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Tai Chi
Crashing the Wave

12 Sep 2011
When you learn in Tai Chi Chuan to move from the waist, you begin by thinking of a horizontal disk that rotates to the right or left around a vertical axis. Not long after, you begin to realize that your movement also involves rising and falling. Thus you must abandon the image of the flat disk for something else: a crashing wave.

The crashing wave becomes evident in the practice of Ward Off (peng) and its sister movement, Push (lu). When your opponent pushes into your forearm, do not fight the assault; that would be artless shoving, not Tai Chi Chuan. Instead, accept the attack by yielding to the line of movement.

More specifically, accept the movement in a downward spiral. Your goal is to suck in the attacker and spit him out again. To do that, your yielding becomes an irrestible draw, pulling the attack into your empty middle like the undertow of a dangerous wave.

As the attacker falls into the empty middle, continue directing the line of movement in a circle, down, up the inside, and finally, crashing over the top. Your discharge of energy (fah-jing) corresponds to the crashing of the wave, whose final burst of power comes from the simple drop that occurs when you allow gravity to take over.

The crashing wave is also present in the final strike of Brush Knee and Push, and in Single Whip. In all three cases, the final crash is possible only if you can allow your body to drop naturally. This ability is one of the many things you cultivate in standing postures (Zhan Zhuang): your body's ability to create great power through dropping. This dropping, closely related to rooting, is only as good as your ability to relax your body.

In order to properly "let go" and drop naturally, you must cultivate relaxation in parts of your body that may seem quite impossible to relax. Once you pay attention, though, it becomes a matter of practice.

In Yang Style, focus on the movements that involve a forward stance with the front knee over the middle of the foot, and the back leg straight. You do this with Ward Off, Single Whip, and Brush Knee and Push (this is true in the medium frame as well as the "traditional" large frame). Practice moving into each movement, on both the right and left sides. As your forward knee moves into place, let the knee go: relax it. Allow the supporting foot to take the weight. Feel your body sink into it, just as you have experienced when you relax your shoulders, hips, or lower back. Be careful not to let the back leg sag; it must remain straight.

With the image of a crashing wave we come closer to the truth. So far we have only considered moving from the waist in two dimensions. When we add the final dimension we arrive at the Tai Chi ball, the subject of our trilogy on Moving From the Waist.


You may also like this related article: Tai Chi Ball (142)
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