Tai Chi Y3D342: Up, Down, In, Out, Split

Over my vacation, I met with Greg, who is an acupuncturist.   He offered to see my form, and give me some specific ideas about how to improve. He was the guy who first corrected my stance, and who gave me advice about recognizing the form’s potential to move in five specific ways during the form, so that I had a chance to practice my moves according to those frames of reference.

Those five ways?

Inward — This means, when the energy is gathered toward your center, are you moving as if in water? In other words, are you engaging musculature and tendons and bones in such a way that there is apparent resistance?  Is the movement engaged? Is it too forceful? Is it not forceful enough? The goal is to be engaged — not to let the arms and body move through the air alone, but to move as if you were standing chest-high in water, with your arms underwater.

Outward — Are you likewise engaged when pressing outward? Is that movement through water happening? Does your body feel engaged and actively using the isomorphism present in your musculature and tendon system? Are you balanced?

Upward — Yep: when your arms and body are moving upwards, are you engaging yourself in that movement, and using the body’s strength in an upward push? Is your body engaged? Are you pressing too much? Not enough?

Downward —  And this all also applies to downward movement.  When your knees bend, when the body sinks, are you engaging n such a way that your arms do not merely droop?  Or are you just flopping downward? Or is the downward movement aware and intentional?  Are you struggling to keep your balance in the swift-moving river as you press downward as much as inward or outward or upward?

Splitting — Look at those movements when the position of your hands is widening.  Is the left arm going out in one direction, and the right arm in the other? Are you moving your arms down or up? Or in or out? What about sideways? Isn’t that motion really about spreading or splitting?

And the answer is, no. I’m not doing those things yet.  I tried today, to pay attention to all of this.  It was exhausting.  There’s another year’s worth of work in just these five postural stances.  And it would be enough to worry in practice about one of them: “Oh, look, my arms are rising here. I should engage the core muscles, the obliques and abdomen, as well as the biceps and shoulders and forearms!” Trying to figure out all five simultaneously is a mug’s game for a new student.  Time to work on one of them at a time.

I’m starting to see how I have always had the outer form — the actual movements. But Theo remarked on Deb’s blog that magical techniques, as in Aikido, tend to be the same dozen techniques or fifty techniques for the advanced students as for the beginners; they’re just differently applied.  So it is here…  There’s a new set of principles involved: Up, Down, Out, In, Split.  There’s a new practice: where these show up in your form, engage with them.  There’s a new discovery: it’s not possible to engage in all five at once.  There’s a recognition of limitation, and a modification of the practice: work on them one at a time, then put them together.  The beginner can do none of these, because he doesn’t see the subtlety of the movement.  The advanced student can maybe do three or four at a time, for short periods of time, because she’s practiced more and sees the subtlety. The master, though, does all five as easily as breathing.

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