The more I practice Tai Chi, the importance I place on the awareness of and engagement of, the kua, grows. This area, where the earth chi meets and blends with the yang chi, is the home of the lower dan tien, and the area where the chi generated by the legs gets refined and changed into torso energy which then is channeled into the arms, or back into the legs for kicking and stepping. The awareness of this area is essential for Tai Chi mastery, and is not difficult or, in any way, secret.
Stand up straight and jump up. Hard to do. Now squat down and jump. Yes, that works. The more you squat, the more energy you have to release into a jump. Tai Chi doesn't use jumps to a great degree (replacing the foot in Raise Hands, Play the Fiddle, Needle at Sea Bottom can be jumping), but what we do is propel the body forward or back using the same principles and energy as jumping. This is why we use the bow and sit stances. So we can gather energy into the kua for later releasing.
I use the image of pushing the earth away to aid me in developing this source of power. Moving from sit stance into bow stance, for instance, I think about using the back leg to try to push the earth away using my sitting leg. Since the earth isn't going to move, I am pushed forward by my leg pressing onto the ground. When moving back from bow to sit, I can use the front leg to push me backward. The lower, up to a certain point, I squat, the more energy gets compressed into the leg for releasing. It is very simple once you get the hang of it. And you have to pay attention to the very slight angle of the torso when pushing away, so that the releasing energy pushes the body in the direction you want it to go.
When moving forward, one leans very slightly forward. Think of a sprinter on the blocks. That person is really angled forward so when the legs push off, the torso goes forward. In Tai Chi our torso is straight upward, but must be angled. Try it out. Moving from sit to bow, first keep the upper body very straight and push down with the sitting leg. You will probably push your upper body upwards, like a jump. Now angle the upper body slightly, and I mean slightly, forward and push. Experiment around until you see how you can channel this pushing force into a forward direction. The same holds true for moving back. You must angle the body slightly so your pushing down does not result in moving the torso upward.
The same idea is used for foot kicking. I can gather energy into the raised leg kua area while standing on the other leg, and push the earth away with the bottom of the foot for thrust kicks, or with the top of the foot for snap kicks.
Explore this image and it will greatly increase your skills and level of fun. It is ever present in your form. Explore and enjoy.
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