Silk reeling refers to a set of internal (neigong) movement principles expressed in traditional styles of tai chi chuan. It is especially prevalent in Chen and Wu styles. As the silkworm lava wraps itself in its cocoon, it twists and spirals itself, neither too fast nor too slow. In order to draw out the silk successfully the action must be smooth and consistent without jerking or changing direction sharply. Too fast, the silk breaks, too slow, it sticks to itself and becomes tangled. Putting silk reeling into tai chi practice, movements patterns are continuous, cyclic and spiralling. Movement is performed at constant speed with the lightness of drawing silk. Silk reeling is practised in individually or with a partner, in the form of pushing hands.
Pushing hands is practised to gain greater understanding of martial aspects of tai chi. It explores concepts such as leverage, reflex, sensitivity, timing, coordination and positioning. Pushing hands works to undo a person's natural instinct to resist force with force, teaching the body to yield to force and redirect it. Push hands allows students to learn how to respond to external stimuli using techniques from their forms practice. Among other things, training with a partner allows a student to develop listening power (ting jing), the sensitivity to feel the direction and strength of a partner's intention. Students who practice pushing hands learn to generate, coordinate and deliver power to another and also how to effectively neutralise incoming forces in a safe environment.
There are six methods to silk reeling energy: inner, outer, upper, lower, forward and backward. This energy can be applied through the arms, legs, hips, or waist. The body is constantly moving, but remains rooted and stable.
There are three primary principles of pushing hands:
Rooting - Stability of stance, a highly trained sense of balance in the face of force.
Yielding - The ability to flow with incoming force from any angle. The practitioner moves with the attacker's force fluidly without compromising their own balance.
Release of Power (Fa Jing) - The application of power to an opponent. Even while applying force in push hands one maintains the principles of yielding and rooting at all times.
Practising silk reeling and push hands brings greater awareness to the Thirteen Energies.