I remember seeing this video. I was amazed not so much by the study itself but by the fact that the researchers said they were doing a study on Tai Chi but what was shown on the video was not Tai Chi but Baji! There is a write-up here and notice – no mention that it was Baji that was studied instead of Tai Chi.
It is even more astonishing when you consider that the researchers were post-grads and you would think that they should know something about what they were actually studying versus what they thought (or led to believe) they were studying.
How I came to write about this topic today was somehow or rather I was talking about the Tai Chi Classics with my student and mentioned this video. I was surprised to learn that this lab had also done a study on him performing Tai Chi though I can’t find any information on it.
This early study is interesting but seem to miss out on a lot. This could be due to the fact of measurement instrumentation constraint, that the researchers did not know their topic enough to ask the right questions or that their focus is just on a specific aspect. I would say that the research paper here is better by comparison. At least, it really is on Tai Chi.
Still I would think that a proper study on Tai Chi has yet to be conducted. My thinking is that the first step is to identify a master, not so much by paper certificate or claims of lineage but by whether he really knows his topic. Herein, lies the first obstacle in that most researchers would not know enough about Tai Chi to be able to tell the difference.
Assuming that the first hurdle is passed the next part is to determine what is a suitable topic to delve into. I would love to see a study on the role of principles from the Tai Chi Classics in the practice and application of Tai Chi. The objective of the study to prove that these principles are consistent in optimizing the method in regards to movement efficiency and effectiveness.
To study this would require an array of instruments such as a high speed camera, motion sensors, shock sensors, temperature monitors, infrared camera, brain monitoring and software. It would also be important for the subject to narrate what he is thinking of as a movement is performed and correlate that to the part of the brain that is involved.
For example, if you want to study if The Song of Peng is a valid principle or mere flowery words it would be useful to call out each line to the test subject and capture what is occurring in his mind and body. From here you can compare and verify if he is actually doing what the principles called for or doing something entirely different.
For example, The Song of Peng calls for the energy to be like water supporting a moving boat. How should this be actualized? The test subject will narrate his thinking, after which he will demonstrate that the movement just performed is consistent with the real life example of water supporting a moving boat. The video below is an example of how water supports a boat :-
So if the test subject is doing a movement that is consistent with what The Song of Peng said then you will be able to discern at least some of the principles mentioned in the video above in play.
When I was talking to my student we were talking about An (Push). I showed him what the problem was when trying to apply power against a resisting opponent and how to solve it. The way most Tai Chi practitioners do their push is something like what is described below on how to push a cart properly to move heavy objects in an industrial warehouse :-
I am not saying the above way of doing Push (like pushing a heavy cart) is wrong. You can read that the cart pushing posture is consistent with biomechanics (you can read the entire paper here). My question is whether this alone is consistent with the principles outlined in The Song of Push. You can read a translation below taken from Lee Scheele’s website :-
What is the meaning of An energy?
When applied it is like flowing water.
The substantial is concealed in the insubstantial.
When the flow is swift it is difficult to resist.
Coming to a high place, it swells and fills the place up;
meeting a hollow it dives downward.
The waves rise and fall,
finding a hole they will surely surge in.
I am sure after reading The Song of Push you would agree that pushing a cart is nothing like Tai Chi’s Push movement. There are two ways to apply Push. The first is to move in and just apply the push. The second is in the midst of pushing hands you apply the push and your opponent resists hard.
I contend that it is in the latter that we can check our compliance to the principles outlined in the Song of Push honestly. Imagine this – you put both hands on your opponent’s arm and you push hard until his arm is jammed against his body. He should be pushed out and off balance.
But he managed to lean in, place his weight on his front leg and brace against the push. Now you have a problem. You can move back to try pushing in again but chances are your opponent will follow you and counter-attack. You can also dig in and push harder. They are two possible options but again, how are they in compliance with the principles. At this point some practitioners would say the principles are not true, just stuff made up by scholars to fool the gullible and elevate the art for snobbery purposes.
However, what if the principles are true? If so, then how do you prove that they are true and workable? Therein, lies the problem.
In my explanation of one example to overcome resistance without stepping back or changing to another attack I used the principle of “The waves rise and fall,…” to borrow the strength from the resistance and return it. I came across the explanation below which is related to the explanation I provided :-
I applied this principle through the fajing principle mentioned in Grandmaster Wang Yongquan’s book on Tai Chi (book cover shown below, from TaijiKinesis Official Handbook Volume 2 – Background) :-
So you see a movement applied properly should be traceable to the principles and not just rely on I say, you say or master says. Otherwise, we could be doing something wrong and not realize it, never mind it looks beautiful outwardly.
Note – doing right does not mean we must all do it the same way – it just means that we should have the proper principles running through it. So if I were to apply Push and using the below principle from Peng as well the flavor would be different :-
The entire body is filled with springlike energy,
opening and closing in a very quick moment.
This then is the thing about the nature of movement in Tai Chi. You can say same, same but not the same. This means that all Tai Chi are the same because the principles are similar if not the same. If the principles are different then we are not the same. No matter, all Tai Chi styles share the same core principles; for example lowered elbows, sunk shoulders. It is the unique principles of the respective lineages that make them stand out.