Build a Good Structure

You might remember that I’ve said before that, initially, learning Chen-style Taiji is easier than learning Yang-style. This is because every physical movement that you see in Chen-style is exactly what’s happening inside of your body and expresses what your mind is thinking. With Yang-style, when Yáng LùChán (杨露禅) began to teach, he changed a lot of the physical movements and in doing so removed a lot of clues, so one has to really understand what’s going on to do well in the Yang-style.

I studied Yang-style for 13 years, but I always felt there was something missing for me in my practice. Like I said before, Yang-style takes away a lot of clues. I just didn’t feel the connection. Then I began to study Chen-style, and it made me understand that what you do physically is exactly what happens inside. Once I understood that feel, my Yang-style changed too. My Yang-style became better because I was able to now understand that feel. My Yang-style became softer, and then my Chen-style became softer too.

Many people who practice Chen-style look very physically powerful and do a lot of fā jín 发 劲 but I feel differently. I feel that this tension and looseness, softness and hardness, it’s a balance. If there is too much focus on the hardness and not enough softness, then the yin and yang principle is not correct. Try to show on the outside what’s going on inside. Nurturing this sensitivity is how we grow in our Taiji practice.

The way we practice Taiji is the same as building a house: When we build a house, we build a frame first. After the structure is solid, we put up the walls, the plumbing, the electrical lines, then seal off the walls. Only after the walls are finished can you begin to design the interior and add the paint and furniture. You can’t approach building a house by changing it as you go. Changing the structure is very hard. So before the building begins, we start with the blueprints, so we know in our mind what we want our house to look like.

When we practice Taiji, we should have a very clear idea of what our intentions are. If I want to go inward to become a better person, those are the blueprints. Then I start working on my body and that is my framing. As I work on my body, I begin to go inward to explore my feelings. Those feelings are the plumbing and the electricity. I make the adjustments that make me feel better and get stronger and I begin to understand the moves. I start to understand the technique and begin to make it mine. It’s only once the house has its final paint and furniture that we can begin to really live in the house. Isn’t that easy?

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