Tai Chi steps lay the foundation for mobile Tai Chi practice, providing the base from which to execute a variety of techniques. The characteristics of Tai Chi steps are that they are light, smooth, steady, stable and controlled, reflecting the gentle yet powerful nature of Tai Chi practice. Mastering the basic stepping techniques will not only allow you to progress more easily in the next class, where you will be learning fundamental movements, but will also be essential in your further studies. When learning and training in areas such as forms (Tàolù, 套路) and push hands (Tuīshǒu, 推手), the methods of weight distribution and transferral taught in stepping practice will be integral.
In this class, the three basic stepping directions you will learn are forward step, backwards step and sideways step. These three stepping methods provide the basis for multidirectional movement. Although practiced separately and in isolation during this class, in your further studies, you will be combining multiple steps and directions fluidly with Tai Chi movements as part of forms. The footwork learned in this class will be the underlying foundational element used for both the application of Tai Chi’s fighting and wrestling techniques and for its health benefits in relation to improved mobility, balance, functional strength and blood circulation. Although the movements and technical specifications of each stepping technique are distinct, the same underlying principles inform all stepping methods in Tai Chi. These include:
Bending the knees and lowering the centre of gravity. This is key to the stability and smoothness demonstrated in Tai Chi movement, allowing for extension of the feet in all directions whilst maintaining balance and full control of weight distribution. The centre of gravity should remain low at all times during the steps, including when the feet come together.
Keeping the back and head upright. When practicing steps, you may be tempted to look down at the floor to follow the movement of your feet. Although a visual awareness of the floor and your surrounding space through your peripheral vision is important, it is crucial to maintain good posture throughout your training. To do this, visualise your head being pulled upright from the crown whilst tucking the chin slightly.
Gradual transfer of weight. Stepping in Tai Chi is a controlled and gradual shifting of the centre of gravity from one leg to another. Steps should be both deliberate and light, making contact cautiously with the ground before slowly planting the weight on the stepping leg. Likewise, when the foot leaves the floor, it releases from the ground gently and smoothly.
Coordination of breathing with the steps. Generally, breathing out is coordinated with the steps extending and the bodyweight transferring outwards from its point of origin, whilst breathing in is paired with the feet moving together towards each other.
Using the waist to drive the steps. During your stepping practice, the waist should be engaged and involved throughout, connecting the upper and lower body and helping to provide stable full-body movement. The waist should naturally complement the steps by helping to unite the shifting of your upper body with your steps through actions such as twisting, sinking and rotating, supporting each movement.
Practicing today’s material
Once you have watched the above video and familiarized yourself with the movements and accompanying instructions, try incorporating the below plan into your training to help you progress your stepping ability:
10 forward steps
10 backward steps
10 side steps to the right
10 side steps to the left
Follow the above points carefully and you will progress more quickly when it comes to future Tai Chi learning. Good luck and see you for the next class!