Taiji Quan and swimming
I have been learning Zheng Zi taiji quan from Master Chong for slightly more than 5 years and have greatly benefited from his teachings. Learning taiji quan from Master Chong has made my realized that there are many similarities between taiji quan and swimming. This in turns helped me to refine my swimming technique and also better able to teach others. In this article, I will share on some relationships between distance front crawl swimming and taiji quan. The front crawl swimming stroke is chosen to relate to taiji quan as there are many opposite pairs (ying and yang) throughout the stroke.
In the beginning when we learn front crawl swimming, we start by imitating and learning from our instructors on how the arm should pull plus how we should kick before progressing on how to turn our head and breathe. When we can have reached a stage when we can comfortably swim a few laps enough for basic survival or fitness swimming we usually stop there. From learning taiji quan from Master Chong and applying some key taiji quan principles I am able to improve my front crawl swimming as well as better help teach others to improve on their front crawl swimming.
When we started swimming we focus on the externals but in order to improve we must work from internal to external. By internal, I mean things that are not easily seen by the eye and externals are essentially the arms and legs movements. The same applies to learning taiji quan.
First, letís start from the body position in front crawl swimming. The whole body should be flat near the water surface to maintain streamlined body position. In taiji quan we want to sink, while in a somewhat similar but opposite manner we want to float near the surface when swimming front crawl stroke. The head should be slightly tucked in so that the back does not sink. When the back sinks, drag is created and the legs will need to kick harder to compensate. The spine should be straight and no crooked much like a propeller shaft which drives the blades of the propeller. Any twist on the spine will cause the swimmer to swim in a zig zag manner resulting in extra effort needed to compensate and swim back straight. This is very similar to the strict body position requirement in taiji quan so that the power generated is similar to that of propeller shaft. In taiji quan the head only turns to a maximum of 45 degrees left or right. A common error in front crawl swimming stroke is to turn the head to an angle of more than 90 degrees to breathe. Turning the head excessively will cause lifting of the head and sinking of the back. The proper sequence will be for the head to follow as the body rotates and then rotate just enough for the mouth to clear the water surface and breathe.
Next, the arms should be like a propeller blade during the pulling and pushing phase of the front crawl stroke, with the tips of the fingers being relaxed just as in taiji quan, this allows the swimmer to feel the water and to position and pitch the arms in order to pull and push accordingly so that enough pressure is applied for the swimmer to move forwards. Many are taught to pull the S shape pull without realizing that the S shape path generated is a result of the body (propeller shaft) rotating driving the arms (blades of the propeller). The hand does not deviate very much from the centerline so as to stay in balance except during the push to exit for recovery part of the stroke. Similarly, in taiji quan the arms movements appears be arm driven when in fact the arms are movements are mainly driven by the core which consist of the waist in sync with the shoulders.
As mentioned in the beginning, the front crawl stroke is make up many opposite pairs, while one hand is pulling or pushing, the other recovering. The flutter kick in distance front crawl swimming also operates in opposite pairs with one leg driving up when the other is driving down; with the legs is driven mainly by the core. The body should be in balance the whole time, with no excessive force applied which is why the front crawl stroke is the fastest and most efficient among the swimming strokes. Taiji quan is a efficient martial art for the very same reason.
It is hope that the reader may find this article useful to improve on their swimming or may give taiji quan students, who knows swimming, some ideas on the importance of strictly following the basic principles of taiji quan. These principles can be applied universally in many other sports.