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What is biomechanics?
It is the study of the structure and function of biological systems.
A tai chi student needs to be intensely curious about human biomechanics: balance, leverage, structure, stability, mobility, coordination, range & reach, natural order...
They should research different methods of using the body: other styles of tai chi, other martial arts, sports, yoga, Pilates, Alexander Technique, ergonomics, rehabilitation therapy.
Open your mind to new possibilities. Watch people use their body. Observe your own usage. Study how animals move and why.
In our syllabus there are 5 main areas of biomechanical study:
As a precursor to tai chi, qigong offers the student an opportunity to explore crude body mechanics without the need of direct application.
Structure, balance, stance (foot position), mobility, coordination, use of energy, alignment, posture and poise are all explored using simple exercises.
Basic concerns such as ambidextrous body use are introduced. Muscle tension is identified and relaxation is encouraged.
Qigong exercises enable the student to become familiar with their existing habits of body use, and provide the opportunity to consider alternative approaches.
I think Sifu Waller knows more
about functional biomechanics than all the orthopaedic surgeons I have met
put together. I rarely have clicking joints now since Sifu Waller instructed me to
work within the limits of the ‘click’ and then build up over time to a wider
(Dr David Cousins)
Form (whole-body movement)
Every tai chi form movement has a purpose. The student must understand why they are doing the movement, otherwise that movement is meaningless and most likely incorrect.
What is the movement for? How does it operate? Look at different forms in the syllabus - armed and unarmed - and consider the way in which the body is being used.
Examine the purpose, the method and the outcome.
Form teaches economy of movement, centre, range & reach, coordination, footwork, balance, timing, synchrony, flow, natural body use, healthy body use, strong skeletal alignment, power generation, stance and positioning.
Variety of form
It is important to train forms that offer the opportunity to use the body in very different ways. e.g. there is no real point in learning numbered forms; as they are all essentially variations on a theme.
Similarly, acquiring forms from different styles of tai chi is without purpose. Your practice time would be better spent practicing a range of forms within one style of tai chi.
Taijiquan fighting method
The Long Yang form trains the essential biomechanics underpinning the entire system. 2-person cane drill teaches conservation of energy, centre and nimbleness.
Walking stick form is an energetic exploration of many of the original form movements, playfully coupled with a short weapon.
Sabre and jian complete the tai chi forms in our syllabus by offering demanding and highly subtle sequences.
The body mechanics of the
internal martial arts are significantly more sophisticated than those of the
external martial arts.
Neigong is all about biomechanics. It aims to unite the separate parts of the body so that they can function as one congruent, connected, loose network of power.
This requires a great deal of work. The student must patiently study and incorporate minute considerations/qualities designed to knit the body together.
A scientific attitude must be employed.
Jing (whole-body power)
Jing is concerned with using biomechanics effectively when in physical relationship with another person; either practice partner or opponent. Performing movements solo is not enough.
It is imperative that the power generated by those movements can be used in the required manner.
Taijiquan martial applications are generated using whole-body strength, employed as whole-body movement, manifested as whole-body power (jing). The art cannot work in combat without jing.
It would be merely external.
All application; whether armed or unarmed require the student to employ biomechanics skilfully.
Not only must our own body move appropriately, you must also ensure that the outcome conforms with your expectations.
This necessitates a firm grasp of range, reach, timing, balance, alignment, positioning, rhythm and power. Your focus is principally upon what the opponent is doing.
Tai chi biomechanics
Each style of tai chi employs its own unique interpretation of how the body should be used. All are correct providing they conform to the authenticity guidelines outlined in The Tai Chi Classics.
Instead of tensing muscles as and when needed, the internal martial arts cultivate unbroken power at all times. No tensing is required.
The unorthodox movements employed by the tai chi forms were designed to offer a biomechanical advantage when using the body.
When successfully paired with an incoming attack, they offer a position of superior leverage and strength. Learning how to accomplish this is a major area of study in its own right.
Adjust when necessary to maintain biomechanical advantage. Rely on sensitivity, jing, balance and centre rather than force. Avoid extremes, over-stretching and excess.
The highest level of taijiquan practice
is high stance and small circle. In high stance and small circle you can
conserve your energy to a maximum level. This is very crucial in battle.
Endurance has always been the crucial key to survival in a long battle.
Moreover, due to high stance and smaller shape you can reach to the
deepest relaxed stage, the mind is highly concentrated, and the sensitivity
and alertness can be extremely sharp.
Applications can be manifested as strikes, grappling, chin na, shuai jiao and weaponry. The main area of application, though, is everyday life...
5 October 2003
Last updated 09 June 2019