"Tai Chi is considered an "internal martial art", but what exactly does that mean? When you think of tai chi, you think of the movements that characterize Sun, Yang or Chen style. When you see single whip or snake creeps down, you identify that as tai chi. But when you see someone swinging a golf club or hitting a tennis ball, that movement doesn't register as tai chi, but it has an internal component, just like tai chi does. What you put into an external movement to make it effective and powerful comes from the internal.
Tai chi is an external art when all you focus on is choreography. Where I put my arm, when to step and remembering what movement comes next, now that's external. Bringing depth into the choreography involves making friends with your energy body, feeling your alignment and coordinating arms, legs and torso during movement. In depth you coordinate breathing and internal relaxation with external movement. You are going internal when you allow your arms to follow the energy set in motion by your intention so that "wave hands like clouds" becomes a fluid, coordinated expression of mind/body. You are stalking depth in tai chi when your mind is still and you live deeply in your body with awareness.
During my first session with a new student who has expertise in Neuro-linguistic programming, she commented that when she watched me move through the TCA choreography, she saw me accessing the kinesthetic and auditory areas of my brain. That was a fascinating observation that I found very compatible with how I experience moving from internal awareness. My focus is inward to feel. Feeling your body is kinesthetic. My body was listening to my intention and following cues to monitor alignment and maintain the quality of song as I moved.
After being in Dr. Lam's Depth of Tai Chi for Arthritis workshop, a student commented to me, "I have been practicing this form for several years and I feel like a fraud". "I thought I knew this form". But what had really happened was that this student had moved beyond the choreography into the internal realm, where each movement suddenly felt different and unfamiliar. He had opened the door to the internal and that is progress.
The curriculum of depth involves practicing the underlying principles with enough repetition to create visible internal expression through external movements. Just watch Dr. Lam do tai chi and you will see what I mean! Think of cultivating the internal and expressing it through tai chi movement as being similar to carving a sculpture from a block of stone. This takes time. The intention is in the artists mind. Each chiseling movement shapes the final creation. The internal art of tai chi is shaped in the same way. You are the block of stone. Practicing the form is the carving tool.
Repetition and moving slowly help you digest the fine points within each movement. Fluidity and agility emerge slowly over time. Creating "song" in your body takes awareness, perseverance and focus. Expressing depth is supported by a long term relationship with your teacher. The Chinese masters invested a lifetime in perfecting the internal in their art. Each year that you invest a week in revisiting your favorite form, you embrace more of the internal. Give yourself this luxury to grow with your form. Listen with your body and feel what practicing the principles has to teach you.
Come back next year and go internal."