Imagine, when practicing the fundamental exercises, there is a line that runs vertically down each side of your body. These two lines each intersect the centres of the shoulder joint, hip joint, through the centre of the knees, and the centre-top/middle of the ankle joints (note the side-lines do not extend into the ground and the feet are always centred in the bubbling wells with weight distributed evenly across both feet).
Imagine too, a third line that runs horizontally across from hip joint to hip joint, connecting the side-lines squarely. Together these three lines resemble the capital-H shape of a rugby goalpost.
The three lines outlined are for:
(A) Maintaining the integrity of the skeletal body and to ensure we are turning and not twisting and breaking the connection or the integrity of our joints when sinking either up or down or when moving to the left or right.
(B) In rising up we first segregate our movements as we move from the foot, ankle, knee, hip and shoulder, elbows, wrist and fingers as they all move consecutively one after the other (like a domino effect). The reverse is also true - e.g. going downward, whilst maintaining the integrity of the joints. In shifting and turning, the horizontal connecting line ensures the hip joints also remain aligned and connected, turn uniformly and are not twisting.
After a-time practicing in this way, the whole body when in motion moves as one integrated unit and potentially, the energy can flow unobstructed throughout the entire body. In the T’ai Chi Ch’uan classics one could read it as; “direct the chi, as if threading the nine crooks of a pearl, penetrating between every minute crevice”?
Imagine again, that there is a fourth line that runs directly through the vertical centre of your body from approximately 6 inches+ above the Ni-wan, descending down through the Ni-wan, the Tan-tien, and on through the perineum to the floor centred between your feet. This line should not be neglected as it is important for cultivating our central equilibrium, and is the line we maintain and revolve around, but also sink and rise along.
So we now have four lines - three of which are vertical and one which is horizontal. The first three lines are essentially for maintaining the integrity of the joints when in motion, while and the fourth (central) one is to maintain our central equilibrium and is the one which we revolve around.
In motion, all the joints are "connected like pearls on a string”, but imagine the “string” is an “energy-string” that joins the pearls, that is connecting movement. In T’ai Chi Ch’uan the “energy is rooted in the feet” so, having sunk the energy through the feet, the energy then returns upward from the ground and in its upward motion connects firstly with, the feet at the bubbling well point,, then the ankle joints, the knee joints, the hip joints then shoulder joints, at which point the arms are set in motion connecting the elbows, wrist and out through the finger joints.
Imagine (and I’m thinking of this on a subtle energy level) that we are dropping a pebble directly downward into a clear still pond. Upon impact with the surface of the body of water, the water accommodates the force of the pebble by sending out ripples across its surface. The pebble, whilst in its continued downward motion through the water, is sinking but at the same time is creating an upward motion of energy – a splash. (Opposite and equal re-action)
Sinking and absorbing weight/force/energy is very much like this in T’ai Chi Ch’uan, be it our own weight or our body being acted upon by outside stimuli (gravity, a punch or shove etc). We accommodate the force through sinking it down through our correctly aligned body, generally directed into our rear foot.
The weight ripples across and spreads evenly across the soles of both feet, much like the body of water accommodating the pebble when hitting its surface. The energy, however, at the same time, by way of the imagination, continues sinking through the bubbling well into the ground, where like the pebble even though it is sinking downward at a certain point in the descent, there is a quiescence, from whence an upward motion of energy will manifest (or an interchange from yin to yang)
Three things to note:
1. We cannot hold the energy in our feet - it must sink through. Our feet must remain sensitive and soft (not dead meat).
2. We must become sensitive to the point at which the downward sinking changes into an upward motion. This is the returning energy.
3. In returning the energy upward through our bodies unobstructed (to be expressed in the hands and fingers) it must be done from the point where our bubbling wells connect to the ground. It is important that there is no pressing of the feet onto the ground, as this will immediately nullify both the upward release and downward sinking of energy as this would be essentially using force against force, and leads only to stagnation. (Or stuck-ness).
The pre-condition to all of the above is, fundamentally, correct skeletal alignment and body posture and what I refer to as *“direct sinking”. Without doubt what is absolutely central to the prior three conditions is sung/soong.
J.B. Hartley 2015
*As I see it, what I refer to as, direct sinking is in relation to seating the hips and maintaining the integrity of body structure whilst sinking directly down evenly through the skeletal structure into the bubbling wells and flat of the feet without obstruction. When done correctly and utilising the centreline, the body will naturally adjust accordingly to the changes of body movement, clearly manifesting substantial and insubstantial changes throughout the body.
John Hartley, Founder and Principal Instructor of Inner Health School of Taijiquan, Adelaide