Shun and Ni: the Two Opposing Directions of Twist Inherent in the Body
A lot of the old classical Chinese literature describes functions of the body, the body strength, the importance of some body parts, and so on. In other words, there is an attempt to describe and analyze the way the body and universe work: these descriptions should not be confused with directions for doing things. There is an old Taoist diagram of the body that I’ve always liked, although I’m not sure it’s totally accurate:
There are actually references in the above picture to the kidneys, the lungs, the spine as a channel for energy, the dantian, the liver (those trees), and a number of other things. The point is that the functions of the body were something carefully defined and delineated in terms of health and strength, but descriptions of functions are not how-to’s.
Some other commonly-seen drawings about the body have to do with the way strength is propagated via generally longitudinal “channels” and acupuncture meridians. Again the dantian is prominent as a player in the function of body movement via the muscle-tendon channels.
The body naturally bends and winds in ways that are dictated by the skeleton and the natural lay of the muscles, tendons, and connective tissues. The winding of the body is another item that has been categorized and defined at a basic level. Essentially, there are two opposite ways the body can wind: one way and the other way. In other words, the discussions of the body’s spiral-like winding is just another of the basic descriptors like “dantian”, “muscle-tendon channels”, bones, and so on. The fact that the body twists or spirals in two different directions is a component descriptor of the body’s workings, but it is nothing more than an acknowledged part of an analysis of how the body works.
The two opposing windings affect the way the whole body twists, but we can basically describe the windings as something like “come to” or “Shun” and “go against” or “Ni”. In other words, if you hold your hand palm-inward in front of your face and then push it out away from your face so that it’s palm-outward, the arm just spiraled in a “Ni” manner. Bringing your hand back, palm-inward, in front of your face will be spiraling in the “Shun” manner.
Ni uses the back of the ‘suit’ (see blog on Silk-Reeling) and the ground’s support to expand away; “Shun” uses the front of the suit and gravity to close toward the body. If we do an arm-wave as described in the Silk-Reeling blog, half of the circle you will be doing Ni winding away and half of the time you will be doing Shun winding toward. These directions are Yang and Yin, respectively: you go from one into the other in the manner of the Taiji change of Open and Close.
It’s common to include a reference to the basic description of the body’s natural windings as part of the logic of the strength/qi borrowed from the Qi of Earth. In other words, using the solidity of the ground and the weight from gravity, the body will wind in one of two ways. A lot of old martial arts used to establish their bona fides by mentioning the dantian/hara, the windings, the breath, and so on. Here are a few illustrations showing the traditional view of windings in the Six-Harmonies (Reeling Silk) type of movement.
Note: these natural movements of the body are the two possibilities; just because they’re combined into one drawing doesn’t meant that you do them both at the same time:
The description of the Shun and Ni windings also apply to the secondary dantians at the perineum and at the chest-dantian. Here’s an example of a drawing showing the two potential directions of windings from the perineum (lower) dantian:
Part of the training of the body-connection/’suit’ is done through relaxed stretching and holding of that stretch. In the martial-arts that use held postures for training, you’ll see this sort of “antagonistic” (sometimes called “contradictory”) training. Quite often someone without a lot of knowledge or experience will confuse the “contradictory” winding trainings with isometric training. They’re not the same thing. A person has to learn to differentiate between contradiction, isometrics, and jin.
Another point to bear in mind is that there are many possible permutations of winding patterns, so it is impossible to say there is only one way to wind up, down, in or out, except to note that there will generally be a balance along the lines of “if one side is open, the other side is closed”, but that would be true of any balanced system.
Here’s a picture of an old Chen-style posture, one hand in front and one behind, that uses contradictory training in standing practice:
Baguazhang uses a lot of contradictory winding postures, but they do many of them while walking the circle, etc.
Of course contradiction and stretch can be done without winding, but the discussion of which is jin, isometrics, or contradiction arises again. There is a big difference in how things are done in those three choices, even though they might look the same to an inexperienced onlooker.
Contradiction and holding-postures helps train the body connectivity. The main idea has to do with a correctly-trained holding and stretch, whether done linearly or spirally. The old Taiji discussions about “pulling silk” (chousijin) and “reeling silk” (chansijin) were about linear and spiraling movement. Since the Yang-style has publicly stated that they also use reeling-silk movement, there is no longer any disagreement in the correct type of movement that is supposed to be used in the neijia arts.