The daily practice of Tai Chi by millions of people results in numerous documented health benefits. These slow, integrated mind-body movements energize the body by moving chi energy through a series of fluid body motions called ‘form’. Form practiced correctly should involve seven basic principles: Relaxation, Concentration, Coordination, Centre, Circle, Balance, and Proportion.
James, one of Henry Wang’s senior students has been teaching Henry’s version of the Yang Form for the past 25 years. During the last five years, James has focused his teaching on recognizing the Chi element with-in the form that is so often misunderstood by many practicing Tai Chi. Sensing how energy moves and can be controlled becomes an exciting addition to the study of form. His latest focus on ‘Beyond the Form’ can be applied to all Tai Chi disciplines because it recognizes an essence in Chi awareness that should be present in all Tai Chi styles. Without sensitivity to the presence of Chi, that comes with many years of teaching and study, a teacher or master will have difficulty helping students achieve the awareness of Chi movement. Henry Wang introduced Search Centre to his senior students enhancing a higher level of sensitivity to the awareness of their internal Chi. Search Centre is similar to ‘Push Hands’ but normally does not involve any physical pushingin a competitive way. The goal is to match and sense the other person’s energy field while searching for opportunities to up root or move them with a focused line of Chi directed at their centre. The emphasis in Search Centre is on taking turns, giving partners feedback on what they are attempting to do with their Chi probes. This develops ‘Ting’ or the ability to listen to what the partner is doing with their Chi. As ‘Ting’ awareness increases, so does softness and relaxation, which further enhances the ability to listen or feel what is happening to one’s own Chi, as well as your partners. Developing softness and the ability to yield to physical contact with-out losing the integrity of the form’s structure should be a priority for all serious students.
The sensitivity James has developed becomes a valuable teaching tool. James is able to sense and feel when the seven Principles are being correctly applied in the student’s form. This enables students to understand the difference between “empty form” and form that is more vital or alive. The goal for students is tolearn how to control the direction and strength of Chi flow from the root to any point of focus such as a partner’s centre. To do this they have to adapt their structure to softly mirror every movement made by their partner or opponent.
Correct form utilizes the seven principles enabling the body to flow as one unit from one position to the next while never compromising the root. A strong sense of being grounded or rooted should occur throughout the form. Daily practice of form and relaxation techniques enable students to develop ‘Ting’ or the ability to listen to their own energy movement and eventually their partners. Ting becomes useful in making Tai Chi a Martial Art. Being able to sense and stay slightly ahead of the partners movements gives the receiving or listening partner an advantage.
The gentle practice of Search Centre becomes an interesting game that can be played well into the later stages of one’s life. Serious study can develop incredible powers that are hard to explain when witnessed for the first time. Henry Wang and a few others demonstrate this incredulous phenomenon of Chi control that can be viewed onYou Tube. Go to: Henry Wang Tai Chi School also Adam Mizner Heaven Man Earth.
Bio: James actively coached High School rugby for boys and girls, as well as teams of men and women, in his first 35 years as a teacher. Coaching others has been an important aspect of his life. When he injured his back at 45, he realized his rugby coaching days were numbered.
The study of Tai Chi changed his life in a number of ways. Numerous rugby injuries became less bothersome as muscle and spinal balance began to improve. Work with ‘at risk’ students in the public school became less stressful as he learned to be less reactive. Tai Chi emphasizes overcoming the natural reflex of ‘fight or flight’. Learning to resist this automatic reflex or temptation makes difficult situations easier to handle and the resulting stress becomes less.
Replacing Rugby coaching with teaching others Tai Chi filled his need to help others with an activity that would enrich their lives. The need to teach others correctly enhanced his own learning. Weekly practice of Search Centre honed listening skills. Classes teaching beginners and advanced students form eventually helped him distil the ‘essence’ from the Tai Chi form. Teaching these finer points to others has provided him witha passion that has become one of the major focuses of his life.
The introduction to Henry Wang in the fall of 1987 piqued James’s interest when he observed how easy Henry could send students flying across the room with the lightest of touches. The mystery ofthis phenomenon became a consuming challenge for greater understanding over the next 30 years. Fortunately, a handful of students, living locally became equally interested in participating in biweekly sessions to practice Henry’s Search Centre.
Initially, changing the game from Push Hands to Search Centre was a challenge for most of the students. James’s rugby background enabled him to use many of his hard pushing skills to up-root others. Henry would regularly admonish the group to no avail in the early years. Gradually, hardness was replaced with softness enabling more sensitivity to develop.
New awareness of the centres located inside the personal space, or globe, as Henry calls it, made Search Centre more meaningful. The Search Centre group began to understand the sensation of pushing each other using only Chi directed towards their partners centre with intention. Softness became the new measuring stick for progress. With softness, the ability to understand or ‘Ting’ the partner became clearer. Regular feed-back from cooperative partners resulted in more awareness, softness, sensitivity or ‘Ting’.
The largest struggle for the group was resisting the urge to win by using ‘Ting’ to neutralize their partner before physically pushing back. Hard physical contact between partners results in the loss of sensitivity, resulting in both partners becoming hard at the points of physical contact. Search Centre, played properly, becomes an energy game using softness and chi to enhance awareness and should not be mixed with the more physical Push Hands until both partners have developed a high level of ‘Ting’.
The goal of any encounter is to develop a deeper understanding of one’s structure and how it can be used for self-defence or as a Martial Art. Structure can be achieved by practicing each posture in the form correctly. Eventually with practice and feed-back, any movement between the postures will be equally as strong and connected to the root. The moving structure becomes globe shaped enabling body contact to occur at the outer surface of the globe while it remains connected to the root. Soft contact relays information to the body about how the two centres connected. Once the centre becomes locked on, Chi can be directed towards the aggressor’s centre easily throwing them off balance.
Tai Chi should never be about going on the offensive first unless the partner has volunteered to take the role as the aggressor. The goal should be to neutralize the partner’s physical attack with rooted structure before redirecting the chi direction to lead the partner towards a path of their least resistance. Chi focused from a rooted centre towards the unrooted centre of the physical aggressor, enables the game to be played with little or no physical force. This enables the force from Chi to be identified and enhanced through regular practice of Search Centre. Hence the quote “Four ounces moves a thousand pounds”.
Sensitivity training requires cooperative partners who are willing to give feed-back. Information builds confidence to help to overcome the normal fight or flight response. Mixing natural physical reflexes or reactions only confuses progress. Dedication to matching Chi and physical movement in form practice develops better structure and a deeper root. Search Centre practice develops sensitivity and softness while sinking the Chi. Sinking the Chi builds the density of the Chi within the body. Form and Search Centre require regular practice. One without the other will slow overall progress.
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