What is Energy?
Energy is often mistaken for its counterpart force. In basic terms, energy is the “potential” to act or influence the physical world. There are “potential energy” and “kinetic energy”. “Potential energy” is energy that is stored or accumulated in an object. “Kinetic energy” is the release of that energy. If you stretch a rubber band, you will give it potential energy; if you pull the cord of a bow, you give it potential energy; if you breathe in, you give your body potential energy; if you chamber your fist high under your armpit, you give it potential energy, etc. Then, when you release the rubber band, the potential energy is changed to motion, which is kinetic energy. If you let go the cord of the bow after stretching, the arrow flies away with kinetic energy; when you breathe out, you generate some force in your body or action in the environment; when you punch after a good chamber, you release power in action, etc. The kinetic energy is a force that can affect an object or interact in the environment. A Force is then a sort of action exerted, while an Energy is more a state of potential to act.
In martial arts, there is a constant interplay between energy and force through stances, techniques, movements, dynamic of yin and yang, and breathing. Stances for example allow you to ground yourself (find your gravity and use it as a force), or to draw energy from earth and other elements, or to deliver more force when necessary (potential to kinetic), etc. Twists of the torso allow you to accumulate potential energy before a strike or to powerfully generate a force when needed. Contraction and expansion are by far the best way to experience energy / force interplay. Chi is both a form of energy (when you cultivate and build it) and a force (when you use it to interact with the environment).
But energy comes through different forms. Know that your thoughts, your emotions are also energies that can be with you or against you in training. They can enhance or limit your potential and expansion of “Self.” This is why you always here “empty your mind,” “be humble.” Frustration, anger, jealousy, and even vanity and pride get in the way of training as they feed your Ego and keep you in the illusion mode. On the other hand, using your “mind” as a focusing tool to build energy is a different matter: (i) focusing on your hara point intensifies the chi; (ii) visualizing your limbs/swords as pure steel is also done to amplify your power; (iii) forcing your gaze to expand to the horizon is equally to enhance your perception; and (iv) concentrating on your breath as much as you can helps you be centered. Understand then this difference in the use of your mind. Feel it, and your training in mind-body will certainly be empowering.
A warrior knows very well the interplay of energy/force through Zen meditation and in combat. In meditation, the metaphor used is that of the mind as a still pond. No ripples on the surface. No thoughts disrupting the calmness of the pond. In quieting your mind you actually gain more energy through emptiness. Emptiness does not mean “nothing” but regeneration and creation: perfect void before the Big Bang. In combat, the metaphor used is that of the reflection of the moon in the flowing river. The reflection of the moon stands for the stillness of the body. In fact, the warrior may stand still but her mind is very alert and active, and her senses are enhanced just like the active current under the still reflection of the moon. There is a saying in martial arts: Beware of the stillness of the warrior as she can demonstrate her power/force at any second.
A Zen reflection: We are alive thanks to the stars. In the later stage of their life (or explosion into supernova), stars turn simple elements (H, He, etc.) into more complex elements such as iron and, thus, give the building blocks for life the way we know it on Earth. We are literally made of stars’ dust. So, when we say “Be One with the universe,” we really mean it. Reconnect! Tap into that energy. Be One.