The four energies of Tai Chi

The four energies of Tai Chi

Postby Jaime Marx » Fri Mar 09, 2001 10:57 pm

I have seen mention of the four energies, Peng, Lu, Ji and An, on this board, and I know that they are the first four of the thirteen postures of tai chi (I believe they are ward off, roll back, press and push.)
Could someone explain the basics of these energies? Are they different kinds of jin, or just jin moving in different directions? Can someone learn about them by practicing the barehand form (I don't have any one to do push hands with)?
Thank you! Image


[This message has been edited by Jaime Marx (edited 03-19-2001).]

[This message has been edited by Jaime Marx (edited 03-22-2001).]
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Postby Audi » Wed Mar 28, 2001 9:55 pm

<BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial">quote:</font><HR><font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Originally posted by Jaime Marx:
[b]I have seen mention of the four energies, Peng, Lu, Ji and An, on this board, and I know that they are the first four of the thirteen postures of tai chi (I believe they are ward off, roll back, press and push.)
Could someone explain the basics of these energies? Are they different kinds of jin, or just jin moving in different directions? Can someone learn about them by practicing the barehand form (I don't have any one to do push hands with)?
Thank you! Image</font><HR></BLOCKQUOTE>

Hi Jaime,

Great question! I am far from qualified from answering, but in order to stimulate discussion, let me offer this post.

First, I have found much of the literature on this subject somewhat inconsistent, quite esoteric, and often very impractical at my level of knowledge. My view of these things that it is dangerous to operate on incomplete knowledge, but since some things are so fundamental to T'ai Chi practice, I think it is more dangerous to ignore them.

A school friend of mine once gave me a few chess pointers that I have found good life lessons. One pointer was that a bad plan is usually better than no plan. A bad plan can be reviewed and revised, but no plan is just simply--no plan. Devising personal T'ai theories is probably a bad practice, but having no theory is worse. Ideally we get these things from competent instruction, but for reasons of time, accessibility, compatibility, this is often not possible, or at least requires supplementation through books.

Peng, lu, ji, and an are the names of the four postures that compromise Grasp Sparrow's Tail. They are also the names of four of the eight jins that are the foundation of T'ai Ji hand techniques and which are the prominent jins in the four postures of the same names. The eight jins are also referred to as the eight gates (men2), but I do not know the significance of this terminology. Perhaps someone else can clarify.

I personally do not like the term "energy" as a translation of the word "jin," even though it seems the most common one. As I understand it "li" and "jin" simply mean strength in everyday language and are more or less synonymous. If a distinction is forced onto the terms, jin has a connotation of "li" (raw strength) plus something else. Louis has kindly posted references that cite "jin" as being applied in ancient texts to the integrated strength of a group of well-trained soldiers, as opposed to the sum total of their meer muscular strength.

Again as I understand it, a baby is born with sufficient "li" (raw strength) to move its arms. As it learns to control its limbs, gains skills, and brings its experiences to bear, it beguns to express "jin" (i.e., crude strength plus). Although T'ai Chi cultivates specific jins, jin itself is not a T'ai Chi thing. I personally prefer the English translation "power," which in a martial sense connotes the use of strength plus something. It introduces a sense of potential and capabilities that I believe are absent from the term "jin," but "power" is the term I have always heard used in non-T'ai Chi contexts to refer to the particular effectiveness brought to a technique by a skilled martial artist.

In addition to the eight primary jins, T'ai Chi has many, many others that arise from combining these in different ways and introducing other qualities, such as sharpness, suddeness, length, etc. In addition to these, there are also ones like "ting jin" (listening power/energy), "dong jin" (understanding power/energy), "na jin" (seizing power/energy), and "fa jin" (emitting/issuing power/energy) that do not necessarily refer to hand techniques. Again use of the word jin implies that one integrates one's skills and experiences into the activity in some way.

Can one learn these energies without pushing hands? I personally believe that this would be like learning tennis strokes without using a ball or how to hit a baseball without a pitcher. It is not completely impossible, but there really is no substitute for the real thing. Even with just a little experience with pushing hands, the form takes on a new meaning and opens many doors to practice that are hard to open in any other way.

A good description of peng, lu, ji, and an is located at the following URL, which David Salvia kindly provided on another thread: http://shenwu.com/taichi.htm. The discussion is towards the end, under "Tai Ji Quan Combat." The only aspect of the description that I found a little unusual was the description of "ji jin" (press/squeeze energy/power) which I had not heard described in that way.

In addition to this URL, let me offer my thoughts for comment on these jins. My understanding of one difference between the martial approach of T'ai Chi and that of many "external" styles is that the latter focus on acquiring and perfecting a repertoire of offensive and defensive techniques, whereas T'ai Chi focus on learning to manipulate the energy flow between you and the opponent. In doing form, we should not be practicing techiques in the Karate sense, but be practicing how to manipulate jin through our bodies with our "yi" or will.

Let me digress back to my chess buddy. Another thing he taught me was that I should not look at chess as consisting merely of the calculation of possible moves. Each piece exerts a "force field" that is stronger or weaker, depending on the position of other pieces, but which is always present. Even at the very beginning, these fields of force or control exert influence over the entire board that should be visualized.

In T'ai Chi, rather than focusing only on the particular configuration or posture of our opponent, we should strive to envision the lines of force that the opponent is manifesting. In doing this, we pay most attention to controlling the rooted power that is linked to our opponent's center, since that is the most powerful. The primary ways we have of doing this are the eight gates (peng, lu, ji, an, cai, lie, zhou, and kao). Peng, lu, ji, an are the principal jins, with peng, in its general sense, being the most important and fundamental to the others.

Some authorities speak of peng, lu, ji, and an as manipulations of power/energy upward, sideways, forward, and downward, respectively. If this is helpful, please let me know, because this has always made little sense to me.

My view of peng, lu, ji, and an is as follows. If you visualize power/energy as going from our opponent's center to our center, peng is the technique we use in a general sense to prevent the power from reaching our center. In a more specific sense, it is the technique we use to float our opponent's power harmlessly above our center. A typical application is using our forearm to deflect an opponents punch upward and sever its power from our opponent's root. In the four-hand push hand set, it is used to prevent our opponent's push from reaching our center and to set up a "lu" attack.

Lu is the technique we use to draw our opponent's power harmless to the side and around our center. In the four hand set, it is used to draw our opponent's committed push to the rear and to the side, uprooting him or her.

Ji is the techique we use to deflect or "squeeze" power/energy forward, such as in defense to our opponent's attempt to use "lu" on us. Alternatively, you can view it as joining the power in both arms.

An is the technique we use to draw/deflect power/energy downward. In the four-hand set, it is used as a defense to a "ji" attack and as a way of "pressing" our opponent's arms down below our center and then toppling them over and out of their root.

I hope this is helpful and reasonably accurate. I am curious as to what thoughts others have on these issues.

Respectfully submitted,
Audi

[This message has been edited by Audi (edited 03-28-2001).]
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Postby Jaime Marx » Thu Mar 29, 2001 12:27 am

Thank you very much, Audi! You have given me a lot of information from your own study and experience, which helps greatly. There is so much information out there in magazines and books, and it's hard to know what is real and what is not.
Also thank you for your patience with what I know is a "beginner" question, but if we don't ask questions we will never know the truth.
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Postby NickC » Thu Mar 29, 2001 11:20 am

I don't know enough to comment on the 4 energies, but I just wanted to echo Jaime's thanks for a clear lucid description of them. I was thinking in much more linear terms. This clears up a lot for me.
Cheers,
Nick C.
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Postby Audi » Mon Apr 09, 2001 1:09 am

Hi Jaime and Nick,

I just wanted to add a few notes of caution to what I posted above, since you never know who will read these posts or what use they will make of them. Please forgive the unsolicited advice if none of this applies to you or if you disagree with it.

Although the eight gates or postures are fundamental to T'ai Chi, I would not nominate them as the first focus of one's exploration of internal energy, with the exception of the generalized peng or ward off energy. Without a feel for what being "song" is and how to feel peng jin (ward off energy), the rest is not terribly useful.

I also would focus less on getting the internal energies right than on making appreciation of them matter to your form. Although a lot of this sounds complex, especially with a few Chinese terms thrown in, much of it is very simple and can be demonstrated by a competent teacher in sixty seconds or less. Do not settle for waiting years and years to feel things that should be simple. In my view, the years are necessary to train things, not to discover them. Think of Tiger Woods, not Einstein.

The trick is in making the concepts meaningful for your form rather than in being able to imitate the externals. If you can make them matter, for health or martial purposes, you can always correct deficiencies later. Another way to put it is that it is more important to feel a bit of something than to understand the details.

If it hurts, don't do it. If it feels wholly unnatural, it probably is. If you can feel a difference that matters in some important and immediate way to you, you can explore more aspects with time and effort.

An example of what I mean is the concept of drooping the elbows. Although this is a very easy concept to explain and imitate, most of us fail to observe this principle consistently. In my view, the reason for this failure is that we do not feel in our bodies that the orientation of our elbows matters or because our intent is too diffuse to make it matter. Being able to quote the principle is of no help during 20 odd minutes of form. Drilling elbow orientation in the karate way is also not helpful, because there are too many positions to drill.

If, on the other hand, you have a feel for being "song" and using general peng jin, you merely have to focus on these with your will and intent to feel why orientation of the elbows matters. Of course, you will still make mistakes, but at a very different level.

T'ai Chi makes grand promises. Hold it to them. Seek out practice partners. Go to seminars. Read books. Post questions. Doing form should do more than relax you. It should energize, reinvigorate, and amaze you. The internal energies are more than mere theory; they should be important concepts to mend, prolong, or save your life. If they are not, change your theories, change your teacher, or change yourself.

Respectfully,
Audi
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Postby Jaime Marx » Mon Apr 09, 2001 9:10 pm

Thank you again, Audi, for very good advice. Yes, certainly feeling one's song is more important than trying to define details, and that is a primary focus for my practice along with applying the 10 essentials. I am currently scouting the area where I live to see if I can find a group to practice with and perhaps a teacher who can teach me more than I already know whose style is not too different from Masters Yang Jun and Yang Zhenduo. (Not that other styles or Yang variations do not have merit, they do, but there's so much I don't know about the Yang family style that I'd rather fill in that info before branching out into something really different.) I go to seminars in the summer but I miss having some place to take weekly lessons, where one can get frequent feedback from an instructor on one's form and occasionally learn a new thing (my nearest Association center is at least a thousand miles away).
Anyway, thank you again! Image
Jaime
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Postby DavidJ » Mon Apr 09, 2001 9:31 pm

Hi Audi, Jaime, Nick
In conjunction with the idea expressed in Audi's statement, "My understanding of one difference between the martial approach of T'ai Chi and that of many "external" styles is that the latter focus on acquiring and perfecting a repertoire of offensive and defensive techniques, whereas T'ai Chi focus on learning to manipulate the energy flow between you and the opponent. In doing form, we should not be practicing techiques in the Karate sense, but be practicing how to manipulate jin through our bodies with our "yi" or will, " I see Tai Chi as a general-purpose martial art in the sense that Tai Chi is in the precepts applied to movement, not the movements themselves.

We are learning how to move our bodies in the most efficient ways. Physical combat is a living thing, and chances are, the most effective moves will often be variations of what is usually done. You don't have to get into a stance, you can move well from whatever position you're in.

I like the chess, energy analogy.
I enjoy chess a great deal, and I have used the 'energy' picture (in chess) for awhile. Once, after a very long day of chess, I looked up and noticed that the person standing on my left could capture another person behind and to their left, like a knight move! I realised I'd been at it too long and went home. Image

Audi wrote, "In T'ai Chi, rather than focusing only on the particular configuration or posture of our opponent, we should strive to envision the lines of force that the opponent is manifesting." Interestingly this very idea was put forth as part of a Jedi's power in Episode 1 of Star Wars.

As for the four 'energies' I mostly think of them as different directions. Consider what you can do with an incoming basketball. You can bat it up, to either side, or down, and you can catch it or return it. Now envision the basketball getting heavier or faster. What do you need to do to keep the impact of it away from you?

David

[This message has been edited by DavidJ (edited 04-10-2001).]

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Postby Ringo » Fri Apr 27, 2001 11:08 am

<BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial">quote:</font><HR><font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Originally posted by Audi:
<B> Hi Jaime,

....

Ji is the techique we use to deflect or "squeeze" power/energy forward, such as in defense to our opponent's attempt to use "lu" on us. Alternatively, you can view it as joining the power in both arms.

...

</B></font><HR></BLOCKQUOTE>

Thank you all for interesting discussion.

I have one practical question – since both arms are moving forward in ji where does potential of power lie? I mean, what is ji jin really is? Undoubtedly both arms slightly press each other. But is it enough to generate great amount of power? I think there is some internal connection between forearms however I don't sure of where those points of connection are.

Any advice will be very appreciated.
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Postby tai1chi » Sat Apr 28, 2001 1:25 am

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Postby stephen » Tue May 01, 2001 4:17 am

you sense the internal sensation of peng,lu,ji,an when doing the grasp the bird's tail. i had the priviage of doing pushing hands with this well respected tai-chi master from Hong Kong . His style seems odd and very old or classical. A small frame
yang style tai-chi practitioner of 40 years plus. His explanation of the four intericate and subtle movements: peng, as an expansion or fullness; lu, as to dissipate incoming force by turning or what the situation is called for; ji, as sinking and concentrated at a single point;An,it's the reacton of the above three combined usually.
this is ranged from just touching your opponent or exerting great force on to your opponent. Hope this helps everyone.
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