Friday, November 23, 2012

Back Leg Brace versus Peng Jin

Back Leg Brace versus Peng Jin

One thing I see very commonly in people doing purported “internal” martial arts is that they really don’t have jin, but instead rely on what I call the “Back Leg Brace”.  I see it so often that I tend to expect it,  and it seems to happen in even the best of families.

Yes, you’re supposed to use the “solidity of the ground” in any good Asian martial-art (internal or external), but a lot of people use the back leg braced at an angle and think it’s the same thing as peng jin.  

It’s very, very common for someone doing chi sao, push-hands, spinning hands, rolling hands, etc., to use the forward stability from the back leg to press against the opponent and to think that type of “ground strength” is the same things as jin.  In fact, it’s so common, that I’ve gotten tired of doing so-called “push-hands” with people that use the back-leg brace as the source of their push.  Long ago I started just begging off as soon as I could saying “I’m tired”, rather than endure this too-predictable alternative to jin. 

As soon as they line up on their back leg, you know they’re going to push.  It’s embarrassing to watch, particularly in some of the longtime “teachers” because you know at a glance that if that is the way they use power, everything else they do is going to be a parody of the real thing, also.  Even though they may talk the talk about being “balanced in 6 directions” or “balanced in 8 directions”, their power is in reality to the front, almost exclusively.  A lot of Aikidoists do this same error of fronting their power, also.

And of course it goes without saying that if you really know how to use the dantien to control the arms, etc., it’s very obvious when someone does not, even if they think they’re doing it.... but if they use a back –leg brace, they can’t possibly be using the dantian to control the body, can they?  If you think about it, you’ll understand why.

I watched a video a few years ago of a seminar (in Australia) where a visiting Chinese expert Wing Chun player was talking and demonstrating.  He easily moved the Australian instructor all around because the expert had real peng jing and the teacher did not.  Even though the teacher knew all the forms, applications, chi sao, etc., and I’ll bet he could fight pretty darn well (he was fit lad), he had no real peng jing.  To me, it implies that logically if he was missing basic peng jing then everything else he was doing and teaching was also bereft of peng jing... so it was only an external mimicry of the real Wing Chun.

Most of the southern Shaolin styles all use peng jing.... but they’re not full-blown “internal” styles because they don’t use the dantien to control the arms, legs, torso, etc.  But there’s one thing I really like about some of the southern Shaolin styles like Wing Chun,  Hakka, Southern White Crane, etc.: they do a lot of their close-up practice drills (like chi sao) using parallel feet.  The Hao-style Taijiquan does the same thing.  By using parallel feet to do chi sao, rolling hands, push hands, etc., you are forced to either go complete muscle and arms (and maybe a slight lean forward) or you begin to learn to use peng jing.  Without that back leg to use as a brace, you can develop some pretty darned good skills.  In the meantime, start watching how many people are in fact use an angled back leg to brace from: it's interesting to see.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

"Internal" and Bragging Rights
Perhaps a bit deeper than that?

Let me make one comment up front in order to set the stage.  A lot of the talk about “internal” that is currently trendy assumes that there is a certain grouping of basic elements that is “internal” and that a number of different people have those elements and that they use different approaches.  In other words, essentially all those different approaches are viable for the assumed target-group.  I think that’s where the big misunderstanding is. 

The misunderstanding probably starts from the assumption that whatever internal strength is, it’s reasonably contained in a small group of knowledge and skills (not to mention buzzwords), sort of like martial-arts techniques.  So a person often gets an impression of a topic, for instance “dantian”, and thinks that at least that portion of “internal” is reasonably understood and simply needs some refinement and training. 

Or perhaps a person wants to do “standing meditation” and assumes the general posture, accepting perhaps a few tweaks and adjustments from a real expert (hopefully... an amazing number of people get adjustments from the local self-proclaimed expert and convince themselves that they feel something special).  I’ve seen people spend hours a day for years going mostly on the general shape of a standing posture, convinced that they’re doing the proper ritual.

Another common skillset is standing against a push.  I’ve had various people show up at workshops convinced that what they were already doing as “stand immovable against a push” was what I was talking about.  Their general idea seems to be focused on the simple idea of “several guys at this seminar have tried to move me as I’ve shown them how immovable I am, so therefore I have already arrived and needn’t pay any attention to useless suggested corrections”.   And by gum, they don’t pay any attention.  “Ah yeah, we used to do this with Tohei back in the day”.  Or, “This is the way we do it in our Koryu art and look how good it is”.  We’re talking about very different things, but they’re focused on the idea that the local yokel beside them can’t move them, so mission accomplished for “internal”.

Or perhaps, basic jin.  Rough, muscle-jin is not that hard to learn and a lot of teachers essentially pattern their special teaching around a little bit of jin and a lot of techniques.  Using some bit of muscle-jin along with normal movement is the most common thing I see in people claiming that they’re “internal too”.

“Dantian” has become something suddenly everyone has in the last year or two, it seems.  Look at this quote that someone recently made on a web-forum as part of an argument that his style is "internal", too:

if somebody comes to see me and i can take their center from first contact (and i generally can), then we have nothing else to talk about. if they really understand what "using the dan tien" means, then i wouldn't be able to capture them so easily.

There are several things in the statement that are worth thinking about.  First of all, it’s not “when I meet someone”, it’s when they make the pilgrimage to him.  He can “take their center”.... what does that mean?  Even someone with normal strength can take someone’s center, so that doesn’t mean anything about “dantian”.  Since he “usually can”, there is no more to talk about?  That’s pretty lofty.  How does he mean to take their center?  In a fight or in his favorite game of rou-shou, push-hands, chi sao, etc.?  I.e., his home game on his own turf or does he mean just he and his lowly opponent just touching each other without movement?

How does “dantian” come into what would be a real capture of someone’s center?  The way it’s really done is with jin, which is intent, not dantien.  So we already have an idea how “internal” he is.

Anyway, I hope that any moderately skilled person who can’t be captured at first touch simply walks away without talking anymore.  You certainly don’t want to give this guy any more ammunition to make his brags even worse!

What “dantian” too often becomes is simply a buzzword that is used to impress beginners.  The talkers often don’t really know, but they will still throw out the term, so any thinking martial-artist should take the moment to ask them what they mean.  If there is no clear-cut answer, but only a drift into other areas, you’re probably being strung along with the typical “we’re internal” stuff that has been popular since the days of Wing Chun claims on rec.martial-arts back in the early 90’s.

If you want to see if someone is “internal” who is tossing in words like “dantian”, have them stick their arm out straight and move it with their dantian while you feel their dantian.  I suspect that some of these guys will now start faking a coordinated arm and stomach motion, hoping that is satisfactory and will get them by.

Another thing that needs to be looked at with a lot of the people talking about “internal” is their size and strength.  Back in the days of the old Neijia List, I made some instant enemies by pointing out that the teachers all bragging about how good their “internal strength” was... well, they all happened to be big guys and some of them were pretty strong.  I also happen to be a big guy and pretty strong and I often point out to someone while pushing hands that part of the reason they’re having trouble dealing with me is that I’m big.  Mass and strength count for a lot.  Most of the large “teachers” of internal strength wouldn’t have their purported skill level if they were medium-sized guys.  They’d be using a lot of muscle to make up for the edge their size now gives them.  That should be a common-sense thought that everyone quietly has when looking at a large, strong “teacher”.

So there is a lot of talk about “internal”, but really what most people have is a little bit of muscle or maybe some muscle jin, maybe some neigong training, and a number of nifty techniques.  Techniques are not the criteria for internal strength, though, so they should be left out of any discussion about basic internal strength.

What we have is a spectrum of martial skills ranging from muscle and skill at, say, “rolling hands” or “push hands”, all the way to full-bore use of dantian and suit, jin, pressure, and so on.  The idea that all the people claiming to do “internal” are doing the same thing is simply wrong... and naive.  The “we are internal, too” bragging stuff has been a western mainstay since at least the Wing Chun wars on rec.martial-arts and it’s nothing new except to the newcomers.  

So the next time you hear descriptions about various people all doing "this stuff" or "internal", without making any distinctions about what "internal strength" really is, be aware that you're probably listening to the typical low-level discussions that are a mainstay of discussion boards.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Jin, Energy, and other terms

I want to post an interview from back in the 1990's that was done in Germany.  Andreas Graf, who is/was a Taiji practitioner and had definite jin skills, interviewed Chen Jumin, a Chen-style Taijiquan teacher.  So basically, this interview was done by Andreas in Chinese with intermediary terms being in German.  Andreas, who speaks English as well as I do, then translated the German interview into English:
Andreas Graf: Jumin, how would you translate the term Jin? Jin as in Pengjin.

Jumin Chen: Jin is "Kraft" (In the following we decided to translate the German word "Kraft" with strength, because we do not know which of the Englisch terms power, force or strength Jumin would use.)
AG: In German, "Kraft" has various meanings, for example physical power or muscular power. When you feel exhausted, you also say that you have no energy (in German: "kraftlos").

JC: Usually Jin relates to body strength. It's completely clear. There is another character "Li". Li is the physical strength. For example a machine has a lot of Li. Here you can't say that the machine has a lot of Jin. If I push the table and I am not able to move it (He demonstrates it using not enough strength to move the table.), then you could say "shi yi dian jin" which means use a little more of your strength. In general the term Jin is often used in relation to the body.

AG: When you use Jin in Taiji, you don't want to use normal muscular strength, do you?

JC: You always need muscles for movement. But consider the saying of Wang Zongyue: "Yong jin, bu yong li". In Taiji they have differentiated between Li meaning muscular strength and Jin meaning internal strength. The other internal martial arts Xingyi and Bagua do not use this differentiation. Sometimes they say Li, sometimes Jin. The border between Jin and Li is not very distinct. In Bagua and Xingyi you frequently say Fa li. In Taiji very often you say Fa jin instead of Fa li.

When the border between the two terms isn't clear, it seems that the Jin used in Taiji doesn't exist naturally. Has it to be trained?
JC: Right. Jin has to be trained.

AG: The trained Jin is different from the Jin that you used before when pushing the table? With the sentence "use more jin".

JC: Exactly. There are two specific terms: "Ben li" and "Gong li". Ben li means that you have your own strength for pushing or lifting something. E.i. you can lift your luggage. This is called Ben li. It has nothing to do with Gong li. You acquire Gong li by training. Oddly, you do not say "Ben jin" or "Gong jin" - that wouldn't be Chinese.

AG: That means the Jin that you use in Taiji is different from the usual language usage. Did it become a technical term? Can it be described that way?

JC: A technical term, yes. But Jin is colloquial. You use Li in science, for example in the physics of Newton. An object moves at a certain speed (He moves the ashtray with his finger over the table.). This is called "Guan li". Here you have to use Li. You do not say "Guan jin". Or "Lixue" that means mechanics. In China you say Lixue and not Jinxue. For example you ask: "Ni you jin ma?" - Do you have Jin? You can answer: "Wo you jin." - I have Jin. You don't ask: "Ni you li ma?"

AG: I remember that you often say "Taiji-strength" to differentiate it from normal strength when explaining something.

JC: Yes, that's right. Normally in Chinese semantics Li and Jin are identical. No difference. When used as technical terms Jin and Li are different. This came up one or two hundred years ago to avoid that people were using to much strength (He demonstrates strain of his muscles.). The Li used in Xingyi is more a full Li. Like a pipe that is filled. "Li shi". A strike in Xingyi is rather full. In Bagua you say "Li qiao". Li qiao means skillfull. "Li ling" means soft Li.

AG: And this is used in Taiji?

JC: Yes, Taiji - Li ling. The three are different. But all of them are internal. You cannot say that Xingyi or Bagua would use external strength.

AG: And this specific internal strength used in all the three styles is the same. Every style uses the same internal strength?

JC: Yes. But sometimes it's difficult to distingusih between saying how much internal and how much external strength somebody uses, for example within this strike (He demonstrates a strike.): 20% are external. When 80% are internal strength, it's already well developed. A 100% internal strength is supposed to be very difficult. If somebody accomplishes this, he is very very good - maybe Yang Luchan was able to do it or Yang Banhou. Yang Luchan probably had this skill, Yang Banhou had more Li shi.

AG: A lot of people translate Jin also with "energy".

JC: Energy? You cannot say this. It's a strength skill.

Andreas Graf: In the internal martial arts there is the saying "Kong xiong, ba bei". Please, would you explain it?

Jumin Chen: "Kong xiong ba bei" is the same like "Han xiong ba bei". In the internal martial arts there are three "diseases" which should be avoided. The first one is "ting xiong" (Jumin turns out his chest like a soldier standing to attention). This is one disease. Therefore it has been said han xiong. But then people have done it this way: Jumin shows a collapsed chest with shoulders hanging too much forward.

AG: Too much, then?

JC: Too much. So it was said kong xiong. That means keep free here (Jumin brushes his chest with a hand). Ba bei refers to the back. There is a technicall term "Li you ji fa" that means strength comes from the back. The back plays a large role and functions like a spring. If you don't have the spring in the back, you can't properly apply Li. You have to build up the spring with the whole body going up while the coccyx is going down.

AG: Is this like "rising the head" - "di ding"?

JC: Many beginners have a strange head posture, e. i. like this: He stretches his head in the front. When practicing Taiji this is wrong, as well as in Xingyi and Bagua. For combat purposes it's bad, too. In combat it looks like a golden rooster that fights - it stretches the head up. Have you already seen this - in the movies or so?

AG: Cockfights? Yes.

BaBei - Pulling up the "spring in the back"
JC: Yes, cockfight. That's typical for internal martial arts. In Taiji you say "Tou xuan ding" - push the head up. Then it is more powerful. If you do it this way (He puts the head out of the posture), it is less powerful. The meaning of ba bei is how you can develop power.

AG: What is the "dictionary meaning" of ba?

JC: Pulling.

AG: Do I understand you correctly when saying that you do not actively pull, but that you are relaxed?

JC: Like a spring.

AG: In case you translate ba with pulling, in which direction does this happen?

JC: Upwards.

AG: When you directly translate this with "pulling the back up", one might think that the back moves backwards (points from the back backwards).

JC: Ah. No, this is completely different.

AG: Often it's roughly translated, but it's difficult to understand.

JC: Yes. Some have translated it directly. Some know Chinese, but don't have a martial arts background or only external martial art skills like Wushu. Then you cannot comprehend such things. Han xiong ba bei derives from an early Qigong exercise. There are meditation exercises from the Tang dynasty which use han xiong ba bei. There exists an inscription on the grave of Wang Chengnan. From it comes the term internal boxing and the saying han xiong ba bei. So that the Qi can flow better and you don't block yourself.

Andreas Graf: Do you want to talk about this standing exercise a little bit?

Standing exercise for Pengjin
Jumin Chen: This standing exercise is for "Pengjin". Peng is an elastic strength. It is important, for example, if a push comes from the front, we shouldn't react in this direction (He points in the opposite direction of the push.), but receive it (German: "aufnehmen"). In the back of the body the coccyx sinks and in the front [strength] rises.

AG: Once you have said that the strength sinks from the coccyx downwards along the leg, rises from there to the waist and from there to the arm.

JC: Yes.
AG: You practice it with intent. What do you imagine?

JC: In the beginning two directions. Downwards and upwards (He slowly moves the arm up and down. Note: While practicing you don't move your arm, but think in the two directions.). You imagine that something heavy rests on your arm, there think upwards.

AG: But you don't lift the arm, do you?

JC: We think of the arm, but [the strength] comes from below. It's easier to work directly than to think of body.

AG: Do you think directly beginning from the foot?

JC: Directly you think of the arm.

AG: And you imagine that it is heavy?

JC: Yes, for example you think to carry 500 kilograms (He laughs.) on your arm. How are you able to carry it?

AG: Do you have to be relaxed in the back?

JC: Caused by relaxation a thing can rise.

AG: What is the meaning of Peng for Taiji?

JC: The so called Hunyuan-strength is important. This is the so called "six-directions"-strength. In the martial arts you cannot predict what will happen. For example if we push and pull one by one - this doesn't work. We have to push and pull at the same time - plus opening and closing. These are four directions. And then rising and sinking with the arm - in total six directions. (...) Within Taiji, Xingyi and Bagua it is important to use the whole body. It is only one part to train the technique: How can one method work against another? You can demonstrate a technique. But it doesn't always work. Why? Because it's a technique. It's not the whole Hunyuan-strength. If you use a technique, most of the time it doesn't work - sometimes it does. But that's not the meaning. It's the whole body! This is very very important.

AG: When somebody in push hands pushes into your Peng-position, you perform Lu. Once you have said that within Lu there is always Peng?

JC: Yes, correct.

AG: Can you tell us about this a little bit?

JC: The Hunyuan-strength contains Peng and Lu. Lu is performed to yield. Peng is necessary that it is elastic. When there is a change, immediately there is Lu-strength. Example: When you push me, I have Peng. Push me! Ah! Lu and then return with Peng. This is Peng and Lu changed. At the moment it's Peng, then Lu and then again Peng.

AG: That means at every point of time you can say "now I do Lu, now I do Peng"?

JC: Yes. The quicker the change the better.

AG: Where do you perform Peng? Is it at the point where I push you?

JC: Yes. The contact point is important. With this point you can train a lot. In principle you have the Hunyuan-strength on the whole body, the internal strength in all directions. That's why Feng Zhiqiang called his Taiji "Hunyuan Taiji Quan" - he is the first generation. (He laughs.) Usually a style starts with the second generation.

AG: Once, you have told me that you change the end point of the strength?

To explain Zheng Mian, Jumin had me push a pen in a 90 degree angle at a book that he holds upright in this hands
JC: This is part of the theory. "Zheng Mian" and "Xie Mian" are typical for Taiji. We have a contact - because of this we have a point and a line. Zheng Mian points vertically on the strength, Xie Mian at an angle. Now both points are equal , now I change the point ( he points next to the contact point) - this is Xie Mian. Xie Mian means "slanting". Due to this some masters are able to throw the opponent when they are attacked. They don't use it directly, but at first Xie Mian and then Zheng Mian. This is a left/right-Xie Mian. There is also top/down-Xie Mian.

He shows Xie Mian turning the book and holding it at a smaller angle: the pen slips away.
AG: When you practice stances, do you imagine that the weight lies on your entire arm, or sometimes here, sometimes there?

JC: In principle on the whole arm. If there is contact, it's a little different. When you practice alone, on the whole arm.

Michael Schmidt: Should you do pre-exercises?

JC: No, I practice stances without pre-exercise. Let's say, I have ten minutes time - then I stand for ten minutes.

MS:/b> Alone?

JC: That doesn't matter. It's sometimes easier in a group - I like it better within a group. For me standing is lots of fun.

AG: Jumin, thank you very much for the interview.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

3 Main Blogs: Successful as Aids?

There have been a number of emails and comments indicating that for a lot of people the blogs are a of minimum help other than background information.  That's to be expected, to a large extent, because the information in the blogs was aimed primarily at helping the students of a really qualified understand what the discussion was about.  I.e., the blogs aren't meant as beginning course for the simple reason that a person must have some hands-on training in order to understand the general material.

My interest for a number of years has been in uncovering the principles and material behind classical "internal strength" and I've made it a point to always visit many different Asian teachers in order to see/feel their material, and listen to what they're saying.  In the last few years, one of the teachers that I've visited is Chen Bing, who teaches Chen-style Taijiquan.  Chen Bing apparently sat down and figured a very logical set of steps that he thought people should follow and he adheres to that logic in his teaching, rather than hopping around from subject to subject.  It's his material that primarily motivated me to write on this blog site the material that would accompany his logic... and it bit beyond it so that the larger picture is outlined.  If you get a chance, I'd recommend a visit to one of his workshops at some time.

Unless someone has a feel for what jin is, what suit can do, how the dantian feels as it physically moves, etc., a lot of the stuff on the blog is just words.  However, over time I think that more and more people will encounter opportunities where they can use this baseline material, so I plan on leaving it up for a while.

Another comment I'd make is that I've encountered a number of westerners' theories about internal martial-arts that have mechanical explanations of how punches work, mobilizer and stablizer muscles, "mutually opposing spirals" (a misunderstanding rooted in the ni-shun dichotomy), leverage, momentum, hard-gong training, and so on. 

The main point I'd make is that a correctly-trained body acts differently than those mechanistic explanations are capable of explaining.  In other words, I think people should spend more time on basic training (jibengongs) before they get into "forms" and "applications", good-sounding explanations that use physics terms, and so on.  Most of the western people who claim to do "internal" things don't even have basic dantian or jin skills, so the mechanics are going to be wrong just based on that alone.  Any other partial skills like breath-packing phenomena, "fa jin", etc., are also going to be very limited because the whole body hasn't been trained. 

So, regardless of how many forms someone else can do, a wise person should spend a lot of time on basic exercises and acquire some skills and basic principles before worrying about forms, applications, and so on.  It's easier to get the skills first and then apply them to forms, applications, and so on, then it is to pattern a lot of wrong movements into your body and then try to go back and change those badly-patterned movements.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Not Taiji -- an Opinion Piece

Not Taiji -- an opinion piece.  If you disagree, write a response.

(Not Xingyi, Not Bagua, Not Liu He Ba Fa, Not Wujiquan, etc.)

The main thing to note about the internal martial-arts is that they are a different way of moving.  They use the solidity of the ground and the pull of weight (i.e, gravity giving both of those) as primary forces.  They use air to train and power the body.  The body is moved using gravity, air, and the dantien to move the connection of the body plus jin.  Most people doing “internal arts” are doing the forms, applications, weapons, etc., using normal motion or mostly so.  What it comes down to is that the internal martial-arts are marked by a certain type of movement that is difficult and takes time to learn… and most people purporting to do internal martial-arts are not doing that type of movement.

Rather than reiterating the logic and basis for movement in Asian martial-arts (see the main blogs), I wanted to make a point that I’ve heard many times from various Chinese martial-artists … most of what westerners are doing for Asian martial-arts is at best in incomplete replica of Asian martial-arts that are using much more sophisticated principles, when done correctly. 

Do all Asians do the arts correctly?  No.  Since the heyday of Asian martial-arts there had been a natural degradation.  In other words, just because someone is an Asian martial-arts teacher, we’re not assured that they have or that they are showing complete mechanics.

Of the experts I’ve heard who have said things like, “That is not Taiji” or “That is not push-hands” or things along those lines, most haven’t elucidated their remarks in a public way.  The odd and noticeable thing has been the defensive reactions from the westerners who are sure that what they are doing is not only legitimate, but probably pretty good, also.  Using the criteria that I laid out in the 3 major blogs, I think it should be fairly easy to judge how well the basic criteria and elements of internal-strength are actually adhered to.

Many westerners think that the mark of how good their “art” is can be judged by how well they emulate particular forms, applications, and so on.  Things like Chi Sao, Push Hands, Rou Shou, etc., are often judged by whether they “beat” someone, “won a medal at a tournament”, “we do neigongs” (all arts do neigongs of some sort), and so on.  The Chinese tend to be using criteria that are outlined, at least in a basic way, in the three major blogs on silk-reeling, jin, and breath.

So an art, particularly an internal art, that doesn’t use the dantien to control jin directions and the “suit” (one aspect of “qi”) and which doesn’t train with breath techniques… is not an internal art.  In too many cases, we find that Asian martial-arts are an external copy of the original art. 

I mentioned in a previous blog that a well-known member of the Beijing Wushu Team, a person who had “won gold medals for her Chen-style Taijiquan performances in contemporary wushu tournaments, had demonstrated he form to an expert in traditional Chen-style Taijiquan and he had indicated that it was not correct/complete.  Contemporary wushu has good guidelines based on ancient and accepted Chinese practices of wushu, but the accepted general guidelines are seldom the traditional practices within the specific arts themselves.  The point is that even in China there is recognition that contemporary wushu is not the same as the traditional arts.  Someone who “wins a gold medal in a tournament” has not necessarily exhibited the traditional aspects of an art.

I recognize that some people might take umbrage at the previous paragraph because they feel that their forms are “traditional”.  It might be a good debate, although I’ve never heard a good traditional expert of a Chinese martial-art say anything other than what was outlined about accepted basics, above.

Basic Movement Skills must be present or it’s something else

There’s an old joke that starts with the question of “How many martial-arts teachers does it take to change a light bulb?”.  The answer is: “One Hundred.  One teacher to screw in the light bulb and 99 others to sit around and say, ‘We do it differently in our school’”.  It’s a funny joke, but the implication is a very common one, the idea that there are a number of ways to do a martial-art and that all those ways are acceptable.

First of all, it is logically impossible for all ways to be acceptably correct.  In a collection of “all ways”, some ways must unavoidably be incorrect.  “All Roads Lead to the Top of the Mountain” is a nice statement, but some roads are cul de sacs and some roads lead to Timbuktu, in reality.

There is some good advice about watching an expert: many experts look similar and are mostly correct, so you can only tell their level by watching for what they do wrong, not how good they are overall.  If two experts offer seemingly different views on the same topic, don’t assume that you’re always seeing two views on the same topic.  Sometimes you are.  Sometimes you’re seeing someone giving away the fact that their basic understanding isn’t correct. 

In my various years spent practicing and watching Taijiquan, I’ve encountered a number of “secret” forms that are “lost to most people, even in the original village”.  I’m always amazed that whole villages lost the most powerful form-practice of the ages and some outlander is one of the few who retains it.  In other words, “hogwash”.

The point in all these asides is that the basics of the body movement skills are immutable.  There are not multiple ways to do things at the very basic levels. Once the basics are correct, there is room only for limited modification and application.  Hence the bedrock discussion in the 3 major blogs on silk-reeling, jin, and breath.

While the Yang-style proponents once declared that they did “pulling silk” (chousijin) rather than “reeling silk” (chansijin), the heads of the style later declared that they, too, did reeling silk for the simple reason that all the intertwined skills were impossible, logically, if they didn’t do chansijin.  That is, they understood that the body logic breaks down if they didn’t do reeling silk, which is a variant of the six-harmonies movement.  In other words, if those arts denied the need for silk-reeling’s logic that is intertwined with jin, dantian usage, and so on, they would have admitted they weren’t valid.

Similarly, Xingyi, Bagua, and other internal arts fail to meet the propounded tenets of those arts if they don’t use six-harmonies movement.  There is no way to argue around it.

A lot of teachers know to use terms like dantien, etc., but there is no real way to fake dantien controls, suit control by dantien, jin, etc., and those are the mainstays of internal martial arts.  Anyone with real experience is going to know that.  And that brings up an interesting question in relation to some of the current health claims:  if someone is just doing, for instance, a Taiji “form”, but they don’t have any of the body skills and development of real Taiji, how valid is the claim that “Taiji improves my health” or “Taiji is helping my arthritis”, etc.?  It’s worth a thought, when you see some of the advertised claims about health, arthritis, balance, and so on.

A moderately-experienced martial-arts practitioner should be able to walk up to any purported practitioner of an internal art and ask to see just a brief demonstration of six-harmonies movement, using the dantien to control the body.  A beginner won’t be able to tell the difference, but someone with a little experience should be able to tell almost at a glance. The dantien itself will be developed in a certain way because of the exertions it makes to control the “suit” and jin.  The art itself doesn’t matter for this example “test”, by the way, since all the six-harmonies arts of the neijia are essentially variants of the same body skills applied to martial-arts. 

If a “teacher” of an “internal martial-art” cannot demonstrate simple six-harmonies movement, dantien development, etc., then by logic they cannot possibly do the internal art they claim to teach.  On the other hand, if they can indeed demonstrate a variant of bona fide six-harmonies movement, then things are at least moving in the right direction, no matter what the level of skill.  And by the way, someone who has learned, for instance, Chen Xiaowang’s basic silk-reeling exercises and can mimic them… that’s not what I’m talking about.

Push Hands

The general entre’ into doing push-hands, in traditional Taijiquan, is to first learn how to move correctly using the dantian, body connection, jin, and so on.  However, push-hands is predicated on the idea of always being in complete balance and responding to an opponent’s forces by always remaining in exact equilibrium…. So assuming someone has some jin, dantien, etc., skills, their focus should be on learning to move within central equilibrium. 

Most of what we see as “push hands” is in fact just close-up, fairly safe wrestling and tussling, no matter how well thought-out and trained.  The idea is often that someone’s “Taiji” is validated by moving or shoving someone in a “Push Hands Competition”.  In my experience in the U.S., the push-hands competitions have had nothing to do with the type of strength developed by jin, dantien, suit-connection, breath-power, central equilibrium, and so on.  That’s why I’ve heard too many Chinese say “not Taiji” and I’ve heard too many westerners angrily reject that evaluation.  I think a common understanding of the basic movement principles of Taiji might be able to get us around these misunderstandings.

"Swallow and Spit" and "Neigongs"

I saw a comment on one blog in which someone (a teacher) didn't understand that what I'd written about Open and Close using the muscle-tendon channels, dantien, jin, suit/qi, etc., had anything to do with what Sam Chin of I Liq Chuan teaches about "absorb and project".  That's seems a bit odd to me since "absorb and project" is commonly discussed in a variety of martial-arts, but particularly in those martial-arts that are heavily influenced by southern Shaolin and Yiquan.

I started thinking about it and trying to remember the first instance I could call to mind of the common "absorb and project" topic (it's all over Chinese martial-arts) being in western literature.  The first time I can think of it being published was in 1980 in Robert W. Smith's book, "Chinese Boxing: Masters and Methods".  On page 93 in an interview with Lin Kuo-Chung (Lin Guozhung), Lin says that there are four kinds of qi used by him:

The ch'i of inhalation ("swallow")
The ch'i of exhalation ("spit")
Holding ch'i up ("to float")
Holding ch'i down ("to sink")

In another comment on the same page: "Lin held that the ch'i is not stored in the navel but comes from the sole of the foot through the navel to the head, where it is used as the occasion demands". 

That last would make a good discussion sometime.

But anyway, my point was that Sam Chin's comments about "absorb and project" are simply very common remarks having to do with "Heng" and "Ha", "Un and A", Close-Open, Yang-Yin, and so on.  By constantly pointing towards the commonalities, perhaps we can get away from the fruitless discussions about "we do it different at our school".

Another point worth mentioning has to do with "neigongs" or, literally, "internal exercises".  All the styles, internal and external, have neigongs as part of their practice.  Neigongs are essentially conditioning exercises.  You'll see a lot of Shaolin conditioning-neigongs inserted in supposedly "internal-style" (neijia) arts in a lot of the southern areas like Hong Kong, Taiwan, Fujien Province, Shanghai, etc.   There are a number of people who rely heavily on neigongs to prove, for some odd reason, that they are "internal arts".  Different meaning.

It's commonly stated that when Yang Chengfu, the Wu family, and others went to southern China, they did so because that's where the money is.  They taught a lot of people, but of course they didn't teach a lot of the in-house training methodologies, so many of the gaps wound up being filled by southern Shaolin practices.  Not always, of course, but enough so that people need to be aware that it's a possibility in a lot of the neijia/internal arts that derive from the southern areas.  It's fairly common knowledge among many Chinese.


Mike Sigman

Changing the Order of Blogs from this Point Onward

Most blogs start at a certain place and each succeeding blog at a later date goes on top.  So if you want to copy some blogs in a chronological order, you have to do it one at a time, going upward.  I deliberately jiggered the first seven(?) blogs' dates so that if someone just wanted to copy the blogs in chronological order, it would be a simple matter just copy and paste the whole shebang at once.

From here onward I'm going to leave the blogs alone so that they will stack naturally upward with the newest blog/comment on top.  The reason I'm changing is that the first group of blogs was the general purpose of the establishing the blog and those initial posts represent what I think people should know as a baseline.  The current baseline of knowledge is far too low, for a number of reasons, so rather than just complain I decided to chip in what I personally think should be the baseline.  Hope it helps.

Mike Sigman