“Six coiling silk movements” refers to a complete set of coiling silk training methods, including single-hand coiling, double-hand coiling, double-arm coiling, opening and closing coiling, advancing and retreating coiling, and standing circle coiling.
There is a saying in traditional Tai Chi Quan, “If you want to train your fist well, you must first train the circle small.” This means that when practicing Chen-style Tai Chi Quan at an intermediate to advanced level, the practitioner’s mastery of coiling silk movements progresses from large circles to small circles, and eventually to the state of “having circle intention without circle form.”
However, for beginners, the key to learning coiling silk movements is not in “training the circle small,” but in “drawing the circle round.” This is because the coiling silk circle is formed by the transfer of leg force through the waist and hips, which then drives the shoulders, elbows, and hands to move as a whole, rather than the usual “swinging the arms in circles” motion.
This circle, formed by coiling silk movements, requires the development of strong leg support through training, while gradually relaxing the joints of the waist, hips, shoulders, elbows, and ankles over a long period of practice, combined with repeated practice and experience, in order to achieve the internal force that runs through the joints and the external form that is round, flexible, and lively.
Therefore, Master Zhu Tiancai proposed another phrase for beginners, “If you want to learn Tai Chi well, draw the circle round first.” Based on the learning characteristics of “using external form to lead internal force” in the beginner stage, he summarized the “Zhu Tiancai Round Law” in the form of a mnemonic:
“Hands open like a bow, thumbs in the middle of the chest. Hands move to about a foot away from the face, leaving a fist-sized space at the groin. The hands lead the elbows to turn in a big circle, while the small circle is driven by the waist. The spine serves as the axis, and the waist rotates forty-five degrees to the left and right.”
This mnemonic succinctly summarizes the external form standards and movement principles of coiling silk movements, and with the coach’s explanation, can help beginners quickly understand and remember the key points of coiling silk training.
Based on the summarized “Round Law,” Master Zhu Tiancai also creatively proposed the “Two-Point Theory” of “head guard” and “groin guard,” which further summarizes and improves the traditional coiling silk training experience.
In the traditional teaching of Chen-style Tai Chi’s “Chan Si Jin” (silk-reeling energy), the two points of transition from clockwise to counterclockwise and vice versa are often emphasized. However, this method of focusing on two points is not accurate in regulating the range and size of the Chan Si circle, which can lead to practitioners exceeding the range of control over their left and right sides. Furthermore, excessive attention to the transition points can lead to the loss of the circular meaning of the Chan Si circle, resulting in irregular movements with sharp angles at the transition points, which is commonly referred to as “flat circle movement”.
On the other hand, Master Zhu Tiancai proposed two standards of “protecting the groin” and “protecting the head”, which not only help practitioners understand the martial application of Chan Si Jin but also enable them to consciously follow the regulation of “hands not crossing the boundary” in Chan Si. Moreover, these standards do not deliberately emphasize the transitions between clockwise and counterclockwise, which allows practitioners to easily switch between them in a relaxed state, and truly “draw a circle” with the Chan Si circle.
Under the guidance of the teaching principle of “one circle, two points”, beginners can quickly learn and initially draw the single-hand Chan Si circle in a lateral posture. However, at this stage, due to insufficient leg strength and the joints of the waist and hips not being opened up, they cannot truly achieve the effect of “driving the body with the hands, and promoting each section with the next” in Chan Si.
At this point, they can enter the next stage of learning, which is to lay a solid foundation for future Tai Chi routines through basic practice of the “six Chan Si movements”.