HOW FORCE IS GENERATED IN CHINESE INTERNAL MARTIAL ARTS
"Let the Force Be With You"
All the Chinese internal martial arts, including Tai Chi, Pa Kua and Xingyi generate force
through the gathering of energy and then releasing it through rotations involving the arms and
hands around the waist or the Dantian area. If we look closely we notice that each movement
in tai chi is circular in nature. The rotations can be subtle or bold, in the same or different
planes and in the clockwise or counter-clockwise direction. For example, in Grasping Bird’s
Tail, when done correctly, the practitioner reaches out with a subtle circular movement in the
horizontal plane and then draws the arms and hands back and up in another circular motion
following subtle rotations of the waist. The rotations start from an uncoiled yin posture, build
and terminate in a coiled yang posture. The uncoiled position is “neutral” and the coiled
position, “charged”. The potential energy stored in the yang posture is released through an
uncoiling motion in the opposite direction returning to the yin energy state. The greater the
difference in potential energy between the uncoiled (yin) and coiled (yang) postures, the greater
the force applied by any body part that will perform the task. The direction and accuracy of the
force is controlled by the mind and requires precise alignments of all body parts.
The classic Slinky toy exemplifies this concept of releasing energy through yin and yang state
cycling. The Slinky is neutral in the uncoiled yin state. The Slinky is energized into the yang
state by turning one end of its coil over 180 degrees. Letting go of that end results in an
uncoiling motion returning to the yin state and generating a force proportional to the resistance
inherent in the bands. This process will cycle continuously with the assistance of gravity, if for
example a staircase is introduced.
The power generated from an uncoiling motion is appreciated by observing the behavior of a
snake. In the stretched out, neutral (yin) posture the snake is weak and vulnerable but after
coiled up in a yang posture it can subsequently release a formidable amount of energy instantly
and with remarkable precision.
The ancient yin/yang symbol is the perfect metaphoric gateway for this cycling energy process.
Starting at “12 o’clock” on the symbol, the lowest energy state (full yin) and moving counter
clockwise, the energy steadily increases reaching its highest potential (full yang) 180 degrees at
the “6 oclock” position on the symbol. Another 180 degree rotation collapses the energy
potential back to the full yin (neutral) position, releasing all the energy accumulated at the full
Most of us who practice tai chi aren’t particularly interested in applying it to generate a force in
combat, however appreciation of the principle of yin and yang coiling and uncoiling postures
helps improve our form in addition to empowering and vitalizing our experience. The next time
you perform a movement that incorporates circular arm motions, imagine that your waist is
directing the motion and not your arms and feel the energy flow!