Being soft inside and hard outside is a movement principle and concept of Chen Style Taijiquan Practical Method. Intuitively, the inside is soft, movable and active. The outside must be harder than the inside so that it can wrap things inside. Thus, the outside is fixed, passive, and a manifestation of the inside.
This feature is the opposite of the common sense of softness with rigidity, and needles hidden in cotton. The normal understanding of Taijiquan is that it looks soft like cotton, but there is hard steel hidden inside.
The “softness” of Chen Style Taijiquan Practical Method is hardness to the extreme is softness, not softness in the ordinary sense. At this point, it is likely to be different from other Taijiquan cognition. This is also a major feature of Practical Method.
Chen Style Taijiquan Practical Method does not object to the saying of needles hidden in cotton as a concept. But we have our own understanding.
We describe the concept as oiled (silicon oil) steel rods, gear boxes, spinning steel balls, etc. The key point is to be hard and smooth. The form of expression is intangible but hard.
This is also what we see mostly in our daily life. For a good knife, good steel is used on the blade, the blade edge is the outside, and the blade body is the inside.
The outside (skin, shell, cover, etc.) is to protect the inside. The outside protects the inside by three forms: hard (shells), soft (leathers), and smooth (pebbles). In terms of the contrast between the tire and the air inside, the tire is relatively hard (not moving, not changing), and the air is relatively soft (moving, changing).
When I asked Master Hong Junsheng how he understood the concept of hiding needles in cotton, I got a rhetorical question, “If the opponent is a steel rod wrapped in cotton, does he beat you with the cotton or with the steel rod?”
When I answered steel rod, Master Hong said, “Then why are we talking about cotton?”
Indeed, when we think about problems, we must point directly to the core and not indulge in appearances. The softness/suppleness of cotton is used to confuse the opponent. It is not the killer, but a layout, a method. In the end, it must have strength and gong. This gong is the steel rod inside. We can’t seek farther and practice things that don’t work.