A perspective on silk-reeling training by Zhang Xuexin, a student of Feng Zhiqiang, 18-generation. Chen style Taijiquan and founder of Chen Style Xinyi Hun Yuan Taijiquan.
Feng Zhiqiang, a leading student of Chen Fake is one of the most famous exponents of Taijiquan in the world. He is also well-known for promoting a complete set of silk-reeling exercises (Chansigong or also occasionally romanized as Chan Ssu Gong) in thirty five postures which form one of the fundamental training exercises for the mastery of Chen-style Taijiquan.
Feng Zhiqiang’s senior indoor student, Zhang Xuexin, was the first to introduce this system of exercises to the west. The following introduction to Taijiquan silk-reeling exercises is from Zhang’s video tape on silk-reeling and dantian rotation exercises.
Master Zhang will demonstrate the complete set of silk-reeling (known as Chan Si Gong in Pinyin) and dantian rotation exercises arranged by Master Feng based on his studies of Chen style Taijiquan. One major objective of this set of spiral exercises is to open up and exercise the 18 major joint areas of the body (in sequence from the head to the ankles). The 18 major joints consist of: neck, shoulders, elbows, wrists, chest, abdomen, waist, kuas, hips, knees, and ankles.
These 18 major joints are also referred to as 18 “balls” of the human body. By harmonizing the internal turning and external twisting with the Qi and Yi via the silk-reeling exercises, one can reach a state where the entire body will become an integrated “Taiji sphere.”
In practicing Chen-style Taijiquan, the human body may be seen as a tree with three sections: branch, trunk and roots. In reference to the entire body: the arm is the branch, the torso is the trunk and the legs are the root. The entire body may be further subdivided. For the torso, the head is the branch, the waist is the trunk and the abdomen is the root. For the arm, the hand is the branch, the elbow is the trunk, and the shoulder is the root. For the lower body, the ankle is the branch, the knee is the trunk and the kua is the root. All total there are 9 sections of the human body. The dantian is the center from which the jing and energy are propogated to each branch like a wave.
These exercises also train the famous eight energies of Taijiquan – Peng, Lu, Ji, An, Cai, Lie, Jou, and Kao along with qinna (joint locking and grappling) and counter-qinna movements. Master Zhang and his students will also demonstrate applications of the silk-reeling exercises and the fundamental dantian rotation exercises.
All of the exercises presented are useful foundation training not only for students of Chen style Taijiquan but for students of any style of Taijiquan. They are also a good foundation for students of related internal martial arts such as Baguazhang and Xingyiquan.
Asume the basic standing posture, but with the arms out to the sides at about navel height an sligthly forward crouch a little as if sitting down slightly and keep the back erect. When one is relaxed and the attention collected, shift one’s weight completely onto the right foot and strain on the hip. Move the left foot straight back a half a step then forwards in an inward curve, brushing past the right instep and out forwards to a place in front of its original position, turning the toes out a bit as is lands. Shift the weight forward on to the left leg, turning the torso slightly to the left as one does so, then bring right foot forward in a curve past left instep and out to the front, turning toes out slightly as it lands. Shift weight onto the wright leg again, turning torso slightly to the left as one moves, then take another a step with left foot. Continue forwards and then backwards in this was for as long as comfortable.
When taking a pace, raise the knee slightly, keep toes straight and do not raise foot to far off ground. It should feel as if dragging one’s feet through mud, and as gentle as if one were rolling a ball along with one’s toes. Again the motion must be smooth and unbroken.
There are many kinds of stepwork in Dachengquan, and Mocabu or friction step is the most basic one. The posture is as follows: Stand naturally with two feet in parallel, apart form the legs which bend slightly at the knee, the posture is like standing attention. Keep torso erect, shoulders relaxed, arms stretched sideways, forming an angle of about 60 degrees with the body. With fingers parted naturally and palms facing downward as if you where pressing two big balloons, raise the head upright and drop to half a squat, with chest in and back intense. See that you have abundant energy, a quiet and easy mind and a substatiel abdomen. After standing in this way for some time, with the body weight on the soles of the feet, shift weight onto the left hip and slowly move right foot horizontally in a small arc to the right with the toes forward and land right on outer right side. The shift the weight onto the right hip, and move left foot in the same way as the right one has just done, and lands on the outer left side. The feet are desirably keept one foot length and a half apart all the time. Repeat the above mentioned movements alternatively with one foot and another. In practising this skill, care must be taken that the knee-cap is accompanied be an intention of a slight up-lift, toes are slightly hooked and the sole is not to high above ground. At the same time imagine that two feet are walking in shallow water, overcoming resistance. All the movements should be steady and flexible flowing easy and comfortable. This is the advacing posture. For retreating posture, just reverse the order of movements.
A ballad for Mocabu goes as follows:
With the torso erect and the head upright, He walks like a chicken but with torso a bit inclined.
Advance or retreat at will as the hip and shoulder move, Weaves rise and fall as the knee leaps and the foot circles.
by Wang Xuanjie
Hai Feng Publishing Co. May 1988
1. Root and twist the foot, allowing power to travel up the leg.
2. Let the power spring upward at the knee.
3. Allow the power to move freely in any direction at the waist.
4. Drive the power upward through the back.
5. Let the power penetrate to the crown point at the top of the head.
6. From the crown point, mingle the power with your chi and circulate it through the entire body.
7. Drive the power to the palm.
8. Push the power to the fingertips.
9. Condense the power into the bone marrow throughout the entire body.
10. Merge the power with the spirit, making them one.
11. Listen with your mind at the ear, almost as if condensing slightly.
12. Concentrate at the area of your nose.
13. Breathe to the lungs.
14. Control the mouth, carefully regulating the breathing.
15. Spread the power to the entire body.
16. Push the power to the ends of body hairs.
Q: Tai Chi seeks to be supple but what is the use of suppleness?
A: Seeking suppleness enables you to separate your body into pieces. If an opponent pushes against your forearm, your elbow doesn’t move; if against your elbow it moves, but not your shoulder; if against your shoulder it moves, but not your body; if against your body it moves but not your waist; if against your waist it moves but not your leg. This process leaves you as stable as a mountain. When you discharge your opponent, then it is from the feet through the legs to the waist, body, shoulders, elbows, and hands – all connected as one unit, discharging energy like an arrow toward its target. If you cannot relax, your whole body becomes one piece and, even though it is strong, a stronger person will be able to push your one piece and cause you to be unstable. Thus the use of suppleness is crusial. With it you can be one unit attacking and fragmented parts defending – able to be relaxed and hard, agile stepping forward or back, and substantial and insubstantial as needed. Whit these abilities you will then have all of the Taichi function.
Reference: T’Ai Chi Ch’Uan Ta Wen, Questions and Answers on T’Ai Chi Boxing Chen Wei-Ming ( Benjamin Pang Jeng Lo & Robert W. Smith ) North Atlantic Books 1985
Zhu Datong from the promotion text to “Analysis of Yin-Yang Structure of the Internal Energy in Taijiquan DVD Series” (Red.)
Eighty-one Forms of the Natural Taijiquan (Internal Energy)
There are Eighty-one Forms in the Natural Taijiquan, including three chapters of Internal Energy, Practical Combat, and Health Care. Nine forms in nine sections, a total of eighty-one forms. It exercises the heart, spirit, mind, and energy, from the upper to the lower, the inner to the outer. It is art, an exercise in the art of relaxation and flexibility in the exchange of Yin and Yang. The characteristic of the Natural Taijiquan is following the principle and the track of natural ways. The first is light and agile, it focuses on the mind not the force. It moves in an arc during the exchange of Yin and Yang. It moves as the water, which is the softest in the world. Practicing this set of boxing is as natural and smooth as the floating clouds and flowing water. It is good for the health and it can drive away disease and prolong life.
Change the Thinking and Concept, Nine Relaxing, Ten Need and One Lightness
Before we take up Taiji we should have an understanding of its structure and quality. Taiji has its own roles and traits. It has some common features with other techniques of martial arts, but it has its own features like the changing of Yin and Yang, flexibility, the usage of consciousness instead of force, be cooperated with the up and down, coordination between the inner and the outer, changing between the emptiness and the solidness, and practicing of boxing passively. The fundamental skills of Taiji are important, the hands and the feet must cooperate with each other. The basic skills are from the bottom to the top, relaxing the toe, heel, knee, crotch, elbow, waist, shoulder, wrist, hand, and fingers. All in succession. This is Nine Relaxing. The Ten Need are: keeping the buttocks down, wrapping the crotch, shrinking the abdomen, dropping hips, extending the chest, making the back round, emptying armpits, and straightening the neck. One lightness: Pushing the head up in mind. The Conghui point as the Yang peak and the Baihui point as the Yin peak.
Three Move, Three No Move and Calming the mind, will and spirits
Pay attention to the practice of Three Move and Three No Move: That is the movement of hands without the feet’s movement, vice versa, or the movement of both at the same time. Three No Move of the body: firstly, no movements; secondly, no active movements; thirdly, no rush. Also, there are Three No Move about hands: firstly, no movement; secondly, not letting go; thirdly, no resistance. The Three no Move about the hands and feet: firstly, movement of hands without feet; secondly, feet’s movement without the hands; thirdly, the movement of both. (You will be familiar with when to do movement of hands and feet, after you practice more.) In the practice and pushing hands, Three Move and Three No Move are very important. It is not important how the master teaches you, but decided by the Yin and Yang changes of Taijiquan. Taijiquan emphasizes building up the body, as well as silence of mind. Practicing Quan is to calm your mind. Don’t be fickle and eager for quick success and instant benefits.
Taiji Hand and Art of Roushou
Taiji Hand is made of fingers, palms, and wrist. Don’t use hand with power so it is empty. Through the years’ practice we understand not to put power on Taiji Hands so it will move freely. if there is any block, it will do harm to the health. Empty hands are good for the natural sinking of shoulders and elbows. The sinking of the shoulder is connected with that of the elbow. Relax with the 28 small joints, which have their own functions. Pushing hands is made by long term practice of relaxation of hands. It is the combination of exercising and application of Taiji Quan. Mr. Jin Yong has some understanding of Taiji and there are many rules of pushing, which can be set into four categories: firstly, control movement with quietude and taking advantage while in disadvantage; secondly, using the consciousness instead of power; thirdly, subduing the hardness by the softness; fourthly, countering a big power with small power.
Taiji Eight-direction Line
Eight-direction Line Diagram is formed by The Thirteen Postures, including eight directions: four normal directions of martial arts (east, west, south, north), and four corners directions (northeast, northwest, southeast, southwest), combined with five steps (advancing, retreating, look to the left, look to the right, central equilibrium). The circular Eight-direction Line Diagram is from a square, forming from the rim of a circle at the center extremely important. While practicing Taijiquan, as long as there is Eight-direction Line, there will be an accurate central point. Because of this, the directions and position will be unmistakable, preventing from a mistake that “small error can lead to a serious result.”
The Complement of Yin and Yang
The researchers who study the traditional Taijiquan know very well that the important characteristic of Taijiquan is that the status of yin and yang play a leading role in Taijiquan. Respond if there is change of Yin and Yang. Yin is inseparable from Yang, and vice versa. The complement of yin and yang is something like Taiji totem which the fish of yin and yang are independent of each other. Because yang refers to inhaling and opening, Yin refers to expanding, exhaling, and joining. They connect together from head to tail. It is just the complement of yin and yang. Black fish, yin, has a white eye, and white fish, yang, has a black eye. There is yang in the yin, and vice versa. This is indeed the meaning of the quan theory. It will not fail as long as you use this theory.
Eighty-one Forms of the Natural Taijiquan (Practical Combat)
There are Eighty-one Forms in the Natural Taijiquan, including three chapters of Internal Energy, Practical Combat, and Health Care. Nine forms in nine sections, a total of eighty-one forms. It exercises the heart, spirit, mind, and energy, from the upper to the lower, the inner to the outer. It is art, an exercise in the art of relaxation and flexibility in the exchange of Yin and Yang. The characteristic of the Natural Taijiquan is following the principle and the track of natural ways. The fist is light and agile, it focuses on the mind not the force. It moves in an arc during the exchange of Yin and Yang. It moves as the water, which is the softest in the world. Practicing this set of boxing is as natural and smooth as the floating clouds and flowing water. It is good for the health and it can drive away disease and prolong life.
From principles for Taijiquan written by the ancestors, it is said that the base is the foot. The foot is the base, so relax the foot, the toes. Relax from the foot, the knee, the crotch, the waist, the shoulders, the elbows, the wrists, and the hand, from the foot to the top. The solid step is completely sold while the empty step is completely empty. Exchange the Yin and Yang when stepping. In the boxing, Yin and Yang exchange all on the foot. There is no need to move the hand, just change the Yin and Yang on the foot. Move from the foot, to the leg, and the waist without a break. The upper follows the lower, and the outer joins the inner. It is useless without the foot. Zhu Datong experienced the function of the foot during a practice, in Wu-style Taijiquan. The center is on one leg, the foot is the base, the base of change between Yin and Yang. Zhu Datong came up with a formula: the upper and the lower are in one line, Yin and Yang exchange on the feet.
Search YouTube to find other videos with Zhu Datong
9. Three harmonies, internal and external
– internal: Spirit (Shen) with Intention (Yi), Intention with subtle energy (Qi), subtle energy with body energy (Jing).
– external: shoulders and inguinal regions, elbows and knees, hands and feet.
10. Hands follow the body
– use the trunk to yield and neutralise, the hands to follow to protect the trunk and to prepare to attack.
11. Steps respond to body movements
– change the steps to support body movement.
– hands are like swinging doors; whether you win or loose depends on your steps.
12. Differentiate empty (Yin) and full (Yang)
– meet fullness with emptiness and emptiness with fullness.
13. Smoothness and continuity
– one thing moves, all things move.
– co-ordinate upper-body with lower-body.
– Deep Mind (Xin) and Intention (Yi) determine the speed of the movements.
– use Intention (Yi) to naturally harmonise the breath with the movements.
14. Use Deep Mind Intention (Yi), not insensitive strength
– relax the body, use Deep Mind Intention, then the senses and feelings will be very responsive.
Reference: Relax, Deep Mind Taiji Basics Patrick Kelly 2. ed. New Zealand 2004
Red.: The book is rare to find. Patrik Kelly is a student of the late Master Huang Xingxian a famous student of the renowned Taiji master Zheng Manqing (Cheng Man-Ching).