In the past, I’ve talked about four phases of internal development: structure, relaxation/softness, coordination, and intention. While there is a sequential aspect to developing each of these skills, they are more like threads in a cord, each one woven in with the others, strengthening each other, and developing along side each other. While the more physical skills of structure, softness, and coordination are essential, one aspect is more crucial (you could call it the key ingredient): the role of the Mind.
One of the key features of Taoist martial arts is chan si jin: a method of coordinating legs, torso, and arms using spiraling movements. Through the use of spirals, the Taoist martial artist can simultaneously deflect blows, generate power for striking and joint-locking, or throw his opponent to the ground. What’s even more impressive is that spirals allow one to do all these things with a minimum of muscular effort.
Spirals play another key role in Taoist martial arts. They allow the practitioner to adjust to forces used against him while maintaining his centeredness: a quality I call “changeability.” Maintaining centeredness, a state of total mental and physical harmonious integration, can be said to be a Taoist’s primary goal. Sophisticated spiral movement allows the Taoist martial artist to do this by simultaneously projecting (yang) and absorbing (yin) force around the “central-lines” of the body.
You begin practice by setting your feet apart, directly under your shoulders, and parallel. You take a deep but gentle breath in, setting your posture as straight as you can from the top of your head to the center of your feet. Then you exhale and settle in, relaxing your arms by your sides. Now the internal work begins.
You start by focusing your attention on your breath – seeing that your inhale and exhale are even and smooth. You let go of any external concerns and allow yourself to be fully present, consuming your awareness in the task of feeling the subtle sensations of your inner body. Then you begin to breathe with your lower torso, relaxing your low abdomen, waist, and lower back, and allow the whole area to gently expand on your inhale and relax on your exhale.
The goal and purpose of tai chi (also taiji) practice is to develop a body and mind that functions by the tai chi principle. That principle is the harmonization of opposites so that perfect balance is maintained. There are three key concepts to understand before you can begin to apply this principle effectively: Wuji, Yin-Yang, and Taiji.
The title of this blog isn’t necessarily suggesting that you should set a goal to study Chinese martial arts (although it is a fun and practical way to improve your health and fitness); it’s suggesting that you put in the time and effort necessary to achieve the positive transformations you desire in the New Year.
The term kung fu (or Gong fu) is a compound of two words: kung/gong (which means “work” or “achievement”) and fu (which means “effort over time”). Taken together, kung fu refers to any skill achieved through hard work over a long period of time.
We hear these terms so often, to describe so many different kinds of martial arts, that they begin to lose all meaning.
After many years of studying martial arts, I’ve formed specific definitions of my own. In the spirit of making terms precise enough for everyday use, I offer them to you.
I’ll start with hard style and soft style:
The terms hard and soft, when relating to the martial arts, imply a way of dealing with your opponent’s force. In essence, hard styles meet their opponent’s force with force, using solid blocks, strong postures, and powerful attacks fueled by strength, mass, and speed. Soft styles on the other hand attempt to blend with their opponent’s force, using fluid movements and timing to avoid, deflect, and redirect their opponent’s attacks.