Updated: Oct 12, 2022
I have studied tai chi with Master William Ting (Ting Kuo-Piao) since 1995. Through the years I have learned many things, and I am still learning. That’s the beauty of tai chi – you never stop learning. There is always more to learn. It doesn’t get boring or stale. Yes, we do run into periods of stagnation and frustration where we feel as if we’ve plateaued and are not advancing.
This is where you have to keep at it – persevere and believe that you will get better. And all of a sudden you do.
To help you, I have put together some key phrases that are key to learning tai chi. I have heard Mater Ting repeat these hundreds and hundreds of times, and yet, I still find something new in them. I suggest that you take one or two or three of these, and even though you think you know them, still devote a week or two to focus on them. I can hear you now, “Ah, come on, I know these already. I want to move to something new!” As soon as you think you have it, you don’t. I have thought I had it many times only to find that I did not.
These are important concepts that will take your tai chi to higher levels. Learning tai chi is not like taking English 101, where once you pass the course, you’re done with it. Learning ta chi is a constant circling back to what you know but at a higher level. As I said above, take one or two or three and work on them until you really have them. Then move on to the next ones. Once you get through the entire list, it will be time to start all over again, except this time, you will have a much better understanding of what goes into each one.
Key phrases for Improving Your Tai Chi
Always feel like you are sitting in a chair.
Feet are always turning.
You are constantly expanding.
DON’T SHRINK. Always keep expanding by opening your joints. Every joint must be open.
Your toes feel like they are very long.
Make a small circle with the qua at the end of each movement to start another movement.
Sink, turn, and expand.
Your arms connect to your spine and the spine moves the arms. Movement starts at the feet, goes through the spine and from the spine out to the hands.
When one arm goes forward and one goes back, the back arm and hand continue to expand towards the opponent even as the arm moves back.
Elbows feel like they are going down and forward.
Your hips (quas) help guide the turning of the hands.
Your fingers match the toes. As the toes turn, the fingers turn.
Your entire back feels like it is touching the back wall.
Your hands feel like they are touching the front wall.
Feel like there are rubber bands on your hands to connect them together.
All edges of the foot must be touching the floor creating the effect of a suction cup.
Mud walking is the foundation for tai chi and bagua walking.
Lift the bai-whai (the crown of the head)
Center of the Hands and Feet must be hollow and connected to each other.
Connect the hollow in the hands with the middle dan-tien (chest).
Chin sinks down; Jade pillow must be open and feel as if touching the back wall.
Ming men (lower Back) must be open; the hips drop down while the upper back rises.
Elbows feel like they are resting on your knees. The bend in your elbows match the bend in your kuas.
Both kuas must be hollow.
Nose and navel are in one line.
Your arms must be heavy. The more you are relaxed, the heavier the arms.
Practice with weights hanging off your elbows to learn to sink the elbows and open the shoulder joint.
The yin (unweighted) foot must sink into the ground as it turns.
When turning, the foot and knee that are moving back (usually the yin leg) must still expand forward.
Knees slightly press towards each other, and the Elbows slightly press towards each other, creating a connection across the back and the hips.
Scapulae (shoulder blades) always move away from each other. The back is always round. The scapulae sink down as they expand outwardly.
All parts of the body move together. No part moves by itself.
All movement starts with the feet pulling and turning.
Feel like your fingers and toes can touch the walls; your head reaches the ceiling; your feet are deep.
Shoulder joint is open, loose and expanded. The shoulder muscles must be lengthened to open a connection from the spine to your hands.
Your lower back (ming-men) is always moves away from your hands as if a balloon is expanding between the hands and lower back.
Keep your weight on the back foot as you walk or step until you are ready to pull your weight forward.
Feel as if your feet have sunk into the floor and your knees are touching the floor.
Walk as if your knees are touching the floor. Step with your knees rather then your feet – it is faster.
And above all, DON'T LOOK DOWN :)
Written By: Joseph Eber