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Chan Si Gong 2

Silk Reeling the Chen Family Way

Chan Si or Silk Reeling exercises, as they are called in the West, are the foundation of Chen style taiji. These profoundly simple movements show how qi circulates during the practice of taiji quan. Once the principle of these moves is understood it is easy to bring clarity to the many thousands of moves that make up the taiji system, whereas without them one could easily learn many thousand moves without ever attaining a high level of skill or clarity.

During one of his visits to the UK Chen Xiao Wang elucidated the fundamental principle of taiji. He stated that the taiji principle is composed of one posture combined with two movements. The posture is based on the Zhan Zhaung meditation stance and the two movements refer to the two directions that the dan tien is rotated during taiji.

The basic Zhan Zhaung posture provides the framework for these two movements of the dan tien to direct the qi about the body. In the Zhan Zhaung stance the spine is upright with the head, shoulders, dan tien and feet in vertical alignment. All the joints are slightly bent and loose. It is vital that the whole body is still and relaxed. This does not mean that the body is allowed to collapse, it means that good posture is maintained but without any tension. With the body relaxed, the movement of the dan tien is able to spiral out from the centre to the periphery of the body in a logical way. 

The silk reeling energy spirals from the dan tien to the shoulder, to the elbow to the wrist and finally the fingers. The rotation of the dan tien takes the body from a neutral relaxed posture into a state where the body becomes yin then yang, or yang and then yin. In a sense the movement of the dan tien can only take place because of the way that stillness is able to culminate in the Zhan Zhaung posture. Therefore when movement culminates it returns to stillness. This is why in taiji quan always begins by preparing posture and consciousness before starting any movements. The breath is sunk to the dan tien. By maintaining the centre of the dan tien it is possible to become still while in movement and in movement while still. This paradox is at the heart of taiji and is what gives taiji its unique spirit.

The two movements of the dan tien are circular and occupy the two vertical planes. Movement one consists of the body being penetrated by an imaginary axis that runs through the middle of your stomach from the front of your body to the back. The dan tien then rotates like a wheel around the centre of this axis left and right up and down. The second movement involves an axis that runs through the body from right to left around which the dan tien rotates forward and back up and down.

The old frame (Lau jia) forms begin with a move that only uses the second movement principle and follows this with one that only uses the first. However, in most other taiji moves the dan tien is rotated in more than one direction at a time. The silk reeling exercises are useful precisely because they isolate the individual rotations of the dan tien. They make it easier to learn the principle of taiji movement and with the basic principle in place it becomes easier to clarify the detail of all taiji movements.

Silk reeling exercises use a repeating circular spiralling movement to train the body in a number of ways. Silk Reeling trains the circulation of the dan tien, it trains the waist movement, and the qi circulation. The first of the silk reeling exercises is called Zheng Mian Chan Si which translates as ‘front silk reeling’. The second is Heng Kai Bu which means ‘walking to the side’. The third is Shuang Shou Chan Si – ‘both hands silk reeling’. The fourth is Qian Jin Bu – ‘walk forward’. The fifth is Hou Tui Bu which translates as ‘walk backward’. These are the first set of silk reeling exercises and were all covered in detail by Chen Xiao Wang at his London lecture. These exercises are detailed below or they are available on Chen Xiao Wang’s Chan Si Gong DVDs. 

The silk reeling forms are simple circular movements. For the purpose of teaching each of the silk reeling exercises is broken down to four stages of a cycle. For beginners it can be useful to pause at each stage of the cycle and check each of the following three points.

1.     hand position

2.     direction of the body

3.     which leg the weight is in.

As you train the silk reeling exercises and become more confident of the movements you should concentrate on making them flow as a single movement rather than as four separate postures. To improve further you should pay close attention to a number of points:

1.     Make sure that all your joints are bent and none are straight or locked.

2.     Make sure that your posture is comfortable and well balanced.

3.     Make sure that your head remains at the same height when performing the movements and does not bob up and down.

4.     Make sure that your movements are smooth and not too fast or jerky.

All of the exercises given below should be practised on both sides of the body. Just swap the directions and hands.

Preparing the Form

Before starting any of the Chan Si exercises we must prepare the form. To do this start by standing with your feet together. Centre yourself in exactly the same way that you would when beginning the Zhan Zhaung meditation. Sink a little into the legs and align the body, with the back upright. The bai hui, ear, shoulder, dan tien and yong quan should all form a vertical line line and the hips and shoulders should form two horizontal lines. The arms hang at the sides of the body relaxed.

Zheng Mian Chan Si – Front Silk Reeling

This is one of the simplest silk reeling exercises and only uses one hand. Zheng Mian Chan Si concentrates on the first of the dan tien movements. The qi flow during these exercises is determined by the movements and is automatic. It is not something that you need to concentrate on.

Having prepared the form, place the left and on your waist, bring your right hand forward and raise your right heel. Now step to the right, keeping the weight in your left leg and keeping the feet parallel. Turn slightly to the left with your body and allow the right hand to rise in front of the body with the palm down. Transfer your weight to the right leg and let the right hand twine out ward at shoulder level until it is roughly above the right knee. You should be standing in an approximate horse stance but with the weigh slightly more in the right leg than the left. You are now ready to move to the first frame – drop your right hand down to waist height.

Frame 1

1.     Hand position: left hand on waist, right hand palm forward roughly above the right knee at waist height fingers pointing right.

2.     Direction: the body faces forwards, shoulders and hips are square.

3.     Weight: your weight should be in your right leg to the proportion of 60% – 70%.

4.     Qi: at waist.

In this frame the right hand is half way between being yin and yang. To move to the next frame transfer your weight gently into the left leg and allow the right hand to twine forward in front of the lower abdomen.

Frame 2

1.     Hand position: left hand on waist, right hand forward in front of abdomen, palm up, fingers pointing forwards. Make sure that the armpit remains slightly open.

2.     Direction: the body faces forward, shoulders and hips are square.

3.     Weight: your weight should be in your left leg to the proportion of 60% - 70%.

4.     Qi: at dan tien.

In this frame your right hand is at its most yin. To move to the next frame turn the body slightly to the left and allow the right hand to spiral upwards in front of the body until it is in front of the throat.

Frame 3

1.     Hand position: left hand on waist, right hand roughly in front of the throat, palm facing down fingers pointing left. The elbow should be slightly lower than the shoulder and the arm should be curved with the elbow bent a little more than 90 degrees.

2.     Direction: the body should be turned slightly towards the left, up to 45 degrees. Hips and shoulders likewise at an angle but the feet remain un-turned.

3.     Weight: this remains in the left leg.

4.     Qi: rising up the back to roughly between upper shoulder blades.

In this frame the right hand has moved from the most yin part of the cycle and is half way to becoming fully yang. To move to the final frame transfer the weight from the left leg to the right, allowing the body to turn as you move. The right hand twines outward, forward and to the right in a smooth arc.

Frame 4

1.     Hand position: left hand on waist, right hand extended to the right, palm forward, fingers pointing left, arm curved.

2.     Direction: the body faces forward, shoulders and hips are square.

3.     Weight: your weight should be in your right leg to the proportion of 60% – 70%.

4.     Qi: at right hand.

In this frame the right hand is yang. To move back to the first frame just allow the right hand to drop to waist height with the hand turning out until the fingers point right.

Heng Kai Bu – Walking to the Side

This is the moving version of Zheng Mian Chan Si and also concentrates on the first dan tien movement. To practice this you usually start from Zheng Mian Chan Si. As you move to the fourth position bring your left foot up alongside the right. Then allow your hand to drop to waist level

Frame 1

1.     Hand position: left hand on waist, right hand palm forward, positioned slightly to the right of the body at waist height, fingers pointing right.

2.     Direction: the body faces forwards, shoulders and hips are square.

3.     Weight: your weight should be slightly more in your left leg to the proportion of 60% – 70%. The feet are together.

4.     Qi: at waist.

In this frame the right hand is half way between being yin and yang. To move to the next frame slide your right foot out to the right and allow the right hand to twine forward in front of the lower abdomen.

Frame 2

1.     Hand position: left hand on waist, right hand forward in front of abdomen, palm up, fingers pointing forwards. Make sure that the armpit remains slightly open.

2.     Direction: the body faces forward, shoulders and hips are square.

3.     Weight: your weight should be in your left leg to the proportion of 60% - 70%.

4.     Qi: at dan tien.

In this frame your right hand is at its most yin. To move to the next frame turn the body slightly to the left and allow the right hand to spiral upwards in front of the body until it is in front of the throat.

Frame 3

1.     Hand position: left hand on waist, right hand roughly in front of the throat, palm facing down fingers pointing left. The elbow should be slightly lower than the shoulder and the arm should be curved with the elbow bent a little more than 90 degrees.

2.     Direction: the body should be turned slightly towards the left, up to 45 degrees. Hips and shoulders are also at this angle but the feet remain un-turned.

3.     Weight: this remains in the left leg.

4.     Qi: rising up the back to roughly between upper shoulder blades.

In this frame the right hand has moved from the most yin part of the cycle and is half way to becoming fully yang. To move to the final frame transfer the weight from the left leg to the right, allowing the body to turn as you move and drawing the left foot up until it is next to the right foot. The right hand twines outward, forward and to the right in a smooth arc.

Frame 4

  1. Hand position: left hand on waist, right hand extended to the right, palm forward, fingers pointing left, arm curved.
  2. Direction: the body faces forward, shoulders and hips are square.

3.     Weight: your weight should be in your right leg to the proportion of 60%. The feet are together.

4.     Qi: at right hand.

In this frame the right hand is yang. To move back to the first frame just allow the right hand to drop to waist height with the hand turning out until the fingers point right while slightly transferring the weight into the left foot.

Heng Kai Bu should be practised by making several steps to the right and then back to the left. The aim is for the movements to become smooth and flowing.

Shuang Shou Can Si – Both Hands Silk Reeling

This is the first of the double handed silk reeling exercises. It is a slight progression from the last exercise.  On the first side we lead with the left hand with the right hand following exactly the same pattern of movement as in from Zheng Mian Chan Si.

Preparing The Form

Start by standing and relaxing exactly as you did for Zheng Mian Chan Si. Sink your weight into your legs and open your right foot by turning it 45 degrees. Transfer your weight into the right foot and then step forward at 45 degrees with your left foot so that your feet are shoulder width and a comfortable distance apart with the left foot pointing forwards. Your body should be facing 45 degrees with the weight in the right leg and both hands just in front of your groin. The left palm faces back and the fingers down while the right palm faces down and the fingers 45 degrees.

Transfer your weight forward into the left leg and allow the hands to twine forward and up until you are in the posture of frame 1.

Frame 1

1.     Hand position: left hand is forward at shoulder height with the palm facing up and the fingers forward. The right hand is roughly in front of the throat, palm facing down fingers pointing forward. The elbow of the left arm should be low and bent while the right arm’s elbow should be slightly lower than the shoulder with the arm.

2.     Direction: the body should be turned slightly more towards front than 45 degrees. Hips and shoulders likewise at an angle but the feet remain un-turned.

3.     Weight: in the left leg.

4.     Qi: sinking to the waist for the left hand and rising up the back to roughly between upper shoulder blades for the right hand.

In this frame the left hand is moving from a fully yang state and is half way to becoming fully yin, while the right hand is moving from the most yin part of the cycle and is half way to becoming fully yang. To move to the second frame transfer the weight from the left leg to the right, allowing the body to turn as you move. The left hand twines back with the elbow closing a little towards the body. The right hand twines outward and backwards  in a smooth arc.

Frame 2

1.     Hand position: left hand in front of the body palm up and fingers pointing directly away from the body, right hand extended to the right, palm away from the body with the fingers pointing forewards. The right arm is curved.

2.     Direction: the body faces 45 degrees, shoulders and hips are 45 degrees.

3.     Weight: your weight should be in your right leg to the proportion of 60% – 70%.

4.     Qi: at dan tien and at right hand.

In this frame the left hand is fully yin while the right hand is yang. To move back to the next frame turn the body back slightly while allowing the both hands to twine in an arc to waist height with the palms turning out until the fingers point back.

Frame 3

  1. Hand position: left hand is in front of the abdomen with the palm facing out and the fingers back, the right hand’s palm faces forward roughly above the right knee at waist height with the fingers pointing back.
  2. Direction: the body faces a little further back than 45 degrees.
  3. Weight: your weight should be in your right leg to the proportion of 60% – 70%.
  4. Qi: between the shoulder blades for the left hand and at the waist for the right.

In this frame the left hand is half way between being fully yin and fully yang while the right hand is half way between transferring form yin to yang. To move to the next frame transfer your weight gently into the left leg and allow the hands to twine forward in front of the lower abdomen.

Frame 4

1.     Hand position: left hand at abdomen height a little in front of the body roughly over the left knee, palm facing down and fingers back, the arm should be curved. The right hand is in front of abdomen, palm up, fingers pointing away from the body. Make sure that the armpits remain slightly open.

2.     Direction: the body faces 45 degrees.

3.     Weight: your weight should be in your left leg to the proportion of 60% - 70%.

4.     Qi: in the left hand and at the dan tien.

In this frame your left hand is fully yang and your right hand is at its most yin. To move to the next frame turn the body slightly to the left and allow the hands to spiral upwards in front of the body until they are at shoulder height as in frame 1.

Qian Jin Bu – Walk Forward

Qian Jin Bu is the walking version of Shuang Shou Chan Si. To start Qian Jin Bu you begin in Shuang Shou Chan Si but as you move into frame 4 you draw the right (back) foot up to the left foot as you transfer your weight into the left foot and bring your hands forward. Then as you bring your hands up to the same position as frame 1 you transfer your weight so that it is slightly in the back foot.

Frame 1

1.     Hand position: left hand is forward at shoulder height with the palm facing up and the fingers forward. The right hand is roughly in front of the throat, palm facing down fingers pointing forward. The elbow of the left arm should be low and bent while the right arm’s elbow should be slightly lower than the shoulder with the arm.

2.     Direction: the body should be turned slightly more towards front than 45 degrees. Hips and shoulders likewise at an angle. The left foot is pointing forward and the right foot faces 45 degrees with the heels almost together.

3.     Weight: slightly in the right leg.

4.     Qi: sinking to the waist for the left hand and rising up the back to roughly between upper shoulder blades for the right hand.

In this frame the left hand is moving from a fully yang state and is half way to becoming fully yin, while the right hand is moving from the most yin part of the cycle and is half way to becoming fully yang. To move to the second frame transfer the weight fully from the left leg to the right, allowing the left leg to slide forwards and the body to turn back to 45 degrees as you move. The left hand twines back with the elbow closing a little towards the body. The right hand twines outward and backwards  in a smooth arc.

Frame 2

  1. Hand position: left hand in front of the body palm up and fingers pointing directly away from the body, right hand extended to the right, palm away from the body with the fingers pointing forewards. The right arm is curved.
  2. Direction: the body faces 45 degrees, shoulders and hips are 45 degrees.
  3. Weight: your weight should be in your right leg to the proportion of 60% – 70%.
  4. Qi: at dan tien and at right hand.

In this frame the left hand is fully yin while the right hand is yang. To move back to the next frame turn the body back slightly while allowing the both hands to twine in an arc to waist height with the palms turning out until the fingers point back.

Frame 3

  1. Hand position: left hand is in front of the abdomen with the palm facing out and the fingers back, the right hand’s palm faces forward roughly above the right knee at waist height with the fingers pointing back.Direction: the body faces a little further back than 45 degrees.
  2. Weight: your weight should be in your right leg to the proportion of 60% – 70%.
  3. Qi: between the shoulder blades for the left hand and at the waist for the right.

In this frame the left hand is half way between being fully yin and fully yang while the right hand is half way between transferring form yin to yang. To move to the next frame transfer your weight gently into the left leg and draw the right foot forward until the feet are together while the hands twine forward in front of the lower abdomen.

Frame 4

  1. Hand position: left hand at abdomen height a little in front of the body, palm facing down and fingers back, the arm should be curved. The right hand is in front of abdomen, palm up, fingers pointing away from the body. Make sure that the armpits remain slightly open.
  2. Direction: the body faces 45 degrees.
  3. Weight: your weight should be in your left leg to the proportion of 60% - 70%.
  4. Qi: in the left hand and at the dan tien.

In this frame your left hand is fully yang and your right hand is at its most yin. To move to the next frame turn the body slightly to the left while the weight transfers slightly to the right leg. Allow the hands to spiral upwards in front of the body until they are at shoulder height as in frame 1.


Glenn Gossling

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