An Article By Christopher Pei


Body Structure


When an architect designs a high rise building, the first stage, and the most important, is in the designing of the foundation. For the building to be structurally sound, all the beams in the building will have to be interlocked and support each other. If the architect wants the building to be a skyscraper, then the foundation has to be dug deeper and the structural detail and every aspect of weight distrubution has to be examined even more carefully. 

When we practice Tai Chi, we practice under the same principles as in designing a high-rise building. Unfortunately, most of the Tai Chi practitioners only focus on the end product. They focus too much on what they want and ignore the foundation that they have to build before the rest of the structure can be built. If you don't have a good understanding of the Tai Chi principles, the Ten Essences, and how the body structure should be interlocked, you will never be able to use your body effectively. Your unbalanced body weight will hamper your body range and motions. You will find your skill level has grown up to a point and you have reached your plateau. You won't be able break through this plateau into the next level. It is just the same as if your high-rise building reaches the fifteen floor and you realize that you can't build any higher because the foundation won't hold it. The building structure has reached its limit. In order to go higher, you will have to tear down what you already had and rebuilt the foundation. Then all the time and energy that you had invested in this building is wasted. In practicing Tai Chi, understand the body structure is the key to success. 

During my teaching career, lots of beginners will ask me to show them the next move. They will say: "I have already learned this from the last class, please show me the next posture." If I go over the basics of the posture, they will say: "OK, I know this. What's the next technique?" The beginners will never ask me to re-explain the basics. They are so eager to go on. This is a very common problem with beginners. 

Learning the postures is the easy part of the training. The difficult part is in maintaining and keeping the energy and power in the body while you're in motion. If you can't feel the energy and power in the beginning, then you won't feel any at all through out your practice. If you can't practice your correct body structure, to the point that it becomes a good habit, then you won't remember it later on when you start to learn and move on to a more advanced level.

The first stage of the training is to try to execute all the body structure correctly, and repeatedly, until it becomes a habit. You no longer have to think about it any more. The correct body structure becomes second nature. The second stage of the training is in the study of energy. Understanding how the energy is created and how it flows through the body. Next, we study how the intent is used to guide the energy, and learn to control it. Finally, we learn how to use the energy at will. You will agree with me that the first stage, the basic, is the most important part of the training. Yet, it is also the most neglect stage.

It took three generations of the Yang family to improve on their knowledge to become what is today's Traditional Yang Style Tai Chi. Yang Cheng Fu, the third generation master, is the person we all agree to as the authority in the final version of the Traditional Yang Style Tai Chi. If you take a look at his body frame, you will find that in the "brush and push" and in "grasping the bird's tail", his body is leaned forward in an angle. His head, shoulder, back, hip and leg is lined up in a straight line. In the posture of "single whip" and "Fan through the back", his upper body is upright. What's the difference? How does upright and straight affect the usage of the energy? And when do we use our body upright and when do we use it straight.

In the next issue, I would like to discuss on the difference between upright and straight in the Traditional Yang Style Tai Chi.