More About Qi and Jin

In a previous post, I said the Chinese make a distinction between qi and jin.  A basic understanding of the differences between the two is important when learning the form.

Qi, as we’ve discussed before, is a word with a cluster of meanings all relating to energy of some sort, such as breath, air, physical energy, “vital force” and things like that.  It’s important to point out that each of these meanings is distinct from one another, and based on the context.  In other words, qi doesn’t mean all these things at the same time.  For example, when we’re doing qigong, the teacher may say “take the qi in deeply.”  In this case, she or he just means air and they’re referring to abdominal breathing – filling the lungs “from the bottom up.”  The teacher may say “sink the qi to the dantien.”  This is a sort of shorthand term for “relaxing and settling in such a way that the lower part of your body feels solid and rooted, while the upper part feels light and agile; and your center of gravity is a few inches below your navel.”  It’s just easier to just say “sink the qi to the dantien.”

In time, with focused practice in tai chi and with supportive exercises like qigong and zhan zhuang, we can achieve a fuller sense of this qi within us, and in time be able to put it to use in greater coordination, better balance and better health.  But the important thing to remember is it’s inside us – it doesn’t leave the body.  I said before and it bears repeating – qi is not “The Force.”  We can’t shoot “qi balls” like in anime, and we can’t stop Emperor Palpatine’s finger-lightning with our magic qi force field.  We can’t use it to levitate or fly, no matter what you saw in wuxia movies (I’m a sucker for movies like “Hero” and “House of Flying Daggers”).

Jin is a different concept.  In “The Complete Taiji Dao,” Master Zhang Yun defines jin as “trained force.”  It’s as good a definition as any, but it needs fleshed out.  In tai chi, the word jin is almost never used on its own.  It’s normally modified as to what type of jin is being discussed. 

For example, fa-jin or fajin is“explosive energy,” such as is done in kicks or powerful throws – most tai chi moves can be expressed with fajin, but it’s pointless (and often counterproductive) for students to try to practice it until they gain a fuller understanding and command of their internal energy and feeling.  It’s an efficient way of moving, as opposed to using brute-force, and this takes practice and study. 

Peng jin is “warding-off energy” and it’s a difficult concept to communicate.  It’s a sort of internal solidity that’s based upon our physical structure and not our muscular strength, easier to demonstrate than to describe.    I’ll demonstrate it in class and it’s one of the things we’ll spend a great deal of time on, both in class and in this blog.

I’ve already explained some of the “eight energies” in the “Jargon” post.  Many of them don’t need that much explaining.  Zhou jin, for example, is an elbow strike, and that’s about all there is to say of it.

One of the most important “trained forces” is ting jin.  We’ll be spending a LOT of time on ting jin in the future.  Ting jin translates literally to “listening energy” but it’s not strictly limited to hearing.  It is rather a very heightened focus on sensory input, combined with interpreting the meaning of the input.  If that sounds like nonsense, an example may help illustrate…

If you’ve ever danced with a partner – the sort of dancing you see on “Dancing With The Stars” where you and your partner are physically touching – you may at times have felt as though you knew what your partner intended to do next, just from the sense you got from your hands, his or her hands, how they shift their weight, subtle changes in facial expression and so on.  That feeling – that “listening by touch” – is ting jin.  It’s part of what makes dancing with a partner – particularly one whom you’re fond of – so exhilarating and fun. 

We use ting jin when we interact with a partner in Push Hands exercises.  Push Hands is meant to develop ting jin because we’re in physical contact with our partner and moving while in contact.  One of the objectives of Push Hands is to develop the ability to discern our partner’s intention, as well as whether he or she is balanced or off-balance.  Of course, our partner is trying to discern the same things about us!

It’s an important aspect of tai chi.  It’s a challenging and engaging exercise, and one which I’ll begin introducing as soon as we all feel safe and comfortable in doing so.  I can promise you that being attentive in Push Hands will accelerate your growth as a tai chi player.

I just can’t promise you that it’s anywhere near as romantic as dancing the tango.