Nuances of Continuous Motion

Ni: “Sit down all the way.”

“When you go to a movie, you buy a ticket and you find your seat. When you get to your seat you must sit down all the way.” -- Ni

Master Ni employed the movie seat metaphor to communicate the importance of touching each edge of the square. While it is easy to flow through the movements without really sitting down, it’s important to really be there when you reach the point. If not, the point will be neglected both physically and psychically. This indicates a lack of presence – being ahead of oneself – perhaps already onto the next move – already thinking about the punch, when the chop has not been completed – already thinking about the stab and neglecting the slice – hoping to make it through the Form without a mistake, rather than making each movement special.

The flaw of being ahead not only leads to the degeneration of the Moment, but also to the elevation of the Future – complete with the anxiety of anticipation and the erosion of the numinosity of the present. Better to be here by sitting down all the way.

Hiding the Square

Although it is important to be thoroughly present in all the movements, it is equally important not to stop until the end of the Form. (This is where the movie metaphor breaks down.) Master Ni once said: “My one word for life – ‘Continuation without interrupt’.” (Continuous movement is also #8 in Master Ni’s 12 stages.) As soon as possible, (not too soon) we must move to Water, the continuous flow without edges, discontinuities, or interruptions.

As a teaching technique Master Ni would introduce what he called 'interrupt' into the movements so that we didn't miss any sides of the square (the bases that must be touched as we move fluidly around the diamond). Otherwise we miss the salient points as we inadvertently introduce short cuts. This meant he would stop at each of the bases in order to emphasize their location. Simultaneous with the interrupt would be a count – ‘just to help out’.

However as soon as he considered it appropriate he would eliminate the 'interrupt' completely – back to continuous and flowing. This is called inserting and removing interrupt – or showing and hiding the square.

As the insertion was only meant to elucidate the movements, it's important to remove 'the interrupt' as soon as possible. Show the square by stopping and then hide the square through continuous motion. However beware of losing the square rather than just hiding it.

Interrupt        Hiding          Hidden           Lost     

Fighting Fire with Fire

Replace ‘interrupt’ with continuity – “Easy to say. Hard to do.” -- Master Ni. We will look at three different techniques for achieving this end – each of which has their time.

The first is to employ Fire to fight Fire. Employ conscious attention (Fire) to illuminate any spot in the Form where there are breaks and discontinuities (Fire). These interrupt the continuous flow of chi (Water) and waste energy. However once true Body Memory (Earth) has been established Fire should be removed entirely. Instead of exerting effort we merely watch our Body, as it performs the movements effortlessly. This feels so good and natural. Pure Water, this is where we want to be.

True Gung Fu - continuous weight shift in the feet

It is easy to get distracted by continuity in the upper body as we focus on the hands. However as Master Ni said: “True kung fu found in feet – continuously shifting weight. Many move hands continuously, few the feet.” (from Master Ni Quotes January 2000)

Mastery of Tai Chi requires continuous movement in every part of the body. This begins with the feet, moves through the waist, into the hands and fingers. As a famous Tai Chi maxim states: “When one part moves, all parts move. When one part stops, all parts stop.”

But how is this possible? As we focus hard on one part of our body it makes it hard or impossible to focus on other parts simultaneously. Further intense focus leads to the neglect of important details, especially relaxation (#5 in Master Ni’s 12 Stages). Too much Fire. Flames blazing out of control. No coals.

Moving Chi to the perimeter

To deal with the problem of too much focus on the specific, employ conscious effort (Fire) to increase the chi energy (Water) in the inner chamber of the Body (Earth). To achieve this end open your 4 kua – your two armpits and your two bikini lines - the area between the leg and the hips. This enables the body to expand to fill the available space. As Water always fills every available corner so is the Student meant to fill up the perimeter with chi. The chi expands to the perimeter, leaving an empty center. With nothing in the center there is nothing to attack. As Water moves to fill the corners, discontinuities automatically disappear without the constant effort of Fire to make it happen. It is like blowing up a balloon versus stretching it out. Expanding to capacity by maintaining internal sphericity is an important technique for continuity as well as the martial.

Advanced Continuity: "Folding the Waist at Transitions"

Here is yet a 3rd method to give more continuity to the movements.

At the age of 88 Master Ni gave one of his ‘talks’ on ‘The Basics of Continuous Motion’.

#5: Fold up transitions by a semi-circle achieved through internal waist motion.

Ni: “Sometimes the sword movement can be too simple, although continuous. Need ‘fold up’ in transition to be correct.”

He was almost laughing when he said this - as if a seed was being planted for the future.

“Get it. Semi circle. Fold up energy. Ha, Ha.”


Sword movements too simple? This means that the sharp edge of the blade is not slicing in the transitions. Instead the flat of the blade pats. Unless intentional this is a flaw to be avoided. Folding the waist is necessary to achieve the small semi-circles of the sword transitions. It is equally important for neutralizing and yielding in the transition from Grasp Bird’s Tail to Single Whip and from Brush Knee to Twist Step.

Because of the subtlety of these transitions and concepts it is important not to ‘try’ to do them – as this is the flaw of Double Fire. Instead be just as aware of the transitions as the main movements. Employ gentle attentions – Watery Fire, and the body understanding will come slowly, gradually, but permanently.

Continuity applied to Life

Master Ni said his one word for life, not just Tai Chi, was ‘continuity without interrupt’. We’ve seen how this applies to the Forms. How about Life? How does continuity apply to life?

‘Continuity’ has to do with maintaining continual awareness, rather than intermittent. Any time there are lapses in awareness momentum takes over – accompanied by the victimization associated with past behavior patterns. ‘Without interrupt’ means not getting stuck in a chain of thought.

                Stuck         Normal     Enlightened    Lost Touch         

In terms of the diagram, the first indicates a person who gets trapped in one destructive complex of thoughts after another – from environmental warming, to the imploding economy, to the destructive nature of globalization, to personal problems. Without continuity, there is no lightness. Seriousness seizes control – frequently accompanied by the serious diseases associated with stress. The second diagram refers to most of us – an alternation of maintaining & losing attention. The third indicates complete awareness – never getting stuck – moving right through destructive thought patterns that go nowhere – while keeping in touch with reality (the square). The fourth diagram is someone who is light but has lost touch with reality. Not taking care of business, which has its own set of problems. As always the delicate balance is maintained through continuous and intentional awareness.

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