Thursday, October 14, 2010

Evolution of Internal Energy in Tai Chi (a prelude)



I meant to include this "prelude" and some background to the essay series on Internal Energy early on.  I will continue with (part 2) in the next installment, remember there will be no further email notifications of this series.

Over the years of teaching Tai Chi all of my students gently remind me that there are martial arts that are better, faster, stronger and above all quicker to learn than Tai Chi.  Mostly, they remind me of the latter. In my years of practicing Classical Tai Chi, I also hear them add an additional refrain that learning internal discipline/internal energy is really difficult. One muses that if everything is quicker to learn  and easier than Classical Tai Chi, then surely one could learn say 7 different martial arts and learn 7 times faster than Tai Chi and be 7 times better.

In the 1990's I was contacted by a martial artist named Gary Castanza (deceased). Gary had witnessed me performing the Wu's Style Sword Form at the local "Y" and asked for lessons.  I told Gary at the time that one could not very well learn the sword without learning the Chuan first.  He started private lessons with me in learning the Wu's 108 Long Form (Square). A very nice guy but Gary would remind me periodically that he knew 7 martial arts that he learned faster than he was ever going to learn Tai Chi.  Indeed, Gary was a gentleman and  an extraordinary martial artist who had many students, we became fast friends.

Gary however, did not use internal energy in his martial arts nor did Bruce Lee when he did his famous one inch punch. Notice the position of Bruce's back foot, the size of his stance and the overall position of his body, then compare that to Master Stephen Hwa's stance.  Master Stephen Hwa however, does use internal energy when he punches with a one or what I like to call the "no inch" punch. So, where is that incredible energy coming from?

Note, I said "energy", not force.  Based on what we learned in part 1, Bruce Lee is using the definition of "force" wherein the speed of the punch is limited by the joints of the body.  In the video, he is also "launching" his body, notice his back foot leave the ground. We should also explain that "force" has several definitions and I have used one for martial terms so far. In the Tao of Martial Applications, Master Hwa speaks of "force" as the punch entered Tom's pad and then his body.  He explains as well that the force is inside Tom's abdomen before Tom has a chance to back away from the impact.

 In essence the impact of Master Hwa's punch seems to "implode" inside Tom's abdomen, rather than the "explosion" Bruce's punch seems to make on impact to the outside of someone's body, after all it starts several inches away. I explained to Barry H. that Tom seems to be getting internal energy directed into the abdomen with none of the hindrance from the joints we talked about in part 1.   To elaborate further, I would say we use another definition of force as Master Hwa makes his fist and forearm firm, not tense.  The fist and forearm is made firm at the exact split second of touch, not made firm before the touch as Bruce does.

 One of my long time students (Barry H.) is an accomplished Karate practitioner who needs self-defense ability in his profession.  Barry tells me that over the years, he has learned alot in the way of martial arts and has been able to accomplish much in the way of purely physical techniques.  He says however, that learning the internal discipline has been the most challenging in the use of the mental aspect (the "Yi").  One of my other students (Anh L.) is a long time martial arts practitioner who is proficient in Wing Chun.  Anh, professes much admiration for the capabilities of Classical Tai Chi when I use "application" to explain the Classical Tai Chi Form. However, he also thinks that internal discipline is very challenging, stating that he heard of something similar in Wing Chun but not to the sophistication of what Classical Tai Chi offers.

Yes, I agree, it is faster to learn other systems that are not dependent on Internal Energy.  Certainly, one may well need to learn martial arts and self defense in order to protect oneself and one may certainly need that ability quicker.  I submit however, that quicker, faster, etc. is not necessarily for everyone.  After all, the average person is not subject to attack in their profession.  There is also the concern that the martial art of choice could be seen as having been used "offensively" rather than "defensively".

In this Youtube Video, Master Hwa makes this point very well. Unfortunately, a part of the video where he physically launched himself forward several feet is missing.  He was demonstrating the big differences between internal movement vs. external movement.  Many martial arts rely on the (another definition of force) "momentum force" to accomplish "self defense".  The question is however, if one "launches" themself toward the opponent to "defend" themself, how is that an "defensive" tactic?

 Master Hwa makes the point that there is a big difference in the use of force in an offensive move as compared to a defensive movement.  He also states that Classical Tai Chi because of its dependence on a non-moving part of the body is a purely defensive martial art. Think about this:  A jury of "non" martial artists might be hard pressed to find not guilty when defendant says "he was coming toward me, so I launched myself at him first".  My question would be: "Could you have gotten away from the guy in the first place and why did you throw the first punch or launch yourself at him in order to defend yourself?

1 comment:

AhWong said...

in my opinion, as time goes by, many of us have seemed to lose the true understanding of "internal" martial art. What could be worse is that branding of some soft / internal martial arts as ways that could lead to better health - but such training methods may not necessarily be in accordance with traditional chinese medicine theory.
As an ex-practitioner of a variant style of a mainstream Japanese "internal" art (taught officially to the tokyo riot police), i know full well the frustrations of trying to know what internal really means. Perhaps I was a slow learner, but after 10 years hitting the mat getting thrown like a rag-doll, there's that sinking feeling that i still know nothing at all despite striving hard to achieve good technique. Alas, "li bu di fa, fa bu di gong" (strength does not overcome technique, technique does not overcome power). correct me if i am wrong, but i do think the "power" in martial art context should mean internal energy. And i do believe that classical taichi can serve as one of the methods to attain the elusive internal energy all martial artists strive for (unless these people are satisfied up to achieving perfect technique).
Note: I've given up the art i studied for 10 years upon advice of a TCM doctor that i've messed up all my meridians at the back body from all those breakfalls over the years. And who would i rather believe when it comes to life and death or internal and external health? A TCM doctor who has 30 years experience or a martial art teacher who brands the art as internal art that could supposedly improve "real" health"?