Silk Reeling is the pinnacle of Taijiquan (Tai Chi). In the first seminar with Grandmaster Chen Xiaowang I attended to, I friend of mine asked him, “what do we aim to learn by practicing Silk Reeling Exercises, what are the benefits of this Qigong set?”. The Grandmaster was a bit surprised by the question, and answered:
If you learn Silk Reeling Qigong, you have learned Taijiquan (Tai Chi).CHEN XIAOWANG
Surely there’s more to Taijiquan (Tai Chi) than Silk Reeling, but he wanted to make the point that the very core of our practice is moving as this Qigong set teaches us to. Also, what he means by “learning” is not simply copying the movements, but mastering them.
Master Chen Yingjun recently said in an interview to my brother Norman Kobow:
You can say, Taijiquan (Tai Chi) in one way is Qigong, because we try to make the Qi flow in the whole body.CHEN YINGJUN
In the old times, the spiral power characteristic of Taijiquan (Tai Chi) was learned more or less intuitively, as the Chen family children copied the way their fathers and uncles moved when they practiced Laojia. Their training regimen was quite spartan, because they were being raised, just as the previous generation, to be Taijiquan (Tai Chi) masters. When Taijiquan (Tai Chi) spread broadly outside of the family, Chen Xiaowang felt the need to create a teaching system more palatable for non-professionals, with exercises that were simple enough to be copied after some months of regular classes, but which would still transmit the essence of the movement principle governing the practice of Taijiquan (Tai Chi). Chansigong, or Silk Reeling exercises, were born.
The name Silk Reeling is a teaching in itself. If one is to reel silk, a precise amount of tension must be applied to the silk string. If too much force is exerted, the string will break; if too little force is used, the sticky silk will get entangled. The same process occurs during movement: if there’s excessive power, the body becomes stiff, however, if the body is too lax, the Qi is stale. A precise amount of tension is needed for the body to be able to follow the movement of the center, and for the Qi to flow.
Here, we have to emphasize the correct method to achieve the precise distribution, quantity and quality of power. The student should not think in terms of tension, he should always try to relax the body – the activation of the muscles has to be a natural result of the correct posture.