Wujibu and 'Sinking the Qi'

Steve Higgins

WUJIBU (Before the Beginning Stance)

We’ve been discussing looseness and firmness in Tai Chi but wujibu has already inserted itself into our conversation. The concept of looseness is a prerequisite for wujibu because it is fundamental to understanding it. To be more precise, this is a stance which must be realized, rather than understood. “Realization” implies that something is known at a level that is instinctive, intuitive, immediate and intimate. It means that something is felt deeply. This is the basic stance from which Tai Chi proceeds.

Wujibu, which means the “stance before the beginning” is the foundation. It embodies certain distinctive qualities. In the absence of wujibu, the development of advanced Tai Chi skill is not possible. Metaphysically, it represents primal chaos, the period immediately preceding “the Big Bang”. In terms of Tai Chi movement, it is the moment just prior to movement. It exists before the differentiation of yin and yang. Wujibu is the point where the Tai Chi idea and the physical prerequisite of looseness give rise to a physical state and shape.

Let us consider its characteristics as illustrated by the ancient terracotta warrior.

First, his feet are parallel and about as far apart as his hips and shoulders. There is thus a symmetrical transmission of weight in two columns down each side of his body. A parallel foot stance assists in opening the sacrum and helps with energy movement through the lower spine. It also stretches and helps to relax these lower muscles. There is a possibility that for many women it may be actually preferable to slightly toe-out, due to the wider female pelvis. This is however a personal matter related to individual physique and certainly does not apply to all women.

The terracotta warrior’s head is suspended by the crown. The crown is the bump behind the fontanelle. The result is that his upper cervical spine is slightly straightened, his chin is neither elevated nor tucked in, and his gaze is level. One way to sense this in a higher stance is to imagine a partner holding your head. Then fold into your hips and let your body sink into wujibu, softening the small of the back outwards while imagining that your head is suspended in space. The spine lengthens, the pelvic angle shifts and, to paraphrase Yang Cheng Fu, “the spirit of vitality rises to the top of the head”. The result is heightened awareness and readiness.

The shoulders, chest, back and waist are relaxed and the tailbone is dropped. See how our soldier’s shoulders, rather than tensed and riding high, seem to be hanging loosely. His chest is neither puffed out nor concave, but nicely contained by the relaxation of the shoulders. One can also see that he is sitting softly into his hips, as indicated by the shadow cast by the overhead light on his waist. He is definitely not in a pelvic tilt posture. It is interesting to reflect that, without overhead lighting, this important detail might be missed. This does not imply that he is not firm! He is firm as a mountain is… and relaxed as a mountain is.

His knees are slightly bent to compensate for the fact that he is slightly sitting into his hips. Were they not bent, he would seem to be leaning back with his weight toward the heels. Instead, the impression is one of absolute centredness, his weight falling down through the centres of his feet, attaching him to the centre of the Earth.

His elbows are released. Rather than held straight down, which would imply tension of the triceps, there is a very slight bend in the elbows, as at the end of either Commencement or Conclusion of Tai Chi. His hands float and are in a state of readiness.

But this description is purely external and, while helpful, in some ways misses the point. When wujibu is properly internalized, we have the condition or state known as “Sinking the Qi” (see below). In this state, power coincides with looseness and centredness. This condition in time should permeate all Tai Chi postures and movement. It also extends to the mind. One is relaxed, aware, resolute, centred, ready for anything from any of the eight directions.

Look again at the terracotta warrior! Regard his power, his readiness and his serenity of purpose!

When understood, wujibu allows a secure connection to the ground which allows one to withstand a push. This can be tested from the side....

...as in the photograph at above featuring a seventy-three year-old student who, at the time this shot was taken, had been practicing with me for about a year. As long as she stands like a tree – centred, resilient and assured – she can be immovable. But if she either yields or contends against the push, she will lose her footing. Alluding back to the previous section, her stance show tensegrity values in resisting an external force.

Understanding wujibu, even at a purely external level, can show that internal power is not a matter of big muscles. But when this stance is realized within, then the internal combination of all the elements discussed to this point permeate all of your Tai Chi: both postures and movement. You become stable, relaxed and adaptable. When this has been achieved, it is said that your “qi is sunk”.

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