Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Evolution of Internal Energy in Tai Chi (part 1)

This is part 1 in a multi-part essay on the evolution of internal energy in Tai Chi.   Readers and students of Classical Tai Chi  will have to return frequently in order to read subsequent parts, there will be no further solicitation.

One only has to imagine that the literacy level could not have been very high among martial artists in 17th, 18th and 19th century China.  Certainly the fact that they did not make much in the way of written record for their arts is pretty clear is it not? With that in mind it is easy to see that they likely did not run coherent scientific experimentation on both the practical and theoretical aspects of internal energy.

Master Stephen Hwa in his profession was a top notch scientist and  has stated that he was attracted to the Tai Chi  of his teacher Young Wabu because of the scientific way that Young taught it. As a link to the 19th century, Young was a priceless asset in the annals of Tai Chi.  I only wish I could have studied with him myself back in the 1970's when I first started, I certainly did not have access to much in the way of scientific Tai Chi in those days. Student's have said to me, they are so happy they are finally doing "internal" Tai Chi.  To that, I would add, that you are finally understanding Tai Chi on a scientific level.  Without meeting Master Hwa, I'm quite sure  I could only practice and practice the Wu's Style Large Frame for decades and still not understand much.

I get occasional email from people wishing to study Tai Chi who do not understand Internal Energy.  They are attracted to Tai Chi because of something they read or heard about it and have no concerns over whether it involves science or not.  I suspect they see it with a consumer mentality or something they can just go out and will work for them "right out of the box" so to speak.  So if they don't even know internal energy exists, one can hardly expect to study it scientifically.  If they are ill, they think that they can take a pill so of course Tai Chi falls into the "take a pill" category.  However, there is no such thing as an internal energy "Pill".

When the non- "internal" martial artist opens a door, moves their garbage can, lifts their child, etc. they have even little idea of or even care for the scientific basis of how they are doing it.  It matters little to them that they have to contract and expand certain muscle groups in their extremeties as in "ex" ternal  It certainly does not occur to them to take account of the amount of "ex" ternal force they are using.  Thoughts of internal would never enter the picture, why would it.

We know from Physics in this day and age that what those muscle contractions result in is called by the scientific name "Force".  The amount of force a mother uses to lift her child can be measured in categories such as pounds, etc.  What she does not know as well however, is why she feels exhausted after lifting the child dozens of times during the day.  It is because all of those muscle groups are connected at the wrists, elbows, shoulders, knees, etc.  In other words at the various joints which work essentially as hinges in their capacity as connectors.  We know as well that any force she exerts, let's say in pounds never reaches their end result (the child)  without being somewhat diminished through each of the joints it must go through.  In other words, the force can hardly be said to run straight and true can it?

However, I know on a visceral level what Wu Chien Chuan passed on to Young Wabu to Stephen Hwa to James Roach can teach people how to link all of those joints into a coherent whole...connect them up as it were.  What results from that linkage or connection can then be called energy...internal energy as a matter of fact.  Internal because we no longer have to be limited by contraction/expansion of individual muscles, strength or flexibility of various joints, all the various nooks and crannies that can diminish energy, etc. The Mom can "mobilize" this energy to send it to a particular point...the Child.

No comments: