Qi and Chen Taijiquan (Tai Chi)
Compiled from various sources by John Voigt
The Chen family-style is the oldest and parent form of the five traditional styles of the martial art Taijiquan. Chen-style is characterized by Silk reeling (chan si jin), alternating slow and fast movements, and occasional outbursts of power (Fajin). It originated with Chen Wangting (ca.1600-1680) who merged the physical strength of Northern Chinese Boxing with the conscious control and use of internal qi-energy.
Presently it exists in various styles characterized by low stances, continuous cyclic patterns and quick explosive moves such as jumping kicks, cannon fists, and thundering stomps.
Qi – Definitions from the Chen Family
What follows are quotes from the writings and teachings of several leading Chen masters and scholars. With each name or book title a link is provided for the reader to access further information.
From Chen Xin (1849-1929) - The Illustrated Canon of Chen Family Taijiquan. "When we speak of qi, we are referring to the pattern which lies within Taiji boxing movements and the movement of qi as the principle focus of martial arts techniques." [p. 201.]
Master Chen Xiaowang, 19th generation lineage holder of Chen Style Taijiquan.
From D. Sim, D. Gaffney. Chen Style Taijiquan. "Qi is usually translated into English as 'vital energy' or 'life force,' although its literal meaning is 'breath.' … Qi exists in the human body without form, color or substance. The ancient Chinese likened it to fire, and early Chinese pictographic characters depicted it as 'sun' and 'fire.'... It is perhaps more easily understood in terms of an electric current. [p. 44-45.]
Next is from an interview with Master Chen Xiaowang done by Howard Choy on his web site, shou-yi.ord.
When asked, What is the essence of Taijiquan? Master Chen Xiao-wang replied, "It is all about the interaction of Yin and Yang and Qi circulation. Qi, our vital force, is a bit like electricity. It requires a polarity of negative and positive, or Yin and Yang dynamics for it to flow. The movements of Taijiquan, if executed properly, with correct breath and mind intent, will provide the polarities to activate and to maintain qi flow to nourish our body and our mind. Illnesses result from qi blockages and qi deficiency, which Taijiquan can prevent from happening. The Seven Emotions will affect our health and well-being because they are also forms of qi blockage. Unless we gain control of our qi circulation, we have no hope of being healthy, let alone being enlightened. … The more your qi is connected, the more Jing you have. When our qi is connected, we can use it to fight (as in using Peng jing ['ward off power'] and Faijing ['explosive force'] to push your opponent) and we can also use it for health benefit. This is where the martial and civil components of Taijiquan come together to make us an integrated and wholistic human being. [Howard Choy. Taijiquan and the Qi Connection.]
From another interview with Chen Xiaowang, this time with Nick Gudge.
Question: Would you discuss qi?
Chen Xiaowang: "Some things can only be felt and cannot be described. You should be feeling 'hot water' pouring through your arm and to your hand. Even at low levels, people can feel this. When the arm is circling the little finger moves, energy goes to the dantian. When the thumb moves, the qi goes from the dantian out to the hand." [Discussions with Chen Xiaowang.]
"Silk reeling is the most basic move in Chen Family Taijiquan. … It keeps qi (chi) centered, cultivated and stored for use." [Chen Zheng Lei.
Chen Style Silk Reeling Practice.]
The name Silk Reeling relates to unwinding silk from the cocoon of a silkworm, which must be done with the utmost care, mental focus, and relaxation. Silk is unbelievably tensile, but if pulled too harshly or sloppily it may snap. All this is a metaphor in which silk is Qi, which when carefully merged with muscular strength may be harvested as the awesome physical power and force called Jin. Here is an informative video by Grandmaster Chen Zheng Lei. Tai Chi Silk-Reeling. YouTube.
More from Chen Zheng Lei.
"It [Silk Reeling] consists of various winding and spiraling motions. All the silk reeling moves, either internal spiral or external winding, either forward winding or backward winding, either natural or reversed, are like Yin and Yang: opposite to each other, but complimentary at the same time. Silk Reeling keeps qi (chi) centered, cultivated and stored for use . . .
"The qi is transferred to every cell in the body. It penetrates into every nerve ending and organ. Qi is stored abundantly throughout the body, in bones, muscles and ligaments, nourishes every cell, and contributes to unrestricted circulation. It aids the digestive system, improves metabolism and can prolong life . . .
"All qi power is delivered from the center of the mind [Xin] through the inside of the bones, then transmitted from the muscles and ligaments to the tips of limbs. The Taiji qi power is total body power. The silk reeling power is centered power; i.e. the power is delivered from the center of your mind and body, together through all parts of the body, striking simultaneously as a whole into one point like a bullet out of a gun barrel in a winding and penetrating shot." [Chen Zheng Lei, et al. Chen Style Silk Reeling Practice.]
What follows is from The Illustrated Canon of Chen Family Taijiquan, by Chen Xin.
The silk-reeling method consists of activating and moving Zhong-Qi (Centralized Intrinsic Energy). If it is not understood, then Taijiquan is not understood either. [Chen Xin, p. 110]
DIAGRAM OF THE SILK-REELING METHOD
APPLIED IN THE HUMAN BODY
(Front view and back view)
The Mind/Heart [xin] is in Center of Chest
[adapted from Chen Xin p.113]
The whole body consists of a network of internal and external energy channels, both of which become apparent when a person moves. One channel runs from the front of the left hand through to the back of the right hand, then wraps around the front of the right hand and returns to the back of the left hand in a rotating flow to close or accumulate the energy.
Another channel accumulates energy from the inner left side of the body and the back of the right side. There is also a channel through which energy returns to be accumulated at the back. All the energy channels function optimally when specific postures and bodily movements are performed naturally and smoothly.
When hand qi flows from the heel to the big toe thereby closing the loop and gathering energy, you can take a firm stance. Meanwhile, intrinsic force produced in the mind/heart [at center core of the chest] enters ones bones and fills the skin, coalescing the body into a single stream of power.
This intrinsic force is the qi that comes out from the mind/heart. When the energy is generated and regenerated from a central power source (your mind/heart) [xin], it becomes Zhong-qi or Centralized Intrinsic Energy. When it is nourished constantly, it is converted into Haoran ahi Qi or Magnificently Refined Energy. [Chen Xin p.114]
A Short Glossary of Terms:
Simple Chinese characters are given first, then traditional Chinese characters. Square bracket numbers refer to the pages of Chin Xin's The Illustrated Canon of Chen Family Taijiquan.
Chen Style Taijiquan (陈式 太极拳/ 陳式 太極拳).
Fa – "Releasing" (like gunshots).
Jin (or jing, or chin) - " Energetic Power." A combination of muscular strength and qi.
Fajin (or Fa-jin, Fa jin, Fajing, etc. – 發勁/发劲.) Literally "emitting energetic power." The external discharge of Jin (energetic power). Similar to the way energy issues from a bullwhip: the energy following a spiral movement of delivery is concentrated along an ever-narrowing ribbon of leather until it appears with great force and precision at whip's tip. Or in this case either the fist, elbow, shoulder, knee or kicking foot. Actually any body part may be used to release the force of jin. Editor's note: A person should first contact an appropriate professional teacher and or health provider before doing any exercises, but especially so with something as physically demanding, and possibly seriously damaging to oneself or an opponent, as Fajin.
Here is one example of Fajin in action, the 30 second video: "Chen Yu Fali (fajin)."
Heng-qi – (横徛). Literally "horizontal cross over" or overcrossed energy. It possesses hard and sharp qualities and is concealed in the chest area of the body. With Heng-qi, it is difficult to be round and movable, as if hindered by a very sharp and sensitive instrument in your chest on the edge of bursting, making you stressed and anxious. [Chin Xin 200].
Qi – (气/氣). "Vital Force."
Silk Reeling (chan si jin – 缠丝劲/纏絲勁). Literally "winding silk thread (for) energetic strength."
Xin – (心 – sounds like "shin"). Heart, mind, intention; located at the center of the chest.
Zheng-qi (正气/正氣– sounds something like "shen chee"). Literally "correct qi." In Chen Style taijiquan this is the truly refined energy that protects the body.
Zhong-qi (中气/中氣 – sounds something like "jhong chee"). Literally "central qi." Chin Xin writes: "Centralized Intrinsic Energy located in the center of the internal organs and characterized by its undeviating flow up and down the vertical axis of the upper and lower body." [Chin Xin 203]. When it is nourished constantly, it is converted into a "vast overflowing qi."
^ "Chen-style t'ai chi ch'uan." Wikipedia.
^ The Illustrated Canon of Chen Family Taijiquan written by 16th generation family member Chen Xin,
is the first and most extensive book about Chen Family Taijiquan techniques and philosophies. The English translation used in this entry is published by INBI Matrix Pty Ltd.
"Chen Family Taijiquan." American Chen Taiji Society.
"Chen-style t'ai chi ch'uan." Wikipedia.
Chen Style Taijiquan: Quotations, Sayings, Wisdom, Poems, Aphorisms, Classics.
Research by Michael P. Garofalo. Egreenway.
Chen Xin. Illustrated Canon of Chen Family Taijiquan. Alex Golstein, translator. Maroubra Australia: INBI Matrix Pty Ltd, 2007.
Chen Xin. Excerpts from Illustrated Explanations of Chen Family Taijiquan,Jarek Szymanski, translator.
Chen Xin. Illustrated Explanations of Chen Family Taijiquan – ebook version.
Chen Zhen Lei, and Gao Xiao Hui with De Ru. Chen Style Silk Reeling Practice. Nick Gudge.
Howard Choy. Taijiquan and the Qi Connection. Shouyi Taijiquan & Qigong.
Howard Choy and Ahte Chia. Master Chen Xiaowang's Five Levels of Skill.
"Fa jin." Wikipedia.
Nick Gudge. Qi.
History of Chen Taijiquan. Absolute Tai Chi.
Ren Guang Yi. Taijiquan: Chen Taiji 38 Form and Applications. Tuttle, 2003.
Davidine Siaw-Voon Sim and David Gaffney. Chen Style Taijiquan, North Atlantic Books, 2002.
Marvin Smalheiser. Chen Xiaowang on: Silk Reeling Energy Skills. Nick Gudge.
Tai Chi Historic Origin." Wikipedia.
"1981 Chen Taijiquan Complete Chen Xiaowang, Wang Xian, Zhu Tiancai, Chen Zhenglei & More." Also at: www.youtube.com
[It is only in Chinese, and the sound and visual quality are weak, but this is a compilation of many of the leading Grandmasters of Chen Style at that time.]
"Chen Xiaowang Applications DVD excerpt, Laojia/19ct w/ fajin."
Chen Xiaowang. "Chen Style Tai Chi - Silk Reeling Power - Chen Xiaowang - Part 01."
Ibid. - Part 02
Ibid.- Part 03.
"Chen Xiaowang Showing Eight taijiquan energies."
Chen Zhenglei. Micro-/Macrocosmic Circulation on Vimeo.
Note: There is an extensive collection of videos by Grandmaster Chen Zheng Lei on YouTube.
"Chen Zhonghua Fajin."
Susan Gu. "Chen Style Taiji Twining Technique 陳氏太極纏絲功."
Ren Guang Yi. Chen Style Taiji Silk Reeling.
Zhu Tiancai. "42 Fajing Chen Taiji Master Zhu Tiancai."
Zhu Tiancai. "Chen Style Tai Chi Old frame Routine one 1/4(Eng sub) ."