The Power of Your Ch'i
The power of your ch'i channels into your spine to make you a force of nature. Your torso and limbs are the Yin-Yang symbol turning in space to neutralize disturbance. If the mass of your ch'i is the same as, or less than, the strength of your opponent's muscular force, then you can't bend away the disturbance.
This is my way of pointing out to students the equation they face: Is their total mass of ch'i more powerful than their opponent's total mass of muscular strength? Is their beast stronger than your celestiality?
The Soft Defeats the Hard — Ch'i takes decades to accumulate in the sort of quantities necessary to bend away an attack. To the beginner, this sounds like a fantasy!
How could anything so lovely be true? That the softest thing (a whiff of ephemeral energy sparkling in the novice's fingertips) defeats the hardest thing?...
The Illusion of Choice
The advantage of the internal is the connection to the Ordered Whole, and the fact that the muscle and limbs of the external begin to break down and prowess ebbs.
But the other is the product of consciousness, and to that there is no end and no glass ceiling and the pace of improvement propels faster through the time period when the external is inevitably crumbling.
Between beast and celestiality, there really is only the illusion of choice.
Objectifying the Spiritual
Tai chi's greatest gift is its objectification of the spiritual. The point of tai chi is to cultivate ch'i. Ch'i is the motile force of the art.
The ch'i is slowly accumulated through slow movement and non-movement exercises that fuse body to consciousness so that the body-mind-spirit whole lights up and begins generating this more corporeal cousin of the direct current bioelectricity family.
This ephemeral stuff is amassed in the body-mind-spirit complex to the point that the energy first begins to propel the body through the exercise.
In time, the ch'i is so strong, so objectified, that it moves ones torso and limbs in push hands or in combat to bend away the attack, to diffuse the orchestration of aggression set against you, so that you can then locate its center, seize its center, and repel it away at great speed.
Have You Arrived? — In New York City in the 1970s, one of my tai chi great uncles, Lou Kliensmith, student of Prof. Cheng Man-ch'ing, my tai chi grandfather, said:
"Tai chi is as spiritual as Za Zen or any path you want to take. But tai chi does not fall prey to the same subjective dead end that can trick you into thinking that you have attained enlightenment. In tai chi, with the martial component, if you think you have arrived, then simply ask one of your classmates to do a round of push hands with you...If you get knocked on your ass, you know you have not reached Nirvana yet!"
Choose the Long Over the Short
Beast is instinctive and quick. Use muscle, tension, quicken breath and speed and you can master a great deal in a few years. But the internal arts take you in the exact opposite direction: Relax completely. Slow down. Drop all tension. Straighten the spine so that you are the erect column linking Heaven and Earth. Fuse meditation with breath, slow movement and non-movement.
You are crazy to use this tactic as a self defense technique! The internal arts take 10 times as long to get in the door where ch'i is strong enough to move in under muscle and take over the movement. The disadvantage is the time and effort required to find that door from beginner to intermediate level. But, once found, the ch'i plays upon itself in ways it could not before simply because of insufficiency.
Now, it accumulates much faster and spontaneously. Now, taking a walk, erecting the spine, stirring your hand, sipping breath, are actions sufficient to invite the ch'i to form up into the bars of the energetic endoskeleton.