In martial arts and Tai Chi we try to learn making the most effective use of our strength and energy. We learn how to efficiently turn our muscle power into movement and kinetic energy.
Build from the ground up
The basic physics law of action and reaction applies to Tai Chi just as well. If we want to exert energy in a given direction, we must also be able to absorb the counter reaction. So if we want to push forward, we need to be firmly rooted in the ground in order to absorb the push back and not just be thrown backwards ourselves.
With that in mind, it all starts from our feet. If we don’t have firm grounding in our stance, everything else falls apart. Be rooted first.
We build up from there, the next link in our chain are the legs and knees, then the hips, our upper body and finally our arms. We need to build up in that sequence or our movement will not unfold its full potential.
Think of a tree, if the roots are weak the tree will die. If the trunk is flimsy it will not be able to withstand the wind. If the branches are too small, the weight of the fruit will have them break down.
Slow muscles first, fast muscles will catch up
A principle of movement in martial arts is to start with the strong and slow muscles first (our legs and our core muscles) and then engage the weaker but faster muscles (our arms and finally hands). That way we allow all movement to end at the same climactic point – the faster arms and hands will catch up with your legs easily. It won’t work the other way around though.
You can think of it like a rocket with its boosters. The huge thrusters engage first to get the rocket off the ground. Then the following smaller and more agile rocket engines will kick in as stage after stage gets engaged. They will further increase the speed of the rocket while making necessary adjustments to the trajectory as needed.
Your breathing controls the movement
Lets stay with the image of the rocket for a moment. The sequencing of the different stages is carefully controlled by the mission control center. What’s the mission control center in your body? Of course it’s the brain, but there is another way to think about it. In martial arts and Tai Chi your breath can help you control and orchestrate the movement.
That’s why we pay so much attention to our breath. If we smoothly exhale all the way from the beginning of a movement to its end, it is much easier to make it a smooth movement than if we stop our exhale somewhere along the way or have it disconnected from the movement altogether.
Same if we start our exhale before or after we start the movement or finish before or after we finish the movement. In that case there is a good chance that we will have stops and breaks in our movement and the different muscles will not coordinate as smoothly as they could. Use your breathing to control your movement.
Tai Chi is meditation in motion. Watch your breathing. Be mindful and delierate about how your movements build up.