When I had my first class in Tai Chi as a student, I had been involved in martial arts for 15 years. Tai Chi was different. For more than a decade, I studied Yang style, and I was taught that I should be relaxing and "cultivating chi." Then I met Jim and Angela Criscimagna, my first Chen style teachers, and I realized within an hour that I had to start over.
The body mechanics of real Tai Chi are very different than other "hard" martial arts that I had studied. I had been a student of Shaolin, Taekwondo, Wushu (Tien Shan Pai), and I had practiced karate on my own. I had also studied Xingyi, Bagua, and, as I mentioned above, Yang Tai Chi.
Nothing prepared me for the nuances and subtlety of Chen family Taijiquan. Over time, as I learned from Jim and Angela, the late Mark Wasson, and masters such as
Chen Xiaowang, Chen Xiaoxing, Ren Guangyi and others, I began to isolate six crucial body mechanics that you should know to get started. Another major influence was Mike Sigman and the knowledge about ground path and peng jin that he was spreading, in workshops, videos and online writings.
There are many skills to learn as you study Tai Chi, Bagua, and Xingyi, but over a period of 20 years, as I was learning and teaching, these six body mechanics rose to the top, in my mind, as the most important for internal movement:
- Establishing and maintaining the ground path
- Maintaining Peng Jin at all times
- Whole-Body Movement
- Silk-Reeling (spiraling movement through the body)
- Dan T'ien Rotation
- Opening and closing the Kua
These six body mechanics are explained and demonstrated on my membership website and on my Internal Strength DVD, which I am revising and updating this week. If you have not been taught this information, you should learn it before trying to move forward in your practice. There are many internal students, especially Yang style students in the world who have no idea of the body mechanics required by Tai Chi.
On Saturday, I taught a workshop on Silk-Reeling Exercises, giving participants a glimpse of each of the body mechanics and how they come together in these exercises. The video from the workshop will also be on my website.
Silk-Reeling Energy is also called "San Ssu Jin" or San Ssu Chin." But do not be fooled by the word "energy." The way the word is used in the internal arts, it does not mean some mystical energy coursing through your body -- "energy" is a method of dealing with force. There are many "jins" or energies in Taiji and Bagua. Each of those jins is a different method of dealing with your opponent's force. They are physical skills that anyone can learn with proper instruction and a lot of practice.
There are many physical things to work on when practicing the internal arts, such as keeping the head up, keeping the shoulders and hips level, the internal and external harmonies, remaining relaxed but ready -- but your internal arts cannot have quality unless you understand these six body mechanics.
I was lucky to receive very good instruction from my Chen style teachers, but as I started teaching with this new information that I learned about body mechanics through Chen Taiji, I wanted to break it down in a way that made sense to me and to new students, isolating these body mechanics and looking at each of them in every movement. It still takes many years to develop skill. I am still trying to get better at all of it.
In the next couple of weeks, in a series of blog posts, I will revisit each of the individual body mechanics and discuss them. Subscribe to this blog to receive them as they are published. If you are in a hurry, check out the Internal Strength and Silk-Reeling DVDs (links above) or try two weeks free in my membership site to explore videos and ebooks on these mechanics and principles.