By first seeking to develop conscious movement in yourself and realizing it in your own body, you will naturally be able to know it in others. If you seek it first in others, it is likely that you will miss it in yourself. It is essential that you understand this principle, and the ability to interpret energy follows from this. Yang Family Forty Chapters
We never realize how little of our movement is “conscious” until we practice taijiquan. Superior athletes and dancers are humbled when they encounter these mysterious movements.
“Good” taiji is so different from the way we’ve learned to move all our lives that it can be frustrating to those who are used to immediate success. It demands that we question programs our body/mind has been running for decades.
One idea I have found helpful in gongfu is “finding the sweet spot.”
Every athlete knows that hitting a ball well with a bat, racquet, or club means finding the most efficient contact point–the sweet spot. When you hit with the sweet spot the energy of the swing is transferred most efficiently (coherently) through the ball, which then flies longer and truer. If you are off just a little, the path of the ball is distorted and much of the energy is dissipated.
Well, our bodies have sweet spots too. And they are constantly changing. So they must be rediscovered moment by moment. We may have figured we mastered the standing upright thing by the time we are three years old, but we’re just getting started.
In other entries I talked about central equilibrium. That’s a way of finding the most important sweet spot. Get that one and everything goes much smoother. Lose it and you are playing catch up. Everything will be off.
Each part of each movement in a taiji form is an opportunity to bring consciousness to your body/mind and find the most coherent way to meet the challenges it faces in the moment. In solo practice, gravity provides most of the challenge. We seek to move with the minimum energy expenditure and the maximum energy potential. Beginners are encouraged to “relax” as a way of bringing awareness to the largely unconscious internal conflict that has accumulated throughout their lives.
“Conscious movement” begins the process of releasing the emergency brake that fear engages in the body/mind. We gradually shift from the “devil we know” to the highly coherent sweet spots that enable us to do some pretty remarkable things.
In this video I demonstrate the power of “wardoff energy” (peng jin). The arm rounded in front of your chest is a pretty weak muscular connection (try it). But when highly coherent and animated by consciousness it becomes a powerful tool. As in the quote above, by knowing it in myself I can then interpret the energy that I encounter and find the sweet spot.