One of the fundamental mistakes that many Tai Chi players Make.

One of the fundamental Tai Chi principles is relaxation and softness. Relaxation and softness are a very significant part of Tai Chi training because it is important for health and also for fighting the Tai Chi way. However, do not confuse things. Relaxed does not mean Collapsed. The Tai Chi masters say, “Relaxed Not Collapsed!”

I held a workshop with one of the leading Wu Tai Chi masters in the world today and he openly (and with great ability) demonstrated and shared a lot about higher level internal softness and relaxation as well as the power that can be gained by properly training these skills.

Skill or Running Away?

At the workshop we had a couple of visitors who had trained with a very well known Yang style Tai Chi master here in the USA. One of the visitors wanted to test the Wu master’s skill at push hands a bit. The visitor pushed with the master and essentially did what I call running away the entire time.

Afterwards he was quite pleased with himself because the master had not caught him and he was going on about how he was so soft and skilled that the master could not catch him.

Well, as a skilled practitioner myself who was watching this I saw several problems with the visitor’s skill. Primarily, I will say that internally he was as stiff as a board even though he was externally soft as he was running away and he had no skill except that he was externally soft and moving away. In a certain way he was relaxed, however, he was most definitely collapsed!

There was no internal skill at all.

What is the difference?

I will talk about structure and alignment first.

Proper Tai Chi structure and alignment involves many things including, but not limited to, being aligned up and down on the vertical axis. This is important for spinal health, organ health, full body breathing and for structural integrity of the bones, joints and ligaments.

Also, from a fighting standpoint defensive tactics (of which running away is only one possible option) is only half the battle.

If you cannot attack or find opportunity and take advantage of it then eventually you will get caught.

To exhibit good structural alignment and be soft at the same time is the hallmark of a good Tai Chi player and to not have these things is to essentially not have any skill at all.

If you have the opportunity to study our Chi Kung, Internal Iron Body or The Root of Internal Power methods you will find that the vertical axis and relaxation at the same time is essential to obtain the real benefits that these programs are designed to help you get.

Internal Push Hands

After watching the visitor to our workshop play push hands I politely offered to play Clear Internal Push Hands with him at a slow and easy, very non-threatening pace. I pushed him over several times and he could not stop me from moving him.

One of the basic aspects of this style of push hands is that it eliminates the ability to externally run away which means you either defend (and run away) internally or if you have no internal skill then you are unable to defend at all.

Then I let him try to push me over and he was only able to push himself off of me. He was simply to stiff and could not feel inside of me or himself at all.

He of course asked me if he could push faster and harder. I let him blast away and he got the same result.

The man was able to get some external relaxation but he had no internal skill and was collapsed in his structure which essentially in real Tai Chi terms means he did not have anything. I stayed soft while keeping my structure and so I felt funny to him, kind of like an oak tree wrapped in cotton. (By the way I am not stating that I am the best on the face of the planet at this skill I am simply stating that it is no work to beat someone who is already beating themselves.)

Your own worst enemy

After the workshop that day I asked the master why he did not knock the visitor into next week or at least go get the guy while they were pushing because it was obvious to me that the master had the ability to get him any time he wanted.

The master then shared with me about the saying, “Relaxed Not Collapsed!” and went on to say that it is considered very rude and inappropriate in China (the master lives in Shanghai) to attack or get overly aggressive with someone who is running from you.

Of course, the problem then, is that you end up with someone who thinks they have a lot of skill when they are not as good as most real beginning 3-5 year students. If the offender does not bother to investigate a bit deeper and to try a bit harder to actually find out what a teacher has then they are considered to be their own worst enemy because they will think they have a lot of skill and stay in the dark for perhaps a very long time.

For questions to asking yourself:

  • Are you soft?
  • Do you have really correct structure?
  • Are you using softness and correct structure together at the same time?
  • Can you perform Tai Chi and push hands with correct structure and profound softness internally and externally at the same time?

Personally, I am working on the skills I have posed here all of the time. I work on other skills as well but I definitely consider structure with softness to be the bedrock of a foundation for most other real and profound Tai Chi skills.

Best Regards.

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