From Cobra to Silk Reeling


In the Chinese Internal Arts, particularly Taiji Chuan, the term Pan(2) Xi(1) refers to coil-suction, a way of sticking and adhering to part of an opponent’s body. To that we might add, negating or dissolving an opponent’s strength by evaporating it through an array of spirals, curves, and off angle movements.  With that skill in mind, we’ve decided to move downstream with Cobra techniques, taking a closer look at how such skills are nurtured in the internal arts.

Tea Cupping

You might find “tea cupping” referred to in other ways. Sometimes as fanning, sometimes as figure “8's,” sometimes as spiraling, or circling, or even curly “Q-ing”.  Today, we’ll stick with “tea cupping”.  I demonstrate it and explain it in the accompanying video. Tea cupping means you try to maintain your hand as though balancing a cup of tea while executing the spiraling movement. This ensures proper evolution of the technique, and also facilitates a proper and healthful utilization of your joints as you move about. In short, it’s good for you!

Tea cupping is explored on only a fundamental basis in our first presentation of cobra (Exploring Cobra ).   Here, we’re taking a much closer look, and effectively having you peek over our shoulder to better visualize its execution.  We also try to share how some enigmatic energies emerge within the flow while tea cupping.  Lastly, tea cupping allows you to experience how a single move can acquire a completely new identity as your thought changes.  To that end there are some comments at the conclusion of the video which you should pay close attention to.  Many times in the martial arts, a single move will manifest into completely different energies.  With these altered manifestations, the underlying physical move will seem new or different, when in fact it has not changed at all.


Silk Reeling #1 (Introduction)

The message here is that even within the context of moves with which you are well familiar, there are aspects and energies you have not yet explored or captured.  These will reveal if you maintain an appropriate attitude and approach.


Yang Cycle

Refer to the video for a full detail and explanation regarding the yang cycle.  You should keep in mind the yang cycle relates to movement that ultimately tilts toward offense.  In a nutshell, the yang movement culminates in advantageous position where you can effectively deploy energy into your opponent, or affect your opponent's balance and geometry.


Silk Reeling #2 (Yang)

Be aware your posture or your set up on these moves directly influences the outcome and application.  For that reason, you should be well alert as to whether your feet are same knee forward or opposing knee forward.  Again, this is carefully explained in the video, and you should pay particular attention to the issue.

Have faith that in time, all of this will become completely instinctive, and quick.


Yin Cycle

As with the yang cycle, refer to the video clip for full detail and explanation.  Yin movement relates to assimilation of the attacker’s energy (and intent), ultimately neutralizing in preparation for response.  The orientation is generally defensive and culminates with a turnover from defense to offense, in effect feeding the  yang.  It’s this very relationship between living energies which you see portrayed in the Yin-Yang symbol.


Silk Reeling #3 (Yin #1)



Silk Reeling #4 (Yin #2)

Again, your posture or your set up with all of these energies directly influences the outcome and application.  You must be alert to whether your feet are same knee forward or opposing knee forward.  Look closely at the videos to see how these subtle differences change the entire energy outflow.


Evolving a Flow

As a mature skill, “tea cupping” is better conceptualized as silk reeling.  At some point, you stop thinking of the movement as a drill or exercise (tea cupping), and start integrating it three dimensionally into everything you do (silk reeling). 

The importance of silk reeling in the internal arts is as a foundation for improvised flow allowing direct and effective response.  In the accompanying video, I detail one of several systems we've evolved over time to encourage progression to this end.


Silk Reeling #5 (Encouraging Flow)

Basically, we start out with opposite knee forward executing the yang move.  At some point while the flow continues, the senior student will call out a change to the Yin move, being sure both participants remain opposite knee forward in their orientation.  The senior student will then call for changes to yin or yang at random intervals, causing both partners to make adjustments on-the-fly, until the reaction becomes automatic.

Once that’s achieved, the partners change to the opposite side and replicate the routine.

Next, as confidence increases, the senior student will call to switch positions, requiring the partners reverse leg positions, even as the exercise continues and the hand flow remains uninterrupted.

Once those four energies are mastered, the geometry switches to same side knee forward, yang/yin(left) and then yang/yin (right).  The end result is eight applications, four yin and four yang.

With practice, you will soon work any of the eight applications, switching on the fly at the senior’s command, without breaking flow. 


Rule of Inertia

Because in the beginning it seems complicated, students have in times past asked me to articulate a rule to remind them what to do and when to do it.

When it comes the flow and internal energies, rules become silly.  Your mind, just as your body, must be soft and pliable.  Rules are a type of friction, or resistance to your mental flow which eventually get in away and prevent you from achieving the highest level of skill.  The question begs to be asked, “How can you truly be in the moment, if you need a rule to get there?”

Though it is not quite the same thing as a rule, there is a fundamental guiding principle that relates to what characterizes efficient movement.   Simply stated:

Conform to the Inertia of the Moment

Inertia is the resistance of any physical object to a change in its state of motion (or rest).  More succinctly, it is the tendency of an object to resist any change in its current state.  In short, if you try to force it, you will have to fight it.

From application’s perspective, that means "don't bang heads".  Your objective is to emerge into the moment, playing the ball where you find it, and moving with the flow.  Whatever technique you employ, whatever foot position you’re occupying at the moment, you should not be in conflict with your opponent’s energy.  It should not be work!  The objective is to become one with your opponent’s energy, and to allow that energy to dissipate, while your returning flow establishes its path of release.  This too is represented in the Yin-Yang symbol. 

Always remember,  the final stage in developing intimate awareness of silk reeling energy is your comprehension of moving with the flow, without impeding the coiling energy. 

We believe that to be the open door to direct application.


Obscure vs. Natural

Now for the complicated stuff.

Most folks exploring cobra, never get past “Evolving a Flow.”  For most, that’s enough.  That would mean you have a working awareness of the 8 essential energies, which I refer to as the “natural” flows.  What defines the natural flows is their execution while your lead hand is over your lead leg.  You might want to re-view the earlier videos to see what I mean, and ensure you lock in the concept.  The flow feels natural, comfortable, and familiar, hence the term “natural”. 

As happens in nature, behind everything overt and visible, is usually something of equal substance and import, but beneath the visible plane.  In the case of silk reeling, if natural were thought of as “yang,” the “yin” would be the “obscure.” There are eight natural energy flows. There are eight corresponding obscure energy flows. In the accompanying video I try to leave a trail of breadcrumbs, which if you choose to follow, will take you well down the path.  Master these and you will begin to see openings for energy application and counter, which otherwise would not be apparent or easily discovered.


Silk Reeling #6 (The Obscure)

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