The slow motion of T’ai Chi Ch’uan is activated by the internal energy of the Qi (氣) flow. The increasing flow gradually extending down to the toes and up to the fingers that makes the toes root and the fingers energize the palms to form a posture. When the Qi flow slowly recedes, the rooting toes relax and the fingers release the palms as the posture dissolves.
The air in the balloon creates a shape. Without the air there is no shape. A fire hose without water pressure is flat. A balloon filled with helium makes it float into the sky. The genuine Tai Chi shape of posture is filled with the Qi energy.
Qi is our original, inherent life energy that appears at our birth. A crying newborn baby with its arms swinging and feet kicking and crying is activated by Qi. This Qi is called “Yuan-Qi” (元氣); it is the source of energy that is with us before we were born.
Yuan-Qi is the energy that is refined from the breath, blood and nutrients in the body. It is the energy that runs the physical machine of the body. Same as the gasoline that is a refined from crude oil, which becomes the fuel used in engines to run vehicles and industrial equipment. Expanding and releasing the Qi is controlled by the conscious feeling.
This is the Qi that energizes us to wake up and get out of bed and moves us around to fulfill our daily obligations. Without this conscious feeling to generate the Qi flow, our mind and body would be immobile. Life would be like a living death, such as being in a coma or in a vegetative state.
When we are sleeping, our body is not pressurized by Qi, it like a deflated tire. If anything were to crash down on the body, the body would be easily crushed. When we are standing up or walking around, the body is moderately pressurized with Qi, like a properly inflated tire on the road.
The Qi which pressurizes our body helps us stand up, run, jump, punch and kick. When this feeling slowly increases or decreases it results in the slow motion of Tai Chi Chuan. When the feeling sharply escalates it can result in powerful quick punches and kicks. It is similar to the way in which the Qi is pressurized when training the body to absorb punches and kicks. Chinese martial artists call it “iron shirt” (鐵布衫).
Conscious feeling generates and pressurizing the Qi to deliver the punch or absorb the punch. No one is able to punch or absorb a punch to the body while he or she is unconscious. In a boxing match, the unconscious boxer will be on the floor because the body is no longer pressurized by Qi. The referee must step in to stop the fight. Whether or not to continue the match is dependent on whether the boxer regains consciousness.
Qi for action is required by the feeling. Without this feeling, the Qi is forceless, like gunpowder without the ignition to set it off. An unconscious boxer is unable to deliver punches or absorb punches. Qi is the central principle for Chinese martial artists. Cultivating Qi is the main objective of their daily training.
Most eastern martial artists focus on the internal Qi power. The feeling is Qi’s detonator, it is easy to ignite and exploit energy in the body to create an outward compression force against resistance. It is like a pressurized tire encountering ground resistance and compressing wheel rim.
Western martial artists emphasize the external contracting muscle strength to meet resistance. It is like weightlifters contracting their muscles to hold the weight. They boost Qi in the fingers to thrust the weight half way up and hold the weight in the air, while at the same time dropping the body down and contracting the muscles of the entire body to hold the weight.
A champion weightlifter may not be the best fighter or a player of other sports. The frequency of competitive lifting can result in excessive muscle mass that causes the physical rigidity. Improving the balance between muscle strength and Qi force is essential to the martial arts, whether Eastern or Western. Such a balance perfects the fighting arts.
Qi is energy force like a bullet. The muscle is like gun barrel that is able to direct the explosive bullet toward to the target. A water-hose must be able to accommodate the water pressure to direct it to the desired destination. Coordinating on the muscles with the Qi is the most effective way to accomplish physical performance.
The slow, soft movements of Tai Chi Chuan are the result of the slowly decreasing and increasing pressure changes of Qi to form a shape or posture. As it applies to fighting art aspect, the swift surge of Qi explodes through the fingers to deliver the knuckles for a quick punch, without contracting the arm muscle. A quick punch requires the arm muscle to be free.
The Tai Chi Chuan movements keep arm muscles lose and free. People often say: (太極拳不動手, 動手非太極拳.) The translation is: In the movements of T’ai Chi Ch’uan do not contract the arm muscles. If you do that, the movements are not considered as Tai Chi Chuan. All the postures must be formed by pressurizing Qi.
The motions of the palms are moved by the pressurized Qi flow in the fingers and toes to form T’ai Chi postures. Keeping the physical arm muscles frictionless is significantly important. The looser the arm muscles, the quicker a punch is delivered (能鬆能快). The pressurized inner Qi flow for action without contracting the muscles strength is the objective of T’ai Chi Ch’uan. Therefore, Tai Chi Chuan is considered an internal martial art (內家拳).