Tai Chi Basics: Lesson 2
– Power like a whip
Tai chi teachers and the classic literature often speak of the power of tai chi being “like a whip.”
This does not mean, however that the movement is like a bullwhip. Some chinese whips are actually quite rigid, and do not create a wave-like motion when they are used.
The power of a whip comes from its ability to efficiently transfer the momentum of a large mass into a small mass. This creates an acceleration of the smaller mass in accordance with the law of conservation of momentum.
When you hear the crack of a whip, you are hearing a sonic boom. This is created when the momentum from the heavy base of the whip is transferred into the much lighter tip of the whip. Momentum equals mass time velocity (p=mv). So, when the momentum is transferred to the smaller mass, the latter must increase velocity in order to conserve the momentum.
This is what happens in tai chi. The alignment of the tai chi expert conserves momentum in such a way that the mass of the body, and some of the earth is focused in a relatively small target, such as a head or a rib. This causes the target to accelerate at a troubling rate, even though the body of the striker does not move very fast at all.
This can also be called “Using slowness to achieve speed.”