The Essential Energies

Yesterday evening my taiji forms class focused primarily on the “essential energies” of taiji movement. As I understand them so far, these are kinds of energy or power that most, maybe all, of taiji practice are built on. Every movement includes at least one of the essential energies, sometimes more.

As a fairly new student of taiji, I’m also fairly new to these concepts. I’m trying to absorb them to deepen my understanding and practice of taiji, but there’s more to them as well. Taiji itself is a physical art based on a much larger philosophy, the principles of which may be extended into every corner of life. The movements and forces of taiji are also metaphors for the movements and forces that interplay across life in whole. So I’m interested in understanding the essential energies in the sphere of my taiji study, and also for the bigger lessons they hold for me. (I’m always a sucker for a good life-metaphor.)

So I’m sitting down to write out some thoughts about the essential energies, and find myself almost immediately stumped. That word “energy” has a lot of possible connotations, and I’m not sure if any of the obvious ones are exactly right. Then when I add it to a martial art and end up with a name like “The Essential Energies of Taijiquan” it starts to sound like some kind of mystical woo-woo mumbo jumbo that won’t help at all to explain the real concept. A human body is a marvelous thing, but still, some things only happen in the movies.

The definition of “energy” that feels the most correct to me is that of kinetic energy, the energy of motion. “Power” and “force” are close synonyms. It is a kind of energy that can come about by intention, as in the deliberate motion of a person’s body, or by the simple mechanics of the world in motion, like water flowing downhill in obedience to the pull of gravity. Effectively understanding and using the essential energies in taiji, as I understand them, actually contains some of both ideas — intentional motion and stance of the body, informed by knowing how the body works, how it is put together, how force/power/energy naturally “wants” to move. It is the use of energy/force/power to work with reality, rather than against or in spite of it.

It reminds me of this delightful, ridiculous music video by OK Go (a band known for making delightful, ridiculous music videos) based on a huge interactive Rube Goldberg machine. There is much design and intention involved in the setup of the contraption, but all of its active workings depend on simple natural principles. Gravity, inertia, kinetic energy, friction, tension and release. The geometry of circles and spirals appears everywhere, both of which are also fundamental in taiji motion. One small but firm nudge at the beginning gives rise to a huge flurry of activity, all by understanding and working with the materials and forces at hand.

I want to learn more about taiji, and I want to learn how to live more effectively, more fully. So I’m starting to study the “essential energies” of both taiji and life, looking for the lessons they hold for me.


No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s