More About the Eight Core Skills
Part 4 - Twist - Release
Now let’s examine the fourth Core Skill - Twist and Release. Twist and release is essentially an acronym for Spiral energy. It has been said that without Spiral energy there is no real Tai Chi. So what is Spiral energy? To understand this we will first look at the spiral as a geometric shape, a shape composed of two of the most basic elemental forms - a straight line and a circle. We will consider the straight line as Yang, masculine, and the circle as Yin, feminine. The flowing combination of these two forms is not only nature’s preferred way of growth and movement, but also a perfect and continuous blend and exchange of Yin and Yang. That being said, it’s easy to see the importance of spiral movement and its expression throughout our Tai Chi form.
In terms of the most popular Tai Chi family styles, spiral energy has different degrees of outer visibility. The Chen family’s spiral energy or Chan Ssu Jin is the most visible or apparent, followed by the Yang family’s spiral energy which is generally much less visible and lastly we have the Wu family style (Northern Wu) whose spiral energy is almost entirely internal with little or no outer visibility. But make no mistake, a master of any of these styles will always move with a full compliment of Internal Spiral energy.
Spiral energy or Chan Ssu Jin has two forms which must be trained, the outer method which varies depending on style and the inner method, which is a Taoist Nei Gong process, common to all styles. In addition to the external and internal methods, Spiral energy also has two modes; Incoming (Nei Chan Ssu Jin) and Outgoing (Wei Chan Ssu Jin.) Physically, Incoming Spirals have a sense of compression (as in the third Core Skill - Compress-Expand) and Closing - as in the second Core Skill - Close-Open), whereas Outgoing spirals will naturally have a sense of Expanding and Opening.
In terms of self-defense, incoming Spiral energy can be used to absorb, divert and trap or stick an opponent’s attack, causing the person to jerk toward you and/or stick to you without having to actually seize their wrist or forearm. Outgoing Spirals on the other hand are used to deliver penetrating strikes. When an opponent is hit with a Spiral energy strike it is similar to being struck with a rapidly rotating drill bit. (Zuan Jin -Drilling Power) This can have the effect of making the opponent’s whole body wobble and or shake if the point of focus is more diffuse or generalized. However, if a Spiral blow is sharply focused at a Tieh Hsueh point, such as with a Penetration punch for example, the result can be devastating, causing a major disruption of Qi and blood to the brain or actual organ failure, depending upon the location.
The basic physical method of spiral energy is to combine the many rotational forces of the body into one coordinated flow. The spiral twist and release power of the legs, hips, torso and arms results in an exponentially greater force than could be generated by only using one part of the body. There are many fine examples of the physical aspects of Silk Reeling available online, but essentially it can be thought of as a Twisting, Spiral form of ‘Snaking.’ (Moving like a snake, discussed in the previous article on Expand and Compress.) Therefore, the incoming counterclockwise spirals of Nei Chan Ssu Jin begin at our extremities and progress through condensation into our low Dan Tien or Centerpoint. Conversely, the outgoing spirals of Wei Chan Ssu Jin proceed in a clockwise manner, expanding from our center out through our feet and hands. Below is a video link detailing the external aspect of spiral energy or Coiling Silk, presented by Master Chen Xiaowang who was born and raised in the Chen village. Although the quality of the video has something to be desired, the info presented is quite worth it. Besides showing a number of the Coiling Silk exercises, there is also a presentation of external Dan Tien rotation as well as the use of Zhan Zhuang to create the proper ‘atmosphere’ in the body for success. https://youtu.be/VS5farj8Q2E
Once we have mastered the external aspect of spiraling which, by it’s very nature produces rather visible movements, it’s time to tackle the Nei Gong aspect. The Taoist Nei Gong method produces an enormous amplification of the Spiral energy by generating a great many more spiral turnings in each segment of the body than are possible with the external method alone. Although this is a purely internal technique which eventually allows our spiraling to move at the speed of the mind and feeling-awareness, in order to learn it, we will first apply a physical exercise to help internalize the correct feeling.
The idea with this method is to very lightly trace a series of spirals from the fingers of one hand, moving steadily upwards to the elbow. These spirals, which will be traced using a counterclockwise direction, should go from the fingers to the back of the hand and palm, up to the wrist, forearm and finally the elbow. Once you have done this, probably several times, stop, close your eyes and then, using your mind and feeling-awareness, recreate the same sensations you felt while physically tracing. Here it is important to note that whereas the physical Silk Reeling procedure only allows for one spiral per segment or joint of the body, the internal method has no such limitation. This means you can trace and then later, internally generate several spirals from the fingertips to the palm, a few more across the back of the hand and palm to the wrist, once around the wrist itself. and then 5 to 7 spirals up the forearm ending with once around the elbow joint. Using multiple spirals for each segment will lay the groundwork for eventually amplifying your spiral power. Now, once you can internally trace and FEEL the multiple spirals (which should be done at a fairly slow speed at first) it then becomes possible to use the mind to speed up the rate. When we deliver a spiral strike to an opponent, the spirals will be internally generated at a phenomenal speed. Think of it as ‘Super-Speed.’
So to sum up, internally generated spiral power is based on two factors - the number of spirals per body segment, and the speed at which they rotate - either inward as with the exercise described above or outward using the reverse formula. Please be aware that the method I’ve detailed covers only one part of the body. Of course this must eventually be expanded to include both legs and arms as well as the torso. Once you are comfortable with the basic Nei Gong process that is, using the mind and feeling-awareness from the fingers to the elbow (or from the elbow to the fingertips for outgoing spirals) use this ability to go from the extremities back into the torso, finishing in the low Dan Tien for Nei Chan Ssu Jin. Then go from the Dan Tien, starting with Dan Tien rotation, back out through the torso to the feet and hands for Wei Chan Ssu Jin.
All this being said, truth be told, the details of the Nei Gong Spiral energy techniques really require one-on-one instruction from a competent teacher...