I’ve been thinking of the way to describe what ‘whole body movement’ means in Tai Chi. The problem is describing a specific feeling, or body movement using words, which leaves the meaning open to interpretation and misunderstanding.
In Yang Cheng-Fu’s Ten Important Points, No. 7 says:
“7.) Coordinate the upper and lower parts of the body. The T’ai Chi Ch’uan Classics say “the motion should be rooted in the feet, released through the legs, controlled by the waist and manifested through the fingers.” Everything acts simultaneously. When the hand, waist and foot move together, the eyes follow. If one part doesn’t follow, the whole body is disordered.”
This is an expanded version of the more condensed and often heard phrase: “One part moves, all parts move”. But it’s also misleading.
If you take the line “Everything acts simultaneously” at its literal meaning you don’t have Tai Chi movement. You have robot dancing.
Now don’t get me wrong. I like robot dancing as much as the next Peter Crouch fan, but it’s not Tai Chi. When you see a performer doing the robot dance she often swivels the waist sideways, or dips the hip with the arm locked to the body. With the dip the whole torso and arms all move downwards together, simultaneously. Something like this:
It’s fairly obvious that this is not what is meant by Yang Cheng Fu when he says to move the body parts simultaneously, and yet I do see people falling into this trap quite often. They obviously had no intention to set out moving like a robot, but when the brain gets the idea that the body must move as a unit, the resultant expression can often end up far from the mark.
Instead, the way the body moves in Tai Chi should be more like ripples emanating from a stone dropped in a lake. The central point is the dantien. The waves begin there and ripple out to the extremities (feet, head and hands).
When you move, the dantien moves first, and the rest of the body follows in a coordinated action, almost as if dragged by the dantien. It is loose, connected, relaxed and powerful, rather than stiff, jerky and ’empty’.
The parts of the body don’t all move together at exactly the same time, otherwise you’ll end up like a robot. Instead, you want to be more like the way an animal moves. Animals demonstrate some of the best, most graceful, full-body, co-ordinated movement you’ll ever see.
The Cheetah is the classic one that’s used to illustrate open and close in the body, but also the directed head position. Just look at how the head helps with the coordination when running here:
While we run with a torso held in the vertical plane and the Cheetah runs with the torso in the horizontal plane, the head position remains key.
Point 1 of Yang Cheng-Fu’s 10 Important Points is:
1.) Head is held upright to let the shen rise to the top. Don’t use li, or the neck will be stiff and the chi and blood cannot flow through. It is necessary to have a natural and lively feeling. If the spirit cannot reach the headtop, it cannot raise.
In the Cheetah, the engine is the dantien area. The torso does big opening and closing movements as it sprints and the head points the way, keeping the spine flexible, but extended.
Be less robot, be more Cheetah.