During the February-March 2003 time frame, I was working on a project in the Washington, DC area. I was working there every week, Monday - Friday and was scheduled to be there for at least six months. I had worked there in the past and have some friends who live in the area.
One of my friends has found Tai Chi and really enjoys it. I went to one class with him one evening and was hooked. I signed up for the class and started attending two nights each week.
Each class started with an hour of "joint exercises". The intent of these exercises was to move every joint in the body. They started with the fingers, rolling them into the hand. Then they moved to the hand, rolling the fingers into the hand and rolling the hand closed. The wrists came next, then they moved up to the elbow, shoulder, and neck. Then they moved down the body down the spine to the hips, knees, ankles, feet and toes. After moving each joint in a section of the body (i.e., the arm), they would do movements that used all of the joints in that section. They ended with a self massage of the head (scalp, ears, eyes, nose, face) and then a quick self massage over the entire body. When you spend an hour on this, it is surprising how much energy you have expended. And I was a 32 year old trying to keep up with people in their 60 and older!
After the joint exercises, we broke up into groups to work on forms. The instructor that I worked with was leading a group of beginners. He took his time to make sure we were using the correct posture for each movement. While I was there, we learned the first part of the "Short Form". The short form has 41 movements; I learned only 8 of those movements, so I am far from an expert - hardly enough experience to call myself a student.
Each of the eight movement that I was taught was broken down into smaller steps which are executed slowly. When most people think of Tai Chi, they think of the old people in the park moving their arms. One of my first lessons was that there are no hands in Tai Chi. All of the Tai Chi movements start from the ground. To move, you use your legs and feet to push from the ground and use that energy to move the entire body, including the arms. So you never move your arms without pushing on the ground with your feet.
The first move in many Isshin-Ryu kata is the bow. To perform this bow, we start with heals together, bow, then assume a "ready" stance. The Tai Chi short form has a similar opening, but for Tai Chi, it is broken down into several steps.
- Start with heals together, weight evenly distributed between both feet.
- Shift your weight to the right foot, sinking your center over your right foot, waist twists counter clockwise a bit.
- Slide your left foot out about shoulder width apart from the right foot pointing straight forward.
- Pushing with your right foot, shift your weight to your left foot, waist twists back clockwise.
- Rotate your right foot to be parallel with your left foot.
- Pushing with your left foot, shift weight to your right foot so that your weight is evenly distributed between both feet.
If you slow down the Isshin-Ryu movements, you realize that you are doing the same thing and when you slow them down, the focus on your posture is dramatically increased.
My time on the project was cut short and was only able to spend a little over a month in the area. To say the least, I learned a lot; what made it very interesting to me was how much it taught me about Isshin-Ryu.