Robert from Ormond Beach, FL asks:
” I have heard that the traditional Tai Chi movements are very hard on the knees of “Westerners” and the original movements should be modified. Any truth to this?”
Robert, that depends on you. If you do not pronate your knees (bend them to the inside), you should be fine. I have several students who say the practice of Tai Chi form has actually helped to strengthen their knees.
However, if you are finding any pain in the joint while practicing Tai Chi, change your stance to a higher one for the time being so that there will be no pain. The are a whole series of stances that can be considered relatively correct, as long as the spine can be straight, so the energy will flow.
The stories about the knee problems arise because western Tai Chi students tend to pronate their knees. It is perhaps bad correction, combined with either dogmatic or unknowing teachers who leave students in joint pain and tell them it is good for them.
When I was starting out I was told, if the leg muscles hurt, that is good, keep it up, and they will get stronger. If the knee joints hurt, stop practice and adjust up, or they will get weaker. I have followed this advice my whole life and my knees are as healthy as ever after 40 years of Tai Chi practice.
It is more important to do the Tai Chi form pain-free than correct to the postures as you see them, for example, in our DVD. That will happen gradually, in the event that you cannot do it immediately because you are having pain in the joints.
“As water erodes limestone” is the metaphor: you will get to the deep stances if you patiently practice. Don’t give up the practice, and don’t give in to the temptation to go to a depth that hurts your knees. Rather, gradually drop as long and as far as you feel pain free.
By the time you, should you want to, get to push hands, your stances need to be low to compete. The knees need to be able to take the stress and the legs need to be strong. However for the form, the most important thing is to be in a relatively correct stance, and comfortable.
In T’ai Chi,