such statements can indicate personal barriers and easy learning opportunities. This is from the time-honored view of the scientific method that views the most interesting test results as those that violate “accepted” theories.

Keeping an eye and ear out for the “odd” proved helpful for me at the first seminar of the Yangs I attended, where they described and demonstrated the concept of “relaxation” (“fangsong”) in ways that I found quite odd at the time. This forced me to adjust my understanding in ways for which I remain eternally grateful, whether or not I am faithfully employing their teaching. But for the oddness I originally heard in their teaching, I am unsure I would have been able to overcome preconceived notions, avoid interpreting their teaching to suit those notions, and “hear” or “see” a new message.

One of my strategies in doing form is to look for a continuous gentle feeling of bursting at the seams around each joint of the body (i.e., feeling “full”). I especially look for this in the shoulders, elbows, mid-back, fingers, seated wrists, lower back, and kua. If I can maintain that feeling continuously through a good portion of the form, I know that all will be well and I will have a successful session.

At the end of the form, I look for having a specific feeling of well being that is similar to what one feels after a massage: loose, open, with blood flowing, but energized rather than sleepy. I think this is what is occasionally referred to in the literature as being “comfortable.” There is a Chinese word, “shufu,” which can be translated as “comfortable,” but which, I believe, is broader in meaning. It is the opposite of “feeling ill” (“ bu shufu”) or “ill at ease.” Any joint that does not exhibit this feeling after doing the form gives me an opportunity to look for major improvement.

In learning and improving individual postures, I mainly look for an intersection of feelings that focus on opposing movements, that work towards maximal extension, and that lead to positions that feel unique, inevitable, and somewhat self-regulating. For example, I am happiest with my arm movements in the Press/Squeeze movement of Grasp Sparrow’s Tail, when I can feel that I am working towards making a perfect rebounding “beach ball” circle out of the hexagon formed by the mid back, the shoulders, the elbows, and the contact point between my palm and forearm. If I feel an oval projecting forward, I lose what I believe to be appropriate feeling in my elbows and shoulders. If it feels like a triangle pointing forward, I lose what I believe to be appropriate feeling in my chest and mid back.

In the most recent issue of the Association magazine, there is a wonderful interview of the Yangs that talks about properly harnessing the thrusting (“deng”) and supporting (“cheng”) movements in the legs. My way of attempting to follow and integrate their instruction into my practice is similar to what I described above for Press/Squeeze, although with different details. Doing this properly has completely swallowed up my former ideas about how to ensure that the front knee is not too far forward or too far backward.

Again, I would love to hear what other strategies or tricks people use at any level of their learning to distinguish right from wrong. Do you look for a tingling in your left pinky during Single Whip? Do you look for a light sheen of sweat after you do form? Does a light pounding in the head indicate that you are finally beginning to understand one of the classics?

Since the smallest things can sometimes have unforeseen consequences, I, and I believe others, would be interested in both the mundane and the profound, as long as you personally find the strategy useful and can describe why.

Take care,
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Postby JerryKarin » Fri Nov 23, 2001 10:46 pm

Hi Audi. I agree with you that you must have a good teacher. Video's are a good supplement and one can use the instructions in books. Still, as you said, the only way for a student to actually perform like a teacher is to practice. The problem is how to make sure I am practicing correctly and what do I work on when I'm practicing? I use Yang Chengfu's core writings: the 'ten essentials' and the 'essay on practice' as my guide. In the beginning the ten essentials seem vague, easy to assent to, and hard to do anything about. Gradually, inspired by a teacher at first, you become aware of the essentials as very concrete things that you are doing all through your practice. You begin to find yourself fixing an essential point in mid execution of a move. You can demonstrate how this move looks with and without the essential. In the transitions between postures, the essentials are still at work; there are no blank spots where we just reposition for the next thing... At some stage you get enough of the essentials going that you seem to get in gear and experience a whole range of (usually pleasant) sensations associated with proper alignment and connected, whole- body movement. Don't get too attached to them -the sensations change over time.
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Postby LarryC » Sat Nov 24, 2001 6:06 am

What a great topic for discussion you have proposed. Since you specifically asked for input on this topic without regard to how Earth shattering it may be, I offer the following. How do I know I’m doing the form “right”? One gauge that is meaningful to me is the spontaneous “slight smile” that appears on my face. I realize that this seems very nebulous and subjective – and it most certainly is.

I have read in various Tai Chi books about the admonition to practice with an “inner smile”. I believe that some teachers instruct students to assume the smile outwardly, almost as an adjunct to the 10 essentials. At first I considered this an unnecessary affectation. However, I now find that when this smile occurs spontaneously, it often coincides with a feeling of being “in the Zone”, if I may use that term.

This begs the question whether the subjective feeling of being in the zone has any correlation with actually being in the zone. (Which I gather is the point you made in proposing this topic.)

When I’m in the zone:

I smile. My mind doesn’t wander. I don’t think about anything; I think about everything. I’m not really aware of being in the zone at all.

When I become aware of being in the zone, I’m not really in it any more, but I’m close to it. It feels like I’m doing a pretty good job of following the ten essentials. I feel various bows in my body. In the ji and an positions I feel like half of the capital letter A (split vertically down the middle). I’m aware of my yao, and it feels about right, etc., etc.

All of the above is to say that whether or not we are doing the moves correctly is quite subjective almost all of the time (barring having a competent teacher right there to tell you the truth). I do feel that over time I am making progress, but how can I really be sure?

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Postby JerryKarin » Mon Nov 26, 2001 7:35 am

By the way I finally got around to posting my translation of essentials 6 - 10 of the Ten Essentials.
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Postby ZhongDa » Mon Nov 26, 2001 8:10 pm

I too find that smile, but it seems easier coming when i give in to my 'urges' and practice tai chi late at night, or at other 'odd' times during the day.

As I told you, Audi the other day, 'when i am moving during class I dont feel the flow, but when i'm not in class i feel much more comfy'.
Should I be following these urges?
It seems I find more out during these off peak times than i do when i set a schedule to practice by.

Audi, I also dont believe its going to be the same for everyone when you talk about tiny specifics, e.g. light in the head, pinky tingles etc.
Maybe some gross items, but our bodies are so different that it could be experienced in ways as different as freckle placement on each persons shoulders.

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Postby Bob3 » Wed Nov 28, 2001 1:26 am


You did open a good topic! This should keep this thread open for quite a while.

I believe that what is 'right' is different for different people, due to their body type, physical fitness, mental inclination, etc. Observing a master perform a set will reveal differences with each repitition. Not that a difference is 'wrong', but that it reflects the combination of mental intent, training and the physical condition of that person at that time. Of course, the movement of a master player is likely more in tune to the art of Tai Chi than the movement of a student.
Just some food for thought - a movement is more correct when the connections between the hands and feet (and arms and legs) can be felt during the movement. Also, during the movement, the initiation of the move with the dan tian, and the opposite compensating movement can also be felt. When all of this is coordinating with the breath, then there is a basis for understanding Tai Chi.
Observing a master can only reveal a part of this process, and only when the student has learned to 'see' rather than just look at the movement. A video is useful to some extent, but only the observation of the movement from different perspectives and noting the variations in the movement can bring about understanding of what is needed.
My teacher was always telling us to 'listen' to our body. This process is not what the ears hear, but what the mind is telling about your body position and movement and comparing that with a concept of what the movement should be, as modified for your body and capability.
Remember, Tai Chi is an art. This means that each person can bring some interpretation of what or how a move is performed. There is no absolute or 'correct' movement, just movement in accord with the principles of Tai Chi.

I hope this helps in your quest. I'm sure others will add much more than my few thoughts on this subject.

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Postby LarryC » Thu Nov 29, 2001 5:08 am

<BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial">quote:</font><HR><font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Originally posted by JerryKarin:
... At some stage you get enough of the essentials going that you seem to get in gear and experience a whole range of (usually pleasant) sensations associated with proper alignment and connected, whole- body movement. Don't get too attached to them -the sensations change over time.</font><HR></BLOCKQUOTE>

I agree completely with your statement. Why do you think the sensations change over time? Is it because it seemed like proper alignment at the time, but further practice shows that it wasn't quite right after all? Or perhaps we become numb to that initial great sensation, even though we haven't yet reached the next "breakthrough"?

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Postby JerryKarin » Thu Nov 29, 2001 10:54 am

Larry, I don't know why it changes. Perhaps we get used to a given sensation and then it recedes into the background and we begin to notice others. For a long time just making the elbows jut downward produced a very good feeling of peng jing for me. Recently I have been more successful at making the head go up at the same time the shoulders and elbows go down. This creates a very alert, clear, expanded feeling for me. Clearly by focusing our attention on the details of each move and maintaining the 10 essentials, our ordinary consciousness, which often tends to rapidly jump from one thing to the next, becomes simplified, more observant and less chaotic. I find this very restful.
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Postby Louis Swaim » Thu Nov 29, 2001 8:08 pm

Greetings Jerry,

I agree with your observations completely. Your caution against becoming attached to particular sensations is very important. I know you’re probably familiar with the story (from the Han Feizi, or Liezi, I forget which one) about the farmer who was working his fields one day when a rabbit, running in fright, ran head-on into a nearby tree stump, knocking itself out. The farmer cheerfully took the rabbit home to have for dinner. For the next several days, the farmer stood watching the stump, expecting another rabbit to bump into it as before. Not only did he not get another rabbit, but he also neglected the work he should have been doing in his fields.

My first sifu told this story as a caution against becoming too attached or fixated on particular sensations in form practice or sitting practice. One should be open to sensations as they come, and evaluate them on an ad hoc basis as feedback in one’s adherence to the principles. If, however, you start hunting for particular sensations, it may actually be a distraction from the immediate work at hand, and the requisite attention to detail.

As others have observed in this string, not only do feedback sensations differ from one time to another, they will certainly differ from one individual to another, and in particularly in our attempts to describe them. They are, after all, subjective feelings. I think that many of the teachings in the taiji classics are mappings of direct subjective experience. Yang Chengfu’s Ten Essentials are some of the most refined and efficacious mappings available. As practice progresses (and regresses) we have to constantly reassess how to put the Essentials into practice.

Take care,
Louis Swaim
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Postby DavidJ » Thu Nov 29, 2001 11:21 pm

Hi Audi, and All,

Good question. Here's half a bagful of thoughts.

Sometimes by looking at a posture or a movment with "fresh eyes," simply to see if all is in accord with the principles, a better focus on it may be found. Even when the movement "feels good." Basically I'm saying, "question yourself."

One way I put something you said is, "new information may be found in the anomalies." By examining a posture or a movement that is troublesome, a better understanding of * how * a principle is applied may be found.

If I have a problem I try to solve it myself. When I have solved it * sufficiently * I check to see what is done by the masters. By doing this, after a while, a person can learn to trust him or herself.

I believe that Tai Chi should feel different every day. Sort of like "you never step into the same river twice" because everything changes to some degree or another - you are a living system. Continuity in change doesn't mean mindless repetition, but consistancy in what you do.

You wrote, >Does a light pounding in the head indicate that you are finally beginning to understand one of the classics? <

One form of listening to your body is to feel your blood pulsing through you. If you can feel your blood pressure vary when you move you're probably approaching fansong.

Once in awhile there's a distinct sensation of something falling into place.

Testing a position to see if the structure is right is a good way to check whether or not what you're doing is correct.


David J
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Postby Charla Quinn » Sun Dec 02, 2001 8:47 pm

Hi Audi, Jerry, Larry, et al,
Thank you for this string of discourse. It's been especially relevant this week as I've come out of a Thanksgiving holiday of family, fun and lack of meaningful practice. The inevitable post holiday let- down left me feeling depressed, but as I've resumed my regular TC routine, and met with some eager students ready to learn more form, I find that "inner" smile irrepressibly becoming "outer" and I learn from the form once again. This week, it comes with the "Fair Ladies" as I learn new meaning from "thrusting" one hand under the opposite arm and warding off upward. While my enemies are imaginary, my life is too real. Yet, once again, my TCC has been steadily there to center me, reminding me of who I am, like a friend. CQ
P.S. Jerry, this is the reply I tried to send the other day -

[This message has been edited by Charla Quinn (edited 12-02-2001).]
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Postby Audi » Sun Dec 16, 2001 10:37 pm

Hi all,

Thank you for all the interesting responses.

Jerry, thanks for the reminder about the importance of the Ten Essentials. When I composed my question, I had them in mind and should have made some explicit references. I had thought of beginning my post with them as a base, but was afraid the scope of the question might come off as being even broader than it was. I find the “mental mapping” that Louis mentions to be an iterative process that benefits from cross checking from different sources; however, it is probably a good idea to establish a starting point, such as the Ten Essentials.

Speaking of which, one specific question I had in mind was how to judge when the elbows are correctly positioned. Although I think I have reasonable positioning in most postures (which I learned posture by posture), this is not the same as knowing for certain why a particular angle is correct in one posture or transition, but not in another, or how to define precisely what “drooping” or “dropping” the elbows means. I find, for instance, that there appears to be much unexplained variation in practice with respect to the elbows in the withdrawal from the Push in Grasp Sparrow’s Tail and in the subsequent Single Whip Transition. Similarly, some people seem to attempt to use similar elbow heights and orientations for Push, the Single Whip Transition, and White Crane Spread Wings; whereas I understand the forearm height and orientation to vary substantially among and within these three postures.

On occasion, I have looked to the sensations described or hinted at in the Twenty Character Motto to guide my practice and understanding of what I am instructed to do. For Ward Off, I also recall Yang Zhen Duo testing the Ward Off arms of seminar participants in a way that seemed to value how firm and stable they were (heavy arms?), rather than other possible qualities, such as the softness of the muscles. Although the orientation of the elbows is usually described in a way that uses reference to the ground as the only factor, it seems that the direction in which power is being exerted is also an indispensable factor. Based on what I recall of how the Yangs and others test postures, I have ended up using as a guide how I would perform the postures powerful in water. Again, my question is “how do you know what is correct” if you do not have an instructor who has time to individually track you from posture to posture and transition to transition and point out slight deviations day after day?

Larry and Charla, I love your mention of the smile. You both mentioned the smile as reflecting something inward. Far from being a trivial point, it probably deserves a separate thread. Just to delve into one or two aspects, I have always been fascinated by how the outward can affect the inward, i.e., how the outward smile can work internal changes.

I believe an external smile tends to creep inwardly if it is maintained. I would personally be wary, however, of taking a smile as a practice goal, as opposed to an indicator. Smiles come in such wide varieties, and some are undoubtedly inappropriate: for example, supercilious ones, vacant ones, forced ones, etc. I like to think that correct practice will lead to an expression on the face that is transparent to the inner intent and movement of the practitioner, just as the face of a good musician often betrays a spirit that both possesses the music being expressed and is possessed by it.

Put another way, I would think that the right kind of smile would be evidence of being in the zone you, Larry, mention, but the wrong kind would indicate the opposite. By the way, I think that my own temperament and level of practice are unfortunately more characterized by phrases like “pained expression” and “grimace,” rather than smile.

One thing I have used smiles for is to explain to non-T’ai Chi friends my understanding of what the classics say is the interaction between qi (energy), yi (mind-intent), and shen (spirit). To smile while focusing on the facial muscles (i.e., focusing on “qi”) invites a forced, wooden smile. To smile while focusing on the communicative content of a smile (i.e., the intent and purpose of the smile) automatically activates appropriate facial muscles, but requires much concentration. If one can cultivate a spirit (shen) of joy in one’s heart, smiling is effortless. The intent (“yi”) is focused; the muscles move (as the “qi” is mobilized?). The trick is getting the “spirit” right, which is much easier said than done.

One last thing that comes to mind in the arena of expression is that I have often met or read of T’ai Chi practitioners who talk of doing form as an experience where they lose themselves or zone out. For instance, they “wake up” in the middle of the second paragraph and cannot remember getting there. I personally feel T’ai Chi can be used for many things, and have no objection to using it for achieving such “altered states” or light trances; however, I do not feel that this is consistent with the writings associated with the Yang family.

In other words, being “in the zone” as you, Larry, describe, whether or not one is aware of it at the time, is not the same as “zoning out,” as I have heard others describe. The writings associated with the Yangs seem to describe an intense focus on the flow in the here and now that seems the antithesis of zoning out or falling into a trance. Again, I would draw an analogy to musical performances, where it would be unthinkable for the performer to disconnect his or her spirit, purpose, mind, etc. from the flow of the music.

By the way, what do you mean by an “A” split vertically down the middle? Where is the apex of the “A” and where does the horizontal stroke join the long slanting stroke?

Fletcher, you ask about whether or not to follow your feelings to “feel the flow” or whether you should be able to follow a schedule to do so. My limited understanding of Taoist health practices is that one must always follow natural rhythms and that this presumably includes biorhythms and emotional rhythms. On the other hand, the point of any martial art is to be able to summon up one’s art at any time. Certainly, most of what I have read in the T’ai Chi literature stresses the importance of regular daily practice and implies that the discipline of regularity is in itself useful and necessary.

Perhaps a way to reconcile the two approaches is to insist on regular, scheduled practice and on the ability to learn according to someone else’s schedule, but not to insist that your mind and body react the same way each time, as David mentions. In other words, insist on seeking out a zone or on feeling for a groove, but do not insist that it be the same zone or the same groove each time.

Also, I get the impression that the Yangs take the view that correct performance of the basics is really enough, and not particularly dependent on mood. Put differently, they seem to feel that if one is in an average physical, emotional, and spiritual state, one should be able to put the T’ai Chi basics into practice and create T’ai Chi magic on demand.

Much of the energy feel the Yangs talk about at seminars and in their writings seems linked to very simple actions, if performed correctly, such as what is described in the Twenty Character Motto or the discussion of the various hand techniques elsewhere on the site. When one does not feel proper energy flow, the cause may be time of day, etc.; however, more likely the cause is directly related to something simple that may be hard to discern, but that in theory should be immediately correctable, at least when proceeding at a slow pace. Again, I am not talking about level of ability, but about an approach to practice and learning.

I obviously do not have the answers; nevertheless, I feel very strongly that one needs to proceed as if understanding how to express a particular principle in the form or in push hands is always possible in a matter of minutes, not years, given the right instruction and the right teacher-student relationship at the time. Once understanding comes, it then can take years to master all the details and implications, to perform the movement at speed, etc. In this, I think T’ai Chi, as practiced slowly, is like learning to pronounce a foreign language, as I alluded to in my original post about the two types of “t.” I think this is different from, say, learning to play music on the piano or guitar, where the body really needs time to acquire the skills to follow the dictates of the mind. Does anyone feel differently about this?

Bob, thanks for your thoughts, with which I basically agree, especially about listening to one’s body. If I am not nitpicking, however, I would be curious as to what your view of “coordinating with the breath” entails, if I have not already asked this question earlier in the history of the board. There seems to be much disagreement in the T’ai Chi community about the proper role of the “breath” in practice and would be curious as to how you view this. Do you exhibit a fixed or repeated breathing pattern in your form? Do you breathe in the same pattern regardless of the speed at which you do form? Do you coordinate breathing only when you “emphasize” a particular technique?

Larry, Jerry, and Louis, one personal example of discarded sensation I would like to add to your postings is sensations of heat in the hands. Based on what I had heard from some teachers and read in some writings, I was thrilled when I first felt heat in my hands during performance of the form, since this was supposedly a sign of increased qi flow. As I continued to work on other principles, I discovered that the sensation of heat did not correlate very well with my sense of progress in other areas and even seemed occasionally associated with departures from principle. I no longer pay much attention to this as a result.

I speculate that the reason for the change is that the feeling of heat comes from feeling increased blood flow. Although T’ai Chi practice improves circulation, there are other ways to do so. If one makes improved temporary circulation the only goal, I think it is very possible that there are physical and mental practices that are superior to T’ai Chi for this purpose: for example, Yoga relaxation techniques, massage, sitting in a whirlpool, aerobics, etc. Focusing on this narrow goal, may involve taking the wrong fork in the road from a T’ai Chi perspective. A similar problem would probably arise from making improved leg strength or balance the only goal for one’s T’ai Chi practice or altering the stepping methods to maintain a “burn” in the thighs and a challenge to one’s balance.

Louis, I like your description of the classics as “mappings of direct subjective experience.” You had mentioned something like that in a previous post, and my main purpose behind this thread was to solicit more “coordinates” for the mapping to help in “triangulating.” The trick, of course, is to make sure one is receiving coordinates for the same location on the map and not confusing different destinations, however worthy each may be in its own right.

David, thanks for your list. Posture testing is something I definitely do not do enough of and need to understand better. For instance, should postures be tested from all angles, or merely along the principle lines of force?

You also mentioned “things falling into place” as a good guide. An allied feeling might be when T’ai Chi seems to simplify, such as when worrying about ten different details begins to feel like worrying about nine, or three, etc. Again, I find the Twenty Character Motto very instructive in this regard, since it seems to unify the feelings associated with seemingly discreet principles.

I also liked your suggestion of feeling changes in blood pressure; however, I think that by itself, using this as an indicator can lead down different paths. Taking the wrist position, for instance, it is probably easier to feel pressure changes if one never flexes the wrist, as was advocated by Cheng Man-ch’ing. On the other hand, by never seating the wrist in this way, as required by the Yangs, one does not get the opportunity to feel how this motion in itself changes the pressure in the hand and forearm.

Take care,
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Postby DavidJ » Thu Dec 20, 2001 9:26 pm

Hi Audi,

You wrote, > Posture testing is something I definitely do not do enough of and need to understand better. For instance, should postures be tested from all angles, or merely along the principle lines of force? <

I find testing postures very interesting. We often think of a test as something we take, and either pass or fail, but posture testing goes beyond this.

A good teacher can apply pressure in such a way that what the student has right is strengthened, and allows the student to make adjustments that make the structure more correct. The teacher can feel what the student is doing and show/tell them what is needed. By doing these, the student can become more familiar with the right way to stand or move.

Initially the tests are along the primary lines of force, which includes the vertical, but after this, yes, all angles can be tested, as a student lets the circularity and three dimensional aspects of Tai Chi kick in, and then the fun really begins. Eventually one can become "well rounded." Image

This is in line with something you have mentioned before - the image of being inside a beach ball.

My comment on someone feeling their blood moving through them was not in regard to "how to perfect individual postures", per se, as in your original question, but in regard to "how to do form on a regular basis", in this case the balance of tension/relaxation of the muscles that we call fansong.

It is possible to be fansong and do a movement many different ways. One can also be fansong walking down the street, sitting at a computer, doing dishes, etc. I didn't mean this to be a comment on correctness of structure, but on regularly doing form.


David J

[This message has been edited by DavidJ (edited 12-20-2001).]
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Postby Bob3 » Fri Dec 21, 2001 7:11 pm

Dear Audi,

If I haven't said it before, you do ask some interesting questions. Perhaps this should be a thread of it's own, but for a short answer I'll attempt something I hope is coherent.

You asked about what 'coordinating with the breath' means. In general, I've been told that during movement preparation or retreat, then you inhale; when advancing or completing a movement, then you exhale. Obviously, there are exceptions to this rule in the set, but it holds generally.
On a different level, the whole set of Tai Chi is a way of playing with energy. Part of this play involves breathing in fresh energy and exhaling stale energy. To this end, the body is kept relaxed and rounded to aid in the flow of energy. While the body is gathering energy, the body contracts, like a spring. When the body is releasing energy, the spring is set loose, in a controlled fashion, along with the exhale of air.
In my personal practice, I am aware of what should be done, but am not yet capable of the long, slow breaths that accompany the form. I do practice at different speeds and attempt to coordinate the breath, but will breathe as necessary. Sometimes when doing the form very slowly, it is necessary to breathe several times during a movement. It is important to be aware of the breath, and not intentionally hold the breath when attempting to coordinate all parts of the body to complete a movement. While trying to relax, holding the breath adds a bit of tension that is not needed when trying to relax. I fear that saying anything further will have to go into specific movements for breath coordination, some of which may differ according to style, even of the Yang form.

On another thought, the smile on the face is not forced or intentional. It comes with the natural relaxation of the facial muscles and the enjoyment felt when performing successful playing with the Tai Chi energy. I have noticed some tension even with very proficient people who need to pay attention to their movement when demonstrating. This is unfortunate that they are not quite confident in their ability to enjoy how they moving.

Enjoy the holidays and best wishes for productive practice.

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