Tai CHi Y4D103: Unpacking eight

I did 20 push-ups.  I hate to say this, but I feel like I have to trick my body into doing pushups.  I have to assume the stance for the first qi gong form, and then get down on the floor really quickly and do the push-ups before my body changes my mind about it.  Silly to think of it that way, I know, but that’s what it feels like.  The two qi gong forms wee easy enough after that, though.

And then I got down to work.  I did the form eight times, each time trying to think about a specific one of the core principles in movement: footwork, breathwork, outward, inward, upward, downward, splitting, and moving through water.

The footwork one was relatively easy.  You let your arms dangle, and then you walk through the form. Basically, you let your body do whatever it was going to do in the form, below the waist.  It turns out to be not very much. There are some kicks here and there, but mostly it feels like walking around.  The challenge comes when you realize from this exercise that you still don’t spread your stance widely enough to avoid a flanking attack.  And so this is something I need to work on.

Breathwork is a little harder.  It’s mildly challenging to think about what your internal organs should be doing as you also move through the form.  To some degree, you can let your arms flop around every which way as you do the breathwork; but the goal should be focused on what the abdomen, the diaphragm, and the core muscles are doing to keep air flowing in and out of your body.

Then come the movements: Outward means, when your arms or legs are traveling away from your body, how much pressure or force or dynamic tension can you apply in that movement? The answer is quite a lot.  Remembering to engage it is the tricky bit, but then it happens quite naturally: “Oh, look, my arms are moving away from me! That means, actively push them away…. but don’t overbalance! No, no, not that far!” What I mean is, you have to engage that pressure or force in such a way that you remain in command.    Then this is done with the inward movements.  This is harder; because you don’t want to pull an opponent in towards you, unless you know that you’re managing his body weight.  So this is in part about learning to play with the dynamic tension of an opponent, by learning to control the speed at which you ‘collapse’ your own bubble of defenses.

The upward and downward movements are similar, but the direction has changed.

Where the real changes come is in the splitting.  As I worked through today, I found a lot more splits that I thought there were.  There are splits whenever “carry the ball” is performed, or “sweeping the swallows tail.” And each split is a place where an opponent can be grabbed, and their movement unbalanced by the force of your separating hands.

Moving through water is the most difficult, of course. This is about slowing down. But not simply slowing down. It’s hard to explain, and I’m going to have to think about this.  It’s about learning to move with a deliberateness, as if you were standing in a river, and to step wrongly is to be swept away. And of course, I’d just done eight repetitions of the form, so I was weary.  I don’t think I can do all eight in a row yet without wiping myself out.  But I see that I have a new goal to work for, one which solves my time crunch, and my desire to build up my strength and capacity.

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