Lengthening And Peng

The Third Rep: 2004-08-31
by Jerry Karin

We publish here a translation of the second section of the first chapter of Chen Style Tai Chi Chuan, a seminal 1963 work by Shen Jiazhen and Gu Liuxin (this part was written by Shen Jiazhen).

I used the text contained in Renmin tiyu chubanshe, Taijiquan Quan Shu, 1988, which is a reprint of the original, 1963 edition plates.

Chinese text: I, II, III


The Second Characteristic: An Exercise of Springy Lengthening of the Body and Limbs

Boxing manuals dictate:

  1. Gently lead the head to press upward (xu ling ding jing), sink the qi to the dantian.
  2. Reserve the chest and pull up the back, sink the shoulders and droop the elbows.
  3. Relax the waist and round the crotch, open the kua and bend the knees.
  4. Spirit collected and qi kept, body and arm lengthened.

From the 4 sayings listed above we can see that “Gently lead the head to press upward (xu ling ding jing), sink the qi to the dantian” are lengthening of the body, “Reserve the chest and pull up the back” is to lengthen the back by using the front of the chest as a support; “sink the shoulders and droop the elbows” is to lengthen the arm and hand; “Relax the waist and round the crotch” as well as “open the kua and bend the knees” cause the legs to freely rotate, which is the result of lengthening the legs under the conditions of this type of special posture. Therefore the footwork of taiji requires, under the conditions of rounded crotch, relaxed waist, open kua and bent knees, the use of rotating ankle and leg in order to alternate full and empty. Externally this is manifest as the silk reeling energy of the legs, but actually internally this tends toward the lengthening of the the legs.

This series of lengthening motions additionally generates a lengthening of the entire body, causing torso and limbs to create a springy flexibility and produce peng energy, and because the entire body is lengthened, this naturally stimulates the spirit to lift. Because of this, you need only have this lengthened posture to avoid generating the defect of strident force (brute force), making favorable conditions for naturally relaxing open and lengthening torso and arms. Therefore “An exercise of springy lengthening of the body and limbs” is the second characteristic of taijiquan.

I. Lengthening the torso and limbs

As mentioned above, when practicing taijiquan you must lengthen the torso and limbs in order to increase the flexibility of the entire body; only with this flexibility can one go on to create peng energy. That is to say, peng energy arises from springy flexibility and flexibility arises from lengthening of torso and limbs. As to how each part of the body is to lengthen, we will now explain according to the boxing manuals:

  1. Gently lead the head to press upward (xu ling ding jing) and sink the qi to the dantian — What is referred to as pushing up energy and gently lead is to take a forward pressing energy (ding jing) and lead it gently upward; sinking the qi to the dantian is to take the qi and make it sink down toward the dantian; combining these two there is an intent to pull apart in opposite directions, which causes the torso to have a feeling of lengthening.
  2. Reserve the chest and pull up the back — “Reserve the chest requires that the chest neither puff out nor cave inward, allowing the chest to function as a support to elongate the backbone, because in physics a weight-bearing column is not allowed to be bent. Relying on this support to pull up the backbone is to elongate the backbone. In this regard, beginners are cautioned not to regard curving or hunching the back as pulling up the back, because if you hunch the back then the chest will cave inward and in this way lose the function of the front of the chest supporting the back, thereby not only causing the back to lose springy flexibility but also harming ones health.
  3. Sink the shoulders and droop the elbows — The main use of sinking the shoulders is to make the arms and shoulders, because they droop downward, become solidly connected. Only if the arms and shoulders are solidly connected can the arms have root. At the same time, owing to the lowering of the elbows, the area from the elbows to shoulders is lengthened. When the arms and hands proceed in spiraling, silk-reeling motions they use the elbow as a center. At the same time, the lowering of elbows and standing of wrists can cause the area between elbows and wrists to lengthen. Therefore the sinking of shoulder, drooping of elbow and standing of wrist is the lengthening of the entire arm.
  4. Rotation with opened kua and bent knees — This is the lengthening of the legs. The legs are standing on the surface of the ground, so lengthening them is relatively difficult. And so setting forth the requirement to open kua and bend knees, we require that within this defined posture (rounding crotch) we use spiraling movement to alternate full and empty, and this mainly manifests itself in the rotations of the knee. In this way, as the outside rotates outward this causes the outside to lengthen and the inside to contract. Matching up this rotation of the leg to the rotations of the arms, hands and body creates whole-body rotation and with gradual improvement one can attain to total body strength such that “the root is in the heels, emitting through the legs, controlled in the waist and manifested in the hands”.

Summing up the above-mentioned four rules, we can see that taijiquan requires lengthening of torso, arms and legs. Hence not only does this springy flexibility through lengthening create the basic peng energy of taijiquan, but it can also naturally lift people’s spirit and avoid the defect of inappropriately rousing strength to create brute force. 1

II. The Physical Function of Lengthening Body and Limbs

When energy is applied to muscle it can undergo a finite elongation, but once the external cause of the lengthening is removed it immediately returns to its original shape. This is the inherent flexibility of muscle tissue. Most common exercises train and improve this kind of flexibility. In accord with human physiology, this type of muscle flexibility in expansion and contraction can give rise to the following four functions:

  1. It can improve the ability of the muscle itself to expand and contract and facilitate circulation in the dense net of capillary vessels within the muscle.
  2. It can increase flow of fuel and waste products within the cells and stimulate the entire metabolism.
  3. It can promote the exchange of gases within the muscles and all other organ systems.
  4. It can increase the amount of oxygen within the body and at the same time raise the rate of oxygen efficiency within each of the organ systems.

Taijiquan is not a simple movement of the limbs. Externally it manifests as the spirit in motion with highly complex postures while hidden within it is the spirit gathered and qi collected, such that the the mind moves the qi. This has been elaborated above in the description of the first characteristic. Additionally, taijiquan not only trains both inner and outer, but also, under the conditions of entire body and limbs elongated, is a process of winding and unwinding, forward and reverse silk reeling. In this way it not only brings about excellent training in flexibility for the muscles, but also raises the rate of blood circulation, thus curing diseases caused by poor circulation. This is an important result of the elongation of body and limbs and the lifting of the spirit in taijiquan. Also, the springy and flexible movements of taijiquan have an observable effect in lowering blood pressure, because as the muscles expand and contract they are able to create adenosine triphosphate (? sanlinsuan and xiantaisuan), substances which are able to dilate the blood vessels. At the same time, as we perform these movements in which each part is connected together, inside the muscles the number of opened capillary vessels increases by several times, thus broadening the cross section of blood vessels carrying the blood and so lowering the blood pressure. Additionally, when you practice taiji, because the muscles are repeatedly expanding and contracting, it is difficult for the blood vessels to harden. The process of winding and unwinding in forward and reverse silk reeling particularly prevents the hardening of blood vessels. People who have practiced taijiquan for many years can, as they practice, feel the blood vessels expanding open in their back and limbs. As soon as they begin to do the exercise they feel loose and comfortable, and if they are unable to practice for a while, there is a sensation of being closed up. These phenomena are the result of the increase and decrease of the number of opened capillaries.

III. The Eight types of Jing and the Springy/Flexible Peng Jing

Taijiquan requires that we use intent rather than brute force, but this is not to say that we use intent but not strength (jing), because taijiquan is constructed of the eight types of jing. All of these eight types of jing contain elongated springy flexibility, that is why they are called jing (energy) rather than li (force). Although these eight jing have different names, in reality there is only a single peng jing, the other seven merely different terms for the same thing in different positions and functions. Therefore taijiquan can also be called by the name peng jing quan. We will now analyze the content of these eight jing in order to further aid in grasping the second characteristic:

  1. Within the context of the entire move, when the palms rotate from facing inward to facing outward, that is called peng jing.
  2. Within the context of the entire move, when the palms rotate from facing outward to facing inward, that is called lü jing.
  3. When both arms simultaneously use peng jing and intersect to peng outward, that is called ji jing.
  4. When the palms press downward encircling somewhat and while not losing contact, exercise peng downward, that is called an jing.
  5. The paired separating peng jing when the two arms cross going left and right or forward and backward is called cai jing.
  6. When peng jing is curled up and then within a short distance fiercely strikes out, that is called lie jing.

[under construction]


[author’s footnotes from original Chinese]

[1] Lengthening causes the body and arms to have an internal sensation of thin and long whereas inappropriately rousing strength causes the body and arms to have a sensation of thick and short. Therefore lengthening body and limbs naturally does not cause the defect of rousing strength and creating brute force.

Translation Copyright © 2004 Gerald N. Karin. All rights reserved.

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