Saturday, January 14, 2012

Silk Reeling (Spiral Force) in Tai Chi: Part 2 of 3 – Linking Hands and Feet


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 2 of a 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.



Part 2 discusses how to use the spiral force to move your hands.

Note: Since I published Part 1, there has been extensive discussion on LinkedIn about the use of the terms "silk reeling" and "spiral force", with little agreement. It is clear that they are not the same thing but they are related at a very deep level. In this article and the following one, I will continue to use the terms as I have before. The title here is Silk Reeling, but most of the article is about developing the spiral force from the ground and moving it through the dan tien.


Up and Down Hand Motions
Begin in wu ji. Place your hands in front of you with the left hand a little lower, palm up and the right hand a little higher, palm down. As you push off with your right foot, rotate to the left, and raise your left hand and lower your right hand. Visualize that the force from your feet is causing your hands to move. Remember, this is rotation, not weight shifting. That comes later. Keep your weight even on your feet. Repeat several times until you can easily synchronize the movements. 

Now, do this on the other side with your hands reversed. Push off with your left foot, rotate to the right, and raise your right hand and lower your left. Repeat several times.

Now combine the movements. Start as before. Push off with the right foot, rotate to the left, and move your hands. At the end of the rotation, reverse your hands and push off with the left. Rotate to the right and move your hands. Practice until this feels natural. Take it slow because it’s easy to lose track of where you are and what is leading the motion.

Side-to-Side Hand Motions
Begin in wu ji. Relax your shoulders and keep your knees slightly bent. Raise your left hand to about shoulder height in front of your right shoulder, turned so the palm is facing you like you are looking at a mirror in your palm. Keep your elbow below your hand. Gently push off with the right heel and generate spiral force to rotate your body to the left. Allow the movement of your waist to pull your arms around. Watch your hand as it moves.

After you have rotated to the left, change hands. Allow your left hand to drop and raise your right hand, starting at your left side. Push off with your left heel and generate spiral force to rotate your body to the right. Allow the movement of your waist to pull your arms around.

After you have rotated to the right, change hands. Allow your right hand to drop and raise your left hand. Continue to generate spiral force to rotate your body back and forth. Try to image that your dan tien is rotating as your body is turning.

As your waist leads your arms and hands, the folds between your arms and body open and close in a way similar to how the kuas open and close. Remember, this is rotation, not weight shifting. That comes later. Keep your weight even on your feet. Repeat several times until you can easily synchronize the movements.

In and Out Hand Motions
Begin in wu ji. Relax your shoulders and keep your knees slightly bent. Bring both hands to your waist with palms up. Keep your elbow below your hand. Gently push off with the right heel and generate spiral force to rotate your body to the left. Allow the movement of your waist to push your right hand forward. As your hand moves forward, rotate your hand and arm so that your palm is down or even a little bit to your right.

After you have rotated to the left, reverse direction. Push off with your left heel and generate spiral force to rotate your body to the right. Allow the movement of your waist to push your left hand forward. As your hand moves forward, rotate your hand and arm so that your palm is down or even a little bit to your left. At the same time, allow the movement of the waist to pull your right hand back, rotating it to bring the palm up as it returns to your waist.

Your hands should match each other as they move. Whenever one hand is palm down, the other is palm up. When one hand is palm facing left, the other is palm facing right. As your waist leads your arms and hands, the folds between your arms and body open and close in a way similar to how the kuas open and close. Remember, this is rotation, not weight shifting. That comes later. Keep your weight even on your feet. Repeat several times until you can easily synchronize the movements. Then repeat many more times. The link between your hands and the force from your feet will strengthen as you continue to practice.

© 2012 Eric Borreson