‘Open’ (Kai, pron. ‘Kigh’, as in ‘High‘) & ‘Close’ (He, pron. as in Her) is one of the keystones to the internal aspect of taiji. Taiji can look beautiful without it, but the beauty is skin deep… and the taiji lacks power.
Kai/He of the lower torso/abdomen involves physical effort, in the sense that you have to use your abdominal muscles; and to do it efficiently and effectively, you need to engage them more than most people seem to realise.
The Mechanics Those of you who do Pilates will understand immediately what is going on here – you are doing a pelvic tilt. This involves altering the angle of the pelvis, so that if you were to look at an X-ray of someone’s pelvis from the side as he/she altered it, you would see the front of the pelvis (the pubic bone, or the pubic symphysis – the join at the front between the two sides of the pelvis) rise upwards, whilst the back of the pelvis (including the iliac crests, sacrum, & coccyx) would drop. The rotation takes place along the axis of the ilio-femoral joints, i.e. where the legs meet the hips on either side of the body. The pelvis should be able to rock forwards and backwards on these joints, although most people are quite locked in the small of the back, which restricts this movement.
The problem is not so much lifting the pelvis at the front, most people can do this, it is releasing the kidney area and lumbar spine at the back that causes many people difficulty. The end result of not releasing the back is either 1) the top of the back leans backwards when the front is lifted, or 2) the entire action becomes like pulling on a pair of trousers (or giving yourself a wedgie) – the front might be pulled up, but unfortunately by not releasing the back, the lower back in effect is also pulled up, and the rotation is lost.
What does this feel like? (Try it out)…. This can be done standing or sitting, but for the purpose of this example, do it standing. 1) Stand with feet slightly separated. 2) Suck your abdomen in as though you’re trying to get into a pair of size 0 trousers, i.e. very small. 3) Relax the kidney area of your back, and try not to grip the buttocks. 4) When you can’t suck in any further, start to bend your knees, then suck in more. N.B. Keep relaxing and loosening the back. Throughout this, there should be a sensation of (a) the small of the back (the kidney area) pushing slightly backwards and (b) of the skin in that area expanding and stretching gently.
The odd thing about all of the above is that under certain circumstances we automatically do this action to varying degrees. 1) Most obviously: If you were in a tug o’ war by yourself against 10 other people who were pulling the other end of the rope, you would, without thinking, engage the right muscles when pulling. 2) Less obviously: When sitting down on a chair, to a minor extend you do a pelvic rotation. You might well have experienced the sensation of when you’ve not tucked under, e.g. when sitting down on a stool that is higher than you expected, and you jar your spine because you haven’t got your spine into the right position in time.
So, in taiji, this pelvic rotation is ‘closing’ (He). The undoing of it is ‘opening’, (Kai). It is the equivalent of compressing a spring prior to its release. It is coiling prior to uncoiling; drawing the bow prior to shooting the arrow; gathering power before releasing it. In taiji, it happens before any expansive movement. It is the yin before the yang, the black which makes white possible, the up which makes down possible, the in-breath without which there would be no out-breath …. etc. etc. In other words, it’s the stuff that makes our world and the entire universe operate that has been quite deliberately encapsulated into a set of movements – an art form. #TaiChi #Qigong