relaxing is the basic of Tai Chi

Tai Chi is about overcoming strength with softness and using intention rather than force. Softness and relaxation are fundamental to Tai Chi, without which it cannot be considered an internal martial art. No matter the style, all sects of Tai Chi advocate for softness and relaxation. It is said that Tai Chi requires three years of practice to achieve softness. In reality, achieving ultimate softness and relaxation is a long-term pursuit, where the softer you become, the higher the quality of internal strength you develop. The greater your skill in softness, the more profound your Tai Chi becomes, and this correlation is directly proportional. Thus, each Tai Chi sect has its own secrets for mastering softness, accumulating a wealth of experience. Methods for achieving softness are thoroughly discussed within these sects, typically from two aspects.

First is “mental relaxation,” which involves relaxing the mind to achieve tranquility. This is described in the ancient text “Huangdi Neijing” as “being calm, devoid of desires, and reaching a state of emptiness and stillness.” It emphasizes discarding distracting thoughts and achieving a serene and detached state of mind, thus allowing one’s emotions to flow smoothly and pleasantly.

The second aspect is “physical relaxation.” This requires relaxing the major joints and the minor ones throughout the body. Every movement should be light, soft, and naturally aligned, with actions as graceful as a ballet dancer’s or as smooth as a fish swimming in water. The goal is to make every movement feel as light as a feather and as soft as cotton.

Practicing Tai Chi must be done with softness, achieving a state as soft as cotton to reveal the true skill of Tai Chi. Yang-style Tai Chi is known as “Cotton Fist,” a metaphor suggesting “hidden strength within softness” — extremely soft yet immensely strong.

Wu Jianquan, the founder of Wu-style Tai Chi, utilized the softness of Tai Chi to gain renown. He also established the “Jianquan Tai Chi Academy,” which is celebrated both domestically and internationally. Mastering softness is crucial in Tai Chi as it is key to reaching advanced levels of skill. Each sect has its own experience and written advice on how to practice softness.

Zhao Bao Tai Chi offers a unique perspective on softness. Teacher Zheng Wuqing wrote in “The Application of Tai Chi”: “All movements should be softly lively. Only by being slow can one be soft, and only by being uniform can one be lively.” He also stated, “Beginners should seek internal tranquility and external lightness. Internal tranquility allows qi to circulate externally, while external lightness complements internal focus.”

Persistence in practice is essential, and in moments of application, extraordinary abilities are revealed. He further advises, “Gently shake to relax the shoulders, softly follow to enliven the body, and move slowly to stabilize the steps.” Zhao Bao Tai Chi places special emphasis on discussions of softness, as detailed in the text “Characteristics of Zhao Bao Tai Chi — On ‘Playing Tai Chi’.” The eighth-generation master, He Zhaoyuan, innovated the “Playing Tai Chi” formula, which emphasizes softness as the goal, naturalness as the principle, and lightness as the method. These three elements reveal the true mysteries of Tai Chi; they seem simple but are actually difficult to master. It emphasizes the non-use of force, as Tai Chi should be performed without any apparent effort. The internal strength is hidden within and is not outwardly displayed, a concept that is simple yet profound, designed to prevent future practitioners from deviating from the true path.

“Practice Tai Chi” requires one to be carefree like a playful child, embodying innocence and spontaneity without concerns or hesitations. This natural state reflects the primal purity of life, untouched by worldly influences — truly innocent and carefree. Practicing Tai Chi in this playful manner allows one to relax completely, free from any distractions, achieving a state of natural ease and spontaneity, seeing the world yet unseeing, blissfully detached like “one muscle” in the game of Tai Chi. Thus, our practice connects us with the ancient sages’ secrets of innocence.

Training in Zhao Bao Tai Chi moves from intentional to unintentional, embracing the principle that excessive intent leads to stagnation. The masters teach without intent, relying instead on “awareness,” akin to Spinoza’s concept of “intuitive knowledge.” This aligns with Daoist principles of the mind and spirit, where “using intention without using force” is frequently discussed in Tai Chi literature, including the classics. The relationship between “using intention” and “not using intention” can sometimes confuse practitioners, but essentially, they lead to the same end: one emphasizes non-action, while the other action, each containing elements of the other. Each school has its own established rules and experiential methods for this practice.

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