Balanced Force – sinking vs heavy

In normal usage, the words chen (沉) and zhong (重) are often used interchangeably to mean heavy. In Taiji Quan, we make clear distinctions between them. The key difference is zhong is just one direction – a big force going downwards. Chen should feel like a object sinking in water – there is also an upward force.

This has very practical impacts in martial art. Because how we think, how we feel affect our postures and quality of movement right? If you think “I want to be an immovable object, like a big rock or tree”, you will subconsciously try to go as low into the ground as possible, and be as resistant to change as possible. While that may make you more stable, it sacrifices mobility and quickness. The term “Taiji” means having two opposite qualities within the same entity at the same time. So real Taiji skill means here we need to also supply an upward force. However Taiji does not dictate that those two opposite forces must be equal. Otherwise it makes it hard to move right?

So even when we’re standing still, putting all our weight on one leg, we don’t just sink into the ground, we use mental imagery like “there’s a light, pure, upward lifting energy (definition of yang) shooting to the top of the head”, or “think pushing your body out of ground instead of sinking into it”. Having forces in the opposite direction, or at least the mental preparation to exert that force at any time, helps us not just be more agile (the ability to make change quickly), but also more stable. More stable because the overall force is more balanced. That’s why we say elements of yin yang, or wu xing, are opposite but complementary forces. Complementary because they help each other, serving some bigger goal together.

So in Taiji Quan, we want Chen, not Zhong, as by definition zhong is not a taiji quality. An untrained person does not have root, so the first thing we tend to emphasize is to ‘sink qi to dan tian’. But if we only do that, we will be too slow. This is self-evident when doing moving push hand/sparring, but not so much in static push hand. This is why we see people who primary do static push hand do poorly in real fights. They give their opponents their dream target – a slow, solid object that takes in the full impact of attacks.

The overall concept of balancing forces is a very common one in Chinese martial art. In Baji Quan for example, the saying is “head butting against the sky, foot planted in the river of underworld” (头顶苍天, 脚踏黄泉). In Xing Yi Quan this is called six directional force, in Taiji Quan, Baji Quan, it’s called eight directional force.

And when you’re both balanced and agile, not only can you exert a greater force, but that force is also less subject to outside influences.


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