An interesting side point to my previous post on wrapping in the legs and the crotch dantien in Tai Chi is the subject of the feet and gripping the ground.
There’s an old adage that the Tai Chi practitioners of Chen village used to “tear up the sandbanks” of the river bank when they practiced their form there. This indicates how much force was being produced by the legs twisting.
It’s often said in Tai Chi that your feet want to grip the ground. This is achieved by slightly raising the arch of the foot so the toes perform a clawing action that affords you improved stability, balance and grip.
The question is, how do you do it? It doesn’t sound very relaxed to ‘grip’ the ground with your toes, and we all know that in Tai Chi we need to be Song (‘relaxed’).
In fact, the arch of the foot and the grip of the toes is achieved through softness, rather than hardness. The answer is found in the wrapping of the legs we mentioned earlier.
If you point your knees outwards slightly you create a kind of gentle wrapping in the legs as you move, and, if you let it, this wrapping will encourage the toes to grip the ground and the foot arch to form. Of course, it should be emphasised that the action of the knee pointing outwards is achieved not by pointing the knee itself, but by rounding the inner thigh area – the Dang, in Chinese. We covered this in that last post.
The gripping action of the toes gives you better than normal balance, especially in one legged postures. If you’ve ever looked at a Tai Chi practitioner stand on one leg without wobbling and wondered how they do it, then look at their knee and see if it’s being gently pointed outwards. That’s usually the key.
There’s not really any point in seeking the extra stability this leg posture affords if you’re only practicing Tai Chi for health reasons, which is why “rounding the crotch” or gripping with the toes isn’t talked about much in styles that predominantly focus on health matters, but it should form part of martial Tai Chi Chuan. And indeed, if you are making this all happen using too much tension, then you might end up causing more harm than good, so buyer beware.
None of the postural considerations of Tai Chi should be achieved through tensing parts of the body. That’s the key. You need to walk the middle way between trying to make something happen too hard and not trying hard enough. That’s the enigma of Tai Chi.