If you have read this blog thoroughly or know me in person, you might know or at least suspect that I am a firm believer in softness, extreme softness. If you read my post on Pengjin, you will understand that I believe that to really understand pengjin, you need to excel in relaxation or “song” and treat softness as a skill that needs to be developed through practice. Softness is not “not to tense” but something that takes time to develop just as strength and hardness takes time to develop.
And further: Tai Chi is not really about “balancing hard and soft”, and the art is not about “adding” hard to soft or soft to hard. Strength and hardness is a functional use of relaxed, balanced movement with structural support, root and done with speed. Thus is can be said that the strength and hardness that characterize Tai Chi Chuan as a martial art and combat system are derived from softness.
But in another sense, it is impossible to develop true softness and “song” without strength. For the upper body to achieve the best possible use of softness, the lower body needs strength. There must be strong roots, a strong stance (it does not need to be wide or visibly strong). If you don’t have a very good balance and stability and you meet someone using strength, trying to punch your face, break your guard, push you down, you can not maintain control and “song” if your lower half is not very stable. Thus we can say that The root of softness and relaxation is strength. The firmer the roots goes down into the ground, the more playability the arms can have. The branches my fly around in the wind, but the base will not be moved.
You might think that I propose a stationary defense, but that’s not the case. You should not move more than necessary but you should not stand still more than necessary as well. Also, it’s difficult to have a really good footwork if the legs have no strength. In my experience, it’s those who have the strongest root and are most stable that are the best to move swiftly, suddenly jump up or dance away.
Practice softness and practice core strength and rooting as well. Practice these qualities together. Together with a partner, try to learn to become immovable, but also practice to be air, or wind. It’s your opponent that should move his “hands like in clouds”. Then he is swept around like a leaf in the wind. When something hits him, whatever it might be, it will be felt as solid as he was ran down by a truck. This combination of not being there, emptiness, together with complete fullness is the experience I have had with all of the greatest Tai Chi practitioners I have met.