I sat down with Robert Tangora to talk about his upcoming book on Tai Chi Cloud Hands when he was in Boston in October.
When he discusses Tai Chi Cloud Hands, almost reverently, Robert explains it as a paradigm for understanding the complete art of Tai Chi, and also as a way to bring each practitioner closer to integration. The basic problem is that you have a spectrum of practices, from sitting, to standing, to moving, to fighting, that all feel very different and all develop different attributes.
I asked Robert to talk about this integration problem and explain why he sees Cloud Hands as an essential part of well developed Tai Chi practice. Here are some highlights from the interview, with a link at the end to the entire video and full transcript.
You can download the introduction to The Internal Structure of Cloud Hands from his website: TangoraTaiChi.com (right click and "save as").
Why Cloud Hands?
If you talk to a lot of people who have done Tai Chi a long time, they'll all say, "Oh yeah, Cloud Hands." They may not have any idea why Cloud Hands seems really kind of special, but almost universally they go, "Yeah, there's something there that's going on that I can't quite put my finger on it but I know it's there." And well, what's going on is it's this hidden relationship between the symmetries in what you're doing externally and internally.
On the relationship between health and meditation:
From a health standpoint, meditation is very important because it develops a lot of sensitivity to what's going on inside you. And if you want to be able to kind of fix something, you've got to be able to feel it. If you can't feel it, you can't fix it. Well, most of us feel things because we have pain reactions rather than feeling things that aren't painful. Well, through meditation you actually learn to feel a lot of things that aren't pain reactions and you learn how those things end up being interrelated with pain reactions. And if you want to become really efficient at kind of healing yourself, or for that matter if you're doing some sort of healing of somebody else, you've got to be able to distinguish those two.
On maximizing the health benefits by doing martial arts:
The people I've met who really have the health stuff of Tai Chi really well-developed were all very respectable martial arts... Those are the people who have that most developed.
On having a spectrum of different practices:
You have to have something that allows you to go from what you develop energetically while you're sitting and standing and take that into motion. Otherwise you tend to just jump into the form and the things you're doing internally in meditation practice are gone.
How Cloud Hands develops physical and energetic alignments:
Yeah there is physical aspects to it, like there is certain alignments you really need to kind of put in place, but there's also kind of some more energetic things that don't really necessarily have a real good physical counterpart. And it's kind of the first place where you really start kind of encountering that.
As an example, if I'm like doing something on the left side of my body and it creates like a twist in a spiral like down to the ground. And I can reverse that, bring it up. Well, eventually this starts actually stimulating the Chi in my body. Just kind of start doing the same type of thing, but it does it actually probably at a different pace than my physical tissue because I can't actually make my physical tissue twist like this. But it helps induce it. So at some point it's physical, but it also has these other components energetically that it's starting to really develop.
What 90% of Tai Chi practitioners might be missing:
Ultimately everything kind of moves in these oblique ellipses and circles from your abdominal cavity...Well if you're doing both simultaneously, you start developing these kind of pulls and compression's that massage and loosen up your organs, and it begins to develop that. It's not that if you just relax and you stay really loose and you turn, you get some of that. You just don't get as much. And the place where, from a martial standpoint what happens is, you tend to be able to project power from certain angles, pretty efficiently.
And that's fairly efficient, it actually can be quite efficient at handling forces basically working more or less in a horizontal plane. But if I want to handle forces working in other dimensions, like vertically and stuff, I really have to have the capacity for my body to move in that direction and it'd be integrated with what's happening in my legs and waist. So that's the other component, that's very important in the cross body training that probably 90% of the people doing Tai Chi they don't do it.
My favorite quote from the interview:
If you just practice form, there are so many things that distract you from listening to yourself.