The core essence of these various techniques and practices fall into five interrelated categories:
- Moving Qigong
- Coiling Qigong
- Taijiquan Form and Push Hands
- Endurance Training
These five areas have shaped T’ai Chi since its inception, and while revisions are often made in response to scientific research, the core for any approach to learning T’ai Chi and maximizing the results of practice remains true to the essence of these methods.
My personal practice as well as my ongoing efforts to develop teaching strategies builds upon these categories as well. Matter of fact, the impetus behind the “Daily Practice Guide,” the new Warm Up Routine, the (forthcoming) “10 Principles of Manifesting Direct and Indirect Energy,” and more are all intended to help reveal the essence behind the methods of meditation, qigong, coiling qigong, and t’ai chi form practice and push hands.
While our class discussion will touch upon these categories, I wanted to provide an overview and commentary that could serve as a reference guide. What follows is a detailed breakdown of each of the areas of training and how they feed into each other and the over-arching philosophy and practice of T’ai Chi.
Build Qi in Dantien; Connect body and Mind; Move Qi through Vessels and Body
- Qi is the fuel of T’ai Chi, and meditation (either standing or sitting) is the most effective means to build Qi in the Dantien, which is the major Qi reservoir of the body and which fuels all of the organ channels as well as the eight energetic channels. Building Qi is the necessary foundation for practice.
- Meditation is the most effective way to forge a dynamic link between body and mind, and in doing so, becomes the tool of actualizing many important techniques (“Song” and “Mind and Heart at Ease,” for example.) Awareness of body and mind enables practitioners to “feel” and explore oneself more deeply and direction. Meditation also strengthens the practitioners ability to move/lead Qi through the vessels and body channels ( “Yi leads Qi”), which is the heart of meditative practices such as Kaimen Qigong, Embryonic Breathing, Microcosmic Breathing, or the Small or Large Circuit training.
Learn how to Move Qi to support physical Movement; Activate Energetic and Organ Channels
- Qigong literally means energy (“Qi”) work (“gong”), and as a practice, it focuses upon learning how to move Qi along side muscular and breath movements so that the energy of the physical body is in synch with muscular and breathing dynamics.
- Because of Qigong’s foundational principle of using movement and breath to “bend, stretch, and massage” an energetic or organ pathway, it activates channels in order to maximize and harmonize the flow of Qi throughout the body—and to heighten the organs of perception: eyes, ears, nose, and skin, which are vital to meditative awareness, “tinging,” as well as to the T’ai chi form and push hands.
Build Skin Sensitivity for “ting”; Improve Health and Flexibility of Muscles and Joints
- The term “qigong” in this instance is used loosely, and various warm-ups, stretches, and other exercises such as Daoyin or T’ai Chi fundamentals fall under the umbrella of “Coiling Qigong.” In its purest sense, Silk Reeling Qigong (“Chansigong”) as developed by the Chen T’ai Chi family is the best representation of “coiling qigong.”
- The purpose of Coiling Qigong is to improve strength and flexibility of the muscles and joints of the body so as to minimize potential injury during T’ai Chi form practice as well as Push Hands. (More explanation on this in the “T’ai Chi/Push Hands” section below.)
- Coiling Qigong brings the circulation of blood and Qi to the surface of the body, thereby making touch more sensitive, which enhances the ability to “hear” or “ting” ones own body as well as that of an opponent. (Again, more commentary upon this in the “T’ai Chi/Push Hands” section below.”
T’ai Chi Chuan Form and Push Hands
- To say that T’ai Chi training includes T’ai Chi form practice as well as Push hands seems absurd. After all, the other methods of practice—mediation, qigong, and coiling qigong— are intended to lead to greater T’ai Chi skill. Yet, the essence of each of the these modes of training—the meditative mind, leading Qi, “tinging” and more—are meant to inform such practice. In other words, each movement builds upon “Yi leading Qi,” “feeling,” and being able to “circulate Qi.” By themselves, these skills are not easy to master, but to do them in conjunction with T’ai Chi movement is extremely arduous. Practicing these techniques independently refines the body/mind connection, and this leads to the ability to incorporate those techniques into the movements.
- The development of mental awareness and personal “tinging” of ones body amplifies the ability to actualize the foundational body techniques of Rooting, Body Structure, Song, and moving the body (including the Qi) as an integrated whole. Such an awareness enhances the potential to avoid injury to oneself while practicing. An awareness of the body will “feel” proper structure, rooting, and the flow in and out of movements, which enables the practitioner to quickly correct and adjustment body mechanics.
- Push Hands is the extension of all of the above techniques and principles in coordination with another person/opponent. Push Hands is the “Yi leading Qi” into a wider sphere beyond ones skin. In this regard, Push Hands is an extension of all of the principles and above categories of training.
- “Tinging” and “Body Awareness” are necessary applied skills in Push Hands not only in terms of the ability to respond, but to respond appropriately and with minimum chance of injury; i.e., I “listen” to my opponent and find an opening to move; and the “Song” of my body allows me to evade being trapped and potentially injured by my opponent. By “listening” to oneself and to another person, the practitioner is able to respond with “Song” that neutralizes an opponent’s attack and elides possible tension/injury to a joint.
- No one form of exercise is complete or perfect. T’ai Chi is no exception. While T’ai Chi’s essence is to be calm and soft (“Song” mind and body), it doesn’t work the cardiovascular system in a rigorous way. Subsequently, it is important to include exercise that builds stamina and endurance while strengthening cardiovascular health.
- Any exercise that elevates heart rate is beneficial, but it is equally important that the exercise is done properly to avoid potential injury.
- Ideal forms of stamina training might include walking, swimming, cycling, and light weight training exercises. Care should be taken not to overextend the joints of the body, and like all other aspects of T’ai Chi training, proper technique is vital. As Grandmaster Helen Wu urges, “Listen to your Body.”
Taken as a whole, these five areas should guide the individual on how to best approach practice in order to reach the maximum results. Further, I hope that this helps to illuminate how each of these practices fit into a more holistic understanding of the practice and art of T’ai Chi Chuan. Whatever your individual goal—to be healthier, learn the martial side of T’ai Chi, to develop yourself as a person, or a combination thereof—these methods will serve you well on your own path.