This is the fourth or fifth time I’ve done tai chi in this room. And I’ve just realized that the floor is sloped. Subtly, to be sure. The southwest corner, by the back door, is considerably higher than the arch into the living room in the northeast. It was odd to discover that this put unusual pressures onto my form-work today.
I made the discovery because I was doing a lot with the Three Nails today. I heard about the Three Nails from my teacher, who learned it from William C. C. Chen in New York. Basically, the idea is that the feet each have three nails going down into the floor, or the ground, or whatever surface you’re standing on: the ball of the big toe, the ball of the foot, and the heel. These Three Nails serve as the anchoring point of the body. If those three nails aren’t planted, an opponent can move you. If they are, opponents have to rely on force to move you — and that force is a power you can use against them.
So far so good.
But feet should still move place to place using Light to Heavy: that is, the foot glides to its new location gently, with no weight from the body backing it up. Then the heel is pressed into place, and then the ball of the foot, and then the toes. This flattens and widens the foot, and presses it into position, and plants the Three Nails firmly, before the other foot moves.
Sometimes, though, it needs to go in the other direction: first toes, then ball of foot, then heel. Or first ball of foot, then heel and toe, or toe and heel. You get the idea: the movement you’re coming from, and the posture into which you’re moving, help to determine which order the Three Nails get planted.
Back to the “slanted floor problem”. So… I kept noticing that I was planting my feet, and yet I was having to work harder to plant toes than heel; or that I was pushing my heel down harder than my toes, yet I was in contact with the floor. During White Crane Spreads Wings, my rit foot was more heavily pressed down than my left foot, and my hips weren’t parallel to the floor. I actually started the form again, I was so surprised by this set of effects… And then I discovered that the floor was sloped. Oh. Sometimes it’s not me that’s doing things wrong. Sometimes the environment is wrong.
That inspired a new realization, of course. Neither I nor the floor are “wrong” per se: we just are as we are. The house and the room and the floor are all doing their usual dance with gravity. So am I. So is every living thing. And this causes us to adapt to our envoroment, as our environment changes and challenges us, too. It’s a dance. Everything does tai chi. It’s juste at some of us are more aware of doing it than others.