Energy

by Mat Beausoleil on 2011/12/30

Eventually, higher level students of Taijiquan come realize that the power produced in practice should never be produced by the muscles. But if it isn’t produced in the muscles, where does the incredible strength, flexibility and speed of the great masters come from? I believe this question can be answered by understanding the amazing system of tendons and ligaments which connects the muscular and skeletal structures. Although many people like to believe that “qi”

is the main source of energy which powers the body during Taijiquan, this can be an extremely misleading and impractical way of understanding the meaning of“internal” energy.

The system of tendons and ligaments found throughout the human body is quite impressive in terms of how much pressure and tension it can withstand. The elastic properties of tendons and their ability to act as springs allows them to store and recover energy at high efficiency. Because of this, I believe that continuous conditioning and strengthening of the tendons should be a primary focus of any internal martial arts student. Through correct training, the tendons and ligaments of the body can be reconditioned and transformed into very strong and highly flexible fibers.

Because the training focuses on connecting these bungee cord-like bands, tremendous amounts of elastic energy can be produced and stored all throughout the body. This “elastic” energy produced can then travel through the matrix of tendons at lightning speed just like a the sound waves of a cup phone can instantly travel down the tightened string into the opposite cup to produce clear sound. As we all know from our childhood experiences, if the string between the two cups is not tight enough or has any slack in it, the sound vibrations/energy will not travel through successfully.

Similarly, if the tendons of the body are not properly tightened or connected, or there is slack in any part of the body, the energy will not travel there, thus diminishing the structural integrity and power produced. Because the reconditioning of the tendons tightens everything up, the different parts of the body start to take on the shape of arches or bows. If the body is actually connected, these bows, internally strung tightly to the spine by tendons, seem to be a perpetual source of power. How can these bows or arches produce energy?

Just like a bow and arrow, when the string is pulled back and the arch of the bow is made smaller, the energy of the bow is condensed and stored in its center. When the string is released and the arch is elongated, the energy is released from the center and pushed out the ends. In the same way, when the arch in the arms is made smaller and the spiraling tightened by bringing in the elbow and rotating the waist, energy is also built up and stored.

Because each arch in the body is connected via the tendons, the energy produced by making the arch of the arm smaller is quickly rushed to the center of the matrix, the dantian. Because every tendon from the upper and lower body connect at the dantian, any tension put anywhere on the “connected” body will find its way to this area; the energy center of the body. When the arch of the arms is elongated and tightened by the stretch, just like the bow and arrow, the energy is released from its center and sent rushing out to each extremity.

The same process is true for the arches of the legs; by shortening and elongating the bows, great energy and power is produced and stored. For this process of energy production, storage and release to occur however, it is imperative that the body be totally connected. For example, in the right sided positive circle, when the elbow is brought into the ribs and the waist is rotated, the spiraled tendons and bow of the arm are made smaller and tightened. This tension is felt all throughout the right side of the body. This could be compared to the winding up of a toy.

At the same time, the knees are pushed out and the bow in the legs is forced open. Great tension is built up throughout the legs, but because the feet are fixed to the ground and the bow cannot be elongated, the energy cannot be released. As all the energy from the upper body is twisting to the left and sending its energy down to the dantian via the spine, the legs are also opening up, twisting to the right and sending the energy to the center of the bow in the legs, the dantian. If every tendon in the body is properly connected, this separation of energies in the upper and lower sections of the body both meet in the dantian to produce tremendous torque and potential energy.

Because the energy cannot escape through the feet into ground, when the rear knee is pushed back even further, the left kua rotates, pushes forward and releases the tension and energy of the legs upward. imultaneously, the tension of the twisted waist/dantian unwinds, rotating the spine and torso to the right which propels the energy out through the arm. So, when an opponent pushes into a connected practitioner’s arm, he is actually winding up and creating great tension on all of the bows found throughout the body, not simply the arm.

The energy released is therefore the sum of all the “elastic energy” from every spiraled bow in the body condensed and instantaneously released through a concentrated point. The energy issued is thus exponentially higher than the amount used to ‘wind up’ the practitioner. Simply put, the harder one pushes into the body, the tighter the tendons wind up and the more potential energy is created. Logically though, if the body is totally connected and everything happens together at the same time, nothing inside the body is really initiating the movements. This means that one action in a certain part of the body does not happen before another to produce a “result”.

Because everything happens simultaneously, a true point of origin cannot be determined. When practicing the form however, there is no external force to wind the body up and therefore a practitioner must use “intent” to simulate being powered up by an opponent. This is why when a student reaches the level where he is able to complete the form while staying connected, it is extremely beneficial to learn the applications of each posture. Imagining that the form is being carried out on an opponent helps reinforce each movement and gives the practitioner some understanding of the energy paths and proper alignments in the body.

{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

Gary Readore December 30, 2011 at 7:30 am

Matt:

Really enjoy your articles. You seem to have a good understanding of the “internal” side of taichi and how to explain and demystify it.

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Anonymous December 30, 2011 at 9:34 am

I like your description. Yet I’d like to share my theory.
In my experience that’s part of what’s going within the body, the fascia is the what connects all the parts. Fascia is connective tissue that interpenetrates the entire body from top to bottom, side to side, front to back, through all the muscle fibers and throughout the organs. There is a nexus of fascia that all connects at the dantian, interestingly enough.
So going off your cup example, I’d say the first points where the string goes through the cups, lets say an inch worth, would be the tendons and the middle is the fascia. So the sound moves in the cup into the tendon travels through the fascia into the tendon and out of the cup on the other side.
It seems to me that when an opponent makes contact with us the energy compresses within the fascial network, the tendons, muscle, and other connective tissue have to be in the proper state in order for the energy to continue compressing within the fascia and not escape into the muscles, causing tension or ones structure to collapse. This where the bows come into play. The string would be the fascia the tips that connect the string to the bow the tendons and the bow would be the bones. The bow as the bones stays relatively fixed, the string is pulled, the fascia is stretched through intent and sung, which stretches and strengthens the tendons.

SN: Check out, “Anatomy Trains: Myofascial Meridians for Manual and Movement Therapists” by Thomas Myers
In this book he makes the comparison between the fascial network and TCM mereidians and energy channels.

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Frank December 30, 2011 at 10:21 am

Wonder if there is any scientific studies to illustrate these points? If not, someone here should start.

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Hugo Ramiro December 30, 2011 at 1:10 pm

Hey everybody, there are some common errors being made here (and thank you Matt for writing such a concise and useful essay):
“Science” has existed since consciousness began – so it depends which flavour of science you are interested in, Frank. ;)

Next, it is incorrect to equate the Chinese term for sinew/tendon with the western anatomical definition of a tendon. The word “jin/筋”, for instance, means muscle and sinew and string and line and so on.

We are talking about the body – we need the bones, the sinew-flesh, the cou-li/fascia, the internal organs, *all* in play – “it” is one unit.
It is not necessary to separate these anatomical components beyond a certain point if our purpose is to understand their *function*. As such, if we start to understand “tendons” and their function in terms of the western anatomical unit, we will have too much of a focus on the joints themselves, since western anatomy limits the existence of “tendons” to their origin on the skeletal structure and termination at their attachment to a muscle body.

Chinese Medical science, contrastingly, is interested in function, and how differing components overlap, interpenetrate and mutually support the differing functions of the human body. Thus, the western concepts of the muscle, tendon, cartilage and fascial tissue are considered as one type of tissue for these purposes: the sinews (jin/筋). Just to make sure I am impressing upon the reader the subtlety of the topic, in Chinese Medical science we have a particular term that we use in the English translation: “Musculo-Tendinous Channels”(jin/筋). These MTCs criss-cross the body, with the important characteristic of crossing and binding multiple joints along their pathway.
“Anatomy Trains” are not a new discovery. Tai Chi, for example, has been using them, with a tremendous awareness of their characteristics and functions, for a very, very long time.

I will emphasize again the interpenetrating and permeable nature of the body and why it can cause difficulties to imagine that one tissue is only itself and nothing else. We will use the western anatomical units for this section:

“Fascia” consist of tissue that is very elastic and *also contains muscle fibers capable of contraction*.
“Tendons” consist of a tissue that is a supremely condensed version of fascia and *also* contains contractile muscle fibers.
Muscles consist of contractile fibers and *also* contain fascial material.

Interestingly, we can train our body so that these seemingly disparate tissues share more and more of each other’s characteristics. With weaker demarcations between the “different” tissues we see the “Tai Chi” function emerge! This is connection and uninterrupted flow of energy (potential and kinetic for our purposes now). No wonder these genius human potential specialist scientists (from hundreds of years ago) called them “tendon-changing” exercises.

I hope this clears some things up, there is a tremendous depth to be plumbed here, and being just a very junior practitioner of Chinese Medicine, I would not be able to say much more. However, most importantly, I have to say that a mental “understanding” of this is worse than inadequate. In order to make up for this essay I am going to do at least 3 YiLu right now (I know that’s not very impressive) and feel the movements without thinking. Thank you for reading!
Cheers, and happy Gregorian New Year to everyone!

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Ron December 30, 2011 at 2:51 pm

Interesting article-Thanks to Mat and other posted comments which has helped me understand using whole body connection

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bruce.schaub December 30, 2011 at 2:56 pm

matt,
the energy with which you describe is level one or two, as generally defined by taiji practitoners….tendon power.. level two the body is powered by chi, level three..by shen, chi is actually electromagnetic in nature, controlled by mind intent.

when the mind does anything it produces electricity..when it activates any part of the body it sends electrical signals through the motor nerves…any time you feel anything this happens in reverse through sensory nerves… nerve fibers can be viewed a bit like the electrical wires…

if you know anything about physics.. you may know that magnetism always accompanies electricity. this is a physical law of the universe. when these electrical signals move through your nervous system they produce magnetic fields around them…

all living things have these fields. this is well documented. check out yale professor harold burr’s work from back in the 30′s. many things affect how strong this current flows. how strongly you intend to do something (mind intent) and how technically difficult it is to do….(causes more elecrical activity in the brain to say… play piano or do yilu than say…brush your teeth).

now these magnetic fields interact with each other …brain, heart and spinal cord have the heaviest concentration of electrical activity so this central column of energy produces the strongest field…but when your practicing taiji particularly with strong mind intent…imagining your working against the resistance of an opponent…but dont tense!

electrical energy and therefore the magnetic fields in your arms and legs activate as well…when your in a more open posture..field expands..closed posture..field contracts and compresses against the central column of energy of brain heart spinal cord. if you overlay an image of a solonid (spiral wound electrical coil that produces magnetic fields) over top of an acupuncture chart, you will see the correlation..the meridians are actually the natural valleys of magnetic field lines ….each organ actually has its own field…

also the lower dantian acts as a big electrical coil…35 ft of voltaic pile coiled up in your gut capable of being trained to store more electrical energy…and therefore producing a very strong magnetic field as well….this field becomes more and more tangible and generally is describled by practitioners as “my hands seem to repell each other when in front of my dan tien” in addition to this basic explanation..there are many other associated effects on the electromagnetic spectrum…

in 1978 and 79 the institute of nuclear reaserch in the chinese academy of sciences and the Beijing Qigong study collaberative group researched infrared effects of qigong masters emitting energy…

in japan in 2003 Nakamura Hirotaka and colleagues observed bio-photon radiation during qi emmission ..there has also been research into Tu Yin Gong… or (articulation qigong) related to sound waves in qigong therapy ….there have even been studies i’ve been privy to at Cal State (sponsered by our own national institue of health) where qigong masters emitted chi into test tubes full of cancerous glial cells to test results of emitted chi on cancerous brain tissue.

qi is a very real and tangible phenomenon. now the classical taoist literature on the subject of shen suggests two reach the third phase all the qi of the body must eventually is converted to or refined into shen. Jing (essence) is fairly easily converted to qi, but chi conversion to shen is not something that is well understood in terms of the scientific research community.

these things are very difficult to research on the internet so if you are interested in learning more there is an excellent book on chinese medical qigong…compiled by editor in chief Tianjun Liu O.M.D. ..he’s the director of Qigong research lab in beijing university of Chinese Medicine…he also edits Qigong Study of Chinese Medicine….the official textbook used in universities and colleges in China..i think it is only available in chinese…..

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Chen Zhonghua December 30, 2011 at 3:56 pm

Just to point out that the Chen Style Practical Method policy is that we do not comment or deny anything we do not know but we concentrate our effort strictly on what is practical. To give you an idea what this means, I personally after more than 30 years of practice, am still focusing my personal efforts on Foundations of Taijiquan movements. You are all totally welcome to discuss and contribute to all aspects of taiji training or theory.

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bruce.schaub December 30, 2011 at 3:58 pm
bruce.schaub December 30, 2011 at 4:15 pm

thank you master chen… i have incredible respect for you and how you train….it’s amazing that someone of you ability speaks so openly about you training methods. truly unprecedented. i have learned so much from you videos and this amazing forum you’ve created for an elevated discourse of tajiquan and practical methods.. i hope to one day be able to train with you. you and you students are truly inspiring.

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Jay Smith December 30, 2011 at 9:53 pm

Thanks again Mat, another great article!

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KangTS December 31, 2011 at 12:18 pm

Doesn’t the saying go, “energy is in the joints?” Just adding that thought as a contrast to the talk about fascia and tendons.

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kim allbritain January 1, 2012 at 10:21 am

Matt,
Thanks again for your efforts here. I admire your ability to express verbally what is experienced physically, a difficult task to be sure.

The concept you describe regarding archs and arcs within the whole dynamic body alignment and movement is an excellent visual presentation. I have always thought of the various body segments in terms of triangles created by supporting points within our postures but when adding rotation to the mix, those triangles do become arcs.

Again, nice job..

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bruce.schaub January 2, 2012 at 3:24 pm

after rereading the post i made on energy the other day and the comment master chen made immediately after, i felt like i should apologize to mat. i didn’t mean to sound condescending if it came across that way. my attempts to talk with all of you about taiji are only out of a deep appreciation for what you are doing and the wisdom of practical method. i have trained in taiji for 20 years, and am a disciple of a well known wu taiji and qigong master in shanghai. competing in tournaments in china and being exposed to a lot of taiji over the years has affected me deeply… in regard to what has become practical in my mind at this point, the scientific nature of how energy moves through the body is no more or less relavent than sinew twisting around bone…. i wish that i had known at your age what you understand very well already…took me many more years to find those things out… a testament to master chen’s openness, method, and brilliant teaching ability.

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Mat Beausoleil January 3, 2012 at 1:49 am

Hahaha!

There’s no need to apologize Bruce. Quite honestly your comment never struck me as offensive and I actually enjoyed your perspective on the matter. I’m interested in the way everybody looks at certain issues from different angles and find it to be very beneficial in stimulating new ideas. Keep the comments coming! ;o)

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Calvin Chow January 3, 2012 at 2:32 am

Thanks Mat for this good article. I think this “elastic energy” is the “Peng energy” which we need to keep it on in Yilu.

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bruce.schaub January 3, 2012 at 5:15 am

Excellent! thanks mat. the buddha said if we can give the mind a single focus..all things will be accomplished… there is no questioning what your systems focus is…. nor any doubt you will reach the highest levels….

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bruce.schaub January 3, 2012 at 5:26 am

in chen xin’s classic on taiiquan it says that one’s taiji is reflected as a pure emanation of their consciousness…. using the taoist concept of reversion or reverse extrapolation we can assume by gradually perfecting our outer form according to the golden mean, we thereby perfect consciousness…

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Anonymous January 3, 2012 at 7:53 am

Well said Hugo Ramiro!!! Deeply appreciated and needed lesson my friend.

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太极门外转 January 5, 2012 at 6:41 pm

缠丝劲,蓄劲,练好自己身上的弓劲,对方就是我们弦上的箭。

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Fredo March 1, 2012 at 5:55 am

I enjoyed the article and comments and found it enlightening and they “connected” things for me. I think what I will discuss will compliment much of what has been written.

What makes a tendon springy and stretchy? Collagen (the fundamental building block of the body). Why is collagen springy? It is a triple helix molecule or three intertwined coils, for simplicity lets say a simple coil or spring. When we extend our tendons the springs (the collagen molecules) stretches out. Of course a tendon is made up of many chains of these springs all stretching together.

What is not commonly known is when the spring extends (ones tendons extends), a current is produced, an electromagnetic field induced, and the light passing through it is altered. Molecules that do this are considered liquid crystals. Collagen with water is a liquid crystal. Google “Collagen is a liquid crystal” and one will find many papers written on the subject.

Our common knowledge of liquid crystals come from the LCD display you are probably reading this on. The liquid crystals in your display are also coil molecules and has electromagnetic, and optical properties. When an electrical current is passed through the coil, the coil will extend and twist and alter the light being shined through it, effectivelly becoming a tiny light switch. So many of these tiny springy, light switches make up an LCD screen. So many are not aware that there is actually movement and twisting occuring in the LCD screen.

The light properties of collagen in organisms has been filmed by Dr. Mae Won Ho using polarized light (polarized light is what is passing through your computer screens liquid crystals). On the front of her book “The rainbow and the worm” you will see small organisms that look like prisms of light (its quite beautiful) http://www.i-sis.org.uk/rnbwwrm.php. It is the properties of collagen, the same collagen in our body, that make these images possible.

The electromagnetic properties induced when collagen is strained has been measure by Dr Robert Becker and documented in his book. “The Body Electric: Electromagnetism And The Foundation Of Life” http://www.amazon.com/Body-Electric-Electromagnetism-Foundation-Life/dp/0688069711/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1330601570&sr=1-1

The fundamental structural building blocks of living creatures are liquid crystal. So the body is way more complicated and fundamentally energetic that what is commonly known from a western perspective. When collagen fibers extend/twist and contract/untwist so are fields and currents of electromagnetic energy expanding and contracting. With all discussed one can start to see some of the complexity of interacting fields and currents of electromagnetic energy when the whole body is extended in unison creating the bows discussed, not to mention the interraction with the dantien as discussed by matt and bruce.schaub and joints which are mostly collagen, and other energy centers.

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Asad H August 30, 2012 at 4:36 pm

That was a fantastic read, thank you.

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Frank September 4, 2012 at 8:13 am

Nice information, Fredo! Now if only we can film master Chen’s collagen?

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michael masini April 29, 2015 at 12:17 pm

I really like reading blogs similar to this! Causes
me to experience a comfortable satisfying experience and in addition educated!
Thankyou so much!

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