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Friday, October 7, 2011

Looking at the Limits. By Glenn Gossling

When studying martial arts one constantly finds oneself working against the limits of one's body. Different martial arts approach the limitations of the body in different ways, but all martial arts seek to develop the body and extend the limitations of its capabilities. 

For most martial arts this means doing physical exercises such as press ups and sit ups to make the body stronger and develop stamina, stretching exercises to make the body more flexible and thousands of repetitions of basic techniques to make the body more flexible and thousands of repetitions of basic techniques to make the body faster and more efficient. The approach of Taijiquan is slightly different, in that it begins by emphasizing the internal strength of they body. Basic exercises like Chan Si Gong and Zhan Zhuang strengthen the Dantien and improve Qi flow around the body. When the body is brought into balance and good health it can then be trained harder than by physical exercises alone. The danger with just doing physical exercises is that the body can easily be overworked and become exhausted, having a debilitating effects on the kidneys and pre-natal Jing - especially if the person has a deficiency to begin with. However, this does not mean that Taiji can overcome the physical limitations of muscles. 

Taiji's strategy is to side step the issue. Instead of using physical power or speed to overcome an opponent, it uses technique. A good technique does not need the same level of force that poor technique does. For instance a small insect or even a bit of dust can stop the strongest of people if it gets in their eye. 

Because Taiji does not prioritize physical power this strangely enough leads to it developing more. Taiji emphasizes posture, minimum effort and the coordination of breath and movement. In the majority of training one is taught to let one's skeleton carry the weight of the body, so that the muscles remain loose and relaxed. This means that one finds the easiest path of movement for the body so that the body does not work against itself. 

Because of this approach of doing everything without effort one can actually train much longer than if one only relies on muscles. It also means that when Taiji uses physical power, a greater percentage of the muscle's power can be put into the attack. This use of force is known as Fajing and involves more than just the use of muscles as it concentrates the body's entire energy into a strike or kick. The power of a punch does not come from the arm but the coordinated movement of the whole body. After years of training one can deliver a really surprising degree of force, but this also is just an extension of the limits of the body and not an overcoming of them.

Good technique does not overcome the limitations of one's own body, but it allows you to work more effectively against the limitations of an opponent's body. Taiji, in its understanding of the energy flows of the body, has extended the range of techniques available to it. Taiji can use technique against bone, muscle, sinew, organ, vein, breath, channel, and acupoint. 

From simply working with technique Taiji looks at developing sensitivity. Sensitivity pervades all aspects of Taiji training. One has to develop sensitivity to one's own body and movements and one has to develop sensitivity to an opponent. Sensitivity can be used offensively to improve the application of one's own techniques and defensively to undermine the techniques of others. et the sensitivity of touch can also have its limitations.

It is in its uses of strategy and energy that Taiji extends beyond the limitations of the body and confronts the principles of the universe. "Still, yet in movement; in movement, yet still - this is spirit."

Qi Magazine - Issue 46 - Winter 1999