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Taijiquan involves the storage and release of 'kinetic' energy - movement energy. Like a rock launched from a catapult or an arrow launched from a bow... We use kinetic energy in combat.
Kinetic energy can be seen by a simple demonstration. Strike a focus mitt but do not push upon impact. As soon as you hit the mitt, stop and withdraw the hand.
The effect of your strike should cause the mitt and the arm holding it to continue moving. This is different to an external strike, where your aim is to punch through the target.
Whole-body strength is different to external strength. You never tense the muscles or lock the joints. Your limbs feel mobile and relaxed at all times. They are imbued with inherent strength.
Neigong is cultivated by paying attention to how an action is undertaken. Rather than move the body in a 'normal' manner, a whole-body action must be trained.
Once the new way of moving is familiar, you no longer realise that you are moving in a contrived manner.
The tai chi movements serve to supply a pathway for the transmission of kinetic energy. Energy travels from the ground into your hand.
Your body simply provides the means by which the energy can be transferred. If you are stiff and unyielding, disconnected or flaccid - this transmission will be unsuccessful.
Once you regard your body as being a channel for the transmission of energy, you can start to understand what taijiquan striking involves. You do not punch or kick using local muscle groups.
The energy is transferred from the ground, passing through your frame and out into the opponent. Your limb is simply the part that makes contact with the opponent.
A student learns how to generate an undulation wave. This is passed throughout your entire structure, storing and releasing kinetic energy. We develop this wave by learning whole-body movement.
Every strike involves every body part moving as one. It is this rippling action that performs the delivery, rather than local muscle strength.
Coiling & releasing energy
Imagine twisting a towel as tightly as you can and then letting go? The towel will unfurl by itself. Why? Your twisting action stores energy. This is what opens the towel again.
Taijiquan twists and turns the body in order to store and release energy using the soft tissues of the body. If your body is connected and has peng, you will be capable of greater release.
With awareness it becomes possible to feel when the kinetic energy is flowing and when it is impeded.
Certain movements performed incorrectly will create 'dead' movements - these are actual stopping points where the kinetic energy flow is lost.
It is quite easy to maintain the kinetic flow, just avoid the impediments:
Collapsed muscles; usually thighs and front of body
Over-commitment, pushing and exertion
Hands too close to the body or too far away
Disconnected movement; arms and legs moving independent of the body
Awareness alone should prevent any of these mistakes from occurring; it is
essential to feel the blockage.
All styles of tai chi employ 13 expressions of power. These 13 patterns were detailed in The Tai Chi Classics. Every tai chi movement is essentially a combination of the 13 kinetic energy expressions.
torrential water tosses boulders,
it is because of its momentum;
when the strike of a hawk breaks the body of its prey;
it is because of timing.
12 January 1995
Last updated 09 June 2019