The “Movement Must Originate From Centre” Cliche

It’s an old cliché of Taijiquan. You hear teachers all over the world honking on about this again and again.  “Move from Center!”

But what does it mean?

In theory, it’s easy to understand this, the whole body is connected, and so if you move your centre (or the dan tien) the rest of you will inevitably move.

Of course, when you practise your Taijiquan, it’s a totally different ball game. Most of the time when you first try to move from your centre, you move from just about every other part of you.  You start the Yang Taiji 24 with the best of intentions, but all you really get is a bunch of rather vague movements that are unidentifiable as any form you might have been taught.

So, you’re scratching your head. I certainly did, right up until the point I thought that I’d been conned. I really thought the old Taijiquan master who made that principle up was looking down on all of us trying to do it and laughing his head off. It really felt like a multi-generational practical joke.

Movement from centre is only half the story

Let’s take a step back. The principle talks of movement from centre from the perspective of someone who can already do it. So it’s a loaded statement. We can never really know what the master who invented that principle took for granted. What we can do, however is reverse-engineer a question.

What do I need to make my movement start at my centre?

That’s a far more useful question to ask. Here’s four answers:

- I need to be aware I’m moving my centre: When you first try to move from your centre for the first time, you end up moving everything else BUT centre. Get someone to watch you. If your hips don’t lead the movement, you need to keep working on your awareness of centre.  When you get it right, they’ll be able to tell you, and remember how that feels, you’ll be needing that feeling again later.

- Minimal unnecessary tension: You don’t want to carry any more tension than you absolutely need to. If you’re standing up, you can’t be 100% relaxed, as you’re going to need some tension in the body to hold you upright. Study your postures to see if you can minimise or eliminate all the tension that you don’t need to stay upright.

- Structure and alignment: You can’t be so relaxed you’re like a jellyfish. Every movement must have structure and the body must be properly aligned.   The body is too complex a thing for you to constantly be thinking “Adjust elbow 1 inch, move kneed ½ inch.” If you tried (and I have), your brain would explode (and it did). Structure is something you get from doing lots of standing practise, or going through the form very, very slowly.

- Connectedness: This is perhaps the hardest to get. Being connected requires the right balance of tension and relaxation in the right places to allow the movement of the core to manifest in the limbs. This is something you can train, and the Chen silk reeling exercises are a great example of a connectedness (amongst other things) exercise. The good news is that any posture can be a connectedness exercise.

Ask the question:

How can drive the posture’s movement from my hip wiggles?

It’s a bit like riding a bike, it takes a while to get it, but once you do, it’ll be with you forever.

Photo by bilco

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