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Peng Jin? I have tried finding a way to write about this subject for quite a long time, and how to present this Tai Chi term in a simple way, making it easy to comprehend. But no. There are just too much ideas and thoughts in my brain on this concept. Most of all, we really need to crush all of the misunderstandings and all of the strange ways people comprehend it. I will probably return to this subject many times. But here at least is the summary of some of my thoughts.

First, people tend to regard it as a basic skill, a basic principle that you should keep always when you practice. This is not true. And it’s a mistake people do because they confuse it with “keeping a round structure”. Read further down if you don’t agree. Here we are going to speak about Pengjin as an advanced skill which is developed through really understand the relaxed Tai Chi body, or it’s shenfa.

To summarize a few important points:

  • Pengjin is not the same as keeping “a round structure”.
  • Pengjin is an advanced Tai Chi skill developed from many years of practice.
  • Pengjin is not any particular stance or posture.
  • Pengjin is expanding movement. (Just get rid of the term “energy”)
  • Pengjin is not about withstanding force.
  • Pengjin gives softness a sense of structure and stability. But:
  • Pengjin is not structure

A Tai Chi player should be extremely relaxed and soft. Pengjin is what prevent your structure from not collapse. Pengin is what separate relaxed and soft from being a “noodle”. But it should not be used to withstand force, and it’s not the same as softness. And it’s not the same as absorbing force.

Using the form movement of peng  together with offensive strategy

But what you should realize is that peng is in fact used for two different things. There is the movement in the T’ai Chi form that is called peng, and this is not the same as the quality or “energy” that is called peng. One common use of this movement is to use  Pengjin to uproot an opponent. But again, it has nothing to do with fajin, or “release energy”. And again, it’s not about resisting or withstand force. The common translation for peng is “ward off”, or for pengjin is “Ward Off Energy”. But this is a misleading translation which says absolutely nothing about it’s use, and even less about it’s martial potential. In a more combative, offensive sense, it’s more about being able to find a way to go below his center of gravity and taking control of his center. Here is an excellent vid on how you can use the movement in the form for push hands or even in a combat situation:

You can also watch it directly on The blog The Tai Chi Notebook and read what the creator of the vid has to say about it.

What peng isn’t and what it actually is

Wu style master Ma Yueliang said:

…it is incorrect to offer any resistance. It should be so light that the weight of a feather will make it move.

Or the whole quote here:

What is Peng Jin and is it better to maintain a little in the arms for example to prevent people from coming in?

People misunderstand Peng. There is another word with the same sound and only one stroke different that means something like structure or framework and people often think this is what is meant by Peng. If you base your Taiji on this incorrect meaning of Peng then the whole of your Taiji will be incorrect. Peng Jin is over the whole body and it is used to measure the strength and direction of the partners force. But it is incorrect to offer any resistance. It should be so light that the weight of a feather will make it move. It can be described like water which will, with no intention of its own, support equally the weight of a floating leaf or the weight of a floating ship. Then he added in English: “Peng Jin is sensitivity”.

Interview by Patrick A Kelly patrickkellytaiji.com via Neigong.net.

So, it’s very easy to mistake peng for “structure” peng. But in Tai Chi, the one should be in constant movement. Softness, tingjin (“listening to force”) and pengjin should be used as a whole. If you meet your opponent structure against structure, it means “doubleweighted” and thus you prevent yourself from changing. Instead, when you feel force applied on you, that part of the body should become empty (Watch what Wang Peisheng says in the beginning of the vid linked about being double weighted!). Pengjin is what you use to not collapse.

But then, how do you develop it?

True Pengjin skill, or “jin” as skill, quality or “energy” as some people calls it,  is not developed from testing rooting skills, withstand force or absorb energy. Peng is not a fixed stance or done through a certain alignment. You should have it in any position, posture and you should have it in your body all of the time. Learning expanding quality in certain postures or keeping a certain structure is not enough. If you practice this way, you fool yourself and prevent yourself from learning about this skill and what it can accomplish.

So the tai chi body is about developing softness that don’t need to use force or tension. But then how do you prevent yourself from collapsing? It’s here Pengjin comes into the play. Actually, it’s a skill which comes from an amount of hours practicing softness. Yes, if you don’t learn how to trust in softness, you will never understand Pengjin. To reach this point, you need to have more or less a religious faith on relaxation. It’s not easy. As when you practice free push hands, you need to get rid of all tension, all urge to resist. And you will loose many times before you understand how to use your structure and softness, your listening skill and how to adept your own body to your opponent. Before you learn it, you will find yourself pushed around and you should still not resist. To get rid of all the defensive attitude and trust your relaxed body takes courage. Occasionally, you might feel like you have stripped yourself naked and must stand there while people look at you without clothes. It’s not a pleasant feeling to give up yourself. But this is what you need to do. And you need to do it over and over again, if you want to learn what Tai Chi skill is all about.

First when you reach the point where you can be extremely soft without any tension and still not being wrestled down to the ground by someone stronger, you will understand what this skill can do. And you can be sure that anyone that says that you must still keep a certain tension have not reach this stage yet. Pengjin is about being able to be very soft and not become a noodle or collapse, but it’s a skill you develop from trial and error. It’s definitively not about a balance between softness and tension. Instead, it comes from understanding extreme softness. When you understand pengjin, you will need no more tension. You will need a good understanding of structure, a good root as well as tingjin. Then your pengjin will take care of the rest.