The Key To Tai Chi
By Jeffrey Reulbach
Everyone is aware that keys unlock and open doors. Within every martial art there are keys that open doors to the highest level of skill in the style. The key to unlocking the door to those higher levels of skill in Tai Chi is referred to in Chinese as sung.
Sung is usually translated by the word relax. The concept of relaxing in Tai Chi does not mean to become limp or to recline. To be loose or open are more closely related to the idea of sung. When doing an empty hand form, push hands, sparring, weapons, or chi kung (energy work) the relaxation must be in total.
Of course, reaching a high level of sung doesn’t happen in an instant. Developing the true relaxation of Tai Chi that enables the artist to be soft and yielding but not limp and weak is progressive. To gain the real skill of Tai Chi self-defense you have to be relaxed in mind and body.
Relaxing the body means that you must free it of all unnecessary tension. In other words, you have to use only the amount of muscular exertion needed for any action. For example, when doing a push or palm strike the arm doesn’t get real tense or stiff, it remains soft but firm enough to get the job done. To accomplish this means you have to pay very close attention to the movement in order to feel tension. To get rid of tension in the body, you have to focus on loosening and opening the joints. The relaxed tendon is an important part of issuing internal force. Gaining the kind of sung in the body necessary for higher level skills calls for reeling tension in the joints, especially at the shoulder, elbows, wrists, hips, knees and ankles. In addition, excellent physical posture and alignment with gravity aid in the development of physical relaxation.
Mental relaxation is the other side of the coin needed for skill in Tai Chi. A sung mind is open and yet extremely focused. Relaxing the mind also means to rid it of unnecessary tension. The idea of getting rid of tension in the mind means that it only concentrates on the task at hand in the present, which means it is free from the shackles of the past and the anxiety of the future.
To rid the mind of tension, visualization is very important when doing a form. Tai Chi is often referred to as “swimming on dry land” because of its appearance and the fact that swimming is a relaxing activity. Applying the image of swimming means that you imagine you are moving through water, feeling the sensation of the water’s pressure on each movement. The imagined water, over time, produces a buoyant feeling of floating and flowing in movement, and a calmness in mind. Although there are other excellent visualizations, the “swimming on land” is extremely effective for releasing tension and developing sung.
Turning the key of relaxation in Tai Chi has many positive benefits. It makes more use of your parasympathetic nervous system producing a calming effect. The increase in relaxation helps to combat stress-related illness, which is a primary reason why so many turn to Tai Chi in the first place. As a martial artist, relaxation gives you speed, heightened awareness, and the ability to adjust to an attacker smoothly in a self-defense situation. The key to Tai Chi will not only benefit internal martial artists, but anyone who is willing to unlock and open the door.