Power in Circles
In the old school, we
learned three working rules:
1. The principle of non
2. The water principle;
3. The circular
Here , our focus will be
the circular principle , though as teacher would explain
"There's a bit of non resistance and liquidity to be had
in every circle."
Driving to the heart of
the matter, the core of packaging power lies in
awareness of how power moves in lines, and how it is
stored in circles.
The concepts are so
transcendental, that for some, understanding their
profound significance becomes a life pursuit.
I'll cut to the chase
and start you off by telling you everything you need to
Essence of Power
- When power is stored, it rests in circles.
- When power is released, it manifests in lines.
- When power settles,
it starts as a line, and ends quietly as a circle.
Whether you agree or
disagree with the above, one thing is certain. It's not
Therein lies the
difficulty. Anyone can read the list and, at some
intellectual level, understand completely the essence of
Unfortunately, as is
often true in the martial arts, understanding in your
head has little to do with the instinctual awareness
which manifests as skill.
If you accept that power
is stored in circles, your next question should be, "How
would I store power in a circle?"
If you have asked the
question and are prepared to experiment, then brace
yourself for a journey of discovery.
Learn to Relax!
By this, I mean more than
just exhaling and letting your shoulders drop-down.
Someone who is truly relaxed , should be able to hear
their own heart beat. In unlocking the door to
relaxation, I heard one teacher demand his students
explain in what way a healthy liver felt different from
one which was not. Yes, he expected an answer! Within
the concept of relaxation lies the profound sense of
being awake, or aware of what is going on. The
foundation for understandimg power, and how it transfers
from circle to line, and back, lies in relaxation, and
awareness of what is happening within yorself.
He would have added, "How
can you feel and move Chi , if you cannot hear your
heart beat, or have awareness of your internal organs?"
I'm not for certain
whether it's necessary to take it that far. Regardless,
learning to relax is a topic too broad for our limited
space here. There are entire realms of knowledge
addressing the issue, and we recommend you find time to
research and explore. Whether thru meditation, yoga,
zen, or tai chi, you'll benefit from the journey.
When enough time has
passed, and you have achieved some skill in relaxing,
try to sense where the circles are in your movement.
This is no different than learning to walk as an infant.
At first, you won't see circles anywhere. Use that as
motivation to look harder. In time, you will see
virtually everything which happens within your body
originates somewhere, somehow, in the form of a circle.
Once you are attuned to
this circular essence within, try using it to move. This
can be something as simple as walking. Take what you
already know, then begin to understand it anew. See how
circles working in harmony become subject to your will.
What's that you say,
"Subject it to my will?"
You're getting the idea,
now what next?
For starts, let's
consider putting circles into your overall movement.
Take some basic self
defense moves you're able to execute confidently and
unearth from within those moves the circular energy
which comes into play and energizes the overall
Cicular Energy in a Sequence of Blocks
Next, explore how a
circle functions to release or dissipate power. A
circle, for example, allows you to become the opponent's
center of gravity. Once you supplant the attacker's
center, you can move the opponent from the center of
your own circle in a way no different than lifting your
arm, or moving your own leg. While this feels relatively
natural to you, it feels like a wave of energy to the
How about using circles
to reduce resistance. Here, when force is applied
against your body, you accept. In accepting, you take
the incoming force, and allow it to move on a tangential
line, over a course of circles, with your own center, or
dan tian defining the heart of circilar movement. Though
you are dissolving the incoming power, resistance is
nil, energy expended is minimal, the movement is
entirely natural. The attacker is naturalized and
Now that you
have some basic grounding in circular movements, let's
consider some of the possibilities available to you.
First, and most basic, is
repeating the same circle. This can be something overt,
and apparent to the opponent, or it can be subtle,
concealed, so small in fact, it is known only to your
awareness. When most people think of push hands, they
are visualizing a routine involving the same circle ,
repeating in a plane. Initially, the plane is
horizontal. Over time , the orientation of the plane
will shift to vertical or longitudinal. With still more
practice, the circular plane may migrate to the front of
the defender's body becoming like an airplane propeller.
At an advanced level, circles will form all around the
body, seemingly encapsulating the body within a shell of
Chi, ready to manifest instantly at any point on any
circle in response to any attack.
As your confidence builds
in the fundamental continuous movement, you'll be ready
for the next phase , which is disconnecting from one
circle, and starting another. In tai chi, the first
phase is readily apparent in single hand push hands. The
second phase,disconnecting from one circle and starting
another is common in two hand push hands, but can still
be found in some variations of single hand push hands.
Take a moment and scrutinize the accompanying video.
Circular Flows Demonstrated
Of course, the
permutations of circular movements are infinite, and we
trust much will be discovered in your own journey of
exploration. However, the final two categories of
combining circles , should be explored at this
introductory level, if only to ensure you have ample
Phase 3 is reversing
movement. This is self explanatory. Reversing movement
means going from clockwise to counterclockwise right
side to left side, up to down, angle to straight, etc.
Lastly, and perhaps most
complex, is randomly changing the plane of movement.
Part of the hidden power in circles, is in the
obfuscation of "signals" revealed to the opponent.
Because we think linearly, we abstract from points in
motion to anticipated destinations. Any situation which
confronts the oponent with unanticipated shifts of
direction, or multiple points for observation, has the
effect of stalling the movement and flow of the
impending response. This bifurcation of focus comes
under the philosophy of cobra in animal fighting
concepts. Splitting the opponent's focus means the
opponent has twice (or more!) as many options to
consider, and response is delayed, or frozen as a
As you begin your
experimentation with circles, you'll eventually
gravitate to curly Q's and figure 8's. When you arrive
at this stage of personal evolution everything will seem
unimaginably complicated. Within this field of
complexity, you mine for awareness. With repetition and
time, you'll move further along the learning curve. A
point will come where you are conscious, or awake to all
that is happening. At this stage, you harvest awareness.
Before long, you sense a thread connecting all of the
circles into fluid but cohoerent form. You struggle to
grasp the essence of this form, it is bigger than
anything you imagined, almost like a ship which you're
trying to catch in a bottle. Still, you instinctively
feel it is "right". As your awareness of the form
integrates within, you begin to see it everywhere, in
bits, parts and pieces.
Eights (circles acting in concert):
Even though you are early
in your journey, remember this! Figure 8's are the
common thread from where power eminates (and hence
rests) in movement. The figure 8 is deceptive because it
collects power, and releases it, sometimes doing both at
the same time.
ultimately means understanding the cosmic flow of figure
8's in all dimensions. Every move, no matter how small
or large, whether it be a strike, a throw, a twist or a
lock, has contained within, one or more figure 8's.
Being able to perceive this precursor to movement aligns
you with Qi, and removes all impediments from its
natural flow. Though it may take years, and you may well
have to explore several different paths, you will find
this awareness a greatest personal reward, and your
movement will be transformed.
You all know the symbol
"Yin-Yang". In the Orient, it is referred to as the
Taiji. It is an emblematic metaphor for the "figure 8"
nature of flow inherent in all manifest movement. Yin
would be power landing or coming in, Yang would be power
manifesting, going out.
What more can I say? Best
wishes on your journey!