It seems to me that most people are not aware of the spiraling that should occur throughout the body while doing Taijiquan. Even though most people must have seen the ancient diagrams of a body coiled in lines representing the spiraling paths of the silk reeling energy (chansijin) characteristic of Chen style Taijiquan, very few people seem to be able to explain or even understand what this principle actually is. Obviously, it is not only important to know how to create spiraling throughout the body, but also to understand why spiraling and the unique energy it creates is so important to the art.
Because of a spiral’s special dynamics, there are several specific reasons why its use is so important when practicing Taijiquan. One of the main reasons is that anyof a spiraled object naturally forces all of its energy into its core. This ensures that the energy does not leak out the sides but is totally contained in its center to be pushed out at its extremities. If the body is able to spiral properly as the result of correct training, its spirals function in the very same manner; the energy is concentrated in the core of the spiraled body and is able to travel through the limbs and torso without leaking out.
The spiraling of the body also keeps the arches of the body tightly wound up and connected, which results in the feeling of being “full”. Because the tendons are trained everyday to twist in opposite directions and withstand enormous amounts of tension and pressure, the degree of tightness of the spirals in the body seems to have no limit. This twisting action in the tendons allows energy to be built up and stored, very much like a wind up toy.
What happens to the energy of a spiraling object when it rotates is even more interesting. Let’s use the example of a screw. As pressure is applied and pushed down to the tip of the screw, at first glance the energy only seems to be spiraling downwards. However, if observed more closely, one quickly realizes that the energy is also being pushed back up the threads of the screw. You can know this by simply looking at the directions of the threads of a screw as it rotates and also by the simple fact that the dust always gets pushed back up the threads and out of the hole. This means that its energy is being split or “separated” and sent out to both extremities at the same time. I feel that this is why traditionally, people have described this phenomenon as theenergies.
When one tries to screw something into an impenetrable surface, the energy of the screw functions in the same manner regardless of whether it is penetrating the surface or not. This can very easily be seen and understood if tried. Another important point is to notice that although the screw looks like it is screwing in, it is actually only rotating and not moving forward. This is the magic of the spiral and why it seems to be the basis of Chen style Taijiquan. Therefore, the goal of any Taijiquan player practicing the form or push hands must be to produce this spiral which separates the energy which moves it into each extremity. Just like the screw, although the spiraling occurring seems to be “moving” the body, it is simply an illusion; the energy is separating, giving only the appearance of forward or retreating movement.
This explains how in Taijiquan one is able to produce movement without moving and why it is said that every push is also a pull and vice versa. To produce these spirals throughout the body one must meticulously follow the principles and rules of the art. The main points to remember when producing spirals in the arm is to sink the shoulder down to the front and slightly inward into the armpit. This naturally pushes the elbow out to the side which according to the rules, should be pointing down to the ground at all times. As for the hand, it should be twisted in the opposite direction with the palm facing downward at a 45 degree angle.
If one is flexible enough to keep the shoulder in this position, point the elbow downward and twist the hand over so it is facing palm down, a spiral running through the arm will have been created. As for the legs, the kua should always be stretched open and the knees should never collapse. This creates a spiral in the thighs. To make the spiral run down the calves into the foot however, it is imperative that the feet be placed in their correct positions and the angles be exact. Many people are careless about foot positioning and turn out the toes of the feet instead of pushing the heels out into the correct angles. This is bad practice as the spiraling of the legs is also dependent on the twisting of the joints in separate directions.
Once the feet are correctly placed, the rear knee should be constantly pushed outward as much as possible. The spiral of the torso is created mainly by keeping the eyes locked on the opponent as the upper and lower bodies turn in separate directions. If the lower back is pushed out and the tailbone tucked in, the spiral of the spine is remarkably tightened. When screwing something in, the screw must remain stable in order to concentrate the energy into its core and out at the tip. If the screw wobbles too much, the energy is dispersed and no penetrating power is produced. Therefore, one must be connected in order to hold the spirals in a straight line so that they don’t wobble or toss about.
When a student is able to achieve stable rotations, one will notice that the body seems to automatically turn and propel the limbs in and out. The spirals also ensure that everything works and rotates in perfect synchronicity and timing. The terms commonly used to describe this in Master Chen Zhonghua’s Practical Method system are differential and proportionality. When movements have differential, every part of the body moves proportionately in terms of spiral, weight, length and power. When this is accomplished, no energy or muscle power is used or felt when moving.
Eventually, the spirals running from the feet, will connect and run through the legs and dantian, up the spine, into the arms and out through the hands. Correct spiraling through the dantian and up the spine when the lower and upper bodies turn in opposite directions forces the body to spiral down and sink down on a perfect vertical axis every time the spine is turned. The tighter everything is on the inside, the tighter and more precise the spirals will be. Because the spirals of the body are made and held together by strong elastic tendons, I believe the spiral does not only separate and distribute the energies, but also creates it.
When the spiral is tightened and twisted, just like the toy, the energy is created and stored in its flexible and elastic material. When it is elongated, the stored energy is released into its extremities. Being “connected” is the only way the body can properly spiral. Without the tightened tendons, there is no true spiral because no core is created for the energy to travel through. Simply creating external spirals by turning over the hands when doing Taijiquan is just that, external. The internal part of this art obviously must happens within the body.
After much practice, one realizes that there is a direct correlation to being connected and the tightness of the spirals; the tighter the “connection” throughout the body is, the tighter the spirals will be. The tighter the spirals, the more energy is concentrated into the core. The more concentrated the energy is in the core, the more penetrating it is when it is released. This seems to explain why some people have described a master’s energy to a laser beam which is able to penetrate an opponent’s body.