The First Classic

It seems a little strange to me that a book called T’ai Chi Classics should devote only 36 pages to three classics and most of those 36 pages are devoted to commentary on the classics rather than to the classics themselves.

The first classic is a treatise by Master Chang San-Feng and consists of short, pithy statements like:

The internal energy, ch’i, roots at the feet, then transfers through the legs and is controlled from the waist, moving eventually through the back to the arms and fingertips.

Which, in turn, is followed by a longer, though still short in its own right, commentary from Waysun Liao:

Master Yang Chien-hou (1839-1917), son of Master Yang Lu- chan, liked to remind his disciples of this principle many times during his daily T’ai Chi instruction.

After achieving some success in ch’i awareness practice, the T’ai Chi student should learn how to lower his ch’i feeling down to the ground and then project it upward from his feet through his legs. Therefore, in T’ai Chi practice, always keep your knees bent slightly to allow flexibility; never straighten your legs completely. This will allow the vibration of your internal energy to be transmitted from your feet through your knees to your waist.

Note that the T’ai Chi Classics use the term root, which emphasizes the importance of the feet. Both feet must always stay firmly attached to the ground, as strongly as the roots of a big tree. Also, the feeling of internal cenergy must penetrate deep into the ground, instead of merely being attached to the surface.

After projecting the ch’i upward, your waist serves as a transmitter; it controls, guides, and distributes the direction and amount of internal energy.

Keep your back and your entire torso in a vertical position, to allow the vibrations to travel freely upward through your back to your shoulders. Keep your shoulders completely relaxed to allow the transmission of ch’i down to your elbows and up to your fingertips. Always keep your elbows dropped and relaxed; your wrists are relaxed, but not limp.

It was this idea of “rooting,” of drawing energy from the earth, that first struck me in T’ai Chi and reminded me of Taoism’s roots in shamanism, drawing your power from earth forces. Perhaps that’s why I’ve particularly enjoyed it when T’ai Chi groups have met in the summer to practice in wooded areas.

It’s a practice that seems to have been ignored in Western culture, unless you’ve practiced being a lineman in football or learned how keeping low can help you to react more quickly to your opponent’s movements in basketball.

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