Friday, January 5, 2018
Most of us have experienced some of the confirmatory signs of our Yang Qi, such as warmth in the Dan Tien or throughout the body, the feeling of warmth and/or fullness flooding our palms or feet during various Taiji movements. The feeling of rooted heaviness and unified solidity. The feelings of power or inner strength after a proper Fa Jin release. All these are aspects of what we can call ‘Yang (or active) Qi.’
And this is what most people are interested in, for martial power and the like. And this is natural because these are the things we first encounter as we follow through in our training, both with Zhan Zhuang and indeed in any of the internal arts.
But there is a whole other side to what we ordinarily call Qi. And that is the Yin aspect or ‘Yin Qi.’ Of course all this is based on Chinese Medicine theory and Taoist thought.
After one has developed ‘frame,’ which includes root and the ability to both absorb and issue power in what we might call a highly ‘visible’ manner, it then becomes possible to begin the exploration of the Yin or ‘mysterious’ Qi. Why mysterious? Because in order to properly cultivate and later utilize Yin Qi, it first becomes necessary to let go of a number of cherished martial arts beliefs. Basically this means that ordinarily we will equate speed and ‘strength’ with power. But in the world of Yin Qi we must give up this notion because with the Yin Qi, basically the opposite is true. This means that with Yin Qi, when we feel ‘strong,’ we are in fact weak, and when we feel ‘weak’ or perhaps a better word is effortless, that’s when we’re actually very strong.
So, what is the value of this Yin Qi? Well, besides the obvious health application, for martial arts it goes something like this. It is said Master Wang Xiang Zhai used Taijiquan Yin Qi aspects for neutralizing and diverting, Bagua for footwork and Xingyi generation methods to issue power. So the usefulness of Yin Qi in internal martial arts has to do with its ability to stick and adhere and lead into emptiness. A most useful skill in setting up for or simultaneously returning devastating Yang Qi power.
The big difference when cultivating Yang Qi versus cultivating Yin Qi is that with the Yin Qi we must let go of all the normal feelings of strength and power and instead go for a most profound form of relaxation and focus, such that we may even let go of the shape of our outer form or structure almost entirely, and rely solely on our ‘internal frame’ which we have cultivated over the years, to support our outer structure and later also to deal with incoming power.
Thursday, December 21, 2017
During Zhan Zhuang we experience many different types of ‘organic sensations.’ These sensations or feelings reflect the diverse changes and adjustments the body goes through on the way to refining our Zhong Ding and eventually achieving Song.
These organic sensations many times preoccupy the new student throughout the first several years of training. These sensations are often so powerful they drown out our ability to maintain the unified focus of our feeling-awareness in our low Dan Tien.
Eventually however after enough practice, many of the body’s issues resolve themselves and the pull of organic sensations begins to greatly diminish. When this happens, seasoned practitioners often feel an expansion of consciousness followed by an increase in perception that allows them to become aware of a different kind of sensation. Although these ‘new’ sensations are linked to the physical body, they also contain within them elements of what might be called ‘supra-physical’ energy. The Taoists identify these particular sensations as related to the various layers of our ‘energy-body(s.)’
After this transition begins to occur we slowly find ourselves dwelling in this new arena for longer and longer periods. At first we feel both a physical element and an energetic one simultaneously. However, as our training progresses we are able to shift and hold more and more of our feeling awareness solely in the energetic arena. When this happens we find ourselves in a whole new world of possibilities. When asked what he felt while doing Zhan Zhuang, Master Cai Songfang replied, “I feel my energy.” Master Cai’s teacher learned Zhan Zhuang from Yang Cheng Fu and was one of only about a half-a-dozen people to whom Master Yang taught this skill. In his younger days Master Cai was the push-hands champion of Shanghai. His daily Zhan Zhuang training consisted of 90 minutes per session in the Wuji posture.
Although these energetic feelings or sensations vary according to the individual consciousness and are at best, difficult to translate into words, there are a few commonalities that may prove useful in identifying when this transition begins to occur.
One thing that happens is that we feel like our whole body is immersed in a watery-like substance. Although this feeling is a bit more subtle and somewhat different than pure physical sensation, there is a clear and definite substantiality to it. Following this, in the next stage the body’s interior seems to ‘hollow out,’ or loose its feeling of density, all while the sensation of the ‘exterior’ part of the body being ‘immersed in water’ remains present. After this, and often quite rapidly, the deep Central Channel and many times the Left and Right Qigong Channels ‘appear’ or emerge. This is often followed by the Du and Ren meridians opening and linking to this inner architecture such that we can ‘see’ and feel energy simultaneously coursing through all of these conduits while still being peripherally aware of our body’s exterior ‘immersed in water.’ I’ve used the word ‘appear’ to describe the feeling of something manifesting out of apparently nothing. Of course this probably has more to do with a shift or expansion in our perception.
Friday, December 15, 2017
Thursday, December 7, 2017
One of the benefits of daily Zhan Zhuang training for martial arts is the ability to emit strong power in a very short space or distance. The whole-body force happens ‘under the skin’ and only manifests visibly in the wrist and hand. Being a Taiji style punch, the energy begins in the low Dan Tien, instantly travels under the feet, up the spine and Central Channel and out the fist. Although the video examples are self explanatory, a few words will perhaps be useful about how to receive the blows.
Many people have not been struck by a strong internal power blow to their torso, head or neck. Those who have, have no desire to repeat the experience because these types of strikes very often linger (create pain or other serious problems) for hours, days and even weeks after the actual blow. In one case a famous internal martial arts master struck one of my teachers on the shoulder-blade. The strike itself took only a few nano-seconds to deliver, but my teacher suffered serious pain for several months afterward and needed acupuncture and massage to finally clear it.
With that in mind, a method was developed which allows the repeated issuing of strong internal force without damaging the recipient. Firstly, the blow is delivered to the opponent’s arms rather than their torso, head or neck. This allows the force to be transferred to our feet while keeping our structure in tact. The additional force is then absorbed by allowing ourselves to be ‘bounced’ away, bouncing repeatedly if necessary, each time landing firmly on our heels to vent the excessive Qi out of the body. This bouncing back also allows the recipient to fully maintain their structure or frame while receiving the blow. This way we can practice repeatedly with strong internal power and no damage to the one absorbing the hits.
A word to the wise, not following this method or something similar while repeatedly issuing strong internal power will inevitably result in either the recipient’s frame being disintegrated - causing instant and perhaps lasting damage - or at the very least, roughly and unceremoniously losing balance and landing hard on their backside - or both.
Saturday, December 2, 2017
Slow Frame testing, sometimes called Spring Testing, is a basic two-person exercise designed to give experience in the compression and expansion of the joints and cavities and cultivate and strengthen the outer physical frame and the idea of spherical movement. Simply put, one training partner assumes a Tai Chi (or Zhan Zhuang) posture. The other partner then gradually applies pressure (force) while the partner in the Tai Chi posture systematically absorbs the force into the low Dan Tien. At first a technique called “Snaking” (like the undulation of a snake) is used where the force is absorbed step-by-step through each of the joints and cavities.
In the first example in the video, fists are used to apply force to the palms of the Tai Chi posture “An.” (Push). As force is slowly applied, the palms and wrists gently compress followed by the elbow joints, the shoulder joints, shoulder blades and shoulder’s nests and finally the spine. As the partner’s pressure continues, the spine, chest and abdominal cavities also gently compress or condense, taking the force down into the hips, Kua and low Dan Tien region. From there as your partner’s pressure continues, you next compress the feet, ankles, knees and hips into the Kua and low Dan Tien. This in effect creates a compressed version of an energetic sphere with the low Dan Tien as it’s centerpoint.
From there, with the body having properly absorbed the force into the low Dan Tien (and feet) the partner in the Tai Chi posture achieves a moment of ‘stillness’ and then - in one instantaneous movement of release - using relaxation, suddenly drops the Qi (pressure) down under the feet. This instantly generates power which rises up the spine and out the hands, creating in effect, an expanded Sphere.
Once this basic method has been mastered in sequence through the segmented or “Snaking” method, the next step becomes condensing and expanding the joints, cavities and spine simultaneously. Following that, once one has achieved Song, then at first touch the practitioner’s energy automatically sinks to the low Dan Tien and below the feet. This is accompanied by a condensation or compression of one’s Qi or Inner Frame or Sphere. At this stage, issuing Jin is then only a matter of expanding one’s Inner Frame or Sphere. Thus the advanced practitioner shows very little outer movement if any, while the recipient is strongly and sometimes violently repulsed or ejected.
Friday, November 24, 2017
Mao Dun Zhuang or Combat Stance is an essential posture for developing martial power. Sometimes called ‘Shield and Spear,’ it is a fully back-weighted side stance which trains among other things, both lifting and sinking power. There is little or no weight on the front leg and the front heel is very slightly lifted. Because this is a martial posture, the eyes want to be open and focused way in the distance, say out to the horizon.
To train lifting and sinking Jin, imagine your arms around the trunk of a tree. Next, feel you are ‘pushing’ the trunk upward (Lifting Jin) and then feel you are pressing it down, deep into the ground. (Sinking JIn) In order for this technique to be effective, your feeling-awareness must play a leading role along with your imagination. In other words you must ‘mock-up’ the appropriate feelings until they seem almost real, like you’re actually performing the two tasks.
Also while training this posture one often becomes aware of the separating and combining of Yang and Yin. The Yang Heaven energy descends through the back half of the posture down through the head, neck, torso, back arm, the weighted leg and into the foot and especially into the center of the heel. At the same time the ascending Yin Earth energy rises up the front part of the posture, from Yongquan point K-1 up through the forward leg, torso, front arm, neck and head.
Of course, the Mao Dun Zhuang posture and it’s variation must be performed on both sides, generally 15-30 minutes per side. The primary difference between the normal posture and it’s variation is the lower position of the arms. The lower arm position really only becomes possible to do correctly when much of the body has been stretched and opened up through extensive practice of the basic posture.
Saturday, April 15, 2017
For those who train both Zhan Zhuang and Taijiquan, walking is an excellent and important bridge between the two. Why? There are a couple of reasons. The first has to do with the fact that during Zhan Zhuang a great amount of Qi tends to migrate into the Central Channel.
Although this highly concentrated Qi is very useful during our Zhan Zhuang training, both for healing and martial power, this flooding of our Central Channel is often too much for our everyday activities. Therefore it is always advised that we “walk around” slowly for a few minutes after our standing session “as if strolling in a park or garden” in order to help normalize and redistribute the excess Qi generated during practice. In fact, Yang Cheng Fu also advised the same procedure after Taijiquan.
Why and how does this work? The reason is simple. Walking by its very nature helps move Qi out of the Central Channel and into our left and right Qigong Channels as we pace around. This helps to normalize the Qi flow and make it again suitable for our daily life.
Although this ‘random walking’ is highly effective in rebalancing the flow of Qi, for those who wish to develop more quickly, conscious walking, known as Walking Qigong is the preferred method. Why? Because in addition to the basic normalizing and rebalancing effect of moving our weight from one side of the body to the other and back again, Walking Qigong has the added benefits of generating whole body connection and integration, refining balance and promoting greater awareness of the exchange of Yin and Yang, empty and full. Also, this type of walking involves not only moving forward, it also employs walking backwards as well. This builds our agility in both advancing and retreating for martial art applications. In addition, the walking backwards part greatly benefits back and spinal problems and readies us to apply power while appearing to move away from an opponent as well as the normal moving in to strike.
There are basically three stages to Walking Qigong. Method one uses only the legs and the Kua (torso) with the hands resting on the hips or hanging freely at our sides. This stage primarily emphasizes the lower body. The second method is walking while holding various static Zhan Zhuang postures. This stage builds the upper and lower body connection and integration while in movement. The third method involves various arm movements while advancing (walking forward) and retreating. (walking backwards) These can be certain circular movements as well as many of the Taiji movements. For example, walking forward we can use Double Hand Peng on each side. Walking backward we change to Lu - Rollback. The various circular movements and the almost infinite combinations and variations of Taiji movements not only allow us train issuing Jin while advancing, but the backward style walking is very useful for emitting Jin while seeming to move away from an opponent. Naturally, both methods may be necessary in a real life confrontation.