Friday, 3 March 2023

On Chansigong...

During Chansigong (Reeling-Silk Exercise) the waist is kept straight  but energetically relaxed and down.  Its rotations are subtle and does not sway so much that the centre is compromised.  The range of rotations should not be too large or the limbs (hands and feet) will lose their correct directions,  focal points and sensitivity.  If the range of the rotation of the axis is not exact, the motions of body and limbs are either excessive or deficient and cannot fully develop to execute integrated whole body  strength.  These deviations give an opponent a gap to enter during engagements.

The rotations of the waist and crotch (yao/dang) should be consistent. The two kua are loose and rounded to facilitate movement flexibility. 

The circularity of Chansigong is not made up of straight arc movements (e.g. making arcs with straight arm movement) but composed of spiral arc movements (arms rotating continuously whilst creating arcs).  When making a circle the movement of internal force is like a helix that expands and contracts. (It is often compared to the continuous rotation of the earth as it orbits round the sun). A straight arc leads to dead ends and double-weightedness.  A spiralling arc dissipates, neutralises and returns incoming forces.    

Chansigong trains the external and internal unity of the whole body to produce Chansijin.  Its refinement is proportional to the improvement of the quality of internal strength, but it is unlimited.

Moving Clouds and Flowing Water

 Although the expression “Xing Yun Liu Shui” (Moving Clouds and Flowing Water) is mainly used in literary writings and language expressions, the term is frequently used to conceptualise Taijiquan.  

Xing Yun Liu Shui came from the poet/writer Su Shi in the Song Dynasty: "the study of books, poems and essays makes sense gradually; much like moving clouds and flowing water, that seem aimless, but they do what they must do, and cease when they must cease." 

Taijiquan should be played like clouds and water, but players should also be as clouds and water. Taijiquan integrated with the Daoist cultural ideology: “the highest virtue is to be like water" (Shang Shan Ru Shui).  Chen Xin said when talking about Taijiquan: "In movement flow like water, in stillness be steadfast like a mountain.”

To become like "moving clouds", first distinguish between substantial and insubstantial, so that the conversion of the body's centre is clear; secondly is to be light and nimble, the body to be loose and empty, moving as a whole, the steps to be light; and thirdly is to be stable and connected, moving evenly, uniformly and continuously.  

The ankles are relaxed, the Yongquan points are gently lifted, the body’s centre sinks and becomes stable as a mountain, steps are as light as feathers. At a higher level, there must be "mental immersion” whereby the mind becomes highly concentrated and completely zoned in to the artistic conception of performing on soft clouds.   

The comparison of taijiquan to water permeates its philosophy.   “Flowing water” is in sync with its natural environment.  It can be a gentle trickle, and it can also be an overwhelming force.  As with the nature of water - weight and not strength; flow and not shift;  go with and not drive.  Taijiquan does not advocate the initiation and use of brute force, by using mental intentions and one’s own innate strength to achieve defence and attack capabilities by actual situations.

The first point: weight not strength. Strength is imposed by the body, weight is a downward force due to earth’s gravity.  It is the power of nature, like water cascading down a waterfall by its own weight without adding any external force.  

The second point: in the process of position change movements are not actively and physically forced but flow energetically and naturally from one to another. 

The third point: to go with and not to initiate. Taijiquan does not make random movements.  The characteristics of taijiquan are also the characteristics of water.  Water does not determine whether it flows urgently or slowly, but in accordance to external conditions, and merges with external shapes and momentum.  

The essence of Taijiquan possesses the quality of "Xingyun" and "Liushui".  It is up to practitioners to realise and express the essence in their own practice.

The state of song...

 The state of “Song 鬆” is a critical state between tension and relaxation.  It acts like a zero between positive and negative numbers. The degree of “song” varies from person to person and crucially depends on an individual’s depth of gongfu (trained skill) and the body’s sensitivity to its environment. There is no one uniform standard. For example, when you raise your hand to grab something, the state when you are ready to grab but have not yet grabbed is usually “song”. It is the state where the strength has not yet been exerted.

Ideological (overall non-specific) intention is said to ensure the quality of relaxation in the body and psychological intention (specific) is to ensure the correct amount of tension. Static pile training enables intention within the body; dynamic pile training enables intention for potential strength emission (usage).  But it has to be done in the real way rather than being confined to a theoretical state of mind. No amount of time or intense thought can produce a practical result without the physical participation of the body.

Pile training trains the nervous system, adjusts physiological capabilities and consolidates the body’s inherent strength. When the potential of the body is explored to the limit, dynamic strength training (e.g. emission, usage etc.) can be introduced in order to examine and validate the potential. Therefore, pile work makes a bow and string, strength opens the bow and shoots the arrows.  Pile standing alone is likened to hanging a strong bow on a tree branch and hoping that the intended prey will fall within its vicinity. 

The right practice makes you successful, the wrong practice makes you fail, and you alone are the touchstone of the truth and falsehood of all practice.

Taiji's Profound Principle...

 “Examine the multitude of stars; then sense the vast vault of the universe.”

 If you delve deep into your martial art, you can sense its profundity.  Study with concentration and observe with care, contain its great potential. 

Taiji is found in the deepest part of all martial arts.  It is a philosophy and a principle.  All martial practice in the highest realm follow the taiji principle.  Therefore it’s not necessary to debate the merits of this and that martial arts but to thoroughly understand the principle. The ultimate aim of all the arts is the pursuit of balance and harmony.  The state of an ever-present and perpetual opposite renders it taiji.

Finding the waist...

 Finding one’s waist is the first step to correct Taijiquan movements. This is initiated by keeping the point just above the mingmen (gate of life) substantial, not the entire lumbar spine. It is as if the waist is being held to drive the whole body. The abdomen, the back and the whole body are not tense. Before the waist becomes dominant, the upward lift of the waist cannot be felt so this is the first sensation to try to get.

The next step is to drop the hips/buttocks below the mingmen area. The lower abdomen is slightly contained. The combination of the upward lift of the waist above the mingmen and the downward sinking of the hips below it is the preliminary success to realising the waist.
Start practising with jibengong (basic drills consisting of form training that includes precise hand and footwork). Choosing to do static exercise over movements before possessing any lower plane concept only encourages scattered thoughts and tension. Trying to loosen the hips/kua and practise crotch strength independently will not bring about the correct result.
Without first ‘finding’ the waist any action of lifting the top of the head is localised and false. True lifting is the result of the outward expansion of the waist and the support of the central qi; as is with the true sinking of the lower plane and the acquisition of dang jin (crotch strength).

A lifetime of practice...

"To train quan is to train a whole person;
To train a whole person takes a lifetime of practice.”
An adage shared by all internal systems says: “externally train the muscles and bones, internally cultivate the one breath.” By that it means externally training the full potential and capabilities of the physical body, and internally training qi movements through breathing and the intention, and cultivating the essence and spirit.
Training must therefore include both the physical and mental aspects. Among them, mental will is the fundamental factor that determines whether a person can achieve a good standard of quan, especially whether he can fulfil "a lifetime of practice" and become a “whole person”.
A common Chinese saying about diligent practice is to work through the winter’s “san jiu”- the third nine-day period after the winter solstice - the coldest days of winter; and the summer’s “san fu” - the three hottest periods of the year that total 30 or 40 days. It means training all the year round irrespective of challenging conditions or situations. It is believed that people who are able to do this will naturally benefit for life. Perseverance and consistency in practice is down to a person's willpower and endurance. “Honest to self and resolute to acquire skill" - seeking perfection through slow meticulous work, staying calm and not hurried, finding harmony, staying focused throughout, and other specific requirements gradually hone a person’s temperament and character.

All martial virtue, martial attitude, the nature of a person’s mind, character, moral and self-restraint etc. are within the scope of internal practice, hence: "to train quan is to train a whole person; to train a whole person takes a lifetime of practice”.


Moving the Dang (Crotch)

Changing weight in Taijiquan practice involves moving the body’s centre from one leg to another through the action of the dang (crotch). There are three ways that practitioners move the ‘dang’: the first is to go along an upward arc, like moving an object, first picking it up, move it into position and then putting it down; the second is to take a straight line, like pushing an object on a table so that it moves horizontally across;  the third is to go along a downward arc, like a pendulum, a wave or a swing.  In line with the characteristics and requirement of Taijiquan only the third is correct. 

The right way to move the dang is an important factor to moving with agility, to storing before emitting, and to enabling the use of intention instead of exerting strength.

When the dang takes a downward arc it helps qi to sink and the intention to relax.  The downward relaxation fulfils the quan principle of "the centre of gravity is the third controller", which is borrowing gravity to facilitate movements.  Loose and sunken jin is the source of all the power and the root of all methods of Taijiquan.

Shifting the weight using a downward arc involves the whole body.  There are many subtleties that it takes focused long-term training to gradually find the feeling and master the method, as it is impossible to realise every action during every practice. Moreover, there are many nuances in details. Different movements and  different stages of practice may have different experiences in the same part. This requires one not to be bored with or skirt over details, whilst at the same time to not be lost in the details.  The many details and subtleties should be collated into a big picture with clear directions, in order to unify the complexities.