So what is silk reeling then? What are the focus points in the exercise? I'm guessing they're different for different levels/layers of understanding; if so, what might be some of those differences (particularly for beginners and intermediate levels) be?
Also, what are the sensations one experiences when practicing "authentic" silk reeling?
I'll give you what little I know of silk-reeling from the taijiquan perspective. It's not a practice specific to aikido, as far as I know, but training it may provide a better sense of internal connection and whole-body coordinated movement.
Silk-reeling, or chansi jin
, is related to but distinct from silk-drawing or chousi jin
. I mention this initially to help clarify what often becomes confused in discussions of taijiquan.
There is a taiji saying to the effect of move jin
"as though drawing silk" (yun jin ru chousi
) from a cocoon. Louis Swaim, an accomplished translator as well as a long-time taiji practitioner, describes the metaphor in more detail:
each silkworm produced its cocoon in one continuous strand—a very fine fiber. Silk production required removal of the intact individual fibers from cocoons and winding these into thread that was then woven into fabric. The drawing, or pulling of silk (chousi) from the cocoons was a very delicate procedure. If done incorrectly—with too much force, or with stops and starts—the fiber would break. So, it is this imagery that taiji theory draws upon to better understand the interaction of body-mechanics and mental intent required for movement that is integrated, constant, sensitive, and smooth.
The phrase chousi is a common metaphor not limited to taijiquan. It is often used to describe doing something slowly and meticulously. There are related expressions that shed light on the metaphor. One of them is "bojian chousi," which is something like "peel cocoon draw silk." This is used to describe a detailed inqiry into a specific sequence of events, as in a criminal investigation or a scientific experiment. It implies deep and detailed observation, similar perhaps to our metaphors of "leaving no stone unturned," or "going over something with a fine-toothed comb." Another expression is "dujian chousi," roughly "single cocoon draw silk," which is used as a metaphor describing literary work that is well-organized and clear, a thread of thought or sequence of ideas that successfully cohere. Equivalent metaphors we may use in English might be those like a "train of thought," or following the "thread" or "line" of an argument.
The taijiquan use of the metaphor involves tactile sensitivity as well as mental awareness and concentration.
) (bold added for emphasis)
The slow solo performance of taiji forms that is often seen helps develop the proprioceptive sense of chousi
The reference to chousi jin
comes from the (Wu Yuxiang) "taiji classics" of the mid- to late-1800s. The term chansi jin
(silk-reeling) does not seem to predate its use by Chen Xin in his book on his family's martial art (Chen style taijiquan), written in the early 1900s, from which comes these well-known (in taiji circles) images:
Chen Xin writes about these images:
"Coiling power (Chan Jin) is all over the body. Putting it most simply, there is coiling inward (Li Chan) and coiling outward (Wai Chan), which both appear once (one) moves. There is one (kind of coiling) when left hand is in front and right hand is behind; (or when) right hand is in front and left hand is behind; this one closes (He) (the hands) with one conforming (Shun) (movement). There is also one (coiling) that closes the inside of the left (side of the body) and the back of the right (side of the body), and another which uses the through-the-back power (Fanbei Jin) and closes towards the back. All of them should be moved naturally according to the (specific) postures.
Once Qi of the hand moves to the back of the foot, then big toe simultaneously closes with the hand and only at this moment (one can) step firmly.
This power (Jin) comes from Heart (Xin), on the inside it enters bones, on the outside it reaches skin, it is one (power), not multiple (powers). Power is Qi that comes from Heart. If it is moved in central and right way, then it is Central Qi (Zhong Qi); when it is nourished, then it is Noble Spirit (Haoran zhi Qi).
At the back (the power of) the head propping up is (called) Propping-up Power (Ding Jin); large vertebra is the dividing line, below (this) dividing line is the back (Lь), the central bone is backbone (Ji), both kidneys are (called) Waist. Whether foot is Empty (Xu) or Solid (Shi) depends on hand, if hand is Empty then foot is also Empty, if hand is Solid then foot is solid too."
- Illustrated Explanation of Silk Reeling Essence of Taijiquan
. By Chen Xin (1849-1929). Trans.Jarek Szymanski, 1999. http://www.chinafrominside.com/ma/taiji/chenxin.html
Silk-reeling as a metaphor is illustrated at this website (referenced in the Yang Family Taichi Forum above):
, or silk-reeling, refers more to the coordinated active movement of the whole body, and in particular the coordinated movement of and through the joints, during solo performance of the taiji form or in active contact during push-hands, sparring or fighting. This active, spiraling coordination, maintaining the internal connection, can be trained through chansi gong
, silk-reeling exercises, as a separate practice apart from the solo taiji form. I've experienced two systems of chansi
exercises, each with different emphases. One is from Chen Xiaowang, and is very helpful with coordination of whole-body movement. CXW's disciple Chen Xiaowang demonstrates some of the exercises here:
Chen Xiaowang himself has an instructional DVD for these exercises here:
The other system I have some experience with is from Zhang Xuexin, a student of Feng Zhiqiang. This is a more involved series of several dozen exercises that focus more on specific joint rotations, although there are also exercises to train whole-body movement in the series. A description of the full range of Feng's chansi gong
can be found here:
ZXX performs some of the chansi gong
The narrator in the ZXX clip above suggests first learning the external movements, then exploring the proprioceptive internal qualities of the movements.
As to which are beginner or intermediate, all silk-reeling exercises can be trained on a continuum. Even master-level practitioners do chansi gong in the Chen system. Personally, I learned the more involved set of exercises in the Feng/Zhang chansi gong
earlier, but found the practice greatly clarified by CXW's "simpler" set which I learned later. In other words, I think the sense of frame, alignment, and coordinated whole-body movement shown in CXW's set should be trained first, as a beginning set--and then continued alongside learning the more involved movements of the Feng/Zhang set. Learning the Feng/Zhang set first runs the risk of unconsciously training fragmented body movement and can make whole-body coordination more difficult to learn later (just my experience).
Smooth continuity, calmness, heightened awareness of internal connection, central equilibrium, and a variety of qi
sensations (warmth, tingling, stretch and contraction under the skin, etc.) accompany "authentic" practice of chansi gong
. The more skillful Chen teachers may also provide guidance on breathing in connection with silk-reeling.
So what benefit would chansi gong
provide for aikido practitioners? That is of course the relevant question. Not being an aikido practitioner, I can only suggest that the heightened proprioceptive awareness of internal connection and breath, central equilibrium and balance in (slow) movement, might fruitfully carry over to solo aikido basics and improve the connected quality of movement. Silk-reeling is one
way of training aspects of coordinated whole-body movement with internal connection.
Hope that helps.