Saturday, January 21, 2012

Silk Reeling (Spiral Force) in Tai Chi: Part 3 of 3 – Tai Chi Forms


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 3 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. 

Part 1 discussed the role of the dan tien. (Read this first)
Part 2 discussed how to use the spiral force to move your hands. (You probably should read this one, too)
Part 3 discusses how to extend these ideas to simple tai chi forms. (That's this one)

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 others, 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.

Figure Eights
The next step is to learn to use spiral force to move your dan tien in a figure eight. This is the first exercise that actually has a weight shift.

Begin in wu ji and step out into a slightly wider stance. Push off with your right heel. Allow your body to rotate to the left and shift your weight to the left foot. Push off with your left heel. Allow your body to rotate to the right and shift your weight to the right foot. Continue this motion and your dan tien moves in a figure eight in a plane parallel to the floor.

Wave Hands in Clouds
This exercise combines the figure eights with hand movements. Push off with your right heel to rotate your body to the left. As you begin to push off with the right, step out to the left and shift your weight to the left foot. Bring your right foot in. Push off with your left heel and rotate your body to the right. Push off again with your right foot and step out to the left again. Repeat as often as you wish. Also, practice in the reverse direction until you are comfortable moving both directions.

Now, add in the hand motions. Place your left hand in front of you, about shoulder height in front of your right shoulder, with the palm facing forward. Place your right hand in front, about waist height, with the palm facing down. Push off with your right heel and allow your body to rotate to the left. Keep your hands in the same relationship with each other. Allow your waist to lead the movement and let your hands follow the movement of your shoulders. Shift your weight to your left foot.

When you have turned all the way to the left, bring your left hand down with the palm down and bring your right hand up with the palm forward. Push off with your left heel and allow your body to rotate to the right. Keep your hands in the same relationship with each other. Allow your waist to lead the movement and let your hands follow the movement of your shoulders. Continue the movement back and forth in figure eights, opening and closing the kuas and folds.

Other Forms
In addition to Cloud Hands, spiral force can easily be seen with an empty stance as in White Crane Spreads its Wings and in Playing Lute. When working with movements that use the bow stance, such as Ward Off, Brush Knee, and Single Whip, it is important to distinguish between yin and yang in your feet. When shifting your weight forward, push off with the outside of your back foot (yang) and receive with the inside of your front foot (yin). When shifting your weight back, push off with outside of your front foot and receive with the inside of your back foot. There is a nice video here that shows this principle. 

For movements involving bow stance, like brush knee, ward off, or parting wild horse’s mane, push off on your back foot to use spiral force to move the dan tien and let the dan tien move your hands. Settle and express force with the front hand.

The other important point in here is to keep your back knee “over your foot” (actually “in line” with your foot) with a broad stance. Your crotch is the capstone in an arch that separates your knees. The way to make this happen is to pay attention to the opening and closing part of the form. When your weight is still on the back foot, you are in the yin position and the weight is on the front (toe) and inside (instep) of your back foot. Your hips are closed in this posture. As you shift your weight forward, you are moving into the yang position. Push off with the back (heel) and outside of your foot. Your hips open as your weight shifts forward.

The energy flow is foot, hip, shoulder, elbow, wrist, palm. As you start to move from yin (back) to yang (forward), you push off with your foot, the hip starts to open and the waist starts to turn. As soon as the hip starts to open, the shoulder starts to open. This causes the elbow to start to open, causing the wrist to start to open and the palm starts to open. This is the order the energy flows and the order you move. When moving from yang to yin, the flow is reversed. These principle applies to all forms that involve moving in bow stance.

Summary
This has been a brief introduction to the concepts of Silk Reeling. Most tai chi instruction on this topic starts with circular hand motions. I believe this is too complex from most students to easily master. This introduction describes a method to begin learning the principles. An instructor can use this method to get students started before moving on to the more complex, but much richer, traditional Silk Reeling drills.

© 2012 Eric Borreson