Monday Morning Tai Chi Training Tip # 248
Yang’s Ten Essential Points
#9 – Continuity Without Interruption
This is probably the favorite element of my Tai Chi practice, one that really separates Tai Chi from almost all forms of martial arts and exercise. If you look closely at most exercises, you will notice that there is an action, followed by a period of rest, followed by another action, followed by another period of rest. Lift a weight. Stop. Lift another weight. Stop. Or, as in Yoga, do a posture, rest, do another posture, rest.
There is certainly nothing wrong with this way to exercise, but it isn’t our way. Our goal is to use relaxed, soft, continuous movement, one move flowing into the next, on and on. The Yang Long Form is composed, depending on how one counts them, 108 movements that are really 108 parts of one movement. If you look at the human body, you can count 10 fingers, 10 toes, hands, arms, legs, torso, head, etc., or you can look at one whole person.
Tai Chi Chuan can be any length. Popular forms include 24, 48, 54, 108 moves. No matter what the number, it needs to flow, without interruption from start to finish. It is the flow that gives it real meaning. Take some single words: Peter. Ran. And. Jumped. Into. The. Water. Now add continuity: Peter ran and jumped into the water. The flow makes it clear from beginning to end.
Or writing. One can print or write using cursive. Printing uses single letters that stand alone while cursive is one flowing move. Very Tai Chi like. As a note, I understand kids no longer learn to write cursive. They use data entry in a device. All single letters – no flow. Interesting.
I would say the most interesting, as well as most difficult aspect of Tai Chi practice is this linking moves to make continuous movement. I live in Port Townsend, a beautiful seaside town that has a long history of sailing ships, boat building, and the town puts on the largest wooden boat festival in the U.S. There is also a large wooden boat building school where people come from all parts of the globe to learn how to build and repair wooden boats.
Why I am sharing this is that building a wooden boat is much like practicing Tai Chi – the idea of continuity. A wooden boat is composed of hundreds of separate wooden boards, that are pieced together to make a seamless structure where it is almost impossible to see where one board ends and the next starts. There cannot be any gaps. It takes a lot of skill to build so well, and it takes concerted study and practice to make the Tai Chi form continuous and uninterrupted. That is the goal, the challenge, and one of the aspects that makes Tai Chi so interesting.
Another analogy that occurs to me to help explain the importance of flow is that of driving an automobile, and the difference between stop and start driving and cruising on the highway. Stop and start is hard on the engine, wearing down parts rather quickly. Plus gas milage is quite low. Contrast that with driving at a steady, even speed for longer distances. Better gas milage, and it is much less wear and tear on the engine. Same with exercise and our body.
The breath is the main linking element for the form. If you do conscious breathing, you will notice that there is a space between the in-breath and out-breath. It is the body experiencing full and empty. There is no holding of breath in either direction. It is staying open and staying closed. Try this. Take a breath, as much as you can, and when you are full, stay open as if all the cells of the body are still taking in. Experience open. Then allow the release, and experience empty. Don’t lock down the diaphragm by holding tight. Just experience open and experience closed.
This transition period is the main time for linking moves – the space between yin and yang; open and close; full and empty. Like any fine work of art, keep working on understanding how to link moves. There is never an end to the beauty you can create. The power that is achieved by this flow cannot be over-estimated.