I’ve written a lot on softness, on why I believe in relaxation and how strength comes from softness and not by using hardness. Mostly, I don’t write separate posts on this subject, though there are one or two separate posts, as this one: Strength from Softness – Softness from Strength.
One important point I would like to add to all of this about relaxation is why it’s important to practice with complete relaxation, being as soft as possible without compromising the structure and angles of the “shapes” or the individual movements.
Shouldn’t you try to hold your muscles at least a little “al dente”? You know, having a rubber kind of feeling or something similar? No.
No? Why no? Well, imagine that you are playing pool games, billiards or bowling or painting with Chinese ink technique, or doing any other kind of movements in sports, handicrafts or anything that demands a kind of very, very precise movement. Just like you aim for that ball with the cue, you need to cut off any other muscle, and muscular movement, that disturb or prevent the precision of your aim and movement. This kind of precision of movement is exactly what you practice every time and all of the time in Tai Chi Chuan. You always practice to do only exactly what a certain movement demands from your body.
So, if you lift up your hands, you should relax everything to the extreme so that the body support only the movement and the structure behind the shape of the movement. The more you relax, the more you will let go of unnecessary effort and only use the muscles that do the movement. Moving is enough, don’t to anything else that is necessary. Even if you move with your whole body, using whole body movement and whole body coordination, only move exactly what is necessary of that movement.
This is the same for push hands and applications. Don’t use effort, don’t use strength, don’t add anything else for structure, have a feeling of “al dente” or anything else. Just move and relax. Why? Because when you throw, punch or do anything, you want to use your body as efficient as possible. You don’t want to fragment your energy, using muscles for anything else than for exactly what you want to do. If you can find the same precision as some movements in different sports and handicraft demands in whatever you do, your punches will be stronger regardless what punch or punching technique you use. Your throws will be stronger and you will preserve your energy to continue on fighting. Practicing this skill of precision of movement and preserving energy begins in your form practice. No even before, even as you just stand, relax and breath. If you can completely relax your body while moving, without interfering posture or movement, you have already come a long way.
Of course, you need to remember this when you practice against resistant partners and opponents as well. When it come to this, especially challenges and competitive events, people tend to lack in faith in their relaxation and this means that they will abandon their best skills. So always when you practice against someone else, pay special attention on always relaxing as much as possible and only use exactly what in your body that is necessary for any kind of application or technique you perform. Don’t add structure, strength, “peng” or anything else. The refined movement and your body’s ability to change will give you any structure or “peng” you need. Your body knows what to do, if you only listen to it and keep relaxed.