Part 1 of 3:
Tai Chi Weight Shifting – Shifting the Sands of Yin and Yang and Finding Gold
We shift our weight from one foot to the other all day long and rarely ever notice. Just like standing and walking shifting our weight is something we almost entirely take for granted and do automatically. In Tai Chi we try to do this consciously and skillfully. Training how we stand and shift our weight is one of the strong points of learning Tai Chi. Studying and mastering how we stand, step, and shift our weight is where people improve their balance and learn how to avoid falling. In addition, to avoiding falling by miss stepping, Tai Chi practice also helps you avoid falling if you are accidently bumped and even if someone is deliberately trying to throw you down.
In martial arts, regard less of style, people train their legs and their stepping. How martial artists train and use their legs is one of the distinguishing traits of each style. Some styles use low stances, others never do. Some styles of martial arts use extremely mobile footwork and longer steps other styles use much shorter and tighter steps and take far fewer steps. In a lower stance you will be more stable and harder to topple or throw because your center of gravity is lower. However, lowering your stances often slows down peoples stepping.
When we shift our weight from one leg to the other in Tai Chi we are practicing shifting without tilting our pelvis or moving up and down. We aim to keep the pelvis perfectly level with the tail bone pointing downward and anchoring the spine and helping stabilize the body. One of the things that makes Tai Chi look so magical is when people are stepping and moving they maintain a poised evenly balance position with their hips and the center of their body. Because Tai Chi players stay at the same height while they practice their Tai Chi their head, heart, and body center all remain at the same height. This is a challenge because unlike normal walking, in Tai Chi our legs are bent more and we are taking deliberate steps into strong martial arts stances where the center of our body, our center of gravity and the mass of our body is lowered. The more we lower our body without tilting, or twisting the spine or the hips the more difficult it becomes. This is especially true if you are also lengthening your stances and taking long slow steps to get into the next stance. Going lower with good posture requires and develops the strength and flexibility of the legs!
Because Tai Chi goes slowly focuses on this aspect of posture and movement Tai Chi is a great style for martial artists from other styles to cross train if they wish to improve these specific aspects of their skills. Tai Chi practice can help many other martial artists to refine their skills and increase their power and balance.
When we shift our weight onto one leg that leg is said to be full or “Yang”. The other leg then becomes “Yin” or empty. In Tai Chi philosophy Tai Chi is an everchanging and constantly interacting combination of both Yin (black) and Yang (white). When we shift our weight from one leg to the other and back again this constant change of Yin and Yang in each leg mirrors ever changing movement symbolized by the Tai Chi symbol. Tai Chi experts are adept at using the weight shifting and turning of their body to both neutralize the power and aggression of their opponent and to develop and deliver power for self defense techniques of their own. Tai Chi is well known for this type of movement. When we look at the Tai Chi Form the most common combination, that is repeated the most times in the Long Form, is the 4 movements of Ward Off, Roll Back, Press, and Push. Ward Off starts with a forward step and weight shift onto the front leg, Roll Back shifts weight to the rear leg, Press shifts forward to the front leg again, and the Push first shifts the weight backward and then forward within the same movement. Back and forth, back and forth the weight goes. Constantly changing between Yin and Yang , Empty and Full, shifting our weight mimics the action of Yin and Yang through out the cosmos. When the opponent shifts forward with Yang energy we neutralize with (false) Yin energy, strategically moving away and turning we lure them into becoming overextended and powerless, vulnerable to our counterattack when we shift forward. Then when manifest our Yang energy, and counter attacking at the moment of their greatest weakness (true) Yin.
Internally, shifting our weight constantly and consciously helps us to stretch and strengthen all the muscles of our hips and lower back. Ideally when you shift your weight you will be really shifting. It is possible to do a small weight shift moving between being 55% on one leg and 45% on other. Or you can shift much more fully and be 90 or 95% on one leg and only 5 or 10% on the other leg. To make such deep weight shifts you need to train your hips, develop some strength and flexibility, and learn how to relax. To deeply shift your weight to one leg you need to deeply relax the other hip. Deeply relaxing the muscles around your hip also allows you to turn hips much further and to turn them much faster and more explosively. Developing the ability to turn your hips suddenly and explosively while maintaining great structure is fantastic for developing power for striking or throwing. Being able to turn your hips and shift your weight quickly without loosing your balance and remaining stable makes it much easier to dodge or counter the opponents attempts to strike or grab you. This deep motion in the pelvis is also fantastic for stimulating the circulation of blood, lymph, and synovial fluid throughout the pelvic region. This circulation will help maintain the health of your hips.