[Taiji and Science]
by Chun Man Sit
Master Wu Tu Nan (1884 – 1989)
In the 1940s, Master Wu Tunan wrote a book called “The Scientific Way of Taijiquan”. Master Wu Tunan learned Taiji from two famous masters: Wu Jianquan and Yang Shaohou. Yet, in his book, he emphasized the importance of practicing Taiji in a scientific way.
In his youth, Wu Tunan studied medicine at the old Peking University in Beijing. He used biology, physics and medical knowledge in his Taiji research. One time he even paid for a complete set of Taiji postures of himself in x-ray so that he could study his muscles and bones in detail.
Master Wu was very sick as a child. He had liver and lung diseases, as well as epilepsy. His rich grandfather hired Taiji teachers to teach him for health purposes. After many years of hard work, he got rid of all his health problems and lived to the old age of 105. He had also reached the highest martial art level in Taiji. Obviously, his ideas of scientific Taiji practice had paid off. He said,”When you do research Taiji, you must be natural and keep an open mind. Don’t get stuck in a fixed idea. Go with the flow and let your research lead you to its destination.”
X ray and Video Camera
We should always find better ways to practice and research Taijiquan. X-ray was a new technology for Master Wu, and he used it. Today we have many new inventions to help us improve our art quickly.
In my opinion, the best way to improve one’s Taiji form is to watch oneself in a video. I don’t mean a performance with silk uniform and on stage. What I mean is just a clear video of one’s Taiji form in simple, but fitted attire, so that one can see clearly what’s going on. I remembered the first time I watched myself practicing a Taiji form: I found out that I made many stupid mistakes; and I made the same stupid mistakes over and over. Within a month, those stupid mistakes were gone.
The most difficult thing is to know one’s mistakes. If one knows what is wrong, one can make it right immediately. We are the first generation of Taiji practitioners who can watch ourselves doing Taiji. No ancient Taiji masters had that privilege.
Take my advice: use the video camera.
Isaac Newton (1643 – 1727)
In China, we have many Taiji treatises and principles that were written by masters of the past. Studying those treatises is great for understanding Taijiquan. However, nothing can compare to Newton’s three laws of motion and the law of gravity.
The law of gravity alone can solve many mysteries within the Taiji Classics. For example, the skill of rooting is best understood as to “let gravity do the job”. It’s that simple. The key is to align your partner’s force with the direction of gravity.
There is a Taiji principle: regard motion as stillness and stillness as motion. This remark seems to make no sense. Most Taiji practitioners either ignore it or just get used to it. What does it mean? Are motion and stillness the same, or different?
Let’s look at Newton’s first law of motion:
“Bodies move in a straight line with a uniform speed, or remain stationary, unless a force acts to change their speed or direction.”
This law says that an object is either in constant motion or in constant stillness. Therefore, that is your answer to “regard motion as stillness, and stillness as motion”. Now how do you use this knowledge to improve? You must think about this a lot, until you realize the truth.
First of all, you should ask the right question. Why does an object stop moving? The first law says an object that moves will keep moving in a straight line. It’s because of friction. We are blinded by common sense. Common sense tells us that things that move will stop moving soon. And this common sense creates another “common sense”: If we want something to move, we must keep on applying force. Otherwise it will stop.” Nonsense!
The truth is: force doesn’t move an object; force changes the motion of an object.
Fly me to the moon
When the astronauts traveled to the moon, their spaceship blasted off from Cape Canaveral and put them into orbit around the Earth. Then they fired their rocket engine so that the spaceship could leave the orbit. Once they reached the right speed and direction, the astronauts shut off the engines. Following the principle of inertia, the spaceship flew to the moon, using no force, cruising at a speed of 3,000 miles per hour, for about three days, a total of 240,000 miles. Because there was no friction force to stop the spaceship.
In Taiji practice, we don’t need to use much force. When we tense our muscles and lock our joints, we are creating friction force. This friction force acts to slow down or even stop our motion.
A student once asked the founder of Yiquan, “How much force should I use to move my hand?” Master Wang replied, “Just use enough force to cancel the friction of the air.”
Using Newton’s first law of motion, we know this is true.
And the truth shall set us free.
Chun Man Sit was born in the 1950s in southern China, his family moved to Hong Kong when he was six years old. He lived in Hong Kong for twenty years and in 1976, he moved to the United States. Master Sit began his martial arts training in 1969 and has studied and practiced continually for forty years; learning many styles such as Karate, Tai Chi, Qigong and Kungfu. He is the expert on Wu style Taiji, Tai Hui Six Elbows Kungfu, and many Qigong methods, including 6 Healing Sounds, Drifting Cloud Moving Qigong, Nei Gong, Silk-reeling Gong, etc. Master Sit has been a chief judge in many national Tai Chi and Kungfu tournaments in the United States of America for the last 18 years and has taught Tai Chi, Qigong, and Kungfu workshops. His articles appear regularly in Tai Chi and Kungfu magazines and he is currently writing a book on Tai Chi. Master Sit and his wife Mary Ann, live in Overland Park, Kansas.