Thursday, November 25, 2010

Methods for Understanding the Relaxed Shoulder or Song Jian 鬆肩

One of the common problems to development of connection with relaxed shoulders (song jian, 鬆肩) is having good methods to understanding the feel of this while moving. In many of the internal art understanding the relaxed or “song” shoulder is a very prevalent issue with many practitioners and the same is true in the practice of Wujifa.

Of course there are many tricks to relaxing the shoulders. Relaxing or dropping the elbows is very commonly talked about. Also, warm ups like turning or rotating the head, crossing one arm across the chest and stretching it with the other hand, tightening the shoulders pulling them up toward the ears, holding for them there for a count of 5 or 10 and then letting them drop and other such methods are seemingly customary. Personally I believe those maybe good for a beginner to get some hint of how tight their shoulders are, although may not be all that helpful at understanding how a relaxed shoulder feels and moves.

In the following video are a couple of “methods” which aim to give some insights to the practitioner and enthusiasts of how the relaxed shoulder feels is real time while moving.

Those who enjoy watching videos on YouTube: CLICK HERE

In the first example the hand are place on the “swing” and use the arcing of the swing to create a couple dimensions of movement to be explored. The movement is slightly down and forward as the practitioner moves forward and the opposite shifting back. This can be changed by where in the arch of the swing one chooses to practice. The key to this first method is allowing the shoulder joint to simply be a pivot point. There is a tendency for people to want to do more than needed and by simply allowing and noticing, many insights can be discovered in real time in repeated practice. Remember Wujifa aims at finding experiential understanding in doing. Now remember the saying “the method is not the truth” and this is true here as well. The key is to notice how freely the pivot points in the shoulders feel and move.

The second exercise is much more difficult and it is include here as a variations in this example of real time feedback. Again having an experiential understanding in doing with a form of simple bio-feed such as this can be very helpful in a very real and practical way.

Those of you who have seen some of the methods shared here on this blog will notice that what may seem very simple on the surface can and may have a very deep impact on practice. One of the keys is the willingness to experience simple methods such as these in the repeated doing. As one gains deeper and direct kinesthetic understanding of a practice the more that can be discovered over time in the practices. Like the finger pointing at the moon the key is to understand what your purpose is for doing something and then being open to what the practice is allowing you to explore. One of course should, as we said many times before, will need the help of senior school brothers and instructors as for 3rd party verification of your understanding. Remember, at the same time you are doing the work and being open and responsible for your own growth is also a real key to making progress.


  1. Hi Rick, I've been studying a modified Yang style Tai Chi for 7 years. The style was brought to Canada by Master Moy Lin-Shin, founder of the Taoist Tai Chi society. (The guy making the same claim on youtube really sucks. Please don't judge me based on his tai chi!) Anyway, the focus of my training has been on the internal connections which give Tai Chi it's soft strength, and I was really excited to find your blog. I've been reading it, and all the other related blogs and sites I can find. Can you please explain how wujifa is the same/different from Tai Chi and Qigong? I've watched your videos on "side to side" and "relaxed shoulder" and totally get what you're saying. What I don't get is, is wujifa a "form" with specific positions that are practiced? Or a collection of exercises and a philosophy used to deepen what is taught in other forms? I'm thinking it's the latter, but don't want to make any assumptions. Thanks! Laurie

  2. Hello Laurie,

    So many of what are called "The Internal Arts" are formed based and that is cool I guess. Wujifa is a philosophy, let's say for example... connection, just to simplify it here. Forms and exercises are simply methods and like medicine and like any drug can be helpful or harmful. The basic Wujifa practice is Stance or Wujifa Zhan Zhaung practice. This method aims at developing and noticing connections. Then there is moving, for example taking "baby steps" after stance and noticing the connections that can be noticed and developed there. A good question could be "What do you want?" and then a question like this helps guide the practitioner. So many people never ask this kind of question at the beginning and fall into a practice with out any purpose. Using the body mind practices to explore connection would be a simple answer... I hope this helps. I will write more in a future post... Most people who practice Wujifa have studied many other arts before this and honestly I've noticed that they end up letting go of the "forms" they practiced. It comes down to time and results and the question of "What do you want?" after all. I hope this helps...

  3. Hi Rick,
    Thanks for taking the time to give me a detailed answer. It's much appreciated and very helpful. I look forward to reading your future posts.

  4. Rick,
    Yeah, the shoulder and shoulder/neck complex can be a really tricky area to learn to relax. Simple exercises repeatedly practiced can reveal so much! Thanks for focusing on this!

    I like your "Wujifa aims at finding experiential understanding in doing." This is sooooo different from many other practices whose aim, it seems, is to satisfy a student's desire to copy a form, as opposed to using the form as one of many methods to help the student discover her or his own experiential understanding of the underlying principles.

    My article on "Internal Gong Fu Paradigms" over at may help you understand the differences. Briefly:

    Qi-gong is based on the Chi paradigm. Tai-chi is based on the Yin-Yang paradigm. Wujifa is based on the Functional paradigm. These are three really different underlying paradigms or philosophies.