In Aikido classes we like to tell our students not to use power or force but only to relax. What do we mean with this?
In practicing Tai Chi we need to be as soft as possible without tension. With soft we mean flexible, adaptable and strong as water. Your center and limbs filled with Chi. All tensions flow away in your movements. This sounds great but mostly we are too stiff or performing the movements way too forced so it actually blocks our Chi.
In this article I will analyze what power, force and energy actually mean when it comes to Aikido and Tai Chi and how it is used correctly. But also what is the deeper meaning of using our energy and tapping into the Universal energy.
I will try to be as clear and rational as possible.
Please enjoy reading and comments are always welcome.
In Tai Chi and Aikido we are talking about using ‘Chi’ and using ‘Ki’. Chi is the Chinese word for energy and ‘Ki’ the Japanese word. Both have the same meaning. To keep it simple I will only make use of the word ‘Chi’ throughout this article.
When we talk about ‘Chi’ we mean life energy, universal energy, internal energy, energy from the cosmos and so on. According to old Chinese and Japanese philosophies we as humans are part of and connected to the one universal source of energy ‘Chi’. Every thing in this Universe has Chi. The main reservoir for this energy in our own body is called the ‘Dan tian’. It’s a point about 3 fingers under your navel, it varies slightly depending on the individual. When inhaling naturally and through your belly, paying close attention will let you locate your Dan tian. It’s the point where expansion starts first when inhaling.
Our modern lifestyle and pragmatic thinking disconnects us from most benefits of this energy. But as human beings we actually have the potential to tap into this unlimited source of energy and reap all of its benefits. These benefits will be felt and seen as feeling more happy, more grounded and stable like a mountain. You will feel stable and rooted in your legs like a tree and more empty, light and relaxed in your mind. Your sexual energy will be strong, loving and caring.
Aikido and Tai Chi is a way to connect you to this energy. Translated from Japanese Aikido means the way to harmony or the way to unify with life energy. Tai Chi means the ‘great polarity’. The balancing of Yin and Yang, both born from the state of Tai Chi that gives rise to everything in the universe. Note that the ‘Chi’ from Tai Chi is not the same as the ‘Chi’ we use to refer to life energy. In Chinese both have a different character and meaning. Correctly Tai Chi should be written as Taiji nowadays but I will use Tai Chi now as it is the most popular and common way of writing.
Aikido and Tai Chi are about being one with your movements, empty the mind from disturbing thoughts and tap into the source of Universal Chi to enrich your soul and body. Become a more conscious, loving, natural and stable human being. Aikido and Tai Chi are both paths to get there and so is for example meditation. There are many ways to ‘Rome’ so to say and you never stop learning.
We go on about meditation and specifically Qi Gong meditation, Qi Gong is a very old system of meditation. It originated in China but uses a lot of principles that are used in Indian ways of healing like Yoga. Earliest records of Qi Gong are from about 5000 years ago. In these times Chinese and Indian philosophers shared lots of knowledge with each other. That’s why the Indian and Chinese way of healing have lots in common.
Qi Gong is very interwoven with the practice of Tai Chi Quan. Without Qi Gong principles and way of breathing the Tai Chi will never be natural and able to flow.
All in all after an explanation about the broader meaning of energy, power and force we go back to the question from the beginning. What do we mean with not using force or power in our movements in Aikido and Tai Chi? We mean that your movements shouldn’t be forced, tense, stiff or with lots of muscle power. Performing movements and techniques forced, tense or stiff will block your meridians so the real energy ‘Chi’ is not able to flow anymore. Try to fully tighten your arm muscle and feel the blockade that comes with it. The Chi is stuck in your arm, you can’t deliver a strong punch with an arm like that.
If you are forced, tense and stiff in Aikido, when facing a physically stronger opponent you will fail. (I know this out of experience since I started Aikido from the age of 13 and only trained with adults). But when performing Aikido with grace and softness your moves are able to be filled with Chi, so no matter how strong your opponent, he or she is not even able to touch you. You will be like water.
The same goes for the practice of Tai Chi. Tai Chi is an art of movement as well as a martial art. The original way for Tai Chi to be practiced is from a martial arts point of view. When people found out it was highly benefiting their health it became more popular as an art practiced for health reasons.
Most people nowadays associate Tai Chi with old Chinese people practicing in the park but Tai Chi and especially the original Chen style is besides its health benefits also very effective as a fighting system. By learning how to use your internal energy in kicks, punches and grappling you can have maximum results with minimum effort. Tai Chi Chen has soft and graceful movements that suddenly erupt in explosive power kicks, punches and grapples. These kicks and punches are not difficult and do not need lots of muscle power. The more relaxed you can perform them the better. My Chinese masters in China could throw students around like we were puppets without any use of muscle power.
The message of this article is that we need to let go of our habitual mind patterns, our stress, our tensions and our way of wanting to force everything in a certain direction. Life is happening all around us fueled by Universal Chi. As humans and individuals we are part of this Universal Chi. We are one with the whole. This is what the practice of Aikido, Tai Chi and Qi Gong meditation is about. Let the energy flow through your body and through this universe. Be happy and accepting with the things life has to offer. That is the right use of energy. And this is the kind of energy that will appear when you practice Aikido or Tai Chi for a long time. Aikido and Tai Chi is more than just a sport or form of exercise.
I think in all religions when talking about God/Allah and so on we are referring to this Universal Chi. It is something that most humans can barely grasp the meaning of, we ought to think it’s some kind of almighty power above our reach and understanding. But we don’t have to reach something or some place, we are a part of it. We can tap into the Universal Chi and become one with it. This realization is called the process of Enlightenment in Buddhism.
In here a beautiful citing about the essence of Tai Chi and its oneness with nature by master Chen Zhongsheng:
Light as scattered flowers, solid as tempered steel. Competing with the Tiger for ferocity, challenging the Eagle for speed. In movement like a flowing river, in stillness like a solid mountain. The spirit gathered at the brink before release.
More to follow on this topic…
My gratitude to one of my Aikido masters Jack de Jongh for contributing some of his knowledge to this article.