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6 Tai Chi Skills Students Need

There are six basic characteristics or skills that one must strive to learn in order to execute the proper quality of movements in Tai Chi.

  1. Circularity – Tai Chi movements are circular in all aspects. The limbs are curved and the joints move in circles. Whether it is movement of the hands, body or footwork each has correlating circles to practice. When practicing one must ensure the precise and fluid movements of the circles that are found within each posture. This skill is what leads to the philosophical aspects of self defense: anything moving towards me is rotated away, as my center is continually shifting in relation to the attack.
  2. Relaxation – To be relaxed in Tai Chi is not to be limp or weak; rather, muscle tension is used efficiently and as sparingly as possible. The body is not hunched over but kept relaxed and upright. There are the “3 Straights” - Straight head (head held upright), straight body (trunk held straight and perpendicular to the ground), straight knee and ankle (the knee and ankle must be under the same straight line). It is easy to understands the concept of relaxation but difficult to remain relaxed. One must learn to use natural body alignment, gravity, and the force generated by the opponent for proper self defense.
  3. Calmness – In Tai Chi it is necessary to maintain a calm mind. If the mind is not calm, one cannot concentrate. In the beginning it is difficult to keep the mind calm and not get distracted. As time goes on one will learn to calm the mind and tie it to every movement. This will allow the mind to experience and comprehend the movements. Calmness in Tai Chi is also about efficiency in movement. Avoiding exaggeration and moving only as much as necessary to execute the move. A common mistake is the bobbing up and down during weight shifts and using too much arm movement instead of letting the waist control the movement and its proper direction.
  4. Continuity – Tai Chi should not be choppy with sudden starts and stops or abrupt changes in direction. Tai Chi has what is called the “4 Alignments” - Leg, foot, hand and body, all go in the same direction. This means that the leg is properly aligned with the knee and ankle, the hand is properly aligned with the elbow and wrist, and they all aim (including the body) towards the same direction when executing a movement. This will lead to what is called the “6 Harmonies” - The hand corresponds with the foot, the elbow with the knee, the shoulder with the hip, the heart with the mind, the "internal energy" (chi) with the external force (jing), and the sinews with the bones. After much practice, one movement will flow effortlessly into the next while maintaining clarity between movements.
  5. Intent – Tai Chi is a form of meditation, but it is a physical meditation, with the mind and body working together. To bring the form to life, one must start to understand the intent behind the moves. By understanding the intent one can apply the proper force or jing. It is said that in order to produce jing one must have a strong root, starting from the foot, commanded by the waist, and manifested in the arms. Therefore, one must pay close attention to body alignment, muscle tension, and changes in balance while practicing the form. The form is practiced slowly, so that the mind and body can learn to work together as one.
  6. Focusing of Energy – The concept of energy focusing has no easy equivalent in the Western thought or biological science. In Chinese culture, it has long been accepted that various studies, will lead to awareness of, and mastery over, a type of innate energy referred to as “chi.” It is said to “let the chi penetrate the spine while allowing the inhalation and exhalation to be smooth. Inhalation closes and gathers, while the exhalation opens and discharges.” How can the chi discharge from the spine? It sinks downward from the two shoulders, gathers to the spine, and pours to the waist. This is chi from up to down and is called closed. From the waist the chi mobilizes to the spine, spreads to the two arms and flows to the fingers. This is chi from down to up and is called opened.

The ability to express these characteristics or skills will develop over time, through diligent and consistent practice.