Taijiquan: Meditation in Motion
by Esther Ho
Master Chong conducts his taijiquan class in a wholesome way. He will not teach solely the exterior forms but also share with us the philosophy of taijiquan. Shifu always reminds us that learning taijiquan is a life long commitment that begins with the external form. At first it is necessary to follow and get familiar with the movements through practice. He said, however, by understanding and apply the theory is the only way to perfect and get deeper into the true nature of Taijiquan.
There are few basic skills that shifu will emphasize during the beginning of each lesson, they include song (loosen up), chen (sink), rou (lightness) and zheng zhong (central).
Shifu will start his lesson with the command 'fang song'. Sung is considered a defining characteristic of Taijiquan. There is no single English word for the meaning of 'sung' in Taijiquan. It has both physical and mental elements of relax, loose, not up tight, open, more rooted and feel lighter. One must also try to keep the mind calm and avoid distracting thoughts. When this concept is applied to the muscles and soft tissues, it will lead to the relaxing of our habitual stiffness in the joints and will be able to hold them with minimum tension. For example, Sink the shoulders, drop the elbows, the elbows should hang and the shoulders should be soft and loose and never raise. In actual fact, to achieve the state of 'sung' has been a demanding effort for beginner like me. However it trains me to be more aware and mindful of my posture.
Master Chong will draw our attention to posture and alignment because correct foundations are essential to balance, posture and relaxation. A good stance includes avoidance of slouching and rounding of shoulders and correct placement of feet (shoulder width apart).
Xu ling ding jing, is about adjusting the posture as though one is suspended from the crown with the neck straighten and chin slightly tuck in. The spine will then be naturally straight and the body weight equally distributed between two feet. These will then allow our body to move with the central axis. Shifu wanted us to visualise this axis, which is an imaginary vertical line connecting the acupoint baihui (crown) and huiyin (perineum). He explained that all the Taijiquan movements originate from the centre of body and are controlled by the waist. We should relax at the waist and rotate around this axis whenever turning the body to avoid injury and to generate the greater strength.
By keeping the central gravity low, we can maintain the balance and will not easily topper. 'Song' and 'chen' work hand in hand. When the tension in upper body is loosen, then we can relax the waist and kua and lower the centre of gravity. Song kua (relax and sink the groin area), is the most important and difficult element in lowering our centre of gravity and get rooted. Master Chong taught us about the differences between bending the knees and sung kua. It is easy for a beginner to confuse bending the knees for relaxing at the groin area. He helps us to overcome this by telling us to imagine sitting on a high chair. This posture will keep our waist low without the arch at the lower back. By consciously pushing the coccyx forward a little help to achieve this post. When this is done correctly the thighs will get to work harder to support the body weight. This will then reduce the pressure on our knees. Keep the groin area open (Kai kua) is an important element in achieving this stance. It will then allow greater balance, power and flexibility. Shifu spent great effort demonstrating the application of this in different forms.
Taijiquan roots its theory from the Chinese philosophy Taoism, and this quote perfectly describes the inner nature of this martial art.
The choreographed routines are series of slow, circular, flowing motion that move with deep level of relaxation. It impresses the audience with the lightness and gentleness. To the practitioner it given us calmness.
In taijiquan it is the legs that form the solid base on which the light and effortless movements of the upper body take places. In order to develop lightness in th form, we have to first apply the song and chen. This lead us to another aspects of taijiquan—coordination. As the lesson progress, shifu wanted us to execute the form with coordination. Like the whole body, mind and spirit should be coordinate together throughout the entire movement. The shen (spirit) must coordinate with the mind, the mind must coordinate with jin (inner strength), the jin must coordinate with li (strength). Last but not the least, is the applying of yin and yang as we move. That is to identify the 'empty and solid' in our steps, our hands, our right and left, and in the amount of energy we execute. Shifu has tought us these theory from day one of lesson, however, it take me years to understand and apply these skills into the forms. The more I learn the more I found taijiquan fascinating and beneficial to my physical and mental well being.