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Society encourages poor posture and holding within the body.
Taijiquan must remove these patterns of holding and move the body toward a generally more open, mobile framework.
All students focus upon opening the body.
The martial approach is equated with having quite open postures.
These postures serve to connect the body in a manner that reduces the need for sundry movement.
Rather than move the limbs independently, you can move the legs, sacroiliac, centre and spine.
If you were to keep your cavities open at all times and never flex the joints, it would be difficult to defend yourself.
You need to able to expand and contract the body.
For a whole-body workout, the joints must be allowed to move naturally and freely.
The flexibility required for evasion, countering and escapes necessitates the closing of the joints and to a certain extent the folding of the body.
But what is folding?
Folding is not simply one thing.
As with any neigong it encompasses a range of attributes that orbit the central concept.
To fold, you must relax the muscles much further and allow a far greater freedom of movement in the joints.
A beginner can turn their peng into a rigid cage.
Now you must step out of that cage and let the connection become a network of associated parts rather than a rigid structure.
Moving qigong (15 exercises)
This set of qigong exercise is employed to encourage students to find fluid peng.
Connection and groundpath exist within your every movement.
Unlike standing qigong or ba duan jin, these exercises must be performed in a looser, slightly more vigorous manner.
The aim is not to be quick as such, but rather languid and dreamy.
Heavy, floppy, loose limbs and mobile joints cause the body to fold with every action.
Folding is not about slack muscles and floppy joints - connection cannot be lost.
The switching between substantial and insubstantial is a subtle ongoing skill, employed strategically during partner work.
Floppy, unsupported joints will simply lead to injury.
What must be developed is a wave of motion, with every joint offering a little kink or twist that adds energy to the delivery.
If try to silk reel now, you will fail.
What you must work on is the exercises that will one day lead to reeling silk.
Do not be impatient.
Collapsed joints are no good for self defence unless they are employed in escape.
The risk with collapsing a joint can be seen if you consider a boa constrictor.
Every attempt to find internal space presents the snake with an opportunity to squeeze harder.
This will not lead to escape.
In effect, your attempt to find internal space may actually backfire and result in too little space to manoeuvre at all.
The failure to lengthen the muscles from the pelvis to the bottom of rib cage is a very common error.
With these muscles passive, the upper body strength is immediately diminished.
Lengthening the front of the body helps to support the back.
Allowing the ribcage to collapse is a serious mistake. It crumples the front of the body and puts too much weight in the heels.
The post requires vertical length at all times, even when bowing the back.
Another common failure is the elbow joint.
Although we want it to be free and flexible, the bow tension must be maintained or the arm becomes useless.
You must become adept at rotating the arm without collapsing the elbow.
Folding is not collapsing.
Imagine a long piece of rubber piping... you twist and bend it. When you release the tube, it springs back into shape immediately.
This is not collapsing.
The bent pipe stores the energy employed in the process of bending and this is released when you let go.
What this tells you is that folding is not an entirely passive process. It involves some degree of dynamic tension. This is peng.
Store & release
For folding to occur effectively, there must be a process of storing and release.
Were the joint to pass the point of economical storage, the energy will dissipate and effort must begin anew.
What you want is to utilise the effort of the other person by taking their force into your body and then turning it back out again.
You should have learned how to do this already. Now you must learn to do it with the joints as well.
By yielding to an incoming force, you aim to curve
the power through your frame and utilise the energy.
This is very different to evasion and necessitates a new strategy.
Avoiding the attack and stepping back is no longer the best approach. You do not want to move away.
To use folding, you must be close.
Incoming force must be encouraged inward, and your evasion must involve the least amount of movement.
The attacker needs to be as close as possible so that you can borrow their strength and take it as your own.
A common use of folding in taijiquan is a kind of controlled collapse. It is employed when your counter attack has been foiled.
Your punch/palm folds into an elbow, your elbow folds into a shoulder and your shoulder folds into the back.
This is the crudest level of folding and only works if you maintain forward momentum and sustain peng throughout.
The main danger is that you push, and that is clearly not correct.
Whilst the controlled collapse is an option, it is not the best one available in terms of folding.
It fails to borrow much energy.
Far better to draw the incoming force around your circumference and store energy like a spring, ready for release.
This method is accomplished through circularity of movement and structure, as well as yielding to force.
Bow tension throughout the body is necessary.
The reverse of the controlled collapse is 'unfolding'.
In this approach, the limb must be spun out by the centre; with each part adding energy as it moves away from the middle.
The chest leads to the shoulder leads to the elbow leads to the wrist leads to the fingers...
Basic arm swing exercises employ this.
A backfist or palm uses this kind of method, with the hips snapping back at the last moment to create the whip effect.
Folding creates a freer body.
You can afford to move in a much more dynamic, creative way without compromising your martial integrity.
The linearity of held peng is gone and you can find energy in the smallest of opportunities.
Folding is a vital skill on your path to spontaneous expression and physical mobility.
With peng sustained throughout your structure - without the apparent rigidity explored in earlier grades - you can re-consider every form and drill with this in mind.
Students have difficulty coming to terms with peng and cannot accept its presence unless they are actually 'doing'.
This is why neigong eludes people: they do rather than allow.
Wu wei is an inherent quality, it is about riding force instead of generating it, rolling with the punch instead of blocking it, yielding instead of holding.
Think of your limbs as tentacles. Can you imagine a tense tentacle?
Hips and legs
The process of folding and unfolding must encompass all parts of the body and the legs are typically neglected.
Neigong should have introduced some degree of folding in the legs, but you can go further.
Kicks need to become whip-like and heavy - with the power spinning out from the centre.
Stepping must be relaxed and comfortable, adaptive and intelligent.
Offering up your joints
Folding can backfire on you if your stances are structurally vulnerable: do not forget that your opponent can collapse your joints.
Never offer anything that can be taken from you.
Never be too far out or too far in.
Never trap one limb behind another.
Vertical length is safe, but width is a risk.
Big stances and deep postures offer up your own joints for collapse, which is an unwise strategy.
It is like leaning a stick against a wall and trying to kick the stick:
A 45° angle will make the stick easy to break if you kick it in the centre.
The more upright the stick, the harder it is to break.
Gravity works against an extended joint.
If we were supposed to stand with our legs wide apart, we would have a wider pelvis and legs like spiders.
The aim is always to increase your options whilst decreasing your partners.
Your framework needs to be loose, agile and adaptive.
Nothing can be held.
Elbow joints are typically the most vulnerable area, since people immediately tighten them when threatened - essentially freezing the joint entirely.
You should be looking to fold your partner.
Look for weaknesses and use folding to manipulate your partner.
Gravity can be employed to crumple a stray joint or seal a cavity; limiting the degree of mobility afforded your partner.
By forcing them to fold, you can work their own body work against them.
If they have the habit of using tension, this will lock their body to prevent collapse - affording you the chance to flow and strike.
Try to avoid commitment and use folding smoothly: with your body receiving, neutralising and redirecting force whilst simultaneously compromising your partner.
This is not easy but paves the way for the 2 person form, which serves as a means to develop, extend and practice this skill.
underlying simplicity of a process is far more likely to be useful than
imaginative and complex description of phenomena.
(Edward De Bono)
18 April 1995
Last updated 09 June 2019