What does a camera tripod have to do with Taiji? The most obvious answer would be to equate the three legs of the tripod forming a triangle. I’ve spoken about the optimal structure of a stance in relation to triangles before, but to reiterate, consider the vertices to be made of each foot and the centerline of our torso. But what about the not-so-obvious association between the contact points of the tripod and the ground?
In a blog post by a student of Chen Zhonghua, the following was noted:
When Shifu [Chen Zhonghua] and I were in an audio-visual store in Edmonton they had an old-timey camera tripod set up. The legs of the tripod came to a sharp point so that the contact points with the ground were very small. He said these older tripods were more stable than the new ones with larger rubber feet that have more contact with the ground. Shifu said this is how we should stand in Taiji. The foot should not be flat on the ground, but must balance on only one point (eg. the outside of the heel, the big toe, etc.).
When a round ball is sitting on the floor there is only one point that contacts the floor. If able to do this it will allow one to move from place to place with much more agility and grace. It will also allow the knee more freedom to move with the adjustment of the foot.
You know, I’ve never thought about the idea of the foot balancing on one point. But looking back, I’ve often heard stories of Feng Zhiqiang shifting weight from leg to leg AND front-to-rear foot while appearing to be standing normally. Also, Fong Ha is a strong advocate of the taiji ruler exercise in which the weight is not only transferred from foot to foot, but also rolled along the whole foot, rear-to-front.
The thing that really caught my attention was the relation between this type of training and agility. Chen style is supposed to be very “rooted”, hence a lot of emphasis placed on low stances. In my own training, at times I’ve felt this to be rather restrictive and confining in movement. How spontaneously and quickly can I react in a low stance? I believe in a recent issue of Tai Chi Magazine, William CC Chen mentioned something not lowering more than 20 degrees. In Chen, we often hear of ‘thighs parallel to the ground’, but at what sacrifice? Perhaps this idea of balance or root focused on one point of the foot can address this issue. Not quite sure, but something I will definitely explore, especially notions of balancing on the outside heel and BIG TOE???