To Evaluate Your Internal Training Tai Chi Practice
By Erle Montaigue
Friday, March 13, 1998

Here I will give a few of the things to look out for as you progress in your tai chi training. Many people wonder how they are going with their training and express to me often with regard to what they are feeling at certain stages in their training.

I will give some of the feelings that you must have in order to progress.

Tai Chi Practice 1/. The vital spirit flows through your body. You will know when this is happening as it is quite astonishing. Doesn't matter if you are weak or have some illness, when you begin your training, perhaps the Taijiquan form, you come alive with this spirit. Call it God, call it Qi, but it's there and once you have a normal flow of this spirit through your body, you just feel like nothing else and it is quite impossible to explain to others that feeling.

Tai Chi Practice 2/. The body moves or seems to move by itself: This is a manifestation of the Qi moving freely through the body. When the Qi moves freely, the body moves freely without breaks or stops even when you are performing explosive movements. When the Qi moves freely, the body moves freely, when the body moves freely the Qi moves freely and smoothly.

Tai Chi Practice 3/. The top is light while the lower is heavy: When the Qi flows to the top of the head and is light, this gives the feeling of great stability as the body is in the state it should be in with yang under and yin upper. In this state, the body does not lean to or fro nor backward or forward. The body feels like it is rooted into the ground, even when you are standing on one leg to kick slowly, your leg will raise as if it could stay there forever and you can stand down again without hurrying because your balance is perfect.

Tai Chi Practice 4/. You can distinguish not only between yin and yang of hand and foot, but also between both hands and both feet: The Qi is lively and sprightly causing your hands and feet to move independently of each other and also both hands move independently as do both feet. As your whole body changes internally and externally between yin and yang, you feel this and know because of this feeling. This is "Small Frame Form".

Tai Chi Practice 5/. You can change from the circle to the square without stopping and visa-versa. The hands move in circles always, the feet move in circles and squares. But eventually there is no difference between the circle and the square as the movement is so perfect.

Tai Chi Practice 6/. Strike using sung: When you strike in any way, it must be in total 'sung'. The closest that we have in the way of translation to sung is 'to relax'. However, this is incorrect. I use a phrase to translate 'sung'. When you can move without feeling the joints moving, then you are in sung. Your Qi and weight must be sunk to the tantien and thus to the ground so that you not only have the power of the punch, but also the power of the ground. In this way we can punch from very small distances and still have great power. Yin and Yang must be divided when striking and they must be able to change in an instance to accommodate the changes in the attacker.

Tai Chi Practice 7/. Your whole body must be connected when moving the Qi: If one part of your body moves, so too does the whole of your body. It is said that the 9 joints must be connected. They are: Wrist, elbow, shoulder, 2 X hip, 2 X knee and 2 X ankle. Although I always take this a step further to include the whole body moving as one unit.

Tai Chi Practice 8/. Softness on the outside with inside hard: You must have flexibility with no rigidity. There must be an internal tension which causes the Qi to move, which in turn causes the body to move continuously and in harmony without external tension.

Tai Chi Practice 9/. You must feel like the cat pouncing on the mouse or the hawk taking the rabbit during form: This is an idea that is expressed to show how we must perform the form. In other words, we do not perform form with a blank expression on our faces. Each movement has its own personality and this must be expressed in the face. However, it must be a lively and confident face, which will then show in the movements you are performing.

Tai Chi Practice 10/. Your must feel the wave: This is one of the most important aspects of form training. It's like a wave moving out from the tantien area, up and outward along both arms. Each movement and posture expresses this aspect. In the beginning the waves are large and rounded as in the (Waving Form). But as you progress, the waves become smaller and smaller until they are not seen by the human eye. Only you know that they are there.

Tai Chi Practice 11/. Form has calmness and explosive energy: The form is often said to be like the great river. The great river is not all calmly flowing as many have incorrectly stated. The great river is calmly flowing in parts and treacherous in others. This gives us the idea that Taijiquan is not all slowly moving. There are times when the whole body explodes in an energy releasing action that causes the whole body to vibrate, then it slips back into slow relaxed movements again. These energy release points are all along the form and are there for a reason. You cannot take any more Qi in if you do not release some. Like a pressure cooker has a release valve so too do we during form practice. The 'Fa-jing' movements are placed at strategic points during the form to allow the Qi to escape so that new Qi can enter. This is the nature of the "Old Yang Style". The quiet times during practice are for 'gathering the Qi' while the fa-jing times are for release.

Tai Chi Practice 12/. Every forward step and every backward step: Must have folding. This is another way of saying that each movement must have the wave. In attack we must have both centrifugal and centripetal force, this is the nature of yin and yang. So when we attack, we must have in mind retreat to revolve the Qi back onto the attacker and also to gather the Qi back for re-attack.

Tai Chi Practice 13/. Strike from the spine: The arms hang from the spine. When the spine is turned, so too do the arms only if they are 'connected internally'. The power must not come from the arms alone, but from the turning of the spine and the gathering of the Qi into the spine by com pressing the vertebra firstly, then expanding them to release the Qi as we attack.

Tai Chi Practice 14/. Stepping is both yin and yang: You must be aware of when you step forward, your foot is firstly yin shaped, then it is yang shaped. This is the way a cat walks, ever vigilant internally and sub-consciously so that if there is danger it moves without thinking.

If you are able to get only one of the above correct, then you are said to be knocking on the door of Taijiquan.

When you can get two of the above correct, you are said to be looking through the keyhole of the door.

When you get three correct, you are able to open the door just slightly to see a thin ray of light on the other side.

When you get four correct, you can push the door a little more to look through at some objects on the other side.

When you have five correct, you can push your leg through the door.

When you get six correct you can open the door a little further and push your head through to see what is on the other side.

When you have seven correct, you can push your shoulders through the door.

When you have eight correct you can push your chest through the door.

When you have nine correct you can walk through the door but the light has not been turned on.

When you have ten correct, you can just make out some objects as your eyes accustom to the light.

When you have eleven correct, you can walk across the room carefully seeing with your hands as you walk.

When you have twelve correct you can light a candle.

When you have thirteen correct the light begins to grow brighter and you are able to see some definite objects.

And when you have fourteen correct, you can knock on the second door!