Over the years I have heard questions like this many times:
I do the form. Since joining, I can't do the form with the same shapes because it feels very disconnected. My form looks bad but it is starting to feel better. Why does it feel so disconnected?"
This is great news! Congratulations on being able to look deeper into your movement by applying Tai Chi principles and experiencing the beginnings of internal power. This is how we begin to change our mental reference. The body is always in the present, it's an illusion we hold that the mind can be aywhere but the present. A useful illusion, but an illusion nonetheless. Another way to look at this is the way a tool is not the task. Our movements, whether forms, drills or partner training, are the tools, the task is to be more in the present moment.
The classics refer to the relationship between formal movements and the internal feel as 'shape and secret' or 'posture and energy'. In outer door or public instruction the shape and the secret are not closely aligned. With inner door methods the shape and secret are as one. This is ok, but how to use this concept of shape and secret as a training tool?
The words 'shape and secret' refer more to a vague static condition and do not help us train better. Tai Chi energy is not static. The internal feel that arises from following Tai Chi principles is dynamic and constantly cycling through yin and yang. However, this still does not really help us to understand why our movement feels disconnected and how to be connected.
If we use the idea of posture and energy, rather than shape and secret, it becomes more clear what's going on in your practice. If the posture is correct, you can begin to feel the energy. If the posture is incorrect, the energy is obscured. We can safely assume that outer door methods are designed to deliberately protect the 'secret' or essential internal feel by using postures that do not align closely to the energy.
The are many reasons for obscuring this energy, to me it's simple:
- When posture and energy align closely, changes occurs in perception. These changes cause agitation.
- Teacher and outer door student have not agreed to the Sifu - Student relationship that can address this agitation.
- Without the close guidance of Sifu, the agitation can cause harm.
The traditional outer door response from teacher is: "Just keep training, understanding and skill will come eventually." This is fine if you are willing to accept that 1 student out of 1000 will succeed. The outer door approach is fine if the student is not interested in deeper understanding, many are happy with the benefits of superficial practice. The level of committment required to successfully pursue inner door methods is very high. This is why outer door methodologies exist, nothing is wrong with this approach.
Inner door methods are for family members, it is not acceptable that the student 'not get it'. It's just not an option. The family member must receive the full, clear and precise understanding of shape and secret, posture and energy, or better still, action and quality.
I prefer to use the words 'posture and energy' and 'action and quality', rather than 'shape and secret'. Action means any movement. Quality means the fullness and completeness of the movement based on the internal feel. Clear language reliably leads to better training, high skill and deep understanding.