Read Li I Yu's Five Character Secret and you will find a reference to strengthening the thighs.
So why do you need strong thighs, indeed, strong legs?
This is so the legs can absorb the relaxation of the torso, which then feels light and nimble. The legs also need to relax so the relaxation goes down to the feet. The feet in turn relax not so everything can press into the floor because that is a one sided view.
The ground comes up through the lower limbs into the torso and out to the arms,or for a kick directed into the leg so you are creating a conduit. Slow practise sets up the neural pathways.
This is not a quick thing and requires concentrated practise. As you relax into the legs they complain and I often felt like my legs were leaden. Actually this never seems to end!
As we get older our balance and leg strength can deteriorate so I feel that Tai Chi is a fantastic health promoting activity in this regard.
When you start Tai Chi there is a lot of advice to turn the waist. We are told the waist is not the same as what we think of as the waist but then no one tells you what it is.
So you think of turning from the hips but that's not it. Nor is it turning from the Dan Tien. I remember my late teacher John Kells telling us in class that "what is the waist" was a burning question for him. Eventually he came to the realisation that it was the lumbar spine, like an iron bar and that you turned from there.
Since then a lot of Chinese writings on tai chi have been translated which give detailed information about the waist. which is defined as the Yao. This encompasses the lumbar spine as well as the muscles and tissues around it and this is the area that you turn from, but not like a brick.
It was 1984 and I was working for my teacher John Kells. I had to sit at a little desk in the upstairs "Green Room" and take phone calls enquiring about classes, times,costs etc.I also had to send out an information leaflet in response to postal enquiries.
John came in to have a chat. He told me that he had never had a student who practised as much as me and that no matter what happened I should never stop.
He really personified the phrase "work your butt off", so much so that when he turned around I could see he had almost worn away the seat of his tracksuit bottoms.
If you want to be good at Tai Chi or anything, for that matter, you need to put in the work and hopefully will have good teaching to draw on.
I think I have been fortunate to have teachers and tai chi friends who have inspired me and as a result I am in love with Tai Chi and have been able to keep up a daily practise for 37 years. This does not imply mastery or anything else. I seek the light in my practise and not some overbearing, dark, dismal grinding away masquerading as a spiritual way.
Just my opinion and the reader is welcome to theirs and as Patrick Swayze said in Roadhouse "opinions vary".
Meanwhile I'm off to work my butt off with some Xingyi.
Interesting blog post from Steve Higgins Cold Mountain Internal Arts blog for reflection.
As 60 looms ever larger on the horizon I have to realise that I am no longer living in the body of a 25 year old and you don't bounce back as quickly when you have injured yourself, for example.
I also work with weights but like the blog author prefer a heavy sword and sabre. I also use a 5 kg weights jacket which sits on the upper back, 1 kg weight belt and 0.5 kg weight gloves several times a week.
Some of my best teachers are my family, friends, colleagues, jobs and life experiences. Tai Chi is not just something that happens during class or when you do the forms.
Rather it is about taking the principles into daily life and embracing the challenges it throws at you. Applying pushing hands principles to teenagers is especially challenging!
I used to think that jobs got in the way of my practice but have come to understand that there is no separation. Every interaction is the opportunity to connect, to learn and to understand.
I read somewhere that if we think of life as dust, then the Buddhist will seek to transcend it, the Confucian will seek to organise it whilst the Taoist seeks to merge with it. A gross simplification but it makes the point for me.
I think the reasons he gives will resonate with you. For me it has always been about working on understanding principles and fun, yes, Fun! Especially when working with like minded partners in pushing hands.
John Kells had a YIELD traffic sign in the basement room of his tai chi centre in Upper Wimpole Street, London.
It served as a reminder to all students that this was a cardinal principle. To yield is to accept, not evade. To yield is not just a physical thing, but comes from the heart. Yielding leads to transformation.
A melting acceptance so there is no ego to stand as an obstacle. No intellectual judgement, no clever words.
Stop pretending, stop tricking ourselves. The minute you think you can yield you will be found out.
The crunch comes when under pressure. John at one point used to practise with his partner attacking with knives. I didn't do this but I have found the Sun style Taiji 2 person Sword form to be useful in this regard.
During the poor weather most of my training takes place in a small kitchen.
I can comfortably adjust my Tai chi and Xingyi training but there is no room to swing a sword. I've tried doing my Tai Chi sword form with knives and short plastic swords but it never feels right.
In the end I have found it best to do the form without anything in my hand. Instead I visualise that I have a sword in my hand which works for me and doesn't detract from the form. This also keeps the sword form alive for me during the times I can't train outdoors.
The last time I visited and stayed with my late teacher John Kells in 2012 for four days of hard work he showed me a simple exercise.
He said his teacher Dr Chi showed it to him. Simply, before you start your Form or partner work, stand naturally and close your right hand gently around your left thumb. The fingers of the left hand rest naturally on the outside of the right fingers.
Just stand quietly like this for a few minutes, letting thoughts come and go, breathing naturally through the nose.
For me this exercise sets the scene for my practise.