Ji – To press or crowd in

I was reading through my latest purchase, Chen Style Illustrated, again recently and I got to something that piqued my interest – it’s the section where they are describing the 8 energies and we get to Press (Ji)

“When in contact the aim of this gradual rolling move is is to unsettle the balance of he opponent.”

It’s not a bad description at all, but I don’t resonate with the word “gradual” there. The most common application you tend to see for Press is of a kind of “bump” that puts the person off balance, but my experience of Ji has been that there’s nothing particularly gradual about it. That bump can be applied in a hard sharp way. Jin done in a forward direction (which is Press) can often be quite jolting and it hurts inside.

The 8 energies are:

掤 peng, 捋 lu, 挤 ji, 按 an, 採 cai, 挒 lie, 肘 zhou, 靠 kao

Google translates 挤 as “press” or “crowd in”. (I’m not sure that another translation you often see of “squeeze” is helpful. I’ve read people writing about squeezing the hands together – that’s not it at all. ) From that you get the sense of a situation where you are already in contact with the person and, perceiving a point of weakness in their defence you press them further on the point. It reminds me a lot of the strategy of Horse in Xing Yi, which is to attack a point of defence that is already defended but has a weakness you can exploit.

Cheng Man Ching doing Press

In the Tai Chi form Ji is usually done with the back of the hand in the typical Grasp Bird’s Tail sequence (presumably because it the easiest way to capitalise on a good position you’ve already achieved), but there’s nothing about the energy you’re using that means it has to be done with the back of the hand. It can be done with a fist or palm too.

And this is where the Tai Chi waters get a bit murky. There is the martial technique Press, which is to do with pressing further forward into an opponent you are already contacted with, and then there is the abstract concept of “jin in a forward direction”. Anytime you express jin (strength derived from the ground through a relaxed body) in a forward direction you could be said to be doing 挤, but when you put it into a Tai Chi context it takes on this quality of crowding in and pressing that attack.

One thought on “Ji – To press or crowd in

  1. Yes, for ji, my Chinese-English dictionary also adds, “to cram in” and “to force others aside.” Those meanings do not seem quite in line with “gradual.”

    I asked one translator why he always translated ji as “to pop out.” He answered, popping out was always the end result of ji. He said it was like squeezing a watermelon seed between thumb and finger; with the right pressure, it pops out. I’ve heard the watermelon seed analogy from other credible sources too.

    From the quote, I am surprised that you did not question the word “rolling.” That does not seem to fit with most popular notions of ji either. When I was learning ji in Chen taijiquan, rolling or rotating was an, if not THE, essential element. It is quite difficult to do it correctly, requiring a strong yi and a steady structure.

    As for “gradual,” I might have chosen “imperceptible” over “gradual” for reasons similar to those you’ve mentioned. The skill is certainly applied more effectively if the opponent does not realize what is about to happen.

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