Building a martial arts method IV

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Building a martial arts method IV

 

Tai chi body

Tai chi chuan is practiced with the body relaxed. But just as with muscle tensions, there are degrees in muscle relaxation. What we want is full rather than partial relaxation, an achievement of a technical kind and a mandatory step towards learning what tai chi power is.


In a way, full voluntary muscle relaxation means cultivating the land in order to grow tai chi power, which is produced by activating a number of muscles that we aren’t accustomed to using.

"On partially plowed land only partial power will grow". In this teaching, the "partially plowed land" corresponds to partial relaxation, meaning the ordinary relaxation that doesn’t require a particular training. The following paraphrase will help to understand this teaching better:
"Full" power requires land that is "fully relaxed" (where "full" can be replaced by the words "to the highest degree".)
A martial art technique expresses a specific power acquired through the practice of a discipline; it is the expression of a body formed by the specific method of a discipline. I would say that the specific power of a discipline is the expression of a body trained following the discipline’s guiding principle. Therefore, tai chi power is produced by a tai chi body.

 

What do we mean by "tai chi body"?

Training in tai chi does not mean doing a series of movements called tai chi chuan. First and foremost it means training the body to act in accordance with the principle of tai chi. It means activating the yin and yang parts of the body so that they will form a dynamic complementarity. As a matter of fact, if you don’t know how to activate the body in this way, how can you say you’re doing tai chi chuan?
This mobility must be seen to arise from the trunk in all movements. This is the first problem (and hurdle) for many people who think that doing tai chi chuan involves practicing the sequences associated with that name.
Let us look at this more closely.


In most cases, people are happy just to learn and to repeat the sequences of tai chi chuan. But it is not a question of moving the body as though we were Pinocchio — a wooden toy lacking the references of mobility (the yin and yang parts of the body) and with a trunk meant to behave like a solid block. The idea is to learn to perform technical movements by activating the yin and yang parts of the body.


I personally became aware of the activation of the trunk when studying the classical Japanese sword art kenjutsu. While attending a tai chi chuan exhibition executed by a woman, the kenjutsu master said, "How rigid her movements are !" At the time, I couldn’t really understand what he meant because her movements seemed supple and elegant, and she looked completely at ease. So the master said, "Don’t watch the movements of her hands and arms. Watch her body. She doesn’t know how to activate it."


In his view, the essence of the movements is located at the level of the chest, which in this woman’s case didn’t budge while she moved her hands and arms with such suppleness. "The essential part remains immobile, her gestures lack mobility, and that’s why I say that she’s rigid."
From then on, I have been in the habit of observing and appreciating technical gestures in this manner.
Training in tai chi by activating the yin and yang parts of the body in complementary fashion must above all be the starting point for this practice. The yin and yang parts of the body (anterior-posterior, lower-upper) must  work in concert and complementarily, forming opposite, complementary tensions in order to produce technical movements. Because otherwise, why would we call this practice tai chi chuan?


So the practice of tai chi chuan does not consist solely in moving the arms, the hands and the legs to repeat sets of pre-established sequences. In order to see and verify whether the yin and yang parts of the body are being activated, you should examine your own practice and that of others without paying attention to the movements of the extremities.
If you didn’t have arms, what would you move? What is left if we eliminate the movements of the hands? If the trunk doesn’t move, moving the arms in a tai chi fashion is nothing more than rudimentary physical exercise. I think that in order to train effectively, you have to know how to activate the parts of the body that are important energy-wise — that is, the energy centres corresponding to the chakras in yoga.
A tai chi body is one that knows how to activate the energy centres according to the principle of tai chi: the dynamic integration of the complementary elements known as yin and yang. Physical exercise that activates and strengthens the zones of the chakras is good for your health and fosters the production of power.
This is how I see my training method. I certainly don’t claim that it is the best method, but it is the best one that I know of.


The order of exercises in my method

Below is how I order the exercises in my method.
1) First locate the body’s energy zones, touching them in the following order: below the throat, sternum, solar plexus, navel, lower abdomen. By placing your hand on them, you tangibly locate the energy zones that you are to activate in the exercises. These zones correspond roughly to the chakras in yoga. We manage to activate these zones with the tai chi principle, thereby enhancing our energy, since each chakra is an energy centre. Activating these zones fosters an increase in strength.


2) Next we compress each zone to achieve a certain mobility of the trunk. By compressing the front of the body, the chest becomes concave, producing a broadening of the opposite area in the back. This reaction of the posterior part of the body to a movement of the anterior part corresponds to the principle of tai chi.
Work on each of the five zones and verify their mobility.


3) Having learned how to activate each zone, now you can learn to strengthen them. (There are various ways to strengthen them, which I will convey through pictures).


4) Having strengthened these areas, you can now take advantage of this improvement in techniques. (I will also show this schematically in pictures).
These types of exercises actually involve activating the deep muscles of the area close to the spinal column. So training in tai chi chuan should lead to the mobilisation and then to the strengthening of these deep muscles.

To summarize :

  • We want to awaken and activate areas that are very rich in potential dynamic strength, because they do not easily respond to our will.
  • To awaken these areas, first we have to locate them.
  • Having located them, we can work on moving them to truly awaken them.
  • By getting them to move, we awaken their sensibility.
  • Once they have sensibility, little by little we learn how to strengthen them.
  • Once they have been strengthened, we can try to utilise them in a technical fashion.
  • Until we learn to take advantage of the mobility of these zones, our technical power will always remain within normal limits, whereas martial art seeks to go well beyond the limits of the ordinary.


To be continued...

links

Interesting websites

Rincon del do
Artículos sobre artes marciales en general

Hispagimnasios.com
Best spanish speaking martial arts forum

http://www.tokitsuryu.org
Kenji Tokitsu's official website

http://www.tokitsuryu.com
Tokitsu-ryu Portugal

http://www.dojolello.com
Dojo Lello. Tokitsu-ryu Suiza

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