As set out in the previous section, the purpose of Gu Dang, and of Tai Chi practice in general, is as follows:
To understand, copy (reflect) and embody nature.
So how do we begin to fulfil this ambitious purpose? Firstly, by identifying and employing nature's first principle as the basis for our learning.
In nature and the cosmos, energy efficiency is king; it is the key criterion for survival and our successful evolution depends on it. All the core principles are orientated towards bringing about optimal efficiency, because this alone guarantees effectiveness. Being guided by this powerful principle also yields genuine insight, creativity and awakens us to our true potential.
Core Principles for body and movement:
1. Don't fight forces directly, always take path of least resistance.
If you fight forces directly, the first person you fight is yourself. The second person you fight is your opponent, partner or friend. With this attitude, even if you 'win', you have already lost.
2. Work with gravity.
We tend to treat all forces acting on our bodies (including gravity) as something our muscles need to 'fight against' or 'resist' rather than 'work with'. This is disastrous for our breathing, movement and overall body function. We can work with gravity by doing the opposite of resisting which is to relax. But you will also find that as soon as you relax, your posture wants to change, partly because by relaxing you have released a force, linked to gravity, that wants to go somewhere. So if the process of relaxation doesn't involve postural change it will stop before it has properly begun.
3. Link relaxation to postural change.
As noted above, if we are to learn how to relax properly (and sustain relaxation) then we need to create dynamism in our postures, so that they become fluid & responsive to the need to continuously change, according to the demands of the situation. So unlike many forms of Tai Chi and Qigong, the Gu Dang approach views 'correct' posture not in fixed, static terms but as a dynamic thing.
4. The spine is the engine; the core directs & controls movements
It is constant changes in the spine and pelvis that enable movement and the more the postures and movements are trained to be fluid and responsive, the more the immense power of the spine and its associated energy can be expressed. This reverses conventional logic that the limbs should power movement by pushing and pulling the torso around. Movements are directed & controlled by rotations and gyrations in the core / hips / waist.
5. Prioritise freedom, fluidity and control of internal movement.
That is, give priority to creating 'space' internally for your internal organs and other deep structures of the body (and their associated fluids) to move with the minimum of resistance. This is done by recognising all of the above principles and applying them to the spine and pelvis, so that they are given freedom to move with the minimum of resistance; to oscillate like a wave (spine) and gyrate (pelvis). This is the true purpose of authentic Qigong and Tai Chi training and produces healthy, efficient breathing, good movement, and helps to improve the condition of all the internal organs. It also provides a good foundation for harnessing and developing balanced and strong Qi (or Chi), the Chinese word for the primal (creative) life force/energy.
6. Focus on free, coordinated movement in your joints.
Gu Dang Tai Chi uses pelvic 'rocking', gyrations and a variety of small circular/rotational movements in the hips and shoulders to create more space within the joints (allowing them to open and close) and training their coordination. Focusing on the joints requires movement that is much more subtle than most people are used to, because to encourage the joints to move freely the practitioner must move slowly, prioritising control and making relatively small movements.
7. Understand the how to apply the principle of ‘Full’ and ‘Empty’.
A prerequisite of good movement is understanding how to fully channel your body weight into one leg (known as ‘Full’) and keep it there as the other leg (known as ‘Empty’) moves. Without this skill, your movement will not be optimally efficient, which also means that power will not be optimised and the impact on your joints will be more than necessary. A related skill is to be able to transfer your entire weight seamlessly into the other leg while maintaining full composure and agility.
Through this kind of training, all consciously controlled movement can then be generated through relaxing and opening (and then closing) of the joints, rather than applying force through the limbs and/or excessive upper body tension. This can have a tremendous regenerative / revitalising effect. Also, the power that this kind of movement generates is phenomenal and has to be felt directly to be appreciated and understood.
Gu Dang Tai Chi Chuan
London & SE England
t: 07812 469133