We all know that a chain is only as strong as it’s weakest link, we probably know Archimedes idea that given a solid place to stand on and a lever long enough he could move the earth. But how do we connect these two ideas? Well let us think of the human body as a mechanism slightly more complex than a chain but nonetheless with weak links or in this case components, organic muscles, ligaments. tendons, bones and so on. A mechanism which operates as an intermediary between the ground and any other force which operates on it.
So our task as Tai Chi practitioners is to find the weak links and work to strengthen them, at the same time to adjust the way they work together ie their relationship in movement – like changing the gears on a car or adjusting the tyre presures, then to attend to the control system which enables us to balance all the forces – generally, but not always using the ground as our base.
However ours is not a rigid mechanical thing – our mechanism requires that to be most effective all the parts move to create space for other parts to move. We find that if part of the mechanism is too tense it locks up and then the rest does not work very well – so we look for compliance and ease of movement between the parts. In studying our body as a mechanism we should consider what it means to be a biological mechanism – we cannot for example simply remove a part and replace it with a better one, we cannot alter gearing by turning a screw, we cannot improve resilience by fitting rubber bushes. However the human body is remarkably plastic in he way it changes to accommodate greater weight, muscles and tendons likewise, they also adapt to the way we move so that we change our bodies by what we choose to do with them, our nervous system learns to operate differently as we learn a skill – whether Tai Chi, dance or sculpting.
So there is a lot to do when practicing alone. In a class we should be studying how our teacher manages to achieve this development so we can apply it to ourselves. When we work with others we should be learning how they do it and how we can use our skill.