One master told me the spine was like an iron rod. Another that the torso was like a stone tablet. Connection was created by forcing my attention on keeping a certain relationship between my hips and shoulders.
Another teacher used the words ‘stand tall like the monkey’ and my brother Shug helped me take this to heart. It changed the way I held my torso. Instead of constantly taut the spine reached upwards and opened my neck. Allowing more release than before but keeping the same relationships in my torso.
It changed again when the delay to create whipping force showed more release in my spine. The hips leading the shoulders leading the rest. Shug (my elder brother) took a long rope and tied one end to my waist. Each turn of my waist he would run to show how far the extension would be from my hips. His end of the rope always stopping moving before my hands, or we would do it again.
My spine became more flexible and strong. As I worked to understand release and softness though I became far too yin and started getting easily crushed in push hands with Shug. I had good order to my movements but no structure during movement yet.
The spine became a bow next. The length of the spine, strung from the tailbone to the top of the spine at the big bone (c7). The roundness and fullness of the back sunk my chest and opened up my back. The intent work was all constant practice of that bow string being released and the bow stave springing open, but never physically done. Just in potential. Doing the form or drills became more difficult to keep a relaxed soft body with the mind bow in the spine twisting and ready to explode. I kept suffering from too tense or too loose while Shug would constantly crush me in push hands. His 20 some years with the Ji Hong Taiji College gave him both a Yang and Chen lineage that was what we were cross referencing against all my taiji training. It made everything less confusing in the end though.
A colleague of mine once spoke with me about human beings only being spines piloting meat suits. It made me think about the very bottom of the spine and its importance in structure and movement. The tailbone pointing between the heels gives any standing a chance at being rooted and powerful. Other than however, I had not considered the tailbone during movement. A Yang master once told me the tailbone should move between the feet like it’s on a track. Stray too far outside that track and your balance suffers.
In push hands I found that taking a yin or defensive perspective to incoming force while paying attention to my tailbone was a game changer. The incoming force drains to the spine and moves towards the legs through the pelvis. Moving the tailbone and pointing it toward one foot or the other can change the path of the force. It also helps to release the muscularity once used for defense and allows the skeletal structure to do the heavy lifting. This means that force can be directed from the opponent while the stirring of the tailbone makes force move from you towards them.
Coupled with the intrinsic force of the spinal bow my push hands started to as Shug put it “Be a problem,” which I loved….
The spine is an axle, a door hinge, a dragon, a snake, a bow, it’s not easy to master.