Hard but not stiff; soft but not collapsed.
- 【硬而不僵】: Ying er bu jiang. Hard but not stiff. This is a concept in Chen Style Taijiquan Practical Method.
- 松而不懈: Song er bu xie. Soft but not collapsed. This is a commonly used taiji phrase and concept.
When I asked about the concept of “soft but not collapsed,” Hong smiled and told me to touch him. I touched his forearm. It was hard, harder than any forearm I had touched. He then said, “Push!”. It felt that his forearm was not there when I pushed. A Canadian professor who studied Taiji quan met with Hong in the late 1990s and reported the same. He said that Grandmaster Hong’s arm was made of pure steel. Grandmaster Li Enjiu felt the same way.
My take on this is that Grandmaster Hong asked me to feel him in two different ways for a reason. He wanted me to know that the forearm itself is hard and yet the movement or the action of the forearm is not hard. “Soft” is only an illusion I felt because of his skill in movement. Only when the two (hard object and smooth movements) are coordinated correctly will the special energy of Taiji called “jin” come out.
Those who do not understand this, who have not reach this level and who have not personally touched (worked with in real physical touching) those who have the ability, will have the illusion of “soft but not collapsed”. This illusion is not good or bad, it is only a feeling and experience or description. This is not what actually happens in taiji. In real taijiquan learning, practicing, movement requirements, learning methods and actual action procedure, taiji should be “hard but not stiff”. This is very difficult to accept for those who are not real taiji seekers.
The real taiji seekers are who who have fought in a real Leitai (traditional competition forum), fought on the street, and those who fought for his life. It is not those who “play taiji ” among friends. It is important to note that even when friends “fight for life or for real”, it does not count.
Each body part must be trained to be hard so as to have real gongfu. Song (soft) and Rou (smooth) are superficial concepts that cannot be mixed up with taiji gongfu. When we take a needle, some highly skilled nurses can give you the feeling that the needle does not hurt at all. That’s because of the nurse’s skill in giving a needle. It is not because the nurse uses softer needles! We judge an older person (normally when disease is not a factor) by bone density. If an eighty-year old person has the bone density of the 40-year old person, we say that person is healthy, not the other way around. Only in taijiquan (the kind we don’t promote here) we ask 20-year old young people to imitate the movements of old people!