The potential and kinetic energy of kung fu panda

There is a famous traditional saying describing the process of learning taiji (tai chi):

from similar in appearance to similar in spirit

The taiji classics also say: “no excess, no deficiency.” When we start to learn taiji movement, we try to emulate the instructor precisely. We move at exactly the speed of the instructor and, to the best of our ability, perform the movement exactly as they do. We do this for two reasons:

  1. if we find ourselves behind the instructor, we must be adding movement that should not be there (excess), and
  2. if we find ourselves ahead of the instructor, we are omitting movement (and/or, importantly, internal mechanics!) that should be there (deficiency).

If we ponder the art and practice seriously, and are blessed with an instructor that understands taiji movement deeply (and will share that knowledge with us), at some point we reach a level of understanding energy – of understanding the kinetic chain that yields silk reeling, understanding the flow of yin and yang that is the rhythm of taiji movement, and of understanding how energy is stored and issued. In short, understanding the “elastic force” that characterizes, and is a goal of, all internal martial arts.

At this point, we realize that any movement can be done as taiji movement – any form of any style of martial art, indeed any human movement, can be executed as taiji movement.

There is a test to see if you are approaching this level. Beginners always ponder the “application” of a form movement. Those that have reached the level of understanding energy never have to ask this question – the energy, and therefore the myriad potential applications of the movement, are obvious to them.

I recall working with a taiji brother on broadsword form. To help him understand the energy and intention of a particular movement, I explained that it was a very close range fighting technique.

He shook his head and asked “how do you know that?” A valid question – no teacher can possibly explain the (usually many possible) applications of every movement of every form to every student.

And nobody, not even distant relatives, can know all of the thoughts and intentions of the person that originally created the movement – often several centuries ago.

I simply understood very well the possibilities of how power could be stored and issued in that form, and how that power is expressed in a short-range technique. (Taiji is a combined grappling and striking art – a very old “mixed martial art” – and includes short, middle, and long range techniques. More about that in a later post).

To be sure, there is no end to improving one’s understanding and ability. We never stop learning and improving – mentally, physically, and spiritually.

I truly believe that, if taiji form is practiced as qigong, with intense mind/body/spirit integration, you can learn something new, and therefore improve a little bit, every time you do the form. The waters are very deep, indeed! But everyone can reach a modest level of understanding the “little dao” energy of taiji movement.

At this point you can, and should, begin to make the art your own – to be similar in spirit to your teacher. No two people are identical physically, mentally, or spiritually. No two masters look the same.

With that introduction, and having committed the writing sin of burying the lead (this post is assumed for serious readers :-), we can look at the wisdom of Kung Fu Panda.

For those who have not seen the animated picture, the movie climaxes when the bumbling but virtuous student (Panda Po) combats the evil student (leopard Tai Lung), who is seeking to return to capture the school’s Dragon scroll containing the secret of limitless power and which the master had previously denied him. (The contents of the scroll are revealed, but I won’t play the spoiler here.) At the climax of the climax of the movie, Panda, in desperation, prepares to deliver a “super secret” technique. Recognizing this, Tai Lung is startled and asks “the master taught you the super secret technique?” Virtuous Panda Po responds,

no, I figured it out myself.

and then defeats and banishes Tai Lung.

Panda Po reached the level of understanding energy ????

The Potential and Kinetic Energy of Kung Fu PandaPanda Spreads Wings
From similar in appearance to similar in spirit: understanding energy and the wisdom of Kung Fu Panda

Changing Energy

Energy Transfers when you move an object with another object. For example when you push or pull on something it transfers energy.

Check out the video below for an example of energy transferring from Tai Lung to Po (from Kung Fu Panda).

MINH HAI PACIFIC ‪Kung Fu Panda Final Battle‬‏

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Energy changes form when you move. For example, when you are running down a hill most of the energy isn't your feet, it is gravity right? Well that is called kinetic and potential energy. Also, when you are using energy from your feet it is a different story. When you are using energy from your body and running it is called kinetic energy.

When electricity moves and changes into a different energy or form of energy. Sometimes it will move to a different object or it will just move throughout one object.

Electricity starts to travel when you connect a wire, a d-cell, and an object that receives electricity and have no open spaces to make a complete circuit. A series circuit is when there is only one path for electricity to follow and a parallel circuit is when a circuit has two or more path ways for electricity to follow.

Circuit: Something that electricity can travel through.

  • Series: When in a circuit there is only one path for electricity to follow.
  • Parallel: When a circuit has two or more ways for electricity to follow.
  • Energy Transfer: When energy from one thing is transfered to another.

What is something that energy can transfer through?

  1. (A). Paper clip
  2. (B). Card board
  3. (C). Wood
  4. (D). Pants

What is something that can receive electricity?

  • (A). Box
  • (B). Wall
  • (C). Bulb
  • (D). Lego

How is a series circuit different than a parallel circuit?

  1. (A). The paths
  2. (B). D-cells
  3. (C). Color
  4. (D). Taste

What part of the circuit receives energy AND gives energy?

  • (A). The Wires
  • (B). The d-cell
  • (C). The bulb or what you are using
  • (D). The switch

What is something that energy can transfer through? Paper clip.

What is something that can receive energy? Bulb.

How is a series circuit different than a parallel circuit? The paths.

What part of the circuit receives energy AND gives energy? The d-cell.


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The Potential and Kinetic Energy of Kung Fu Panda

You’ve probably heard people say things like, “John sure has a lot of potential.” Or perhaps you’ve heard the slightly less complimentary, “John just isn’t living up to his potential.”  You can probably infer from such statements the idea that John has the capability of doing something awesome, but isn’t quite doing it yet. That’s exactly what potential energy is: energy that has the capability to do something awesome, but isn’t quite doing it yet.

And in the spirit of awesomeness, today we’re going to talk about potential energy and its close twin, kinetic energy, by taking a look at one of my favorite movies, Kung-Fu Panda.

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There Is No Charge for Awesomeness

I’m going to assume that you’ve seen the movie, and if you have kids and own the movie I’ll assume that it’s been played at least a dozen times in your house. Regardless of how many times you’ve seen it, hopefully you remember the scene where Po, the panda, is attempting to gain entry into the temple to witness the selection of the new Dragon Warrior.

After a long, hard climb up the steps to the monastery, Po is rewarded for his hard work with a locked door. He makes several attempts to enter through alternative means, all of which involve potential and kinetic energy, but I just want to focus on the one that finally works: the rocket chair.

The Love Hate Relationship of Potential Energy

Let’s take a moment to define potential and kinetic energy, along with their relationship. Whenever something is doing something, kinetic energy is involved. Movement, sound, heat, light, electricity, are all forms of kinetic energy.

Potential energy is the energy that is stored up waiting to become kinetic energy. If you stretch a rubber band for example, you have filled it with potential energy. When you let go of the rubber band, the potential energy turns into kinetic energy as the rubber band sails (hopefully) away from you.

There’s a special relationship between potential and kinetic energy called the law of conservation of energy. The law of conservation of energy says that within a closed system, the amount of energy doesn’t change; it just changes from one form to another. Now, let’s go back to Kung Fu Panda to see some examples of this law in action.

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An Explosive Chair

Po’s rocket chair consists of a bamboo chair with a bunch of fireworks strapped on the sides. His hope is that the fireworks will propel him into the air, over the monastery wall, and into the monastery. The fireworks have chemicals in them that will burn when ignited.

Those chemicals store potential energy in the form of their chemical bonds. When activated by heat, the chemical bonds change, and the potential energy stored within them is converted into the kinetic energy that is used to launch the firework into the air.

(We’ll ignore for now just how powerful a set of fireworks you’d need to launch a 300-pound panda.)

As the fireworks climb upward, some of their chemical potential energy is converted into movement, some into light, some into heat, and some into sound.

What Goes Up, Must Come Down

As Po travels upwards, the kinetic energy of his movement is converted into another form of potential energy, gravitational potential energy. The amount of gravitational potential energy an object has is proportional to its mass and height. So the larger the mass of the object, or panda, and the higher up it goes, the more gravitational potential energy it stores up.

See also: Bowling and the Conservation of Momentum

Eventually Po’s rocket power runs out and he begins to fall back to the Earth. As he does so, the gravitational potential energy is converted back into the kinetic energy of his descent. When he hits the ground, the kinetic energy of his movement is converted wind, sound, and heat, resulting in a small explosion.


So now you know the difference between potential energy and kinetic energy, as well as the relationship between the two. You also know the slightly less practical bit of knowledge of how to get a panda into a locked Kung Fu monastery.

Inner peace

Inner peace is a concept in the Kung Fu Panda universe used to describe a peaceful state of mind and spirit. In the words of Master Shifu, it is the ability to “harness the flow of the universe”, enabling one to do the seemingly impossible. Shifu also indicates that inner peace must be achieved, which is possible through many various ways.[1]

It was inner peace that allowed Po to defeat Lord Shen's cannon using a special kung fu technique involving gentle tai chi movements, which can only be accomplished by having inner peace. It additionally allowed Po to clearly recall his past at the Panda Village.





The concept of inner peace was presumably created along with kung fu by Master Oogway centuries ago. Through meditation, the power of inner peace was shown when Oogway's senses were heightened immeasurably (for example he could hear a butterfly's wing beat).

Inner peace thus became one of Oogway's final teachings, according to Shifu, and every kung fu master was required to learn this concept in their own way (such as meditating in a cave for fifty years while fasting, or suffering through extreme emotional pain).

This final teaching apparently comes in the form of catching a water drop and redirecting it into a pool or the ground without breaking it.[1]

In Kung Fu Panda

The concept of inner peace is first illustrated with the relationship of Shifu and Tai Lung. As revealed in a narrated flashback later in the film, Shifu had adopted and raised Tai Lung as if he were his own son, promising him a destiny full of greatness, which Tai Lung truly took to heart as he trained.

But when Shifu finally presented his star pupil to Master Oogway to see if he was the prophesied Dragon Warrior, Oogway had seen darkness in the young leopard's heart and denied him the title.

As a result, Tai Lung rampaged the Valley of Peace in a rage of anger and confusion, eventually returning to the palace to take the Dragon Scroll by force. Shifu was given the chance to stop him, but his love for his adopted son made him hesitate.

Tai Lung, who did not hesitate, struck down his former father and master and then jumped for the scroll, but was stopped by Oogway with a nerve attack and sent to Chor-Ghom prison.

Shifu had been crippled both physically and spiritually ever since then. When future students (such as Tigress) eventually came, Shifu didn't treat them with the same love he did with Tai Lung. His broken spirit formed the stern personality that he used to treat his students with strict and vigorous training. The Furious Five were revealed to have trained in this way for ten years.

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In the film's present time, Oogway shared with Shifu his vision of Tai Lung's return to the Valley of Peace. In response, Oogway decided to hold a tournament to find and select the only one who could stop him: the Dragon Warrior.

On the day of the tournament, before officially starting the event, Oogway mentioned to Shifu, “Whomever I choose will not only bring peace to the valley, but also to you.

” Through a twisting turn of events, Po, a seemingly incompetent and hopeless panda, was chosen as the Dragon Warrior, seemingly by accident.

Despite his disapproval, Shifu was forced to train him regardless, but he instead tried to give him the same kind of vigorous kung fu training he used with the Furious Five. Po had physically and emotionally suffered some, but still remained enthusiastic and stayed at the Jade Palace to train.



“Kung Fu Panda 3” bursts at the seams with exuberant fun for your inner kid at heart.  The self-proclaimed “awesomeness” we have missed for too long returns with flair in every possible direction.  Its nimble combination of clever humor and endearing heart is undeniable.  This is a can’t-miss crowd pleaser that pulses with energy in all the right places.

Set up by the final revelation of “Kung Fu Panda 2,” our hero Po’s biological father, Li Shan (Bryan Cranston), has journeyed back to the Valley of Peace in search of his long-lost son.

  Po (Jack Black) is still the popular Dragon Warrior fighting with the protectors of the Furious Five (played with glee by the returning Angelina Jolie, Jackie Chan, David Cross, Lucy Liu, and Seth Rogan).

 Their leader, Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) encourages Po to take the next step of leadership and become a teacher worthy of replacing himself someday.

Upon his father’s reappearance, Po gravitates to Li, much to the dismay of his adoptive fowl father and noodle chef Mr. Ping (James Hong).  At the same time, the bullish Kai (J.K. Simmons), an old rival of Master Oogway (Randall Duk Kim), descends from the Spirit Realm as a powerful supernatural threat to the Valley.

  Fixated on absorbing the Chi, or life force, of his opponents, Kai can unleash their captured powers as indomitable jade warriors coupled with own chained twin jade blades.  After an initial defeat, Po retreats with Li Shan to the secret mountain haven of the pandas.

  There, he finds a potential love interest (Kate Hudson) and begins to connect with his roots, all in the hope of learning his true power and potential to defeat Kai.

After an overly dark middle chapter five years ago, “Kung Fu Panda 3” is a vibrant return to form for this franchise.  The franchise has retained its original writing team of Jonathan Abel and Glenn Berger.

  The duo did their best to shed a little dramatic weight from where they left off from “Kung Fu Panda 2.”  The third film steers away from most of the pitfalls of manic overstimulation and dilly-dallying subplots.

 Its tight and simple focus of fatherly themes and self-aware conflict is very effective. 

Even more impressive is the overall packaging of “Kung Fu Panda 3.”  The animation delivered by DreamWorks has reached a mastery level.

  Bathed in exemplary 3D, the film’s look is gorgeous from end to end with visual brilliance and detailed textures.  Hans Zimmer’s boisterous musical score powers the splendid aesthetics and astonishing kinetic action.

 Visually and thematically, DreamWorks has a big hit on their hands and one greatly worthy of your own joy and attention.

LESSON #1: EVERY HERO NEEDS A DRAMATIC ENTRANCE AND EXIT— Few things make an impression better than a good dramatic entrance or exit.  If wrestlers and movie characters can do it, so can Dragon Warriors.  

LESSON #2: THE COMBINED IMPACT OF FATHERS AND FATHER-FIGURES— With the return of Li Shan, Po can now receive a second dose of wisdom, encouragement, teaching, and support after his positive upbringing from Mr. Ping.  We should all be so lucky, because the presence of one doesn't cancel the other.  Both men multiply their impact on an impressionable son.   

LESSON #3: FINDING THE INTERNAL POWER OF BEING YOURSELF— This has been the central theme the entire “Kung Fu Panda” trilogy.  All of the mantras, proverbs, sayings, quotes, and verses boil down to inner power, inner peace, inner heart, and inner confidence that comes from recognizing and being proud of your identity.

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