Ever wondered why the ancients, the old tai chi masters from whom we have received all of this information, always stressed many many times that we must be 'soft' or 'relaxed'? It is because both of these translations are indeed the most important part of one's internal training, either for the self defence part or for the self healing or the medical healing areas. However, both of these words might sound great in Chinese and to a Chinese tai chi master, they mean everything but to we Westerners, they simply mean what they mean in English or any other Western country language. So most so-called tai chi masters and other teachers have taken these words literally in English which has given them a completely incorrect idea of what the internal systems are all about. So we now have 'tai chi masters' teaching students that they will be able to defend themselves against sudden violent attack from a raving lunatic in the street, using soft methods! "Just train for a further 30 years in my system and you will finally get it"!
There really aren't any translatable words for 'soft' and 'relax' in Chinese. Both of these words need a sentence or two, in order to say what the old tai chi masters really meant. And you must also take in to consideration that when the old tai chi masters spoke about Tai Chi ch'uan for instance, they weren't only talking about the slow form but rather the whole shebang of training methods that are present in all internal systems. What most 'masters' only ever teach and actually know are the initial basic beginner's forms and when we stick the two words 'soft' and 'relax' over the initial basic forms, and especially if those masters then teach that those forms are used for self defence, you get a somewhat different view of what the old masters actually meant!
You can do the basic Tai Chi form for instance slowly, this is relatively easy to do, but try using that in a real street fight and you will lose. The slow form is only about 5% of one's total Tai Chi training and it is the other stuff where the words of soft and relax really come into their own both in the healing and the fighting art.
When students begin Tai Chi or Bagua, they are told that these arts are 'soft', so they do the initial forms 'softly'. But when, if they are lucky to have a teacher who knows the more advanced methods, they come to the fighting and more advanced training, they tense up, thinking that it is natural to do this as they are now 'fighting'! But this couldn't be further from the truth. The student should be told that when they get to the more advanced areas, those two words are even more important.
When we practice the Pauchui/Large San-Sau form with or without a partner, this is where our sub-conscious learns about yin and yang; and it is this yin and yang that gives us the balance internally which in turn imparts great power with very little energy used. We must use 'soft' AND 'explosive' movements in these advanced forms as well as in the Old Yang Style Tai Chi. The same is pertinent for Baguazhang. It is the 'empty' moves that are most important and this is why we must learn to practice the more advanced forms in a Qigong/Explosive manner. So the movements when for instance we are moving onto the next attacking move should be extremely 'Sung', like the body doesn't exist, you can't even feel yourself moving at this time; your arms are like branches of a tree just swaying in the breeze. But then along comes a huge gust of wind to cause those limps to explode from the base of that 'softness' and from the base of the trunk, NOT from the arm itself. This only happens for a moment in time and then all is back to swaying in the breeze again until the next huge gust. This is the true meaning of 'soft'. The limbs at the 'soft' times gently re-direct on-coming power in an attack for instance, it causes us to use the BODY rather than then limbs to move around the on-coming power rather than to meet it head on when the attacker might be larger and stronger than us. Then, when we are in an advantageous position from the sub-conscious body movement, we attack with great force for a moment only, directing pure physical force and energy into the attacker's softer parts and points. This way give us the true meaning of Yin and Yang which is also a section that the old tai chi masters spent much time on trying to teach.
All internal fighting arts have the above aspects, especially the advanced explosive forms. In Tai Chi, we are taught to have these explosive movements at certain times during our slow form practice as this gives us the first door into mastery of the art. The all slow forms are fine for when we are ill perhaps and just cannot do the explosive moves; however, even the Old Yang style can be done with all slow movements if one wishes. As we progress, the forms we learn are more balanced with an even number of 'soft' and 'explosive' movements. Even when doing forms at a very fast pace, there must always be that distinction between Yin and Yang so that even if we are only 'soft' for a split second, it is enough to get that balance. The old tai chi masters always stressed that we must distinguish between Yin and Yang. But they never told us what they actually meant because you cannot tell a stark beginner about things that are only accessible at an advanced level. And this aspect only becomes apparent when one begins more advanced forms and training methods.
Practicing your internal arts in the above manner while practicing the explosive forms, gives you everything you will ever need to have in order to have a healthy and balanced mind and body and once you begin to practice this way, you will have a feeling