The Stages of Learning Tai Chi
THINGS "TOO SMALL" TO BE SEEN
“There are no secrets hidden in Taiji, but only things too small to be seen.” (Huang Sheng Shyan).
According to the traditional teaching of the school of Grand Master Huang Sheng Shyan (1910-1992), to achieve a real martial skill. you need to go through several stages of development, which range from "very big" to extremely "small".
The first step therefore consists in learning the correct "external" movement. It’s the simplest stage, that includes the most macroscopic aspects of art: the positions, the movements, the gestures, the “techniques”. All that is wide and visible.
To pursue the ability to perceive inner energy and convey elastic force, this first step is indispensable but absolutely insufficient. And because it takes years of correct and serious practice for external movement to become really fluid and relaxed (it’s the level of the “Song”).
When the movement becomes really "soft", you can notice it externally, with your eyes.
The next phase focuses on finding the “Chen” (sinking) and requires more years of practice. From the outside, when the practitioner “sinks”, it is hardly perceived, because “sinking” is very different from physically lowering the position or bending the knees. It’s rather about governing little things: minimal tendon stretches, imperceptible joint apertures, invisible tension modulations in certain muscles. A proprietary awareness that is hard to conquer.
The third phase is aimed at reaching the “Empty”, which implies the supreme ability to govern “sink and root”. It's a long and difficult phase, which many practitioners manage to get into but very few continue and almost no one to complete; those who go through it - the great masters - become able to undo any physical, mental, and emotional tension. Reaching the "Empty" allows for a clear and complete perception of self and the surrounding reality, and to act as a "conductor of inner strength". This is also why inner strength is often called “Empty Strength”. It’s not coupled with obvious external movements. At higher levels, when this force is manifested, the physical effect is certainly felt, not the process that created it, which includes "things too small to be seen".