The Mechanics of Three Nails 99

by William C. C. Chen


    Rooting is everything. It is both a base and a foundation. It is one of the most important things in life. A good building must have a strong and firm base. A successful company needs a good foundation. A healthy plant requires a healthy root. The excellent flow of Tai Chi Chuan movements must have a steady, firm root. Without a strong root, the whole body will not be able to relax.

    Relaxation is the ultimate goal for all Tai Chi Chuan players. Soft, slow, gentle flowing movements require a strong and firm base in the foot. Once the foot is firm, the other parts of the body can move freely and stay relaxed. The foot's root itself should not be too relaxed or loose.

    When the entire foot is rooted, the three points on the medial or inner aspect of the sole are of particular importance. The first point is the big toe; thewpe2.jpg (2259 bytes) other two points are on the inner part of the heel and the inner part of the ball of the foot. These points are on opposite sides of the instep. I call these points “the three active nails.” When the foot is rooted, these three points grip like three nails penetrating the ground. In the movements of Tai Chi Chuan, these three points are aligned with the weight-bearing centerline of the upper body. They are very active and play a crucial role in our everyday movements. As we walk, the root foot of the three nails propels the other foot to make a step. They assist in serving a cup of coffee or tea, or even help our fingers to turn a door key.

    These three active nails appear to have the same consequential effect as the three electron guns in a TV. Just like the electron guns that receive satellite signals from a TV station and reflect the signals out to the TV monitor, these three nails receive the signals from the series of memory shapes of Tai Chi Chuan in the mind and transmit them through the thigh into the body.

    If such that the slow movements of Tai Chi Chuan are the result of the three nails transmitting signals from the mind to the body, then the three nails should be in command of the body, not the waist. Although the waist is named in the Tai Chi Classics as being in command of the body, it was only from an external or the outer body’s viewpoint. It might have been overlooked or not realized what was behind the movement of the waist. Especially since activities in the three active nails are very little. It is hard to notice. Like a little computer chip, the three nails have almost no movement. In the movements of Tai Chi Chuan, one can see clearly that the waist turns, and body follows; one might assume that the waist was in command.

    My studies of body mechanics indicate that the three active nails actually control the thigh, which controls the body. In the early 1960's, I sensed the turning of the waist was controlled by the thigh muscles. At that time, I thought the thigh was in command. As I practiced the slow movements, it appears that the thigh muscles helped make possible the turns and moves. Not until in middle 1980’s that I began to realize that the thigh itself has no ability to make any moves or turns without the help of the foot which is rooted firmly on the ground. Therefore, the rooted foot, and specifically the “three active nails” are in control and energized; the fingers to move palms and fists, and body follows.

    The three active nails, or the points on the foot, form a plane that produces stability under all conditions, and with all physical activities. Whether one is walking, dancing, golfing, or playing tennis, the three active nails create the necessary stability rooting required for the specific activity. Without the ability to firmly root the three active nails, these physical activities could not be performed.

    The general opinion in Tai Chi Chuan is that one should root on the “bubbling-well” point, which lies just lateral to the back of the ball of the foot. The "bubbling-well" is a single point; the beginning of an important meridian. It is good for the energy circulation, but not necessarily for physical actions or movements. Based on Principles of mathematics and physics, three points determine a plane, and three basic colors combine to make all others. We need at least combinations of three elements, such as the three active nails, to execute all different physical activities. The "bubbling-well" alone is not capable of producing the movements of Tai Chi Chuan or other physical activities.

    Even though the root foot is firmly rooted on the ground, without the “Tan Tien’s” support, the active nails will be inactive. The mind assigns the signal to the nails, and the Tan Tien compresses the energy down to activate the nails. The three active nails transmit the signals through the thigh to the fingers, palms, fists or the other foot, wherever the actions are taking place.

    A careful examination of the inner movements of my body, I have discovered the hidden components, the “three active nails,” which can activate the thigh muscles; the combination of muscles in the thigh can support joints in the leg, and provide strength and stability for the body. They can bear the weight of the body and provide power for such common sports as running, jumping, wrestling and boxing. They are also able to help the knee and ankle to absorb the cumulative impact of those activities as well as holding the Tai Chi Chuan posture and producing the wonderful gentle movements. Among the muscles of the thigh, the most important one is sartorius muscle, which is very powerful and the longest muscle in the body. It begins from the pelvis, spirals down and across the front of the thigh and along the inner side of the knee, and connects to the underneath of the kneecap.

    In recent years, there are many Tai Chi Chuan players that have knee problems. This may be the result of over-relaxation of the knee and collapsing and sinking too much on the rooted leg. Without the countervailing support of a firmly rooted foot, it places undue stress on the knee joint. Over time, such over-relaxation or collapsing may lead to weakening of the sartorius muscle and other related muscles which support the knee, causing them to strain to relieve the pressure on the knees resulting from the weight of the upper body. Rooting with the three active nails and allowing the signal to transmit adequate muscle energy to protect the knee from the pressure caused by downward pulling gravity.

    When the three active nails are strongly secured on the ground, the mind and body will be relaxed. In turn, a relaxed body with a peaceful mind will loosen the joints, softening the muscles, and will open all the vessels and meridians. That allows the inner energy to flow easily, and moves the upper body freely, without interrupting the root. The root will continue to stay firm and sturdy. It will achieve the soft, slow and beautiful fluid of the movements of Yang Style Tai Chi Chuan.

 "My objective is to make Tai Chi Chuan easy, simple, natural, enjoyable and productive."

[N.Y. Class Schedule]  [Enrollment]   [Directions & Hotels ]    [Workshop Schedule]   [Certified Instructors of the "60 Movements" World-Wide]   [An Autobiography of William C.C. Chen]   [Merchandise]  [Mechanics of the Three Nails]  [Max C. Chen]  [Tiffany F. Chen]   [Noteworthy Articles]   [Competition News]   [Medical Studies]   [Martial Arts Links]   [Tai Chi in the Park]   [RW Smith Visit]   [Photo Album]  [Video Library]  [Home]

Last updated by FJP on:  Tuesday May 5, 2009