Waving Hands Like Clouds
“Was that ‘waving hands like clouds’ or ‘waving hands like clowns’?”
We were working on the ‘Yang Chen Fu 108’ tai chi form, the most commonly practised form in the world, passed down through the Yang family for 4 generations. It takes around 20 minutes to complete and is a complete workout in its own right.
We were about half way into the second of three sections and doing the first of 3 sets of the technique ‘waving hands like clouds’, the first set contains 9 repetitions, the second seven and the third five. The technique involves a weight shift, a turn of the waist, a step and a press down with one hand and a rising peng strike with the other.
We all stopped….
“It’s a difficult technique Sifu…”
“It’s a good technique..” replied Sifu.
“We don’t have ‘hard’ or ‘can’t’ in this kwoon, we only have ‘I haven’t practiced enough yet Sifu’…
I appreciate that it might not be easy to get it right, the reason I said it was a ‘good’ technique was because it contains all the ideas and principles of tai chi in a condensed fashion.
Think about it – how many times do we practice it in the form? ”
Everyone was counting on their fingers…
“Twenty one!” – several people chorused at once.
“Exactly. It’s the perfect tai chi ‘exercise’. If you only had time to practice one technique and wanted to get the best effect, ‘waving hands like clouds’ would be a good choice.”
“So why did you say that we were ‘waving hands like clowns’?
“Because you’re contorting your body into some very strange positions, leaning over as you press down.”
“We’re softening down to get power for the press and then springing it up and out for the following pengstrike!”
“The problem is that you’re not softening – you’re bending stiffly.”
“How can we do it right then?”
“Softening is not something that you can just ‘do’, once you implant the idea in your mind it takes time. The paradox is that the harder you try – the worse it gets!”
“And we’re trying too hard?”
“Yes. Many of you are used to karate type training where you have to ‘try’ as much as you can and have to be seen to be trying hard. Tai chi is very different; you use the minimum amount of energy and the ‘softening’ comes from ‘letting go’ in the muscles.”
“Easier said than done!”
“Exactly. To ‘let go’ often means releasing the emotional tension that’s holding the muscles – and to do that, a personal alchemy often has to take place. This is why good martial arts can significantly change you as a person.
At the moment you are imitating softening by bending stiffly, when you soften, you will soften down and internally connect to your feet, this will give you the sung power that you’re looking for and provide you with the spring to power up for the expansion of the peng strike.”
“But HOW do we do it?”
“The irony is that you actually soften up to bring your weight down. You start by letting go and softening the ankles, as you do that you will feel that you are already softening in the knees. When you then let go and soften in the knees you will feel the ‘cascading effect’ begin in the hips. When you let go and soften in the hips you will feel it in the lower back, when you go to the lower back, you will feel it in the chest, when you go to the chest you will feel the head dropping downwards – not forwards and connect into the feet. The connection of head to feet is vital for tai chi practice.
The mantra is ankles, knees, hips, lower back, chest and head. The same process is used for softening down and springing up!”
“So you actually ‘soften up’ and not down?”
“Softening upwards brings the weight and energy down into the feet. The same process is then used to fire the power up and out.”
“Is there anything else we need to do to make it work?”
“Yes, don’t try too hard. Work internally for yourself and not externally to impress others. It takes as long as it takes, but the internal changes for you will be significant. If you find it difficult, it means that you are really hanging on to some emotional tension, therefore when you manage to release it, it will significantly improve your mental and physical health and increase your power.”
“And then we won’t be ‘waving hands like clowns?”
“No, you’ll be internally connected, well balanced, powerful, martial artists… and you won’t have to wear the clown make up!”