Interesting, because I would claim the opposite. In my experience, maintaining the internal connection is what creates the spiraling coordination. One can disturb this spiraling e.g. by active muscle usage, but in the end when the internal connection(s) is/are there, the body wants
to move in a spiraling fashion. So it's more about allowing the body to do so, then about actively coordinating the spiraling.
The above seems to suggest that the only thing practiced by silk reeling is proprioceptive awareness. This would mean that everyone already has all physical qualities needed to perform silk reeling correctly, save the proprioception part. I do not think that's true. The internal connections need to be conditioned and the coordination to move in accordance with these connections needs to be developed.
To expand on the above points, here's how I would explain silk-reeling.
The body has a front side and a back side. The front side consists of the insides of the arms, the insides of the legs and the frontside of the torso. The backside consists of the outsides of the arms, the outsides of the legs and the backside of the torso. (For more detail, take a look at the main meridians of the body. And for a slightly different view, the pictures from the book by Chen Xi that were posted.)
Once can contract the frontside of the body with the dantien/hara as center to 'close' the body. One can also contract the backside of the body, again with the dantien/hara as center to 'open' the body. This opening and closing of the body can only be done if the internal connections of your body have been conditioned sufficiently to guide the movement. And if you allow these connections to fully define your movement, you'll get the typical spiraling movements of silk-reeling.
The main point I'd like to make is that first of all silk-reeling is about physical development. It's a whole-body workout. It's Chen Tai Chi calisthenics.
I don't think I disagree with what you posted, Joep. The body will tend to want to move in the spiraling chansi fashion when the internal connection is established and maintained. And you are correct in that the internal connection must be cultivated or conditioned to become stronger. But first you need to find the internal connection in order to become aware of what you're trying to condition, and that is where the beginning level of silk-reeling exercises (SREs) comes in. At this stage it is a matter of active coordination, and that is how Chen Xiaowang and Feng Zhiqiang taught it--to beginners.
However, that does not mean that there are not better ways to clarify what chansi
involves and how to teach it. Your suggestion that basic training be refocused to an even more fundamental/basic level, "to condition the internal connections," seems very sensible--as the vast majority of Chen taiji students training with SREs still seem to miss developing the internal connections and skill of the high-level teachers. The original post asked about silk-reeling, which is a prominent feature of--although certainly not exclusive to--Chen taijiquan. The logical direction for discussion would include what relevance and benefit SRE training might have for aikido. To that end, Joep, any conditioning practices for internal connection that in your view are fundamental to silk-reeling and that you might be willing to describe here would be helpful.
Also, I did not intend to suggest that enhanced proprioception ("the ability to sense the position and location and orientation and movement of the body and its parts"--Princeton Web dictionary) is the only or primary benefit of SREs, so your clarification in this regard was helpful.
Depending on the teacher, the Feng/Zhang SRE set I mentioned before may be taught with a focus on breathing (including reverse breathing) in some exercises to enhance the feeling of stretching and contraction during the movements. Other sets in the Feng/Zhang system involve the taiji bang
or stick (and also taiji "ruler") to help both coordination and conditioning. The movements that Chen Xiang demonstrates leading the group of white silk pyjamas here can be worked with breathing:
The twisting movements demonstrated in this taiji bang clip train coordination and conditioning if done properly (i.e., the focus is on what the whole body is doing, not just the grasping and the twisting of the forearms): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n627ynWRHLQ&NR=1
. It should be noted that working with the taiji bang is done not just in the Feng/Zhang (Chenshi Hunyuan taiji) system, but also in other lines from Chen Village including Chen Qingzhou.
The spiraling connections through the dantien can also be trained with dantien rotation movements using a heavy ball (e.g., medicine ball), as Chen Qingzhou demonstrates in this clip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y1Iu-iGXlZg
. Chen Qingzhou's dantien development is quite pronounced, and very inspiring to see and feel.
Describing SREs as a form of "Chen taiji calisthenics" to condition the internal connections is interesting. Repetitive practice of single movements (posture-transition-posture) from the solo form sequence is a long-standing method of taiji training. In 2002, Chen Xiaowang told me that the SREs were in response to a government directive to develop taiji as a physical education curriculum, as a form of basic exercises to teach correct aligned movement, coordination and connection. Earlier, Feng Zhiqiang mentioned how his teacher, Chen Fake (Chen Xiaowang's paternal grandfather), could often be seeing twining an arm and hand or making other chansi
-type movements even while standing engaged in conversation. Master-level taiji practitioners seem to constantly cultivate the chansi
quality of movement.
Rambling a bit . . . is chansi
indicated only by externally-evident spiraling motions and joint rotations? Are there other types of movement guided/shaped by "internal connection" that are more linear appearing externally? How much Chen-type chansi
movement does Ueshiba Morihei exhibit, for example?
It seems quite probable that the tissues often associated with "internal connection" (fascia working with musculature)
spiral inside with expansion and contraction of the internal web of connections. Back to a taiji context for a moment: Jeff Crosland studied taiji for a number of years in Beijing. He translated a passage from a Yang style taiji book:
Here is a short paragraph from Wang Yongquan (Wang learned from the Yangs in Beijing) on spiraling:
'Luóxuán'; 'spiraling' has two meanings:
One meaning refers to the use of rotational hand movements to avoid the end-point of the opponent's force as you are luring to neutralize (yǐnhuà) or striking the opponent.
The second meaning refers to the spiraling energy (luóxuánjìn) that forms as your internal energy is emitted out of your hands in an advancing and spiraling path. This spiraling energy that is emitted from your body is not expressed in external movements. Even at the point of contact you cannot let the opponent feel as if there are any changes going on. The goal of using this spiraling energy is to avoid running head on into the opponents force in the process of attacking the opponent's center. Both clockwise spiraling and counter-clockwise spiraling are used; the decision to use one direction or the other is determined by the opponent's situation and which direction seems smooth in the implementation of your technique.
Wāng Yǒngquán. Yángshì Tàijíquán Shùzhēn. Beijing: Renmin tiyu. p. 238.Getting wrapped up in this surreptitiously spiraling web of your opponents energy, this is 'chánsī'. Feels just like you think Spiderman should feel like. The above described skill is a high level control of internal energy emission. In using 'chánsī' we wrap up the opponent's force. I would call this 'spiraling control.'
'chōusī' refers to the basic concept of connection between body parts; it does not imply spiraling. I would use the English word "reeling" only for 'chōusī' because you can 'reel in' and 'reel out'.
At this point I want to be clear that anything I suggest here is from my own very limited experience and skill level with Chen taijiquan, which I have not actively trained in 10 years (having moved on to other things).