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, 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.