Earlier in this book I have already talked quite a bit on the subject of “fang song” or relaxation. Let’s connect related concepts by separately mentioning the terms “soft” (rou), “limp” (ruan), “strength” (li) and “energy” (jing) so that these can be distinguished, which is helpful in practicing taijiquan.
In martial arts, we often hear the analogy made between “steel” and “energy” (jing). Likewise, “coarse strength” (juo li) can be likened to “iron”, because “steel” comes from “iron” and the source of “energy” is also naturally from “coarse strength”. Coarse strength is natural strength and is an inherent product of the human body. Coincidentally, the current graph used in Chinese for “energy” (jing) includes “strength” (li) with “work” (gong) added to it. I am not sure if this was really the intent of those who designed this graph, but looking at this graph can surely help serve to explain the relationship of the two.
(li + gong = jing)
“Adding work” or refining, refers to the way in which, during the process of production, we use the method of high temperature forging; correspondingly for coarse strength we use the method of relaxation (fang song) to remove the stiffness of coarse strength. Both are means to an end.
The process of refinement causes the two to manifest something which seems contradictory to its original nature. For example the water used for tempering steel and drinking water seem similar, yet there is a difference in the nature of the two. The water used to temper steel – like the removal of the stiffness in coarse strength – brings about a flexible resilience. Drinking water, on the other hand, is ‘limp’; it does not have this nature of bringing about flexible resilience. Therefore when we refer to ‘coarse strength’ – which has had its stiffness removed – as soft but not limp, it is because ‘soft’ has this flexible resilience, which is to say it includes within it the ingredient for ‘energy’. This is just what the late Yang Chengfu meant by “Tai Chi Chuan is the art of letting hardness dwell within softness and hiding a needle within cotton”. If the factor of ‘energy’ is not present, this is “limp”. “Limp” is not the same thing as “soft”.
After iron has been beaten thousands of times and refined hundreds of times, it changes its nature and becomes steel. Steel is firm internally and highly reflective externally. Iron by contrast is not only less flexible but its external appearance is rough. ‘Coarse strength’ , after undergoing persistent training for many days, months, and years can also be made to change its nature and become ‘energy’ (jing). When ‘energy’ (jing) is manifested it is soft, flexible and strong and able to embody the coordinated activity of the entire body. When ‘coarse strength’ is manifested the movements are stiff and the response is in a portion of the body only, rather than the whole body. The two are extremely different.
Relaxation and training should both be conscious (or purposive). That is just what our predecessors meant by “consciously (purposely) relax and unconsciously (unintentionally) create hardness”. If one can really achieve relaxation (fang song), it will be transmitted into the combining of the body activity with the ten essentials, naturally creating the material conditions so that “energy” (jing) will arise according to the requirements of the moves. If you try to create “energy” (jing) directly, paradoxically you become limited by “energy” (jing). When we say “use intent rather than strength”, the main idea is that you should not use ‘coarse strength’ but rather “energy” (jing).
Excerpted from Yang Zhenduo’s Zhong Guo Yang Shi Taiji, 1997, “Thoughts on Practice” p163-164
Translated by Jerry Karin (www.yangfamilytaichi.com)