Monday Morning Tai Chi Training Tip # 243
Yang’s 10 Essential Points
#4 – Distinguish Empty and Full
Now here is one that on the surface appears simple. Take a glass and fill it with water – full. Now empty the water out – empty. Simple. But wait. When you filled the glass, was it completely full – no more room for any more? How about when you emptied. I would wager that there were some drops still clinging to the inside of the glass. Interesting.
In Tai Chi we are told to experience empty and full. Is that possible? I would argue – no. When I first started teaching, I instructed students to stand on one leg to experience full on the standing leg and empty on the unweighted leg. I now realize that I was mistaken. Try this for yourself. Put all your weight on one leg. 100% full? What is happening with the other leg?
Did you lift and hold the other leg up a bit to get all the weight on the standing foot, or if you are like most Tai Chi players, you just touched the other leg toe on the ground, ever so lightly. Think about this. If you touch the toe, there must be a small amount of energy in the foot, even for the slightest bit of awareness. And if you take all the weight onto one foot and lift the other leg just a little bit, isn’t there energy in the unweighted leg to hold it up?
So I feel full and empty are relative terms. We are not seeking 100% empty or full, but the ability to feel when one leg is more substantial. In order to move the body in any direction, we want to move from less substantial (empty) to more substantial (full).
In Tai Chi, we generally start a movement, in a relatively empty stance – sit stance. If the opponent delivers energy in the form of a strike, we want to be mostly empty so the force will not overwhelm our body if it gets delivered. Once the opponent has delivered his strike, he is mostly full which means that if I return even a small amount of energy, it will be too much for him.
Push Hands is such good practice for experiencing full and empty. Most matches are lost when one player is pushing hard (full) and the other player turns easily (empty), the the pusher loses balance. The push will work if the person receiving the push is more on the full side. Then it won’t take much to add up to too much.
I give examples from Tai Chi Chuan (the martial art based on the Taoist philosophy). I could use examples from day to day life. Like if one is very tense, uptight, it only takes a small something to throw the person into loss of balance. Think about road rage, spousal abuse, workplace violence. All examples of fullness overflowing. If we can take some time during our day to empty some, life will certainly unfold more smoothly. There will be room for even uncomfortable issues that arise. Tai Chi practice will help us experience the conscious movement between yin and yang, empty and full. Enjoy the ride.
Knowing and Not-Knowing
A student recently said to me, “I know I am not doing this correctly”. I replied back, “That’s wonderful”. This got many odd looks from the other students in attendance. But think about it. If you know that you aren’t doing something correctly, you then must know what is correct. You might not have trained the body to follow your mind’s direction, but it means that you are on the right track. So, remember: “With enough will power, the correct teachings, and a quiet mind, you will attain your goals.”
Celebrate what you know, and, what you know you don’t know.