18 March 2008

Timewarp and Taiji

No, not the song from the Rocky Horror Picture Show. Also, not a Star Trek plot. It's a new show on the Discovery Channel that uses a high-speed camera to slow things down so that we can see what's really happening. Some absolutely fascinating shots, especially when they compared what a normal camera would catch to what their 1000-frames-per-second camera could do. On that one, they popped a balloon. On the normal camera, the actual pop happened between frames. In one frame it was still whole; in the next, it was popped. The high-speed camera had 16 or so frames in between those, and you could see that the balloon had been 2-ply: there was another balloon inside, which popped a thousandth of a second later.

The first demo, though, was of what happens in a fight. They had two fighters (at a guess I'd say they're from Discovery Channel's martial arts reality show, but I'm not sure), and took shots of them banging on each other... mostly with protective padding on. What we can't see without slowing things down is that there are shockwaves that resonate through the body at each impact. Bodies, actually, since the attacker also gets shockwaves from the force of impact. Newton's Laws an' all.

Now, the thing about taiji is that, when it's done right, there is no force, and hence no impact. I'm getting this more often than I used to. When it's really right, the other person goes out and I feel nothing: no impact, no force, nothing. Oftentimes, I don't even know why the other person went out. We often hit the rewind button to figure it out (and to give the other person a chance to find a way out). But by using no-force, there is no corresponding equal and opposite force to damage the attacker (on the other hand, every attack leaves you vulnerable...).

So what makes it work if not force? Depends on whether you ask a mystic type or physics-type. The mystic type will smile and say "Qi." The physics type will talk about allignment and torque and other such things. As I don't know what qi is, it may well be nothing more than the result of alligning the body properly so that the (physical) force can flow directly through it. I can feel something that I would describe as energy flowing through my body when things are working as they should. It may be nothing more than some sort of body-mind feedback, or maybe it's really a mystical energy field. Honestly, I lean more towards the latter, but I can't rule out the former. It's easier to talk about it if we treat it as actual energy, if nothing else.

One anecdote that relates. My teacher has taken several workshops with Henry Wang, and seen some very impressive stunts. In one of them, Wang will have say 10 guys in a line pushing on him, and, barely moving, send the one on the end flying off. Then he'll send the next one flying off, etc. My teacher was allowed to put his hand between Wang's and the next person in line during the push. He felt no force whatsoever as the last person in line went flying off. Again, that could be explained by allignment and speed, and one of Timewarp's cameras might be very illuminating. But Wang also practices pushing at a distance.

My teacher, in fact, was pushed in this way. He said that he tried to resist, and could not. Here's the interesting part: it only works on people who are sensitive to qi, and the more sensitive the person is to qi, the better it works. My teacher was impressed that it could be done, but considered it very nearly useless. He used to be a cop, and often says things like "When I see him push a 300-pound guy high on amphetamines, I'll be impressed." He wasn't very interested in learning the technique, as the better you got at it, the more vulnerable you were to such a "push" from someone else.

So why does it work at all? I'm inclined to call it qi. I suppose it could be self-hypnosis or something on those lines. It might also be an exaggerated sensitivity to another person's intent. That is, so aware of what the opponent is about to do that you react before it occurs. If I ever have a chance to experience it in person, then I might have more to say about it. As is, I consider it interesting that it can be done, but, like my teacher, don't really see much use in it if it won't work on 99.9% of the population.

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