Thoughts on fundamental skills in Taiji Quan- Song Jin
The most fundamental of the many ‘trained’ energies or Jin that comprise the art of Taiji is the skill of ‘Song’ Jin.
Its full title might read ‘Fang Song Jin’ but in Taiji this term is abbreviated to Song Jin and it is probably the most commonly used term in the specialised vocabulary of Taiji Quan. The full term Fang Song is more generally reserved for Qi Gong practices. ‘Fang’ means to liberate, let go, to free and ‘Song’ means ‘to loosen’ or ‘slacken’. Interstingly the same character also denotes a pine tree which in Chinese culture is symbolic of longevity. This may indicate the desired health outcome of achieving this particular skill. Fang Song is however specialised technical terminology used in Qi Gong and Taiji Quan practices and as such its meaning often stretches beyond ordinary usage and takes on many connotations as well as associated techniques.
Song Jin is the first trained ‘inner’ (nei gong) skill in the practice of Taiji Quan. All other Jin expressions (Peng, Lu, Ji An, Tsai, Lieh, Zhou, Kao, Hua, Ting, Dong etc )are the result of achieving this skill. It would be fair to say that without it you are unable to achieve any of the defining qualities of Taiji Quan. That is true of whether you wish to practise Taiji as a therapeutic or a martial art.
Song Jin however is a very difficult skill to achieve and a very difficult skill to maintain. Song Jin must be practised consciously for a very long time of intensive study. It amounts to re-training the nervous system, the muscular skeletal structure, the tensegrous fascial structure and body perception and ultimately the state of mind. Song Jin is expressed in the Taiji forms when they are done with great fluidity, apparent softness, an obvious stability and connectedness to the ground, an appearance of functional efficiency and most importantly a palpable sense of deep calm and stillness within the practitioner.
The practice of Song Jin is achieved, as the translation indicates, by freeing up or letting go through ‘loosening’ any unnecessary tensional forces. On face value this means to ‘loosen’ muscle, tendon, ligament, fascia and joints. This is done by actively using intention (Yi) and will (Zhi) to achieve the Song state. Put simply you must give up all extraneous tensional forces within the body. This means to give up the idea and the physical manifestations of physical strength (Li). This process is a kind of relinquishing and this happens by degrees. Tensions accumulate within the body for many reasons. There may be localised tensions left over for instance from a recent activity or just the daily grind of a stressful day, but there may also be deeper tensions held in place dating back a long way to specific events or just general repeat experiences. For instance, illness, emotional and physical trauma and poor posture can all cause unnecessary tensions within the body as well as tensional patterns of behaviour and thinking that accompany them. If the experiences of a life are held within the structures and tissues of the body then we are going to find deeper and deeper layers of residual tensioning that need to be ‘loosened’ before a truly deep experience of ‘Fang Song’ can be experienced. Unfortunately these tensional forces often cause ‘stagnation and blockages’ which in turn can manifest (TCM theory) as illness. SongJin is a complete mental and physical experience that develops as the Taiji practice progresses and structural integration and co ordination and ‘loosening’ become a part of your core physical literacy.
To achieve this physical and mental state we must practise a lot and regularly over a long period of time (gong fu). During our practice we must constantly remind ourselves to cultivate Song Jin; so we need to accept it as a principle and understand how to apply it in practice. All Taiji supporting exercises/Qi Gong as well as the forms we practise all require the ‘Song state’ and unless you constantly train yourself by paying attention to internal forces and mental resistance and wrong perception and actively give them up, they will not change. This often shows up when you get to training Tui Shou (Pushing Hands) when your ‘Song state’ is tested and you learn to realise it in a functional way. It is in the training of Tui Shou that you begin to understand how important Song really is. If it is not present then ‘adhere, stick to, join with and follow’ as well as ‘do not resist and do not separate’ which are key defining qualities in Taiji as a boxing art cannot be developed.
Achieving Song Jin is a progressive state and and can take a long time. The experience however is deeply satisfying, not just as a direct mental and physical experience but also in the way it opens the door to the development of the more subtle ‘Jin’ skills that are necessary to develop the art of Taiji Quan.
Next time I’ll write something about the ways and the means of achieving this extraordinary skill.