The first page of the first volume of The Tai Chi Classics by Waysun Liao has this quote; “Once you begin to move, the entire body must be light and limber. Each part of your body should be connected to each other part.” My teacher said it as “When one part moves, all parts move.”
It’s an excellent principle to follow. In the Classics an example is used by saying “what if only part of the planet rotated while the rest remained stationary?” Drastic changes would occur as the balance of yin and yang would be upset. You certainly won’t experience drastic changes if you move your arm without your leg but we use this principle as a goal when moving ourselves through time and space as we do the form.
Yin/yang encompasses the idea that there is a give and take. We all know the distaste we experience when someone is a “taker” and never gives. Motion is complementary, as is sharing between people. In fact, it’s been shown that we’re wired to share and help others and it is good for our health.*
New students are often surprised that they are “so uncoordinated”, when they really are not. They experience the disconnect between parts of the body that was not consciously detected before. The task we set to get ourselves harmonized can be daunting. I believe it’s one of the main reasons people quit early in the training. They say it’s too hard. It’s certainly a challenge to get ourselves to relearn certain basic movements. In Peter Ralston’s book, Zen Body Being, he observes that we learn how to do things well enough when we are young. If we want to improve, we get a coach and have to break old habits and learn new in order to improve. And that’s tough. If you don’t have a goal in mind, it’s easier to quit. Tiger Woods was arguably the best golfer in the world. At one point in his career he decided that was his goal. He was good but wanted to be better. He got a coach. He regressed, got worse in his play. Then he vaulted to the top spot. That regression was during the breaking of old habits. He could have stopped using the coach but he believed he could reach his goal by following this path and did it despite the bad games. It paid off. I think that if more people had a solid goal in mind of what they wanted of the tai chi practice, the challenge presented in the practice would not be so daunting.
It’s fact that the upper and lower body move at different speeds. It’s fact they have different degrees of dexterity. And if you have been doing the same thing for decades, those habits that allowed you to do things “well enough” are going to be hard to break. Using the principle of getting the upper and lower to synchronize is a good starting point. The difficulty this brings for most of us is a tool for getting the mind involved as well. We’ll experience frustration, feel challenged, and if we stick with it, get that sense of accomplishment when we do it.
You may have thought I was going to write about how to get all parts moving. That’s your teacher’s job, acting as guide to get you there. Reading the Classics helps, too.
Until next time,