A magazine of martial and movement arts, with a focus on the internal style of Tai Chi Chuan
by Christopher Dow
Tai Chi practitioners recognize that the martial aspect of Tai Chi manifests as jin, or the composite energy that can be produced by the various aspects of chi, sinews, muscles, balance, and other factors all combining in unitary and focused bodily movement. Jin can move relentlessly foward or backward, be released explosively, or be retracted. There are many types of jin, but one of the most difficult to learn properly is “following jin,” or the ability to adhere to an opponent and follow them no matter which way they move or turn. Some of this ability might be due to diligent and observant training, but some might also lie beneath the surface. For a hint at the hidden nature of this ability, we'll look to the animal kingdom.
But first, let's look at iron magnets. Most examples of iron are not magnetic, though they will be attracted to a magnet. The difference is that in normal iron, the polarities of the many molecules point in a disorderly manner, while in magnetized iron, the polarities of all the molecules are all aligned. Any non-magnetic piece of iron can be turned into a magnet by melting the iron, exposing it to a magnetic field to align the molecules, then letting the iron harden, leaving all the molecules fixed in their alignment.
In animals, it is well established that a tremendous number of species can sense and utilize magnetic and electromagnetic fields. Birds often use their sense of place within Earth’s magnetic field to direct their mass migrations over distances of thousands of miles. Bats use the same sense to find their way back to their home roosts. Wasps often are drawn to and congregate in large numbers around the electromagnetic fields that surround antenna arrays and microwave relays atop buildings and tall towers.
One of the most remarkable displays of following can be seen in the movements of large flocks of birds and schools of fish as they follow their leaders in flowing, synchronized movements through their environments. One moves, and all the rest spontaneously and instantaneously follow in a way that makes it seem that there are no individuals, only large, flowing, formless creatures composed of many similar parts. Perhaps this sort of movement is the result of the biofield of each individual in these flocks and schools always seeking to find comfortable, natural alignment with those of their neighbors. The result is that the numerous individual fields find themselves parts of a gestalt field to which the individuals subsume their wills. They become, in essence, mere elements, or cells, within massive and unified but essentiallly amorphous "beings" held together by the commonality and alignments of their fields.
Following jin, then, while undoubtedly having a physical component that effects actual physical momement, also might have a more critical underlying component whose nature lies in alignment of the practitioner’s personal field with the energetic emanations of the opponent. In essence, the practitioner allows himself to be subsumed to the energetic movements of the opponent while not allowing the opponent’s movements to result in either a direct impact or a breaking away.