I got this question re: my YouTube video: Rick Barrett demonstrates energetic coherence at Tai Chi Alchemy.


So by Energetic Coherence with regards to Tai Ji Quan, do you mean to convey that from moment to moment we should be aware of the forces of mass, velocity, and direction¬† –syphen888

Thanks for the great question, syphen888.

When I speak of energetic coherence, it means something quite different than that. Mechanical terms like mass, velocity, direction, momentum, etc. are useful in mapping out the interplay of objects.

When describing the interactions of living creatures, they are considerably less accurate. And woefully inadequate to map the complex inner world of taijiquan.

Part of my motivation in posting this and other videos was to spark a conversation about such things.

This video was from an impromptu demonstration at Tai Chi Alchemy in Sedona. I asked Greg McGuffey to help. He’s large and very strong. I had him put me in as compromised a position as he could imagine, and we would play push hands from there. One hand on my throat, knee in my crotch, and bent over backwards, I was at a considerable mechanical disadvantage. I wanted to show that the mechanics of the situation could be trumped by a shift in my internal state, i.e. energetic coherence.

Any living creature is much more than a biochemical machine.

Biophysicist Mae Wan Ho points out that living creatures are dynamic and fluid, self-motivated, self-organizing, and spontaneous. We are coherent to some degree simply by being alive. Certain conditions can enhance that coherence, such as mental focus.

At the highest levels, all components of the living system are in instant and continuous communication. The whole system acts as one. In some cases, it shows surprising similarities to a macrocosmic quantum system: a “Bose-Einstein condensate.” Upwards of a hundred TRILLION cells coordinate quasi-instantly as one.

As impossible as it is to clearly define “energy,” it is still a useful term.

We use it to describe how “work” gets done. We know there is a reciprocal relationship between mass and energy. Similarly, it can be used to express qualities of a living creature. The qi of a rock is different from the qi of a puppy, even if they may ultimately be expressions of the same universal energy.

Energy is more coherent in systems that are more “whole” in that moment. The energy of the june bug is more coherent before it hits your windshield at 60 mph. You are probably more coherent while doing your taiji form than while being stung by a swarm of bees.

Energetic coherence in taijiquan is a reflection of the degree of body/mind/spirit (shen) coherence in any moment.

We learn to integrate them through our gongfu. Pointing and reaching with the index finger is amazingly effective for heightening coherence almost immediately. It seems to unify the “Living Matrix” of the connective tissue system, which is structurally like a liquid crystal. Then all the weird, anomalous stuff that taiji masters do becomes more available to you and me. It’s still mysterious and paradoxical, but we can all learn to do it.

So, back to your original question:

Yes, we should be aware of “mass, velocity, and direction” when applying our taijquan (as in push hands), but not as such. There is no time for labels, and thinking about “mass, velocity, and direction” virtually assures failure against a skilled player.

Why? Because “thinking” divides the mind and disrupts the energetic coherence. In high states of coherence, there is no thinking. Your awareness exceeds rational thought. You sense what needs to be done and you do it. Your rational mind can think about what happened after the fact. And it will.

Awareness of the physical conditions of any encounter is necessary to intelligently respond to the event, but in the moment of action we are best served by a mind uncluttered by equivocation. Then quickly take stock of the new conditions and prepare to act again–coherently.

Thanks again for your post.