There’s something that feels good when you have a model that is explainable using science. Its kinda like having something validated by the establishment and so should be more readily accepted by the masses.
Does this mean that we should slap a scientific model on everything that we do in Tai Chi?
Have you ever read a scientific paper or even watched a video showing a person performing movements with illustration overlaid on the movements showing how the model works? Did you then try the same technique following the model to see how well it works? Try it. It would be interesting to see how far you get with it.
My classic example comes from an old Wing Chun book in which the master said the Bong Sau should be done with a 135 degrees bent in the elbow. I still remember my senior’s reaction when I told him this information – he asked why not 136 degrees? Or 128 degrees? To which I would ask how does a normal practitioner measure this angle and ensure compliance when performing the movement quickly.
In the old days in China they do have science, well maybe not the science that we know but there’s a hell lot of science in China. If you are interested to know more take a look at the information that has been published to date by the Needham Research Institute.
So why did Tai Chi masters not apply scientific models in their explanations? One simple reason is that many are not literate or literate in the sense that we are scientifically literate today. But I suspect, at least from my own experience, that it is probably easier to use imagery to put a point across. I mean, why make complicated what is simple.
Going back to the example of Bong Sau I still have no idea how to ensure that I get that 135 degrees each time I do it. However, it is far easier to use my eyes to line up my fingers and wrist to a reference line that I can easily visualize to perform a Bong Sau that works. The angles can change, the distance can differ but as long as I line up the parts properly I will always get that functional Bong Sau. If you do your Bong Sau this way you will achieve the principle of “Bong Sau does not remain”. If not, you end up with a posing Bong Sau that is commonly seen.
I don’t need a knowledge of science to make it work. Neither do I need high IQ to understand it. Its that simple. Doing the Bong Sau is easy because you can see your own hand in front of you.
It is more difficult if you try to align the different parts of your body to perform a strike. One reason is because due to their position you can’t align the parts in a linear manner. The different parts are positioned such that to draw a line through them would reveal this to be a winding path from the foot to the hand.
So how does one align them in a split second? If you take longer than a split second to do it then this would not be practical to use in combat. This is where the use of imagery will allow you to do so, in this case the image is as if one is trying to string together nine pearls placed in a non-linear path from top to bottom.
When I was writing this I had a look to see how other writers try to explain this principle and man, I can’t believe the number of non-explanations out there passing off as an explanation. Reading them I understand why some masters are reluctant to explain how to achieve this in practice, they just don’t want the snake oil sellers to pass off what they read as their own.
If you use the right imagery you can use the 9 crooked pearls to fajing throughout the entire Yang style form and you can do it such that it is imperceptible, giving the impression that there is no fajing in the form. There is, its just that its not the suddenly slow, suddenly fast type of movement that we think of as representative of fajing, kinda like explosion (outward) vs implosion (inward).
When you practice doing fajing using the 9 crooked pearls you will have some interesting insights on the nature of movement and how it interacts with Newton’s laws of motion.