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First, a bit of background. I've been training kungfu for nearly a decade now. During all these years, I had the nagging feeling something essential was missing. Shifu sometimes told me to follow tai chi classes as well, as it would make my movements more fluid. An opportunity to train tai chi with a good, proper trainer came up, and I took it. I learned alot from that, which I incorporated into my main training as well, but that nagging feeling of something essential missing, never went away.

During one class, the tai chi teacher lost his patience and told students off. He told me off by saying that I've trained for nearly a decade, but to him, I didn't train for even one day, cause I always leaned out of axis.

What this means, is I pretty much move like the Tower of Pisa. Ie: my entire upper body leans over, while top of my head down to the hips (and actually to the bottom of the foot I'm standing on), should be in one line, straight down. To illustrate, here are some examples: I can do squats just fine. Cat stance and the likes are no problem. When moving from one stance to another where I have to do those, then stretch my leg out, I lean over. Same with doing kicks. When I do a front kick, my hips twist forward. That's how it should go. My back (lower and upper) should remain upwards, yet I lean backwards. This results in too much time lost getting back into position, taking most usefulness out of the kick.

That got me thinking... Shifu occasionally alluded to that as well, but was always very soft-worded about it. Because of that, I stupidly enough didn't pay much attention to it. When looking at the mechanics of every movement, keeping your back in axis is what makes or breaks it. As such, the tai chi teacher was right when saying it was as if I didn't train even one day.

Now the problem is: How to fix it? I've trained with this flaw for such a long time, removing it has become a real challenge.

Shifu told me to practice in front of a mirror, and during class he now pays extra attention to it and sends me close to a mirror when necessary. This works for static movements. Get into stance A. Check the mirror. Correct where necessary. Move into stance B. Check the mirror. Correct where necessary. This works fine for those static movements, but not for other movements, nor during more active movement (eg. sparring)

This is where you guys come in. I'm hoping you guys can help me with some exercises that'll help me with this issue during active movement, and any movement in general. Especially useful are exercises I can do during daily life (eg. when walking to the grocery store), as those aren't limited to designated training time.

  • Your axis is an imaginary line from the top of your head downwards. It's comparable to the axle of a wheel, but vertically. Being "out of axis" means you lean forward, backward, or sideways. – Raf Feb 14 '17 at 17:38
  • A specific part of bad posture, but it roughly comes down to that, yeah – Raf Feb 14 '17 at 19:12
  • For some movements, it is. For some, it isn't. I'm always working on stretching, to make sure, and got decent "gong lì" as it's called (basically a combination of muscle strength, flexibility, and balance). I know that if I kick high, out of my reach, it happens, but that's to be expected. If I kick within my reach, I sometimes do so as well, and am utterly unaware of it. The mirror is a good way to become aware of it, but won't fix it in fluid motions. Any way to take care of it in those is what I'm asking here. – Raf Feb 15 '17 at 9:34
  • ☹ I was trying to make your question better and getting disheartened I bothered. – Sardathrion - Reinstate Monica Feb 16 '17 at 12:49
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    You can improve clarity by stating what body part(s) deviate from what axis. I think the axis you have in mind is a vertical axis through the head and spine perpendicular to the ground, but you don't actually state this explicitly anywhere, and I don't think this should be inferred. Perhaps an alternate way to formulate this is to state which joint(s) you are leaning from, for example the ankles or hips or vertebrae. – mattm Feb 16 '17 at 22:12
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"Leaning out of axis" is, in my mind, a combination of three separate ideas. It's not clear to me how your idea relates to mine, so here are all of the elements as I understand them:

  1. Balance Your center of mass is supported by your base.
  2. Alignment The relative positions of your body parts are conducive to applying/resisting force.
  3. Verticality Your back is perpendicular to the ground plane.

The simplest example of being both balanced and aligned is standing with your back straight up, which means you are also vertical.

Styles disagree about alignments and verticality. You can be balanced and vertical but not aligned if you have a hunched posture. Some styles think it is necessary to fix this, while others do not. Some styles think the shoulders should twist relative to the hips, while others insist these should move together. Some styles require verticality. Other styles allow the back to be inclined to the ground, so long as it remains balanced (due to the placement of the feet) and aligned. Some of these disagreements cannot be reconciled.

It seems like you are trying to fit a round peg in a square hole. Some cross-system training is simply incompatible. Kicking high while maintaining a taiji posture is VERY HARD; only a small minority of practitioners can expect to achieve this in their lifetime. Kicking high is not a goal in taiji and fighting does not rely upon it.

There are reasons why taiji practice is done slowly. While moving slowly, it is much easier to detect whether you are on balance because if you have to move quickly to catch your balance, then you are not on balance. It is also easier to tell when you are losing alignments. One simple training approach is simply to practice the taiji you have learned.

Moving balance is quite a bit different from static balance because you can be balanced before and after stepping, but not while stepping. The slow sliding step is one way to train moving with better balance without leaning. When first learning, you can use push a heavy book prop with your foot to learn to apply force rather than falling with each step. Once you get this idea, you should be able to remove the book.

  • I thought my initial question was clear enough that I train in two styles, one of which involves sparring. I notice the problem being there too, as it limits reaction speed. If you lean over, you need to get back up straight before you can do the next move. This is a significant cost in time. That's why I see it as a general problem, not a tai chi-specific one. The book idea is great for the steps, btw. I'll practice that this evening! – Raf Feb 16 '17 at 8:46
  • I don't understand precisely what you mean by leaning. Non-verticality by itself is not recognized as a problem by all systems. My understanding of Wu style taiji is that it is willowy, with deviation from vertical normal. In the bagua I have studied, the default fighting stance has the torso pitched slightly forward from the hips and is used for basically all fighting, so there is no getting back up straight. My personal out-of-axis problem is the hunching of my upper back, which it sounds like is not your worry. – mattm Feb 16 '17 at 22:03
  • The hunching used to be a problem when I first started. Living at desks and on bikes tends to do that. One of the first things shifu told me, was to push my shoulders backwards and down, and explained why. I did, for three days and three nights. Hurt like hell, but it caused permanent improvement. – Raf Feb 17 '17 at 19:36
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I don't know about the axis part of your question, but a good way to self-check is to use your smartphone or tablet with the video camera. I do this a lot.

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    The tai chi teacher actually did that once. He had each and every one of us step up, one by one, and tape it with his phone, then showed it to us afterwards. That's how I first saw that yeah, I do lean over, even though it felt as if I wasn't. It's a great way to become aware of the problems, as it takes one limit of mirrors away. With mirrors, if you move away from the mirror, or along with it, you can't actually check yourself without compromising the form, due to having to turn your head to check the mirror. With video camera, you can see afterwards that you did indeed screw up. – Raf Feb 16 '17 at 8:43
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    I'm suggesting a way to examine the problem so it can be fixed. – ksp08 Feb 16 '17 at 11:51
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I would recommend trying chi kung - in the book by Lam Kam Chuen, the simple standing 'pose' of wu chi is introduced. Nothing could be simpler to learn, but over the months and years, this simple stance teaches you everything. It's enhanced my martial arts practice beyond measure. It may or may not correct your leaning off axis, but will help you develop proprioception and a sense of your position through your own senses. With the help of a mirror and/or a partner, you can learn to bring together your 'actual' position with what you are sensing. It takes time, and the simplicity of this simple standing exercise will have most people gloss over it quickly and dismiss it. But PRACTICE it and its value will yield great rewards.

  • Interesting. I looked it up, and it's all people standing there, like at the very start of a tai chi form (before moving your arms forward), and lots of pics about good and bad posture. Is that the wu chi pose? – Raf Mar 25 '17 at 23:01
  • Yes - that's all it is. It would seem like nothing to look at it - it is very simple - that's the secret. If you work a lot with internal arts as I do, you learn to sense your own energy more and more - this simple standing posture is powerful because it grounds you, stops you - but a picture of others doing it won't help - haha - you have to DO it yourself - it takes patience to stand and do nothing! It may not be possible for you - but your body comes to like it - you notice your breathing, your posture - your awareness increases. – Ben S Mar 26 '17 at 1:07
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Answering my own question... Oh geez...

The past few days I've noticed some things during day to day office life, which can be helpful, and is very, very simple. When walking, I tend to walk fast. When taking stairs, I tend to take two steps at a time. If I'm carrying a coffee or a glass of water, the liquid swashes around in the cup / glass.

What I'm doing now, is trying to keep the liquid calm while not slowing my pace. If the liquid stays calm, my posture should be good.

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    Calm liquid means that you are not subjecting the cup to sudden acceleration. It's quite easy to have terrible posture and not slosh liquid in a cup. – mattm Feb 24 '17 at 15:23
  • Aw crap. I was thinking if I lean forward, the liquid will tilt forward too. If I lean sideways, the liquid will lean sideways too. If I walk fast, the liquid will slosh if I'm all over the place. Back to the drawing board, I guess – Raf Feb 24 '17 at 15:37

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