Monday Morning Tai Chi Training Tip # 241
Yang’s Ten Essential Points
2. Sink the Chest and Raise the Back
The most effective and powerful results happen as a result of using the torso to do an action. Look at any sport – tennis, baseball, golf, track and field – and I’m sure you will notice the torso doing the work. Tai Chi is no different. This Essential Point helps to describe how.
This Point is a bit difficult to understand. Let’s look at Sink the Chest first. If you look at many people (men especially) who want to appear strong and tough, they will assume the posture of a soldier. Soldiers are taught to stand “ram-rod” straight. Head held as high as possible by pressing back the back of the neck, chest puffed out, stomach pulled in, shoulders pulled as far to the rear as possible.
This posture is far from natural. The posture is designed to send fear into the hearts of any who choose to oppose them. Like a dog getting his hackles up to intimidate others. The blood fills the upper body, especially the chest. The chi is cut off due to all the tension on the upper body. Not ideal Tai Chi conditions.
Try this. Stand like a soldier, especially hold the chest up and out. Inhale into your upper chest as you do this. Stomach pulls in. Feel how this feels. Also, feel where the center of you feels.
Now let your breath out, relaxing your stomach. Let the chest relax and deflate. The shoulders drop some. There is an increase in the weight moving to the bottoms of the feet. Feel what happens to where the center of the body moves to. Notice how the chest sinks.
Do this a few times and now notice what happens to the upper back when you sink the chest. It slightly rounds and raises a bit. Don’t make it happen – allow it to happen. It is just natural. The yin chi sinks to the lower belly and at the same time the yang chi moves up the spine to elevate the back. It is only natural. When experimenting with this essential point, don’t make it happen. Allow it to happen. Sink the chest and raise the back. You will be able to move smoothly and relaxingly.
Stance Sequence
Let me remind you (it is important and fundamental) about the progression of the length and width of the Tai Chi stance. As a general rule, a student will start with a natural, shoulder width stance. The student will then work on increasing strength and balance by using a longer and wider stance. Finally he will move to a more relaxed, shorter and narrower stance.
Length is determined by how far the opponent is from you. Long steps mean greater distance, towards or away from the opponent. Think of boxers, Tae Kwan Do. Punching and kicking. Wide stance means more stability for lifting and throwing. That’s why the wider the stance the shorter the length because you would need to be close. Think of wrestlers, or judo, or especially Sumo.
As we know, Tai Chi is the middle way – neither too far, or too close; too low or too high; too narrow or too wide; too hard or too soft: too slow or too fast. The intention (application) determines all of this. If you wanted to lift a very heavy weight, you wouldn’t try to do that with your feet together. You would naturally use a wide stance. If you wanted to move quickly to gain position, you wouldn’t use a very long stance. Your feet would be just under your hips.
When learning Tai Chi, one starts with what is a natural stance for the student, at this moment. Everybody is different. In most classes, for ease of teaching, the instructor (if you have one) will use a generic, shoulder width stance. It is not optimum for everybody in all movements, but usually the instructor doesn’t have the time to work with each individual, separately. Most instructors start with the middle way. First, do what the instructor says. Then, make an effort on your own, to figure out what the movement is doing and act naturally. If your instructor doesn’t work with applications, use the internet. There are thousands of references to all aspects of Tai Chi study. Remember, applications determine intention, which determines chi flow, which determines your bodies health and well being. The time you put in for practice will influence what you are able to deposit in your chi bank. Good luck
In our 108 Yang Tai Chi Chuan Form we have names that mostly describe the move. Some are poetic (Carry Tiger to Mountain), some are very abstract (Grasp the Bird’s Tail), most you have to really think about the application (Hit a Tiger, Shoot a Tiger with Bow).
I have recently started thinking about the difference in names between move #17 – Step Up, Parry, and Punch, and #47, #89, #106 – Step Up, Deflect Downward and Punch. It got me thinking about the difference between a parry and a deflect. I put some time into internet research and couldn’t come up with a clear explanation. So I’m asking for help. Do you know or have any ideas? Send me an email at if you do. All ideas welcome.