Friday, October 12, 2012

Different perspectives on tai-chi stretching

Tai-chi stretching is called silk-reeling 纏絲功 in Chen-style tai-chi, and it is also called as such in Wu-style tai-chi, which also has a more exclusive exercise called joint-opening 松功.  You may wonder isn't tai-chi all about joint-opening (松)?  In comparison with other internal martial art, tai-chi does put more emphasis on stretching. So, what is special about tai-chi stretching?

Cloud hands (云手) is a famous silk-reeling exercise and anyone interested to see the form, or different variations of the form, can search it in Youtube.  No more secret, as far as the form is concerned.  It is interesting to see that different styles of tai-chi put different emphasis on tai-chi stretching exercises in the past.  Chen-style tai-chi practitioners have an elaborated system of stretching exercise and pioneered the name: silk-reeling.  Many tai-chi styles do similar things without using the name.  Wu-style's joint-opening 松功 has not been widely known (well, and so has its 24 styles nei-gung).  The only systematic literature on the subject came from the late Wu-style master Wu TuNan (吳圖南), who held a desk-top career, didn't teach tai-chi for a living and who was not related to the Wu-family.  Wu's Tai-chi Nei-gung (published by his student Ma QingYou 馬清有) has a chapter on joint-opening 松功, presenting an abridged version of the original 18 styles tai-chi stretching.

What then is the gist of doing tai-chi stretching?  What makes it different from other stretching exercises?  A combined understanding of both Chen and Wu's approach can be of good use to the modern practitioner who is not or should not be constrained by the lineage of his teacher (though he should respect his teacher a lot, as classic Chinese martial arts would demand).

To do good Chen silk-reeling, one must be able to meditate on two points during his practice.  An example: stretching one's shoulder joint with an extended arm.  The first point to focus on is the joint connecting the middle finger and the palm (some teachers say the centre of the palm which I think not being the best).  The second point is a bit tricky.  It should be a point deep inside the ball-and-socket joint of the shoulder.  It is a big area.  One should consciously (and in focus, meditative mode) select the point which will create the maximum "resistance with comfort".  By fixing on these two points mentally, one turns the finger point clockwise and counter-clockwise, creating more sluggish feeling in the process, like drying a wet towel.

The Wu's additional trick is simple (I mean simple to describe only!).  One focuses on the two points as above but with the arm raised.  Smoothly drop the arm, with a sluggish feeling in the downward dropping process.

After practicing the above, incorporate what you have felt  in other silk-reeling or joint-opening exercises.  It's fun!

Tai-chi Silk reeling

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