In the design industry, “Form follows Function”. This is also in accordance with Energy Work; Qigong. “Embrace the yin, to support the Yang”. To express this in other terms, it is how something works inside (function) unseen, that generates what is seen outside (Form). Initially in learning a new technique, we usually follow our teacher and mimic the shape or pattern they are doing to the best of our ability, but this is merely the first step of memorizing choreography.
I taught my student Single Whip. The next week he told me his shoulder (rotor cuff) hurt, whenever he did the last part of the movement, rotating his left arm prior to striking outward. I had not yet taught him the upward four energy arm circle, which clarifies this movement. He was simply reproducing the movement as he thought I was doing it from his outward observation of my demonstration. After I taught him the arm circle and then the variation of it used in the form, he was now moving from the inside, feeling the correct rotation of the joints. The pain was gone.
This is why Tai Chi Chuan cannot be learned by observation alone. We should use anatomical charts to visualize (mental picture) what is inside our body. Then we need to understand how the joints in the body are designed to function. Forcing a joint to move in the wrong way to place the body in an idealized position is a common mistake. Because it looks right, does not mean internally it is right. Combining improved internal vision and sensation, we can perform the choreography in a refined way that will actually lead to generating, storing, and expressing energies, instead of simply moving from shape to shape, one abstract posture into the next.
The objective is to remain relaxed; Song continuously without interruption. Using the body incorrectly by applying excessive crude force to move and position the body is a major cause of loss of relaxation and stability in the performance of the Form. When the upper body is not continuously supported from below by the lower body; “upper body light, lower body heavy”, our autonomic nervous system begins to tighten the body to prevent falling. Our nervous system is highly sensitive to imbalance. When it senses danger that we are falling, it tightens the body to stop the movement. Even failing at empty stepping and coming down with a little bit of weight, can trigger a reaction in the upper body. We are falling onto our foot.
The take away of this is, follow the internal feeling inside the body (Ting Jing – Listening energy), along with your mind’s understanding how the body is meant to articulate when doing a technique. With practice, the internal sense will heightened (more qi sensitive) and the ability to understand what is actually happening (Dong Jing – Interrupting Energy) will become clear.