An Article By Christopher Pei
The most memorable impression I have of England is the passion everyone has for gardening. Every where I go, I can see gorgeous, lovely gardens. I enjoy the refreshing view and appreciate the energy the planter provided. For the plants to grow well, we need to provide proper water, fertilizer and plenty of sunlight. The plant itself also must have a strong root. Without a strong root, the flower will discolor, the life of the plant will not last.
Tai Chi training is somewhat similar to gardening. The correct information we receive from our masters are the same as the water and fertilizer for the plant. The encouragements which inspire us in our growth are the sunlight. Above all, it is the practitioner's desire and continuing quest for more knowledge which makes the difference.
Whether you are practicing Tai Chi form or push hands. With rooting, your upper body movements will become softer, you form will feel more serene; your response will become quicker in receiving opponent's energy in push hands. You can sense more power in issuing energy. Rooting is the foundation of the body structure.
Isn't it interesting? When a strong storm is over, sometimes you can see a strong, big tree uprooted, pulled out of earth just by the power of the wind, yet smaller and softer trees next to the big fallen tree survived the storm. Why does a bigger and stronger tree fall, yet a smaller tree survive. The reason is simple, the big strong tree is too rigid, too tense, too serious. When the storm comes, it is trying to resist the power of the wind. The small tree respects the power of the wind, it goes with the flow of the wind, wherever the wind wants to go. The upper branches are softer but the roots dig strongly into the earth. So it could survive the terrible storm without being uprooted.
Rooting in Tai Chi it is the same as the smaller tree. Your upper body should be soft and limber with resilience. The waist rotates to create the energy and the lower body, the legs, root it into the earth. But, rooting it is a very abstract concept. Beginners in Tai Chi have no idea what rooting is. Rooting is not just sinking down. How do we know we are doing it right? Are we on the right path? How does one feel if they are rooted?
True rooting exists only when the following conditions exist: Body structure is correct and in line. Muscles and tendons are soft and extended to the point of resilience. And finally, the most important part, the intent. Your thoughts have to be in both legs in order to create rooting. If the body (structure) and mind (intent) are not coordinated together, you will never produce the feel of rooting.
In order to comprehend the concept of rooting, we must first understand how the energy is created in Tai Chi. In the ward off article, I discussed how Tai Chi energy is created by two equal opposite energies either pulling or pushing against each other. The example I used was to draw a bow to shoot an arrow. The bow is pulled in opposite directions, then a newly created energy is stored in the bow, ready to be used. To draw the bow in the most economical and efficient way, the body posture has to be correct first, then it can maintain the new energy ready to be used. The mind (intent) directs where the arrow will fly and finally, release the arrow (energy) towards the target.
Think of rooting as the same as drawing a bow. Let us use the posture of push (press) in grasping the birds tail as an example. Your thought is to push your opponent and release your energy forward. You use your back leg to support your upper body. It is lined up into a straight line (see the straight vs. upright posture article in the last issue), Let us say that your opponent also understands rooting. When your hands have made contact, your opponent senses your front leg is empty or your thoughts are only in a forwarding direction. At this point, you could be pulled or lead easily. Because your upper body is support by the back leg and the energy went through the back, shoulders and released through the arm into the hands. But this is only one side of the energy. Tai Chi energy requires two equal energies in opposite directions. Since your back leg is pushing forward, your front leg needs to push backward. This is to create a pressure in your legs.
In bow stance, the weight distribution will be 70% in the front leg and 30% in the back leg, but the feeling of pressure will be 50% to 50 %. Whenever you are creating pushing forward energy in your back leg, you have to create equal energy in your front leg to push back. Remember to draw the bow, both arms pulled against each other. Your front hand pulling the bow and the back hand pulling the bow string. Two different materials and shapes, the bow bends and the bow string has an angle at the draw point, yet the energy created in both parts are equal. In the bow stance, front leg bends and the back leg is almost straight, two different shapes, yet the same equal energy in either leg.
To test the feel of rooting, have your classmate push lightly into your hand when you have positioned yourself in the push (press) position. When your body structure is correct, in a straight line, you should feel the energy being transmitted through your body and into your back leg. The more your classmate pushes you, the more solid you should feel in your back leg. You transmit your classmate's energy to some place else instead of absorbing it into your body.
As soon you can feel the pressure going into your back leg, have your classmate pull your hands (in the same position) and you should feel your front leg pushing back. Don't use your hands to fight the pulling. You will be able to stand solid when you pursue the idea of pushing with your front leg instead of pulling with your hands. Done correctly, the feel of rooting exists. Your classmate will feel your body has changed and now it is suddenly much heavier.
Have your classmate push and pull you several times with the interval of pushing and pulling becoming closer and closer, you will find that you need both legs to be rooted. You need both legs all the time. You will find a balance point where you feel your classmate can not pull or push you any more. As soon as you realize this, you have rooting.