Saturday, December 31, 2011

Silk Reeling (Spiral Force) in Tai Chi: Part 1 of 3 – Role of the Dan Tien


All tai chi styles include forms that use what is called spiral force. Spiral force is also known as silk reeling because of the spiral movements involved in unwinding a silk cocoon. Silk reeling exercises (drills) are repetitive spiral movements that place an emphasis on ground connection, waist connection, dan tien rotation, knee alignment, and opening and closing of the kuas and folds of your arms. The exercises train the body to move as one unit led by the dan tien.

This is Part 1 of a brief (very brief) introduction to the concept of spiral force. You need an experienced teacher to help you master these skills. You will not learn enough from this article to proceed very far on your own. This is intended to supplement what your teacher says.

Part 1 discusses the role of the dan tien.

Role of the Dan tien
There is a saying in the tai chi classics that says, “Internal force is rooted in the feet, developed by the legs, governed by the waist, and expressed in the hands.” Other translations may differ slightly in the wording, but they all mean the same thing. There in a internal spiral force generated at the feet that travels up and around the leg and causes the dan tien to rotate, which leads the hands in the various tai chi forms. In this case, the term waist refers to the area above the hips and below the diaphragm. It includes the dan tien (elixir of life) in the front and the ming men (gate of life) in the back.

Developing and Sensing Spiral Force
Many teachers start out with Zhang Zuang (standing post) training, as they should. Then they follow up with Zheng Mian Chan Si (front silk reeling). I think that many students have problems with this and it is better to start even simpler. Stand in wu ji for a moment and allow your body to settle and your mind to calm. Sink the qi. Imagine a golden thread connecting the crown of your head with the heavens, extending through your spine and into the ground at your feet. You need to be relaxed so that you can learn to sense the subtle spiral force.

It is important to learn how to sense the dan tien and use it to move your body. Some students are able to visualize, or sense, their dan tien. For those students that can do this, imagine the dan tien as a trackball that can be moved around in response to the spiral force generated at your feet. For the rest of the students, an explanation that uses the physical sensation of pressure on your hip is enough to help them sense the spiral force.

Gently use a little force and push down with your right heel into the earth. Pay attention to any change in how your hip and waist feel. You should start to feel a subtle force that causes your waist to turn to the left. Allow that force to rotate you on the axis created by the golden thread. This is the spiral force rooted in the feet, developed by the legs, and governed by the waist. (The hands follow in a later exercise.) Practice sensing this force and allowing it to turn your waist to the left. Focus on rotating and try to avoid shifting your weight back and forth.

Repeat this enough that it starts to feel comfortable and then switch to the other side. Gently use a little force and push down with your left heel into the earth. Again, pay attention to any change in how your waist feels. You should start to feel a subtle force that causes your waist to turn to the right. Allow that force to rotate you on the axis created by the golden thread. Practice sensing this force and allowing it to turn your waist to the right. Focus on rotating and try to avoid shifting your weight back and forth.

This exercise opens and closes the kuas. The kuas are the inguinal folds in front where your leg connects to your abdomen. Understanding how the kuas open and close is essential to tai chi. You have to practice it over and over.

Benefits
From a healing perspective, Silk Reeling exercises loosen up the joints, enabling freedom of movement, improved circulation, strengthened connective tissues, and increased secretion of synovial fluid which lubricates the joints, keeping them supple. From a martial perspective, the movements develop spiraling energy within the body; develop revolving energy to rebound incoming force; develop piercing energy; and develop neutralizing energy to lead incoming force to emptiness.


© 2011 Eric Borreson