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A few years ago, we embarked on a family trip to visit the local zoo. One of the first sections we came upon as we entered the zoo was the elephant exhibit, which featured a pair of majestic Indian elephants.
What struck me immediately was the fact that one of the elephants stood in one spot while swaying its body from side to side with a rotating motion. Amazingly, this enormous animal was performing a motion almost exactly like the Constant Bear exercise in Level 2 of ChiFusion Tai Chi and Qigong.
It was a mesmerizing, almost mystical sight to see this huge creature moving in this vibrating, wave-like manner. If such a large and seemingly ungainly animal as an elephant can move with such natural fluidity and grace, surely we should be able to do the same.
The Constant Bear and Reverse
Bear exercises from Level 2 are some of my favorite movements in the entire
ChiFusion curriculum. These exercises
not only have much to teach us by themselves, but the skills you can develop
through practice (observing all of the ChiFusion details) will form a solid
foundation for higher development in Tai Chi.
Reflecting on the biomechanics of this exercise, I began to form a mental image (in addition to the visual focus of silk reeling as described in the course) that for me helped to cognitively recognize how the energy was flowing. This mental image is something of a mechanical model, kind of like the fine-tuned inner workings of an antique clock.
First, think of a straight metal rod that extends down the length of your spine all the way to the floor. This rod remains absolutely perpendicular to the ground at all times and is rounded on the end that meets the floor, so that it can slide freely along the surface.
Next think of your waist as a wheel or sprocket that is parallel to the
ground. The rod in your spine passes
through this wheel and is firmly attached at its axis.
Now think of your legs like long
springs. One end of each spring is attached
to each side of the wheel where your upper leg joins your torso. The other end of each spring is attached to your
feet which are like heavy lead weights that are firmly rooted to the ground.
Putting your weight on one leg is like compressing one of the springs. As you move from side to side in the exercise, the compressed spring expands, and this energy is transferred to the sprocket. The sprocket cannot move up or down because it is attached to the rod. So it must rotate and transfer the energy into the spring on the opposite side. This process then repeats for the duration of the exercise.
The rod (your spine) will have a slight lateral motion as you shift the weight, but will always remain perpendicular to the ground. The sprocket (your waist) will rotate around the axis, but will always remain level to the ground. The springs (your legs) will alternately compress and store energy, and then expand upward and release the energy. And the lead weights (your feet) will remain immobile and root the entire structure to the ground.
Of course when we practice according to the ChiFusion method, we should always observe the 70% rule. In every aspect of each exercise we do such as the number of repetitions, the amount of time, or how far we stretch, only perform the exercise at 70% of your maximum level. But as I was practicing Constant and Reverse Bear I conducted a little experiment. I wanted to find out what my 100% upper limit was in terms of speed of rotation, and the resulting force production, in these exercises.
I started by doing the exercise
at a "normal" speed. In other words, I
performed the weight shift and turn at what I estimated to be 70% of my maximum.
Then I began to gradually make the push off
from the weighted leg faster and faster each time.
As I picked up the speed, I made sure to keep the
silk reeling feeling and all of the ChiFusion details in mind.
I found that as I picked up the speed, I could generate a lot of rotational force in my upper body. Even as I focused on keeping my arms completely relaxed, they were moving so fast that they were parallel to the ground. This enormous torque was produced without any muscle tension in my body. There was only the rapid shifting of weight in the legs and the simultaneous rotation of the waist. With further practice I found that I could control the speed of the exercise in a wide spectrum of slow/low force to high-speed/high force production.
I began to realize how Tai Chi can lend itself to a tremendous martial arts application. By using the synergistic biomechanical structure and tension-free movement from Constant and Reverse Bear, it is possible to produce a lot of striking force.
I believe there is much that we can learn from each of the exercises in the ChiFusion program. In this article, I have shared some of my observations, and I have others that I may write about in the future. As you practice I encourage you to get the most out of each exercise and really make them your own.
Jeffry C. Larson has completed all four levels of our ChiFusion Complete Course, and is a Certified ChiFusion Level 1 Instructor.