This blog post was originally published as a podcast in June 2009. I’m slowly transcribing all of my podcasts, to share them with my readers who either cannot play podcasts on their computer, or who simply prefer reading instead of listening.

In the second year of the syllabus, it’s all about using the form to explore ten principles, which are based on Yang Cheng’fu’s ten important points, which is something you can go back in the old books and you can find those in there for yourself; you can look at them, and you can see what they said about them back then, and what we say about them now.

We’ve just done week 28 out of 30 for the second year, and as part of that tonight we looked at two principles, because we’ve been spending the last ten weeks of the third term doing a whistle-stop tour, a review of all ten principles just to make sure that people have a good idea of what they are trying to achieve with them, and because people go away on holiday etc and have had to double up tonight [I obviously meant catch up – Ed].

I had one of those “doh!” forehead-slapping moments as part of that tonight because, although it is blatantly obvious, I only just realised tonight that of course the principles go together, just like yin and yang. [Mrs H at this point helpfully pointed out that forehead-slapping is surely the sound of one hand clapping – Ed]. I’d never noticed that before; it’s so obvious, and I’m feeling very foolish about it. [It is good to admit these things, for one day we all forget what it was like when we were at the beginning of our journey … and that is when we lose our way – Ed].

The principles we looked at tonight were Continuous Movement and Stillness In Motion, two principles that absolutely complement each other. You can take any move of the form, and you’ve got Continuous Movement firing off, and it is being supported at all times by its exact opposite, which is a lack of movement – Stillness In Motion.

To explore Stillness In Motion a little bit more, what we were looking at tonight was the difference between stillness and Stillness In Motion. Stillness is where you stick, where you stop and you feel that you have stopped. Stillness In Motion, by contrast, is where you’ve become more efficient, and you’re still moving but you’re only moving that which needs to be moved.

So for me that was a very entertaining class tonight, and for me very educational, even though I’m the one teaching it, and I hope you find this point helpful too in your practice.

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This blog post was originally published as a podcast in June 2009. I’m slowly transcribing all of my podcasts, to share them with my readers who either cannot play podcasts on their computer, or who simply prefer reading instead of listening.

One of the reasons people choose to play T’ai Chi and learn it in Western cultures is also one of its major health benefits: it can improve your balance, and as you get older it can reduce the amount that your balance degrades and help prevent falls as you get on in life. Falls are quite dangerous as you get older in life, as your body just can’t cope with as much injury. [Don’t take my word for it – checkout all of the third-party studies and testimonials for yourself – Ed].

In our form, one of the moves is called the Lotus Sweep. You can view this on the YouTube video that I have of the form [it’s towards the end of the Part 2 video – Ed]. This move really challenges your balance, especially for a beginner. What you have to do is go into cat stance, weight is in the left, and you sweep in with the right leg and you then sweep out once and then twice in a big circle before placing the feet heels in line to finish.

When I play this move, my right knee (the leg that is doing the sweeping) the right knee comes up to hip height as I sweep in and out. It’s quite natural for beginners to want to try and copy that shape, because as a beginner you are learning the shapes. But what happens as you play the form with the knee up when you don’t yet have Single Weight and when you don’t yet have Relax The Hips and you don’t yet have the uprightness that comes from Head And Body Moves As One Unit … what happens to the beginner is that the sweep in and the sweep out cause the body to wobble left and right quite substantially.

It’s not unusual for beginners to fall over at this point, because they are trying to stand on one foot but don’t yet have the balance to achieve it.

I saw a great thing in tonight’s class where one of my students made a choice. Instead of bringing the knee up high, he chose to preserve his balance and his uprightness by playing the sweep low to the floor instead. He brought the right foot up just enough to clear the floor so that he could sweep in once and sweep out twice and keep his uprightness.

I must point this out as being a great choice that he made, and a great tip for everyone who is beginning to try and find their balance.

One of the reasons T’ai Chi teaches balance is that it is teaching the body to understand what it feels like and what it means to be upright. This is part of the mindfulness side of T’ai Chi. But, as a beginner, if you are wobbling left and right all the time, as beginners are want to do, and as I did too when I was a beginner, what are you teaching the body there? You’re not. You’re continuing to confuse the body by lurching from one side and back to the other. By smoothing these things out, by focusing and saying “right, being upright is the most important thing, and my form will have to grow around that core pillar,” over time it improves your balance far quicker and far better than throwing yourself from left to right.

That’s a great little tip from tonight’s class.

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This blog post was originally published as a podcast in June 2009. I’m slowly transcribing all of my podcasts, to share them with my readers who either cannot play podcasts on their computer, or who simply prefer reading instead of listening.

On a Tuesday night, I teach an Improvers’ class. This class is for people who have completed the Beginners’ course and can play the short form all the way through from start to end, either under instruction or, as time goes on, without instruction. The syllabus for the Improvers’ class is to look at the ten underlying principles that shape the way the form is meant to be played, and we use the form as a teaching tool for that. The idea is that every week we look at one principle in isolation, we study it, and we understand what is going on and a bit of why, and hopefully a little bit of how.

That’s what we’ve been doing tonight.

One of the interesting things that came out of tonight’s class was how difficult it was to look at one principle in isolation. The conversation constantly kept coming back to how the principles interlock, how they support each other and how one principle is possible by the application of another principle.

There’s an interesting point in this about how T’ai Chi starts of as very daunting and learning the form movements and moving around … these are movements that we don’t do in normal daily life, or at least we don’t feel that we do. In time we get the hang of that and we start to feel a bit more comfortable. And then we’ve got the principles which turn everything on its head again. For a while everything seems to be getting more and more complicated, there seems to be more and more involved.

Eventually what happens is that you reach a point where you start to internalise these things, and you move from thinking about them to simply feeling them. It is part of what makes T’ai Chi an internal martial art, I would argue, although that’s perhaps a larger topic for another discussion. Part of the key for this is that ultimately there is just T’ai Chi, and all these other things, they just blend and they all merge and they become as one.

And that is our half-way goal.

That’s what we’re aiming to get to. Once we’ve got to there, we can start thinking about how to use T’ai Chi once you can do it.

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Elbows Low Exercise

Posted by Stuart Herbert on February 21st, 2010 in Podcast, Principles, Technique.

This blog post was originally published as a podcast in June 2009. I’m slowly transcribing all of my podcasts, to share them with my readers who either cannot play podcasts on their computer, or who simply prefer reading instead of listening.

We’ve just done the Tuesday night class – the Improvers’ class – and tonight we did a recap of the principle of Elbows Low, which was highly entertaining for everybody, and quite informative too I hope.

The main thing we were looking at with Elbows Low tonight was the idea that, in order to keep your elbows low, it’s all about relaxing the shoulders as much as possible; getting the tension out of the shoulders. This results in the elbow naturally falling by your side [in much the same way that your hips naturally tilt forward if you eliminate the tension in the lower back – Ed].

We also looked at situations where the elbow is raised up. There’s a great exercise for this to let you feel the difference between what we’re looking for with Elbows Low and what to avoid. The question always is: if your elbow is not held at your side, but is deliberately held up in the air, how can that possibly be Elbows Low? The exercise, very simply, is to hold your right arm out in front of you, turn the right hand out, so that wrist and elbow are at the same height forming a bar facing to your right. From that position, raise the wrist a little bit to ensure your wrist is higher than your elbow. Take a moment to feel what that’s like at the shoulder. That doesn’t feel too bad I hope, unless you’ve had shoulder surgery or you’ve got a damaged shoulder, at which point you’ve got to learn to work within your own particular limits.

To compare and contrast this, instead of raising the wrist to be higher than the elbow, raise the elbow to be higher than the wrist. Can you feel the extra tension that has now entered the shoulder? That tension limits the mobility of the shoulder. It unbalances you as well because your shoulder has had to rise in order to bring the elbow higher than the wrist and, I’m willing to bet, that for a lot of people listening to this podcast, if someone was to stand in front of you and look at you, they’d see that you’re now leaning to one side because of the raised shoulder. It’s very disruptive to your bio-mechanical structure, just by making the elbow too high.

That’s just a little exercise we did tonight in the class to show how Elbows Low works.

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My Weight Disappears

Posted by Stuart Herbert on September 29th, 2009 in Principles, Technique.

We (my Improvers group and I) were half-way through our second stab at playing the form tonight, and the weirdest thing happened. There was a shift in my single weight, and for a few moments, all I could feel was the contact I was making with the floor (which I’m normally aware of) … and nothing else.

My single weight’s not bad normally (it certainly stands up to scrutiny during class, which is a good start), but this was different. This was a connection with the ground that I’ve not come to before. I don’t know what it was, or how really to describe it, but I’m going to be looking out for it in future and seeing if I can achieve it again and study it further.

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