Archive for the ‘Qi’ Category

Flip through any human biology book and you should see that a human body is made up of different subsystems: the skin, the muscle, the skeletal, the blood circulation, the nervous system. If it is a medical book, it would even have the lymphatic system overlaid.

What most books miss the most is the most important subsystem for the internal martial artists: the fascia system. What is the fascia? Imagine a system where it connects to the muscles, the bones, the tendons, the ligaments, and serve as webbing surrounding all the internal organs. In other words, the connective tissues that connect to all other systems. The Chinese word for it is 膜 membrane, suggesting its nature.

The acupuncture meridians, unsurprisingly, map to the fascial pathways, and unsurprisingly, the abdominal area is a nexus of fascia materials. The kicker? Take a look at a book on fascia anatomy book (*), and compare the major fascia systems with for example, Chen Xin’s famous drawing of the silk reeling spiral Qi lines.

Make you think. Doesn’t it?

Then consider the fact that to most people, fascia is not even on their radar screens. If they pay any attention at all to the connective tissues, it’s to avoid injury. Very few training exercise is specific to this area. No wonder most people do not “get” internal martial arts.

Among other documents, the Yang’s “40 Chapters” makes it clear that Qi travels in the fascia, tendons, ligaments connective tissues, hence the heading of this blog entry, “the Qi Substrate.”

(*) Anatomy Trains, by Meyer is a good one.


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One of the lines the Tai Chi Classics reads:

Qi is as (a) Drum Resonating, Shen is as collected internally

What is Drum Resonating (Gu Dang) ? Wu Kung Cho (*), in the Wu style seminal manual, the “Gold Book” (http://wustyle.com), as translated by Doug Woolidge says:

Drum Resonating refers to the integrating of Jin energy that occurs whether moving, still, emptying, filling, opening, closing, hardening or softening. When drum resonating Jin energy occurs, mind moves intention, intention sends Qi and Qi sends the body. Because the mind and Qi are so directly interconnected, Yin and Yang can mutually transform instantly, like raging wind and pelting rain accompanying frighteningly huge waves.

and Chen Wei Ming (**), as translated by Barbara Davis says:

The highest gongfu of taiji push hands is lancai. This is done entirely by means of jin of gudang (drum resonating). You gudang your opponent, and cause him to be like a boat meeting the wind going in and out of the billows. He is dizzy and has no control. He lists and joggles about, losing control, and is not even able to fathom his own center of gravity. This is the application of gudang.

Both sound pretty good, but really doesn’t say much that a practitioner can use. The image of a drum resonating seems to be insufficiently used in the above.

Finally, another clue! In a rare book by Shi Diao Mei 施調梅 (***), it reads (translation mine):

The two phrases “Qi is as (a) Drum Resonating, Shen is as collected internally” is one of the first steps into the internal martial arts… if you breath deeply using reverse breathing { EDIT: Louis Swaim correctly points out that the Chinese phrase only says “Abdominal Breathing,” and not necessarily reverse breathing. In this manner, the text is unclear whether “natural” or reverse breathing is meant. END EDIT}, and coordinating with the opening and closing of the movements, the diaphragm is pressurized. Thus when you inhale and exhale while moving, due to the pressure from the abdominal diaphragm, the internal organs are moved and exercised. This is called Drum Resonating…

There are much more. And people say the Classics do not contain explicit descriptions.

Before I close this entry: reverse breathing is one of those old secrets. It should be done with care and it is best if you get qualified instructions, otherwise, bad side effects such as increasing blood pressure, headache, hemorrhoids etc. may result. You have been warned.

Finally, a plug to one of my favorite bookstores: http://www.plumpub.com They carry a lot of books, both in Chinese and English, and VCDs, DVDs. Nice folks, great selection, prompt shipping. What more can one ask for (except for the Wei Shu Ren’s book, hint hint, Debbie 🙂 )

(*) Wu style founder Wu Jian Quan’s second son

(**) One of Yang Cheng Fu’s students

(***) He was a student of Tian Zhao Lin, a student of Yang Shao Hou and Yang Jian Hou (third son of the great Yang Lu Chan and father of Saho Hou). Shi Diao Mei is the teacher of Tchoung Ta Tchen

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Qi and the Internal Martial Arts

Discussing Internal Martial Arts in the Orient is a very different exercise than in the West. A Chinese sifu would say “the Qi goes here” or “sink Qi to the dantien” all day long and no one would raise an eyebrow. The strict teaching method is that you just do what your teacher asks. You wouldn’t dare to question, at least not interrupting a whole class with your silly questions. Besides, Qi is so central to the Chinese thought that no less than 50 expressions involve the word Qi! In contrast, the western science legacy is based on questioning: what does it do? How does it work? In the West, before the sifu could finish the sentence, inevitably someone would ask “What is Qi?”

Unfortunately, most people who want to discuss Qi and Internal Martial Arts scientifically are asking the wrong questions. Often the first assumption is that if the Chinese cannot describe Qi in western terms (“is it a thing? What kind of thing is it?”) then the Chinese paradigm is either flawed, incomprepensible, or incompatible with western science. So they ask, “if Qi exists, how come we can’t measure it?” or “it must be [fake, bio-electricity, body alignment, … ]”

Lets think about this: the Chinese martial artists have been using Qi to describe, and more importantly, transmit their knowledge for hundreds if not thousands of years. Consider that some of the brightest minds in Chinese history are martial artists, the conclusion must be that the system is fine as it is!

In other words, throw down the preconceived notions on how things *should* work, and accept that it does work, and it may work for you too. While the Flatlanders could not comprehend the 3-D world, nevertheless, the 3-D world does exist. So if a student has problems with the Qi paradigm, then the problem is with the student, and not with the paradigm!

Can we *supplement* the Qi paradigm with more scientific information? Absolutely. Search the web for body alignment, bio-mechanical model, tendon, sinew, fascia, and you would find much information, perhaps more paletable to the western minds.

However, that is still missing the point. For the word Internal in Internal Martial Arts refers to Shen, Qi, and Yi, the internal aspects. To start the journey on training in Internal Martial Arts, one must start there, but that’s for another post. The very first step though, must be that the mind must change to accept the Qi paradigm, and that Internal Martial Arts is different. It’s not just doing thing softly or slowly, or that it’s just whole body power. It’s those, and a lot more, but that’s a topic for another post.

// richard

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