What is peng?

a. Description of someone who is quite good looking
b. A mythical giant bird that arises from the northern sea
c. Ward off energy

Actually, that’s a trick question. Any of those answers would be correct. If you gravitated to answer (a), you have a better grasp of urban slang than me. That was a definition with which I was completely unfamiliar. If you picked (b), you are probably well-versed in Chinese mythology.  The definition that would be most relevant to this post would be (c): ward off energy. Peng is often described as a fundamental energy; it is prerequisite before other energies or techniques can manifest. But what exactly is it? To start the discussion, I’ll offer a simplified definition: spherical force/energy at the point of contact.

Any point of contact should exhibit the quality of spherical energy. Your opponent should feel that their contact point is on the outside of a sphere that prevents him from entering your defenses. Since the human body is not actually a sphere, that quality of spherical energy has to be approximated via proper alignment to the point of contact and curved body movements. When the inter-relation between the center of the sphere, radius of curvature, and position of the point of contact on the sphere’s surface is correct, the spherical energy should expand into the point of contact and manifest a “ward off” energy that keeps the attacker outside of your defenses.

That’s all fine and dandy. Now what good does that definition do us? What does it mean? Well, let’s explore those questions by considering a few points:

Spherical energy is three-dimensional; a common misconception of peng is that it is circular (two-dimensional). The circular interpretation of peng is partially correct in the sense that the circle approximates part of the sphere. However, it is an incomplete interpretation since most of us interact with the world in three-dimensions. Peng in only two dimensions still leaves the opponent free to enter from the third dimension.

In my experience, peng is often interpreted with the center of the sphere centered in the person’s torso (or dantian, sternum, etc.). The classical illustration of this would be the arm rounded in a concave shape in front of the practitioner giving an outward peng force from the arm. In this case, the center of the sphere would be somewhere in the person’s body. However, there’s no reason that the center of the sphere has to be in the body. The center of the sphere can be anywhere as long as the point of contact on the sphere’s surface keeps the opponent outside of your defenses. Peng can be just as readily generated with the arms curving outwards in a convex shape, with the center of the spheres outside the arms.

Peng energy manifests in all positions.

Peng is not necessarily an energy manifested in the arms, although that may be where it is most commonly used. The point of contact is often at the arms, but the physical engagement can happen anywhere on the body. Wherever the point of contact lands (arms, shoulders, chest, hip, leg, etc), peng must manifest to maintain a defense. Peng is also not a static energy. Physical interactions are dynamic in nature. The body must adapt to the changing nature of the force at the point of contact to maintain the approximation of the spherical energy. The center of the sphere can move, the radius of sphere can change, etc. A static posture may exhibit peng, but if the opponent changes, the peng manifested may be ineffective at keep the opponent from entering your space.

Theoretically, the concept of peng isn’t terribly complicated. It is just a spherical force that prevents your opponent from attacking you from the point of contact. There are some nuances to idea, and it’s obviously a biased interpretation of how I understand peng. Hopefully, this post is a good launching point contemplating the concept of peng.