All the way back in 2005, at a seminar on Tui Shou “Push Hands,” taught by Grandmaster Huang, Chien-Liang, I noticed an oft-repeated phrase of “Fang Song,” which he would emphasize and repeat over and over, when telling people to “relax.”
But what is this concept of Fang Song, so often referenced within the martial art of Taijiquan (often called “Tai Chi”)?
Fang Song (放鬆) is a concept in Taijiquan and all of the Nei Jia oriented martial systems. It can be loosely translated as “relaxation” or “letting go” (pun intended).
The term Fang (放) means “to let go” and Song (鬆) means “loose.” While we could translate this literally, it seems that the meaning of the phrase is most important for practical use: “Total and Complete Relaxation.”
In Chinese, you can use this word both for your muscles and your shoelaces, but in English you cannot talk about “relaxing shoelaces,” in any way which will be meaningful to the average person. And yet, what the current and fifth head of the Yang Family system of Taijiquan, Yang Jun means when he refers to to is much closer to what you do to your shoelaces than what you do to your muscles lying on a couch.
Both Chinese and English have many words to cover the concepts of hard and soft. Chinese has two main pairs: one is gang (刚) and rou (柔), and the other is ying (硬) and ruan (软). These pairs are near synonyms, but only the first is what you generally see in discussions of Tai Chi because it focuses on the degree that something yields to outside force or something that is yielding and soft for its type.
There is a famous saying, often used in Tai Chi：“use soft to overcome hard” (yi rou ke gang, 以柔克刚) and its equivalent: “use soft to control hard” (yi rou zhi gang, 以柔制刚). These phrases may stem from the famous general Zhuge Liang (诸葛亮). He was known for his clever strategies during the Three Kingdoms Period and is very roughly equivalent to Alexander the Great, Hannibal, or Napoleon in prestige within their respect spheres. Zhuge said:
As for good generals, their hardness cannot be broken and their softness cannot be rolled/swept up. Hence, use what is weak to control what is strong and what is soft to control what is hard.
Since Zhuge Liang is talking about armies, we shouldn’t think of soft and hard in terms of pillow softness and rock hardness. He is talking about yielding to avoid the tip of the opponent’s strength and using mild techniques to conserve energy and win (避开锋芒，用温和手段取胜). With this in mind, a better translation might be: “As for good generals, their firmness cannot be broken and in yielding they cannot be rolled up. Hence, use what is weak to control what is strong and what yields to control what does not.”
The Concept of Fang Song in the Nei Jia
Fang Song is an important principle in all Nei Jia practice. It refers to the state of physical and mental relaxation achieved during the execution of the movements.
For those who might not know, Nei Jia system practitioners of Taiji (Tai Chi) Xingyi (Hsing-I) and Bagua (Pa Kua) aim to achieve a state of deep relaxation while maintaining an upright posture, balanced body alignment and structure, as well as axial and even Xia Dan Tien (下丹田, abdominal “Dan Tien” gravitational center), pivoting in what is called the Qua (胯) – more on that in another blog, for another day.
An article published on Taiji Yiren, a Chinese site created to promote Taiji culture, reported the response by Chen Zhao-Xu to the question – “How do you train this martial art”? Chen, Zhao-Xu (the eldest son of Chen, Fa-Ke and father of Chen, Xiaowang and Chen, Xiao-Xing) answered, “You have to fang song the ‘four big pieces’ in the body.” That is the two shoulders and the two [sets of] qua.
Fang Song involves releasing unnecessary tension in the muscles and joints, allowing the body to move smoothly and effortlessly. It is not a complete lack of muscular engagement but rather a balance between relaxation of large muscle groups, while maintaining proper structure, rooting, and requisite engagement of stabilizing muscles.
Yang Jun on Fang Song
Yang Jun is current head of the Yang family, established as the first Taiji style to emerge from the Chen Village that was not the Chen Village system itself. It is a great misfortune that so many Yang style Taiji schools emanate from lineages which, at some point, clearly lost the internal knowledge exemplified by Yang Jun and the successive heads of the Yang family system.
In the video below, Yang Jun explains just what Fang Song means, within the context of the Nei Jia “Internal” systems of Kung Fu. It is one of the best explanations I have found recorded online…
So What Does This All Mean For Our Practice?
When practicing Taijiquan, the focus is on softness, suppleness, and relaxation rather than force or tension (Li, 力). This relaxed state allows for the free flow of energy (Qi, 氣) throughout the body and promotes the development of sensitivity, balance, and internal power.
Fang Song is not only limited to the physical aspect of Taijiquan but also extends to the mental state. Relaxation of Fang Song lets down the invisible “walls” within us, preventing full expression of our Mind-Intent (Yi, 意). There is a saying in the Nei Jia, that “Yi Dao Qi Dao” (意道氣道) – that is, the “Path of the Mind-Intent, is the Path of the Energy’s Flow.”
Fang Song then involves clearing the mind of distractions and achieving a state of calmness and focused awareness. By combining physical relaxation with mental relaxation, practitioners can achieve a deeper level of practice and improve their overall Taijiquan experience.
Fang Song in Taijiquan refers to the state of relaxation, both physically and mentally, that allows for the cultivation of internal energy and the development of balance, sensitivity, and power in the practice of this martial art.
If you are like most people reading articles about martial arts and meditation, Qi Kung and the like online, you are probably expecting a quick run through of some exercises you can practice on your own to develop this “Fang Song.” If that is what you were expecting, you’d be mistaken. While there are certainly such exercises that can be articulated in writing, it would do the reader a disservice to provide them with the false hope that Fang Song can be developed without sensitivity work with a partner and credible teacher.
This is the part where you contact your local Nei Jia Kung Fu school to learn more…
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