An Article By Christopher Pei
Ward Off Energy
To understand the energy of Taijiquan (T'ai Chi Ch'uan), one must first understand the principle of how energy is created. Yin and Yang are two opposite forces that exist because of each other. One force can not exist without the other and yet they are totally opposite each other.
Let me give you an example of Yin and Yang and how energy is created from the interaction of these two extremes.
Yin and Yang have a relationship that is similar to the relationships of the North Pole to the South Pole, front to back, sharp to dull, etc. Anything that exists in a relationship of one thing that is opposite to the other is Yin and Yang. When these two opposite forces pull against each other or push against each other, they create energy.
Consider the example of pulling the bow to shoot an arrow. Both arms must pull or extend in opposite directions with equal force. As a consequence, energy is created in the bow, and the arrow is ready to be shot. If either arm is more forceful or powerful than the other arm, the bow is never fully extended and the full energy is not created. This is the basic understanding of Yin and Yang and how energy is created. When two objects pull against each other with evenly distributed forces, energy is created.
In the study of Taiji, we find eight basic energies. These are: "ward off", "roll back", "squeeze", "press", "grabbing", "splitting", "elbowing", and "body leaning". There are some people who will argue that these are techniques, not energies. Yes, there are techniques in Taiji that are called ward off, roll back, squeeze, press, etc. The difference between techniques and energies is that techniques are executed to accomplish the goal of controlling an opponent. But the corresponding energy is a force that must go through your body to make the techniques work effectively.
Among the eight energies, "ward off" energy is the most basic and the most important energy. Without "ward off" energy, none of the other energies will exist.
To create the "ward off" energy, your body structure has to be correct. Your intent and mind also play a very important role. For most beginners, the part of your body in which it is easiest to feel this "ward off" energy are your arms. So, we will discuss how the "ward off" energy is created in your arms.
From Yang Cheng Fu's Ten Essences, we learn that the shoulders and elbows have to be sunk and lowered. How does one feel when sinking the shoulders and lowering the elbows? Let's say you are executing the push or press technique and your arms are partly but not fully extended. As you extend your arms, your elbows should feel as if a lot of weight is pulling them down towards the floor. As a consequence, the elbows pull down the shoulders. As the shoulder muscles are being pulled, you will feel that your neck muscles are being extended. All these seemingly separate actions constitute only one energy, which is the sinking force.
We have discussed that energy is created by two forces. Sinking your shoulders and elbows represent a force in only one direction, so it is not enough to create what we need. We need to have another force to create the "ward off" energy. At this time intent comes into play. Your intent is to extend your fingers outward. To extend the fingers outward, your fingers have to be naturally loose, not soft or tense. You should feel your fingers pull your wrists, your wrists pull your elbows outward, your elbows pull your shoulders, and your shoulders pull your neck muscles outward.
Now, you have two different forces working together, one that is sinking your elbows downward and the other that is extending your fingers outward. Once you have the sinking and extending forces working together, your arm muscles will be extended to a maximum point. At this stage, the muscles and tendons have entered into what we call the resilient stage. Once the resilient stage exists, the arms become more powerful, just the same as the bow that has been pulled to a maximum draw point becomes more powerful. If the bow has been drawn beyond its maximum draw point, it will break. If the bow is drawn short of this maximum draw point, then it will not create enough power to shoot the arrow effectively.
Our arms work the same way. If you have extended your fingers too much, then you become too tense. If you have sunk your elbows too much, then you become too soft. Therefore, the power of sinking and extending has to be equally and evenly distributed in your arms.
When you execute this correctly in a loose, but not soft muscle tone, you will feel something very different in your arms. You will feel the tingling in your fingers and the warmth in your hands. You will feel the energy coming up and extending into your arms. This is the basis of "ward off" energy.
This feeling of "ward off" energy starts from the beginning position through the ending position and is maintained without interruption. Once you have understood this idea, you can feel the difference in practice. You can create this energy not just in the form practice, but any time, anywhere. As soon as you put your arms out and execute the sinking and extending, your "ward off" energy will come out.