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Those of us who are involved in the world of martial arts, acknowledge the fact that classical martial artists considered Tai Chi Chuan to “Supreme Ultimate Fist”.  But why?  Why did these martial artists, renowned in their own styles, pay such high respect to Tai Chi Chuan?  Of course, the exploits of “Yang, the Undefeated” [Yang Luchan 1799-1875] had something to do with it, but the true reason for the respect accorded to Tai Chi Chuan is found in the concept of “playing with ones energy”.

To the novice, all martial arts seem alike.  However, to the trained eye, the arts display a vast variety of techniques, postures and forms.  Each art displaying a unique “flavor”.  The respect afforded to Tai Chi Chuan stems from the fact that Tai Chi Chuan has as its major precept, the use of eight distinct and separate energies which are used in combat.  These energies are: Peng (inflate), Lu (pull), Gi (press), An (push), Zhou (elbow), Kao (shoulder), Choi (pluck), and Lick (split).  Without these eight energies at work in the set, the practice of Tai Chi Chuan is impossible.  The rest of this article will investigate and define Peng (inflate), the first of the eight energies.

The first energy, Peng, means inflated energy.  A visual metaphor for the quality Peng is displayed in any pneumatic structure like an inflated tire, raft or ball.  In each of these cases, the trapped air inside the structure resists the forces of compression from the exterior.  From the study of physics, we know that when a pneumatic structure is compressed, the entire diaphragm, as well as the air inside, creates an equal and opposite reaction.  This is Peng.  (see figure 1)

The energy, Peng, practiced as explained above, would mean that a practitioner could hold a line of defense simply by extending the arm and inflating.  Given this posture, the energy of the opponent would not be able to enter the circle of defense.  (see figure 2)

An example of the loss or absence of Peng would be if an opponent pushed on the practitioner’s arm and it collapsed toward his body.  However, this is not to imply that one’s Peng should always be “extended”.  On occasion, the practitioner may want to “deceive” his opponent with the apparent loss of Peng, but the important thing to remember in this instance is that the opponent’s energy must never be allowed to go beyond your center. (see figures 3, 4)

In figure 3, your opponent’s energy may be allowed to your center, but Peng can still be present.  If we think back on the previous examples, we have been explaining Peng as an energy around the body, but Peng also exists within the body as well.  So, as long as the opponent’s energy of a push does not go beyond your center (as shown in figure 4) you can maintain your balance and your Peng.  If his push goes over the center, then you will be off balance because you have allowed the Peng energy to collapse.

The thing to remember about Peng therefore, is that it must always be a quality of inflation, and not a technique of “warding off”.  To explain the difference between Peng (inflation) and warding off, examine figure 5.

In figure 5, the correct body position is given.  The center of the circle represents the center of the head, while point A on the circle is the “heart” of the hand.  When the hand moves to the left or the right of the circle, the head remains in the center.  This positioning is distinctively different from that of what is called warding off, because in warding off, the defender turns at the waist and directs his opponent’s force away from his body.  While with Peng, the hand at point A on the circle, merely maintains the spatial distance from the body is achieved by inflating the Chi throughout the body and turning at the waist.  (see figure 6)

In reviewing figure 6, imagine for a moment that the circle represents a bicycle tire which is 1) rotating around point X, and 2) is parallel to the ground.  Now, also imagine that while the tire is rotating at a relatively fast past, an object is tossed onto the tire.  We all know what would happen, the object would go flying off in the direction the tire is spinning.  The application of the energy Peng, creates exactly the same effect as our spinning tire example above.

Again, the inflationary quality shown in figure 6 is significantly different from those which would be present in a ward off movement.  (see figure 7)

In a ward off movement, the opponent’s thrust is neutralized by an equal and opposite force by the defender.  This use of force creates an upward block.  This is not Peng.

All too often, Peng is misinterpreted in the manner described above.  For example, in the Tao of T’ai Chi Chuan, it is stated that Peng is an upward movement.  I believe this is incorrect because Peng does not move in just one singular direction to counteract force.  Peng actually moves in all directions as was illustrated by the example of the inflated ball, above.  The illusion of the “upward movement” is created by both the body and hand turning on their axes.

A further example of Peng, borrowed from Nature, may significantly clarify our concept of Peng.  Imagine for a moment that we are viewing our solar system from afar.  In this model, our Sun proceeds on its orbit in the Heavens with the planets in tow: and in an almost magical way, our sun exerts a powerful positive and negative force on our system.  In this model, the positive and negative forces of radiation and gravitation, respectively, are the Peng of our environment.

In our example of Peng in Nature, the positive force of radiation is not directed toward on planet or another.  Light and heat emanate from the Sun in all directions.  The same is true for the negative force we call gravitation.  In both cases, we are not dealing with a unidirectional force, but instead, a force which emanates from a center any yet exists everywhere.  To complete the Peng / Solar System model, we must also imagine how the Earth responds to the Peng (or energy) of the Heavens.  It responds by turning on its axis.  (The same as in the example given above of the movement of the defender’s hand, as illustrated in figure 5.)

Peng, therefore, is an energy which exists in Man, the Earth, and the Heavens.  It is a natural phenomenon, which Chen Style Tai Chi Chuan uses in both offensive and defensive applications.  Peng is the first of the eight energies which must always be present for the art of Tai Chi Chuan to be used as it was created by the Chen family.