Starting Out in Tai Chi Chuan

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If you’ve ever tried playing a piano or a guitar for the first time, you can probably remember how awkward those first attempts were. The instrument was something foreign, and your fingers wouldn’t cooperate. Your teacher probably gave you musical scales to learn and told you to practice, practice, practice.

If you stayed with the program, things started to get a little more familiar and a little more comfortable. The same holds true for beginners in Tai Chi Chuan, the first steps are unfamiliar and sometimes awkward. But in time, each movement becomes more familiar and more comfortable. Just as a well-constructed building needs a solid foundation to stand on, Tai Chi Chuan must develop from a solid stance and good body structure. Of course, a good teacher is essential.

Starting out

Yang Cheng Fu, third generation grandmaster of Yang Family Tai Chi Chuan, was the first to teach Tai Chi Chuan to the public. His well-known curriculum would later become the basis for teaching Yang Style Tai Chi Chuan worldwide. Some important points he stressed were:

Hold the head as if suspended.
Hollow the chest.

Stein/Starting Out
Relax the waist and coccyx area.
Sink the shoulders and drop the elbows.
Keep the knee over the toe. Do not collapse the knee inward.
Coordinate the body.
Keep the movement flowing.

For the beginner, this seems like a lot of things to juggle in the air at one time. But to use the music lesson analogy again, we’ll start off with one note at a time.

We’ll start with the basic standing posture. Remember, this basic stance is the foundation of Tai Chi Chuan. Here is a sequence for aligning the body into a single unit:

Stand comfortably with the legs shoulder-width apart.
Your chin is down and your eyes are looking straight ahead.
Your shoulders are relaxed.
Your arms are hanging loosely by your side.
Keep the chest relaxed but not caved in.
The buttocks are slightly tucked under you.
Knees are slightly bent and in line with the toes.

Your body should feel like a single piece construction. But the unity doesn’t result from muscle tension; it comes from relaxation. If you stand properly, you should feel a slight pressure in the middle of your feet, or what the Chinese refer to as “the bubbling well.” You should feel comfortable and connected. Afterwards, every movement in the Tai Chi Chuan should feel like that, aligned and centered. What is important is that you begin to feel an “inner” connection of the Stein/Starting Out whole body.

Review the steps for the basic standing posture, relaxing with each successive step, from the head down. This is the very “root” of Tai Chi Chuan. The form starts and ends with this posture.

When you practice basic standing, remember that the middle road is best. Your muscles shouldn’t be tense but they also shouldn’t be limp. After a while, things will begin to fall naturally into place.