Wudang Taiji Practice
1. Head and Neck
In Wudang Taiji practice, the requirement for the head posture is to raise the head naturally and to avoid the neck muscle being stiff. The head should not be slanted or shaking freely. The movement of the head and neck should be consistent with the twisting and moving of the chest, abdomen, and waist, Their movement should change directions according to body movement and posture. Do not twist the neck. If the head is shaking freely, the movements may appear sluggish. This also affects the coordination and integrity of the movements of the upper and lower limbs. Although movements may go up and down, spinning and circling changeably and flexibly, the head should always be suspended upright.
Head and Torso Connected
Raising the head does not mean only to thrust the head up. If the head is thrust up too hard, the neck will be stiff, thus interfering with the flexibility and turning of the head. On the other hand, also try to avoid the neck muscles being too soft and weak. The head movement should not be disconnected from the trunk movement. If it is, the connection between the lower limbs, trunk, and the upper part of the body will lose integrity.
Natural Facial Expression
The facial expression should be natural, with the chin drawn back slightly. Use mainly nasal breathing. The mouth closes naturally. The upper teeth touch the lower teeth, the tongue curls up, and the breath sinks to the dantian. Eyes follow the turning of the body, looking fixedly at the opponent. Try to look calm and mild; do not carry happiness, anger, sadness, meditation, worry, or pondering on the face. concentrate the mind, take a breath (bring up the qi), and brave forward when the chance comes. Hold your breath (return the qi to the dantian) and draw the whole body back when you need to withdraw.
The chest and backside should be natural in Wudang taiji practice. Avoid extending the chest out or holding it inward too much. The correct posture of the chest creates a feeling of being pulled up from the upper side and drawn down from the lower side. When striking outward with the fist and palm, the back arm muscles should extend hard toward both sides. In this way the muscles in the back will maintain a tension in four directions. Holding the chest means to extend the chest but not to stretch it. This is associated with pulling the back up. If the back is pulled up properly, one will naturally hold the chest.
Always Pay Attention to the Waist
The waist plays a very important role in Wudang taiji practice. The Classics say “The waist and the spine dominate the whole body. Pay attention to the waist at all times.” This emphasizes the important role of the waist. It is the key joint in body movement. It plays a very important role in changing body movements and in adjusting and maintaining the center of gravity of the whole body. Whether moving forward or backward, turning or spinning, one should consciously sink down and relax the waist in order to help the breath (qi) go down.
When sinking down the waist, one should pay attention to being upright, easy, and comfortable, The waist and abdomen should not stick forward or backward. In that case, it will affect the flexibility when changing and transforming movements. Sinking the waist will enhance the strength of the two legs to steady the lower part and to make the movements changeable and flexible, not sluggish.
The Body is Like a Bow
If the waist is soft and weak, one will lose the center of gravity in the whole movement, fists and feet will drift accordingly when moving out. Therefore, make sure to sink the waist down to have it play the “dominating” role. The Classics say “Bending forward or backward makes the body unsteady. Leaning or yielding to left or right is a body defect.” They also say “The body is like a bow; the fist is like an arrow.” If the body is not set upright on the middle line, it cannot play the role of a bow. Movements will be fragmented, floating, and weak. Sinking the waist will also make the waist extend loosely and naturally, full of elasticity, thus becoming the joint of the up and down movements.
In practice, only when one pays attention to sinking the waist and raising the head will his spinal cord become upright. Then the spinal cord will help collect energy and exert force in transforming the movements, extending and contracting, turning and bending the body. However, one should not twist and swing the body meaninglessly. Hold back the hips, pull up the anus, and keep the body in a steady state. Be sure not to protrude or wring the hips left and right. The correct way of holding in the hips is to contract the sphincter muscle slightly, just as one holds in his bowel. In this way one can restrain protruding the hips, ensuring the trunk will be straight.
3. Legs and Feet
Wudang Taiji practice highly requires appropriate stepping. The steadiness of the whole body depends on the important role of the two legs. The requirements for the legs are to be correct, flexible, steady, and curved. When moving the center of gravity, special attention should be paid to the positions of the feet, the extent of bending the legs and the force of tramping on the ground when going forward and backward. The change of the center of gravity, whether real or unreal, is closely related to the coherence of the movements.
Move Like a Cat
When legs are moving, one should always relax the hips, grip the knees, and grip the toes against the ground firmly so that the movement of the lower limbs will be light but firm. The lower limbs should easily move forward and backward. The Classics say “Quick hands, light feet. Be like a cat when moving and acting. Straight mind, shrewd eyes. You will win when you coordinate the hands and feet well.” Therefore, the body movement and stepping should be quick and prompt.
The feet should be firmly set. Hips, knees, and feet should be closely coordinated, never becoming slack. When stepping forward, use the thighs to urge the knees and the knees to urge the feet. When holding steps, the waist should contract the force, the knees should grip the force inward slightly and the feet should be planted on the ground evenly with stamping force. Meanwhile, the bending of the legs should be appropriate. Bending them too much will cause them to become stiff; not enough and they will become weak. In four-to-six stepping, the shin bone of the front leg keeps an angle of 115 degrees with the ground; the back leg keeps an angle of 65 degrees with the ground. In six-to-four stepping, the leg position is just the opposite.
4. Arms and Shoulders
In Wudang Taiji practice, the requirement is to relax the shoulder and to lower the elbows. In movement, pay attention to loosely sinking the joints of the shoulders and extending them outward consciously, so that the arms have room to turn around and the elbows can be pulled in and sink loosely. In this way, not only can the arms stretch smoothly, but also the arm muscles will form a force, so they will become strong and firm in the movement.
Open the chest, sink the breath
When sinking the shoulders combines with opening the chest, this can also help the breath (qi) sink down, making the lower limbs become more steady. Keep both elbows at the ribs; both hands at the chest. One follows the other closely when attacking forward and protecting backward. In Wudang Taiji practice, the stretching and bending of the arms should not be merely straight in and out, back and forth, but also should coordinate precisely with the turning action of the wrists and forearms.
Palms are substantial
In Wudang Taiji practice, the requirements for the hand movements are: For all the posture which require holding back the palms, the palms should be slightly reserved, but not soft or floating. when the hands are pushing forward, besides paying attention to sinking shoulders and lowering elbows, palms should also spin inward slowly while weighing down the wrists slightly. The bending, stretching, turning, and circling of the hands should be movable and flexible. Push out the palms naturally. The finger branch apart naturally. The thumb extends up and wide apart. The index finger opens up slightly to enable the strongest force. The fists are rolled solid but not stiff. All the muscles of the forearms exert force but the shoulder muscles should relax.
Neither too much nor too little
In Wudang Taiji practice, the movements of the hands and shoulders should be well coordinated and consistent. If the hand stretches too far ahead, the arm will become straight. Thus, the requirement of sinking shoulders and lowering the elbows cannot be met. If the shoulders and elbows are sunk too much and the extension of the hand forward is neglected, this results in bending the arm too much to exert a strong force. So. in action, the arms should keep a certain curve. When pushing the palm and drawing back the arm, do not stop the force abruptly. Only in this way can the force be kept continuous, light but not floating, sinking but not stiff, flexible and natural.
© 1991 Liu, Yuzeng; trans. Terri Morgan