Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Tai Chi Hip Movement

Tai chi class was excellent. We spent the entire class on brush knee and the hip joint. The instructor broke down the movement and watched/corrected our form. I love the precision and conservation of movement in Tai chi. It is beautifully complex. When I watch the instructor, I know that there is a depth and purpose to the movement. The instructor ended class with an assignment...think about the hip joint.

There is a basic hip movement in Tai chi which I am having trouble. During warm-ups we perform a hip movement exercise - we stand shoulder with apart and turn our torso using our hips. This sounds easy...but it is not. The instructor looks at me and tells me that my knees are going to hurt because of how I am moving. I end up twisting at the knee which puts pressure on the joint. The instructor has explained this movement several times and indicated that this movement is difficult for many people. He demonstrates how the hip moves when you turn one foot out. The movement is in the joint. When I try to turn at the hip, I keep thinking that my hip is not meant to move this way!
My instructor gave a brief anatomy lesson on the hip joint. He reminded us that the hip is a ball and socket joint and is not like the knee or elbow. Here is where I had a "light bulb" moment. The hip is like the shoulder. I know that this may sound like common sense or information that I should have connected. I was not thinking about the hip as a ball and socket joint. In most instances the hip joint moves forward, can lift or extend to the side. At that point I knew that the hip joint can turn this way! The instructor informed me that it was mind over matter. My brain believes I can turn at the I need my body to follow. Here is an interesting article on the hip and the waist in Tai chi.

I was discussing my hip joint difficulty with a fellow Okinawa Kenpo black belt. I was explaining how difficult I found this fundamental movement in Tai chi. I was describing (to the best of my ability) how the hip joint should move. He tried the move, thought for a moment and told me that it was sort of like a cat stance. He is right! When we sink into a cat stance the hip opens up. Another "light bulb". We discussed how the human body works in specific matter what martial arts style you practice.


Slop -n- Goulash: Dinner of Champions! said...

Okay, now you've got me thinking...I need a video of how that movement works. I want to try it but don't want to try it incorrectly and get all full of myself thinking I'm doing it

Michele said...

I need a video too!

I keep thinking "mind over matter". I visualize shifting into cat stance without moving my feet. The movement is in the hip joint.

Littlefair said...

Hey Michele!

thanks for dropping by :-)

Looks like you've been in the wars yourself what with your ACL tear (ouch).

Good to see it hasn't stopped you training... I'm off now to trawl your blog. Have a good evening!

Jim Roach Classical Tai Chi of Buffalo said...


Please take a look at the videos located at In particular, look at Classical Tai Chi Forum 15 - silk reeling. I'm wondering if what you described can be found in any of the movements there.

If I understand what you described when you say "hip moves when you turn one foot out" it sounds like an "instruction" from an ancient collection of writings by famous Tai Chi Masters..."The Tai Chi Classics". "The hand follows the movement of the foot, the elbow follows the movement of the knee".

Again, if I understand what you say, I think this "type" of exercise is shown at about 3:00 minutes of the video. By the way, the video is shot at "Faust's" USA Karate in Rochester, NY my teacher Master Stephen Hwa has taught there for years.

As you can imagine, there are Karate students in the Tai Chi class. I think what the instructor said to you "should be taken with a grain of salt", don't be irritated by the remark, there is some truth there. For instance, one of the things people have to "unlearn" is to "subdue" the amount of momentum that they generate in order to move from the core of the body (internally). We use momentum to move all of our lives, so one might say we have to "unlearn".

On another concern, "your knees ARE going to hurt if you twist at them". That is because the "Yin/Yang Junction" has become located at the knees due to your movement from that location. In other words "yin = stationary part of body = area below your hips = knees", "yang = moving part of body = all area above knees, including legs".

A remedy is to move from (locate Yin/Yang Junction) above hips, in other words turning from waist, not below hips which would stress knees. Knees get stressed when movement occurs from hips and below. Hips can turn however in the video that I submitted, "when hip moves when you turn foot out". Simply put, that movement puts "yin/yang junction in the middle of spine, so that the body is opening and closing much like opening and closing a BOOK.

Hope this helps. As a long time practitioner and teacher, I agree with your instructor. Tai Chi does require one to "subdue the ego" and "unlearn" many things, also I have many "cement head" habits that I brought with me many years ago...those proved hard to break. If what he says is true, learn from it, if untrue...that is another matter.


Michele said...

Littlefair: Thanks for visiting my blog! ACL surgery/recovery is definitly a battle. You have a great blog and I will check back often.

Jim: Thank you for the comments and the link to the video. I added it to my favorites. Your comments are appreciated and helpful.

I must also thank you for your insights on the "unlearn" comment. The comment was made before class as a response to a student's concern that she had no previous training. I felt that the comment was directed toward those who study multiple styles. I thought he was suggesting that I must "unlearn" Okinawa Kenpo.

As I struggle with the basic tai chi movements, I know I have much to learn. I am enjoying every minute of it!