In the animal kingdom, the only other kind of behaviour that can be compared to tai chi movements is that of a stalking big cat
I have seen lionesses move with such precision and stop-motion viscosity that it appears they are moving in slow motion, their head gliding perfectly in a line as their rippling legs perform steps of such delicacy they are able to creep up to twitchy ungulates, their own lives one of almost permanent heartburn and angina, primed to stott and flare away with hair-trigger nerves on permanent alert.
Are we not stalking ourselves in our practice?
Do we not seek to “catch ourselves out” in the moment of what we are doing when we do the Form? It has to be a personal perambulation, a hunt for errors in the archetypal Platonic movements that we are trying to blend ourselves into. This requires all the skills of a hunter; listening to our internal monologue to dim it down, lest it piper us away to dreamy realms, and thus body-reversion to Default Dysfunction, with its energy inefficiencies, possible pain and fascial unplasticity leading to hardened silhouettes, and maybe hump-backed marionettes of bitter dotage, condemned to groundstare.
Sensing the difference between Ideal and Habit, and then remembering it through keen Repetition; seeing, using the mirror and eyes to become accustomed to the Body Self of Ideality and how far you are deviating from that ( a teacher is indispensable for this). I have to emphasise that this is only for people who wish to practise tai chi to a good or high level, or who wish to attain a better posture; millions may do tai chi with errant imperfection but there is enough in the totality of movement to satisfy baseline desires and accrete adequate results. It is a shame the standard of teaching is usually low.
“Looking for yourself” has accrued a scornful meaning for some, and an ontological fear for others, as some beliefs posit that we have no real sense of self, that consciousness is just a mechanical “hologram” from the brain; these are areas beyond this essay. Here I am referring to the capacity to observe one’s movements, thoughts and habits of posture. The Form is a path that becomes familiar, but should never be boring. Hunters know their territory well; the terrain becomes part of them, such that a snapped twig or subtle change in vegetation can alert them to potential prey. In the same way, the Form should be traversed with all the skills of a stalker, senses alert to any deviation from the ideal, mind constantly searching for internal “prey”: lapses of structure, attention and tension. Mastery coheres in enmeshed environments; inside and outside merge into one, predator and prey blending into a beautifully-patterned gestalt.