What is Silk Reeling?

Silk reeling is one of the 3 essential elements in the practice of Chen style tai chi.  Silk reeling refers the continually spiraling whole body movements when practicing tai chi.

The 3 principles of tai chi

There are really only main 3 principles (known as the “3 Principles of Tai Chi” that define this art. They are:

  1. Use intention to guide your movement, not external force (Yi bu li)
  2. Letting go of all physical and mental tension (Fangsong)
  3. Continually spiraling full body movement (Chansijin)

In this article we will focus on the third element. Silk reeling is tai chi’s continually spiraling whole body movement. I will write articles on the other two principles at a later date.

Tai chi spiral movements are based on Nature

In Nature, we can observe many examples of spiral movement. One of the most significant forms of this is found in the DNA helix. It has been documented scientifically that the DNA helix moves in spirals.

The qi (chi, or vital energy) in our body moves in spirals. When we make spiral movements we are enhancing the circulation of our qi.

Another very significant example of this is the motion of silk worms. When these worms are drawing silk, they pull it in a spiral motion. This is so the silk continues in a smooth fashion, and doesn’t break or bind.

Actually the term silk reeling in tai chi is based on observation of the motion of silk worms.

Some more examples of spirals in Nature are ocean waves breaking, sea shells, tree rings, tornadoes, hurricanes, and how about the rotation of the planets…

Tai chi movements are always done in continuous circles and spirals.

An exercise to understand silk reeling

To explain silk reeling, we will use the example of a beach ball.

Take a beach ball and float it on water (swimming pool, bath tub, etc.)  With the tip of your index finger, contact the very top point on the ball and push it straight down under the water.

Can you do it?  Doubtful!

If not, why not?

It is because the ball is a sphere.  When you apply pressure to a sphere, its nature is to roll away in any one of countless directions.  Theoretically, if you could follow the exact center of the ball, you could push it under the water. But this would take great skill.

When an outside force is applied to your body, your body should respond like the beach ball.  This is silk reeling.  This allows you to maintain your structure and balance while neutralizing the force.

Try this exercise with the beach ball.  It will become very clear how difficult it is to follow the center and push the ball under the water!

Make your body like the beach ball!  Don’t give the outside force a point to push!

By the way, the water represents peng jin, or expanding, rising force… We will discuss this in a future post.

If you enjoyed this article, click here for a more in depth discussion on silk reeling.

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