Oftentimes students ask, “Where in my foot should my weight be?” I have seen several videos that tell the viewer that in this posture the weight is in the heel, and in the next posture the weight is in the “bubbling well” point.
However, Tai Chi is made up of continuous movement which means that your weight is dynamic and changes all the time! In higher stances, the weight is closer to the middle of the foot and in lower stances it is closer to the heels. The question of where your weight goes in your foot misses the point.
If your feet are soft and have a hollow (an arch), and the toes are lightly touching the floor, your weight placement will be where it needs to be. In this article we will explain how to do this and why we want to do it.
There is an aspect of walking that is rarely mentioned, but which is crucial for rooting and transferring energy between the ground and the legs. Whether standing still or moving, the feet should always be kept “soft” with a hollow (the arches of the feet slightly arched upward) with the toes lightly touching the floor. By doing this, you create a “suction cup” under each foot.
Keeping the feet soft and creating a hollow under the instep is done in conjunction with the sinking of the Kua and the lifting of the knee (see a detailed explanation of sinking the Kua and lifting the knees).
The opposite of softening and hollowing the foot is pushing your foot into the ground and flattening it. When you push off the ground you flatten your foot. This causes an uprooting. Your breathing moves into your chest, and you raise your center of gravity which disrupts your balance.
“Softening the Feet” and creating “Suction Cups” happens when your Kua sinks and your knees slightly lift. When the knee lifts, it pulls the tibia (shin bone) which pulls the ankle which pulls the instep to create the hollow and softness.
Hollowness is also created by the expansion of the joints within the foot, including the toes.
To feel and understand this place the palm of your hand on a table. Press your palm into the table, and as you can see it flattens out (Figure 1). You can feel the tension in your palm and wrist. You can also feel the energy going out of your fingertips and dispersing away. Now, relax your palm and allow it to hollow from the inside. The back of your hand naturally rises and the energy coming out of your fingertips feels like it’s accumulating in the hollow (Figure 2). This is what your feet should feel like.
Figure 1. Hand flattened
Figure 2. Hollowed Palm
Because your foot is hollow, it means when the foot touches the ground, the entire foot is placed on the floor with a slight hollow under the instep. This hollow or slight lifting of the instep allows the edges of the entire foot to be in contact with the ground, creating a light suction cup feeling.
A common error is to raise the rear heel off of the floor as the weight is shifted forward, as for example, in Brush Knee. That is incorrect because either the knee is out of alignment or you have shifted your weight too far forward.
Figure 3. The edge of the right foot is off the floor putting the knee at risk.
The entire outline of each foot should be touching the floor. You may see people do a posture where the knee is either bent inwards or outwards causing the edges of their foot to lift off the floor. That is also incorrect and can cause damage to your knee (Figure 3).
To avoid damaging your knees you want your entire foot to touch the floor and your knees to align with your toes. If any edge of your foot leaves the floor, it is incorrect, and your knee is put at risk.
Let’s also be clear that there are a few postures where your foot or your heel is off the floor. That’s fine because that is integral to that particular form or posture. In this case, you must imagine that the foot is still on the floor and rooted, even though the heel is up for that particular form or posture.
The slight hollow under your instep is very important in Tai Chi. Its function is to absorb energy from the ground. In order to do that, your feet need to be soft. If your feet are stiff, it affects your entire structure, blocking the energy flow and causing stiffness .
This stiffness and tension can occur if you push off your foot. When you push, you tense your muscles which constricts the flow of energy from your foot to the rest of your body. This can be easily demonstrated when you clench your fist tightly, you can feel that the energy does not move through the tense muscles.
Here is a really easy way to feel the effects of having a hollow under your foot.
Stand with your feet shoulder width apart. Press one foot into the floor. Can you feel the muscles in the leg tightening? Are you able to root? Does the leg and foot feel constricted as if energy cannot pass through? Now, relax the foot and create a hollow by letting the toes touch the floor. Is your leg relaxed? Can energy flow through your foot and leg? Can you sink your foot so it roots? Which way gives you more balance? If you’re very sensitive, then notice that the way you breath will change between the two ways of using your feet.
Stand in a Bow Stance as if doing a Brush Knee.  With your arms extended in front of you, have someone pull on your arms to try and pull you off your feet. First do it with your feet flat on the floor without a hollow. Then do it with a hollow under each foot. Which way kept you rooted and stable?
In this article we showed that your feet should be soft and always hollowed so that your Qi can flow, and you remain rooted and absorbing. If there is no hollow under your foot it indicates that there is tension in your foot and that you’re probably pushing off your foot. A flat or stiff foot means that you are not rooting.
You want your foot to become like a suction cup, with all edges touching the floor. When any edge is off the floor it means your posture is out of alignment in some way and that you are possibly putting your knee at risk.
Soften your feet, hollow the arches of your feet, make them as suction cups and you will feel the Qi!
Joe Eber is a senior teacher and long time student of Master William Ting (silvertigertaichi.com).
Joe Can be reached at email@example.com