Advanced Tai Chi Notes PearlDragonQuarterSM

By David McCain
Dragon's Pearl Tai Chi

February 4, 2013

Core Spirals with Stork Spreads Wings:
The Basic Movement and Increasing Refinement

Stork Spreads Wings is a Tai Chi move that presents obvious spiraling motions which can be conducted both mechanically and energetically. The move also presents a clear progression from simple execution in general application to an ever increasing internal development in advanced application. For some reading these notes the main interest may be in the five concentric rings and their respective spirals listed below.
The Basic Movement
In the Tung Lineage – Yang Style long form, Stork Spreads Wings comes right after Elbow Strike. With all of the weight on the right foot there is an exchange of hands from top to bottom. The right hand moves from a cupping position at the lower Tan T'ien (lower belly) to an overhead position. The left hand moves from a position at the left side of the head to a lower sweep of the left knee (The left leg is unweighted and has only the toe touching the floor.) In application both of these separate hand motions can act as blocks to incoming attacks.
Unlike most Tai Chi moves there is no weight shift with Stork Spreads Wings, and the movement of the hands produces one of the most graceful moves in Tai Chi. It's easy to visualize a stork gracefully extending its wings while standing and grounded in shallow water. For the Tai Chi practitioner the movement can flow with easy grace and uplifting energy. Stork Spreads Wings also becomes a powerful vertical extension of the central axis with the simultaneous application of Tai Chi's two basic movements of the spine, Turtle and Crane.
There are two basic types of Stork variations: (1) stationary, straight on standing and (2) turning and returning from side to side. In addition to this there are two types of hand exchanges: (1) hands never crossing the center line and (2) hands cross each other and the center line.
The simplest movement is to stand straight on (stationary) and exchange the hands with neither one crossing the centerline. This is probably the best movement of Stork Spreads Wings for beginners because of its simplicity.
A more complicated movement involves three segments based first on turning the body to the left, then turning to the right side and finally turning back to center. In coordination with this body turning, the exchange of hands crosses each other and the centerline with spiraling motions through the arms and hands.
Spirals Connected to the Central Axis
Stork Spreads Wings presents an excellent opportunity for focusing on the spiraling internal energy which is integrally connected to the central axis. The movements of the hands and body need to be closely connected with an internal spiral arc for effective coordination of Stork.
First, it is important to start with the central axis itself which can be considered as a line just in front of the spine that extends from the earth through the torso to the top of head. Internal energy spirals both up and down along this line, but because of our basic human anatomy and orientation, the upward spiral is generally the most useful to consider in Tai Chi practice—at least the upward spiral is most important in initiating a particular move.
In executing the Stork movement as in any Tai Chi movement, the size of a spiral arc is best related to the horizontal distance from the central axis. Imagine a series of concentric rings emanating out from the central axis to help determine the size of an arc. Starting with the central axis as a point at the level of the Tan T'ien, here are five potential concentric rings to use:
1. The first ring is only about a half inch radius around the point of the central axis. This dimension—inside the body—is probably the most useful in feeling and understanding a tight focus of the central axis.
2. The basic ring with the body and hands is about 18 to 21 inches from the central axis while standing. This focuses on the body and a tight space within easy hand reach and, of course, it extends for 360 degrees around the central axis.
3. The basic Tai Chi ring is about 4 to 5 feet from the central axis at any given time. This is the space that a Tai Chi practitioner can easily claim by stepping and moving the arms and hands.
4. A fourth ring claims an ordinary indoor room. This can be from 10 to 30 feet from the central axis. All the senses are needed for this "super awareness."
5. Finally, there is a rather natural, energetic ring about 100 feet or more from the central axis. It is quite possible to project the internal energy of the central axis to the outer reach of this ring.
The ring of only a half inch around the central axis the size of a vertical spiral arc is typically small and tight, i.e. over the length of the spine there may be seven revolutions (or even many more) of an individual spiral. With a ring at 100 feet from the central axis an individual vertical spiral may take as much as a quarter mile up into the air to complete a single revolution. It is important to note that spiraling motions can change arc size quickly. For instance a small tight spiral moving up the central axis can quickly expand outward to the basic Tai Chi ring of 4 or 5 feet with proper spiraling motions of the body and hands.

Simplest Execution
Above it was stated that "the simplest movement is to stand straight on (stationary) and exchange the hands with neither one crossing the centerline." A beginner may want to learn the exchange of hands without considering spirals or distances from the central axis. However, the first progression of refinement would be to use the basic body and hand ring of 18 to 21 inches from the central axis and make a partial connection up and down the torso as a reflection of the vertical spirals of the central axis. The hand motions at the end of the Stork move need to be tighter spirals projecting beyond the fingertips.
Standard Execution
Also above is the statement that "a more complicated movement involves three parts based first on turning the body to the left, then turning to the right side and finally turning back to center. In coordination with the body turning, the exchange of hands crosses each other and the centerline." This standard execution of Stork requires good diligence in the coordination of the body spirals of turning and returning around the central axis and the different spirals of the arms and hands.
Highest Refinement
The highest refinement of Stork Spreads Wings is accomplished with the greatest internalization of the turning and returning of the body. When the internalization of turning and returning is fully integrated into the tight spirals of the central axis, there may not be any noticeable movement (turning and returning) in the body. Of course, the arms and hands still exchange with this refinement, but the limbs are highly integrated with the central axis spirals.
When I practice extensively with Stork Spreads Wings, I can internalize the turning and returning to a good extent and catch the wave of unified energy, but I still find some outward mechanical turning and returning of the body as a necessary process. In my personal Tai Chi practice I'm generally pleased just to have a concrete sense and feel—a vision, if you will—of the great potential of a particular move. The work always continues.
Tai Chi Vessel
When working with (1) internal energies, (2) the natural spirals of body movement and (3) the projected presence of a person in space and the world, it is well to follow the Tai Chi principles of relaxed concentration, containment and proper extension. Together, body and mind form the vessel in which Tai Chi operates to balance all parts and effectively contain and direct the vessel's inherent powers. The Tai Chi practitioner must always watch for points of leakage and dissolution. However, in the few seconds it takes to do Stork Spreads Wings it is possible to feel mechanically and energetically the flow of the many parts which connect as a whole. Ultimately it can feel like a single wave in an expansive, yet grounded movement.