By Lee Wedlake
The term “pouring” is a popular one used in describing how one transfers weight from one leg to the other when doing tai chi. I feel it’s a good one for getting the mental picture of just how that transfer occurs.
“Shifting” is ok but just does not quite illustrate how we want the change to occur. The word pouring describes a controlled moving of a fluid from one vessel to another. This bars our notions of pouring down rain or emotions verbally pouring forth since they impart the idea of an uncontrolled event. Using the thought of pouring water from a pitcher to a glass is much better.
We don’t dump the weight from one leg to the other, an equivalent of splashing. One who plods or stomps along is splashing their weight. The tai chi practitioner carefully, mindfully moves weight from one leg to the other in a slow, controlled manner. We know what it is like when a clumsy person attempts to fill a glass; missing, splashing or over-filling it. It’s not the picture of what we want to do when we step.
If we think of chi as a fluid, pouring is the perfect fit. As we move from posture to posture in our slow, controlled way, we transfer that fluid from one place to another without missing (not the right weight moving), splashing (stomping) or overflowing (too much going everywhere). Our goal is the perfect pour every time.
This takes time and thoughtful practice. One goal is developing the discipline to do this since it’s not prone to immediate and consistent results. In the long term we want the ability to unconsciously place the weight where we need it so that when our step is disturbed by catching a toe or an unstable or slick surface, our practice allows us to compensate in a flash. It’s the basis behind using tai chi for fall prevention.
Pouring, as a term, is a nice tool in getting our mind and body to work together in this process since it produces a valuable visual to work with. I’ve written of it in the context of shifting weight but the idea works with the whole body. Since the legs are the base for the rest of the body it stands to reason our focus will be there, particularly for beginners.
I believe we should do this with conscious efforts, the aforementioned mindfulness, to get the feel of how it works. As we progress we’ll make it more subconscious and be able to sense the movement of chi and later be able to direct it, should be we desire.