This is in response to a question by Rachel about the relevance of why do we turn (rotate) on heel in “rotating left to kick with heel” and front ball of foot in “rotating right into sweep lotus”.
It’s important for a couple of reasons, as will be outlined below, but it struck me that it is an aspect of the form I had given little consideration or thought to, though I can remember asking this very same question of my teacher many years ago.
When the question was asked, Roman answered in-part that it was part of the transitional process, which is absolutely true. I would like to attempt to elaborate a little further upon the important question Rachel posed as follows:
In our 37-posture form we rotate on the right heel when we "turn” to left and kick with heel and rotate on the front ball of right foot when “turning” into sweep lotus. We do this because it leads us into both those respective movements with ease, balance and stability. Why we do this is due to the momentum of the movement going into the posture and the way in which our body, carried by momentum, shifts and re-connects with the earth when concluding the rotation into either posture.
I suggest that during your next practice session you rotate and kick with heel whilst trying to rotate on the front ball of your right foot and I think you will find that you will need to re-adjust your balance awkwardly and it will feel clumsy. That is, the momentum from the rotation to the left is going forward and IF you have rotated on your front ball of your right foot and not the right heel then when placing your foot down, your balance and weight will shift rearward against the motion of the rotation when attempting to re-connect your foot back flat to the earth.
Given that the kick is going out to your front it makes the posture (if rotating on your front ball of your right foot) clumsy, unclear, off balance, of little use martially and, importantly, little use for health – given that chi is the root of good health and the practice of accumulating ones chi, is, in part, through the continuous, unhurried, smooth and even manner in which we practice the form. Unbalanced transitioning or sudden stoppages breaks “the flow”.
It is likewise for rotating right after step back to ride tiger going into sweep lotus. If you rotate on your right heel instead of your front ball of right foot the momentum is rotating to the right with a forward motion of energy.
I may be wrong and actual experience can be a good teacher, so again I encourage you to try it. I am sure it will become clearly evident as to why we transition the rotation on right heel in turn to kick left or the front ball of right foot when rotating into sweep lotus. One way will naturally throw the energy of the body back, the other will naturally throw the body forward.
It’s important to understand that the rotation to the right into sweep lotus commences from step back to ride tiger and continues to rotate to a point just prior to stepping forward into the 45-degree 70/30 stance of bend bow to shoot tiger posture. So balance, timing centeredness and root are very important, as is the body moving as one continuous piece throughout the rotation…any rotation.
Regardless of where in the form if your movements feel awkward, we must look for the source of the unease in the waist and/or legs or, as it is written in the Taichichuan Ching by Chang San-feng, “if the timing and position are not correct, the body becomes disordered, and the defect must be sought in the legs and waist. For example, in stepping forward or back have I clearly distinguished substantial and insubstantial? Am I twisting my waist instead of turning my waist? Have I maintained my feet shoulder width apart?
Please note, throughout my above response I use the words turn/ing and or rotate/ing. Now, this perhaps is only a personal preference but when referring to transitioning in Tai Chi Chuan I tend to use the word rotating more so then the word turning. In the classical text entitled the “Taichichuan Lun” by Wang Tsung-yueh it states; “Stand like a balance rotate actively like a wheel”. (translation: Ben Lo & Martin Inn version).
My own experience after having practiced the linear and the square for some years then advancing into the circular expression of Tai Chi Chuan was that after a time my form began to feel as if it was one smooth continuous rotation from beginning to end.
It is also important to note in the application of turn and kick with heel – the hip, knee and ankle joints of the kicking foot must all align in a straight line. And in sweep lotus, round out the lower back and bend the knee to shorten your leg, as it makes touching your left and right hands more approachable.
I trust I have been clear and not steered too far from the original question?
John Hartley, Founder and Principal Instructor of Inner Health School of Taijiquan, Adelaide