Peng Jin

by Mike Sigman

This article forms part 2 of a 3 part series of interlinked writings on the baseline skills of tai-chi and the internal martial arts. They are best read sequentially. They originally appeared in the Mike Sigman blogspot in October, 2012. This article was edited somewhat in that all references to a video link which is no longer available were removed while the videos enclosed at the end were not part of the original content.

This is not meant to be an exhaustive treatment of Jin, the idea is simply to give people access to enough basics to raise the baseline level somewhat. Hope it helps.

Jin is a word that implies a form of trained strength that is “willed” into being as opposed to the common reflexive, brute-strength in humans. Jin also has an implication of a “force vector” in the sense that it is a directed strength originating at the ground or from weight.

Going back to the first article on silk-reeling and six-harmonies movement, let’s re-state the primary idea that as much as possible we should use the force from the solidity of the ground for upward forces and the force from gravity pulling downward for all forces going down. I.e., there is Up and there is Down and those forces power Open and Close, respectively. There are no pure horizontal forces since ultimately movement to the sides can always be traced back to thrust against the ground, factors involving body connectivity, or gravity. Often all of these factors work together to shape forces.

The purest and most effective force from the ground’s solidity (or the gravity’s down-pull, but let’s stick to the ground-derived forces to keep the discussion simple) is straight from the ground to the point of application. Any deviation from a straight-line force from the ground can dilute the resulting force. For instance, a push that also uses a tense shoulder along with some of the ground-solidity jin is no longer a pure push from the ground; it is diluted to some degree of normal strength (li).

Any path through a too-flexible joint simply robs basic power of the solidity of the ground because a loose connection does not transmit forces as well as a firm connection. To get around reliance on joint mechanics, looseness, tension, etc., the Asian martial-arts develop the over-all body connectivity and a few other things. The article on silk-reeling covers the general and necessary first step to developing an overall “suit” of connectivity.

In a normal push that an untrained person does, most of the power relies on the strength of the shoulder joint. How about a push from the foot or the moving middle straight to the point of application? That’s better, but even though the path of a push going from the foot or middle to the point of application – the body becoming simply a ‘frame’ propagating the force -- is a better idea physically, a weak shoulder joint can still affect the overall push because the shoulder is part of the “frame” that helps transmit the force from the ground to the point of application.

Sometimes the shortest (least diluted) push is from the abdominal area; almost invariably the shortest path is from someplace between the foot on the ground and the dantian.

“Yi” or “Intent”

The six-harmonies-based arts have a commonly accepted basis of the three internal harmonies and the three external harmonies. The standard phrase describing the three internal harmonies translates more or less into: The Heart leads the Mind; the Mind leads the Qi; the Qi leads the strength or movement. The “Heart” (Xin) is or was traditionally accepted in China as the place where the desire to do something originated. So we can restate the original phrase somewhat and say: The Desire to do something triggers the Mind; the Mind triggers the Qi; the Qi acts in advance of a movement or strength.

“Qi” can refer to a number of interrelated topics, but the qi in the three internal harmonies can be delineated so that the meaning of those three harmonies/relationships is not too hard to understand. Stand up in a comfortable stance and imagine that someone is going to briefly and moderately push your chest with one hand; let the rear foot hold the push. Then the person in front stops and an imaginary someone is going to push the middle of the back from behind; let the front foot hold the imaginary push. Go from one imagined push to the other a few times, keeping it as realistic as possible and then pay attention to your body. You’ll probably feel a light tingle as the body as the body changes for each push: that tingle is the qi that precedes movement or strength. Your mind’s “intent” triggered the qi.

Since in the internal-style arts, the two major forces that are utilized are the solidity of the ground and the down-force of weight, then “intent” is obviously used to bring these two forces into use as needed.

A simple, rough example of usable intent can be found in balancing a book on top of your head. Most people put the book up there and balance it on their frame. Good for posture, as so many mothers have instructed us. Another way to balance the book is to relax (without slumping) and allow the weight of the book to rest, as nearly as possible, completely on the ground our feet are on. In this way we have minutely adjusted our body to convey the solidity of the ground to the top of our skull upon which the book rests.

With enough practice, we can learn to bring the solidity of the ground to almost anywhere on our body. I put an example practice at the end of this article. With some practice and helpful instruction, we can also learn to bring our weight anywhere on the undersurfaces of the body. This is using the “intent” to bring our borrowed forces of the solidity of the ground or our weight to where we want them, when we want them.

The ground’s solidity (I call it the “groundpath”) is simply the basic jin, called “neijin” in a lot of internal martial-arts, “peng jin” in Taijiquan, and so on. It is “the jin that starts at the feet, is directed by the waist, and expressed in the hands”, as the classics say and anyone who really understands what internal-strength is should recognize it immediately. I.e., the term “groundpath” is so obvious (well, to a native English speaker) that any westerner who claims to understand basic internal strength should grasp it immediately.

If you hold the book on your head, but relax, sink, and let the ground’s solidity hold it, you’ll find that you can also wiggle your hips a little bit, keeping the book steady, because the body is able to maintain the basic jin even though you are changing the frame’s position. How is that done?

The ground’s solidity can be willed (that’s why it’s called “intent”) to wherever it’s needed on the body’s frame. It doesn’t need to just be straight up the spine from the foot. Sometimes the force from the ground can go from the foot to the arm, shoulder, etc., because the overall, connected structure of the body will automatically adjust its alignment of forces. Assuming the body has developed some degree of connection and the mind is deliberately maintaining the force from the ground to application, you should be able to again move the body around while maintaining the jin force. The body can adjust to variations in force and positional changes, but doesn’t it also do that when you have a heavy backpack on or when you’re carrying a heavy sack of groceries?

Now, to optimize jin transmission, good and coherent postures are obviously an aid, but no matter what the position of the body, a solid force can be presented to the opponent because the ‘intent’ maintains the jin from the ground. The ability to present the jin in any posture is where “Xing Yi” (Form-Mind) gets its name and the earlier art of “Xin Yi” (Willed-by-desire Intent) get their names.

Jin forces are directed by the mind, regardless of posture. The strength of the body to sustain pushes, do hitting, etc., is enhanced by the strength of the “qi” and postures, though, but that’s another topic.

If the jin forces of intent are going to be used martially or for other applications, then the mechanics of the dantien and other things have to be introduced. Since the jin from the ground often/usually goes through the middle, the dantian stores/contracts and then pushes along the ground-based path of jin, pushing against the ground and pushing against the target. There are more factors involved, but this article is only meant to cover the basics of jin paths while the first article on silk-reeling points to basic development of the dantian, not more advanced use of the dantian.

Jin and Conditioning

The first thing about jin is that it has to be practiced as part of reeling-silk exercise (which is what the Taijiquan form is, what the Five Element Fists are, What Baguazhang forms practice is, and so on). The body winds and unwinds with Closing and Opening, but the jin must be practiced in order to have the ground or weight available to power all movements. Granted there are some other power factors, but those are outside of this discussion on basics.

It’s not too uncommon to see some rough frame-oriented jin and to develop what is called “muscle jin”, something that is not propagated by the dantian working with the suit in reeling-silk/six-harmonies movement. Without enough reeling-silk practice, most people, if they learn any jin skills at all, tend to use mostly normal strength. Avoiding coarse muscle-jin is why in bona fide Taijiquan training, people are not allowed to start practicing push-hands for a couple of years. No matter how good their wrestling skills, strategies, and body-strength may be, many people who try to exhibit Taijiquan are really mostly doing normal-strength movement. This observation that someone is “not doing Taijiquan” or “that is not really push-hands” is something I’ve heard a lot in the conversations of some Chen Village and Yang-style experts.

You can’t really relax the shoulders and other instances of local strength, though, until you have conditioned something to take their place. I saw the owner of a fitness gym softly and very relaxedly slap a smart-alecky kid around and shove him into a locker. I noted at the time that basically the owner was relaxed because he was very strong. If he had tried to tell me that he was “relaxed” because he was using internal-strength, I would have laughed at the idea, though. The basic point, whether using normal muscle or internal-strength, though, is that no one can “relax” without having conditioning of some sort to support it. If you want strong, relaxed internal strength, you have to condition it gradually.

If someone is trying to learn to move using jin and the coordination of reeling-silk/six-harmonies, they have to practice a fairly long time to re-coordinate the body to use dantien, ‘suit’, and jin (and a couple of other things). If you interrupt your re-coordination and patterning constantly with normal strength usage, you will never develop very much. So, for example, if someone is practicing Taiji, Xingyi, Bagua, etc., and they’re also doing normal weight-lifting at the gym, it’s pretty certain that they have never developed or will not develop the body coordination of traditional internal strength. On the other hand, after someone has spent a few years learning how to move with proper internal strength, they can of course move weights with dantien, jin, ‘suit’, and so on.

Jin and Contact

As mentioned earlier, the body has the ability to aim forces from the ground and from the weight and to bring them where they’re needed. The dantian is the main control of direction, jin, and the body’s connectivity.

Basically the body becomes a changeable structure that propagates the solidity of the ground to where it’s needed. Here’s an illustration of one way in which the body can be viewed as a frame; in this example a bookshelf bracket is the model for the frame:

angle bracket aikido demonstration

The dantien and the connected body control the shape of the frame and the mind directs the jin across the frame. The shortest path from the ground to the application force is the most efficient.

Again, note that the incoming force from the opponent is really no different in principle than the weight of a book resting on the head and relaxedly being supported by the ground and more or less balanced against the ground in the same way that the book is balanced against the ground. Lean too far one way or another and the balance is broken and control is lost for the book.

Something else happens, though, when a firm contact is made with another person or object. A person alone can bring the support of the ground to where it is needed to counter in incoming force, usually at an angle that is underneath the incoming object or push or whatever so that the incoming force is pushing against the ground, thus thwarting the push. But if someone pushes hard enough into another person or grabs firmly enough, no matter how briefly, those two people become essentially one object. The traditional description is that you “become one with the opponent”. Koichi Tohei, of Aikido fame, coined the term of “become a four-legged animal”, but the idea of becoming one combined unit is the same, no matter what the words.

When two people become one unit, no matter how briefly, the dantien/center can be used to control the whole unit. In the below illustration, two protagonists have engaged firmly enough so that they are effectively one unit. The person on the left, by maintaining a firm frame, can move the other person’s dantien because they are both part of the same unit. By “acquiring” or controlling the other person’s dantien through the joined framework, the person on the left can direct the opponent’s dantien in a favorable direction in order to take his balance, apply a technique, and so on.

push hands

There are many more details and tangents that could be discussed, but hopefully this primer on jin will get people thinking and experimenting along the lines of traditional principles of the internal martial-arts.

If you want a method for setting up a jin path from the ground to something, here’s a suggestion. Put your hand or forearm (or shoulder or whatever) against a wall so that there is a moderately firm connection. Push from your rear foot (for this example) directly to the hand/wall connection so that you can feel almost a direct line from the foot to the hand. That is the optimal path from ground to hand. Maintain that path while you back off your push somewhat and while you relax every bit of tension in your body that you don’t need to maintain that path. That’s a jin path.

1) Silk Reeling, aka Six Harmonies Movement

3) Breath and Internal Strength

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tai-chi (taijiquan) in west wales

Chen Xiaowang demonstrates Peng Jin

Feng Zhiqiang demonstrates applications of Peng Jin