Understanding Fajin

Understanding Fajin

Postby Louis Swaim » Sun Feb 25, 2007 11:19 pm

Greetings,

It’s common to see references to fajin as “explosive energy” in Western writings on taijiquan. I think that is semantically inaccurate, and misleading about what the practice of fajin entails. I suppose martial arts aficionados like “explosive” because it sounds powerful and evokes combat. The term fajin more accurately means to release, issue, dispatch, or to deliver energy. It has no inherent connotation of exploding. To explode, or blow up, in Chinese would be “baofa,” or “baozha.” An explosive force, or the impact of an explosion, would be “baozhali.” The impact of a strike or a kick from a well-trained taijiquan practitioner could certainly be described as carrying explosive force, but that does not mean that every instance of fajin is explosive. To release as arrow (fashi, or fajian) is not in itself an explosion. To set off a trigger (faji) of a crossbow or a firearm is such a subtle movement as to almost be invisible. Actually, the taiji classic, “Mental Elucidation of the Thirteen Postures,” uses that imagery to describe fajin: “Issue energy (fajin) as though releasing an arrow.”

Another potential source of misunderstanding I observe is a tendency to identify the term fajin with a particular practice within some styles of abrupt discharges or rapid movements during form training or drills, and to then make the extrapolation that the absence of those abrupt movements evidences an absence of fajin. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen people say “style X has fajin; style Y doesn’t have fajin.” Or, “Master A removed the fajin from taijiquan, but Master B retains it, so B's is more authentic/martial, etc.” There is a particular training rationale for those abrupt movements, but other systems of taijiquan training have different methodology and different objectives in form training. That does not mean there is no fajin or fajin potential in those systems that do not train abrupt discharge movements within the form. That would be to confuse form with function.

Take care,
Louis
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Postby Bob Ashmore » Mon Feb 26, 2007 2:19 pm

Louis,
I exploded a few dozen times as I read your article!!!
I just exploded again!!

Oh, wait...
Heh, heh!
Sorry. I guess I didn't.
I did fajin though, but just a little...
Aw, nuts! I did it again!
I can't stop! I just keep doing it.
Someone take the fajin out of me, before I do it again.
Too late...

Bob
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Postby Simon Batten » Mon Feb 26, 2007 10:01 pm

Louis: many thanks for this explanation. I've always been sceptical about the term 'explosive' and even more sceptical about those who criticise some Tai Chi forms for lacking sudden 'explosive' movements and therefore lacking in fajin training, but I have never able to put my finger on why I was sceptical, but your posting has now provided me with the answer, based on the true meaning of the word. I'm reminded of a passage from Yang Lu Chan's Commentary to the Tai Chi Chuan Classic, with which you are doubtless familiar, but I only quote it because it seems to bear out precisely what you are saying:

'Store energy like drawing a bow; release it like shooting an arrow. To store energy means to reserve it. T'ai-chi energy is not external but stored internally. When squaring off with an opponent our internal energy has the fulness of a drawn bow or a ball filled with air. If the opponent touches my arm, although it feels soft as cotton, he cannot push it down. This greatly astonishes him. In the midst of his perplexity he is unaware that my bow has already drawn an arrow which is about to fly. At this moment I am like the bow, and my opponent becomes like the arrow. The energy is released so fast that the opponent is thrown with the speed of an arrow.'

Kind regards, Simon.
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Postby DPasek » Mon Feb 26, 2007 10:20 pm

Louis,

You may be correct, but fajin also may not mean the same thing in common usage as it does when used in the context of Taijiquan (or other martial arts). What terms are used for a bullet fired from a gun? Is it different from the terms used to describe the gunpowder ignition that shoots the bullet out? Is the phrase you quoted: “Issue energy (fajin) as though releasing an arrow” actually referring to the action of the person releasing the string to shoot the arrow, or is it referring to the characteristic of the arrow as it is shot out by the released string? What would be the appropriate terms to use to describe issuing/delivering energy in a sudden or an explosive manner?

Whether or not someone chooses to express/release/issue/deliver energy in an explosive manner, it seems to me that the dynamics of the pre-release potential energy are the same or similar from one style to another. To me, this potential energy is what the bow and the pulled string illustrates, and should be what one may wish to focus on, rather than if the release of that potential energy is gradual or explosive. One may wish to issue in an explosive manner occasionally in order to check that their postural dynamics, and thus their potential energy, is properly manifested, but there is no need to constantly issue in an explosive manner. Even Chen style does not issue explosively throughout the standard 1st or 2nd routines (although there are “Fajin” forms developed relatively recently, originally for competitions, that were designed by grouping postures from the various routines that are typically performed explosively).

I also like Simon’s quoted phrases, although “the energy is released so fast that the opponent is thrown with the speed of an arrow” seems to bring us back to the speed or explosiveness of the issuing.

DP
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Postby DPasek » Tue Feb 27, 2007 6:17 pm

Here are a few additional thoughts on “fajin” from a Chen style perspective. (The following assumes that the workshop translators properly conveyed the ideas since I do not understand spoken Chinese, also that I accurately remember and interpret what was stated…)

Chen Zhenglei stated that the 1st routine should be practiced at least four times for each time the 2nd routine is practiced since the 2nd routine (also called “cannon fist”) has more expenditure of energy (fast releases of fajin) and it is important to build your energy (qi) by doing the 1st routine. Extrapolating to Yang style, it seems that eliminating even the relatively infrequent fast expressions of energy from the Chen style 1st routine (or earlier versions of Yang style?) would allow that form to build even more energy.

In teaching his version of the Chen style “fajin form,” Zhu Tiancai stated that it can be done slowly instead of with fast release of energy. He instructed those having trouble doing it fast to do it slower instead. He also had everyone do it slowly when we started class back after taking a break, before we started doing the form with fast release of energy. Even when doing the form with fast release of energy, the transitions were done slower and softly. He seemed to state that the fast release of fajin was the same as when doing the form slowly, only sped up.

The above seem to imply that those doing Yang style without the fast expression of fajin would have it if they simply sped up their form (assuming that their postural dynamics, etc. were correct), but that choosing not to leads to a greater build up of the reserves of qi energy.

It is also my understanding that one should also occasionally practice Chen style with the fast release of fajin in different places than typical, despite there being certain places in the form where this fast release of energy more typically/routinely occurs.

DP
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Postby Simon Batten » Thu Mar 01, 2007 12:42 am

DP: I suppose the Lotus Kick at the end of the Yang Cheng Fu form could be described as 'explosive'and then there is of course the Yang style fast form, I believe, though I've never seen it done and I don't think it is part of the direct legacy of Yang Cheng Fu, though I'm not sure on that point. There are also, of course, leaps in the sword form which might be said to be 'explosive'(if for no other reason than that it's not possible to leap in slow motion). Kind regards, Simon.
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Postby Audi » Thu Mar 01, 2007 1:36 am

Greetings all,

Louis, I think you have started a nice a timely thread. I support your observations.

DP, thanks for your comments about Chen Style.

<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Is the phrase you quoted: “Issue energy (fajin) as though releasing an arrow” actually referring to the action of the person releasing the string to shoot the arrow, or is it referring to the characteristic of the arrow as it is shot out by the released string?</font>


For me, the meaning refers to the feeling of having Jin stored and releasing with a fairly subtle and sudden trigger. This is different from feeling the need to gather power and then hurling it outward. I have engaged in push hands play that seeks to separate these two types of feelings and to make clear that an opponent using certain skills can sense when you feel the need to gather power and begin to do so.

<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2"> What would be the appropriate terms to use to describe issuing/delivering energy in a sudden or an explosive manner?</font>


How about pao chui (i.e., cannon fist)? Image

<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">He seemed to state that the fast release of fajin was the same as when doing the form slowly, only sped up.</font>


This same point came up at a recent Yang Style seminar I attended. It was stated very clearly that the feeling of fast fajin should be felt even in the slow even performance of the form.

It was also stated that form practice by itself was insufficent to really learn much fajin for martial purposes. For that purpose, you need to do fajin full speed in various postures and also do staff training drills to really get the knack of it and feel the body integration and "waist" usage that is necessary. My understanding is that once you get this knack, you can than express it better and feel it more deeply in the slow form.

I should also add that in addition to the outward variations of Yang Chengfu's form, it can be evident that individual practitioners put different intent into their postures. Some practitioners do not seem to show any fajin. Others may not know how. And yet others clearly show a whole body fajin at the culmination of most postures.

Take care,
Audi



[This message has been edited by Audi (edited 02-28-2007).]
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Postby chris » Thu Mar 01, 2007 2:21 am

The feelings associated with the use of a bow and arrow differ greatly, depending on whether you are in front of, or behind the arrow. Image

I think "explosive" is a fair description of fajin from the other side. But to call jumping or a Lotus Kick "explosive" is to dilute the meaning of the word. One of the unique characteristics of an explosion is that, from 1-3 feet away, you feel it before you see it.

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Postby Simon Batten » Fri Mar 02, 2007 9:50 pm

<BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial">quote:</font><HR><font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Originally posted by chris:
<B>The feelings associated with the use of a bow and arrow differ greatly, depending on whether you are in front of, or behind the arrow. Image

I think "explosive" is a fair description of fajin from the other side. But to call jumping or a Lotus Kick "explosive" is to dilute the meaning of the word. One of the unique characteristics of an explosion is that, from 1-3 feet away, you feel it before you see it.

-----
Chris
Martial Arts for Personal Development</B></font><HR></BLOCKQUOTE>

Chris: I was not using the term 'explosive' in a technical sense, but just trying to point out how the misapplication of the word in relation to Fajin - as Louis has pointed out - is even in that case not a valid criticism of the classical Yang style in either its barehand or sword manifestations. In other words, even when 'explosive' is incorrectly identified with Fajin and used as a stick to beat the Yang style with, both types of form nevetheless exhibit movements which tend to disprove that criticism on its own erroneous presuppositions, let alone when the term Fajin is correctly translated in accordance with Louis' original posting. As a matter of fact, I'm no scientist, but I thought that in the case of an explosion, one actually sees it before one feels it, as the sense of the explosion is conveyed by airborne shock waves that travel at the speed of sound, rather than at the speed of light, as in the case of visual impressions. The reverse, of course, is true supposedly of the advanced practitioner of Tai Chi, who can 'feel' energy before it is visually manifested, and who uses 'listening energy' to achieve this. I hope I haven't misunderstood your point, though. Kind regards, Simon.
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Postby Louis Swaim » Sun Mar 04, 2007 6:45 pm

Greetings All,

I probably should have made it clearer that I was expressing my subjective opinion on some fine points of language usage in the hope that taijiquan enthusiasts will consider these terms carefully and test them against their own experience and study. I was not trying to advocate for one style’s approach over another, nor did I mean to imply that there is no place for abrupt, swift expressions of power in taijiquan practice. I just personally feel that “explosive” sounds exaggerated, and has overtones in English that do not well capture the range or subtlety of the term fajin.

DP,

Thank you for your thoughts on this topic. You wrote:

“Whether or not someone chooses to express/release/issue/deliver energy in an explosive manner, it seems to me that the dynamics of the pre-release potential energy are the same or similar from one style to another. To me, this potential energy is what the bow and the pulled string illustrates, and should be what one may wish to focus on, rather than if the release of that potential energy is gradual or explosive.”

I agree with your analysis, but I would suggest that another thing to focus on, especially in an application or push hands scenario, is the context of the fajin. It is the context that determines whether fajin is efficacious, and whether it is appropriate to fajin in a gentle way or a swift and abrupt way. The Taijiquan Treatise states, “To quick movements, I respond quickly. To slow movements, I follow slowly.” The effectiveness of the fajin depends, according to the Taijiquan Classic, on being able to “seize the opportunity and the strategic advantage” (deji deshi), or, more simply, it has to do with timing and position. The potential energy that you mention is a product of obtaining the optimal timing and postural alignment, and in traditional military strategy texts, the crossbow is often cited as a metaphor for potential energy (shi) in an advantageous setup.

For any who have access to Stuart Alve Olson’s translation of Chen Yanlin’s “jin” material, _The Intrinsic Energies of T’ai Chi Ch’uan_, it contains an extensive chapter on fajin (Issuing Energy) that I think offers some good food for thought on this matter. Chen Yanlin discusses the importance of opportunity, direction, and timing in fajin. These themes amplify the notion of “deji deshi,” and the line from the Mental Elucidation of the Thirteen Shi, “When issuing energy (fajin), one must sink soundly, loosen completely, and focus in one direction.”

Take care,
Louis
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Postby DPasek » Mon Mar 05, 2007 4:22 pm

Louis,

While what I wrote above appears to agree with your assertion that “explosive” is an inappropriate translation of “fajin” (since the slow release of the energy also seems to be referred to as fajin), the use of the term “cannon fist” for the second Chen routine indicates that “explosive” may be acceptable for the fast release of fajin (at least from a Chen style perspective).

Audi’s mention of staff drills to develop full speed fajin is also consistent with Chen style’s “pole shaking” used for the same purpose. What terminology is used when referring to the full speed fajin in the staff training of Yang style?

DP
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Postby chris » Tue Mar 06, 2007 2:35 am

<BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial">quote:</font><HR><font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Originally posted by Simon Batten:
As a matter of fact, I'm no scientist, but I thought that in the case of an explosion, one actually sees it before one feels it, as the sense of the explosion is conveyed by airborne shock waves that travel at the speed of sound, rather than at the speed of light, as in the case of visual impressions.</font><HR></BLOCKQUOTE>

I was describing the human experience of receiving explosive hands, nothing more. You don't see them move, and they don't feel like the release of a bowstring.

This is the sole reference point most people have to fajin; to complain that it represents a mistranslation or misunderstanding seems rather a tautology. In the end, there must be a difference between talking wushu and speaking Chinese.

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Postby Louis Swaim » Tue Mar 06, 2007 3:37 am

Greetings Chris,

That’s a good observation that makes a lot of sense. I’ve devoted a great deal of training to learning how to avoid explosive blows, or explosions of any kind. So far, so good!

Take care,
Louis
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Postby Louis Swaim » Tue Mar 06, 2007 3:50 am

Greetings DP,

You wrote: “What terminology is used when referring to the full speed fajin in the staff training of Yang style?”

That’s a good question. I haven’t trained in spear or staff, so I don’t have personal experience in it. Perhaps you’ve seen this page from Chip Ellis’ site. http://www.chipellis.com/Pictures/Spear-Set/spear_set.htm
It’s the section on taiji spear from Yang Chengfu’s first book, _Taijiquan shiyongfa_. The pictures are of Tian Zhaolin and Dong Yingjie. I hope to some day translate the descriptions from that section. Just glancing through, I don’t see any reference to fajin. Instead, I see references to diverting, sticking, winding/coiling, and the like. There are references to “storing jin,” “pulling jin,” “treading/stomping jin” and to the “soft” jin of the spear/staff. There is mention of “piercing” or “stabbing” methods. But no evidence of any special terms for “full speed fajin.”

Take care,
Louis
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Postby César » Tue Mar 06, 2007 9:59 pm

Hi!

Louis, thank you for explaining fajin's proper translation.

DPasek I don't know anything about chinese language, but here in this web site there is something that may help us to know the proper term for full speed fajin in the staff training of Yang style:

http://www.yangfamilytaichi.com/about/faq/

"2. Which weapons are part of the original Yang family tai chi?...Later the long staff practice turned mainly into a way of training to emit energy (fa1 jing4). This is usually referred to as dou3 gan1 or 'shivering staff'. (Yang Jun)..."

I hope this helps


César
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