Discovering Point Mass

I first came across the book The Body Builders by Adam Piore some time back but I didn’t buy it. However, when I came across it again a second time I took a closer look and this time I bought it.

The chapter that made me buy the book is the very first chapter “The Bionic Man Who Builds Bionic People”. I mean who can resist reading this chapter particularly when I grew up with the television series The Six Million Dollar Man, a series running from 1974 to 1978 about, yes you guessed it, a bionic man.

However, there was a deeper motivation for me to read the story of Hugh Herr, the MIT Professor, who is a real life bionic man. Aside from being interesting and giving hope to the disabled there are a number of Tai Chi-related concepts in the chapter.

One particular concept, the point mass, describes :-

This approach worked because, like a single spring, the force of a limb could be compressed to varying degrees: ………… the total amount of weight converging from different parts of the body and exerting downward or outward force on a single point in space. In physics this is called a “point mass”

This “point mass” is the key to how we can generate explosive force in our Yang style with minimal outer movement.

One of my FB friends thought I had heavy arms because of huge forearms but I don’t have big forearms. Instead, what I have is the ability to concentrate and focus my body mass onto a single point of contact which I now learned is termed “point mass”.

We use the form to train how to use “point mass”. The training is much more than just gathering together your mass onto a point in space. There is a second more important part that we teach in the form.

As previously we did not have a scientific concept to explain it this secondary part sounds like a bit of mumbo jumbo. Now I know it is not. It is solid science which with the right concepts can be easily categorized and explained. Anyway, this is a separate issue.

Below is a talk by Hugh Herr on bionics. As with the book there are Tai Chi-related information here.

A second talk is even more interesting. Would we see augmented Tai Chi players in the future? Or even Tai Chi cyborgs?

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Use Your Mind-4

And finally, a power that you can train from the Beginning Posture of Grandmaster Wei Shuren’s 22-form.

It is the use of the intent to release the Small Qi Sphere into space and have it return to your hand in the next instant.

This helps you to let the power out of your body quickly and with less expenditure of effort.

Use Your Mind-3

This fajing trick demonstrates the feeling you will get when you first feel the distinct separation of mind and body.

If you can make this intent work you will understand what it means to bring the power to the fingertips.

Use Your Mind-2

If there is a difficult student to fool with tricks it would be PL. Why do I say this?

I said this because he is a scientist in the field of neuroscience. If anyone is qualified to know about the workings of the brain he is.

But here I am fooling him again with another trick of the mind. It is a variation of the trick I used in the video in the earlier post Use Your Mind-1.

The trick is to isolate the working of the mind from the body, sort of establishing a master-slave connection, to borrow a computer hardware terminology.

Once you can separate the working of the mind from the body then your intent to perform a movement will be clearly defined. At this point you can perform this trick.

Use Your Mind-1

Whenever I see a video that claims to show internal power all I see are biomechanics. To me internal is about using intent, not just overt biomechanics.

Fortunately, for many demonstrators the average viewer can’t see to see the biomechanics involved, be as obvious as they are to all but the blind or those who chose to believe and be blind.

Below is an example of what I mean by using intent :-

You might notice that I am standing in a stance. I stood this way to make a point to my student about taking the body structure out of the equation to isolate the intent.

SKD Easy

Take a look at this clip. It is a clip of my student, PL, doing the Yum Chui :-

For the fun of it I asked the Slack SKD Learning Group how long they thought PL has learned the Yum Chui. Two members guessed a week.

I have said that SKD is not difficult to learn and this video helped to make my point. The reason – PL had only learned it about 10 minutes before this video was taken.

Here, Now, I Myself

My friend, Enric, asked why I use Zen to talk about the internal part of Tai Chi. This is a good question.

I am not a philosopher in that I don’t like to write long discourses. Its not that I can’t. Its just that I don’t see the value of doing so. If anything, to write simply is more difficult than to write long explanations.

Consider this story from the book Zen Bridge in which Keido Fukushima received a question from his teacher :-

You have three kinds of white powder – one is sugar, one is salt and one is soda powder. But they’re all white. How can you tell the difference?

Fukushima said that as he was preparing for a chemistry test the next day he approached the problem academically. However, he wasn’t able to answer the question. To him it was a difficult challenge.

His teacher’s answer was simply “You would know if you tasted it“.

So my answer to Enric is since what I read about Zen resonates with what I learned and experienced in the Yang style method of Grandmaster Wei Shuren as taught by my teacher then it is only fitting that I write from a Zen-like perspective (not that I am a Zen practitioner) as I understand from what I read.

It is common to think of Zen Buddhism as a religion. However, I read somewhere that Buddhism is not a religion originally but simply a method of training the mind. So it is with our Tai Chi – a method of training the mind to control the body.

Fukushima wrote in Chapter 35 ” Tozan’s Hot and Cold :-

You who are listening, listen completely. We should concentrate completely on what we’re doing and experiencing in the moment.

On the surface this does not sound like it has anything to do with Tai Chi but it does. When you play the Tai Chi form you must put your focus on doing it. I can see when students moved their body but they didn’t realize that they moved it in a certain manner until I pointed out that this was going against the principles.

So they heard, they saw, they felt. Yet, in the next moment when they tried again the same inadvertent movement came up again. This is a manifestation of the mind being unable to concentrate completely.

Because of this we must persist in our form training. Treat it as a daily routine, a ritual, to be performed with concentration, in the now. As Fukushima wrote :-

Zen teaches us to realize no-self in such concrete experience. This is always the theme of Zen : here, now, I myself.

Further on, Fukushima pointed out :-

You watch yourself, but the content of the watching is realizing that the self does not exist. Its complicated when we try to explain it with words, but as a concrete experience in one moment of time, its not complicated. You watch this self, this myself, and in an instant you realize that you yourself do not exist. Experientially, you find the solution in an instant.

Fukushima’s explanation sounds so much like what I experienced at a certain point in my form training. I could expand on what I felt but I think there is no need to. If you the reader have had a similar explanation the above passage would strike a chord in you too. If not, then it just sounds like some abstract bullshit.

The interesting thing is that this can be experienced by anyone willing to put in the time and effort. If one day I have the chance I would like to run a 10-day immersion training for Tai Chi, somewhat like what Fukushima described about the training of Zen Buddhism monks.

It would be interesting to see how many can be tipped over into experiencing even for a second the feeling of no-self, in Zen a satori experience, in Tai Chi the first step into the gate of the internal.