I recently noted your post on this thread after reading David's reply.
<BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial">quote:</font><HR><font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Originally posted by Brandon Buhler:
<B>Good day to all
I've enjoyed reading the discussions on this board and am a new member. I would like to ask a question and thank anyone for any information. Is there any exercise that may be used to build "peng" energy?
Thank you again,
If you want additional views, here are some. A major part of my learning style is to hear similar things said from different perspectives so that I can triangulate on what the underlying meaning might be. Please take what I have to say in that vein; however, if you do not like long rambling posts, read no further.
First, did you read the article on Peng energy in Tai Chi Magazine two or three issues back? I thought it was excellent and well worth a read. If you do not subscribe, I am sure that you can order the individual issue on the Internet. If you are interested, I can find my copy and give you the exact issue number.
Second, since I know nothing about you and your practice experience, I find it hard to say something targeted for your interests. Beyond saying simply to do form and push hands drills, there is nothing that I would advise everyone universally to do. From that perspective, let me offer some general inexpert thoughts that might be useful, particularly because I am trying to approach this from a slightly unusual viewpoint and might help in your “triangulation.” Before I do that though, let me comment on what DavidJ offered.
<<<1. With your mind always aware of the dantien, do the form *very* slowly. The slower the better. Take an hour. Pay attention to what you are doing. Feel.>>>
I think I may know what David is getting at and agree that this can be a wonderful way to explore Peng. Doing form very slowly can help your mind and body experience movement in a different way. One caution I would add, however, is that some people who do form slowly simply use it as a way to do movements more and more “precisely,” though not necessarily correctly. They give extraordinary attention to each individual detail, but unconsciously give little to the whole. To my eye, the deliberateness of their movements does not reflect much integration or "song" in their joints and simply takes advantage of the slow pace to isolate and localize joint movement even more than they otherwise would.
I find that doing form is a delicate balance between being totally aware of all the joints and not consciously controlling any one of them. I feel you need tremendous concentration to create the conditions for proper movement and postural alignment, but should not use the mind to individually place any part of your body anywhere. If you see the postures as moving from equilibrium to equilibrium, individually placing any part of the body is an incompatible notion.
If you know how to swim, think about treading water. Doing it as slowly as possible would make you hypersensitive to the precise movements that keep your head above water. Now imagine someone who does not know how to swim mimicking your movements on the land. Would they be learning anything, or simply placing false reliance on the importance of individual movements and the value of repetition? Regardless of the precision of their movements, could they ever get it right without getting in the water and trying out the movements themselves? Would their movements then look exactly like yours? If they even learned the movements imperfectly on land, could not movement in the water largely correct these deficiencies?
David also said:
<<<2. Get rid of any tension in your muscles. Pretend that the tension is ice, and the relxation simply melts it.>>>
Although I agree with this statement, I find that the word "relaxation" means different things to different people. I found that I began to make progress only when I changed my approach to "relaxation" to something that at first seemed somewhat strange and contradicted some of the teaching I had received. It was only at that point that Peng energy began to be real for me. If you are interested in a discussion along these lines, let me know.
David ended his advice with the following:
<<<5. Let people push on you gently, against your main direction of movement, at first, and pretend that you are a shock absorber. Gently take in the push, redirect it and return it.>>>
I can very much relate to this suggestion, but would like to add to it. Make sure that the whole process feels absolutely smooth and continuous, though not necessarily even in speed. I think we can learn most at that moment when our mind appears to be telling our body to do something it does not know how to do. If you allow a feeling of discontinuity, you will lose the opportunity for this learning, as your mind falls back on old habits. At the moment your mind is trying to move the body forward, but does not know how to, your body may be able to work out a different compromise with your mind that you may not have thought possible.
My view of Peng is that it is not something that should be thought of as simply a particular skill, technique, or power. It may even be better thought of as a verb, rather than a noun describing a "type of energy." In other words, "Peng" in the general sense is something you do with energy, not a particular arrangement of the limbs.
Again, think of swimming. Swimming does not refer to any particular arm or leg technique. In fact, it is extremely difficult to define swimming in any mechanical way. The only easy definitions refer to the result desired, i.e., moving through the water, avoiding drowning, etc. One can drown while approximating any of the standard strokes, or swim using none of them. One can even swim upside down and backward. This independence of specific technique is also my view of Peng.
Peng is something that comes from the energy structure of our posture. I say “energy structure” rather than just “structure,” because all arts and sports I am familiar with use structure. In my opinion, however, most do not use Peng energy in any conscious way.
Compare the power to retain shape manifested by a brick wall, a steel support beam, a stone arch, a bow, a bamboo finger trap, and a lasso. All derive some strength from their structure, but in different ways. The wall and steel beam are strong, but do not have the flavor of using energy as part of their strength. What you see is what you get. This type of strength is what I believe is referred to in the Taiji literature as resulting from concentrating on muscle and bones. This is not what I understand to be the strength that is most characteristic of Taijiquan.
Now imagine a weighted stone arch. With even a slight gap at the top and no keystone, the arch will have little integrity. The individual stones cannot pass the stresses between them. To fully understand the strength of the arch, you must understand how Newtonian energy passes between the stones and how the shape of the individual stones is critical to their interaction.
Now imagine replacing the stones in the arch with one long wooden pole in the shape of the arch. Because of the nature of the pole, the arch will lack strength. The very flexibility of the wood will allow the sides to bow outward and destroy the integrity of the arch. If you replace the wood with steel, you achieve the same result, because steel is flexible.
Now imagine a bow. If the bow is made of brick or stone, it will be useless; however, if it is made of flexible steel or wood, it can be extremely powerful. Here, resilience is of paramount importance. Now imagine a bow made of thin bamboo strips. It will be useless, since the strips do not have sufficient resilience.
Now imagine a finger trap. Brick, stone, steel, wood are all useless as materials because of different characteristics of friction and flexibility. Bamboo strips, however, are perfect. If you have ever played around with these traps as a kid, you know that their strength seems out of proportion to the apparent weakness of the bamboo. Now change the bamboo to rope. Again, it becomes useless, because the rope retains no shape to allow the fingers to be trapped.
Now imagine a cowboy's lasso. Even though the cowboy whips the rope around, the circle of the lasso can retain its shape because of the centrifugal force transmitted from the cowboy's hand. Notice how the energy begins to manifest itself the minute the rope leaves the cowboy’s hand and even before a circle is fully formed. The structure of the energy precedes the physical shape and is produced by the cowboy’s trained mind and skill. A brick, steel, stone, wooden, or bamboo lasso are all impossibilities, since the material of a lasso must be completely limp.
I go through all these examples to make clear my view that Taiji structure is not just a matter of limb shape. It has to do with internal or energy structure. The bones, the muscles, the tendons, and the ligaments determine the shapes formed by the human body at any particular moment. As a whole, these are under control of the mind, both consciously and subconsciously. If one is unconscious, however, the limbs are like mere rags and retain no shape. It is my view that the mind can make the structure of the limbs transmit movement energy just like a brick wall, stone arch, wooden bow, bamboo finger trap, or lasso; however, not all these reflect how Taijiquan uses energy.
In my view, the energy of traditional Yang Style is most like how a bow uses energy, with minor use of the “finger trap energy” and perhaps some use of the “lasso energy” in the weapon techniques. To cultivate Peng energy, you have to figure out how to use your mind to make the structure of your body mimic the resilient power of something like a bow, a beach ball, or a tennis net. To do this, you have to be very conscious of how the arrangement of your torso and limbs transmits movement energy across your tendons and ligaments.
If you concentrate on your bones, tensing the muscles, or bracing against force, you will mimic the strength of a wall, beam, or arch. What you want is the energy of the bow, beach ball, or tennis net. Your ward off arm is not part of a protective shell, but more like a springy energy sponge. Some describe the ward off arm as an energy probe or antenna, but my view is that this is not the method used by the Yangs. To me their arms do more than just sense force, but actually begin to change it on contact.
Your mind creates the conditions for the energy to manifest itself, but does not literally generate it. A bow has no mind and does not use telepathy or telekinesis to manifest its force.
It has been said that Peng energy is like water supporting a moving boat. To get a flavor for this in action, imagine using a stick to try to push a floating soccer ball under the water. The buoyancy of the water pushes the soccer ball back against the stick, but not so solidly that the stick can find any real purchase. In fact, as you persist in trying to push the soccer ball down, you end up pushing it aside as it rotates out from under the pressure of the stick. The harder you press down, the more powerfully the ball will move to the side. The stick may even appear to adhere to the soccer ball as it rotates away, since the buoyancy of the soccer ball will push it back into the stick somewhat.
How to put this into practice and make it useful? I believe that form and push hands are the best; however, one must work hard to make the connection between limb and torso shape and how one intends to transmit Newtonian energy through the tendons and ligaments. On the one hand, one is trying to reproduce very exacting details; on the other hand, one is trying to peer behind these. There is no shape that your mind cannot misuse and no shape that your mind cannot use correctly to manifest Peng energy.
My father learned to swim as a boy, in the old-fashioned way. Older boys took him and some other young boys out on a raft into a river. They then turned the raft over and let nature take its course. Given the choice between drowning and figuring out how to swim, his mind was flexible enough to adapt to the medium and figure out what to do. I learned to swim as a child by playing in the shallow end of pools for a year or two and realizing that trying to walk around on the bottom was simply inefficient and unnecessary. Once I realized that swimming in three feet of water and ten feet of water were the same, I realized I was a swimmer. I had zero intellectual understanding of the process, no instruction whatsoever, no systematic training, and no practice. Nevertheless, the feedback from playing around was enough to teach my mind something new.
I see learning Taijiquan essentially the same as learning how to swim, except with one very important exception: we lack such a wonderful feedback mechanism as the water. We are left with our teacher’s instruction, our practice, the literature, and our explorations to learn Taiji principles and unlearn the logic of most of our daily movements that use “shortcuts” inapplicable to Taijiquan. Who bothers to lift a book using the power of the legs guided by the waist?
Some of the things that can help unlock the mind are the Ten Essentials listed under Tai Chi Info, Essays on the homepage of this site. With respect to Peng, I have found the 20 Character Motto and the description of the Palm Methods particular helpful. Try doing all the hand detail of the form by concentrating only on controlling the position and rotation of the section of the arm between the elbow and the shoulder. If this is too difficult, concentrate only on the forearms. If the upper arm is too easy, concentrate only on adjusting the shoulderblades. If all this works, concentrate only on the waist or the dan tian, or perhaps the feet.
Going back to David’s 5th suggestion. Take a posture from the form like Press/Squeeze that is hopefully unlike anything you do outside of Taijiquan. Have someone push slowly and moderately against your right arm. If you have no one to push with, push on a wall or a tree. As you absorb the force of the push, ensure that each of the joints in the circuit of your arms and back is involved and feeling as if it is moving or at least movable: the right wrist, both elbows, the two points of articulation in each shoulder, and the middle of your back where the muscles are attached to the spine.
To ensure you are feeling how the tendons pass the force between them and are not simply bracing against the force by freezing one or more joints in place, try the following bad practices: Stick out your chest and let your shoulder blades close. Feel how the force appears to get stuck there. Turn your elbows outward and upward to make your shoulders shrug. Again feel the loss of power and the need to brace against the oncoming force. Freeze movement in all of your joints but your elbows, and feel how all the pressure is focused on your elbows and threatens to overwhelm them.
If your arms begin to register these differences, turn your attention to the waist (i.e., the lumbar spine area, not where your belt would be). Again, try some bad practices. Tilt your pelvis forward so that your behind sticks out backwards and your tummy sticks out forward. Feel how this appears to help you brace against the force, but destroys any feeling of absorption or bow-like resilience in your lower spine. Feel how the Newtonian force from your straightening legs cannot get up your spine, but rather goes too far forward and back down your front leg in a kind of whiplash to your lower spine.
Now simplify the whole process. Just imagine that your arms and back are forming a big beach ball. As your partner compress your structure, make sure that the small of your back and your legs (pelvis, kua, and knees) take some of the pressure. Think of buoying your partner up. As your legs take on pressure, let your waist (lumbar spine) yield to one side, but do not consciously yield in your arms more than an inch or two for the purposes of this exploration. As the pressure from your partner decreases with your rotation off his or her line of force, just let your structure re-assert its full outward potential and bounce the power back out through all the joints.
If you have the right mental image, it should feel impossible for the opponent to disconnect from you until your power has finished rebounding outward since his or her very loss of power is what triggers the release of your power. It should also feel as if you are creating the conditions for the power to manifest itself, but are not consciously doing any one piece of the movement yourself.
These are somewhat random thoughts, not well expressed, but reflect some of what Peng subjectively means to me. In spelling this out, I may be asserting some knowledge as a “swimmer” in Taijiquan, but am not claiming to be a “good swimmer,” to know the subtleties of the various “strokes,” or even to have thought through what the best teaching methods are, other than what is already in the literature. Let me know if any of this is helpful.