Monday 26 March 2012

Transferring force with structure

A beginner recently asked me what the principles of tai chi were (or something along those lines). My view, from the scientific stance, is that it is essentially about controlling mass and force and putting a structure in place to be able to do so.

So, to use an example, if I am punching using just the muscles of my arm, the amount of force I can impart is related to the mass of my arm and the speed with which I move it. I use the muscles of my arm to give it kinetic energy and then impart that kinetic energy into my opponent. However if I can punch from the centre of my body and also use all the mass of my torso and upper body, I can impart a lot more force, as I am using a lot more mass. The arms don't need to be substantially stronger, just able to maintain the structure that allows a connection between the force from the torso and the fist. I have put a lot more energy into the system (to be imparted to my opponent) not by increasing the force of my arm muscles, but by involving more of my body.

The principle of tai chi is therefore about understanding the structures that allow you to transfer force from different areas of the body. We developing the levers, linkages, drive shafts, cogs and mechanics between all the different parts of the body that allow this transfer to take place. The force being transferred can be our own internally generated force, or can be things like gravity, or centrifugal force. In other words if you can transfer your body weight from your feed to your opponent (at the correct angle), it is suddenly a powerful impulse for them to counter.

For further reading, along those lines, I heartily recommend a visit to the martial tai chi website which expands upon these points in great detail. That page provide some great descriptions of Chinese tai chi concepts in a western physics framework.

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