Gong Fa is the foundation of the Hun Yuan Tai Chi system. It involves nurturing and cultivating qi (energy). If one merely practises movements without developing this internal aspect, one misses the essence of Tai Chi. Hun Yuan Qigong, Fa Soong Gong, Quiet Standing, Tai Chi Ruler, Chan Si Gong (Silk Reeling Exercises) and Tai Chi Bang (Stick) are all parts of this Gong Fa foundation training. Each of the above components has been designed to help students experience different aspects of the internal training, so that they can ultimately be combined in the Tai Chi form. Grandmaster Feng Zhi Qiang, founder of the Hun Yuan system, always says, “Use mind or intention instead of hard force to move the body. This is the way to develop internal power.” When one has gong, one will experience how the qi moves the body in the Tai Chi form and realise the profoundness of those words.
Grandmaster Feng Zhi Qiang (1928- ), founder of the Hun Yuan Tai Chi system, states that Tai Chi is chan si (silk reeling). This statement highlights the importance of this aspect of the training. The Tai Chi classics speak of performing Tai Chi movements like reeling silk from a cocoon. The analogy warns us that if the silk is reeled too fast, the thread will break. If it is reeled too slowly, the thread will tangle. The silk reeling exercises teach you to use an adequate amount of force to generate movements efficiently. If you are too forceful, you will lock your joints and will fail to achieve freedom of movement. If you are too limp or empty in Tai Chi terms, you will also fail to circle the joints completely, thus losing the full range of movement.
The Chan Si Gong is an important training method for developing body awareness and coordination. It is a link between building and expressing qi and jin (force). These silk reeling movements work on different joints of the body: neck, shoulders, elbows, wrists, chest, abdomen, waist, hips, kuas (inguinal crease), knees and ankles. Grandmaster Feng describes the Chan Si Gong as training the body’s 18 balls. If it is practised well, the body moves like a well oiled instrument, each part moving on a series of ball bearings.
The Chan Si Gong gradually builds up power through coordination, linking all the body’s joints like a string of pearls. It teaches you the Tai Chi principle of moving the body as one unit. The Tai Chi classics state that jin starts in the feet and is controlled by the waist and expressed by the hands. This explains the way that Tai Chi generates and releases power. It sounds simple. However, in order to achieve this, each joint has to be strong yet flexible, and be able to listen and work with all other parts of the body. If one joint is weak or tense, the force will be neutralised and the ground force will not be released. What is released will only be a fraction of that potential power.
A good practitioner’s Tai Chi form will give the impression of moving like water – a domino wave like effect. This is due to the chan si jin being expressed through each and every joint. The benefits of Tai Chi become clear when you feel these gentle, circular, silk reeling movements work on your body. As you practise more, you will also feel how these spiralling exercises help to develop your internal energy. Once qi is strong in the Dan Tian, you will feel qi enveloping the body. This makes the practice of chan si gong even more enjoyable.
The components of the Hun Yuan Tai Chi system are all interconnected. The two aspects of qi development – cultivation and circulation – are emphasised from the very beginning of one’s training. Learning the Hun Yuan system is like building a house. First you establish a good foundation and then you start building the structure. Miss out on one step and that weakness will always be there to hinder your progress. Many students fail to see the importance of the silk reeling exercises. Refer to the Flexibility DVD regularly and see how the joints articulate each movement. If every day, one practises two silk reeling exercises mindfully, one’s form will naturally improve. Try it daily for a month and see what a difference it makes to your body, to your energy level and to your Tai Chi form!