Friday, June 22, 2012

Internal Aspects of Tai Chi Walking

Many Tai chi teachers only focus on teaching the outward mechanics of performing Tai chi walking. After the rudimentary mechanics of walking are mastered, then what? Is that all there is to Tai chi walking? This article suggests one way that can help you learn more from your basic Tai chi walking.

The beginner who is learning Tai chi walking can find it challenging to simply coordinate the gross mechanical movements. This, I believe may be attributed in part to the student's habitual, neuro-muscular patterns or life-habits of walking.

As the beginner evolves, the mechanics of Tai chi walking become ingrained and habitual. However, in my experience, the pattern of Tai chi walking is learned through the "filter" of one's pre-existing neuro-muscular walking habit. By this I mean that the muscle groups that are favored or under-utilized in ordinary daily walking are unconsciously and similarly employed in performing Tai chi walking.

(While I am focusing on Tai chi walking or stepping here, I believe the same principle can be applied to the other walking or stepping patterns used in other internal martial arts as well.)

For most people, "mastering" the basic gross motor mechanics of Tai chi walking is the level at which they stop learning. And this may be for good reason. IF your purpose is to imitate the external, gross mechanical movements, then your purpose has been fulfilled.

However, if you want something a little more internal while keeping your practice functional, then become conscious of your usual everyday walking pattern. For a few minutes a day, consciously choose to walk slightly differently. And then notice and more importantly feel what is different. Which leg and/or hip muscles feel more fully engaged or less engaged or engaged differently? Focus on the physical, kinesthetic sensation through the legs and hips.

You may also want to get some therapeutic massage which focuses on the hips and legs. After a couple sessions, a good massage therapist should be able to point out to you which muscles are relatively over or under developed and where some muscles are holding against the tension of other muscles. If your muscle development suggests one kind of walking pattern, then experiment with a different pattern. And notice and feel what is happening.

For a humorous exaggeration of this idea of walking patterns, see John Cleese in the Monty Python skit, "Ministry of Silly Walks". Although his purpose here is to entertain, the numerous examples may give you ideas of how to alter your normal, habitual walking pattern.

While Gait Analysis (as performed by a podiatrist or physiotherapist) is used to detect biomechanical abnormalities and may provide precise kinesthetic data to correct these abnormalities or tune your mechanical performance, in my experience, focusing on external mechanical analysis shifts my focus away from feeling internally. And so I think much can be gained from the above method of focusing on simply noticing and feeling.

Noticing and feeling what is happening under the skin are key skills that can contribute to developing the feeling of relax (song) and ultimately contribute to the feeling fascial connectedness. I hope the above method leads you to insights as it did for me.

Further reading:
* Internet search: walking analysis biomechanics
* For more information on the functional development of internal strength, see

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