Tai Chi Chuan is unique among systems of martial arts in its fundamental strategy towards success in physical conflict; seeking mastery over the interactions of the physical environment, including oneself, as well as the opponent. Other martial arts scarcely go beyond seeking to pummel the enemy with strength and speed, while hardening the body to resist damage, resulting only in the strong dominating the weak. The methods of Tai Chi are specifically designed to counter strength and respond to speed in such a way that can redirect those forces back to the aggressor. Victory is achieved by skillful manipulation of force and momentum, through positioning and timing; and can result in a seemingly phenomenal discharge of energy casting the opponent away.
Tai Chi teaches us how to use the physical principles by which this skill is accomplished. Giving the practitioner simple games, or exercises, that integrate into the body the requisite neuromuscular response. Even without a cognitive knowledge of the higher principles of physics, the practice of the methods teach the body the way to move. Although the main transmission of this body of knowledge was passed down orally; the transmission of these principles is provided to us through the Tai Chi Classics. Which is a collection of scripts written in a classical chinese poetic fashion; attributed to various authors spanning back as far the 13th century Taoist progenitor, Cheng San Feng.
In the west, the first question someone may have is,”What is Tai Chi?” This seemingly simple question opens an expansive conversation leading to many other questions. The answer is clouded by a large cultural gap both in geography and in time. To answer simply; Tai Chi is a concept from Taoist philosophy, it is the mother of yin and yang energies, the all encompassing, or literally translated “The Great Ultimate”. This art was developed not in a vacuum by an isolated individual, but rather as the pinnacle of a collective body of knowledge based in a sophisticated alchemical architecture belonging to the culture and time in china; although some individuals did make defining contributions.
For a person who is attracted to eastern martial arts and has a desire to learn something of value for themselves; how does one navigate the sea of martial styles amidst the hype and traditionalism? The promise to those who glean the ancient wisdom is both ultimate health and skill; to an apparently supernatural degree. Before we dismiss this all as legend and mystical superstition, we must keep our minds open to seeing the way in which great things can be accomplished.
Archimedes said;” Give me a lever long enough and fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world”; we can see how proper application of physical principles can do incredible things. In doing so we must keep our minds grounded in practical reality by keeping focus on the principles and mechanisms that underlie the facade of perceptions; bearing in mind when seeing the facade that ”Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic,” – Arthur C Clarke.
Thus, to seek the ways by which great and ultimate acts are accomplished, is to know the Tao of Tai Chi. To understand how the principles of the of the Yin Yang are properly applied to the physical world, is to comprehend how a small river can carve the Grand Canyon, or how “A force of four ounces deflects a thousand pounds;” as is said in the Tai Chi classics. The philosophies of Taoism formulate the principles of Tai Chi and the applications of the Yin Yang in the body and physical world; the result being Tai Chi Chuan as a martial art.
The practice of the simple exercises of Tai Chi Chuan ingrain into the muscular movement the reactive patterns that employ the physical principles in the mechanisms of the body. The methods are designed such that the practitioner need not possess full comprehension of the philosophy and principle in order to gain the skill. Yet one must have the experience of physical practice in order to gain full comprehension of the principles, because one requires the proof of experience of the physical forces to know the truths of the classics. A practitioner can also verify the “correctness” of one’s movement based on one’s knowledge of the principles as described by the masters, whose engramatic words become clear to those who have experience.
The technique uses the leverages of the body as the mechanism to redirect the force of the opponent to neutralize an attack. To absorb the force of an incoming attack, one must relax and offer no resistance to the force. Allowing the body to be moved by the smallest application of force to its balanced system, the force is transformed by the Tai Chi “player”, one who employs the techniques of Tai Chi Chuan. The dynamic movement creates a virtual mechanism equivalent to a flywheel set to spin on it’s axis like a top, containing within it inertial energy which can be suddenly transmitted to an opponent.
If the player can successfully transform the force of an attack and conserve the momentum into the internally created virtual mechanism, then he can create a situation of mechanical advantage over his opponent and release the stored energy. The effect can actually create an amplification of force returned to the attacker that is more than the muscular effort exerted by the player. This amazing skill is the great gem of this art; the treasure that is achieved by a player through long study and dedication to the principles.
The true Tai Chi player seeks the way to effortlessly transform force in order to masterfully manipulate momentum to neutralize and discharge an opponent. Strength and speed are useless against a player who has proficiency, and with mastery a player can achieve victory in conflict without harm to himself or his opponent. How can there be any greater achievement in the martial world. It deserves to be called the great ultimate martial art.