Study Guide to Taijiquan Fajin (Fa Chin ... or 'Fa Jing') - Part Two

The most popular topic of reading & discussion on this website is tai chi “fajing” (a technically incorrect spelling / concept). As such, I am going to build & refine this extensive online fajin study guide, for my fellow taijiquan enthusiasts to consider and comment.

Before I provide some of my own analysis on several fajin demos of accomplished taijiquan masters … we need to review the basics.

Cheng Man Ching's Fajin (or "Fajing")

The Basics of Taiji Fajin

First of all, the “correct” translation would be taiji fajin (pinyin) … tai chi fa chin (Wade-Giles) … or 太極發勁 (Mandarin).

I get the impression — quite often — that many western taiji practitioners feel that “fa jin” is something magical / mystical (especially when getting carried away with the whole “fajing” {發精} confusion).

Fajin is not some mystical transference of one’s vital life force that can result in launching or seriously injuring your opponent. While this may be possible … it is not fajin.

Real fajin is, in fact, a quite normal & everyday physical phenomenon … namely: the Issuing (or Releasing or Discharging) of Power (or Force).

In Mandarin, (發) literally means to Issue. To Send Out. To Release. It is the same word used in phrases like:

  • fā zhǎn ( 發展) … development; growth; to expand (as in jīng zhǎn :: economic development).
  • qǐ fā ( 启發)  … to enlighten; to inspire; to teach.
  • chū fā ( 出發) … to start out; to set off.
  • fā xīn ( 發薪) … to pay wages or salary.

To my understanding, all of the above are the same “fā” (發) as in fajin. Clearly, this term has quite a variety of uses … all of which revolve around expanding / issuing / sending out / “going forth” / etc. I expect this should make pretty clear sense in the context of fajin.

Now, jìn (勁), on the other hand, is a bit more confusing … because it has various meanings unique to the Chinese Martial Arts (and even some that are almost exclusively found in the Internal Martial Arts or nei jia).

The literal translation of jìn is: “Strength; Energy; or Enthusiasm”

… which covers a lot of territory.

It is used in many ways in many Mandarin phrases, so for the sake of this discussion, we’ll stick to the Chinese Internal Martial Arts usages. One of the primary distinctions to clarify the meaning of jin is the old “Jin vs. Li” argument.

Jin “Internal” “Soft” Power vs. Li “External” “Hard” Power

In taijiquan, we speak of this same “jin” in many contexts. Here are just a few of the vitally important taijiquan uses of the term jìn (勁):

  • tīng jìn (聽勁) :: Listening energy.
  • péng jìn (棚勁) :: Ward off energy.
  • lǔ jìn (掳勁) :: Roll back energy.
  • chán sī jìn (纏絲勁) :: Silk reeling energy.

Which brings us, of course, to the {in}famous “fā jìn” (發勁) :: Issuing energy.

By energy here, it may be clearer if we clarify that the reference is to “Force” or “Power” in the Newtonian physics sense (like “Ek=½mv2” … the formula for Kinetic Energy).

It is definitely not something mystical. It is also definitely not the “jing” (精) of Traditional Chinese Medicine, which literally means “life essence” ( … like, when you run out of jing qi — you’re dead). While this life essence may have its practical applications in a martial arts context, this is not as common a topic in my experience, and I’m quite sure that it is not what any of my teachers have meant when talking of taiji fajin.

At the most fundamental level, fajin means transferring power (or force) to the opponent.  The reason that fajin can so effortlessly launch people (or quickly crumple them into piles of pain) is the highly efficient & targeted way this issuing or transferring of force is accomplished by high level taijiquan practitioners.

In the classics, here’s what they have to say about it:

To fa chin (release energy),
relax completely,
and aim in one direction!

-The Essence of T’ai Chi Ch’uan
Translated & Edited by Benjamin Pang Jeng Lo

Cryptic, but when you understand related concepts like sticking & adhering, seizing & locking … and can easily find & seal your opponents center … this description of fajin is actually quite exceptional.

Another discussion of fajin (fa chin in this Wade-Giles translation) is from Li I Yu’s contribution to the taijiquan classics:

Distinguish clearly between substantial and insubstantial. To fa chin (discharge) it is necessary to have root. The chin starts from the foot, is commanded by the waist, and manifested in the fingers, and discharged through the spine and back. One must completely raise the spirit (pay attention) at the moment when the opponent’s chin is just about to manifest, but has not yet been released. My chin has then already met his (chin), not late, not early.

-The Essence of T’ai Chi Ch’uan

While this description is a little less cryptic than the one before it (thanks Li I Yu) … it does cram a lot of complicated concepts into a really small amount of words.

In my experience, the clear differentiation between substantial & insubstantial is like the engine of fajin. A swift switch from yin-to-yang & yang-to-yin in one’s body, while well rooted & aiming directly to the opponent’s center, will create a fajin as surely as a rock tossed in the lake will make ripples & waves.

Identifying the “moment when the opponent’s jin is just about to manifest, but has not yet been released” is quite difficult … as is meeting his jin with one’s own jin … “not late, not early.” This is one of the many reasons that patience & a high tolerance for frustration are so important in the serious taijiquan practitioner.

Here are some video examples, with commentary to help you understand & implement this unique form of power into your own practice.

Tony Ho (Anthony Ho Nan Jie) Taijiquan Fajin Demonstrations

<<< Tony Ho Demonstrating Taiji Fajin … From a Seated Position … With Legs Freely Swinging! >>>

This is a demonstration of superior skill, and sticking / adhering to the opponent’s incoming force. You can see that even without any connection directly to the ground below, the taijiquan master Tony Ho still has root in the unsupported seated position. Remember, only by having root is it possible to fajin. Root is obviously not dependent on a “strong structure” alone — as Tony is demonstrating clearly in the above video.

This is a mystery of taijiquan (and other martial arts) that is hard to explain if you cannot experience it directly … but I will further elaborate in a future post.

<<< Tony Ho Demonstrating Many Different Ways to Issue () Power or Force (jìn) in Taijiquan >>>

I have experienced Tony Ho’s high level taijiquan first hand, and can say that without a doubt this man is the “real deal.” He is one of the best taijiquan masters I have ever encountered. His ability to perfectly read & stick to an opponent’s touch (or something “deeper”) is uncanny, and his ability to translate this into real world fighting applications is unparalleled.

<<< 74 Years Old Taijiquan Master Tony Ho Demonstrating Fajin … With a Light Touch. >>>

This video shows the versatility of the ability to fajin when one’s listening, lightness, and connection are all at a very high level. Tony can cause the opponent to be moved, sometimes without physical contact, just by causing an unconscious expectation of contact. This creates a feeling of subtle confusion that is also very difficult to describe, but very debilitating to experience. To me, it is like a feeling of “Oh, I’m about to get him … almost … almost … ” but then never reaching him. If you’ve ever accidentally missed the chair when expecting it to be somewhere it was not, you know the exact feeling.

Conclusion :: Taijiquan Fajin (or “Fa jing”) Study Guide :: Part Two

Hopefully this article will at least help to dispel any confusion as to what a “fa jing” might mean … and what a real fajin is.

These videos of the above masters are some of the clearer examples available to “watch & learn” so to speak. Even still, without the right exposure to the correct touch, it may be very difficult to understand this issuing (fa) of soft internal power (jin).

To give you something to ponder, I will provide a few of my own experiences as to how I feel when issuing or receiving a clean fajin … though my level is nothing compared to those masters profiled in the above videos.

  • Fajin may feel very light, but still moves the opponent far.
  • Fajin feels like a complete relaxation of one’s body & a targeted “falling” into the opponents center.
  • When receiving a fajin, if one is relaxed, it will often create feelings of tingling, warmth, heaviness, or lightness in one’s body.
  • Correct fajin, when issued, momentarily “freezes” the opponent.
  • Fajin in a strike almost always will create a momentary seizing of the breath.
  • Fajin in a pull or push will almost always create a facial expression of panic or fear (… I call this the “Oh Shit!” feeling … like when one anticipates an extra stair in the stair case).
  • Fajin when applied through a small point (finger tip, elbow tip, etc) will often create long lasting feelings of aching or pressure.
  • Fajin requires root. When issuing, there is a momentary “transparent” connection between the point of contact & the ground.
  • And what about you? … Please add your own fajin descriptions, thoughts, or training exercises in the comments.

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