FAJIN (Peng jin or "1 inch punch")
On occasion, one of my students, Barry will demonstrate portions of his Katas. Barry is a high level black belt in a Karate system in addition to studying Classical Tai Chi with me. The techniques that he demonstrates are very powerful, whether using hand or foot and there is an audible “snap” when he blocks, punches or kicks. On the other hand, lots of people who look at Tai Chi will most often say that it does not resemble a martial art, so how could it be? So it would seem, the very powerful punching and kicking of such external martial arts as Karate, Kung Fu, or even some external Tai Chi appears to be the correct way to gain martial expertise.
On pp. 104 of "Uncovering the Treasure..." by Master Stephen Hwa, he says: "I remembered my teachers (lessons) very well allowing me to work and improve my form by myself. When I had achieved the level where internal energy circulated during form practice and form practice was completely subconscious, I discovered that I could do fajin without consciously knowing I was doing fajin". He goes on to say: "The full speed and power punch and kick of the Kata or Form of external martial arts, on the surface seems a logical way to train. But in fact it has deficiencies. When a full speed punch or kick reaches its end point, the momentum of the movement has to be absorbed by the shoulder or hip joint to stop the movement. This could cause hyperextension of the tendon in that joint. Since I am teaching Tai Chi in a Karate school, I hear stories about young and promising black belts who need to have their shoulder or hip repaired".
So we see, there are drawbacks to training with full velocity and strength. There is a start to a high velocity punch, kick, block, etc., and there is a "jarring" end. Each and every movement is also dependent on the momentum force. Momentum force of course is dependent on the mass of an object multiplied by its velocity. In addition, the external stylist does not have to be big if he can gain sufficient speed. So there we have the “start” of a high powered movement, what about the “end”, and what of those drawbacks we mentioned?
Well, that all out, obviously high speed punch or kick has to stop, particularly if it does not hit something. What it stops on is the weakest link in the chain which as Master Hwa said may be a shoulder, a hip, a knee . So at the very least we can say it is doing the individual joints little good to absorb that impact, above all it is not healthy. However, the external stylist will say, but wait, I “pull my punch, kick, etc.” so I am not hurt. It stands to reason that the end result of this is a smaller amount of power being furnished, does it not? In essence one is training by “pulling their punches”, not really delivering full power strikes to train with.
In the video, my student Tom K. remarked that he felt the Tai Chi fajin of Master Hwa penetrated into his stomach. Well, from my vantage point next to him it not only penetrated but it most certainly seemed to knock him back before he had a chance to back away. Master Hwa articulated this and reiterated this assertion as well. There was no momentum (Master Hwa did not draw back to gain velocity for his mass), that delivered this punch, the hand was almost in contact with Tom to begin with. So the question, is, if Classical Tai Chi does not practice with full power, how does it attain such power with fajin? I don't think I am oversimplying things by saying that is indeed a "burst" of power BUT It uses the process of slow, detailed “repetition” in Tai Chi form, silk reeling, and isolated practice of individual movments, to gain the skill. The punch or the movement to punch as it were is repeated, repeated and repeated literally thousands of times.
Do not forget that Classical Tai Chi was the martial art of choice for the palace guards of the Chinese Imperial Family. They obviously not only liked but put it to practical use on occasion. Those top notch martial artists, the Yang’s, the Wu’s saw deeply into the art and learned that slowness, softness, coupled with detailed, meticulous repetition was the perfect way to train. A fajin punch could be done with internal discipline, carefully paying attention to the detail as it were (the devil is the details) and also done over and over and over again with no chance of injuring a joint or wiring the skill of “pull punch” ability into their system.
We will be speaking more on the subject of “repetition” in blogs that will follow this one. If one thing can be said of this process to expertise that I describe, it has to be that those early masters were consistent in their approach. Think of repeating a fajin punch literally thousands and thousands of times SOFTLY and SLOWLY, never bursting a powerful strike, that is the epitome of consistency.
I leave you with this saying from the I Ching, Hexagram 29, The Abysmal (Water):
“...in teaching others, everything depends on consistency, for it is only through repetition that the student makes the material his own” , pp. 114, The I Ching or Book of Changes by Richard Wilhelm, Cary F. Baynes, Publisher: Princeton University Press; 3rd edition (October 1, 1967)