Wednesday, February 29, 2012

A Twist on the Single Whip

In my last post, I spoke about not torquing knees by sinking - linearly - into the leg rather than letting the twisting of the upper body move the knees out out of alignment with the toes. In this post, I want to discuss applying this principle to a specific posture - the single whip.

Last week in the class I attend, we went over the single whip. I won't go over all the details but there is an intermediate stage where you end up pigeon-toed and it is at this point where I run into problems. The single whip starts from the press/push, in an archer stance with your right foot forward - from there you shift your weight onto the left foot and you twist to the left, which draws the arms across the body and right foot into this pigeon-toed position. It's this left-ward twisting where problems can creep in. So the first point is that, while your upper body is twisting left, your weight should be sinking straight down into the center of the left foot rather then off the left side of your foot, which will torque the left knee.  The second point is that the twisting of your upper body is what moves your right foot into position - in order to get the right foot around to the proper position, it need to start turning your right leg with your upper body as soon as you start twisting otherwise, when you're done twisting, your right foot's still won't be in the correct position at which point there's a strong temptation to - once again - torque your left knee to drag that right foot around a little further.  The final point is that the twisting of the upper body doesn't stop once your upper body is lined up with the left leg - while you want to sink into the left leg without torquing the knee, you can do that while continuing to twist the upper body at the waist - and it's this action that brings the right foot all the way around.

For me, I have some flexibility issues with my ankles - they are really tight, even though doing Taiji has helped to loosen them up significantly - so getting the right foot into position while doing the single whip has always been a problem and one of the major causes of knee pain for me. Following the points outlined above has helped tremendously to reduce the stress on my knees.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Spiraling Energy, Torquing Knees

On Saturday, I went down to Santa Cruz to drop in on the Santa Cruz Tai Chi folks once again. It was a good time - in the Short Form class, we went over step-up/deflect/intercept/punch and needle at the sea bottom and in the push hands class I got to push with some of the guys I hadn't pushed with before, including Mark, the instructor.

One of the questions that has been bothering me as I try to understand the differences in my two schools has been the notion of spiraling energy. When I originally learned about it in New York, I thought that the spiraling energy was a twisting in my legs, so I would try to twist my foot somewhat as I sunk into it.

At TToPA, one of the major principles they teach - repeated over and over - is that the knees always stay in line with the toes as it moves so, as you sink into your feet, there is no torquing of the knee. This has eliminated most of the knee pain I used to feel when I did Taiji (I have some pain because I still torque my knees somewhat due to bad habits that I'm working to eliminate).

As I have practiced the Short Form on my own, I have modified the way I do it so that I sink into the leg rather than twist and it has worked out pretty well. In class on Saturday, Mark spoke of the spiraling energy but, as I watched him and his senior students doing the form, they weren't torquing their knees and, in fact, were doing it pretty much the same way I was. It seems I had misunderstood this from the beginning. Spiraling energy is internal and I was trying to force it externally.