"In matters of style swim with the current, in matters of principle stand like a rock." Thomas Jefferson
There are two principles we hold to be paramount in our Tai Chi Chuan. 1. Invest in loss, and 2. Return to the root. These two principles hold infinite potential for growth and self-discovery, but what do they mean, and how do they accomplish the former?
These are questions I’ve asked myself ever since I first learned of the principles. They have granted me a road map out of depression, and into progress. I share the answers I’ve found so that they may also help you in such a way.
In my practice I made the mistake of trying to apply these principles separately. This is a terrible mistake because one principle builds on the other.
When I started I was only seeking to invest in loss, by yielding in every aspect of my life. It took me a while, but I found out this is not a good way to live. Sadly it took going through divorce, losing everything I had a couple of times, and living in a roller coaster of emotional upset to figure this out.
On coming to my senses I remembered an important lesson my grandmother had been teaching me my entire life. It’s that by knowing our spirit/true-selves we find our root. My Tai Chi teacher expanded on this saying “It is by returning to the root, we are able to invest in loss properly.”
Knowing your true self is a daunting task which takes perpetual work. This work consists of truthfully looking within. Finding your true self is done by seeking, questioning, reevaluating what you believe in, what your goals are, and prioritizing what you find to be most important. It requires self-reflection and building the confidence to hold your findings firmly as well as creating boundaries to let it take root in your being. This is the foundation of returning to the root. Investing in loss is part of this work but more in the external sense.
Returning to the root is the internal practice of seeking our personal root. Investing in loss is the act of getting there. This means that in order to return a few things need to be present.
We need to know what we are returning to
We need to have confidence to hold onto this in the light of hardship
We need to objectively examine all challenges to our foundations.
Once this foundation is in place we are able to add the second piece to the puzzle. Invest in loss to get there. Investing in loss is the act of getting rid of unnecessary things in order to return to the root. This means taking action, then correcting errors in that action and trying again.
In the physical practice of Tai Chi Chuan investing in loss means seeking to accomplish all the principles in the practice of form, push hands, and application. In short the principles are the root of our practice. We take this root and then expand it into the healing/martial applications. They help us achieve relaxation in movement and the most efficient use of our bodies. To find the most efficient use we must practice the correct way of moving returning to the root, in seeking this we must lose our bad habits hence investing in loss.
As I’m sure you’ve probably figured out by now, it’s a cycle, seek the root, invest in loss to get there, once there continue seeking the root, invest in loss to get there etc.… In this way the practice becomes endless progress by returning.
In our Tai Chi Chuan we have 25 basic principles. To help us realign the body I’ll outline them below to give you a better picture of our practice.
Relax mind and body completely.
Head as though suspended by a string.
Back straight and perpendicular to the floor at all times.
Nose in alignment with belly button.
Shoulders relaxed and sunk away from the ears.
Elbows flexed and heavy.
Elbows about one fist away from ribcage.
Elbows never above the chest.
Elbows never break the plane of the ribs.
Hand of the “fair maiden”.
Wrists straight or bent
Whole body movement/waist is the Commander.
Kua (distinct inguinal crease on weighted leg).
All the weight on one leg.
Knee heavy and over KD 1 of weighted foot.
Knees flexed at all times.
Back leg hangs like a curtain
Foot, knee, belly button, sternum, nose, in one line when all weight is on one leg.
Feet shoulder width and length apart.
Stepping out or forward with heel/toe and pull to shift weight sequence.
Head stays at or below chosen level after commencement of the form.
Maintain slow steady speed without stops or starts
Daniel R. Hyde Licensed Massage Therapist OIF, OEF Veteran U.S. Marine Corps Instructor of: Tui Na, Chinese Massage Thai Massage Shiatsu, Japanese Massage Tai Chi Chuan Chi Kung Yi Chuan Kwan Ying Do Kung Fu