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Jin or jing, this Chinese character can be pronounced and romanized in both ways. People often translate it into “energy”. But “energy” is still not exactly what was originally meant. The eight Jins in T’ai Chi, “Ba fa” or “Ba jin” are the eight basic ways you can use the body. The term Jin has the connotation of a skill, something that is learned and developed through proper practice.

The “Eight Energies” are also called the “8 Gates”, or “Ba Men” in Chinese. Together with the 5 steps, they make up the 13 postures or principles. I have described the Tai Chi 5 steps in this post. Here, we will only consider the 8 jins.

The “8 energies” are considered as eight basic techniques, but in fact they are something that should be described much more as body skills than as techniques. The names for the eight jins are: 掤 peng, 捋 lu, 挤 ji, 按 an, 採 cai, 挒 lie, 肘 zhou, 靠 kao.

A Jin in Tai Chi can mean two different things (at least)

When people speak about these Jins they can mean either a technique, a movement in the form, or they can mean a basic body skill that has the same name. In fact the movements in the T’ai chi form which has the name of the Jin only resembles one example of how the Jin can be used. And also, every movement in a T’ai chi form belong to one of these jins. In Chinese calligraphy, there are eight basic strokes that make up all of the chinese characters. In T’ai Chi, the eight jins make up all of the movements in the form.

Confusion about the definitions of the terms

In the T’ai chi world, there is indeed a confusion about the definitions of the jins. Some things are described differently according to style,  school and lineage. Most of the confusion has to do with not being able to separating the body skill from the individual examples in the T’ai chi form or with trying to translate the meaning according to the names. Everyone says that he or she is correct and everyone else is wrong. And so do I. You can listen to whom ever you like. But my advice is to have in mind that any complete system needs its own logic. If there is any kind of contradiction or something that doesn’t make sense, or some detail that seems off or misplaced, there is mostly some kind of mistake or flaw that can make the whole system fall flat. What I will try to do is to explain the jins in a detailed yet cohesive manner and in a way that all of the different parts hold together as a solid system. The way I will try to explain the jins is also somewhat different from how many others will explain it.

Eight different aspects of open and close

Why must the explanation be different? Well, what you should understand is that most of the T’ai chi body methods that are taught today are great simplifications of what so called indoor students or disciples are taught. If the eight jins resemble eight different body methods, then how “common” students will understand the concept of a Jin will differ from an advanced indoor student.

Anyway, there’s a common saying in tai chi that “Kai/He should be in every movement.” My first Yang style teacher tried to teach me this in my very first year. Later I encountered it from various teachers. They had a different take on the principle, but they all emphasized it as an important part of tai chi and form practice especially. What exactly does “Kai he should be in every movement” mean? Kai is usually translated as open, he is mostly translated to “close”. A general more simple explanation is that Kai and he is the movement of the body as whole body should work like a belch achieve circulation however you want to explain this. Traditionally it is said that these movements help you to pump up the Qi and use these movements to circulate it through out the body. If you want to use the old Chinese term “qi” or not, it is still true that “Kai He” type of movements will help you to build up a certain heat inside of the body. But “open and close” is not a complete translation or anyway near satisfactory explanation of this term. The common word for close or closing in Chinese is not “he” but “guan”. The real meaning of “he” is not really to close something, but to “connect”. The character for he looks like a house. In Tai Chi it has a similar meaning because every movement is a certain formation of the body, a body structure.

“To connect” in tai chi means that the angles of the body is as strong as possible so the body structure is as strong as possible. The structure demands certain angles as well as support from a strong base. The “he” or “close” means to connect the structure from the foot through the legs, gua, back and spine, shoulder blades, arms, right out to the fingertips. Kai means to “open” as in open up the structure. Another word that was used earlier together with “he” is zhan or stretch. Kai or zhan means that you need to open up the joints before connecting. “Kai” is straightening the spine, “he” is to fold it slightly, or to “ba bei han xiong”, one of the ten fundamental principles according to Yang Cheng Fu, or to “pluck back and hollow chest”.  “He” is to tuck in the tailbone, “Kai is to release, straighten it or untuck it. In the open-close principle, the whole body should, as I said earlier, work as a belch, the whole body constantly contracts and expand, from the legs through the whole spine. The arms help to balance and connect the whole structure. From a neidan perspective or from the POV of circulating qi, “Kai” is like turning on a water tap, and “he” is connecting the hose. Then you can control direction and strength of the water flow. This is similar for tai chi. You must first open up the structure before connecting it. When you connect it you have circulation.

In Tai Chi, as I already have stated, “Kai/He’ should be present in every movement. But how often do you hear an explanation how “Kai/He” is used for ba jin/ 8 “energies”? If you have already read a whole lot of texts about Tai Chi you will know that the answer is never. Absolutely no one explain this.

All of the 8 jins or energies are aspects of either Kai or He body movements. As techniques, they are eight different ways to use either open or close aspects for combat. What is the point of arranging techniques or fighting methods in either Kai or he? This has nothing to do with theory or philosophy. In fact, there’s a very commonsensical practicality behind this construction. If you consider each and one of the eight jins as either an open or close aspect, you can understand that they function very clever together. One of the eight jin is used to store energy for another jin. When you pull or twist your body, the next movement will flow easy and natural into the other. If you consider the jins as different aspects of certain body movement as you use them in real situations, the energies will flow into each other continuously without gaps or breaks. Your movements will become lively, you will move smooth and find it easy to change swiftly between movements.

The four main directional movements

The jins are considered first and secondary movements. The first four are the most important and three of them belong to “close”, or ”he” aspects. The four secondary, or corner movements have three “open” or “kai” type of movements.

Peng – “ward off”

Peng is often called ward-off and Pengjin ward-off energy. As a quality, energy or jin, Peng is a consequence of achieving a very relaxed and balanced Tai Chi body. Peng is what naturally hold up the structure. As a technique or a movement, there should be no resistance. An offensive attack, a push or strike, happens in the change from another movement, as lü, into peng. You can store movement or energy with lü and release it with peng. Adding this principle for any kind of attack enhances the power released.

Lü – “Roll Back”

Lü belongs to “open” movements or “Kai”. It is used mostly in defensive movements. to evade, parry, It’s like opening up a door as someone tries to run into it. When people quote the famous saying “to lead into emptiness,” they mostly think about lu. The centerline of the body acts as the middle of a wheel. The body turns around it. The attacking part of the opponent attaches to you as that point was the outer part of the wheel.

Ji – “press”

Ji or “press” is a force coming straight out from the center of the body. In the form, the common movement that is labelled ji has one hand supported by the other, often seen as an attack with the wrist of the back. But the visual appearance of the most common versions is a bit deceiving. You can use one single hand and you can use any part of the hand to strike with. A straight lead/a straight jab belong to ji types of attacks.

An – “Push” or “push down”

An means push and is often translated as “push down”. Some people says that an is the two hand push, others say that an is the downward movement after the push, or that the push begins upwards and then continue downwards. If you look at different videos and clips on YouTube, you will see that this jin has a various explanations. I have already stated that I believe that each jin is in fact a different way of body use. I don’t believe that any one of them has to do with directions except in the form as examples. It is possible that this jin has got it’s name from a certain downwards movement in the form. I appreciate the explanation of relaxing downwards, and there is indeed truth to that it’s function has to do with relaxing into the movement. But the jin itself is not a direction. An is using a close, or he, movement with both hands together as you move your spine and back as in a basic han xiong ba bei manner, or raise back hollow chest. An is using this movement to attack with. It can be done forwards, upwards or down. It’s the movement of the trunk that determines if it’s an or not.

The 4 corner movements

Lie – “Split”

If lü is the opposite of peng, than Lie, or split is the opposite to an. An represents using a complete close posture and lie means to open up the body. It’s Kai, or open, using both arms. The common appreciation of the name is that splitting means to do two things at the same time, as pulling two limbs in different directions. But in my opinion, the name is not derived from any the application, but instead it represents the feeling of the movement, like tearing a book apart. In the form, the “single whip” posture and “separate horse’s mane” are both wide, kai movements and thus they represent lie.

Cai – “pluck”

Cai is called a downwards grab or jerk and this is how most of people appreciate the movement, like a sudden grab or like jerking of an apple from a tree. If this were true, then why would it be called a jin? A jerk is not a skill that needs to be practiced to developed. In fact, cai is a “Kai” type of movement that is mostly used after that an arm is deflected away with lü. Cai is a very small, subtle and completely effortless move that is aimed so to abruptly lead off his balance. He will not hardly feel your cai, but the downward movement will make him feel as he drops suddenly into a gap or a whole. This is the most common traditional use of cai, but it can also be used together with a hooking movement to pull the opponent towards the Tai Chi practitioner. As cai is a single side Kai, or ”open” type of movement, it is popular to use in conjunction with ji, to store jin in order to use it for a strike.

“Cai is where our opponent loses control of his centre of gravity, and we use a technique to disrupt his balance to such an extent that he is uprooted completely from his position. It is something like a strategically placed lever lifting a heavy rock.”
– Principles of the 13 Tactics

Zhou – “Elbow”

Zhou means elbow. Zhou is mostly using the elbow or upper arm. But the technique or use does not mean any kind of elbow attack. In fact, Zhou is an aspect of Kai. The arm and elbow strikes as it is stretched into the opponent.

Kao – “Lean”

Kao is often translated into English as shoulder or shoulder stroke. But the meaning is to lean. In Chinese, if I say that I “kao” you, it means that I lean against you or that I position myself really close to you. Kao is to use the shoulder or the side of the body, to unbalance or strike the opponent. Kao is mostly considered to be an aspect of close, or “he”.