The circle, simply put, is the basis of every move in the Taijiquan Practical Method system. Every action or movement in the form is actually a part or variation of either the negative or. Therefore, common sense would suggest that one must gain a deep understanding of the circle and its mechanics in order to have any kind of understanding of Taijiquan and its practical applications. Although the circle might be the most fundamental movement of the system, it is also one of the most malpracticed and overlooked basic skills. When one begins to understand the circle, every move in the form can be understood and perfected to meet its actual purpose and function. I would like to discuss my own personal conclusions and understandings of what I think the circle is and how to break it down so that training can become more meaningful and productive.
It is my belief that all Taijiquan players, regardless of their level of ability, should perform the circle in exactly the same sequence and following the same basic principles and guidelines. Quite often different steps and explanations are given to student depending on their ability. I believe this is confusing for students and sometimes detrimental to progress. The only difference between the way an advanced student and a beginner should perform the circle is in the quality of each step. Because a student’s body will move differently depending on whether or not he is sufficiently opened or connected, the moves will seem to have some extra components or flow differently. Nevertheless, they are fundamentally identical.
Before discussing the different steps of the circle, I think it is wise to mention the function of the dantian in relation to the circle. Eventually, higher level practitioners should realize that when used properly, the dantian is a fixed and central part in the body which has the ability to rotate in every direction without moving, much like the center of a ball. Although the dantian and its internal complexities could be discussed in greater length, for ease of learning I will limit the discussion to the waist and how it rotates on a horizontal plane when doing the circle. Through experimentation and observation, I have concluded that the waist/dantian should only rotate into three possible positions when doing the circle, or any other move in the forms for that matter.
I refer to the first position as the neutral position. In this position, the waist is not twisted to the left or to the right but “relaxed” to the center with the lower back pushed out. The other two positions are full 45 degree rotations or twists to either the right or to the left. These two positions can only be achieved by twisting the waist and torso to the furthest extreme possible while keeping the lower body fixed. To be able to do and feel this properly however, the upper and lower bodies must be connected. If the lower back is properly pushed out, the waist’swill be greatly diminished. This is a good sign as it shows that the upper and lower bodies are both connected. If the body is not sufficiently connected, the waist will rotate loosely and be able to move more than 45 degrees to either side. I believe this is undesirable and in most situations, wrong.
If looked at from this perspective, one can easily conclude that the when the waist is centered in its neutral position, it is only able to make rotations of either 45 degrees to either the left or to the right. In situations where the waist is already fully rotated to either side, the waist is able to make a fullof 90 degrees to go into its full opposite direction. This means that if the waist is turned completely to the left and would like to rotate completely to the right, it would have to make a 90 degree to do so. In the explanations below, rotations of the waist will be described in measures of 45 and 90 degree turns.
To better understand the circle, I have broken it down into four basic steps. Even though some might argue that there are more or fewer steps, through my personal experimentation, these four steps are clear and easy understand. By breaking things down, students start with a simple understanding of the. Once fully grasped, these can be added onto and built upon through further exploration and analysis. I’ve broken the circle down into the pulling in of the elbow, two rotations of the waist, and the pushing out of the hand.
The steps below are true for and can be easily applied to both the negative and positive circles with only slight variations in arm positioning. For this reason I will not discuss each circle individually but will give all instructions as if the practitioner was doing a right sided. Once the is understood in practice, the practitioner should consciously go through each step and see how they apply to the .
In with elbow
The pulling in of the elbow (in with elbow) is the first step of the circle. Before going into its mechanics though, I feel it is important to describe the initial positioning of the body before starting. The feet should be positioned in a right sided bow stance which means that the opponent would be at a 45 degree angle to the right. Theand eyes should be pointing towards the opponent and the arm should be extended with the elbow and palm both facing down, the latter at 45 degree downward pointing angle. The positioning of the waist and torso here is the main area for concern. Most people tend to also turn the waist and torso 45 degrees to the right to face the opponent. I believe this is wrong and a very common mistake, even among advanced practitioners. The waist or torso should start in its neutral position, pointing away from the opponent. The reason for this is simple. Because the configuration of the feet and lower body are positioned at a 45 degree angle to the right, as are the eyes, the waist must be turned in the opposite direction. If the torso, or waist, is also turned to the right at a 45 degree angle, no twist or spiral is produced to connect the two halves of the body. Also, if the waist and torso face the opponent, the leading shoulder protrudes back and the stretch and connection through the shoulder and into the chest are lost. This can very easily be tried and confirmed. Therefore, every time the practitioner has the intent of pulling in the elbow, or initiating a pull in Taijiquan, it is imperative that the waist/torso not be pointed towards the opponent, but pointed at a 45 degree angle in the opposite direction. Another important factor to remember when pulling in the elbow is that the palm should remain facing down at a 45 degree angle. If the palm rotates and faces upward at this stage, the connection and spiraling of the lower arm is lost and the pull is not as effective.
The pull in Taijiquan seems to be the only movement which is not really initiated by aof the waist. Because the body is in a properly spiraled configuration, the stretched out tendons of the this structure seem to allow the elbow to pull in tremendous amounts of weight without the help of the muscles. The waist positioned at 45 degrees to the opponent ensures that the shoulder does not pop back and that the elbow is pulled and tucked directly into the side of the ribs. As the elbow is pulled in, the front leg should dig and push into the ground to stabilize and power the pull.
A point to remember is that in practical applications, it is actually the rear hand ‘latches on’ to the opponent and does the actual pull. The front hand is used as a guide or lever to help control the opponents’s body or entice him into emptiness.
The firstof the waist
The second step of the circle is the firstof the waist. When the elbow reaches the side of the rib cage, the whole upper body must lock. Ideally, this lock is a result of the tendons and ligaments of the torso and arms tightening up because of the contracting spirals running throughout the right side of the body. At a lower level however, I would suggest the the locking of the body be ensured by contracting one’s muscles. When everything is locked, the waist must rotate left 45 degrees from its neutral position to a full left . If done properly, the of the waist to the left should tighten up and condense the power into the right side of the body, leaving the rear/left leg moderately relaxed. At this point, what should happen in the practitioner’s body will depend on his level of flexibility and connectivity. At a beginner’s level, the main focus should be to rotate the waist to the left without tossing the torso. At a higher level where the practitioner is relatively connected, several things should automatically happen. First, the 45 degree of the waist/torso to the left should stretch open both kuas and push each knee out into their respective directions. Because both knees are pushed out proportionately, the body should naturally sink on a perfect vertical axis. As this happens, the hand should naturally turn over from a 45 degree downward pointing angle to a 45 degree upward pointing angle. The more connected a practitioner is, the more naturally and proportionately this turning over of the palm will happen.
When the waist has been fully turned 45 degrees to the left, the first half of the circle will have been completed. At this point, the function of the circle changes from an inward pull to an outward push. To initiate the push, the waist must rotate a full 90 degrees from the left all the way to the right. I believe this is the most difficult step to master as the level of connectivity greatly influences the result and proportionality of the movement. At a beginner’s level, the waist should be rotated to the extreme right while once again focusing on not tossing the torso and keeping the spine vertically straight. The arm should simultaneously be pushed out and and palm rotated downward. At a more advanced level, several things should happen simultaneously. As the waist turns right, the knees should once again push out into their respective directions and the body naturally sink even more. As the body sinks on its axis without tossing, the hand must push out with the palm going from a 45 degree upward pointing position to a perpendicular to the ground position. If the body is properly connected, the arm should push out proportionately. This means that the arm should only push out far enough for the forearm and upper arm to form a 90 degree angle. If the body is not connected enough, the arm will not open proportionately and the angle will be bigger or smaller than 90 degrees.
It is during this third step that the rear heel should be pushed out and adjusted if necessary. Once again, separation and proportionality are produced by ensuring the torso does not toss as the waist/dantian rotates to push out the heel and hand. At this point, the rear leg will change from its moderately relaxed state to become fully connected and engaged. As the rear leg pushes into the ground, a lign to the hand is created which shifts most of the energy off the front/right leg and onto the rear/left one.
Out with hand
At this stage, both kua joints should be stretched open with the knees pushed out, the arm should be bent at a 90 degree angle, the palm should perpendicular to the ground and waist rotated fully to the right. The fourth and final step requires the body to return to its initial structure with the waist at its neutral position. This requires the waist to turn 45 degrees left from its full right sided position. This final to the left pushes the arm out further and turns the palm over to its original 45 degree downward pointing position and sinks the body even more. Therefore, the final step of the circle is a in which the shoulder and torso are turning in opposite directions, working like gears. This ensures that the shoulder and torso is where the energy and power is being produced, not in the arm or hand. The final ensures that the leading shoulder does not protrude back, but is pushed forward to allow the energy to travel through the torso into the arm and out of the hand. Once the body has reached its neutral centered starting position, the body may be raised to compensate for the sinking which occurred in the three final steps.
Once a student reaches a proficient enough level, each move should be dissected and understood in terms of how each arm is powered up and where the energy comes from. When this is done, one quickly realizes that most moves in the forms require each arm to perform opposing circles and functions at the same time. However, because eachof the waist always pushes the knees out further, the legs are able to continuously support and power up each arm even though they might be performing different functions.