In Tai Chi, as well as in martial arts generally, we use spiral movements and energies. Rather than bluntly trying to push through linearly, we use advanced mechanics and drill in like a corkscrew.
We all start with linear energy
The most common energy (and thinking) is simple and linear. To get from A to B, we draw a mental line and go straight. To punch, we make a fist and then extend our arm in a straight line. That creates linear kinetic energy that is very much defined and constrained by the strengths in our arms and the velocity in which we can engage our muscles.
Layer another type of energy on top
In Tai Chi we don’t stop with the simple linear energy. Rather than being constrained by the ability to add more velocity and strength to our arms, we layer a whole different type of energy on top of the movement: spin energy.
As we push out our arm, we also turn it. We add spin to our shoulder, elbow and wrist joints. That does not take away from the linear energy, nor does it extend the length of the movement and thus make it less efficient. It simply layers another type of energy on top of the movement we are already executing. We create a spiral.
Spirals intertwined with spirals
We don’t stop there though. As we execute the movement, we also turn our hip, adding another spin to the movement. We extend our back leg and push our hip forward, creating a linear movement. So there is a second spiral on top (or rather below) the one we discussed before. They are also orthogonal, if we want to get into the details of physics, adding further structure and energy dimensions to our movement.
We are creating a system of intertwined and connected layered spirals. We are layering different types of energy on top of each other, thus going way beyond what our arms could ever achieve in isolation.
If you go deeper and look at more details you will discover more spirals throughout. You will discover them in what we are doing with our hands, fingers, core, breathing, feet (as we drill into the earth) and many more.
Tai Chi and martial arts leverages a complex set of efficient spirals in its movements.
Spirals are everywhere
Spirals are efficient, which is why we can find them everywhere in mechanics and nature.
If we want to free our hand from a grip we don’t just pull, we turn, twist and wiggle. Even little kids learn that pretty quickly.
In a rifle we have the spiral rifling which adds spin to a bullet to stabilize it and keep it on track (and help it penetrate deeper). likewise in many sports, we add spin to balls to stabilize them on their trajectory (or make a curve ball if we try to be mean).
In mechanics a screw creates unbelievable linear energy and pull by leveraging spin to create lateral movement.
And lastly nature gives us endless examples where spirals are used to increase stability and strength of structures and movements. The closest to our heart is probably the very essence of our physical being: the double helix of our DNA.