Relaxing is harder than it looks.

Last week, Chris Burnett of Green Dragon Tai and QiGong in Cleveland, OH visited my teacher's classes and put together a real informative series on taiji martial applications. They review some of the same applications from the spring workshop series - showing how even the smallest movements within the postures have a purpose. My first thought practicing these? This. Must. Not. Die. These pretty much sealed the deal for me, and made me feel like I was part of centuries' worth of wisdom. So I'm so grateful to Chris for capturing these taiji martial applications on tape! Though I wouldn't advocate for video as the primary means of learning any movement based practice, I do think it's perfect for:  

  1. Serving as supplement for current students and help them recall and reinforce what is covered in live class.
  2. Demonstrating the intricacies and sophistication of taijiquan that is not widely known to the "uninitiated" and awaken new curiosity for martial arts. 

The videos highlight a taiji principle that is so essential, yet has been so difficult for me to grasp and perform. My teacher mentions that the quality of high level skill (1:15-5:08) is to be " just like water, energy comes in, it dissolves. Neutralizes." Training to the point where the body has achieved a natural state of fluidity and relaxed movement - martial applications will come out instinctively.

That road to "instinct" is a long one, learning the applications, one by one. We see the applications presented in the videos in "If... , then..." format. If the attacker does "this," then you can do "that." Chris points out not getting too reliant on a "brain bank" of postures for possible responses though. That systematic, intellectual thinking is ineffective and restrictive. Go one way, get stuck. Go another way, get stuck again. It just takes too long. Don't stiffen. Don't force. A common correction my teacher gave - and that I noticed myself giving my students too, "Relax the elbow." 

Unfortunately, relaxing doesn't come as "naturally" as it sounds. Taiji re-wires evolutionary survival instincts. Fight, flight, freeze. Auto-pilot responses meant to keep us safe. Relaxing is not on that list. Relaxing is difficult because it's scary. Relaxing is vulnerable, leaving oneself open to... anything. If your push hands partner is withdrawn or frozen or forceful, let them know gently. They might be scared. You might be scared. Taiji class is our safe simulator. Help them relax and say it's okay. I *still* need to remind myself to breathe. My hands might be doing the round and round push hands motions, but I don't have that essential quality of water. I've probably achieved thawing and dripping to the ground. At best. :)

I try not to stress too much about not relaxing. Haha. I just recall my favorite Yin Yang paradox! If relaxing is vulnerable, it is also just as powerful. To paraphrase my teacher: relaxing opens and frees obstruction; no obstruction means unrestricted; and no restrictions means faster movements! Train until it's natural. That's what makes taiji awesome. If you can throw off your opponents with riddles like this, you won't need to fight at all! ;) 

Train hard to relax!