Waist and Knees
by Sifu Gene Nelson,
ATCQA Certified Tai Chi Master Instructor and founder, owner, and chief instructor of
Empire Tai Chi
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Sometimes the effect of something becomes the focus without ever considering the cause. Almost 30 years later I can still hear various teachers saying "your knee is not aligned with your foot" or "your weight bearing knee is collapsing". Other teachers who taught by the "follow along" and all will reveal itself" method, often would reveal itself through knee pain. My response to new students, who asked about articles they have read about Tai Chi knee (pain) has been and still is: "there is no such thing as Tai Chi knee, only bad Tai Chi Knee; and you will not be learning that here."
As I progressed quantitatively, my awareness of knee over foot alignment helped me to keep that weight bearing knee properly aligned. Here is a fabulous Tai Chi stepping drill most mobile students can do that will make this 100% experiential in about 10 minutes.
Opening the Kua, Tai Chi Walking: NOTE: I did not create the following. I learned it many years ago at the Tai Chi Farm.
1. Begin in a forward stance. For this explanation let's assume it's right forward.
2. Draw your hips under and transition to 100% right with the front of the left foot transitioning to the instep of the right foot. (empty left foot)
3. Raise the knee of your left foot up as far as you comfortably can. It should not be so high as to create tension or induce the right knee to lock out. This is also a wonderful balance drill.
4. Turn the left knee out as far as you can (softly). This is an interesting position. You will note that no student has collapsed their right knee or lost their tuck. Be certain to point this out. The waist has not yet turned. Keep in mind this is an experiential drill and flow is not an ingredient
5. Softly turn the waist to the left. Stop! You will note the right knee has still not turned in.
6. Step with the left foot in the same direction as the left knee and stop with the left foot a half inch off the floor.
7. Lower the foot and shift to 50/50.
8. Turn the waist to the left and shift into a left forward stance.
Repeat. I tell students this is a SLOW race and the last person to the end of the room wins. The experience from this will demonstrate that participants have the physical ability and connection to turn the waist without collapsing the knee of the root leg. Repeating this drill regularly will help build up the required muscle memory and connection when doing their form.