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Story of Chen Zhaopi’s Insights on Tai Chi Quan in His Later Years

“To practice Tai Chi Quan, one must understand what is ‘Chan Si Jin’ (Silk-Reeling Energy).

In Tai Chi Quan, we cultivate internal energy, and internal energy is ‘Chan Si Jin.’ Anything produced in a circular manner carries the essence of ‘Chan Si Jin.’ Chen-style Tai Chi Quan encompasses movement in all directions: up, down, left, right, front, back, internally involving the five organs and the skeletal structure, and externally encompassing the muscles, skin, and hair. There is no pulling or lifting, no flat or straight lines, no defects or protrusions, no breaks or interruptions. It is a harmonious whole that meets the standard. Therefore, Chen-style Tai Chi Quan relies entirely on circular force and ‘Chan Si Jin.’ Because it lacks flat or straight lines and does not rely on pulling or lifting.

‘Chan Si Jin’ originates from the kidneys and is present everywhere, always in motion throughout the body, permeating the bones and muscles, connecting the various organs and the seven apertures, continuously enhancing internal power. It condenses into the bones, promoting the circulation of qi and blood, aiding digestion, warding off illness, and prolonging life. All these benefits stem from the power of ‘Chan Si Jin.’ It can be divided into upward, downward, leftward, rightward, inward, outward, large, small, clockwise, counterclockwise, forward, and reverse reeling methods, all of which are pathways for the flow of vital energy. However, when teaching, one need not specify each reeling method; such an approach contradicts the principles of Tai Chi Quan. It is sufficient to distinguish between ‘Zheng Chan’ (positive reeling) and ‘Ni Chan’ (negative reeling).

The ‘Yun Shou’ movement is entirely based on ‘Zheng Chan Si Jin,’ while the ‘Dao Nian Hou’ movement is entirely based on ‘Ni Chan Si Jin.’ In the other reeling methods, their manifestations of ‘Chan Si Jin’ depend on the corresponding body postures during practice. ‘Chan Si Jin’ is the essence of Chen-style Tai Chi Quan and must not be underestimated by practitioners.

To practice Tai Chi Quan, one must understand the three segments’ principles:

  1. Head as the upper segment: If the upper segment lacks clarity and proper alignment, the whole body will be scattered and lack cohesion. Therefore, avoid lowering or tilting the head and keep it naturally upright, with eyes looking straight ahead. When hands approach, the focus should be on the center of the middle finger’s nail. Lips should be sealed, and the tip of the tongue should touch the upper palate to facilitate natural breathing.
  2. Abdomen as the middle segment: The middle segment must not be vague; otherwise, it will be empty. The area from the throat to the Dantian is considered the middle segment. It is essential not to hunch or puff up the abdomen. Instead, maintain relaxed elbows, shoulders, and chest while dropping the center of gravity. This helps lower the qi, enabling natural breathing. The waist is crucial in Tai Chi Quan practice, acting as the axis and governing the whole body. It is the core of the entire body. The kidneys are the source of energy production. Without understanding the role of the waist, the whole body will lack cohesion.
  3. Hand as the end segment: The shoulder and elbow form the middle segment, and the waist is the root segment. When moving inward, the hand leads the elbow, and the elbow leads the shoulder, which, in turn, leads the waist. When moving outward, the waist influences the shoulder, the shoulder influences the elbow, and the elbow influences the hand. This process of coordination ensures the flow of energy.

The bottom segment’s principles are not well-defined, leading to instability. The area from the root of the thigh to the sole of the foot constitutes the bottom segment. The sole and heel of the foot should connect to the ground, and the ‘Yong Quan’ acupoints (on the sole) should remain empty. The legs must distinctly alternate between being substantial and insubstantial. Avoid adopting a dualistic approach to legwork, as it would hinder Tai Chi Quan practice. The knees should align with the heels, avoiding any leaning or misalignment. The ankles should be slightly tucked in, generating ‘Chan Si Jin’ in the legs. The ‘Wei Zhong’ acupoints (inside the knees) must not be lax. The legs should not forcefully resist the pelvis.

To effectively practice Tai Chi Quan, one must understand the concept of ‘Diefu’ (transition) methods:

  1. Engage in internal work while relaxing the elbows and shoulders, maintaining a sunken chest and a collapsed waist, allowing the energy to descend naturally. Otherwise, if the joints remain rigid like iron rods, with no variation or change, the practice will not qualify as Tai Chi Quan.
  2. Clearly differentiate between substantial and insubstantial, allowing the whole body to follow the movements naturally, harnessing energy to launch attacks. Failure to manage substantial and insubstantial aspects properly will hinder the ability to borrow force from opponents.
  3. Without advancing, you cannot draw opponents in, and without drawing, you cannot create space, and without creating space, you cannot strike. This concept applies when facing opponents, incorporating intermittent firmness and softness to baffle their intentions.
  4. Tension should be held tightly, and expansion should be complete, like a coiled cannon that releases an explosive sound when unwound. In Tai Chi Quan, when holding tension, the closer the opening movement extends to the fingertips, the more effective the power becomes. However, expansion does not imply straightening both arms stiffly; it must retain flexibility.
  5. Striking from a distance of one zhang (about 10 feet) is not considered distant; while striking within one inch is deemed close. Striking from a distance of one zhang, with the body extended, will not be effective, as the opponent would be aware and evade. Instead, focus on striking within one inch to ensure maximum power.
  6. If one neglects the center, the spirit and energy will scatter, resulting in a loss. When engaging with an opponent, remain calm and relaxed, utilizing the ‘Zhong Ding’ method, ensuring the center is not compromised; otherwise, attacks will lose power, and you might face defeat.
  7. The body acts as a bowstring, and the hands as arrows, with a sprightly force originating from the dantian and spreading to the four limbs. The opponent should be unaware of your intention while you precisely understand theirs. This combination of boxing techniques and combat strategies is akin to guerrilla warfare, which aims to surround the enemy tactfully.
  8. Mastery lies in subtle techniques, such as sneaking into gaps and striking precisely. Whether you evade, bind, lift, or sweep, the inner workings should be hidden from others. The entire body should be empty, with no seams or weak points. Employing deceptive tactics and understanding the opponent’s weaknesses are crucial in combat. Tai Chi Quan’s mastery involves the ability to conceal true intentions and adapt accordingly.

The essence of Tai Chi Quan lies in adhering to these principles, while the flaws come from deviating from them. Remember, Tai Chi Quan theory is vast, and I, at the age of eighty, can only share my knowledge through spoken words.”

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