It is said that in order to draw the silk from a silkworm’s cocoon, you need to do so in a constant smooth movement.

If done fast or jerky or changing direction too much, the silk will break. If too slow, it will tangle.

So it is with the practice of silk reeling in Tai Chi.

The challenge lies in not forcing the movement or applying unnecessary or uneven effort. It lies within the constant movement, not too fast or too slow. You can see this being applied best through the practice of push hands.

Push hands is a gentle cooperative movement between two people. It teaches the meditative circular usage and it involves the interplay of opposites, yin and yang, relaxation and force, positive and negative.

For example, if a person pushes hard against you, then instead of resisting the force of that push you would move with it.

As the force is applied, usually with the palm of the hand, against your arm you would yield to it.

If the person continues to push at some point, you would be able to upset their balance.

Generally, in the beginning, you go so far then return the force building on the interplay of each other.

Push hands allows tai chi practitioners a chance to test and improve on their flexibility, relaxation, timing, balance and poise as well as a multitude of other benefits including application of the forms they have been learning.

This is the beginning stages, but can quickly evolve into free sparring and applying what is learned from the basic movements of push hands.

San Shou is a series of strikes starting slow and easy then increasing with speed and strength. The partner practises receiving this by absorbing and redirecting the attack then replying with their own attack.

Tai Chi uses a variety of weapons in its practice, too.

The most common weapons used are the sword, fan and staff. When I mention, sword, I would like to point out that there are different ones depending on the style of tai chi and who is teaching. There are single and double-edged swords, sabres, cresent moon swords and a variety of movements particular to each. Often they are practised as a series of movements.

Fans are another weapon people train in. Most people start with the single fan techniques.

After training in this, they can add double fan movements.

I would recommend people go onto YouTube to get an idea of what this looks like. Watching someone skilled in using a fan as a weapon shows how something that looks so innocent can be so deadly.

Wooden staffs are also taught. Generally they are four feet long.

Spears and other weapons can be taught as well. Some still teach the usage of common household items in the practice, but overall it is the more formal weapons that are taught.

Like so many other martial arts, there is not just one practice to be a complete artist. Complementing your training with weapons or breathing techniques or focusing on ki energy can greatly enhance your proficency and understanding of your practice.

Todd Hardy has studied and taught a variety of martial arts over 38 years and trained with many people from around the world. Would you like to comment on what you read here? Contact him at toddhardymla@gmail.com.

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