Compression, torsion, and rebounding are three of the main ways that we work with energy in Tai Chi, to produce seemingly effortless results. All of these actions are used in every day movements, yet when consciously applied to Tai Chi, we gain a great deal of understanding of how to do the most work with the least output. That is certainly one of the greatest benefits of the study of Tai Chi is learning how to do the most with the least.
Compression requires two or more surfaces. At least one of these surfaces must be moved toward the other for compression to take place. In Tai Chi, we place weight on the feet and compression is the result, mostly by the force of gravity. The greater the weight we place on the feet, the greater the compression. By placing the bodies weight on one foot instead of two, we increase the compression. By jumping or hopping, we can increase compression. By having someone else push their weight into us, we can increase compression.
Torsion is twisting or turning. One end is twisted or turned while the other is either held still, or both ends can be twisted or turned but in opposite directions. In Tai Chi, the feet and legs are rooted and still while the upper torso is twisted or turned. The turning can be done on our own, or a partner can do it for us.
Rebounding is the result of compression or torsion being released. One of the major tenets of Tai Chi is the idea of borrowing energy. If we think about the above-mentioned processes, we can easily see the results of our partner or opponent giving us energy in the form of pushing us in some way. If we align ourselves in the proper fashion so that the compression or torsion is grounded into our root, the resulting rebound or release can be stronger than if we didn’t have the extra energy of our partner.
If we think of the rebounding of a ball bounced on a floor, I’m sure this will be quite clear. Drop a basketball from waist height and it will bounce back (rebound) say to your knee. If you drop it from over the head height, it will rebound higher, say to your waist. If you throw it down with a great deal of force, it will rebound even higher, say over your head. The difference in all of these actions is the amount of compression the ball undergoes when it hits the floor. In the case of Tai Chi, it is the amount of force that our opponent uses against us.
Torsion is much the same in principle as compression. Put an object under stress by torque, and it naturally wants to release the stress by releasing the torque. The more torque, the more release. In most sports, this principle is used. Think about baseball. The batter twists the waist to bring the bat behind the body. As the batter releases the torque, by turning the waist and swinging, the release of the stress, if all goes well, will result in the energy going into the ball, and sending it in the opposite direction.
In Tai Chi, we work with the physics of each situation to bring about the result that we feel comfortable with. We must first understand what is natural, what will be the likely outcome of compression, torsion, and release of a given situation, and align our self with this result. So welcome your partner’s energy, store it in your body through compression or torque, then release it at an appropriate time. You’ll be amazed with the results.