Monday, December 5, 2011

Essentials of the Roots in Tai Chi

Photo by Pulpolux

When people get older, they start to feel it in their legs. Suddenly, balance becomes a problem. When walking, they can't land each foot precisely in the right place. They may experience lack of strength to lift their legs up to certain height. Or they may not be able to put weight on one leg for very long. They may feel numbness and stiffness in their thighs and feet. They may feel as if their entire bodies are hanging in the clouds because the whole lower part of the body is weak.

Legs are the major supporting tools of your body. Tai Chi Master Wu Yi Xiang once said, "Tai Chi's root comes from the feet, and its origins from legs. It is controlled by the waist and spreads to the hands and fingers. From the feet to the legs and extending to the waist, the body should unite as one. … If there are problems, the origin can always be found in the legs or waist.”

It's possible to train your roots (legs and feet) to prevent many problems. Legs and feet play very important roles in the 8 joints and 9 sections to unite and relax your whole body. Tai Chi requires the 8 joints and 9 sections to relax as one. If you do your Tai Chi well, you will know how to walk like a cat. You will also know how to support your body with your legs to form a good structure. Your legs will become very strong after practicing Tai Chi many times. You can train your legs in the following four ways:

1. Zhan Zhuan: Post Standing
Post standing allow you to hold one gesture for a period of time in order to build strength and endurance for your legs.

2. Strength and Leg Control

Strength exercises will flex your legs and allow your legs to turn, move, and reach more positions. Leg control, like standing on one leg and moving your other leg in different angles, will help with leg balance in different positions.

3. Leg Lifting and Landing
When we talk about Tai Chi steps, we often mention moving your feet like a cat. We want you to remember 3 points: Lift lightly and land lightly. Lift slowly and land slowly. Lift with one point and land with one point. For example, lift the heel first, keeping your toes on the ground. Then lift the toes up, and land with the heel first and then the whole foot.

4. How to Move your Legs Correctly
Tai Chi forms already include a full range of leg movements, so doing Tai Chi forms will strengthen your legs. When you move your legs, you want to pay attention to 3 points. One is to make sure you are stable. Once you are stable, then you can lift your foot. Once you lift up your foot, then you can move. Don't lift your foot if you are not stable. And don't move before you have lifted your foot up high enough off the ground.

Your roots (legs and feet) are important parts of your body and your Tai Chi. Having strong legs will definitely strengthen your body and your balance, keeping you healthy and powerful.

Copyrights Huan's Tai Chi 2011

Thursday, November 3, 2011

What is really in Tai Chi?

Tai Chi is short for Tai Chi Chuan. Chuan means boxing. Therefore, true Tai Chi Chuan is a martial art. There are different versions of Tai Chi Chuan and many simplified sets. There are for example sets with 24, 42 and 48 movements. With so many variations, how can one differentiate between Tai Chi boxing and Tai Chi dancing? While opinions differ, I believe the difference between boxing and dancing are found in 4 features. They are Content, Application, Mixture of Ying and Yang and Following Yang Chen Fu's 10 principles.

  1. Content

    Real Tai Chi consists of 8 fundamental methods and 5 fundamental steps. Taken together, these yield 13 forms. If any of the simplified forms is missing one of the 13 forms it is not a complete Tai Chi set. The 8 methods are Ward Off - Peng, Roll Back –Lu, Press - Ji, Push - An, Pull Down - Tsai, Split - Lieh, Elbow - Chou, and Shoulder - Kao. The five steps are Advancing Steps – Jin, Retreating Steps - Tui, Stepping to the Left Side - Ku, Stepping to the Right Side - Pan, Settling at the Center – Zhong Ding.

  2. Application

    Tai Chi was originally developed for self-defense and fighting. Every movement must have a defensive and/or offensive purpose. Defense makes your body stable and strong. Attacking allows you to actually defend yourself..

  3. Mixture of Ying and Yang

    Each movement is made of complimentary and opposing polarities such as closing within opening, opening within closing, upper and lower body coordination, left and right body coordination, Ying and Yang folding, and Ying and Yang twisting.

  4. Following Yang Chen Fu’s 10 principles.

    Grandmaster Fu’s teacher, the founder of Yang (Cheng Fu ) Style has 10 famous principles which conclude the characters of Tai Chi. They are

    1. Keep your head erect

    2. Keep your chest sunken inward and let your Chi/energy stick to the back

    3. Relax your waist

    4. Distinguish empty and full stances

    5. Sink your shoulders and drop your elbows

    6. Use concentration instead of force

    7. Coordinate the upper and lower parts of the body

    8. Combine internal and external energy

    9. Have continuous movements

    10. Find quietness and peace in movements

Next time, when you are in a Tai Chi class, you can be confident that you are really learning real Tai Chi if you find all the above features are included in your instruction.

Copyright Huan's Tai Chi 2011

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

“Hundred Meetings” Controls Your Body and Your Tai Chi

"Hundred Meetings" or Bai Hui is a Chinese acupuncture point located at the highest point of your body, atop your head, in the center, aligned with your ears. It is an important energy center that controls your body. In traditional Chinese medicine, there are about 400 acupuncture points and 20 meridians, or paths through which the life-energy known as qi is believed to flow. Many meridians meet at this point at the top of the head. That’s why it’s called “Hundred Meetings.”

In Tai Chi, many principles are related to relaxing and stretching. Principles such as sinking your shoulders and dropping your elbows, and sinking your shoulders and stretching your arms are both good examples. Another Tai Chi principle is to tuck in your chest and stretch your back. When your back is stretched, the next principle to add is emptying your mind and supporting your head with energy. This means erecting your neck and keeping your head straight and lifted as if you can feel an invisible string attached to your “Hundred Meetings,” pulling it towards the sky.

In Chinese, we say, “ if your head tilts and your waist bends, then you didn’t learn martial arts well enough.” You neck and head should be naturally vertical to the ground. Don’t lean forward or backward or tilt left or right. Stay relaxed but loose. Don’t be tight, but have a structure. Your mind should be empty and you should have good concentration.

In Chinese, we say that the “Bubbling Spring” acupuncture point at the bottom of the foot in the center of the sole is man’s connection to the earth. We say the “Hundred Meetings” is one’s connection to the sky and to the heavens. Once you’ve connected to the earth and sky, you can center your energy and let it move around. You can then empty your mind and you will be able to concentrate on your Tai Chi movements.

copyrights Huan's Tai Chi 2011

Friday, September 16, 2011

New Article up on Fall Tai Chi magazine on How to Relax

Hello All,

Thanks for checking my blog articles and giving feedback. I am pleased to announce that my new article is on Fall 2011 Tai Chi International Magazine. The title is Huan Zhang on How to Relax, Understanding the 8 sections and 9 joints

There are 6 pages of detailed explanations plus exercises to do to help you relax,
in addition to the introduction which I have written a while ago on my blog.

You should be able to find it on most newsstands around the country. If not, please feel free to directly order from my website.

Enjoy the article and feel free to give comments and questions here!

Huan Zhang
Chief Instructor and Executive Director
Huan's Tai Chi

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Tea and Patience

Many things I enjoy require patience, including gardening, Tai Chi, golf, feeding my fish, and having tea.

I love to have tea because it trains you to have a lot of patience. Water is the mother of the tea. Waiting for the water to boil just slows down the step of your daily life. Waiting for the bubbles to surface, the steam to appear, and the water to begin hissing, are all time-consuming.

Before even drinking the tea, steps such as smelling the tea, warming the cup, putting the tea leaves in the cup, and wetting the tea leaves to let the taste seep out all require time. You need to quiet down your mind, just feel relaxed, and try to enjoy the whole process. The process will become a pleasure once you are able to quiet your mind.

Sometimes, although you may try to drink your tea one sip at a time, you may end up swilling the whole cup at once like a donkey. It takes patience to do everything slowly and gracefully. If your mind is not empty and relaxed, how can you enjoy the color, taste, fragrance, or shape of the tea? How can you identify if this tea is smooth, sweet, bitter, light or strong? Can you visit a village for just a few seconds and still enjoy the view? Imagine your cup of tea is like a village. Have patience and be relaxed, and then you can enjoy the details of your tea. Wander around and look for its character, its personality.

Why must we hurry to finish everything fast? The next time you are walking to work, or shopping in the grocery store, try doing it slowly. Be aware of the good feelings and let them last, just like having your tea.

copyrights Huan's Tai Chi 2011

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Empty Your Heart and Fill Your Belly: Lao Tzu Reveals a Hidden Tai Chi Treasure

Lao Tzu, the sage who is said to have written the classic Chinese text, the Tao Te Ching, hasmany hidden messages in his words. In the third chapter of the Tao Te Ching, he writes

“… the wise one rules by emptying his heart. He fills his belly, weakens his ambition and toughens his bones…”

How are these words related to Tai Chi practice?

The concept of “heart” in Chinese is actually similar to the concept of “mind” in English, because in Chinese, the two are interconnected. To “empty your heart” actually means to “empty and quiet your mind.” Empty your heart and mind of concepts, judgements and desires. Think less to relax more. The key is to remove all thoughts from your mind. When your mind is full of a lot of thoughts, it’s easy to generate anxiety and stress. When you are stressed, you will waste a lot of energy which is not good for your health or your Tai Chi.

To “fill your belly” means your Qi (energy) should not remain near your head and upper body. Qi near the top of your body will raise your shoulder and elbows. Bringing all your Qi down to your Dan Tian (belly area) in order to make it solid will help you relax better and have more energy while doing Tai Chi. Your body is controlled by your Dan Tian which is your physical center of gravity. Your body will feel much more stable when your Qi has sunk down. As a result, your breathing will feel more even.

To “weaken your ambition” and “toughen your bones” both have to do with letting go of defending outer parts of the self in order to strengthen resolve and innermost intention.

How can Lao Tzu’s words help you?
Next time you practice Tai Chi, think about emptying your heart and filling your belly. Notice more even breathing, improved balance and stability, and much less stress as you execute your Tai Chi.

For further reading about Lao Tzu, you can read my article “Lao Tzu’s Secret to Extending your Life".

Copyrights 2011 Huan's Tai Chi

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Understanding 3 Secrets of Central Equilibrium in Tai Chi Push Hands

Photo by Tony Roberts

What is Push Hands? Generally, Push Hands (or pushing hands) is a two-person training exercise practiced in internal Chinese martial arts such as Baguazhang, Xingyiquan, and Tai Chi. That said, it’s important to understand the purpose behind Push Hands. Instead of succumbing to the natural instinct to resist force with force, Push Hands teaches you to absorb force and redirect it. It is an exercise that can help you understand changes in direction of energy and the concept of maintaining a Central Equilibrium, which is the key to improving balance. As a form of martial arts, Push Hands is a way to put the Tai Chi movements you have learned to practical use.

Because Tai Chi is an exercise which emphasizes balance, maintaining a Central Equilibrium, or center of balance, plays a very important role. Central Equilibrium is the key to understanding Push Hands, because Push Hands is all about maintaining a center of balance. There are 3 secrets to understanding the role of Central Equilibrium in Tai Chi Push Hands.

1. Protect Central Equilibrium

When doing Push Hands, you want to make sure you maintain a Central Equilibrium at all times, so you are balanced and stable. The purpose of every move in Push Hands is to maintain your Central Equilibrium. To learn more about how to develop and maintain your Central Equilibrium, read: Develop Your Central Equilibrium in Tai Chi.

2. Use Central Equilibrium

In his famous work, The Art of War, Sun Tzu wrote, “Know yourself and know your opponent. Fight one hundred times, win one hundred times.” Knowing your own Central Equilibrium and understanding your opponent’s Central Equilibrium is the key to Push Hands. Use your own Central Equilibrium to destroy that of your opponent. Use your own balance and powerful moves to throw your opponent off his Central Equilibrium, so he/she loses balance.

3. Avoid Central Equilibrium

When your opponent tries to use his/her Central Equilibrium to destroy your own, you need to avoid the Central Equilibrium of your opponent. In other words, when your opponent tries to find out where your Central Equilibrium, or center of balance is, make sure to switch and change your center of balance, so you can yield to your opponent’s force and redirect it, without resisting force with force, or creating double weight; thus, you always remain stable and balanced.

Without your own Central Equilibrium, you will not able to feel and find your opponent’s Central Equilibrium during Push Hands. Keep your yin and yang balanced, maintain your Central Equilibrium, and let all of your Tai Chi permeate through into your Push Hands.

Copyrighted by Huan's Tai Chi 2010

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

A view of our Tai Chi Class

This kept me busy for last few weeks.I wasn't prepared for this interview, but this video clip should get you an idea how our class looks like.

Monday, May 23, 2011

7 Ways to Recover From Fatigue

My friends often wonder how I recover from fatigue so fast. Here I share some of my experiences with you to help you gain more energy quickly after exercise.

1. Food Recovery: Liquid

Two-thirds of the human body is water. People lose a lot of water and sodium after exercise or other activities in the summer. You will feel tired if you don’t have enough water in your body. Drinking enough (lightly salted) water will help recovery. You can also eat fruits and vegetables such as watermelon or oranges which contain a lot of liquid.

2. Food Recovery: Calories

People burn calories while hiking or doing other exercises. Protein and sugar are two major sources of calories for your body. That’s why egg drop soup, chicken soup or sweet hot chocolate will help you recover from fatigue.

3. Removing Lactic Acid: Take a shower
You are tired after exercise because your body accumulates lactic acid. Taking a shower will help you feel refreshed and remove lactic acid. Contrasting showers (alternating between hot and cold water) helps flush out lactic acid, helping you to become more energetic.

4. Removing Lactic Acid: Sleep

Sleep will help you through metabolic pathways, removing lactic acid and bringing back your energy.

5. Adjust Your Body: Massage
Fatigue also happens when you use certain body parts too much. For example, if you go kayaking, your shoulders or arms might get sore. Or, if you stare at the computer too much, your eyes might get tired. Get a massage to relax specific body parts, or even a whole body massage to relax them all.

6. Adjust Your Body: Acupuncture
Your blood circulation might not work well if your muscles are tight after a long exercise. Acupuncture can help you relax by touching these points and helping blood circulation.

7. Adjust Your Body: Tai Chi
Of course I must mention Tai Chi! Through Tai Chi exercise, you can slow down your breathing, quiet your mind, stretch and relax your body parts, massage your joints, improve your blood circulation and renew your body.

Copyright by Huan's Tai Chi 2011

Monday, May 16, 2011

7 Suggestions to Help Prevent Knee Pain in Tai Chi

Many beginners have knee issues when they first start Tai Chi. They may complain of knee pain or express concern that they are not positioning their knees correctly.

I have come up with a few suggestions to address knee issues when practicing Tai Chi:

1. Do Enough Warm-ups

Before practicing Tai Chi, do some warm-ups to relax your body and adjust and stretch your joints so your body and legs are not tight before you get started.

2. Bend Your Knee Slightly, Even When Standing Straight

Even when you have a stance requiring you to stand straight up, bend your knee a tiny bit. This will help loosen your knee joint as you bend your knee, squat down, and raise your knee.

3. Avoid Passing Your Knee Beyond Your Toe or Behind Your Heel

A lot of body weight will rest on your knee if your knee passes your toe while in a bow stance or horse stance. Your knee will also hurt if it is behind your heel while in a bow stance.

4. Avoid Sudden Moves

Do everything slowly as your teacher instructs. Don’t make sudden moves. Sudden stretching, pulling, or pushing can hurt your knee.

5. Keep Your Body Vertical in Every Form

Having a tilted body position can impact your knee. Have your teacher correct your posture while in all of the different stances: standing posture (Wu Chi stance); bow stance (Single Whip or Brush Knee); empty stance (White Crane Spread Its Wings); horse stance (Cloud Hands); and crouching stance (Snake Creeps Down). When you can hold your body vertical in every form, you will be less likely to experience knee pain.

6. Move Your Whole Body Together

When part of your body moves and part of your body does not, it can cause an unbalance that often results in knee pain. This pain is due to the fact that the knees have to maintain your weight to keep your body balanced. Coordinating you whole body and moving together will solve this problem.

7. Don’t Overwork Yourself

If you are older and your knees are not strong enough to go lower, stay higher. That will help you for now. Once your knees get stronger, then you can go little bit lower.

Copyrighted Huan's Tai Chi 2011

Monday, May 9, 2011

Wisdom of Confucius Brings Thoughts on Tai Chi Learning

Photo by courtesy of Lavelk

Confucius is famous for his teachings on self-improvement and learning. Here are some of his words to brighten our day.


Confucius said, “With any three people walking, one can be my teacher.” What he means is that one cannot judge a person by his or her appearance. In any situation, you might find someone who has more knowledge than you in some areas. Respect others and learn from the strength and knowledge that each person brings.

To my Tai Chi students: Can you learn something new from your classmates, from either their strengths or mistakes?


Confucius said, “I’m lucky to have others to show that I have mistakes.” Confucius thinks it’s essential to correct your own mistakes and to accept the mistakes of others. He suggests that we don’t blame people for their past mistakes.

To my Tai Chi students: Don’t feel ashamed to have made a mistake. Actually it’s a good thing! If you can identify a mistake, it means you’ve found an opportunity to improve. Be glad and excited!

Act on Learning

Confucius thinks it’s OK to learn slowly, but it’s not OK not to act.

To my Tai Chi students: After you learned from the class, did you practice and review? It’s OK to progress slowly in Tai Chi, but you must move forward every day.

Debriefing: Checking In On Yourself

Sheng Tzu was one of Confucius’s top students. He learned Confucius’s wisdom very well.

Sheng Tzu said, “I am simpleminded. At the end of each day, I only check myself on three items:

1) Did I make my best effort to finish the work I have been processing during the day?

2) Did I try to do what I have promised to my friends?

3) Did I review and study the knowledge my teacher has taught me?”

To my Tai Chi students: Enough said above. Did you make your best effort in learning Tai Chi and doing it as you promised to yourself during the class? Did you review and practice at home what you learned from your teacher?

As a conclusion, we can see that being humble, facing your mistakes, acting, and stopping and self-checking are some qualities that Confucius would exhibit if he were taking a Tai Chi class.

Copyrighted by Huan's Tai Chi 2011

Monday, April 25, 2011

Secrets of Tai Chi Circles Revealed

Most Tai Chi forms are a combination of different circular movements. Improving your Tai Chi circles is the key to a successful Tai Chi form.

Without a basic understanding of circles and how they are used in Tai Chi forms, it’s not possible to do Tai Chi well. Here, I’ll explain both basic and expanded circle forms.

Basic Circle Forms:

Circle Forms: In Tai Chi, a circle can take the form of a full circle, a half circle, or a partial circle such as an arc or a bow.*
Circle Size: In Tai Chi we talk about circles expanding or shrinking; circles can be large, medium, and small.
Circle Orientation: Circles can be vertical, horizontal, and diagonal.
Circle Position: Circles can be inside or outside of a sphere.
Circle Direction: In Tai Chi, circular movements can rotate from top to bottom, from bottom to top, from left to right, or from right to left.
Direction of Motion: Motion can be clockwise or counter clockwise.

Expanded Circle Forms:

Circles with Multiple Motions: A common advanced form is a circle with five motions, starting with a circle with the body centered, then adding advance movements, and retreating steps (moving left or right).
Circles with Mixed Directions: Both hands can circle in the same or in different directions.
Linked Circles:
The “S-line”** is an example of a linked circle. It is a link of two arcs, a medium arc followed by a small one.
Twisted Circles:
Silk reeling circles” are a great example of twisted circles.

After you read about all the forms of circle, you can now apply them into your practice. There is always ying and yang (empty and solid) in your circle, which means peng (ward off) and lu (roll-in) are involved. One of my favorite Chinese Tai Chi poems does a great job of discussing the opening and closing of our circles and the changes of ying and yang. I’m translating the poem for you here:

Once opening and once closing,

Once stabilized and once changed,

Solid and Empty mix into position,

Suddenly present, then suddenly disappear.
In the first line, the poem discusses the circle expanding and shrinking.
The second line explains the regular form and changes of the circles.
The final two lines mention ying and yang and mixed directions.

When every step involves circular movement, your Tai Chi will become less stiff and more rounded. Once you are familiar with all the basic circle forms in your daily Tai Chi practice and can link them together in transitions, your form will be more smooth and relaxed. When your yi (concentration) can control all these circular movements, you will surely bring your Tai Chi to another level.

* "Zhang Lu Ping on Five Bows of Tai Chi" in Tai Chi Magazine, by Peter Capell, June, 1992.

** "How Lu Ping Zhang Uses The Powerful 'S Principle' (the Deadly Art of 'S')" by Peter Capell, Tai Chi Magazine, October, 1992.

Copyrights Huan's Tai Chi 2011

Friday, April 15, 2011

Tai Chi Applications: Good Idea for Beginners?

In Tai Chi, we say, “Train the body, but practice the applications.” To train the body is to improve your forms and energy. To practice the applications is to practice how to use Tai Chi on offense and defense. Most people think of Tai Chi applications as moves like punching, kicking, or joint locking.

However, if we only use one or two applications to explain a single movement, then we can’t really understand the movement. Because each movement can be used for many different applications, for a beginner to understand a form in the context of a single application may be misleading.

To really improve your form, you must be familiar with all its parts, master all the gestures and then get rid of stiffness and soften and smooth all the moves. After that, your whole body can move together. Your internal and external body will coordinate and you can then increase your energy. Once you have more energy, then you will sense and listen better.

A good time to learn applications is after you have smoothed all the movements and softened all the joints. The application will come out more naturally without a lot of effort. It will take you more time to learn but you will have a greater understanding.

Hurrying to focus on applications as a beginner is not a good idea. In Chinese, we say, “you can’t eat hot Tofu in hurry.” Tai Chi applications are like hot Tofu. Take your time!

Copyrighted by Huan's Tai Chi 2011

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

In Remembrance of My Father: Tai Chi Teacher and Math Professor, Zhang Lu Ping

Many of my father's students and I share a same question everyday when we are doing
Tai Chi. "What will Lu Ping say about my Tai Chi today?"

"Dad, I got long emails from your Tai Chi students today, they still remember you until this day even though it has been 12 years. Hope you are well in heaven, having your daily tea and Tai Chi."

Feel free to read: some of his students sharing his life stories on Tai Chi Magazine.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Six Steps to a Better Tai Chi Form

There are six steps to a better Tai Chi form. If you follow the six steps in order, you can improve step-by-step and understand what you need to achieve at each point along the way. As you identify your weaknesses, you will also learn the characteristics and applications of the Tai Chi moves, giving you a better foundation.

Step 1: Understand the Theory and Become Familiar with the Forms

Theory and forms are the start of learning Tai Chi. In this step, you need to become familiar with the basic moves, and understand how they coordinate with each other. Through practice you will learn the basic stance and hand forms. You will understand the direction and angle of each move and how transitions work between moves. Take your time to get each move right before moving to the next move. Once you are familiar with all the moves, consider yourself to have completed the first step.

Step 2: Demonstrate Understanding of each Move’s Requirements and Characteristics.

This step requires your teacher to correct any obvious mistakes, such as failing to keep your body vertical to promote relaxation and combat stiffness. You will also begin to concentrate on some major components such as coordination, breathing, and turning. You will concentrate on few special moves. As you practice, you will incorporate your understanding of these moves’ characteristics into your Tai Chi.

Step 3: Adjust your Movements for Accuracy

After adjusting the obvious movements, now is the time to get in more detail and adjust the rest
of the smaller movements. Imagine carving a jade statue. From Step 1 and Step 2 we get the statue’s basic shape. Now it’s time to carve the details such as the eyes and the clothing lines. Use Standing Post (Zhan Zhuang) as “standing meditation,” a moment to stop and check for accuracy and make sure all your movements are fluid and relaxed. Make sure your upper body is light and spry and your lower body is stable and powerful.

Step 4: Connect Your Body and Be Natural

Once you have mastered the above three steps, you can try to connect your body together and move your energy around your body. You will need to smooth your transitions, and make sure you have round form and even speed. You must perform your moves easily and naturally.

Step 5: Understand Applications

When you are familiar with all four of the above steps, you can break the moves into pieces to learn more details and understand the purpose of each move. You can start to do some Push Hands with classmates to begin to see application in action. Understanding the attack and defense purpose of each move will give you a deeper understanding of all the forms.

Step 6: Define your Form

This final stage requires you to combine concentration, breathing and movement together and have your own form ready. You will be able to do your moves without thinking. Once you reach this stage, you will have reached a new level on your Tai Chi journey.

Keep practicing. Day by day you will be closer to each step.

Copyright@ Huan's Tai Chi 2011

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Mastering Your Tai Chi Move

An MIT study on how we learn movement showed that although students can visually absorb an entire move, their pupils only focus on small areas. Students can repeat the movements within these small areas very well, but they often have trouble understanding the move as a whole.

Because Tai Chi involves coordinating the whole body, it’s hard to imitate a move correctly if you only focus on part of it. In order to learn a move successfully, you need to step back and watch the entire move several times. Pay attention to the movements of both the upper body and lower body, the left and right sides, and how they move and coordinate together.

Try to imitate the move and ask your teacher for feedback. Notice the areas you need to work on. Have your teacher do the move again. Concentrate and focus on the areas that you have missed. Ask your teacher how your body should feel when you doing the move correctly. Practice it again and have your teacher correct you. Once you have it right, practice as many times as it takes to do the entire move without thinking.

Copyrighted by Huan's Tai Chi

Friday, February 18, 2011

Inspiration for Tai Chi: Master Calligrapher Wang Xizhi

Wang Xizhi (王羲之, 303–361), one of my favorite Chinese calligraphers, lived during the Jin Dynasty (265–420). He is considered by many to be one of the most esteemed Chinese calligraphers of all time, and is often referred to as the Sage of Calligraphy (書聖). He learned his art from Wei Shuo (衛鑠; 272–349), commonly known as Madame Wei, a master calligrapher at that time.

Wang Xizhi loved geese. According to legend, he learned the secret of how to turn his wrist while writing by observing how the geese moved their necks. Wang Xizhi also had a very clear pond in his backyard. After every use of his brush, he washed off the ink in the pond. Day after day, the clear pond turned black. People called it the “Black Ink Pond.” No matter if he was walking or resting, Wang Xizhi always kept thinking about how to improve his writing skills. The structure of the words never left his head. He even practiced writing without a brush in his hand by moving his fingers on his clothes. After time, his clothes would wear right through.

In Chinese, there is a saying “Ru Mu San Fen.” Its literal meaning means “carving into timber three-tenths inches deep.” Its metaphorical meaning is used to describe words that are penetrating, profound and convincing. One time, the emperor asked Wang Xizhi to write some words for Chinese Memorial Day. He ordered him to write the words on a wooden board and then asked a wood carver to carve the board. When the wood carver did his job, he was amazed. He cut layer after layer and could still see ink. He found that Wang Xizhi had already written the words inside the wood. He couldn’t help but praise: “Wang’s words were really like a knife carving into the wood.”

These stories show how creative and diligent this master calligrapher was. I hope the image of his writing will speak for itself. If we can practice our Tai Chi the way Wang Xizhi practiced his calligraphy, we will then be able to really master the art.

Copyrigthed by Huan's Tai Chi 2011

Friday, February 11, 2011

Are You Starting Your Tai Chi Correctly?

When I first started to learn Tai Chi, I was very curious about the names of each movement. As a teenager at that time, it motivated me to know that I was working toward mastering cool-sounding movements such as “Golden Roster Standing with One Leg” or “Bring the Tiger Back to the Mountain.” However, my teacher denied my requests. He told me I wouldn’t know the names of each movement until I became familiar with all the movements of the set.

His reason for holding back the names was that he wanted me to concentrate on the movements themselves instead of their names. He also wanted me to perform the movements naturally, instead of thinking about their names and imagining how they might look before performing them.

In my classes, before we start to do any Tai Chi movements, I encourage my students to just stand in the Wu Chi stance (preparing stance). Before we do anything else, here’s what I tell them:

Start naturally. Relax your shoulders and rest of your body. Remove all the thoughts in your mind. Only when you feel your body is centered and relaxed, your mind is quiet and emptied, your weight has sunk down, and your roots are connected to the earth, you are in the right position to start your Tai Chi.

Copyrighted Huan's Tai Chi 2011

Saturday, February 5, 2011

The New Year of Rabbit

Hello Everyone,

Chinese New Year is here now. Chinese New Year is also called Spring Festival. That means spring is near which tells us we will soon be able to do Tai Chi outdoors.

Here I wish you a wonderful Chinese New Year week!

Xin Nian Kuai Le (新年快乐)


Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Develop Your Central Equilibrium in Tai Chi

If you are well-versed in the language of martial arts, you may have heard the term “Zhong Ding.” You may have heard that developing Zhong Ding is crucial in order to correctly execute your Tai Chi forms. So what, precisely, is Zhong Ding? In Chinese, Zhong means center, in the middle or inside. Ding means stabilized, still, centralized and balanced. Together, Zhong Ding means central equilibrium. And it is the key to achieving balance in Tai Chi.

The basic idea behind developing Zhong Ding is that you must lift your Bai Hui point, the highest point on the crown of your head, towards the sky and keep your body centered and vertical, perpendicular to the ground. For beginners this is often very difficult to achieve. It’s easy to lose Zhong Ding while transitioning from one form to another.

In Tai Chi, we have Ding Shi (Still Stances) and transitions. Every form that Yang Style Tai Chi Founder Yang Chen Fu has in his book is a still stance. Any moves between two still stances are transitions. Think of each pair of still stances as dots. Our goal is to connect the dots using transitions. To achieve Zhong Ding we must first be able to hold the right two balanced still stances, and then connect them with transition moves.

In order to start with the right still stances, I suggest you learn Zhan Zhuang (“stand like a post,” 站桩). Zhan Zhuang is a method of training which uses static postures to develop efficiency of movement and perfection of structural alignment. In Tai Chi, we say: stay in the center to form a post; then root your foot. Here are some benefits of Zhan Zhuang:

  • Although many Tai Chi practitioners don’t practice it, Zhan Zhuang can really help you relax your shoulders and the rest of your body.
  • Zhan Zhuang can help you get rid of stiffness and help you develop softness.Your muscles will become soft and relaxed and will be more sensitive and better responsive for push hands.
  • Zhan Zhuang will root your stance to the ground to make you more stable.
  • Zhan Zhuang can help you memorize the movements since it’s easy to see and remember a still stance.
  • Zhan Zhuang will help you circulate your blood and connect each part of your body.
  • Zhan Zhuang can bring more Qi (energy) circling around your body.
  • Zhang Zhuang can balance your Ying and Yang.

To practice Zhang Zhuang correctly, here are a few things to keep in mind:
  • You must empty your mind. You shouldn’t be thinking of anything but resting your mind.
  • Don’t change your stance too quickly; you must stay in one position and feel a little soreness in your arm, shoulder or legs to know that you have been standing long enough.
  • Keep your eyes looking forward, your head supporting the sky and your body vertical.
  • Keep your shoulders relaxed and let your elbow drop down.

To start practicing Zhang Zhuang and learn some basic post stances, check out my article called "Cardinal body parts to relax for Tai Chi and your life".

Enjoy and have a lot of Qi!

Copyrighted by Huan's Tai Chi

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

How to Breathe in Tai Chi

There is no question that breathing is a central element of Tai Chi. Yet, the best breathing techniques remain open to debate. Different people use different breathing techniques.

Some teachers think that our Dan Tian/Red Field (acupuncture point just below the navel) should be the focal point of our breathing techniques because our Dan Tian is the place we store our energy. It is also our physical center of balance and gravity. However, other teachers think that we need to practice abdominal breathing, which uses our powerful stomach muscles to control our breathing for maximum effect.

After many years of study, I can draw two conclusions regarding the mixed views on breathing techniques. If you have read my book, Seeing beyond the Tai Chi Footprint, you may already be familiar with them.

My first conclusion is: Breathe naturally! Don’t pay attention to your breathing at all. Concentrate on your form and the coordination of your movements. All your breathing will occur naturally.

My second conclusion is: Use movements to adjust your breathing. These adjustments must be made very accurately. Any movements going out such as "Peng" will correspond with a breath out. Any movements coming in such as "Lu" will correspond with a breath in. For any open movements, such as "White Crane Spread its Wings", breathe out; for any closed movements, such as "Playing Pipa", breathe in. For any up movements, such as "Golden Roster Stand with one Leg", breathe in; for any down movements, such as "Snake Creeps Down", breathe out.

The length of all the breaths are related to the movements in these cases. Longer movements will need longer breaths. Try to even out your movements as much as possible, so your breaths will be even, deep, long and slow.

Copyright by Huan's Tai Chi 2011