The Kuas mean hip joints in Chinese. It is essential that we properly sit the Kuas during Tai Chi (Taiji) practices. However, it is not intuitive for many to sit/sink the Kuas not mention to maneuver them freely. During the recent Light of Tai Chi Training Camp, Master Chen Bin taught an exercise to loosen up the Kuas.
The hip joints are one of the most important joints in our body and the second most flexible joint next to the shoulders. They allow us to walk, sit, run, kick, and jump. They are ball-and-socket joints connecting the hipbones and femurs that bear our body weight. They consist of mostly cartilage and ligaments. When they are “sat” properly, they function like ball bearings and allow the torso to turn different directions: left, right, forward, and backward. Everyone knows how to sit, even infants do. However, in Tai Chi practice, it is challenging for most people to “sit” without a chair. The prerequisite of sitting Kuas is relaxing the body and mind. You can then gently bend the knees and fold the hip joints. Depending on how low your stance is or how much your body needs to turn, you fold the hip joints accordingly or sit/open Kuas a little or a lot. Without proper Kua sitting, the opposite knee will be pulled in toward the direction the body is turned, which strains the knee and causes knee pain and can be dangerous to the knee health.
Opposite from regular aerobic exercises, Tai Chi practitioners should not tilt the pelvis forward. They should let the lower back curve naturally just like how we sit. If the pelvis tilts forward, the hip joints are no longer flexible and the torso cannot turn easily without twisting the spine. In that situation, according to Tai Chi terminology is called Ding or the Kuas being stuck. For people, who do not stretch much, the leg muscles, especially the Adductor Longus Muscle and Adductor Magnus Muscle, can be tight and prevent the Kuas from opening or folding well.
Master Chen Bin, a 20th Generation Chen family descendent, 12th Generation Chen Tai Chi Inheritor, son of Grandmaster Chen Zhenglei, and 7th Duan Chinese martial art master, is popular among the young Tai Chi enthusiasts in China. He authored a book and has been promoting basic training. One of the drills he emphasized during the Seattle Tai Chi camp was a Kai Kua exercise. Kai means “opening” or “flexible” in Chinese. The Kai Kuas exercise can help practitioners to feel and learn how to sit Kuas accurately and gradually loosen up the muscles and making the Kuas more flexible or Kai. The exercise can start with a high stance and gradually lowering the body once the leg muscles become stronger. The goal is doing it at a crouching position. Master Chen tirelessly worked with workshop attendees during each warm-up session. It is exhausting to do this exercise when crouching down. He advised students to start with a few sets, then progressively adding more sets. He stated if we could add one more set each week, we would be able to do at least 50 sets continuously at the end of the year.
When it is trained at a low stance, the Kai Kua routine can be good cardio-vascular exercises and help build up leg muscles quickly. If you can do 50 sets in a row, you will have no problem to do Da Lu, an arduous Chen Style Push Hands form at a crouching position while shifting the body weight right and left without standing up.
Video Taping was not allowed during the workshop. I had Julian Jenkins and Doc Luecke, students of mine, to demonstrate the Kai Kua exercise in the attached video.
(Edited by Erin Li.)