Silk Pulling and Silk Reeling
By Dr. Arnold Lee
Maryland Tai Chi Chuan Center, 1999

Dear CMC Brothers and Sisters,

In relation to the discussion on the subject topic, please allow me to offer the following:

1.    The Classics states "yun4 jing4 ru2 chou1 shr1." It also states, "fa1 jing4 ru2 fong4 jien4." Literally, it means "mobilizing the jing like pulling silk," and "discharging the jing like releasing an arrow." To do it like pulling silk, one needs to be relaxing, soft, and sensitive, and be able to give up himself and follow his opponent. Not only that the silk is not to be broken while being pulled (slow or fast), but also allowing no kinks or discontinuities to form during the process. "Discharging" part is just a natural byproduct of "yun4 jing4 ru2 chou1 shr1." There is a Chinese saying, "When water come, a channel forms." It takes time to accumulate enough water to form a channel, and, likewise, it definitely takes time to become good! So, be patient. I don't know if it can be emphasized enough!

2.    The term, "tsan shr jing" (or, silk reeling jing), first appeared in Chen Xin's book of "Chen's Tai Chi Chuan". Some says that he invented the term, and I believe it. The problem here is that he really was not a tai chi chuan exponent. He was just doing "research" on Chen's tai chi chuan. He incorporated principles of I-Ching, Five Elements, and Ba-Gua in the book, and in such a way that few, if any, tai chi chuan practioners would, and would care, to understand. How he got the courage to write such a tai chi chuan book, without the very knowledge of it is still a mystery to this day. However, this "silk reeling jing" thing eventually serves as the life-saving element for the Chen's style people who were so desperately trying to justify their external-style-like "paw tui" as a tai chi chuan. Note that even in as late as the early years of this century, Chen's routines were not recognized as one of tai chi chuan; they were categorized under the list of external styles.

3.    The Chen's style's "silk reeling" has got nothing whatsoever to do with the above mentioned "silk pulling", which the Classics emphasizes. "Silk reeling jing", as practiced by the Chen's stylists, symbolizes the (spiral-like) advancement or retreat of motion from one point of the body to the other. There is nothing wrong with it, in the context of being able to more efficiently develop the power. Some other external styles have it too. Except, when it is manifested in the tai chi chuan routine in an explicit way, like they do, then, we have problem. Because it is against the Classics. The teaching in the Classics is reflected in the ever so profound words of "rooting at foot, develop in leg, control in waist, and, finally, expressed in fingers." It is implicit, it is inwardly searching, and it is the tai chi way. In my opinion, the tai chi chuan postures should not be formulated and put together based on outwardly, body-initiated movements. Instead, it should be based on inwardly, chi- and shen-initiated, meditational movements. Mere physical exercise, let alone body trembling, with no instilling of meditation, can hardly be qualified as Daoist tai chi chuan.

4.    What we should know from practicing the CMC tai chi chuan is that, if done correctly, at certain level, all the external movements will become less important, and at that time, one really doesn't have to (visibly) turn the body (or limbs, for that matter), in order to transmit the jing. All he would need is "relax, sink, and discharge", and the arrow will be shooting out like no one would believe it. Senior students should have this kind of experience.

5.    Don't get fooled by the seemingly beautiful exhibition offered by other styles. As another Chinese saying has it, "experts look into the real stuff, while outsiders enjoy the excitement." Therefore, if I may say so, don't even contemplate practicing some such things as "silk reeling jing". Because, if they were good, we would have been taught thru the lineage. Besides, in my opinion, it most likely will not help your tai chi chuan; instead, it may hinder your progress in many different ways, not to be elaborated here. If you should be so curious and want to try it anyway, however, be sure not to allow yourself to get side-tracked, and be sure to return to the correct training ASAP. It is indeed dangerous when one has too much curiosity, but lacking central equilibrium. Flowers on the other side of fence always seems to smell better. What then shall one do, especially, for those CMCers who are still doing soul searching. The best and easiest way of all, in my opinion, is to be convinced for once that you have got the best that there is to offer, and that we are soooooo lucky that Professor (and Mr. Lo, Mr. Liu, Mr. Huang, and Mr. Chu, etc. that follow) has laid such a foundation for us to build on, so that you don't have to wander around in an endless search. I know it may be difficult for some to even understand this. That's why, at the end, there is always the same one thing that surfaces: a good teacher is in order. We all need a teacher who can guide us on the right path of tai chi chuan; the teacher who really knows the stuff and does the stuff. And, for that, I am forever profoundly indebted.

Feeling thankful,
Arnold Lee