The autumn leaves are falling like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are always two cups at my table.

T’ang Dynasty poem

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Learning the Internal Dynamics of Tai Chi

If you click on the link, you will be directed to an artice entitled "Learning the Internal Dynamics of Tai Chi" by E. Marie Koepsell. It appeared in Tai Chi Magazine in August of 1998. I've included a portion below. Ms. Koepsell's teacher is Dr. Stephen Hwa, who teaches Classical Tai Chi. Please pay his site a visit. His lineage is certainly interesting. His teacher was Yang WaBu, who lived to be over 100 years old! Mr Yang was a direct student of Wu Chien Chuan, who is considered the founder of the Wu style of Tai chi Chuan. Wu Chien Chuan and his father Wu Chuan Yu were both Imperial Bodyguards who learned their Tai Chi Chuan from the celebrated Yang Lu Chan and his sons. The link was brought to my attention by Mr. Jim Roach, Dr. Hwa's senior student. There are some additional interesting things to be found at Mr Roach's site so please pay him a visit as well. Here is an excerpt from that article:


"The internal physical discipline of T'ai Chi Ch'uan" according to Dr. Hwa, 'involves the intensive training of the body and mind to develop discipline in movements so that the movements originate from the abdomen (dantien) and hack, in addition. the energy flow of these movements are developed in a relaxed body, giving an appearance of effortlessness:'


As we start aging,” according to Dr. Hwa "less and less of our movements came from the waist and back. We hold our middle stiffly, and more of our movements originate from the shoulders and the hip joints. This puts pressure on joints and we lose strength and mobility. Ultimately, we may stop using these area, of our bodies altogether. Atrophy sets in, creating the major problems of aging.”

He demonstrates this by having students raise their arms to shoulder height and push forward He noted that most people lift and push from the shoulder joint and arm muscle. and there is little strength involved. He demonstrated the way he pushes, using his back and abdominal muscles with the shoulder and arm completely relaxed- Similarly, When he moved his arm, across his head, his back and abdomen did the work.

Dr. Hwa similarly feels that T'ai Chi steps should involve the muscles of the torso, the large abdominal and pelvic girdle muscles, to lift and push the leg farad and hack. He said the leg muscles are used to move the body forward and backward. but the muscles of the torso do the work of lifting and positioning the leg, and planting the foot. The weight sifts after the leading foot is planted solidly on the ground, whether it is going forward or backward.

Turning movements of the body, according to Dr. Hua. are done with the feet stationary and the body swivelling at the waist He said it should not he a twisting motion where the hips or legs turn the body. but rather an abdominal movement. When he demonstrates !he movement. his lower and upper abdominal muscles appear to rotate in opposite directions, indicating all the power that this movement generates at the waist:

"The unifying principle of the internal physical aspect of T'ai Chi is that all movement and physical energy originate at the waist and back, the strongest parts of the body and its center of gravity." Dr. Hwa said.


"The first goal for the T'ai Chi practitiioner is to have the qi circulate continuously throughout the body, following the Yin/Yang changes of the movements. To achieve the Yin -Yang balance of the body and mind It is essential that these movements of intense energy and stretching be performed in an otherwise relaxed body and mind.

"The practitioner must not only be aware of the Yin/Yang of individual movements, but also the total Yin/Yang of the body as one goes from movement to movement," Dr. Hwa said.


I have taken only a few steps on the path of learning, but I am amazed by the richness of the art. My prior T'ai Chi exposure was enveloped in a philosophical and abstract context. But now I see that T'ai Chi can be explained in scientific, concrete terms and it is no longer such a mystery to me. I have developed even more respect and admiration for the art. Unquestionably, the internal physical discipline, with its power to bring out the inherent potential in a person, has been, for me, a most significant discovery.


Jamey02 said...


thanks for your post. People of all ages can practice tai chi and transfer it to everyday life. The age group that benefits the most of tai chi is the seniors. As we grow old, the health condition deteriorates. The strength lessens, the joint mobility decreases and the elasticity fades.

Rick said...

When my late mother was in an assisted living home, then a nursing home, I spent a lot of time around old people who were human train wrecks. The sad part was that so much of it was so needless.

walt said...

For many years I've had pain in my right leg, the kind generally called sciatica. Sometimes worse and sometimes better, it seemed that vigorous stretching and intense practice would exacerbate it, so often I would "back off" of leg stretches.
But it never went away.

More recently, I decided to look "squarely at it," and began closely watching how I stood, my alignment, foot/knee relation -- all the stuff I should have been doing right along. After working very slowly (but daily) on it for a number of months, applying as many tai chi and qigong principles as I could muster, I now only feel an occasional twinge. I was aligned on that side poorly, and compensated by thrusting my hip joint out, which compressed my spine, etc. etc. You know how-goes.

It's an interesting dance, trying to un-do the "doing" that is doing the problem.

So when Hwa says we don't use our torso properly, I know from experience it's no mere theory. And I wonder at what point a doctor might have suggested I needed "hip-replacement"?

Very interesting article! Thanks!

Rick said...

All my life, the way the heel on my wore like this: / \ It's the way I stood, and all sorts of alignment issues came along with it.

When I began the standing practice with Rick Taracks and Victor Chao, eventually, I noticed that my heels started wearing evenly.

I've felt a lot better.

C360 Consultants said...

Most Taiji instructors do not teach the fundamentals properly. I recommend to the novices to re-learn the internal basics by learning Yi Quan.

Rick said...

I am working with Dr. Hwa's material and find it completely consistent with the whole body power of Yiquan.

Rick said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rick said...

This is Rick from

I like the article and the hints towards "Unification." I remember Chen Xaiowang and the principle of "one part moves, all parts move. When doing these types of practices and noticing what is or isn't alowed to join in with...

For me, the exploration of fascial connection has been an interesting aspect as well. Segmenting vs allowing the connection to enage and develop.

Then again, finding people who able to model these kinds of thing is the real rarity and gift.

Thanks again for sharing these kinds of thought provoking posts and links.

I guess it has a lot to do with what we notice and repeatedly "do" over and over again.

Rick said...

Thanks for stopping by Rick. It looks to me that what Dr. Hwa is doing is perfectly in line with what you're teaching.

I'm looking forward to working with your group again.

Classical Tai Chi of Buffalo said...

Hi Rick,

Thanks for posting the article and the comments as well. It is interesting to hear from such diverse sources. After years of study it finally dawned on me:

*"Internal discipline" did not just fall out of the sky.

*From the Chen's to the Yang's to the Wu's and on and on through subsequent students and teachers...there has been a constant analysis and refinement of the teachings.

Dr. Hwa studied with Yang Wabiu for over 30 years, till Yang was well into his 90's. Out of the many students who came and went, Hwa remained till he was the only one left ...30 years later.

He, like me, was one of those early birds on the Tai Chi the early 70's none of us had access to DVD in order to remember what our teacher's taught us. One can only imagine the look on Wu Chien Chuan's face to see students nowdays pushing a button on a DVD player and following the movements on a 42" screen.

Hwa's heart has been totally involved in maintaining the legacy of what he learned from Yang, hence his DVD series. He simply had the desire to record what he himself had learned from Yang.

Yet, in spite of the blessing and curse of the technology (we use it wisely or we let it bombard us with its inherent distractiblity)the discipline remains for those who would seek it out.

I find with deeper study of the internal discipline that the "inherent potential" E. Marie Koepsell speaks of is not limited by age or athletic ability. It is however engaged by one's willingness to do their "homework", only we can make the effort no matter what our "lineage".

One has to think as well that since it did not "fall out of the sky", it must have underwent some sort of evolution. A necessary requirement for evolution being the necessity for at least some Masters to have seen a little deeper into what they were taught themselves. Certainly an evolution but the paradox that one must understand is that the Tai Chi has never, ever been changed.

Stephen Hwa says: "According to my teacher Grand Master Young Wabu, he heard his teacher, the legendary master Wu Chian Chuan said that Wu did not change the Yang Tai Chi learned from the Yang’s. In fact, Wu Chian Chuan emphatically said, "It can not be changed".

He continues: "The fact is that the knowledge cycle of learning the classical Tai Chi to understand its eventual consequences is very long. To learn the Tai Chi form takes several years to be proficient. To test the effectiveness of what has been learned in actual martial art application takes another few years. To confirm what the health implications are, especially during older age, requires a human generation."

Further: "Here we have the classical Tai Chi with its numerous components meticulously optimized to satisfy both the requirements of martial art application and health benefits. It must be a multi-generation effort. When Wu Chian Chuan taught my teacher, Tai Chi was already in such an advanced state. One can fully appreciate what he said, "It can not be changed".

Jim Roach

Rick said...


Thanks for posting. I've been working with Dr. Hwa's material, and am "thinking" about internal discipline more than "doing" it, but I would think that this is only natural. As I get better at doing it, I expect that I'll be able to do it a little more, and with greater range.

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