Monday, April 6, 2015

The concept of Song in tai chi

The practice of tai chi can be made to jump start easily in a matter of weeks, or it can be very difficult to jump start irrespective of years of experience. Firstly, of foremost importance, it depends on the attitude of a student, and secondly it depends on whether or not one has a good teacher. Sometimes when I made this assertion,  I would be responded with this saying, "Is it not that many people, in particular old folks, just imitate daily their sifu's movements of standard tai chi forms and got good benefit out of it?" My reply is yes. Indeed imitation of the outer form of a seasoned practitioner can deliver some good results, provided firstly that he spends time diligently to imitate every morning, like many middle-aged plus students learning the art in the public park of Hong Kong; but then a student truly needs to imitatively practising the form daily, which unfortunately is not always possible for most people unless they are retired. And secondly he needs also to satisfy himself always be at the elementary level.

For an eager student, the correct attitude is very important. And this attitude is simple to understand if not to actually hold and practise: treating any minute internal changes/feelings inside one's body as a progress. The old saying goes: always treat your cup of tea as half full instead of half empty. If you consider any minute changes as value you will increase it, and if you consider any minute change as useless "noise", you will throw it away. In the latter case, you will always be at square one.

For example, when I teach a student the concept of Song. The good student will always say, I can feel just a little bit, but I will practise more at home to increase that feeling. The mediocre student will say: Sifu, I don't feel anything, perhaps I don't have the talent for tai chi like other fellow students who have. Empirically speaking, both might have felt just the same amount of internal chi during the lesson!

Let me talk about the concept of Song, which afterall is the title of this article. Song is one of the most common requirement of tai chi. What is Song? Song is Open 松开, instead of total relaxation 松懈. And Song should primarily be applied to opening the major joints (shoulder and pelvic). The feeling is half-Song/half-tight, a condition of dynamic equilibrium under which chi can be generated (the classic explanation is:  Like Song not song and like tight not tight 似松非松,似紧非紧)。During zhan zhuang, the state of Song can generate substantial chi at the joints that can be directed by Yi (mind 意) to guide the chi thus generated to move towards the extremities of the limbs. Doing standard tai chi form, the ability of Song is fundamentally essential to doing the round form in which the ball and socket joints are required to float inside the sockets.

What is required for a good learning of Song and other concepts? Focused study and practice to increase the little droplets of water to a full glass. For a beginning student, both of the following attitudes are wrong: (1) I feel nothing and (2) Thank you sifu, I am there already! To the first, I will say:  You won't learn anything if you continue to say you are not feeling anything at all, for the second I will say: Don't be overjoyed, you just happened to be standing at the starting point!

Practice is everything - even for the bright and eager student.

Opening and floating in ball and socket joints

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