Taiji Elastic Power
Essentials of Elastic Power
The elastic force of Taiji - by the quality of which master Huang Xingxian was known and respected throughout the Chinese martial arts world - is mentioned directly in the Taiji Classics but practised and understood by few. What has not been clearly and scientifically explained before to my knowledge, I offer as my personal contribution to Taiji theory.
How many people know that a stretching muscle is up to 10 times stronger than a contracting muscle? How many understand and utilise the information that the force produced by a contracting muscle decreases with increasing speed of contraction, while the force produced by a stretching muscle increases as the speed of stretching increases?
Who can claim to train the Taiji Form in such a way that the forces pass through the body in a wave of stretching muscles and who under the stress of an agressive force can be so internally relaxed that every active muscle in their body elongates and stretches under that pressure, rather than contracts and shortens in tense resistence?
Who truely knows what causes the energy (Qi), over an extended period of time, to permanently gather in and around the body.
Who understands the long training necessary to strengthen and deepen the Yi (intention).
Because only then does the true elastic force (jin) of Taiji appear; motivated by the Yi; energised by the Qi; issued from the root and transmitted through the body in a wave of stretching muscles.
Mechanics of Muscle Stretch
Active muscle stretch occurs during movement as the muscles cycle through the 5 phases - 1.contract, 2.relax, 3.stretch, 4.unstretch and 5.support. This muscle cycle is controlled instinctively from a deep part of the brain which is inaccessable to the superficial mind of untrained people. Contract and relax produce large movements and small forces while stretch and unstretch produce small movements and large forces.
The muscle stretching of which we talk is not the passive stretching movements of Yoga, Qigong or sports training. In fact those are just the opposite. In Yoga or Qigong the body (arms, legs or spine) is extended by actively contracting the extensor muscles, pulling the joints to their extreme thereby passively stretching the ligaments and muscle fibres of the relaxed muscles opposed to those that are being contracted. Neither is it the passive stretching of sports training. There they stretch a relaxed muscle out to its full length by contracting the opposing muscle - statically using a fixed position (sometimes incorporating body weight eg when touching toes) or dynamically using movement (usually incorporating momentum eg in leg swings).
Active stretching leaves the opposing muscle relaxed while we use weight, momentum or a partners pressure to stretch the actively regulated muscle. Physioligists usually call this 'excentric contraction' but that misses many subtle possibilities in this function of the muscle - specifically the ability to control both the resisitance of the muscle and thereby the elastic force generated and further by increasing the resistance of the muscle as it lengthens, to simulate a true elastic stretch and cause a corresponding elastic stretch in the ligaments, muscle fibres, bones and other tissues of the body. This creates a tremendous stored power that can, with the right knowledge and training, be released by allowing an unstretch of these elastic components to ripple through the body.
The muscle cycle
This cycle can be understood by considering what happens when a ball, initially resting on the ground (phase 0), is lifted (phase 1), released (phase 2), compresses against the ground (phase 3), then expands away from the ground (phase 4). Whenever the body moves, the power inside the body changes dramatically through these 5 conditions, but few have the mind training in place to sense it and fewer have the ability to influence and harness it.
Note the refinement that when the movement is slow, releasing the ball allows it to drop almost immediately, whereas when the initial movement is fast the ball, due to momentum, continues upwards as it is released, only falling after slowing to a stop.