Discussion About Relaxation

One of the criteria to determine the accuracy of Tai Chi Chuan practice is "song" or relaxation.

Relaxation is a concept. It is not visible, cannot be touched, it is difficult to describe. If someone executed relaxation correctly in Tai Chi Chuan practice, everyone knows. It can only be taught orally with physical demonstration. The Tai Chi Chuan Classics said that in order to obtain the correct Tai Chi Chuan knowledge, it much be transmitted orally. Yang Cheng Fu once said to his students, "If I do not explain it to you, you can spend your whole lifetime and still not understand."

A student from Singapore once asked Tung Yen Chieh, a student of Yang Cheng Fu, for advanced instruction in Tai Chi Chuan. Tung secretly passed a sealed red envelop to this student and instructed the student to open the envelop only at home when there is nobody around. The student followed the instruction and obtained the Chinese character "Song" without any explanation. Later, Tung told the student that he himself was still searching for the meaning of "song" in his own Tai Chi Chuan training.

Relaxation is a word everybody understands and does all the time. Sleeping is the best example. We spend 1/3 of our time sleeping. Since we know how to sleep, it seems logical to conclude that we should also know how to relax. However, sleeping is not Tai Chi Chuan. Sitting, laying down, and standing are some of the ways of relaxing; they require the body to be still.

In Tai Chi Chuan practice, the body has to move continuously. In push hand exercise, the body has to move under competitive situation. Relaxation in Tai Chi Chuan is so much more difficult to do because we have been trained in life that activities always involved power. When we write something down on paper, the fingers hold the pen together with power. When we ski, we need power on the hands and feet. Even when we eat, there is power on the fingers to hold the knife and fork. Every physical activity we do, we apply power. Tai Chi Chuan requires the practitioner to break this habit; it requires the mind to work, not the physical. This is why it is more difficult. It is said that habits die hard, but if we can break this habit, the potential benefit is infinite. Tai Chi Chuan activities do not ask us to remove all the power. However, there are many Tai Chi Chuan practitioners today who think that relaxation demands the removal of all power; therefore, when they practice Tai Chi Chuan and related activities, their Tai Chi Chuan movement is so soft that it seems like spaghetti.

The correct Tai Chi Chuan movement should be both soft and firm. This is what the Tai Chi Chuan classic calls "Yin component and Yang component existing together." One component cannot exist by itself. In push hand exercise, relaxation is like a bouncing ball. When you push it, it goes down; when you let it go, it bounces back again.

Tai Chi Chuan is the only Chinese martial art system that requires complete relaxation throughout all the movements. It is not only the external such as the body and four limbs but also the internal as well. The Tai Chi Chuan classic says that if there is internal relaxation, the chi will rise and circulate the whole body. From this relaxation the muscles will not inhibit the flow, and the blood and chi will flow throughout the body. Yang Cheng Fu said that the body has meridian channels just as the ground has water pipes. When there is no blockage in the pipes, the water can go through. When there is no blockage in the channels, the chi is connected.

There are three benefits of relaxation in Tai Chi Chuan training:

  1. Chi circulation: When the blood circulates without inhibition, the chi will be connected. When one practices consistently, relaxation can yield chi unity inside the body. This chi unity will coordinate the body together and produce great power. During push hands exercises, when one applies neutralization techniques, the opponent's power will find no place to root. When one applies fa jing power, it will bounce the opponent away.
  2. Understanding jing: This is very critical to Tai Chi Chuan training. There is a big difference in skill between someone understanding jing and one who does not. The Tai Chi Chuan classics said that if a practitioner does not understanding jing, one will often be controlled by an opponent. When one practices in a relaxed manner, the chi unified, making the body more sensitive and alert. From this sensitivity, one will know the opponent's chi and power in push hand exercises.
  3. Health benefits: Chinese medicine believes that when there is pain, there is blockage. When there is no blockage, there is no pain. Relaxation improves blood circulation. Therefore, diseases relating to blood are prevented. Now, we see why it is so difficult to relax in Tai Chi Chuan practice and how much benefits we drive from practicing Tai Chi Chuan.

In my recently trip to Hong Kong, I met Mr. Ip Tai Tak, the chief disciple of Yeung Sau Chung. He said that grandmaster Yeung often touched the students' hands from behind during Tai Chi Chuan solo form practice to see if they were relaxed. If they were not, Grandmaster Yeung would explain the importance of relaxation until the students got it. Mr. Ip explained to me that there is only a handful of Tai Chi Chuan practitioners who correctly understand the meaning of "song". His definition of "song" in Tai Chi Chuan practice is the removal of all power and transferring it to other areas where it is needed.

Following is the Tai Chi Chuan Classic on "song":

The whole body relaxed, the spirit focused Apply intention to circulate chi, the whole body coordinated Relaxation better for chi flow, relaxation better for blood circulation Relaxation better to transmit the intention, relaxation better for the mind Nimbleness produces understanding, relaxation produces buoyancy Release from one touch, relaxation produces chi growth All sections connecting, understanding empty and full Body unity as in one family, inside and outside harmony Listening jing will grow, produce understanding jing 8 rounds and 9 section, all should loosely together The chi at the bone marrow, apply the spirit to link them The mind and intention give order, hundred parts following All these informations based on relaxation

By Vincent Chu
Copyright V. Chu. All rights reserved.