Section XI: Box 11-33
Consciously Directed Force thru a Relaxed Body
Chinese Character for Song
The Flow State
As with those earlier examples, the “athletic connection” triggered by the TBT exercise also refers to a special relaxed, loose, yet connected power that can be accessed by the athlete. However, this is a special state of being that can only be actuated when one surrenders and becomes completely immersed in the task. Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi calls it the “flow state,” [i] and it provides still more clues to the meaning of “soft” power in the martial arts and contact sports.
Although these forms of martial arts are sometimes said to be relaxed, or “soft,” one must ask why? What is this “softness,” and what makes it different from other kinds of athletic activities? In many respects, this kind of “soft” power is no different from the power expressed in other pugilistic forms. However, regardless of whether they are described as “soft” or “relaxed,” this category of power is no different from examples found in baseball, basketball, and many other endeavors.
What characterizes many top tier athletes in their chosen sports is an ability to apply highly focused tension through a relaxed body. Thus, when the term “softening” is applied to t’ai-chi and related arts, on one level, this seems to be a contradictory notion. It might seem paradoxical that something “soft” and “relaxed” could simultaneously be powerful and effective. However, from a biomechanical viewpoint, the “softening” of t’ai-chi and other internal arts is no “softer” than the action of a loose spring-release-like throwing arm of a highly skilled baseball pitcher. † What does make the internal martial arts distinctive, though, is their approach to training, which incorporate a special kind of relaxation as the basis of their practice.
[i] Defined as “the mental state operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does, and a resulting loss in one's sense of space and time.”
The song-peng continuum is expressed when resilient tensional force is delivered through a strike, throw, or other technique. However, mastery of variable tension song-peng force under stress presents an arduous and perplexing challenge for the internal martial artist. Again, this may be compared to the explosive baseball-throw release from the mound of a major league baseball pitcher. Significantly, the most advanced levels of performance in most sports cannot be attained without the total integration of the athlete’s ability to express graduated tensional skill along the song-peng continuum. The most “natural” athletes, from boxers to basketball players, learn to harness the variable tensile strength through the song-peng power continuum, and especially under the stressful conditions of contact sports.