The correct practice of Tai Chi enriches the circulation of chi through out the body. Anything that interferes with chi flow will reduce the effectiveness of practice. These problems are some of the most common faced by the Tai Chi practitioner. Each will greatly affect the flow of chi, and reduce or block the positive effects of practice.
All of these challenges are inherent in the practice of form, and will be met by every practitioner sooner or later. Some practitioners will experience some challenges forever. In other situations, the challenges will come and go as the practitioner develops. It is rare that all challenges are completely eliminated in any practitioner.
1. Empty Root Arrival
Empty root is experienced as partial or shallow root when arriving at a posture, which results in just passing through. Empty root results in not being fully in place, which causes weakened structure. It affects stability and balance and disrupts fluidity of movement. Chi will be reduced and scattered.
Practitioners have different places in the form where there is a tendency to pass through arrival with an empty root. The more difficult postures to learn often result in empty root, which distracts and weakens intention. To maximize practice, it is essential to fully fill each posture with strong intention upon arrival and to sink the chi down into the dan tian and root.
2. Empty Departure Root
Empty departure root is experienced as partial or shallow root when departing from a posture, leaving one half empty and half full. This happens when chi is not lowered upon arrival and is not held down until departure. It results in a weakened transition, which affects stability and balance. It also results in a weake arrival at the next posture.
Empty arrival results in empty departure. Pass through upon arrival results in empty departure. To minimize empty departure root, it is essential to arrive with full root, send the chi down, and hold the chi down until departure.
3. Empty Hands
The hands are the expression of chi, and are the principle vehicle to direct and transmit chi. Subtle differences in hand movements and positions make large differences in chi movement. (i.e. heaven and earth hands, yin and yang hands, forward and back hands, inner and outer hands). Empty hands are not strong and do not express strong chi. Hands can be tense or limp,and still be empty. Hands can be relaxed and still be empty. Empty hands express weak intention and always lose chi.
To hold hands full of chi, hold strong intention. Strengthen awareness of hand movement and position, and better know the power of a chi filled hand.
4. Run Away Legs
Legs run away when feet are empty. Feet are empty when they are not filled with chi. Legs run away when they move without feeling the resistance of chi. This results in fast or erratic stepping, or stop/go stepping, which blocks the flow of chi throughout the body, and prevents chi moving downward.
To prevent run away legs and be consistent in leg movement, be consistent in the awareness of chi in the feet, not only upon arrival, but also in transition. One must also become sensitive to movement of legs forward to backward, upward or downward, and feel the resistance of chi in the air.
5. Lazy Waist
Waist controls all movements and is the connector between upper and lower body. A lazy waist gives away control of movement to other parts of the body. Legs, arms, shoulders, head or hips can easily take the lead, which disrupts body structure and brings imbalance. Flow and continuity of movement are lost. Lazy waist reduces, diffuses, and scatters chi.
Body cohesion, balance, stability, consistency in movement are the result of the waist being in control of upper and lower movements. Avoid lazy waist by becoming more aware of the unity of upper and lower body connected at the waist. Hold strong intention to move from the waist with total body cohesion.
6. Fly Away Arms
There are no arms in Tai Chi. Arms serve as the pathway for chi. Thus if arms take the lead, or wander beyond the boundaries of body structure, or lose contact with the intention expressed in the eyes, or get ahead of the rest of the body movement, one has experienced fly away arms. In any of these situations the arms will lose and scatter chi in multiple directions, and disrupt body cohesion and the continuity of body movement. Fly away arms often make erratic or rapid movements.
To avoid fly away arms, never let arms or hands move beyond the line of vision. Keep arms and hands connected to your chi intention at all times. Always keep arms under control of the waist, and never let arms take the lead. Hands do not fly away from connection to feet, elbows do not fly away from connection to knees, and arms do not fly away from connection to legs. Only move arms with full awareness of the resistance to chi.
7. Idle Intention
Intention is the expression of chi direction, and is demonstrated in the eyes. The eyes lead and communicate where the chi is intended to go, even before it leaves. When intention is weakened or broken with downward glances, distracted thoughts, or disconnection of eyes from the rest of the body movement, then chi is diminished and lost. This results in a weaker fragmented form and compromised posture and position. Idle intention significantly reduces overall internal and external benefits of practice.
To avoid idle intention, keep eyes fixed upon the horizon and communicate your intention consistently throughout the practice of form. Always let the eyes lead your form and express your chi.
8. Misdirected Directions
Body is aligned in the practice of form. Thus when any part of the body separates from the direction of the rest of the body, the entire form is misaligned. Direction of body must be aligned with direction of root foot. Eyes must be aligned with arms and chest. A break in cohesive alignment results in a break in internal and external chi flow.
Keep body in alignment with root direction. Keep eyes in alignment with body. To maximize chi and benefits of practice, keep intention in alignment with cohesive body direction.
9. Floating Turns
Root is the heart of Tai Chi practice. Without root, there is no balance, and without balance, there is no chi, both figuratively and literally. Thus it is essential to be aware and hold strong intention about root when making a turn. When turning without first placing a new root, the turn is done in float. When a turn is done in float without a root in place, there is nowhere to direct the flow of the chi inherent in the turn. When the new root is put in place before beginning the turn, that root is able to receive the full chi generated by that turn, and the root will be full upon arrival.
To maximize chi, avoid floating turns and heighten awareness and intention of both departure and arrival root whenever making a turn.
10. Upper Loses Lower
Upper and lower are always connected in cohesive form practice. A disconnect will occur when waist loses or gives up control, or when any part of the body leads over another. Arms or legs can never be late. All parts of the body must leave, move and arrive at the same time. To disconnect upper and lower results in weakened structure, fragmented form, chi blockage and chi loss.
When one part of the body moves, take care that all parts of the body move at the same time. Take care to connect hands and feet, elbows and knees, and hips and shoulders throughout the practice of form. Body cohesion through upper/lower connection supports strong chi circulation throughout form practice.
All Tai Chi practitioners are challenged to develop awareness of when and how these challenges express in their form practice. As a practitioner advances in form, so too will the understanding of the depths of these challenges and their impact. It remains true that the practice of Tai Chi form is a journey in self understanding and awareness, personal honesty and self growth. A closer look at ones form in the context of these challenges is one of many tools that can assist us along our pathway.
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This post was written by Sifu Master Lu Molberg