Ji as in Taiji. Not tai chi or 氣 that character is another thing altogether. Ji 極 is the point of transformation between yin and yang or yang and yin. Literally, it shows the ridge pole of a house. The upright where the roof peaks and moves outwards and down. Up one side and then Ji and down the other side.
The points of transformation between the two major energies, or rather ideas of yin yang becoming one another is the study of Taijiquan. At first, the student is taught movement that is well structured and rehearsed. Then that movement needs to be studied from different points of view. In the case of studying physical moments of Ji observing when arms raising becomes are lowering, left becoming right, forward becoming back, outward becoming inward. Every movement in the art has these qualities and they can be felt and seen to be categorized as yin or yang primarily.
It is the moments of transition where gongfu skill resides. Moments that are alive and changing, transforming. Ideally transforming the opponent into a more…. Reasonable person.
However, most of the time a subject like this ends here in discussion. “Be sure to watch for those transformations of Yin / Yang in everything.” UH – Yeah – Okay… What does that mean? The meaning of that statement or rather the study implied by it is enormous. Every single transformation for something to its interposed opposite is a huge number.
So, when we are talking about training taijiquan we must keep everything in context. Beginning with noticing when a physical movement changes to its opposite direction. In the very first movement of every taijiquan form is a moment when the hands rise and then fall. The very first moment I point out to students in this level of study is when up becomes down. Noticing the change in direction is not enough, noticing the cause of the change of direction is needed. From the changing of movement of the Dantian and therefore the body in direction to the engagement and disengagement of the body during each part of the movement. That Ji moment, the moment in between is where the lesson lies and where a part of the art lives. At that moment the body is in a state of active change and filled with potential for both yin and yang movement. Since they both exist simultaneously and interchange naturally taking a simple movement like this and slowing it down to a snail’s pace makes this incredibly brief glimpse into a natural phenomenon expand slightly. Taijiquan training is done slowly for the reason of stretching time and being able to see in more detail how the body is moving and why. Giving the practitioner time to do the internal work they need to do. In this case studying the change from rise to fall in the body’s mechanics, mental intent, and the feeling of the moment of silence where the potential (Ji) moment exists – Stillness in Motion.
Working long enough and carefully enough at understanding Ji in the body and movement is a work of years. Every direction, every arc, from every limb throughout a taijiquan form is filled with many hundreds of these moments to study. Some of them in very unusual circumstances where the transformation changes are different than perhaps, they appear. As a Taiji form progresses the transitions and movements become more complex and more difficult to perform bringing the practitioner more and more skill as they struggle through applying the principles and methods to these more difficult movements. The first study of up, down, left, right, forward, back is followed by seeking the moments where expand and contract to transform into one another. This is begun by studying open / close in the joints of the body as yin/yang transformations. Noticing the folding and unfolding of the shoulders, elbows, wrists, hips (Kwa), knees, ankles brings the attention to the Ji moment from open to close and close to open as well as the overall opening / expanding or closing / contracting of the body. A deep study of the open/close, expand / contract moments during taijiquan practice brings more of the movement’s qualities to the attention. Movement names, for example, are not to be taken as ‘postures’ or static positions. There are no static positions in taijiquan. They are names used to teach concepts that are most easily taught through the various movements they are naming. Teaching beginners requires static postures correction but never going beyond this will stop your progress in Taiji forever. The Wild Horse parts its Mane, for example, is not a posture but moving most of the body from a closed to an open position transforming overall from yin to yang. It is easy to see how even a small form can be deeply studied in this way.
Martially the study of Ji means to take the concept outside of the self. The interactions between myself and an opponent are also able to be seen, as everything else in the universe, as Yin Yang pairings that transform. This is where we find the roots of martial advice like “If he comes with Yang, respond with Yin.” In Taijiquan, an often-heard phrase is to “lead to emptiness” which means to take an opponent’s Yang attack and gently deflect so its power is directed away harmlessly. Alone this is not a martial example of the Ji concept as there was no transformation to be had. A single attack – Yang deflected by a single defense – Yin. So, the Ji moment never takes place in this application in a way that beginners to martial arts can find meaningful. Unfortunately, this is the most common type of application training in traditional Chinese martial arts. In order to maintain a study of Ji in application there needs to be a moment of transformation. If we took the previous example and added that the Taiji player attacked the opponent first (Yang) and then the opponent responded with an attack (Yang) which the Taiji player then deflected (Yin) we can see the Ji moment take place. It is not an intellectual study either, this all needs to be experienced for it to have any real meaning. If you want to understand Ji in application training, you have to take the responsibility yourself to find the moments of study and experience them directly and on purpose. The result is a vastly different skill level in the practitioner who is training in this way as opposed to simply doing a form over and over.
Taiji is a huge study of the transformations of yin/yang starting with those within. Physically the body opens and closes and so on while the mind drives the machine with its intent. Understanding what there IS to study in Taijiquan really helps make training hours count for something. I mean how many Taiji teachers have I met that had no idea the words chi and ji are different? This is just the result of underdeveloped teaching methods by their own teachers likely. But, since in reality, we are the ones teaching ourselves any way we need to take responsibility for our study and training and look for the steps and information to work with. Working on a single principle in Taiji for a session is worth ten sessions of mindless repetition of form.
Know what you are up to, its easier to know what you’re up to then.