There’s a concept in T’ai Chi that is most often translated into “Central Equilibrium”. The name of the principle is Zhongding and in T’ai Chi this is also one of the five directions, or the center from where all of the other directions derive. If you stand straight up and down, and turn on the spot around your own centreline, to face the left or the right, you have established four new directions. So you don’t only move from this place, but it’s the place from where you organise the directions, your distance to everything around you, and all of the space around you.
Vertical alignment – horizontal wheel
But why this name? Isn’t “zhong”, or middle enough? Why adding “equilibrium” to “center”. To have this thing called Central Equilibrium you must know how to keep the center intact. The absolute center is your own vertical centerline, the vertical middle of your body, from the top of your head down to the bottom of your base. You must always consider this centreline. The Tai Chi classics says: “Stand still like a balanced scale, move freely like a turning wheel.” All your movements, forward, to the side, pushing or striking, involves keeping your vertical centreline while making use of the horizontal, spinning wheel.
In the beginning when you start to practice Tai Chi, you need to learn how to move and walk vertically straight, to learn how to feel your own center and how to keep it always. And you should try to feel how to keep your vertical alignment while spinning around your body around it, like a “freely spinning wheel”. Later when you understand the very basic of keeping the centreline intact, you can start moving more freely with a more free shape. You will understand that if your body is balanced, you can keep the centerline even when leaning or moving the spine to store and release jin.
Practically, from a martial perspective, you must always know how to keep the integrity of the center, and also know how to immediately return to this center if you lose it. Keeping the center is one key. Knowing how to return to it is another key.
Keeping the center so you don’t need to return to it
Think about playing Badminton or imagine running around a Tennis court. For every ball you hit and return, you must consider the center of the court and return to it. If you need to run to the edge of the court to meet the ball, then as fast as the racket meets the ball, you must consider going back to the center of the court. From the center, it’s easier and faster to move around and in different directions. If you get too far out to the corners, it will take a longer time and it will be harder to position you again.
Something similar goes for T’ai Chi as well. If you play pushing hands or fight, it’s the same: You must always consider your own center, your own physical center and internal center, and understand how the movements derives from there. However, in T’ai Chi, you should never leave your own center. You must learn to always keep it so you can be free and move in any direction at any point and whenever you wish.
But if you are forced to compromise the integrity of your balance. or of your center, you must consider taking it back as soon as possible. If you reach too far out with your limbs, or lean too much with your body, so you lose the control of the centreline, you must still be aware of it and take charge of your own middle as soon as possible. Then again, you can have mobility in all the five directions. As soon as you are forced to leave the center, you need to consider to return to it. Preserving control of the balance and of the centreline no matter what, you can always have mobility whenever you need, and in whatever direction you need.
Please also read: On Integrity