Mariano from Argentina asks:
“Why is it important to put the knee over the root, or base, of the toes?”
An important principle of Cheng Man-Ch’ing’s Tai Chi is keeping the knee positioned directly over the bottom of the toes while in the postures. During transitions, it is ok, and often necessary, to allow the knee go past the toes, but when this happens in the postures themselves, it is considered over-extension.
There are two main types of reasons that the knee should not be allowed to extend past the toes in the postures: structural and energetic.
Structural reasons: Structurally speaking, we keep our knee aligned with the base of our toes in postures to maintain balance and front/back stability without leaning forward. If you look at yourself in any given stance and your front knee is too far forward and needs to be adjusted, this can be achieved by dropping your back knee. If you drop your back knee while keeping your weight forward, you can achieve a lower stance which should pull your front knee back and into the proper position.
Energetic reasons: With the front knee over the toes and the back knee dropped, you should have a straight line from the armpit to the side of the knee pit. This lets your spine be as true straight as it gets, and encourages the ch’i to flow more easily up the spine. Professor Cheng used to use the analogy of piling go chess pieces on top of one another, indicating that this is an ideal position of the spine.
Finally, while we are on the subject of knees, it’s important, no matter what style of Tai Chi you practice, to never allow your knees to hurt. In Cheng’s Tai Chi, we keep the front knee straight over the base of the toes and not tilted to the inside. This is not only correct form, but should help avoid knee injuries.
In T’ai Chi,