We hear those things often. In this article I‘ll give an overview of what that means and also write a little bit of how to implement it into your body.
The concepts are very easy to explain. So here we go:
This is to be connected to the floor / being sunken down
To explain it, let‘s for now use three boxes piled up one upon the other. With the biggest one at the bottom standing on the floor. External force F is applied on top of the box straight downwards. Figure A shows this situation.
In this scenario the floor absorbs the external force F (black vs. red arrow)
This is it. In this example P1 through P3 (Parts 1 – 3) are connected to the floor. They are sunken down.
What is not being connected?
As soon as one Part is not piled up on top of another one (or directly on the floor) we are not connected. In Figure B our box P1 is not standing directly on the floor, but is lifted slightly above the floor. This way, the floor cannot absorb our external force F. Something else needs to generate this force in order to hold the parts were they are.
In this situation our body, needs to use lots of tension and power in order to resolve the incoming force. This should not be necessary.
Figures C and D show two different variations of this scenario in which our parts are not connected, i.e. not sunken to the floor. In all cases we are forced to generate the red force F in order to counter black force F with our own muscles.
So not being connected means that there is a gap between force F and the floor.
How to stay connected while moving
Once we understand the stationary structure it‘s easy to find a method to move while being connected. In figure I through IV we cover a distance that the top Part (P3) covers through our steps.
Here the concept of sequential moves comes in handy, since we need to do exactly that: Sequentially moving from starting till end position.
I. Staring position
II. Moving the lowest part (P1) to the right
III. Moving the middle part (P2) to the right
IV. Moving the top part (P3) to the right
In all steps the parts need to be kept piled up on each other though the hole transition. That‘s it.
Back to reality
Understanding this simple concept is easy. But what are examples of this concept on our body?
Here is one: You turned the Kua before you finished pulling in the elbow in our. The hand and elbow are now without support of the lower parts. You’ll need a lot of tension to hold the force coming from an opponent at your hand.
Imagine our boxes example again. Let‘s say you need to storage those boxes for 3 weeks in a dark container. If you pile them up you can go home knowing, they will stay like this for the next three weeks and you are free to play with your kids. But if one of the boxes is suspended in the air, you‘ll need to be there holding it for three weeks. That’s stupid. You don‘t want to do this.
It‘s just a concept
Some of you could argue, that my drawings are not accurate. The parts should be piled up in a way, that they have a coverage of at least 50% of their mass of each box on top of another. Otherwise they would fall down although they are still connected (like in figure II). And yes, this is a valid argument, but it is irrelevant here. I‘m writing about a concept. I‘m not writing about physically correct models. It is a very easy model to explain the general concept of what sunken down / connected to the floor means. In real life it‘s much more complex because there are many more degrees of freedom.
Where should we use power / tension?
So we don‘t want to use power, but we do use power, right? Yes, we do, but only to hold our structural integrity. Not for the heavy lifting, though. Here the concept of alignment comes in handy.
To explain alignment it‘s easier to change our parts. Instead of boxes lets have poles.
Figure X shows a perfectly aligned stack of poles. Heavy lifting is done by the ground. So the ground absorbs the incoming force F.
But if the force is strong our poles might start to get out of the line.
Figure Y shows this scenario. If we don‘t do anything in this scenario our stack cannot hold the incoming force F and will also fall apart by itself. That‘s rather something we don‘t want.
What we want is the ground to still do the heavy lifting of force F. So we add some force at the connections between the poles to hold the structure. Let‘s call this force Fs for structural force.
This force Fs is Zero if we have a perfectly aligned stack of poles. We need more structural force the more we get off the perfect line.
So here we see, that holding the line is cheaper (in energy efficiency) than losing it and forcing our structure back into it.
This is also why we should build up our structure and then go into the fight
Our power goes into the stretch
So we do use power, but we don‘t use it for the heavy lifting. And there is this stretch thing we should do, it seems to be important. Shifu repeats it all the time. So how comes this into play?
Let’s take our stack of poles and put a rubber all around it.
Looks good! Now lock the contact point C and our point at the ground (G) and stretch the rubber cord like I-don‘t-know-what!
We now created a force field around our stack of poles which pushes all parts out of our line back into it. Not only that, it does it proportionally to the distance from our line. So places further away are pushed back more than places closer to our line.
The great thing about this method is, that in figure Y we needed 3 forces to put our structure back into place. With a stretch we actively use one force (the stretch) and create lots of bigger and smaller forces Fs by creating that force field. By the way, this is not some voodoo-esoteric force field. It‘s a real force field, almost like in Star Trek!
How to implement it?
Understanding the concepts is one thing. Putting them into our bodies is another. How can we do that?
Don‘t be smart!
Yes, I mean it. Don‘t try to mix things up. If a simple foundation move is divided into three parts? Do it in three parts!
But it doesn‘t look like Shifus foundational move? That‘s most likely. But Shifu did practice more than you. A lot more. And he started with 1, 2, 3. He also did the mistake of trying to be smart and he is trying to tell us, that this wasn‘t smart.
You think it‘s a simple move. The hand makes circles in the air. But it is not easy. It‘s highly refined.
So don‘t be smart. But that sounds so negative. I don‘t want to be stupid, do you? Let‘s redefine what smart is.
Smart is to behave in a way that brings you forward in the least amount of time.
Got it? Ok! So now we can be smart. But how can we be smart?
Do 1, 2, 3 if this is required. Do 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10. If this is required. The more steps in your sequences you have, the better. Start rough and become more refined as you go. Make sure you know the sequences!
Once you know the sequences you have the same rhythm as other Practical Method people. You develop the same language. And Shifu, or your Taijiquan brothers and sisters can „talk“ to you, i.e. giving corrections. You‘ll actually understand the corrections.
Realize that it will take time. You won‘t be perfect next week. Also not perfect next year or the year after.
Imagine you are starting to play the Violine. Would you seriously expect yourself to be able to play with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra next year? Or in 5 years? So why would you expect to be less patient in Taijiquan? Or any other art for that matter?
Listen to instructions!
That is synonym to do 1, 2, 3. But it‘s so important, that I want to say more about it.
What does listening to instruction mean?
There is the word „listening“ and „instructions“. „Instructions“ are the things you receive. Not only from Shifu. Maybe you are learning from one of his disciples. So in general you receive instructions from your teacher. Somebody from whom you yourself decided to learn from.
So if your teacher shows you an exercise, you listen to his words and you watch (listen with your eyes) him do it.
„Listen to instructions“ doesn’t mention „think“. So it‘s irrelevant what you think. So thoughts in yourlike „may it‘s like this“, „maybe like that“, „let‘s connect this with what he said earlier“, …
Thought like this will slow you down immensely. So don‘t think! Accept what your teacher says as what it is. Most likely it‘s just „1, 2, 3“.
- Sinking down is a synonym to „connecting the contacting point with the ground/floor“
- Moving while staying connected needs to happen with a sequence of moves
- Heavy lifting, i.e. holding the opponent into place is done by the floor, not by us
- Alignment aligns our body parts, so that they are sunken down, i.e. connected
- Alignment is synonym for „holding the structure“
- To hold the structure we need to use structural force at the joints (connections between our parts)
- We produce a force field around our parts in order to generate directed structural forces to keep us aligned
- This force field is created by a stretch
- Implement it into your body
- Don‘t be smart, be the other smart
- Be patient
- Listen to instructions