Updated: Jul 2
Learning the Tai Chi Form. When I first started learning taiji, the most important thing for me was to get through the sequence of movements in the right order. I tried to get my movements to resemble as accurately as possible what the teacher was doing, and, looking back at it, I can see that, apart from the superficial shape of the Form (the sequence of movements), I missed out on almost everything else that the teacher was doing – alignments (knees, elbows, hips, etc.), sinking, relaxation of my neck, internal rotations, and many of the structural connections that made the body work as a single unit.
Getting it ‘right’. When you’re standing in a tai chi position, it is very hard to know if you’ve got it right, isn’t it?
What is ‘testing’ the posture? At its most basic level, ‘testing’ a posture means that someone helps you by gently pushing against one part of your body in the direction that is opposite to your intention. If my movement against that force makes me tense up, or feel unstable, there’s a good chance that I haven’t successfully implemented one of the parameters of the movement, and my body is mis-aligned somewhere.
‘The opposite direction to your intention’.
But the entire body is also involved. If I’m pushing one hand forwards, the other hand must be doing something else. It doesn’t just die or go to sleep. If it does nothing and just hangs, the left and right sides of your body are no longer working together. You’ve actually weakened yourself, because, when the body unifies, the adage “the whole is greater than the sum of the parts” comes into play. (Bear in mind that we’re only talking about the balancing of the arms for the moment). This is where testing comes in. It is a comparative process to find out what works best and makes you feel most stable. Doing 'martial arts' tests your posture as to whether it will work or not.
For example, if you push ahead with both hands against a partner’s arms or body (simultaneously moving your weight from you back foot to your front foot, i.e. moving into a Bow stance), but you tilt your pelvis sideways so that one side is higher than the other, you will find that you have to work much harder than if the pelvis is relaxed.
Testing is about comparison – what works and what doesn’t work. It’s about body awareness and self-observation. It requires ‘help’, not challenge from your partner, and requires what you might call ‘educated strength’ in the partner’s push.
Only then do you really learn about your own stability, how strength plays no part in the equation, and how relaxation or softness is the key.