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Whether you are stepping forwards or backwards, you should ensure that you maintain the same distance laterally as if you are standing in the beginning posture with your feet below your hips. If you allow your feet to proceed directly in front of each other, you will be easily unbalanced. This is particularly common when you are stepping backwards, so you might try thinking of each step as a step to the side as you step backwards. If you are practising on a tiled or wooden floor, you can use the floor patterns as a guide to help you avoid this mistake, e.g. by keeping your feet one board’s width apart. Just glance down to check yourself from time to time… don’t stare at your feet!

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When you are walking in Tai Chi, imagine you are in a room with a very low ceiling (like Gandalf in Bilbo Baggins’ home). You should sink your weight and keep your knees slightly bent, and resist any urges to stand up or lock the knees out during your practice. In this way you will strengthen your legs and core muscles in a safe, natural and impact free way, buttressing the lower back and your knee joints with powerful supporting muscle fibres.

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In Tai Chi we want to move smoothly from posture to posture, with a focused and graceful intent as we advance or retreat. Don’t allow your body to get into a habit of rocking backwards and forwards as it will interrupt your flow and introduce the poor martial body mechanics of a gap. Gaps mean a break in pressure… meaning your opponent can escape or counter you by giving them physical room and time to deal with your technique. Your whole body needs to move and flow as one unit with no breaks.

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Once you have stepped through into GongBu (bow stance), about 70% of your weight should be in the front foot. Keeping that same proportion of weight distribution, lightly raise the ball of your foot and pivot your entire body outwards around the heel of that foot, taking care to ensure your knees do not twist and the femur remains aligned with your toes. You can then fill the remainder of your weight into that foot and step through with no danger to the knee joint, and eliminate rocking or bobbing.

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The Kua are the hip joints, that is the ball and socket joints at the top of each femur where they insert into the pelvis. Keeping an open Kua means holding your legs open, rather than allowing them to collapse inwards. Once you have pivoted your foot outwards and stepped forwards with the other leg, keep your rear leg open and don’t allow the knee to creep in. The reasons for this are to protect your knee joint by keeping alignment between the bones supporting it and the femur. This creates an optimal structure to support incoming force (including the weight of your own body), and also a strong platform to drive forwards from.