5 Stages in Chi Cultivation for Tai Chi

Union Instructor Jian Xiong

Probably all Tai Chi students have heard their instructors saying, “Sink your Chi down to Dan Tian”. But have any of you ever asked, “But how?”

It’s all too easy for any teacher to talk about moving the Chi this way or that way, but if they don’t show the students how each stage of energy work or Chi cultivation is carried out, where do the students start? How do the students suppose to know how to move their Chi if they haven’t even found their Chi yet?

Chi cultivation is one aspect of Tai Chi which has been cluttered with confusion, misunderstanding and secrecy, especially over here. I myself am no expert in the subject of Chi, but at least I can discern what is real and what is false thanks to the selfless insemination of his valuable knowledge and guidance from my teacher, Mr. Li Lian in Beijing, a next generation disciple of Great Grandmaster Wu Tu Nan (1884 – 1989).

According to Mr. Li Lian, chi cultivation involves four stages of work: Yang – nurturing, Xu – accumulating, Yun – circulating and Shi – applying. But before any of the 4 stages of training can be carried out, there is a preliminary stage of work that the student must undergo to make himself ready – he has to learn how to eliminate tensions so to unblock his Chi to allow it to flow freely around his body. This stage of work is crucial if the student wants to progress in his practice later. In fact in the old days, a master used to tell any beginner to go away and practice the basic “tree stance” or “pole standing” for 3 months (daily) before he’s ready to show the student anything else. The challenge for this stage of training is the ability to let go, stop forcing things to happen but be patient and quiet to allow things to happen. Only when you allow the body and mind to become relaxed, still and quiet that the Chi within can start to flow without interruption. I like to call this process ‘un-conditioning’ or ‘un-doing’ because it’s very much about un-doing all the previous conditioning either in the body or in the mind which has caused tension and rigidity to accumulate within. I’ve found from my teaching experience that most beginners are so used to holding tension inside that they are not even consciously aware of such tension or even fear. Therefore the initial task for any beginner would be to stand and be quiet to allow true awareness to emerge.

My personal advice is to practice for minimum 40 minutes each session preferably outdoor standing on flat soil if possible rather than on concrete patios. Make sure you’re facing the south and wearing comfortable loose clothes. In winter time make sure you wear warm clothing and cover your neck and throat. Do not wear shoes with thick soles or heels. Remember that standing is not about holding the posture but more about allowing the body and mind to quieten down and relax so that tension and rigidity will dissolve to allow Chi to start to flow. Do not attempt to force your breathing to go deep or apply any so-called breathing techniques. Simply allow the breathing to flow naturally. With consistent practice and time, and of course the right guidance from the teacher, the student should start to feel the initial stirring of his Chi inside – the involuntary trembling of the limbs, tingling sensations on the palm and fingertips, warm sensation in the lower tummy around the area of Dan Tian and bubbling sensation on the soles of the feet in the Bubbling Spring area, etc. This stage of work is very time-consuming and requires considerable self-discipline from the students. It cannot be simply “taught” by any teacher or master and must come by through the effort of the students himself. There is no shortcut or knacks for this aspect of work unfortunately. Anyone who thinks they are fit to learn ‘advanced techniques’ such as Chi disruption (as boasted by a certain self-named Tai Chi master) is deluding himself and probably will cause himself damage more than anything else.

Once the Chi starts to move, it will automatically sink and congeal around the Dan Tian area provided you do not tense up and become rigid. So I would say “sink your Chi down to dian tian’ is a natural result of carrying out the initial stage of energy work correctly and therefore should not be regarded as a technique on its own. This implies that student starting their Tai Chi training should not deliberately force their Chi to move down towards their Dan Tian. If they do this they are only going to tense up more and thus further obstruct their Chi flow. Even when they’ve practiced enough to get this freer Chi flow, they should not think this is the end on its own and there’s no more work to be done. For students who intent to practice Tai Chi as an internal martial art, this initial stirring of Chi is only the beginning. The real substantial and pains-taking stages of work are awaiting them ahead.

I shall try to expound on the later stages of Chi cultivation over the next few months.

For more information on Great Grandmaster Wu Tu Nan’s tai chi lineage, please visit www.freetao.co.uk