The traditional schools of tai chi chuan (taijiquan), along with the other Chinese internal arts, emphasize the development of “silk reeling energy,” or “chansijing,” in Chinese. The oldest documented and codified style of tai chi chuan known to man is Chen style. Chen tai chi chuan and its basic developmental exercises can help you learn chansijing and use it for martial arts application as well as for health. When tai chi practitioners learn to express chansijing in their tai chi practice, they acquire uncanny abilities and physical conditioning. What exactly is this silk reeling energy and how can you begin to develop it? (read on!)
First you must comprehend what the term means. In Chinese, chan translates as “twining” or “reeling.” Si is “silk,” or it can imply “a silk cocoon.” Jing (alternately spelled as jin in our alphabet) is a Chinese word with no accurate English equivalent. It’s something like a special strength, ability or characteristic that is gained through self- cultivation. To understand chansijing/silk reeling energy, all you need to do is study the actions and properties of a silkworm, its cocoon and the silk it creates.
Silk has been cultivated in China for millennia. Silkworms are actually a type of caterpillar. They prefer to reside in and receive sustenance from mulberry trees. Within their bodies they transform the mulberry leaves into protein-based silk filaments that they extrude from their heads. When ready to transform into moths, they wrap themselves up within a mile long self-produced silk filament. This forms their insulating and protective cocoon. Silk is harvested by dipping the cocoons in boiling water, thus bringing the enshrouded caterpillar to its early demise and softening the cocoon. One then brushes the cocoon in order to find the thread to pull for unwinding it. Though silk has a high tensile strength, pulling the filament too harshly will damage it and pulling it sloppily will tangle it. The puller has to feel just the right amount of tension and slack that must be used. Each silk filament is often entwined with other filaments to form a stronger thread. The whole process of silk cultivation and production forms the perfect metaphor for how you can develop silk reeling energy, or chansijin.
Silk reeling is an essential skill to develop for tai chi chuan. Without it, your tai chi is seriously lacking. Though you may realize benefits by doing your tai chi without chansijing, you are cheating yourself out of over 75% more physical and energetic benefits! Martially, chansijing allows you to change direction and energy flow quickly. It allows you to enter into an opponent’s openings effectively. It allows you to “stick” onto your opponent and entwine him in order to redirect his movement and energy, complete joint-locks, or evasion. It also grants you some “iron body” development, which is so coveted by kung fu players. For health, chansijing offers a vast array of benefits. For one, it continuously massages and stretches the connective tissue, thus helping you literally rebuild and recondition your body from the inside out. People who are serious about cultivating chansijing have found chronic pains and injuries to vanish with time. Chansijing builds coordination and control into the nervous system. Its winding and unwinding movements are excellent for toning the muscles, tendons and ligaments. If done with whole-body/torso method, chansijing’s wringing action “detoxes” the lymphatic system and unblocks qi obstructions. It is a tremendous physique-improving, youth-preserving and energy-cultivating practice.
To do it, imagine your torso is like the silk cocoon. But instead of a single thread, imagine that the cocoon is fashioned from the winding of four distinct threads – your limbs. Imagine that your torso can rotate on a vertical axis. Keep your posture correctly aligned with gravity. Imagine that someone is unwinding your cocoon by pulling the silk threads through your limbs. But unlike the silkworm, at the same time you can pull back on the threads too. This maintains an “elasticity” type feeling in the threads. They are neither limp, nor pulled so taut that they’re stiff.
When you either turn your torso away from one side of your limbs, or you turn out one side of your limbs away from your torso, imagine that the movement is being done to you by the “puller” of your 4 threads. Then do the opposite: You become the “puller” whenever you rotate your torso toward one side of your limbs, or whenever you turn one side of your limbs inward, respective to your torso. Imagine that you are winding the threads back into your cocoon. In each instance, you need to feel your limbs stretch as you rotate them. Imagine there is a little space between all the joints, all the way to the end of your fingers and toes. This stretches and wrings out the fascia and other bodily tissues. For gaining a serious amplification of qi, use dantian compressions and expansions like the piston of an engine driving the rotations of the torso and limbs. After one to three months of doing this correctly, you should notice significant improvements in your health and/or martial skills.
Because you use elastic winding movements in chansijing, you become neither yin nor yang. You become both. What was too soft or yin will become more energized and tightened. What was too hard, or yang, will soften up and become more yielding, or yin. Qi then flows where it should and tenseness is erased. Energetically and physically, chansijin does wonders for correcting imbalances. It almost seems to reverse the aging process.
It is said that this practice has become nearly lost in tai chi, even though it is mentioned in the traditional Chen, Yang and Wu/Hao schools of tai chi. The Tai Chi Classics mention phrases like: “Move as if mobilizing silk from a cocoon.” There are many other such allusions to chansijing in the Classics. Perhaps this is why the masters of old were renowned for their remarkable abilities. Take the time to learn how to put chansijing into every tai chi move, and maybe you too will achieve some astounding skills and benefits! The deeper your practice, the deeper your results. If you are going to practice tai chi chuan (taijiquan) at all, you might as well get the most out of it, right?
May you attain your metamorphosis within the cocoon of reeling silk energy!