What role does the throat play in tai chi?

The waist of the spine is the commander in tai chi movement. 
All tai chi learners know this principle in tai chi.
Not many know the role of the throat plays in tai chi.
The throat is the second in command according the old tai chi treatises.
As soon as you start to move the waist, you should move the throat* to connect with the waist and place the top part of the spine under the control of the sacrum.
The throat and the sacrum, are the two ends of the spine.
When they are connected, the spine moves as one piece in active motion.


When we keep the throat back and up, it might solve many of our problems

Keeping the head up
It is important to keep the head up throughout the tai chi set. 
When the throat moves back and up, it straightens the neck. The jaw should be loose so the chin will drop and the mouth will open slightly. The head will be up as if the spine pushing up the skull.


Keep smiling
We all been told by our instructors many many times to smile while doing tai chi. It is hard to smile without tensing up the cheek.
Now we are smiling without trying.

Breathing
When the throat is back and the mouth opens, the air can be in and out without breathing consciously.
One less thing to worry about. Don't have to ask your instructor when you should breathe in or out.
 
Keeping the torso relatively upright
It is the best way to keep the head up and let the bottom sink.
The torso will be quite upright and not leaning, especially sitting onto the back leg. 

Opening the shoulders
As we move the throat, the shoulders will separate and open wide when they are relaxed with the elbows sinking.

and many more... Give it a try

* if you don't know how to move the throat back and up, try this
Close your mouth and try to swallow, the throat is being sucked up and move back and up.
Now do it with the mouth open and with relaxed jaws.
There is air being drawn in. It is different from the regular sucking the air in to the lung to breathe.

 

Posted on September 29, 2014 .

Lost in Transcription?

During my visit to Beijing in November 2012, I found a huge bookstore.  It was more like a department store (six stories high) for books.  It had an extensive section on Wushu and there were many tai chi titles of all styles.

I came across a book called Li Jing-Wu's Tai Chi Neigong and his Cherished Manual 李經梧 太極內功及所藏秘譜  written by his disciple. Li Jing-Wu was the Wu style tai chi master.
In this book, there is a section on the cherished manual (a reproduction of the handwritten copy of Li's manual).  Also the author wrote some comments on his understanding of the manual.

This manual 太極拳秘宗* was given to Li by his sifu Zhao Tie-An 赵铁庵.  Zhao copied from his own sifu's manual.  All copying was done by hand.  Each copier could substitute a character similar in sound in error.  In fact, the author pointed out a few "typo" characters as he was comparing this manual with other similar manuals*.


This one (which might cause our generation of tai chi practitioners a wrong connotation on the intent of the move) concerned me.
The move is what we translated as "Repulse Monkey" or "Ward off Monkey" in present day parlance.
The Chinese characters in the old manual were 倒輦猴頭
倒輦  means repulse or ward off
猴頭  means monkey's head. 
But 猴 was a mistake and it should be 喉. They sound exactly the same. The left side of the character indicated what group the character 猴 belongs to " 犭- animal" group and 喉 belongs to " 口 - mouth" group.
喉 means the throat.
喉頭  means head of the throat i.e. the Adam's apple
倒輦喉頭  means repulse the opponent at the throat; or strike his Adam's Apple with the hand.
Later on people shortened it to 倒輦猴
That is why it is translated as "Repulse Monkey"
In my opinion, Repulse Monkey gives me a wrong connotation of the move. 
For combat use, striking the opponent's throat or grabbing the opponent's Adam's apple makes more sense.
When we do the tai chi as an exercise, it doesn't matter which intention one has, as long as we do it with good structure and motion.
But when we get to a higher level of tai chi and use intent to guide the movement, a proper intention is needed.
_____
*a similar manual has appeared in books like 吳家太極拳 Wu Taiji Quan.  This book has a section with a reproduction of a handwritten secret manual 手抄秘本 passed down from 吳全佑 Wu Quan-You to his son 吳鑑泉 Wu Chien-Chuan creator of Wu Style Tai Chi.

Also in 楊澄甫式太極拳 Yang Chen-Fu's Taijiquan by 楊振基 Yang Zhen-Ji contains a section of reproductions of a 太極拳老拳譜  Taijiquan "old style" instruction manual.
They all stated the same thing except using different characters for some words.
It looks like those manuals were copied from the same unconfirmed source.

Posted on September 29, 2014 .