Monday Morning Tai Chi Training Tip # 249
Yang’s Ten Essential Points
We have reached the last of Yang’s Ten Essential Points for Tai Chi Chuan. I have enjoyed sharing my take on these ideas by the grandson of the founder of the Yang Style of Tai Chi Chuan. Every instructor has his or her own unique ideas of what is important about Tai Chi and it depends mostly on what the instructor has been working on to improve his or her own form, and that changes as time goes on. One of the great joys of being an instructor is watching the evolution of students as they apply their understanding to their form. A big thank you to Studio and online students. I appreciate your sharing these Tips with fellow students.
#10 – Seek Stillness in Movement
Have you ever tripped while walking? Knocked over a glass? Hit the wrong key when entering data? How did that happen? I would venture to say that your mind was some other place rather than in your body, in that moment. I have a game I like to play to practice stillness in movement when playing Tai Chi, especially out of doors. I call it “I am a camera”.
This game requires an open, receptive mind and knowledge of a form (actually you can use random movements for practice purposes). The body goes through the form being careful that the head and torso move as one. The eyes are like a camera – they see whatever is in front of them without the awareness getting stuck on anything at all. Not a bird, interesting leaf or flower, dogs running by – nothing. It is imprinted in your mind but the mind does not add thoughts to whatever it perceives.
What we want to train is a still mind, containing a single purpose, that of doing the movement with all the requirements contained in Yang’s Points without thinking about them, or anything. It is like a still pond reflecting the moon and stars. Martial arts is dependent upon being in the moment and reacting to the situation as it appears. If the mind wanders, the body will lose coordination. When playing Push Hands, it is fairly easy to tell when the other person’s mind is wandering, allowing entrance into his space. Most people telegraph what they are going to do ahead of time, letting the mind precede the body. We want the mind and body to move together.
Achieving stillness of mind in Tai Chi is different from most meditative arts. Most meditation techniques involve sitting comfortably and slowly and steadily focusing the mind on less and less until it is “one pointed”. That one point is generally the breath. I have studied various traditions that involve meditation – Buddhism, Hinduism, Zen – and they rely on breathing awareness while sitting, as the major tool. Matching breath with the Tai Chi form is difficult because the moves are complex and of different lengths. The matching should be one of the last practices in Tai Chi form mastery.
In Tai Chi stillness training, I recommend starting each round of the form with a single goal in mind, something especially easy to start with, like feeling the bottoms of the feet, or the stepping, or gather and release energy into and out of the hip, or the dropping of the shoulders and elbows. Take just one and keep your mind on the awareness of that particular place.
Then move to the more subtle energetic centers, like one of the three dantiens, or the alignment of all three in each part of each move. Or the lao kung in the center of the palms. More subtle still is the microcosmic or the macrocosmic circuits. Study the meridians so you can start to feel the energy as it makes its journey from the exterior to the interior and back again.
The journey to mastery of Tai Chi can take a lifetime. What could be more rewarding on a physical, mental, or spiritual level? Don’t forget to keep the corners of the mouth turned up. This journey is designed to bring joy. Going to a class and sharing the learning process with others goes a long way to open your heart to the fact we are all moving towards being our best and doing our best for ourselves and society.