By Sorcha Hegarty
Tai chi seems to be full of circles. We have already talked about the symbolic connection to the Taijitu symbol, but that seems rather an esoteric point for what is, fundamentally, a martial art. And yet, circular motions are at the heart of practicing tai chi. The circularity of the movements is there by design. Movements on a curved line are efficient, conserving energy, and if the curve is shortened suddenly, that energy is condensed into tremendous force. The ancient masters who developed tai chi knew what they were doing, and graceful as the form is, the martial application is never out of sight!
Some tai chi teachers talk about the tai chi sphere. This is a way of visualizing your personal space, getting to grips with the way that qi extends beyond skin and bone, and understanding the underlying structure of the movements. When practicing tai chi, picture a sphere that extends down to the floor, resting on one spot, with its centre point at your centre of gravity (the dantian). This sphere moves with you, its outer surface is the reach of your arms, but it is symmetrical, extending above your head and behind your back where you can’t see.
Visualizing the sphere also draws you focus to which foot should carry the majority of your weight. In the form, aside from the opening and closing stances, there are few moments when the weight is evenly distributed on both legs. Usually, one leg bears at least a little bit more weight. A sphere only connects to the ground at one point, and so it’s ready to roll or bounce in any direction. Try to visualize the sphere moving with your weight, with the point that connect to the ground passing from left foot to right as you move through the form.
Another property of a sphere is that the outside rotates, while the centre is still. When practicing tai chi, we know to try and let our movements flow from the dantian. A sphere also has a straight axis going right up through the middle. Let your spine become this straight axis. As you move your body through the tai chi form, it stays straight and relaxed, never bending or leaning, while the arms, legs and hips rotate around it. The centre is held straight while the movements in flow around it.
In combat between opponents, the tai chi sphere helps you to stay centred, and to find the best way to counter their movements: with the precision, balance, and “spring” of a sphere.
© Sorcha Hegarty, 2014