Two aspects define this exercise. First, develop the technique of using the body like a ‘bow’, and second, in so doing ‘generate’ huge amounts of energy! To achieve this ability, the physical body must cultivate three-roots, a) the ‘lower’ or ‘foot’ root (脚根 - Jiao Gen), b) the ‘middle’ or ‘waist’ root (腰根 - Yao Gen) and c) the ‘top’ or ‘head’ root (顶根 - Ding Gen). The ‘middle’ or ‘waist’ root is inherently linked to the ‘dantian’ (丹田) - or ‘centre of energy self-cultivation field’ situated two-inches below the navel and also referred to as the ‘Life Gate’ (命门 - Ming Gen). The ‘head’ (top) and ‘foot’ (lower) roots should be visualised as being ‘set’ firmly in place. The ‘waist’ (middle) root – which inherently and continuously connects the ‘top’ root to the ‘lower’ root - is then completely ‘free’ to move in a forward and back direction which does not break the all-round ‘rootedness’ and does not disrupt the harmony of the all-round alignment of the three-roots. As the ‘top’ root is linked to rarefied consciousness and divine creativity, this sense of ‘righteousness’ should permeate the other two ‘roots’ and saturates the entire mind and body of the individual practitioner. This ‘divine’ consciousness flows from the ‘head’, through the body (‘middle’ root) and down into the ground (through the ‘foot’ or ‘lower’ root). This downward flow is inherently linked with the forces of gravity which is an amalgamation of Jing (精), qi (氣) and shen (神). This combined force hits the ground and ‘rebounds’ upwards re-tracing its direction of travel. Although this energy circulates around and through the 12-14 qi energy channels that run through the entire human body – this energy-process also travels through the centre of the bones (both upwards and downwards) developing the inner marrow and outer bone structure).
What does this mean in practical purposes? A person who is so ‘rooted’ remains immovable when an outside force is placed against any part of heir still body. The more pressure that is exerted – the stronger their immovability becomes. Although the head and feet do not move – the waist act as a shock-absorber. Such a practitioner can absorb, re-direct and divert all incoming energy through an expert ‘waist’ positioning and subtle repositioning. Indeed, such an ongoing procedure will ‘tire’ a continuously ‘pushing’ opponent. All incoming force is redistributed through the hollow centre of the bones and safely into the ground. This simultaneously disarms an aggressor and ‘strengthens’ the immovability’ of such a practitioner. The expert positioning of the skeletal frame allows the movable waist to infinitely divert incoming force away from achieving its objective of ‘uprooting’. Once the ‘integrity’ of the opponent’s strength is broken, the movable ‘waist’ can be used to ‘repulse’ the opponent and ‘uproot’ his stance.
Righteousness and ‘stillness’ are identical. When movement is correct – then ‘righteousness’ and ‘movement’ are correct. The posture can rotate and turn 180 degrees and the bow can be drawn. In an instant the bow can be ‘released’ and a tremendous force emitted in a focused direction. In reality, if the ‘lower’ root can be maintained, the other two ‘roots’ can be used to remarkable effect in combat – moving and adjusting to an opponent's movements and positionings. However, just as opponents can be unpredictable, an advanced martial artist must decide which ‘root’ to keep in-place and which ‘roots’ to move! This is how victory is assured. Stay polite and move around naturally seeking-out the openings. When it is time to deploy your advanced skills then the concept of ‘Yi’ (意) or ‘intention’ comes into play. When ‘rootedness’ has been properly achieved, then everything is achieved without any undue effort. Energy can be built-up in any area of the body and ‘released’ as your ‘intention’ sees fit. In this regard, ‘intention’, ‘righteousness’ and ‘rootedness’ are all mirrored in one another with one not existing without the other two. This type of unified power can be developed and used in any circumstance and always prevails over those with less spiritual development and martial arts skills. Just as the Jing and qi energy flows through all the energy channels and generates ‘shen’ as an empty mind – martial power of this kind appears to manifest without any undue effort. The secret, of course, is that the practitioner has spent years training the mind and body to achieve this ability.
The ‘intention’ is the product of ‘stilling’ and ‘expanding’ human consciousness so that it permeates out of the head area and traverses through the entire body and out into the environment in a 360-degree deployment. The developed ‘intention’ can draw jing and qi into a certain area for health purposes, healing and longevity. With the case of ‘shen’ developed from his congealment of ‘jing’ and ‘qi’ - all the advanced spiritual states are achieved. When combined with bodyweight and the principle of skeletal alignment – a deep and inherent combat power is formed as if from nothing! Bodyweight does not exist outside of qi and jing – but firmly within these facets of traditional Chinese thought. Bodyweight has always been an important facet of this ‘hidden’ power which makes more sense in a modern context. When its presence is clearly ‘perceived’ - then is falls firmly within the context of ‘shen’ - when shen is used to equate with an expanded conscious expansion! With ‘awareness’ tremendous vigour and force are generated. The mind and body can function to a greater extent of healthiness and be prepared for a successful martial encounter. Intention becomes the essence of Taijiquan (太极拳) and the foundational ability to both ‘adapt’ to circumstance and ‘generate’ tremendous force.
The main question Is ‘how?’ to use ‘intention’ to generate ‘effortlessly’ power? Within Taijiquan – the ‘Grand Ridge-pole Fist’ - the essence of this practice evolves around the principle of ‘frame’ (架 - Jia). Without understanding the use of ‘frame’ - there can be no ‘effortless’ power through the use of intention. For many people the question becomes ‘how to beat others without effort’? For most, this notion seems to contradict the reality of the material world and the use of ‘obvious’ force to defeat others. With regards to advanced Taijiquan practice there are ‘two’ forces which need to be mastered. 1) is the bodyweight which exists within the body of the practitioner, whilst 2) is the bodyweight which exists within the body of the opponent. The first drops down through the centr of the bones – hits the ground (thus ‘rooting’ a practitioner) - and then ‘rebounds’ upwards creating a reservoir of immense and effortless power which can be ‘emitted’ from any part of the body as the ‘intention’ sees fit! This process of modern physics ‘mirrors’ perfectly the thinking of Chinese traditional thinking and certainly does not contradict it! This amounts to 1) using our own strength and 2) using the strength of others. Most people remain complete unaware of these two methods of generating effortless power. Instead, they over-balanced, always ‘pressing down’ and stopping the natural rebounding force that gravity ensures is always being generated. To change this habit – the capacity to sense ‘intention’ from the ground to the top of the head must be cultivated. Instead of tensing the muscle to achieve this – the muscles are completely relaxed to allow the rebounding force to move up through the structure without hindrance. Sensing this upwards movement is the exercise of ‘intention’. This is combined with the ‘awareness’ of the bodyweight ‘sinking’ this energy into the ground and the entire cycle of ‘intention’ is attained... The qi (氣) sinks into the dantian whilst the head is ‘suspended’ and ‘buoyant’ - as if floating on an invisible cushion of air or held-up by an invisible silk cord. The top and bottom are united by a single ‘awareness’ and ‘permeating’ energy.
The most difficult aspect of generating ‘effortless energy’ is learning to distinguish between a deep ‘loosening’ (松 - Song) of the body-structures and a superficial ‘relaxation’ (弛 - Chi) of those same surface-structures. Although it is true that ‘relaxation’ is the first step of training whereby the muscles, ligaments and tendons are freed of habitual ‘tension’ - this is only the beginning as the ‘intention’ or ‘awareness’ permeates these structures and generates an entirely ‘new’ organisational structure that appears sub-cellular in origination. As the bodily-structures re-orientate (like the branches of a pine-tree ‘fanning-out’) energy travels through the area in a totally different way. This is why superficial ‘relaxation’ gives-way to a profound ‘loosening’. The bottom is ‘rooted’ and connected to the ‘head’ by the ‘middle’ or ‘waist’ area with no breaks in energy transmission. Superficial relaxation must transform into a state of profound ‘loosening’ or the body-structures will never be fully transformed. Indeed, the term ‘middle embracing’ (中正 - Zhong Zheng) refers to how the ‘middle’ communicates and relates to its surroundings. This can refer to its inner or outer surroundings and is not limited to any one dimension. It is both a psychological and physical reality. Another way of looking at this is the relationship between the ‘centre’ and the ‘periphery’. This can be summed-up as simultaneously embracing the states of ‘moving’ and ‘non-moving’. Whenever the centre moves it is always balanced and in harmony with the ‘still’ periphery – when the periphery moves it is always in harmony with the ‘still’ centre. The centre must be made profoundly ‘still’ in body and mind so that the nature and quality of its communication with what is forward, back. up, down, left and right is profound and all-embracing. Unnecessary movement is divisive, whereas ‘stillness’ generates harmony as the perfect balance between yin-yang (阴阳) relationship. When ‘stillness’ and ‘movement’ must interact, then it must be as a dynamic and symmetrical balancing of well-timed opening and closing – of allowing bodyweight ‘in’ and allowing ‘bodyweight ‘out’ - of allowing the opponent’s presence ‘in’ or keeping the opponent's presence ‘out’. Traditionally, this is explained through the mastery of the concepts of the ‘eight gates and five steps’ (八门五步 - Ba Men Wu Bu) which utilise the dropping and rising force (bodyweight and qi, etc) which opens into wide spirals or is ‘pulled’ back in to a ‘still’ centre.
The ‘eight gates and five steps’ represent the expert application of yin-yang interaction, and the application of advanced Taiji principles. However, without first realising and mastering the ‘still’ centre that is ‘all-embracing’ there can be no talk of perfecting the ‘eight gates and five steps’ - as the ‘eight gates and five steps’ arise solely from the mastery of the ‘all-embracing’ and ‘still’ centre. For most who learn taijiquan, however, these concepts mean nothing as they are not learned or even heard of. Simply practicing the movements of Taijiquan with no expert guidance is a fruitless task as you will remain just as ignorant ten years down the line as when you started. Study and seek instruction. Awareness is the key as a good instructor will teach a practitioner how sense their bodyweight and ‘feel’ its rebounding force. Without this – Taijiquan is just a set of meaningless exercises. This is achieved by a superficial relaxation being transformed into a profound ‘loosening’. Hard work must be a daily habit. Do not give-up and seek to achieve the maximum with the minimum. Calm the mind and expand awareness into the environment. Practice within this awareness so that mind and body unite and become one. Improve one aspect of training every day. If practice is of a good quality – then self-defence ability will manifest in an easy manner. Remember – even if the method is correct – Taijiquan might well take a long time to master. Seek good instruction.
Some people say: ‘Taijiquan can't be taught, IT can only be learned by experience.’ This is because many people possess vague notions of attainting ‘enlightenment’ (悟 - Wu), but no real knowledge of how to go about achieve it. Instead, they repeat superficial movements in cycles of performance within which there exists no transforming mechanism to ‘shift’ the structure from one manifestation to another. Even at the birth-place of Taijiquan, thousands have gathered over the last one-hundred years to practice the movements of the Taijiquan style – and yet very few can a) fight with the style, b) live long lives or c) attain enlightenment through such practices. This is true even of people who learn from well-known teachers with established lineages. Over-all, this leads to a deterioration of Taijiquan ability. The secret of mastering Taijiquan in all its aspects lies with the mastering of the placement and functionality of the ‘waist’ or ‘middle gate’, for when this understanding is lacking, the entire edifice of Taijiquan ability cannot be established!
Authentic Taijiquan technique, regardless of style or frame, depends entirely upon the perfection of the use of the ‘waist’. This explains why there are many references to the ‘waist’ and ‘waist management’ spread throughout the Classical literature of China. Such examples are ‘the waist is the master’, ‘the waist is the driver’, ‘the waist unites and controls the upper and lower body through the turning of the spine’, and ‘the mind’s awareness penetrates and controls the waist’ - are just a few examples of the extent of this importance. However, according to observations, many practitioners, especially beginners, are still not clear about this. Many chose to stand bolt upright, crooked or overly slanted; some do not know how to loosen their hips; others only know how to swing their arms but don’t know how to turn their waists, and their movements appear awkward and stiff. The analysis of the reasons for these errors is mainly due to an unclear understanding of the position, function and basic essentials of waist movement found within genuine Taijiquan principle and technique. The point is this - If you practice Taijiquan without training your waist, it will be difficult to improve your skills throughout your life. The author of this article would like to assist martial artists in China (and abroad) through sharing my own experience and humble insights. To sum-up the important position and function of waist movement, there are two main points:
太极拳特别注重腰部活动。经典著作中讲得很多，如“腰为主宰”“腰为驱使” “源动腰脊转股肱” “刻刻留心在腰问”等，都是说腰在太极拳运动中的重要性。但据观察，不少练拳者，特别是初学者对此还不够明确。有的立身不正，歪歪斜斜；有的不知松腰松胯；也有的只知旋臂而不知转腰，动作显得别扭、僵硬。分析原因，主要是对腰部活动在太极拳运动中的地位、作用和基本要领认识不清所致。正是：练拳不练腰，终生艺难高。笔者愿以自己的体会和浅识拙见，向拳友们讨教。腰部运动的重要地位和作用概括起来，主要有四点。
Shifu Adrian Chan-Wyles (b. 1967) - Lineage (Generational) Inheritor of the Ch'an Dao Hakka Gongfu System.