The Essential Energies: Ji

For more information about the essential energies, start with this introductory post.

The third essential energy is ji, pronounced “jee” and translated as “squeeze.”  It is an advancing movement, created by placing one hand against the opposite wrist or forearm and using that hand to push forward against one’s opponent.  It is a natural opposite of the energy lu, which rolls backwards and away from an advancing force; ji moves forward to pursue an opponent, or in order to disrupt an oncoming force.

Ji is often indirect or oblique.  Being a taiji energy, it never takes the form of a simple shoving match, force pushing directly against force.  Instead, ji seeks a hole, an opening, and then focuses hard at that place and advances.  Returning to the metaphor of an inflated ball, my teacher has described ji as the idea of squeezing a ball into a pipe or tube that is slightly smaller than it in diameter. The ball has to squish around the middle, which has the effect of amplifying the ball’s energy along its open axis, enabling it to advance.  Ji finds its own space, chooses its own direction, and proceeds with focus and intention.

As lu can be described as a kind of yin energy, ji is a yang energy, one that is assertive.  It is a decisive motion, but nonetheless keeps in contact with the present moment; it is an active energy, but it still listens.  Ji is neither bullish nor blind.  It remains sensitive to what is happening around it, holding itself ready to change and respond as needed.  It is yang with a kernel of yin.

Just like the other essential energies, the principle of ji can be applied throughout life.  In the face of adversity, ji chooses to advance, not with brute force but with sensitivity and intention.  It doesn’t let pressures or perceived limitations keep it from moving; rather, it searches out the place of least resistance and focuses its energies directly there.  Ji seeks to make forward progress in the most efficient way, whether or not it is the most direct way.  When presented with a solid wall, ji doesn’t try to batter it down.  Ji looks for a door, and goes confidently through.

I think this idea of finding the path of least resistance is neither unfamiliar nor surprising.  What I keep needing to remind myself is that in order to be ji, a movement must first rely on peng, the sense of relaxed fullness and internal resiliency which underlies all taiji movement.  Too often in life I push forward in a way which is too hard, or too fast, too unbalanced or tense.  I might make some progress, but I leave myself open to being knocked over, and I struggle to hold on to what I gain.

Ji, on the other hand, maintains a sense of relaxation and resilient strength.  Peng is what enables ji to keep listening, to sense whether it must continue as begun or make a change.  It pushes far enough, hard enough, and no more.  It stays balanced, moving from the center of energy and strength, and so when the need for movement is over it can stand firm, already balanced, already calm and prepared for whatever comes next.

The major lessons of my life right now all involve this idea of moving forward in an intentional, relaxed, forceful-enough-yet-soft-enough way — facing solid walls calmly, seeking doors and walking through them with confidence.  Today I’m reminding myself to be centered first in peng, and then continue moving forward in the spirit of ji.

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