Learning To Be Soft

I am reading a book by Maria Konnikova. It is entitled “Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes”. Below is a quick video review of what the book is about :-

In the video it is mentioned that :-

i) You can train your brain by deliberate thinking and mindfulness which requires time and practice.

ii) To think like Sherlock Holmes you have to avoid falling for biases and fallacies, practice mindfulness and never stop learning

Why I brought up this topic is because I have taken on a new student, R, who said he wanted to learn Tai Chi so that he can learn to be soft in order to improve his Aikido training. I know that Tai Chi training can teach him to be soft because of our emphasis on optimizing connections and minimizing strength.

As usual, we began the training by learning the 108 form because it contains the basics for learning to be soft. The key to being soft is to cultivate a body structure that is round, non-resistant and able to harmonize with the pressure exerted by an opponent. The Beginning Posture is where we take the first step to cultivating softness.

Just before starting the training I wanted to have a quick feel for what he has learned and achieved over the two years he has practiced Aikido. A good place to start is to check his Tai-no-Henko which is a vital exercise in Aikido. Below is a video showing how Tai-no-Henko is practiced :-

So I grabbed R’s wrist and got him to do Tai-no-henko. He turned and resisted my grab. That was good input because it is an indication, not conclusive, of how much he has learned from an exercise that would normally be taught from the first day, unless that is not the norm in the class that he attended.

Tai-no-henko is a good exercise. To me it is not an internal exercise, at least not by the definition of what we do in Tai Chi, but still a good exercise because it teaches you how not to resist, to use a curve to harmonize, bind and lead, to apply leverage, to unify your body and mind. Anyone who masters Tai-no-henko would have good controlled movement of the arms and stable hips.

In the Beginning Posture after we lowered our hands in front of our body we are required to use intent to unify the body. If you use this coordination here and you add in a body pivot (from the Hao style form) you can easily replicate the Tai-no-henko exercise requirements. So in this sense you can see how Tai Chi can help R to be soft in his Aikido training.

The learning of Beginning Posture begins with balance, defining the baseline of what sensitive balance is. Then we move on to separating the balance to avoid being double-weighted, controlling the balance and moving the weight deliberately. It was not easy for R to do so, it is not unexpected because this takes some training which in turn requires a high degree of mindfulness from adhering to a series of deliberate steps.

We defined the body structure first particularly how to set the base, the axle, the wheel before we move the arms using the 3-Count process. R seemed to learn this part fairly well. I applied some light pressure to check some parts of his structure to see if they were correct and R was holding it up well.

We moved on to Grasp Sparrow’s Tail. Again no big learning problem except to adjust some coordination and timing so that the physical connections are better because they impact the ability to remain soft and generate power.

Overall I think R did quite well. Now he only has to put in more practice to make the movements more natural and accurate. I got R to be able to do basic fajing without having to sit in a low stance or use too much arm power. I wanted him to see that in Tai Chi, at least in our style, it is not about developing your skills but unlocking the skills that is already in us.

R went home with a souvenir from the training. I wanted to see if he has developed any striking power from the practice of Ikkyo, example below :-

Ikkyo starts with a unified vertical cutting motion. When the arm is moving slower it should feel strongly unified. If the cut is performed with a fast motion there should be power. So I asked R to strike my forearm to give me an idea of his power.

He has heavy arms but would need to learn to relax in order to be able to get the force out. I demonstrated on his forearm the type of whipping force we can cultivate using the Tai Chi palm formation and left him a souvenir palm print as shown below :-


As long as R puts in the time to practice daily I am confident he will be able to become a lot more softer and more powerful, hopefully in a matter of months. I mentioned to him that I used to practice 4 hours every night to cultivate the essential requirements. Hopefully, he is motivated to find the time to do consistent practice.



1 thought on “Learning To Be Soft

  1. Pingback: Checklist Your Practice | Master Tai Chi Today

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