Yang Tai Chi: “Loosen the Waist” – a poor translation of a very important Yang Family Principle
Wednesday, February 18, 2015 at 10:23AM
Bob Boyd


The Chinese language, as most readers know, does not translate word-for-word into English or other romance languages. Chinese characters have multiple meanings, and the choice of meaning is based on the reader's understanding of the subject matter.

“Loosen the waist” is an example of a translation done by someone who did not understanding the practical application of the principle. Unfortunately, this translation has been accepted and repeated over and over again in publications about Yang style tai chi. The true meaning of this great principle has nearly been lost over time.

First of all, the term “waist” in English, is generally considered to be the belly area of the body. A large or small waist usually refers to the size of an individual's abdomen or “waist line.” Loosening the abdominal muscles would weaken the body's core strength and prevent the development of internal power. A trained tai chi martial artist needs a “waist” that can withstand blows, so a strong mid-section is a must.

The principle “loosen the waist,” refers to the lower back, which consists of the lumbar vertebrae, the sacrum and the coccyx and the surrounding mucles and connective tissue. The lower back often serves as the support system for body weight, and can become stiff over time causing back pain and injury. Weak abdominal muscles only add to the burden on the lower back. Internal core muscles should support the body weight and allow the lower back muscles to release and become supple. Then the spine can move freely without impingement.

There is an old saying in tai chi that “loosening the waist give power to the feet.” This is quite true. When the lumbar vertebrae, sacrum and coccyx are released in tai chi or chi kung, the feet can “root” to the ground when the kua is raised (or more importantly when the back is raised).

Loosening the lower back is difficult and requires deep concentration on the part of the tai chi practitioner. Breaking the habit of using the low back and buttocks for tai chi movement can only be achieved when the student can comfortably use “raising the back” to initiate tai chi movement.



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