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The external arts generate power by means of the legs, waist, shoulders, arms and weight. Typically the exponent adopts a secure base of power, then rotates the waist as they shift the weight forward.
They swing the shoulder and extend the striking arm. The fist is usually tightly clenched for impact. Aggression is often used to amplify the power.
There are variations to this (according to the style/class) but the essential body mechanics are the same.
The tai chi approach
Tai chi does not rely upon a deep, firm base of power and the rotation of the waist for power. It does not involve shoulder rotation, arm extension or a tensed fist.
The power is generated in an entirely different way. The term used to describe tai chi power generation is 'reeling silk'.
If we ignore the term and think about the process it should make sense. Think of the tai chi movement as being akin to an amoeba. An amoeba is a single-cell organism.
For one part of an amoeba to move, all parts must move. Every single movement is a whole-body movement. This is exactly how we move in tai chi.
Consider how a caterpillar moves or how a snake undulates. Look at the biological physics involved.
In motion the whole body should be light and
with all parts of the body linked as if threaded together.
The whole body should be threaded together through every joint
without the slightest break.
Every single movement must involve the entire body. This necessitates a very loose yet connected framework.
The joints must be free to rotate naturally, to open and close, and the vertebra must be flexible. Muscular tension and habitual patterns of holding will create blockages within your body.
Extreme/low stances and over-stretching will also limit your ability to move freely and easily. When you can perform this type of movement it will look like a wave undulating through your body.
Our students learn a series of different qigong exercises. Initially they are taught the outline, the pattern. Then they learn a more detailed body movement.
Coordination, timing and intention are emphasised. Finally they consider how to channel a pathway of kinetic energy through the body, along a very specific path of force.
These three stages of qigong practice teach a crude foundation.
Form serves to extend the amoeba-like body action developed from qigong, offering challenging new shapes through which to move and channel kinetic power.
Our form exists simply to practice power generation and strategy.
Students must learn 50 neigong concerns that assist in the development of whole-body strength.
Every neigong quality adds an extra physiological change to the body, intensifying the effectiveness of each movement.
The delivery of power through the undulation of the body is only the beginning.
Once this amoeba-like way of moving has become comfortable and easy, you must then learn how to channel kinetic energy more skilfully. What matters is the effect.
When you strike an opponent you need to be certain that your delivery produces the required outcome. The effect of your strike is called 'jing'. It is your opponent's experience of your delivery.
Not every jing involves striking, but for the moment we are only considering the striking aspect of jing.
By coordinating your limbs and the internal movement of your body with your intention, you can deliver kinetic power in radically different ways. The first skills are called the 8 powers.
These 8 powers are the basis of all tai chi: wardoff, rollback, push, squeeze, pluck, split, elbow and bump/shoulder.
You must be capable of delivering each of the 8 powers. Each jing possesses a distinct quality which marks it as being notably different to the other jing.
The recipient should be moved in a particular way and be capable of identifying each jing by how it felt.
Once you have mastered all 13 methods, you can explore variations and permutations. There are over 40 jing qualities offered to our students, including leg jing.
Instead of thudding your clenched fist into the opponent, you undulate your entire framework and emit a specific jing.
The kinetic energy wave meets the opponent, you apply no more than 4 ounces of pressure and the work is done.
If you apply more than 4 ounces of pressure, much of the kinetic wave will bounce off the opponent and back into your own body. Which is not so good.
Adverse feedback can cause arthritis, muscular tension and pain. Remember: if it feels strong, you are doing it wrong.
Experienced students learn how to 'gravity strike'. This is the ability to deliver a soft, heavy blow into the opponent using gravity.
As the ability improves, more and more of the body is used and the power is amplified. Once the entire body is performing the strike, it becomes very formidable indeed.
From large to small
The initial movements are quite large and obvious, with the spine and hip kwa notably opening and closing as the framework coils and releases the joints.
With practice, the movement becomes fairly innocuous. This process is called 'internalisation'. Instead of an obvious outward show of movement, much of the work is performed within the body.
This requires considerable relaxation.
Once the amoeba-like tai chi body skill is easy and natural for you, it is necessary to consider the effort-to-power ratio.
The aim is to produce an increasing amount of power with less and less effort.
Every deliver can become more effective, less visible and easier to perform if you reduce the level of muscular tension within your body.
Muscular tension impedes the kinetic energy wave, causing it to get caught in the shoulder, elbow or hand. Psychological and emotional tension also blocks energy.
Being soft and dreamy will result in a greater release of power.
This may seem incongruent to the chronically tense person, but consider: if an unconscious person were hurled at you, how easily could you cope with their mass and body weight?
Softness allows you to connect to another person's body without alerting their nervous system and provoking an instinctive flinch reaction with its associated tension.
Fa jing is a natural extension of the whole body movement. Some students believe that fa jing is just some sort of hip/waist shake but this is not correct.
The body needs to move in the amoeba-like way already described. You need to be loose and fluid, emotionally calm and collected.
Fa jing is a natural outcome of this process of moving the body as a whole, and channelling kinetic energy in the form of jing. When the delivery is super-soft, you can perform it spontaneously.
This sudden emission of kinetic force is fa jing. The entire body opens and closes in an instant, with all body parts moving together. Your intention and shen supply the final components.
Unlike the gravity strike, fa jing is always very abrupt. It occurs over a very short distance with no preparatory movement being visible to the observer. Without fa jing your tai chi is incomplete.
Without gravity striking abilities and the amoeba-like way of moving you are not capable of doing fa jing.
There are many fighting arts.
Although they use different forms, for the most part they don't go beyond
the strong dominating the weak, and the slow resigning to the swift.
The strong defeating the weak and the slow
hands ceding to the swift hands
are all the results of natural abilities and not of well-trained techniques.
From the sentence "A force of four ounces
deflects a thousand pounds"
we know that the technique is not accomplished with strength.
The spectacle of an old person defeating a group of young people, how can it be due to swiftness?
18 April 1995
Last updated 16 June 2023