I first learned Silk-Reeling exercises from Chen Xiaowang and my first Chen Taiji teachers, Jim and Angie Criscimagna. Silk-reeling is known in China as chan ssu chin. As I understand it, the exercises were created in recent decades. They are not part of the traditional training in the Chen Village. I went through a silk-reeling workshop with Chen Xiaowang back in 2000 but was already working on them at that time.
When I began teaching, I tried to organize material in easy-to-understand pieces for my students (and for me). For the past 23 years, I have taught six key principles of body mechanics to beginning students:
1. The ground path
2. Establishing and maintaining peng jin
3. Opening and closing the kua
4. Dan T'ien rotation
5. Whole-body connected movement
6. Silk-Reeling energy
New students who are being taught in-person or through my website (www.InternalFightingArts.com) study these concepts first. They are not difficult to understand intellectually, but it takes years to ingrain them into our body awareness and movement. That's one of the reasons you don't become highly skilled in Taiji very quickly.
The silk-reeling exercises, as I teach them, help students combine all six of these body mechanics. If you do the silk-reeling exercises well, you are doing Taiji well.
I also teach the self-defense applications of each exercise. There are several applications in each movement that show how the movement is used and how the mechanics give the application more power. It's a real eye-opener for new students.
Unfortunately, most students ignore these exercises after they begin working on forms. That's understandable, because forms seem more exciting. But I would urge you to pull the silk-reeling exercises out, dust them off and practice them from time to time.
Let's face it -- every movement in a Taiji form is a silk-reeling exercise. But are you practicing the movements with that in mind?
With every movement I do, I am thinking of the body mechanics and how they are all working to create internal strength and relaxed power.
But forms take space, and silk-reeling exercises can be done in a very small space. Sometimes, if I am relaxing at night with Nancy and watching TV, I'll jump up and do a silk-reeling exercise such as two-hand spiraling, small arm circle or up/down diagonal arms just to practice and focus on the mechanics, the peng, the ground path, the spiraling through the body, creating relaxed power that flows like a wave. Internal strength ain't mystical -- it's all about body mechanics.
If you have never studied silk-reeling exercises, I'll be crassly commercial here and tell you that as a member of my website (check it out here) you can not only study these skills but also get direct personal feedback from me live on Zoom. But you can also learn the exercises through two of my DVDs -- Internal Strength and Silk-Reeling Energy. Click this link to check them out.
In my two live Taiji classes for website members on Zoom this Wednesday, we will be going over two silk-reeling exercises and discussing how the body mechanics work within the movement. I'll coach each person who joins in on the class. I'm also doing this tonight in the practice with my in-person students here in the Quad Cities.
You can never work on the basics enough, in my opinion. These exercises are perfect for new students because they incorporate the most important movement principles that get students off to a good start. They are important for teachers who are trying to drive home principles to new students. But even if you have been in Taiji for decades as I have, you can still find nuggets of gold if you practice and really focus on the mechanics in these great exercises, so don't neglect them. Don't forget them. That's the bottom line here.
-- by Ken Gullette