The Importance of Softness
One of the more important principles you need to follow in your Taichi practice in order to ensure that you are doing true Taichi, is the principle of softness. Without putting this concept into your practice in a true sincere manner, you will not be doing true Taichi, and your energy will not develop. This is something that you must constantly remind yourself about, in order keep from slipping out of Taichi, and into just doing physical level practice.
The problem then is, what exactly is meant by softness? First, do not mistake softness for being limp or lifeless. What we are talking about here is being truly relaxed. You must rid yourself of all bodily tension and stiffness. This will take a lot of dedicated and sincere practice on your part, because no matter how relaxed you may think that you are, you can always become even more so. Each time you practice, spend sufficient time with your loosening warm-ups, (neck, shoulders and waist), so that you release any physical tension. Then go into Preparation, and stay there until you can truly calm the mind. If the mind is not calm, the body will not be either.
When you start your form practice, remember the first Taichi Classic, "When you begin to move, you must be light and limber." This is telling you how to be soft, but make sure you really understand what is being said. For instance, ask yourself what light really means. To be light, you must be suspended, as if hanging from a string. There can be no conflict with yourself or the ground. The energy must flow smoothly without interruption, so that you glide rather than step. Continue to explore every meaning that you can think of for light and put it into your practice.
What about limber? There can be no stiffness in the joints, the body must be supple, your movements flowing like water. You must let go of all tension of any kind. You truly must be like water. All your forms must be done in a truly relaxed manner. Imagine that each join fills with Chi, moving smoothly, rather than being a purely physical, mechanical structure. Again, this is just a starting point. The more sincerely you consider these terms, the greater will be the depth of your understanding of them.
The most difficult part of this to get for most students is the apparent contradiction here. Softness and weakness are not usually associated with power, but rather, the lack thereof. In fact, the only way to achieve true power is through softness. Only by following this principle can you get to the point where you again allow your true self to surface, and your energy to flow and grow. Otherwise, you can put in years of practice, and never progress beyond a certain level. You do this by first practicing at the physical level as a beginner in order to develop awareness of you internal energy. From here, as an intermediate student, you move to the mental level, where you learn to flow your Chi. As an advanced student, your practice becomes much more meditative, the emphasis on following the energy.
Moving from physical to mental, and finally to spiritual level practice is absolutely necessary to achieve true softness. You must get to the point where the energy is truly moving you in order to achieve what we mean here by softness. It is beyond the scope of this article to get into too much depth on this here, as it it worthy of several articles, but I wanted to introduce this, in order to give you an idea what your ultimate goal is. Only when you are truly connected, the energy driving you, will you have achieved a true state of Taichi.
In conclusion, this seemingly simple concept will take years of sincere dedicated practice to achieve. You must read, and then meditate on the Taichi Classics to fully understand what they have to teach about softness. Then, you must put these principles into your practice, reminding yourself of them every day. You go through three levels of practice in your training, physical, mental and spiritual, to further refine your understanding and practice. Only in this manner can you achieve true softness, which will strengthen your flow and allow your energy to grow to the full potentialthat it is capable of.