Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are still two cups at my table.

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~

Tuesday, October 02, 2018

The Eight Energies of Taijiquan

Over at the Thoughts on Tai Chi blog, there was a very good explanation of the eight energies of Taijiquan. Below is an excerpt. The full post may be read here.

Jin or jing, this Chinese character can be pronounced and romanized in both ways. People often translate it into “energy”. But “energy” is still not exactly what was originally meant. The eight Jins in T’ai Chi, “Ba fa” or “Ba jin” are the eight basic ways you can use the body. The term Jin has the connotation of a skill, something that is learned and developed through proper practice. They are considered as eight basic techniques, but in fact they are something that should be described much more as body skills than as techniques. The names for the eight jins are: 掤 peng, 捋 lu, 挤 ji, 按 an, 採 cai, 挒 lie, 肘 zhou, 靠 kao.

A Jin in Tai Chi can mean two different things (at least)

When people speak about these Jins they can mean either a technique, a movement in the form, or they can mean a basic body skill that has the same name. In fact the movements in the T’ai chi form which has the name of the Jin only resembles one example of how the Jin can be used. And also, every movement in a T’ai chi form belong to one of these jins. In Chinese calligraphy, there are eight basic strokes that make up all of the chinese characters. In T’ai Chi, the eight jins make up all of the movements in the form.

Confusion about the definitions of the terms

In the T’ai chi world, there is indeed a confusion about the definitions of the jins. Some things are described differently according to style,  school and lineage. Most of the confusion has to do with not being able to separating the body skill from the individual examples in the T’ai chi form or with trying to translate the meaning according to the names. Everyone says that he or she is correct and everyone else is wrong. And so do I. You can listen to whom ever you like. But my advice is to have in mind that any complete system needs its own logic. If there is any kind of contradiction or something that doesn’t make sense, or some detail that seems off or misplaced, there is mostly some kind of mistake or flaw that can make the whole system fall flat. What I will try to do is to explain the jins in a detailed yet cohesive manner and in a way that all of the different parts hold together as a solid system. The way I will try to explain the jins is also somewhat different from how many others will explain it.

Eight different aspects of open and close

Why must the explanation be different? Well, what you should understand is that most of the T’ai chi body methods that are taught today are great simplifications of what so called indoor students or disciples are taught. If the eight jins resemble eight different body methods, then how “common” students will understand the concept of a Jin will differ from an advanced indoor student.
Anyway, there’s a common saying in tai chi that “Kai/He should be in every movement.” My first Yang style teacher tried to teach me this in my very first year. Later I encountered it from various teachers. They had a different take on the principle, but they all emphasized it as an important part of tai chi and form practice especially. What exactly does “Kai he should be in every movement” mean? Kai is usually translated as open, he is mostly translated to “close”. A general more simple explanation is that Kai and he is the movement of the body as whole body should work like a belch achieve circulation however you want to explain this. Traditionally it is said that these movements help you to pump up the Qi and use these movements to circulate it through out the body. If you want to use the old Chinese term “qi” or not, it is still true that “Kai He” type of movements will help you to build up a certain heat inside of the body. But “open and close” is not a complete translation or anyway near satisfactory explanation of this term. The common word for close or closing in Chinese is not “he” but “guan”. The real meaning of “he” is not really to close something, but to “connect”. The character for he looks like a house. In Tai Chi it has a similar meaning because every movement is a certain formation of the body, a body structure.
“To connect” in tai chi means that the angles of the body is as strong as possible so the body structure is as strong as possible. The structure demands certain angles as well as support from a strong base. The “he” or “close” means to connect the structure from the foot through the legs, gua, back and spine, shoulder blades, arms, right out to the fingertips. Kai means to “open” as in open up the structure. Another word that was used earlier together with “he” is zhan or stretch. Kai or zhan means that you need to open up the joints before connecting. “Kai” is straightening the spine, “he” is to fold it slightly, or to “ba bei han xiong”, one of the ten fundamental principles according to Yang Cheng Fu, or to “pluck back and hollow chest”.  “He” is to tuck in the tailbone, “Kai is to release, straighten it or untuck it. In the open-close principle, the whole body should, as I said earlier, work as a belch, the whole body constantly contracts and expand, from the legs through the whole spine. The arms help to balance and connect the whole structure. From a neidan perspective or from the POV of circulating qi, “Kai” is like turning on a water tap, and “he” is connecting the hose. Then you can control direction and strength of the water flow. This is similar for tai chi. You must first open up the structure before connecting it. When you connect it you have circulation.
In Tai Chi, as I already have stated, “Kai/He’ should be present in every movement. But how often do you hear an explanation how “Kai/He” is used for ba jin/ 8 “energies”? If you have already read a whole lot of texts about Tai Chi you will know that the answer is never. Absolutely no one explain this.
All of the 8 jins or energies are aspects of either Kai or He body movements. As techniques, they are eight different ways to use either open or close aspects for combat. What is the point of arranging techniques or fighting methods in either Kai or he? This has nothing to do with theory or philosophy. In fact, there’s a very commonsensical practicality behind this construction. If you consider each and one of the eight jins as either an open or close aspect, you can understand that they function very clever together. One of the eight jin is used to store energy for another jin. When you pull or twist your body, the next movement will flow easy and natural into the other. If you consider the jins as different aspects of certain body movement as you use them in real situations, the energies will flow into each other continuously without gaps or breaks. Your movements will become lively, you will move smooth and find it easy to change swiftly between movements.

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