Relax. Relax. Relax.
There. Really understand what "relax" means, and you've pretty much mastered the essence of Tai Chi. So said Cheng Man-ch'ing, one of the most eminent teachers of Tai Chi.
Relax (sung). My teacher must have repeated these words many times each day. 'Relax! Relax! Relax completely! The whole body should completely relax!' Otherwise he said, 'Not relaxed, then you are like a punching bag.'
To comment on the single word sung is extremely difficult. If you can relax completely, then the rest is easy. Here I have written down what my teacher told me daily in order to make his teachings understandable to others.
Relax means to soften the tendons and blood vessels of the whole body. You cannot permit even a little tension. This is known as "A soft waist that can fold a hundred times as if it had no bones." If you had no bones and only ligaments, then the ligaments could relax and open up.
But most people aren't interested in learning Tai Chi as a movement art. The forms take a long time to learn. Even longer to feel comfortable doing. Longer still to practice (or "play") proficiently.
I've been learning Tai Chi for about nine years. I'm still a beginner. Nonetheless, I'm starting to appreciate the importance of sung, relaxation, physical and psychological movement without tension.
Everybody can benefit by letting go, relaxing, becoming like flowing water instead of rigid ice.
Last week I saw a demonstration of how sung, relaxing, works in Tai Chi push hands. My instructor, Warren, was pushing hands with Eric, a fit, strong fellow Tai Chi student.
Here's a video that shows what pushing hands looks like. It's much more of a collaborative dance than a competition. An opportunity to practice sung, relaxation. Which isn't limpness. Sung is tensionless energy.
Warren and Eric were pushing hands much like the two men were at the beginning of the video. Except maybe a bit more freestyle. Periodically Warren, the instructor, would take Eric's center -- moving him off balance.
After they finished, Warren asked Eric "How did that feel?" Eric replied, "Good. Except when you took my center." Warren said, "And when did that happen?"
Eric thought for a few seconds. During that time a thought popped into my head. When Eric tried too hard. That was Eric's answer also.
Warren elaborated. "When I felt you tighten up, push too hard, I re-directed that tension back into you. This is the key to push hands. Wait until you feel tightness in the other person. Then connect to that tension and use it against them."
That was the gist of what he said, at least. Nothing really new to me. However, it also was.
Watching Warren and Eric, I better understood how self-defeating rigid reactions are, whether physical or psychological. Since, I've been doing some sung practice of my own without any physical Tai Chi involved.
Some common sayings (in the United States, at least) capture what the issue is. He yanked my chain. Or She pushed my buttons.
Meaning, the other person got me upset, rattled, off balance. Why? Because of a lack of sung, relaxation, looseness.
If a chain isn't firmly fixed to something, it can't be yanked. If a button isn't tightly wired to an apparatus, it won't have any effect when pushed.
It is much more difficult for someone or something to bother us if we soften up, just as it is much more difficult for someone or something to push us off balance physically if we relax. (This video shows how re-direction can work in Tai Chi from a marital arts perspective.)
So I've been paying more attention to that moment when something happens and I start to tighten up. Again, either psychologically or physically.
Immediately relaxing, softening, letting go of tension -- that helps a lot. Most disturbing happenings in life don't require an "all hands on deck" reaction. A driver who cuts me off. A comment that offends me. A news story that irks me.
Letting it go. Redirecting the incoming energy (which, of course, is mine, since almost always what I have to deal with is my own psychological response, not someone else's physical action).
I don't like the word "spirituality" any more. Doesn't mean much to me, since I no longer believe in spirit as a supernatural entity. Still...
There's good reason to say that sung, relaxation, not trying so hard, this is the key to being spiritual. After all, Cheng Man-ch'ing also says:
Sink (ch'en). If someone can relax completely, then this is ch'en. If the ligaments and blood vessels relax, then the whole body (of which they are a part) sinks down.
Basically, ch'en and sung are the same thing. Ch'en means not floating. Floating violates Tai Chi Chuan. If your body can sink, this already is good, but you must also make the chi sink. If the chi sinks, then the spirit (shen) gathers. That is very useful note: "When the shen is gathered the mind becomes clear."