Posted by: Mike Ferruggia | October 6, 2009

Small Circle and Big Circle Tai Chi

When I had my tai chi studio, a prospective student came in who claimed to practice small circle tai chi. He sat in a half lotus posture and claimed to be doing tai chi motionless. Now, I’ve read about that too, but the guy was a little off, so I kinda knew he wasn’t doing it. It was like the comedy sketch where the boxer says he’s so fast and says he threw the punch when he didn’t.

Having said that, there is much to be gained by experimenting in our practice between small and large circle. I have always been encouraged, in practice, to go large circle in the beginning(first three or four years?) in order to let your body learn and understand the whole body movements, and to stretch your body to it’s fullest extent, to develop the physical side of it. But it’s important to begin experimenting with small circle, internalizing the movements more and more. The movements themselves actually feel as large and extended as when you do big circle, but you begin to gain the understanding of small circle and internalized movement.

Simple making the circles smaller or not moving to your full capability is not small circle. Internalizing the stretch of the ligaments, tendons, and muscles is. Feeling the energy move in your body is.

I mostly practice very small circle tai chi when I am in public and not actually outwardly doing the tai chi form. I am not just running through the moves in my mind, like a visualization, but actually doing the form with very little outward manifestation of the movements.So, for example, if I am doing grasp the birds tail, I can feel my muscles flexing to do the movement, I’m just not letting my arm raise up to do the move. I can feel my kua opening and closing, and what I will do is allow my legs and feet to step into place overtly. I suppose in time I should internalize that also.

As I sit here typing, I’ve taken a moment to run through a brief move of grasp the bird’s tail and single whip. I am aware of my arm, shoulder, and back muscles doing what they normally do if I were doing it big circle, but it doesn’t have to be shown. It also seems to mimic the concept of moving chi throughout the body–it’s as if you can sense the chi moving from the dantien up through the arm to the hands and back down again. I think this sensation is more muscular and ligament than actual chi, but maybe I’m wrong about that. Energy gets stored, developed, manipulated, and moved when we do the tai chi forms, and if we are “compressing” it in a sense by doing small circle, then it is probably gathering up that much more of a head of steam.

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