Hard qi; Soft qi
I keep reading and hearing about “Tai Chi teachers” that use Iron Shirt training as part of their Taiji. Always, when I hear this, I wonder if they don’t understand the difference between “hard qi” styles and “soft qi” styles like Taiji. I think what happened was that as Taiji gradually worked its way from northern China to southern China, a lot of people were taught, but they were never shown the intricacies of the internal training, the qigongs of Taiji, and so on, so people began adding training methodologies from the commonly practiced southern Shaolin styles of the South.
Hard qi practice involves the muscles, dynamic tension exercises, pressure buildups, and so on. If they do a standing practice within their style, there will be a deliberate extension of the limbs with some degree of muscular tension. Naturally, the fascia and tendons will be trained in this way, so a person will get strong, but it is not the same method of the softer or “relaxed” styles (like the Fangsong in Taiji). Here’s a video of a hard-style qigong practice that obviously derives from the Yi Jin Jing of Shaolin; there are many common hard-qigong bits on display here and most hard-qigong styles use a lot of the same postures and practices.
Soft qi practice involves more of a focus on allowing the solidity of the ground and the weight of the body to do most of the work. The body’s elasticity is developed and the complete body is manipulated by the dantian, sort of like twirling the arms of a toy octopus by turning and moving the large mass of the head/body in the center of the arms. The mental manipulation of forces (“intent” forces) supplements the movements. Here’s an example of a soft qigong using jin and the body connection and some dantian as used in a “soft” qigong. Note that I don’t think this man is using the dantian as much as, say, someone in Bagua or Taiji, but he’s in the same general category, IMO.
The next time you see someone claiming to teach Taiji, but who also does Iron Shirt training, a question should pop into your mind. ;)