Tai Chi Chuan is a flexible skill. To practice Tai Chi Chuan, one must understand the methods and techniques to learn true Tai Chi skills. If you want to excel in techniques and pushing hands, you must first learn how to generate force (internal power).
- Inhale and exhale with the Dantian (Lower Abdominal Breathing):
Opening and closing refer to Tai Chi, while inhaling and exhaling pertain to internal power. Chen-style Tai Chi Chuan focuses on internal power, and all movements, except for the preparatory stance, involve opening and closing changes. Through the movements’ opening and closing, adjust the breath’s inhalation and exhalation, use the fist to cultivate internal power, and achieve the goal of combining internal and external to generate internal power.
The breath through the mouth and nose only serves to connect the internal and external. The inhalation and exhalation in Tai Chi Chuan are known as “sinking Qi to the Dantian,” which refers to the internal breathing of the Dantian. The external Qi from the mouth and nose connects with the internal Qi of the Dantian, and the mind focuses on the Dantian.
The Dantian is an important part for martial arts practitioners. There are mainly two types of Dantian: sinking Qi to the Dantian and preserving intention in the Dantian. Only by training the Dantian’s internal force can the generated force be powerful.
The internal energy intersects with the Dantian (the heart and kidneys intersect) and circulates throughout the body, unobstructed in the limbs. This fulfills the saying in the boxing classics: “The upper and lower are connected, and the internal and external become one.” Internal power means collecting the scattered external Qi, using the rules of boxing, hand, foot, and body movements to follow the internal shrinking back to the Dantian, where it intersects with the Dantian’s internal Qi. It gradually accumulates and becomes apparent and substantial. This is known as the internal power in boxing.
Therefore, the body’s opening and closing and the Dantian’s inhalation and exhalation are methods of internal power practice. In Chen-style Tai Chi Chuan, reverse abdominal breathing is used to connect with the internal Qi of the Dantian. The up-and-down movement stirs up the true Qi, achieving the goal of using the internal to overcome the external.
- Exhale with a “Heng” and “Ha” Sound:
Combining reverse abdominal breathing and Dantian breathing produces a cold, elastic, crisp, and quick shaking force. Although the external appearance seems slight, the force has been released. Only when the force is released without conscious effort, can it be freely used in actual combat. At this time, “stick, yield, connect, follow, lift, evade, bend, empty, press, and lean” will all be performed naturally.
Internal power is instantly released at the appropriate moment and can be used during exhalation, inhalation, or breath-holding. The force’s intensity depends on the length and strength of the breath.
Generally speaking, “exhale” means the upper jaw slightly closes with the tongue lightly touching the roof of the mouth, creating a slight gap. When releasing force, part of the breath can be exhaled through the mouth and nose. The pressure decreases, and it intersects with the Dantian’s Qi, resulting in a natural “Heng” sound. Pure exhalation through the mouth creates a “Ha” sound. Compared to “exhale,” the breath sinks, and the Dantian’s force rises, becoming forceful and long-lasting.
The clever use of “Heng” and “Ha” sounds in Tai Chi Chuan assists in various force applications. Especially in combat, the sound during breathing can cause rapid contraction and relaxation of the body’s muscles, giving the muscles high elasticity. It can also lead to elongation, mobilizing the body’s internal energy, achieving the effect of using Qi to generate force and using sound to assist strength.
The relationship between exhaling, breathing, and vocalization needs to be explored through continuous force application practice, finding the appropriate method for oneself.
- Push the Ground, Twist the Crotch, and Tighten the Four Extremities:
The boxing maxim says, “Its root is in the feet, issues from the legs, is governed by the waist, and expressed in the fingers. From the feet to the legs to the waist, they must all be connected as one continuous Qi.” Connecting the root to the feet is crucial in Tai Chi Chuan, which requires being “light but not floating, and sinking but not stiff.” Being light means sinking, and it requires rooting in the feet. Without rooting, it is like water without a source or a tree without roots.
During force application, at the moment of releasing force, exert force by pushing the ground with the feet without displacing the root. This firm foundation enables the transmission of force to the extremities continuously, utilizing the ground’s reactive force. It can lead to the force’s transmission throughout the four extremities. The boxing maxim says, “To practice Tai Chi Chuan, first seek unification of internal and external. Yin and Yang mutually become the root, all in the crotch’s seeking.” Only when the crotch joint is relaxed, can the waist be rounded and flexible.
Both hips and knees should be kept open and rounded while maintaining a virtual connection. Suddenly twist and lock the crotch joint, at the moment of force release, the lower abdomen, waist, legs, shoulders, and arms muscles tighten almost simultaneously, producing an instant tightening force that penetrates the four extremities. The whole body tightens suddenly, like urgent braking, causing tense and crisp inertial shaking force. After exerting force, immediately relax and inhale, returning to a natural state.
- Internally Open and Externally Close, Seek Symmetry:
The boxing maxim says, “With a force of ten units, opening and closing bring it out. In using the Qi, slowness is essential, in applying the Qi, swiftness is required. Slow and fast are part of the technique, all within one breath.” Cultivating Tai Chi skills means cultivating Qi in the Dantian. When the internal Qi is full and abundant, it will surpass others. The boxing saying goes, “Cultivate internal Qi in one breath, and train muscles, bones, and skin externally.” Leading the Qi with the mind, the Qi becomes strong by three units.
Tai Chi Chuan’s force release is quick as lightning and sounds like thunder. Using Qi to defeat force causes the internal Qi to erupt. To achieve this, the heart and intention, Qi and strength, and intention and Qi must all unite, allowing the release of the whole force.