Sticking Energy – or Reconsidering What is Possible in Taiji

Probably like most people interested in taiji, I am familiar with the concept of ‘sticking’ (nian) or sticking energy (‘nian jin’) in taiji. A good encapsulation of the topic was put together many moons ago by Peter Lim in his article ‘Discourse on Jing’ (, which I believe is translated from some of Li Yaxuan’s writings. My impression, until about a week ago, was that it was just an extension of the ‘listening’ that we are exhorted to do in taiji – don’t resist but maintain contact (bu diu bu ding), try to sense the opponent’s force, etc. However,  there are several sources (e.g.  Doug Wile and T.T. Liang’s books) which suggest that nian jin is more than this, that at its higher levels it is more like a magnetic force, where the opponent cannot take his hand/leg away even if he wants to.

I had always thought that these were just the typical exaggerations found in Chinese writing about martial arts. However, a recent experience has changed my mind – or at least forced me to keep an open one. Through a friend, I had been invited to an experimental practice session of a local taiji teacher. The friend, knowing that I was familiar with the style, promised that it would be worth my while. Always curious to see real taiji skills, I agreed.

What followed was 2 hours of pushing hands practice – unremarkable in its patterns, which were familiar to me from my previous experience. What was remarkable was the skills of the teacher.

One ability which he showed was to direct his power (neijin). He had such control over the direction of his fajin that he would state before starting to push where he would target, and lo and behold, off the student would go. For example, if the teacher said ‘now I will target the back of his head’, his student would fly off with the head going first; or if the teacher said ‘now I will target his hips’ , the student would collapse to the ground. The teacher allowed me to put my hands on his students’ bodies as he did this, and I am sure of what I felt – his jin was indeed striking first in the area he had targeted.

 Perhaps more remarkable was his sticking energy.  In pushing with his students (who were all fairly fit young guys), his ‘nian jin’ was such that his students were pulled from pillar to post (almost literally).  On several occasions, he dragged them around with his hand on top of their arm! Speaking to them afterwards, they said that the sticking doesn’t work 100% of the time, but when it does work, they have no chance of escaping at all.  For fairness’s sake I should point out that the teacher declined to demonstrate on me (for fear of hurting me) – so it’s an open point as to how useful this skill is in combat or whether it would work on strangers. Maybe to a lot of people these are just parlour tricks, not useful in real combat. Nevertheless, it has made me reconsider how much of the skills talked about in the old records are actually real and achievable.

About yosaku

Xingyiquan enthusiast
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2 Responses to Sticking Energy – or Reconsidering What is Possible in Taiji

  1. ambulocetus says:

    This guy sounds like a fraud to me. Ask yourself why he would only let you feel his skill through touching his student. I’ve met several high-level martial artists and none of them would be afraid to touch hands with someone who wasn’t a compliant student. He was afraid to hurt you; yeah, right.

  2. winnie-the-pooh says:

    Just came across this posting….hence the late, late response….
    “Better late than never”…what’s a few years between friends?
    Actually, the person “Ambulocetus & the blog” refers to, holds regular “open training” session even for people who are not regular training partners but very interested in IMA.
    Note, that the blog is slightly inaccurate in that it refers to the person as “a local Taiji Teacher”. It’s is just training session held at a community center, for anyone who is really interested in IMA – there are no “teachers” and no fees..:).
    There are many participants from various Martial Arts background, both internal & external stylist, many with years of training & contact sparring experience. It’s like “the internet with open sourcing” – where likeminded people can exchange and experiment.

    Test of strength
    On “test of strength” (read testing IMA skills) with non-students, this is frequently done (always in a gentlemanly way) and has been documented by the local press with the reporters experiencing the phenomenon firsthand. In this particular instance sadly it was just not safe to do so as explain later on.
    To have “test of strength” demonstrations with non-students one needs to be prudent, to anticipate how the person at receiving end will cope with it. This is important and crucial, at this level of testing.

    The theory behind the skills
    In this specific use of skills as eluded in the blog is the use of energy (jin in Chinese) through the individual neuron centers (nerves) and tendon systems. So in reality, once a “hit” has been triggered, it will follow the individual’s internal “pathways” lead by the intent (Yi) of the issuer, to the target point (as highlighted in the Blog). This should sound familiar to most avid IMA exponents, at least the terminology.

    Why this specific Blogger was prevented from testing?
    Once the jin is released into the participants’ body, if there are any irregularities in his/hers “pathways” it becomes unpredictable as to where the jin will end up. It becomes a “guided missile” whose guidance system has been compromised. In many cases the jin will end up at the weakest point/part of the individual’s anatomy (as it is the path of least resistance), be it a joint or artery, valve, organ or brain. What happens next, could equate to a “Plumbers nightmare” if that weaken part raptures.

    It was clear to many who were there, that the “carriages” (read structure, for simplicity) of the Blogger were not properly aligned, even visually. That was why he, the blogger was asked to feel someone else that was being “hit” to minimize his risk exposure and yet allow him the opportunity to experience of the phenomena.

    With this type of skills one should be aware of its potency and be sensible as to the experiments one wishes to embark on.

    A distinguished old master once said that Yang Banhou’s skills was out of this world, but many of his students were injured by him and there are documentation that a few top students died, purely by accident (including his daughter?)

    “When playing with fire one has to be careful, even more so if it’s a smelting furnace.”

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