Wang Haijun on Training Taijiquan’s Jin
Based on an interview with Wang Haijun
By David Gaffney, Translation by Davidine Siaw-Voon Sim
Bafa – the eight methods of training the body’s intrinsic energies/strength (jin) provide the foundation of all the skills and techniques of Taijiquan, according to Wang Haijun, a senior disciple of Chen Zhenglei and 3-time China National Gold Medalist in Forms, Weapons and Push Hands. Interviewed in Manchester, England, where he now resides, Wang emphasized that the correct practice of Taijiquan must be built upon a clear understanding and identification of these energies.
The study of the eight hand-skill methods is the main idea behind Taijiquan push hands practice and is fundamental to correct learning. Responding to the suggestion that push hands can be considered to be the mutual exploration of Taijiquan’s internal energies, Wang said: “Push hands is an examination of your Taijiquan, to assess whether you are song (loose, pliant and heavy) or not and whether your dang (crotch) and yao (waist) are moving properly. It is like a magnifying glass that serves to amplify all of your faults. If the dang and yao are not used properly then your push hands will be stiff and uncomfortable and your spiral movement will not be lively and agile”.
“At this level a person’s movement would be very stiff and clumsy when trying to use their energy (execute their jin). This stiffness is because of an individual’s inability to song (let loose) and as a result they are unable to release jin to the required place. Two people, through the practice of push hands must reach a stage where they are able to discern the skill level of each other as soon as they touch hands. They should know instantly whether their partner is using whole body jin to rotate his body and whether his jin li (energy strength) is heavy and weighty.”
Asked how the different jin related to each other, Wang gave the following example, “when an (pressing down) or lu (diverting) are used, the waist and kua are utilised to escape it. Pushing hands should be the continuous neutralizing of each other’s energy. This is why it is important to understand the jin of Taijiquan, so that you know what your opponent is applying and what you should use to neutralize it.” He suggested that: “If you don’t understand peng, lu, ji and an, then as soon as you touch hands these are manifested as collapsed jin and at every step you will be at a disadvantageous position. This is why you must first identify and practice these jin through practising the taolu (form).”
At this point, he outlined the main characteristics of the eight fundamental jin of Taijiquan: peng, lu, ji, an, cai, lie, zhou and kao. Peng is based on many years of Taiji foundation practice, most importantly the handform, until you have cultivated internal energy (nei jin). Peng jin manifests itself as a physical sensation of inward to outward expansion and strength. Peng jin within Taijiquan is when you have reached the equilibrium of neither resisting nor falling short.
Of all Taijiquan jin, peng is considered the foremost. All of Taijiquan’s eight primary energies contain the principle of peng. Consequently it is always mentioned first in any discussion of internal energy. “Whilst there is much talk about peng, a person cannot simply execute it just because he wills it. It requires external posture training combined with internal jin training to be able to correctly express it. If you do not have peng then you do not have Taijiquan’s jin and it follows that you also will not have lu, ji or an etc”.
The second type of internal energy is lu (divert). The main function of this jin is to “lead into emptiness” (yin jin le kong). Lu can be executed in any direction depending on the route of an opponent’s incoming force. It can be used as a “leading in” movement in preparation for a follow up attack, or as a direct attack technique in its own right. “This jin is comparatively short, drawing someone into your space. On the receiving end, the person experiences a feeling of panic and “emptiness.” This emptiness is not just in thought and intent (xin) or intention is emptied. It is like going downstairs in the dark and missing a step. Suddenly base is gone and the mind becomes void – this is the result you want to achieve when you apply lu.”
To divert your opponent’s incoming force with lu it is important that it is not just expressed in the hands. “Rather there must be co-ordination between the torso and the energy of the dang and yao. Also it is not just manifested in the body, but with co-ordination of whole body spiral and reeling energy with the lu movement of the hands”.
Ji is performed in a sequential movement from the feet to the hands. Wang believes that the meaning of this energy is often misunderstood. “Ji means squeezing with the shoulders, but it should not be confused with kao as it does not use explosive force or fali to go forward. Instead in execution the shoulder rotates forward in a gradual rolling movement, generated from the back.” Again it should be co-ordinated with the dang and yao and the reeling and spiralling of the body. Ji is generated from the waist to the back and from the back to the arm. When in contact, the aim of this gradual rolling movement is to unsettle the balance of your opponent. Ji is very subtle and again is a short jin.
An is described as an energy that is directed downwards in a pressing movement. “This requires you to direct your jin to your hands and then press down. There should be a clear sensation of downward pressure. In an actual situation, upon intercepting an opponent’s incoming force, an is utilised by closing one’s own energy and at the point of the opponent losing his balance, press down using the heel of the palm.” In form practice, an is expressed by completely sealing the jin in your palm and ensuring that there is no loss of strength as the movement is executed, for example in the movement Six Sealing and Four Closing (Liu Feng Si Bi).
Cai or (plucking) is a combination of rotating, pressing and closing downwards. This type of jin is often used when locking someone’s forearm. To elaborate, it is applying lu with the left side and an with the right, or vice versa. Cai is combined with weighing down using a rolling movement of your forearm.
In the form any movement that is applying oblique or diagonal force is lie (split). Lie is applying force to either side of your own body and also to either side of your opponent’s body. Within push hands you can either use lie as a forerunner to a second technique, with the purpose of “leading to emptiness”, or as an attack in its own right. Wang quoted a push hands formula taught in Chenjiagou – “when the force comes in sideways you intercept it straight, when it comes straight, intercept sideways” (heng lai shu ji, shu lai heng ji). In practice, this energy is often applied by using, for example, your left leg to control your opponent’s right leg and then using both hands to attack on one side of his body.
Wang identified many different methods of using zhou (elbow). The point of the elbow is a sharp zhou and the flat of the elbow or upper forearm is a level zhou. He described zhou as a close range attack movement useful when fighting at a range where your hands are ineffective. He referred to the saying “when you are far don’t use your elbow, when you are near don’t use your fist” (yuan bu yung zhou, jin bu yung quan), before outlining some of the more practical elbow techniques. These included the piercing heart elbow (chuan xin zhou), welcoming the face elbow (ying mien zhou) as well as attacks to the soft areas at the side of the body.
The last of the eight jin outlined by Wang Haijun was kao (bumping). He described a number of different types of kao such as ying men kao (opening the door) and bei zhe kao (backward shoulder bump). The former is usually executed when you have opened up both arms of an opponent – as in the White Crane Spreading its Wings (Bai He Liang Che) movement in the form. Once an opponent’s arms have been opened, this is usually followed with a step forward so you can enter his space. This stepping in is necessary as the kao is a close range technique. Wang emphasised the importance of synchronizing the action of the kao and footwork, suggesting that “if the footwork is not co-ordinated, you can’t effectively use your shoulder. If your step cannot catch up with your body, kao will not be effective”.
He also cautioned against leaning too far forwards to reach the opponent when using kao, “what you must do is lead in the person’s jin and then your step must go beyond him. Usually you have to step into his dang space then you can use kao effectively. If the person is a little bit far, you should not use kao.” Over-reaching will only have the effect of causing you to lose your own balance.
Wang re-emphasised the point that training the form is vital to developing Taijiquan’s essential body requirements. He said that most important of all is ridding the body of stiffness and replacing it with pliability: “The form has a lot of complex movement like the turning and folding actions. Through repeated practice you develop good co-ordination of movement and wholesomeness. If you practice a lot, your body will loosen (fangsong) and you will achieve an internal feeling of fullness”.
The form, he stated, also involves training and developing your mind intention (yi nien): “If you don’t practice the form you will not have this kind of training – intention, spiral etc. So it will be impossible to achieve the Taijiquan requirement of softness, and you will not be able to get relaxed and soft jin (song rou jin) as you try to use the different energies.
An often-cited Taijiquan principle is that through softness you ultimately achieve hardness. So based on the foundation of softness you get rid of your stiff and clumsy strength. When you reach the stage where your body is completely loose and pliable, then all movements will be light and agile. This is vital if the different jin are to be expressed fluidly and naturally when required: “When there is no more stiffness within your joints and they are pliable and loose, then when you are emitting force (fali) the joints won’t absorb your strength enroute. For example, if your shoulders are very stiff, when you try to punch out and get strength to your fist the shoulder will absorb a lot of the strength before it gets to your fist.”
“With one shake, strength can reach the hand – this can only be achieved by lots of practice of the form, which eventually allows this sequential, unimpeded transference of energy”. Wang concluded that the kind of strength, movement and energy that are developed in Taijiquan are difficult to explain in words and must be experienced through long practice to make possible a deep body understanding. When this foundation work is done the “root becomes strong, the internal qi becomes full’ and then the other forms become easy and simple.