Structure – How to learn it

We talk a lot about structure in Taiji. Whenever we do mention “structure”, students nod sagely, but it occurred to me that Greeny and I have never really said what “structure” actually is.

In a nutshell, structure is a combination of the following:
– Alignment: When you align your skeleton in the correct way, it allows your body to relax, receive force and also apply force more easily. (Posture)
– Coordination: Your muscles must be able to comfortably hold your skeleton in the right position, and be able to move your body whilst maintaining that alignment, and this takes coordination and skill.
– Awareness: Structure has to be self-correcting. If you drift out of the right structure, your body needs to be able to get itself back in to the right alignment.

Now, the reason why structure always seems a bit like a Jedi power is because it cannot be explained in words because I cannot articulate how things feel under my skin. It’s an internal thing.

Structure can only be learned experientially, that is, you have to have an experience of what it feels like to recognise what it is, and then subsequently your practise tries to recreate that experience to develop your structure.

The good news is that there are many, many ways to get the experience of good structure:
– Standing meditation: The is the easiest and perhaps the best way to get an experience of what structure feels like. You’re standing still so you’re going to have a lot of headspace to focus on what your body feels like. There is no movement to focus on or distract you. In fact, standing meditation is such a good exercise for body awareness that I still do a lot of it today. Standing meditation really helps to build alignment and awareness from the summary above.
– Form: Playing form slowly helps you build the coordination to keep yourself in good structure. Movement requires your muscles to work in a coordinated way, and slow movement through the form will teach them to hold the right alignment whilst you’re moving. A lot of students who practise a lot of standing report that their form starts to feel like standing after a while. This is a very good thing.
– Pushing hands: Pushing hands is a much more dynamic way to learn structure. This method works all three simultaneously, which is why it can seem a bit bewildering, but it’s also the most direct. You get instant feedback on whether your structure is good or not and more importantly, it shows up holes in your structure that you weren’t aware of.

This is going to sound a bit like a con, but all the exercises are just normal Taiji training methods, there’s no secret technique to it. The best way to learn, it would seem, is to do.

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