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Correct Timing & Position

In this edition of unpacking the Tai Chi Classics we examine the following verse.

If correct timing and position are not achieved the body will become disordered;
 and will not move as an integrated whole,
 the correction for this defect must be sought in the legs and the waist.

This verse describes a common problem when interacting with a strong partner. If we do not move at the correct time and take the correct position, our own structure will suffer the consequences. We will have to distort our position and our body in order to cope with the superior structure and position of the partner. It is an extremely common occurrence in Martial Arts but in Tai Chi. where there is a focus on our own body it is of larger importance. 

applicationImagine walking along and encountering a thick tree branch on your path and just continuing without considering its bulk or strength, we would bump into the branch or trip over it.  Instead, of course, we move with correct timing and position as our body arrives at the branch, we simply rotate or move out of the way and continue our path forward.

The branch represents the superior force, and whether 1lb stronger or 1000lbs, the result is the same, we have to adjust our body to effectively avoid meeting it head on. This is what is meant by correct timing and position.

It is very important to understand that ‘correct’ here simply means appropriate for the current situation. This is a common misconception in Tai Chi, that there is a correct and an incorrect way of moving in a fighting encounter. Although this is true of solo training and the embedding of our Shenfa, when we work with a partner or opponent there is only ‘appropriate’ timing or position. Appropriate to end the encounter, win the exchange and not sacrifice our own position in the process.

The incorrect timing or position can be thought of as a disjointed approach to the present moment. Moving inappropriately and out of rhythm, outside of the ever-changing conditions of the encounter. We are moving in a pattern by which we end up opposing the opponent structure, position or timing. This opposition of the opponent's movement or position will end in us having to distort our own structure in order to find a way around it. Poor ‘timing’ is an important factor in that, if we arrive late we have to distort to catch back up. 

Instead, we have to work to find the correct timing and move to the correct position so that we can maintain the order of our body. When we move with precision and timing we are always able to maintain our centre without needing to ‘recover’. Working with some amazing fighters, this is something that they all do extremely well. They never lose sight of the importance of this one aspect of the fight, they always appear to be in the right place at the right time.

Movement towards the correct position and at the right time is derived from the legs, harmonizing the lower and upper halves is found in the waist. Almost no occurrence is present in a combat of encounter where we do not move the legs or we do not move the waist. These two areas of the body are vital to our ability to adjust our angle, present different dynamics to the opponent and provide the optimum position for the expression of our force.  This is what is meant by seeking the correction in the legs and the waist. With good leg and waist skill we are able to move in towards the opponent, move away, move to the sides, create angles and freely rotate.

orderedOutside of this mechanical consideration however, we must also understand that a mind that is capable of momentary awareness is the key. This could be described as a facet of Ting or ‘listening’, in that we are constantly moving in way that is in harmony with the opponent, never butting into them clumsily.

This verse is an extremely practical guide to understanding correct movement. Remember, correct means correct for the time and place in which we find ourselves, the ever-changing conditions of the encounter or process. Correct does not mean that we must adhere to certain concepts or principles at the expense of good timing and position. We can have the best structure, the best peng, and the best movement in Tai Chi solo form training. But if the timing and position are incorrect, we will inevitably become disordered and lose integration in our body.

This subject is of great importance to the Tai Chi Adept wanting to understand how to apply Tai Chi in a non-cooperative encounter. The best fighters in the world are masters of timing and position. Timing and position gives us the opportunity to express our art and press our advantage on the opponent without sacrificing our own structure.

It is worth studying and examining this concept as deeply as possible.

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