The Ten Principles of taiji and qigong, were first mentioned in The Canon of Taiji Chuan.
I studied these with the inspiring Barry McGinlay of the Tai Chi Life School at Tai Chi Caledonia one year. Like most worthwhile exercises, they are easy to say, but not so easy to do. It’s all very well listing the ten principles and talking about them but how do you practise them in a workshop?
Since they are very much about linking upper and lower, inner and outer and so on, what we need are simple exercises that use the whole body. We want to be able to feel the way energy moves from the earth, through bubbling spring (yong quan) in the foot, up the legs, through the waist, up and through to the fingers. We repeat these exercises (as) many times (as you wish) so that you can explore the effect we are concentrating on.
If you already practise taiji, you already know a number of suitable exercises, such as brush knee twist step and fair lady works the shuttle. In the workshop, I’ll be offering silk reeling exercises.
Silk was and still is an important product in the Chinese economy. The silkworm larva wraps itself in a cocoon. To obtain silk from the cocoon, it has to be drawn out or reeled out extremely carefully. The action must be smooth and consistent without jerking or changing direction sharply. If you go too fast, the silk thread becomes too thin and breaks. If you pull too slowly, it sticks to itself and becomes tangled and lumpy. Thus, silk reeling is a highly skilled art. The movements are continuous, cyclic, spiralling and performed at constant speed – exactly what we are looking for in a taiji exercise.
Silk reeling can be practised single or double handed, solo and with a partner. The movements trace a taijitu (yinyang symbol) pattern using the waist while shifting the weight from leg to leg.
It’s a very popular exercise in Chen style taiji and I also spent a week at Caledonia with Master Wang Hai Jun, who makes them look wonderfully elegant and effortless – here’s a link.