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The Importance of Qigong in Form

By Steve Rowe

Tsou lou hsih au pu!”  Sifu called the name of the technique known as ‘brush knee’ in English, it’s repeated several times in the Yang Chen Fu tai chi form, signifying it’s importance for training the basic ideas and principles of tai chi.


“Claire, you’re coming out of your legs and loosing your root as you step forwards,” Sifu advised.


“I can’t see how I can stop doing that,” Claire said with a look of confusion on her face.


“You need to soften down into your legs before you move and use your body skills to lift the leg without coming up,” Sifu said


Body skills?  What body skills?”  Claire asked.


“Precisely…” said Sifu with a humorous wink of the eye.  “The body skills are in the chi kung exercises, just about all of the 24 exercises are contained within the stepping movement, can’t you see that?”


“I don’t really practise the exercises that much,” said Claire emptily.


“Then I’m not surprised that you haven’t developed the necessary skills in the form!” replied Sifu.


“I can’t see the point if I’m going to practise the skills in the form anyway…” ventured Claire.


“Maybe now you can see the point, because if you haven’t worked the specific skills in the exercises you aren’t able to apply them in the form” said Sifu in an exasperated tone.


e continued – “Each exercise awakens and trains a power source, that’s 24 specific ways of empowering a technique, by realising them in the exercises, you are able to discover them in a multitude of ways and variations in the form, as you move, your body will ‘find’ them as it recognises the familiar signals trained in the exercises.”


But surely, doing the form we’ll learn them anyway?” Claire asked.


Sifu answered “you’ll be training them in many different ways and will have to learn hundreds of different ways of applying the skills, when you have the exercises; you have a basic reference point that can be applied to each of them, like a code.”


“But I know the exercises; I just don’t practice them much…”  Claire was getting confused.


Sifu was having difficulty in getting his point across..  “The exercises provide the feelings that your body will recognise, there’s knowing with your thinking mind and knowing with your body, once you understand the exercises with your thinking mind you need to practice them everyday to own them with your body, when you’ve done that the body will react to the signals and connections in movement reflexively.”


“How’s this going to help me understand the stepping?” asked Claire.

Okay take Tsou lou hsih au pu position” instructed Sifu.  “Now turn to the corner for the beginning of the step,  instead of rising up as you transfer your weight into the other leg place your head upright over the supporting foot and soften up to let your body weight cascade down, this skill is in your head to foot exercises.  As you turn your head, this turns your torso and allows you to lift from the ribs, this is in your torso twisting exercises, this rotates your hips and stepping foot on the floor.”


“That really hurts my thigh muscle on the supporting leg,” moaned Claire.


“That’s what we call ‘good pain’ as your thigh muscles are taking your body weight instead of your knee joint and being trained so that you don’t move upwards to alleviate the pain,” instructed Sifu.


“Ooooookay….” Trembled Claire as her leg started to shake under the pressure.


“Now pulse from the unweighted stepping foot and flinch the leg so that it floats off the floor, this is in the second of our twisting exercises, step out and place the foot moving the unweighted and floating arm and leg together, Sifu instructed.


“It’s amazing how one side can be so heavy and the other so light!” – exclaimed a surprised Claire.


“This is referred to in the classics as the substantial and insubstantial” answered Sifu.  “Now as you transfer the head goes first as in the head exercises, the body leans as in the leaning exercises, it also coils as in the twisting exercises, the striking yang hand remains at the L1 point as in the chest and back exercises, as you uncoil and move upright, the hand floats to the strike as in the chest and back exercises and the spine takes the ‘parked’ position as in the spine exercises.  The transfer of weight in the legs goes directly from muscle to muscle from one leg to the other as trained in the leg exercises.  The spiralling through the ankles and knees are as in the lower joint exercises, the vibration in the hips are as in the hip exercises.  All these skills are then combined and harmonised for a smooth transition of power – and that’s what the form is for!”


“So the form uses the exercises in all manner of movement and technique and I won’t be able to use all these skills in harmony if I haven’t practiced them sufficiently in the exercises first,” realised Claire.


“Bingo!” Sifu exclaimed as the light went on in Claire’s brain.  “The exercises give us the basic skills and power that are then expressed in all manner of ways in the form, applications and pushing hands.  This is another holy trinity of training.  As you use them in the form it deepens your understanding for the exercises and the applications and as you use them in the applications – it deepens your understanding of the form and exercises.”

Could this not be used in any martial art, because we all have to step?” Claire queried.


“It’s essential learning for all martial arts” answered Sifu.


“So why do most martial arts do athletic exercises as a warm up and warm down?”


Maybe because they haven’t learned these ones” smiled Sifu…..

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