Are Martial Artists Liquid?

Read this wonderful article about the 2017 winner of the Ig Nobel prize for Science that first makes you laugh and then makes you think.

PHYSICS PRIZE [FRANCE, SINGAPORE, USA] — Marc-Antoine Fardin, for using fluid dynamics to probe the question "Can a Cat Be Both a Solid and a Liquid?"

REFERENCE: "On the Rheology of Cats," Marc-Antoine Fardin, Rheology Bulletin, vol. 83, 2, July 2014, pp. 16-17 and 30.

I have often contemplated the same question, not with regard to cats, but about martial artists. The paper discusses several different ways to think about liquids. 

creative commons Sunil Soundarapandian

creative commons Sunil Soundarapandian

In this picture of the Water Balloon popping, one can see that surface tension of water holds its shape for a split second. This property of liquid is key to understanding how it is useful to martial arts. Everyone who has ever done a belly flop into water is familiar with this aspect of the surface tension of liquids. 

I just invented two rules for Tai Chi:

  1. Be like liquid
  2. Don't yield at all

Being like liquid has two sorts of advantages in martial arts. It is good for getting out of the way. And it is good for gaining a superior positions. In addition it is good for making oneself difficult to grab or carry. And it is good of self-healing. 

The problem is that although martial artists can be liquid, they cannot achieve perfect liquid (The paper explains why). Ask yourself what happens when a martial artist who is trying to be liquid, gets hit hard and fast? The answer is their whole body becomes rigid and easily damaged. It is a terrible strategy. What happens is that the liquid effect is faster than the conscious mind, and when it gets hit fast the surface tension of the body-as-liquid becomes solid. And usually something gets broken too.

But understanding this suggests a way to solve the problem. We can practice manipulating the surface tension of the body-as-liquid. The goal is to instantly become stone or metal when large fast forces hit you. This has to be conditioned, in other words, it is a fast-trained stimulus-response practice. It will fail if it becomes a conscious on-off switch. Because that is too slow. 

Essentially, stay liquid, but cultivate a type of liquidness that has a high surface tension. This has become a huge part of my practice because it integrates perfectly with whole-body-mass-power and what I am now calling a Negative Root. (I was calling it no root, but that scares people!  So now I describe three types of rooting: positive, zero, and negative.  Or sometimes I say: ground-reaction rooting, quiet rooting, and subtractive rooting.)