As Taught by Master Jiang, Jian-ye
Step like a Cat
Raise knee slightly of stepping leg, step out and place heel on ground, toes pointing straight ahead, then shift weight onto stepping leg. Both feet should be flat; 70% weight on forward leg, remaining weight on rear leg; do not bend the rear leg – push heel into the ground and straighten. Position the knee of the stepping leg between the heel and the toe when the step is completed. Do not end up with the knee beyond the toe or behind the heel. At most, the stepping or lead leg knee should bend at a 90° angle. The rear foot can turn out but no more than 45° angle – if this happens you will have to adjust your lead foot so it points straight ahead when it lands.
- Think – quiet, stepping like a cat that is hunting
- Slow and deliberate being mindful of each part of movement
- Connectedness – can isolate movements but should not loose continuity of movement
- Root the supporting leg
- Allow the foot to roll from heel to toe
- Be mindful of body alignment
- Torso and head remain erect
- Belly button points straight ahead
Practice stepping backwards, but use a rolling toe to heel motion instead. To facilitate stability and developing correct body alignment when moving place a flat object such as a book or block of wood on top head when stepping.
Move like Water
Proper connectedness of joints when moving is important; example: after raising arms, relax and drop shoulders first, then elbows and finally wrists. Drop center of gravity and allow whole body to relax as if you have no bones in your body. Imagine that water flows through your body applying equal pressure in all directions; when practicing use your whole body energy to move the parts of your body as an integrated whole. Practice combined with imagination and relaxation will enable one to connect the movements together in a series where one posture flows into the next without interruption. It is effective to break the individual postures down into their component movements to ensure that one can effect the proper body movements, but do this with the intention that the parts comprise the whole posture and that each posture synchronizes with the others to develop the whole form.
Finish Each Movement like a Tree or Mountain
Rooting: when you are moving, imagine your energy moving from Dan Tian down through the hips, knees, ankles, and into the earth. Connect your internal energy with the Earth’s yin energy; your body is a conduit between the sky’s yang energy and the earth’s yin energy, allow them to connect through you.
- Think – put attention on your movements; be consciously aware of your connection to the earth – feel strong.
- Stability – concentrate, feel it, imagine you are a mountain emerging from the earth standing tall.
- Proper alignment of joints is critical, as is the use of mental focus.
- Accuracy and proper body alignment allows for stability in posture and during transitions. It also ensures the pathways are open so energy may flow through.
Sinking – imagine the continuous flow of energy from the crown (Baihui) of your head down the body and out the feet through the bubbling well (Yongquan). A combination of relaxing and sinking into each posture will facilitate rooting. Be careful that sinking does not result in a heaviness that makes transitioning into the next movement slow or cumbersome. Purposely doing slow movement is not the same as being slow. The slow but flowing movements still possess potential rebounding energy when rooted. In mechanics, this is akin to elastic energy that is stored when a body is deformed such as a coiled spring.
Stillness in Motion
One part of body moves while other part remains motionless. Typically seen where the torso moves and the arms are still or the arms move while the torso is stationary. The timing and synchronization of the movements is critical as it gives the appearance of the whole body flowing continuously and in unison.
Example, stationary Wave Hands Like Clouds:
From right side, first hands change position while torso relaxes. Then turn torso to the left while the arms relax. Once on the left side, change hand position again and let the upper body relax. When turning, let the Dan Tian initiate the movement, not the chest.
An important point is one’s awareness when practicing. One must be acutely aware of their physical presence and be in the moment. Zhou Dunyi (1017-1073), a philosopher of the Northern Song period, wrote in his Treatise on the Taiji Diagram, "Taiji in motion generates yang and extreme motion begets stillness, which generates yin. Extreme yin, in turn, results in motion. In this way, motion and stillness are locked in reciprocal causation,” (http://en.olympic.cn/china_oly/wushu_art/2003-11-27/19488.html). In keeping with the idea of awareness, one should not invest excess mental energy thinking about this, but instead free the mind from its encumbering brace and allow the body to move naturally according to this principle.
Balance in Movement – Root in Stillness
Practice by placing a small square piece of wood on top of head. Step into high horse stance, sinking energy into earth. As you move, maintain balance and alignment so wood does not fall. When still, feel connection between yourself and earth by imaging your energy flows down body, through legs, and into the ground. Apply this to all movements: bow stance, t-step, etc., using various steps (forward, backward, left and right) without arms or hands. Open foot to step, shift weight, and sink energy into earth for root while keeping body straight. Practice often without hands and allow body to ingrain method so that when hands are included as in a form you do not have to think about this.
Move, Visualize, and Gather Qi
This principle stresses the importance of incorporating visualization with the movement to feel qi. Depending on the movement, think about fresh energy entering body though one or more of the five gates: Baihui, Laogong, Yongquan, Dan Tian, or the Huiyin.
Baihui – located at the top of the head.
Laogong – located in the middle area of each palm. Qi is felt most easily in this area and some qigong exercises focus on the Laogong for beginners to feel their qi. Other qigong exercises use the Laogong as a release point for emitting qi during martial movements.
Yongquan – located at the ball of each foot, known as the bubbling well.
The Dan Tian is divided into three: upper, middle, and lower. The upper Dan Tian is located at the center of the forehead, between and above the eyes; referred to as the third eye. The middle Dan Tian is located in the area of the solar plexus. The lower Dan Tian is about two fingers width below the navel. Referred to as elixir fields, these areas are able to store and generate qi in the body.
Huiyin – located between the genitals and the anus. The yin meridians in the legs converge at this point.
For health, bring in fresh energy and force out the stale energy. Example, you can visualize new energy entering your body through the Laogong or through the Baihui. Then push the stale energy down and out through the Yongquan. In other exercises, you bring in energy from the earth and store it in the Dan Tian or direct it to some specific organ or point.
This is not intended as an encompassing exegesis on Qigong or Taiji, but to cover six essential principles for practitioners and to provide some examples of how one may use the practice. The importance of the mind body connection is crucial to proper practice and to maximize the benefits of taiji and qigong.