Thursday, October 11, 2012

About this Blog


This blog is meant to be an open-source accumulation of basic facts about internal-strength in relation to the arts that use the Six-Harmonies (Liu He) type of movement that is controlled by the dantian.  Those arts would include legitimate styles of Taijiquan, Xingyiquan, Baguazhang, Tongbeiquan, and a number of others. The idea is to base all comments and observations against the very basic logic and facts of internal-strength.   In other words, if an assertion is made there should be the ability to track the assertion back to the basic powers of ground-support, gravity-derived forces, dantian usage, and the use of air and pressure.  From there, it should be possible to argue the position in terms of muscle-tendon channels, accepted dantian usage, and jin forces.  Jin forces are also able to be analyzed in terms of math and physics, so there is no way to escape a logical reasoned argument if we stick to the above.

Comments, criticisms, questions, etc., are a welcomed part of the discussion, but the posters are required to use their real names (like real martial-artists do), and the questions and comments need to adhere to the the traditional theory points indicated above.  "My teacher said this..." is not acceptable unless the comment is support with a "how does it work" explanation that can be logically developed from the accepted basics of Chinese/Asian views on traditional internal strength.

"How does that work?" is meant to be the working basis for all conversations, in other words.

Occasional guest posts, as long as they can be tracked back to tradition and physics, can be posted.  If someone has something they would like posted, please send it to me privately and I will go out of my way to be accomodating, as long as the relationship to the factual world of physics is relied upon.

One of the reasons I decided to do this small series of articles (I have one ready and a couple of more in my mind to develop) is that I'm beginning to see interest in the actual "internal arts" beginning to flag and I think part of the reason for that was that it never got a solid start.  The ultimate problem is that as interest drops because of poor results, etc., in the West, the number of qualified teachers who visit us will decline or be curtailed... and that hurts all of us.  Internal Strength is a fascinating topic and I hope these posts will help sustain the topic.  I hope that you will also do what you can to further the idea of supporting the interest of internal arts' relationship to the physical world.  As my sainted grandmother in Iowa used to say: "Let's cut through the bullshit, guys".


Please note that I encourage people to debate from basic principles.  The martial-arts world is full of people who have "been to China", "Speak Chinese", "Speak Japanese", etc., so please don't clog up the comments with kanji, ideograms, and subtle personal takes on the meaning of words.  Most of us who have been around for a while all know people who are great shakes at the lingo, forms, and all the rest, but who don't even have basic jin skills.  Some of the best talkers are taken as certain experts on some of the martial-arts forum.  And of course, some of these people know some good stuff, but the percentage is disappointingly small.  So let's try to base the comments, etc., on what is actually happening rather that subtle distinctions on meaning.  Think, for instance, about how many year of western Taiji were wasted because the "expert" translators, called jin "energy" or "intrinsic strength".  Every time I see people type in ideograms I get a slight sinking apprehension.  ;)

Silk Reeling, aka Six Harmonies Movement

Once, a Chinese friend and I were discussing the differences between “internal martial-arts” and “external martial-arts”.   He mentioned that in earlier China, many martial arts used the six-harmonies method of movement that is the hallmark of the so-called “internal martial arts”.  Even today you can find a goodly number of old, pedigreed Chinese martial arts that contain the term “Liu He” (“six harmonies”) in their full title, but over time many arts have devolved to less pure usage of the use of qi, jin, and dantian, regardless of the name they use and the classics that they espouse.   Today, because body movement must be completely repatterned, only a small number of arts attempt to use the full six-harmonies movement principles and of course not everyone practicing those arts fully complies with traditional requirements.

Many of the admonitions that are included in the “Taijiquan Classics” from the Yang-style Taijiquan are actually just repetitions of the old lore about six-harmonies movement and are not necessarily specific to just Taijiquan.  However, Taijiquan is one of the arts that use the full six-harmonies movement, even though they normally use the reeling-silk (chansijin) term.

The “reeling silk” movement of Taijiquan is actually just another way of describing focused six-harmonies movement. The same apothegms and injunctions found in Taijiquan lore can be found in the traditions of many other Chinese martial-arts and much of this lore was established back when six-harmonies movement was the classically correct way to move. 

As I understand it, currently all styles of traditional Taijiquan state that they use the silk-reeling forces as the basis for their movements.  All of the so-called internal-styles of martial-arts (the neijia) base their movement on six-harmonies movement, so the below discussion is applicable to Taijiquan, Xingyiquan, Baguazhang, etc., with the understanding that of course there are some minor variations of application within the neijia styles, but no differences of importance.

The Six Harmonies

The six-harmonies are often summed up very tersely as being comprised of the three internal harmonies (nei san he) and the three external harmonies (wai san he).  The three internal harmonies are the essence of using the “intent”, the “yi”, to bring power from the ground or gravity to a place in the body.  The three external harmonies describe how the body is tied together as one unit controlled by the dantian, such that the hand and foot are connected lengthwise by the body’s connective tissue.  Between these two sets of three harmonies, the body has to move very differently than the normal mode of movement we have practiced since we were babies. 

The traditional Chinese lore has it that a fetus in the womb (pre-natal or “pre-heaven”) moves with the ‘natural’ movement of six-harmonies, but that after a baby is born (post-natal or “post heaven”) the movement reverts to what we normally use.  To re-learn the proper six-harmonies movement takes training and practice, though: “this movement is not intuitive; it must be learned” is an old saying. 

So, the six-harmonies movement represents the idealized movement of the human body in accordance with its natural configurations; traditional Chinese medicine’s acupuncture theory adheres also to this idealization of the natural flow of strength through the body.

To the untrained eye, a person who is moving with six-harmonies movement can appear to be using normal movement so it’s fairly common to find many people emulating Taijiquan, Xingyiquan, Bagua, etc., styles using normal movement while focusing on the mysteries of “the form” and missing the point that it is the movement using six-harmonies which is the important thing.  Let’s take a look at some of the implications of six-harmonies movement in Silk-Reeling.

Basic Theory

Although it is easy to get into the weeds with an analysis of silk-reeling movement, muscle-tendon channels, and other things, the basic theory is fairly simple.  As a matter of fact, the idea of tying various phenomena of the body and the universe into a simple theory-of-everything is the basis for the ancient Chinese cosmology, so we should be able to examine some general principles about silk-reeling, fairly easily.

The basic theory of six-harmonies movement starts with the idea of using the powers of the Earth (gravity) and the powers of the Heavens (mainly air and pressure) and combining those powers with the personal developmental -powers of Man’s whole body.  Strength and qi always go hand in hand, according to the traditional perspective, but using strength and qi in the manner of the internal arts still requires specialized training.

Early Chinese studies viewed the strength of the body as being primarily along connected pathways involving several muscles, tendons, and connective tissues, using the skeleton as a base.  Those pathways generally go longitudinally up and down the body and some channels (Yin channels) are involved with weight downward and the Closing aspects of the body; some channels (Yang channels) are involved with conveying the solidity of the ground upward and outward in the Opening of the body. 

Use of isolated, “normal” strength dilutes or hinders the flow of ground-support strength upward and gravity-derived strength downward.  In other words, muscular tension blocks the flow of source-power from the solidity of the ground or the weight via gravity, hence this type of movement training requires that the body be “relaxed”, but connected.

An illustration of the muscle-tendon channels or of the acupuncture meridians while the arms are up in the air is very enlightening about the longitudinal aspects of the strength and qi flow of the body, from hands to feet with the dantian and mingmen in the middle as controllers. If you can find an illustration of the acupuncture meridians (they derive from the muscle-tendon channels, so they’re just thin versions of the muscle-tendon channels), take a look at the way the channels run almost completely longitudinally.

Although the channels run basically longitudinally, the longitudinal channels spiral and wind-unwind as the body expands and contracts because of the natural lay of the muscles, tendons, and joints. 

It’s critical to constantly remember that the solidity of the ground is the basis of all upward forces and that the weight of gravity is primary base of all downward forces.  Imagine holding a book on your head: the body structure should relax so that the weight of the book goes easily through so that it is resting on the soles of the feet.  At the same time there should always be a relaxed tensile connection originating at the feet and connecting upward to every point in the body.

Since the solidity of the ground and the downward pull of gravity are the two primary forces, it is an interesting exercise to think through why even movements (or the arms, legs, etc.) to the sides are actually only aspects of Up and Down coupled with the connective tissues of the body.

What’s not immediately apparent to someone viewing the muscle-tendon channels is that even though not all the channels go from lower-body to upper-body, the channels can combine in the middle of the body and sometimes various channels will coordinate with other channels in the course of performing a particular task or holding a posture.  In other words, while some channels don’t appear to go all the way from top to bottom, by connecting with other channels as needed, the full longitudinal range is fulfilled.   And very importantly, the central dantian/mingmen is positioned to manipulate the muscle-tendon channels, bridging and connecting the channels that stop at the middle and manipulating the body-length major channels.

Mantak Chia, in his book Iron Shirt Chi Kung I, did some excellent illustrations of various postures in which some of the channels are shown forming various frames.  Below are two figures done by Chia which illustrate the body connection via muscle-tendon channels for “Close” and “Open”.  There are a number of other worthwhile illustrations in the same book.

Connections in animals

In the classical sense, the muscle-tendon channels can be looked at as ways to convey the strength of the ground upward and the closing-inward associated with down-weighting, but there is another view that is worth considering at the same time, in terms of where the channels originate.  

In the physical human body, the front of the body and the undersides of the limbs contract in a way analogous to the underside of a running cheetah, greyhound dog, etc., as the legs close together and helped by the sinking weight of the body that is the result of gravity. In other words, the muscle-tendon channels along the front of the torso and the undersides and inner-sides of the limbs generally reflect a contraction, sinking and drawing in.


The back of the body expands as the solidity of the ground is pushed into it (mainly up the bones), in the same manner as the back (and backsides of limbs) of a running cheetah, greyhound dog, etc., at the widest extension.  So, the muscle-tendon channels of the back of the torso and the backsides and outsides of the limbs generally reflect expansion, rising and extension.

The torso of the body normally reflects expansion up the back and contraction down the front, just as in the running cheetah example above, so the directions of qi flow for the microcosmic and macrocosmic orbits can be understood fairly clearly if you think about the expansion and contraction of the body and the powers of the solidity of the earth and the weight of gravity.

‘Suit’ and Balloon Man models

Reiterating the primary ideas so far, the basic forces of the ground-support and gravity from the earth are used as much as possible for power and muscle-tendon channels convey the power, with the dantian manipulating the channels and body as needed.

In order to keep a simple view, instead of using the confusing array of muscle-tendon channels we can simplify our view of Opening and Closing (expansion and contraction) by picturing a layer or “suit” of elastic material covering the body.  The front of the suit is the contractile side and the back of the suit is the expansive side. 

If we move the center of the torso, we can move the hands or feet as long as a slight tensile connection exists over the whole surface of the suit, connecting the hands/feet to the center. Moving the hands or feet without this connection is simply bringing normal muscular strength into play. 

As a brief aside, our imaginary suit that covers the body has two weak points: the anus and the mouth.  The integrity of the suit is maintained by closing the mouth while placing the tip of the tongue to the upper palate; the anus/perineum area is slightly pulled upward.

In the same way that the muscle-tendon channels go longitudinally top to toe, connecting the suit lengthwise, the tensile connection of the body also goes from the top of the body to the toes, so it is important to understand that while a movement of the dantian can move the hand, the connection to the feet insures that the same movement of the hand simultaneously affects the foot -- usually the foot on the same side, but since most of the muscle-tendon channels are more or less “half channel” (not fully lengthwise), they can join and cross-coordinate as needed at the dantian/mingmen, the nexus and controller of the channels and body in the ideal six-harmonies movement.  

Because of the lengthwise connection of the body, the winding inward of the elbow (as an example) by the dantian turning  is reflected in a near-simultaneous winding inward of the knee on that side; the winding inward of the shoulder is matched by an inward torsion at the hip-joint because of the tensile connection; the inward winding of the wrist is reflected by an inward torsion at the ankle because of the lengthwise connection of the body.  This is what the Three External Harmonies refers to.

If you’ve followed the general logic up to this point, you can more or less imagine yourself as a well-inflated human-shaped balloon (head lightly held up with a string to assist the elastic tension; feet glued to the floor) with an elastic skin or “suit”. If someone twists your arm, the twisting tension in the arm will affect the elastic suit of the torso and legs, all the way to the floor. The idea of one part of the body having a tensile connection to all the rest of the body is the basis of silk-reeling practice. The whole body’s elastic connection and coordinated muscles, using the ground support and gravity, are stronger than “normal” strength.


The Balloon Man model gives us a good feel for understanding a connected, global-body elasticity, but it can also help to understand more about what a “dantian” does, physically.  For instance, if we imagine a well-inflated Balloon man, it’s easy to understand the main/central dantian-mingmen area as being the logical place to control forces, etc., via elastic connection, to the extremities of the body-whole. 

Similarly, it’s fairly easy to see that there is a nexus of control of the Balloon Man’s elastic suit between the legs: this is where the lower dantian is and it is indeed an area of control that is deliberately developed in martial training.  However, the lower-dantian is itself only a secondary nexus because its movements are initiated first by the main dantian.  I.e., the dantian/nexus inside the perineum area is “slaved” to the main dantian.  The lower-dantian is the lower endpoint of controlling nexuses, but it connects elastically to the feet.

The central chest the area directly opposite on the back are another secondary area of control, slaved to the main dantian, and this represents the chest dantian.  Flexion of the central body’s ‘suit’ or elasticity out to the arms, down to the main-dantian and upward toward the head happens in the torso.

The hollow of the throat is also a nexus, or dantian.  The upper endpoint of the various elastically-connected nexuses is the dantian between the eyebrows at the yintang.  There is a relationship between functional dantian-nexuses and the idea of chakras that probably extends far back to ancient times.

The ancient Chinese and Indians view of how the body worked is more complex than just these simple physical representations, of course, but it has to be understood the full discussion of the human body using the qi-paradigm, channels, dantians, etc., does include these very functional relationships that we’re discussing.  Once the physical interrelationship of dantians, connectivity, channels, etc., is understood, the larger understanding is not that far away.

Ni and Shun Windings

An arm or leg (or even a part of the torso) can wind outward or inward.  In the traditional view the body opens and expands upward from the earth while winding outward; the body sinks/closes with gravity while contracting inward.  During expansion and opening, the back of the suit is the main driver with the spine straightening and the joints like the elbows and knees straighten and wind outward.  During contraction (Close), the front of the suit is the main driver with the spine bending and the all the joints bend and wind inward.  A number of the old illustrations in various internal arts illustrate the two different potential winding directions by showing spirals on the body going in opposite ways.

Remember that no part of the body winds or moves without all parts of the body winding and moving if the connection of the body has been practiced and developed.  Most beginners who do not have some development of the body-connection (or “suit”) are reduced to simply coordinating the body until exercises and breath-training have developed the connection.  So don’t be discouraged if you don’t feel all of these connections at first; as the connections develop it is easier to do everything correctly and naturally because it is easy to feel that that is simply the way the body works.

Silk-Reeling and the Taiji of Yin-Yang

There are two basic martial-arts postures in Asian martial-arts: Open and Close.  In “Close” there is stress inward along the front of the body and the inward parts of the limbs;  the knees and elbows and the joints bend and are generally under contractile forces of the front.  Wing Chun’s basic stance, Uechi Ryu karate’s basic stance, “Play PiPa” (in Taiji), the closed aspect of “Squatting Monkey” (in Dai Family Xinyi), and in many other martial arts can be found variations of the Closed position of stances. 

In “Open” the expansive forces from the back of the body and the outsides of the limbs pull the knees and elbows outward and the body lengthens, joints opening.  Postures like “Single Whip” exemplify Open.  In classically correct postures there is always a balance of the forces of Close and Open or Yin and Yang.

The body, when moving from the dantian and connected together as a whole, is constantly moving from Close to Open to Close to Open, and so on, no matter the posture or application.
So, as an example, in the opening of a Taiji form with the raising and lowering of the arms, the arms are raised by the solidity of the ground pushing up as the back of the “suit” expands, the dantian turns, and the body Opens.  As the expansion of the back and Open reach their limits of power, the front of the “suit” has been stretched to its limits and is now ready to take over with the Close of the body, the dantian turning downward, and so on.  As the Close of the body reaches its limits, the back’s elastic power is then once again positioned to begin to Open. 

This cycle of Close to Open to Close to Open, etc., is Taiji, just as the Yin-Yang symbols indicate with their constant cycle of one element increasing to its limits and the other element assumes dominance. 

Naturally, the previous explanation is simplified in order to illustrate the general idea; a complete treatment of all the components of whole-body movement, breath/pressure, weight-shifts, etc., isn’t needed in order to convey the basic Yin-Yang concept that is Taiji.

When the body Opens and Closes sideways, for instance in “High Pat on Horse”, the same forces of the solidity of the ground and the downward weight are used, so sideways movements always have an element of up and down to them.  The body naturally winds inward on Closing and unwinds outward on Open, but if you pay attention, it is easy to see that the expansion of the back of the elastic, imaginary “suit” is powering unwinding and the front of the imaginary “suit” is powering the inward winding.  So the general rule is “Upward and unwinding/expanding, Downward and winding inward”. 

Arm Wave example of Reeling Silk

There are only 2 intrinsic directions in which the body winds and unwinds (the Ni and Shun windings previously mentioned).  One direction of winding is controlled by forces expanding up the back and closing down the front (the normal direction of movement, as in the Microcosmic Orbit).  The other direction of winding is controlled by forces pushing up the front of the body and then pulled down the back and sides (the reverse direction of movement).

To illustrate silk-reeling winding within the concept of Yin-Yang (Tai Chi) in an overly simplistic example of basic reeling-silk movement, imagine waving your straightened arm horizontally out to the side of the body (keep palm facing inward or frontward) and then waving it back in front  to your centerline.  Imagine an elastic ribbon from your mingmen to the little finger that controls the outward wave until the elastic tension runs out.  If you also imagine an elastic ribbon going from the dantian point, up the ribs and out the inner/under part of the arm out to the thumb, this front ribbon gradually gets tensioned as the arm swings outward to its limit and is therefore ready to pull the arm back in.  So in this simple 2-dimensional example of two elastic ribbons, one in front from dantian to thumb and one in back from mingmen to little finger, the idea of Tai Chi as the exchange of energy from one to the other becomes clearer as first one ribbon’s tension is dominant and then the other ribbon’s tension is dominant in a constant cycle.  Of course, bear in mind that in reality the ribbons would connect from the mid-body down to the feet, but let’s keep things simple. 

Real dantian movements tend to be more 3-dimensional than the above example and involve up and down components and connections in which gravity and the solidity of the ground drive all movements. 

In the normal “circulation” of the energy of movement, movement/qi comes upward out of the mingmen and returns downward, pulled by the dantian, according to traditional tenets.  This theory of movement also relates to the microcosmic orbit for the torso or to the so-called macrocosmic orbit of movement if the limbs are involved.

In three-dimensional movement there are four components of the arm-wave: up, across and outward, down,  toward the body.  When the arm is brought downward in the circular movement, both shoulders and both hips relax; the weight from the body, focused at the dantian is being added to the arm to bring it down. 

Everything is either powered with the solidity of the ground going through the body or the weight from gravity.  This simple relationship of cycling tensions controlled by the dantian and the Up and Down powers from gravity results in the outward swing of the arm actually being Up power from the ground combined with the back’s expansive unwind; the lower inward swing of the arm is the down-weight of gravity coupled with the natural contraction of the front of the body.

In the full 3-dimensional arm-wave exercise, the hand flips over twice.  Imagine again the two elastic ribbons, one from the dantian along the ribs and underside of arm to the thumb and one from the mingmen diagonally up the back to the shoulder and out the upper-outer side of the arm to the little finger.  As you push (with dantian turning) the hand across the front of the body, the ribbon from the back shortens and pulls the elbow upward, pulling the little finger upward: that’s the first hand flip.  As you pull the arm out to the side (dantian turning controls ribbon) with the back ribbon, you gradually run out of front ribbon, so the elbow is pulled downward and the hand flips for the second time.  At first, it is important to keep a slight extension in the arm so that the connection from dantian to fingertips is never broken.  The dantian pulling on the connective tensions of the entire body is what drives these particular aspects of movement and all reeling-silk movements.

In actual silk-reeling there is slightly more winding than the linear Expansion and Close used in the simple example above.  Instead of the linear case of Expand using the mingmen to little finger, the twist pulls around to the thumb, so in the classical pictures a spiral is always shown.  In the close, the pull goes all the way around to the little finger on the inward winding.  The linear expansion and close is referred to as "pulling silk".  The winding open and close is the "reeling silk".

The example of an arm wave can be seen in the embedded video of Chen Bing.  John Prince has been kind enough to provide English subtext to the video which was originally posted to YouTube by ChenTaijiMilano.  All of the limbs and body wind in the same basic manner as the arm wave that is powered by the solidity of the ground and/or the weight of gravity, through the intrinsic elastic connection of the body as manipulated by the dantien.

Chen Bing Reeling Silk from John Prince on Vimeo.

Using Reeling-Silk Movement

Reeling-silk movement,  where the dantian is physically involved in manipulating the body is different from the type of movement people have done since babyhood, so it’s difficult for people to grasp that their movements must be totally changed to dantian-centered movement. 

Most people tend to emulate the movements of Taijiquan, Xingyiquan, Baguazhang, push-hands, etc., with the common strength that we’ve used so long in our lives, but someone who actually does Taiji well, like Chen Xiaowang and many others, actually has a very strong and articulate dantian and can demonstrate the windings of the body on a larger scale at whim.

The general approach to learning reeling-silk motion in Taijiquan is to start large in order to learn the coordination and then the gradually decrease the size of the overt windings in order to further develop the intrinsic elastic strength of the body.  The “Small Frame” forms practices were actually originally developed by and for people who had developed beyond needing the larger training movements of the large and middle-frame forms.

Although there are certainly other aspects of Taiji training (holding postures, breath-pressure devices, physical training, and so on), the major point about silk-reeling/six-harmonies and use of the dantian is that without accomplishing it, it’s not truly an internal martial-art.  As an example, someone can do a “Tai Chi form” and something resembling “push-hands” and also know some of the pressure-pulse mechanics varieties that are common in all Chinese martial-arts, but without dantian, body-channel connections, and silk-reeling, it won’t really be Taijiquan in the classical sense.

There was an incident back in the late 1980’s or late 1990’s when a famous member of the Beijing Wushu Team came to the noted Chen-style practitioner, Feng Zhiqiang, and asked him to grade her performance. Feng diplomatically said that he would grade her “C”. The grading criteria in contemporary wushu performances are different from the evaluations used in traditional wushu by accomplished experts.  A traditional expert is going to look for true reeling-silk movement, jin, qi, and so on.

When learning to use reeling-silk movement, the first problem is keeping the channels relaxed for the propagation of “qi”.  If you don’t use the dantian to move the channels, you cannot, by definition, be allowing the optimum flow of power because without the dantian doing the work, local muscular motion must be in use.  Remember that many channels stop at the dantien and it is the dantien that connects channels as needed for strength and qi propagation.

It takes a lot of practice for using the dantian and whole-body connection to become the natural mode of movement, but it does happen.  Doing a thousand forms using the dantian, ground-support jin, gravity-jin, and the whole-body connection, though, is much more effective at learning to move with the dantian than to do a thousand forms without reeling-silk movement.  Once the mode of moving with reeling-silk is learned, though, there is a beautiful complexity in the feeling of the surface and deeper windings of the body as you move through the form.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

“Real Fajin” and other things: Internal and External

(This is an interim blog to comment about some issues that have come up in emails)

The previous silk-reeling blog was to explain roughly how six-harmonies works generally works in the so-called “internal arts”.  The problem a lot of people have is in understanding that almost all the so-called “external” arts also use parts of the same six-harmonies theories, but the dependence on dantien-control is not the same.  Training methods like overtly stretching connective tissues, “dynamic tension”, etc., the use of neigongs, etc., overlap both “internal” and “external” arts, but just because an external art uses “internal exercises”, it’s not the same thing as an “internal” style art. 

An internal-style art is going to use the type of movement described in the previous blog and it takes quite a while of knowledgeable practice to develop the body connections in a way that is controlled by the dantien.  It can’t be faked (well, maybe to a bunch of newbies who don’t know anything).

I saw a video of a western Taiji teacher who was showing what he called “Real Fajin”.  It was interesting to watch and he obviously used a variation of the pressure-packing stuff you see in a lot of southern Shaolin arts common to Hong Kong, Fujian Province, Taiwan, and so on.  Without getting too involved with the pressure-packing things, let me just indicate that most styles use some aspect of this phenomenon, but a style that uses the “external” type of movement and body-mechanics is going to use different aspects of pressure phenomena in different ways.  In other words, someone who has trained his body to move as a unit controlled by the dantien is going to apply pressure phenomena differently than someone who uses more localized movement.  So the over-arching point is that before the discussion ever reaches the “I’m internal, too” stage, the first thing to do is to look at the basic six-harmonies/reeling-silk aspects.  Someone using an aspect of the pressure phenomena is not necessarily doing Taijiquan by any means.

Another thing to consider is antagonistic tensions (sometimes called "contradiction").  Some arts use varying formats of antagonistic tensions in postures, stances (screwing into the ground with the legs, for example).  There are antagonistic tensions that use jin and a lot that simply use different grades of muscular tension.  The point is that using tensions of the muscular and winding types preclude full control of the body by the dantian.  So once again, no matter how effective different approaches are, the type of strength developed by relaxed channels controlled by the dantien and assisted by jin, is noticeably different from the type of movement in the so-called Waijia, the external-style arts.



Monday, October 8, 2012


This is not meant to be an exhaustive treatment of Jin.  Like everything else on this blog, as stated previously, the idea is simply to give people access to enough basics to raise the baseline level somewhat.  Hope it helps.

Jin is a word that implies a form of trained strength that is “willed” into being as opposed to the common reflexive, brute-strength in humans.  Jin also has an implication of a “force vector” in the sense that it is a directed strength originating at the ground or from weight.

Going back to the initial blog on silk-reeling and six-harmonies movement, let’s re-state the primary idea that as much as possible we should use the force from the solidity of the ground for upward forces and the force from gravity pulling downward for all forces going down.   I.e., there is Up and there is Down and those forces power Open and Close, respectively.   There are no pure horizontal forces since ultimately movement to the sides can always be traced back to thrust against the ground, factors involving body connectivity, or gravity.  Often all of these factors work together to shape forces.

The purest and most effective force from the ground’s solidity (or the gravity’s down-pull, but let’s stick to the ground-derived forces to keep the discussion simple) is straight from the ground to the point of application.  Any deviation from a straight-line force from the ground can dilute the resulting force.  For instance, a push that also uses a tense shoulder along with some of the ground-solidity jin is no longer a pure push from the ground; it is diluted to some degree of normal strength (li).

Any path through a too-flexible joint simply robs basic power of the solidity of the ground because a loose connection does not transmit forces as well as a firm connection.  To get around reliance on joint mechanics, looseness, tension, etc., the Asian martial-arts develop the over-all body connectivity and a few other things. The blog on silk-reeling covers the general and necessary first step to developing an overall “suit” of connectivity.

In a normal push that an untrained person does, most of the power relies on the strength of the shoulder joint.  How about a push from the foot or the moving middle straight to the point of application?  That’s better, but even though the path of a push going from the foot or middle to the point of application – the body becoming simply a ‘frame’ propagating the force -- is a better idea physically, a weak shoulder joint can still affect the overall push because the shoulder is part of the “frame” that helps transmit the force from the ground to the point of application.

Sometimes the shortest (least diluted) push is from the abdominal area; almost invariably the shortest path is from someplace between the foot on the ground and the dantian.

 “Yi” or “Intent”

The six-harmonies-based arts have a commonly accepted basis of the three internal harmonies and the three external harmonies.  The standard phrase describing the three internal harmonies translates more or less into: The Heart leads the Mind; the Mind leads the Qi; the Qi leads the strength or movement.  The “Heart” (Xin) is or was traditionally accepted in China as the place where the desire to do something originated.  So we can restate the original phrase somewhat and say: The Desire to do something triggers the Mind; the Mind triggers the Qi; the Qi acts in advance of a movement or strength.

“Qi” can refer to a number of interrelated topics, but the qi in the three internal harmonies can be delineated so that the meaning of those three harmonies/relationships is not too hard to understand.  Stand up in a comfortable stance and imagine that someone is going to briefly and moderately push your chest with one hand; let the rear foot hold the push. Then the person in front stops and an imaginary someone is going to push the middle of the back from behind; let the front foot hold the imaginary push.  Go from one imagined push to the other a few times, keeping it as realistic as possible and then pay attention to your body.  You’ll probably feel a light tingle as the body as the body changes for each push: that tingle is the qi that precedes movement or strength.  Your mind’s “intent” triggered the qi.

Since in the internal-style arts, the two major forces that are utilized are the solidity of the ground and the down-force of weight, then “intent” is obviously used to bring these two forces into use as needed.

A simple, rough example of usable intent can be found in balancing a book on top of your head.  Most people put the book up there and balance it on their frame.  Good for posture, as so many mothers have instructed us.  Another way to balance the book is to relax (without slumping) and allow the weight of the book to rest, as nearly as possible, completely on the ground our feet are on.  In this way we have minutely adjusted our body to convey the solidity of the ground to the top of our skull upon which the book rests. 

With enough practice, we can learn to bring the solidity of the ground to almost anywhere on our body.  I put an example practice at the end of this article.  With some practice and helpful instruction, we can also learn to bring our weight anywhere on the undersurfaces of the body.  This is using the “intent” to bring our borrowed forces of the solidity of the ground or our weight to where we want them, when we want them.

The ground’s solidity (I call it the “groundpath”) is simply the basic jin, called “neijin” in a lot of internal martial-arts, “peng jin” in Taijiquan, and so on.  It is “the jin that starts at the feet, is directed by the waist, and expressed in the hands”, as the classics say and anyone who really understands what internal-strength is should recognize it immediately.  I.e., the term “groundpath” is so obvious (well, to a native English speaker) that any westerner who claims to understand basic internal strength should grasp it immediately.

If you hold the book on your head, but relax, sink, and let the ground’s solidity hold it, you’ll find that you can also wiggle your hips a little bit, keeping the book steady, because the body is able to maintain the basic jin even though you are changing the frame’s position.  How is that done?

The ground’s solidity can be willed (that’s why it’s called “intent”) to wherever it’s needed on the body’s frame.  It doesn’t need to just be straight up the spine from the foot.  Sometimes the force from the ground can go from the foot to the arm, shoulder, etc., because the overall, connected structure of the body will automatically adjust its alignment of forces.  Assuming the body has developed some degree of connection and the mind is deliberately maintaining the force from the ground to application, you should be able to again move the body around while maintaining the jin force.  The body can adjust to variations in force and positional changes, but doesn’t it also do that when you have a heavy backpack on or when you’re carrying a heavy sack of groceries?

I did an ad hoc (unprepared, unrehearsed, not warmed up, street shoes, etc.) video a couple of years ago to illustrate how an incoming force (in the same way that the weight of a book on the head is an incoming force) is balanced against the ground’s solidity using the neijin, peng jin, or whatever you want to call it. 

While I contort, move my feet and legs (notice that there’s always one leg/foot on the ground, though), lean back, etc., if you observe closely you’ll see that the point where my partner is pushing on my arm doesn’t really move in relation to the ground, even though I move my feet, lean back, deliberately wobble, and so on.  In other words, if you imagine a path, a dotted-line, or whatever from the point of partner’s contact to the ground, you’ll notice that that path doesn’t really change during all the extraneous movement.  The point is that the mind can adjust to all the movement and still maintain a solid path of jin so that my partner is effectively pushing against the ground.
Now, to optimize jin transmission, good and coherent postures are obviously an aid, but the point of the demonstration on the video is that set structures and postures are not needed to propagate the jin.  No matter what the position of the body, a solid force is presented to the opponent because the ‘intent’ maintains the jin from the ground.  The ability to present the jin in any posture is where “Xing Yi” (Form-Mind) gets its name and the earlier art of “Xin Yi” (Willed-by-desire Intent) get their names.

Believe it or not, that type of demonstration on the video is pretty much Internal Strength 101, but a surprising amount of self-proclaimed western ‘experts’ in Chinese Internal Martial-Arts criticized the video because the structure and postures were  bad!  In other words, they didn’t recognize a simple example that basic and traditional jin can be present regardless of postural changes.  Jin forces are directed by the mind, regardless of posture.  The strength of the body to sustain pushes, do hitting, etc., is enhanced by the strength of the “qi” and postures, though, but that’s a topic for another blog.

If the jin forces of intent are going to be used martially or for other applications, then the mechanics of the dantien and other things have to be introduced.  Since the jin from the ground often/usually goes through the middle, the dantian stores/contracts and then pushes along the ground-based path of jin, pushing against the ground and pushing against the target.  There are more factors involved, but this blog is only meant to cover the basics of jin paths.  The first blog on silk-reeling points to basic development of the dantian, but more advanced use of the dantian will have to wait for a later blog-post.


Jin and Conditioning

The first thing about jin is that it has to be practiced as part of reeling-silk exercise (which is what the Taijiquan form is, what the Five Element Fists are, What Baguazhang forms practice is, and so on).  The body winds and unwinds with Closing and Opening, but the jin must be practiced in order to have the ground or weight available to power all movements.  Granted there are some other power factors, but those are outside of this discussion on basics. 

It’s not too uncommon to see some rough frame-oriented jin and to develop what is called “muscle jin”, something that is not propagated by the dantian working with the suit in reeling-silk/six-harmonies movement.  Without enough reeling-silk practice, most people, if they learn any jin skills at all, tend to use mostly normal strength.  Avoiding coarse muscle-jin is why in bona fide Taijiquan training, people are not allowed to start practicing push-hands for a couple of years.  No matter how good their wrestling skills, strategies, and body-strength may be, many people who try to exhibit Taijiquan are really doing mostly normal-strength movement.  This observation that someone is “not doing Taijiquan” or “that is not really push-hands” is something I’ve heard a lot in the conversations of some Chen Village and Yang-style experts.

You can’t really relax the shoulders and other instances of local strength, though, until you have conditioned something to take their place.   I saw the owner of a fitness gym softly and very relaxedly slap a smart-alecky kid around and shove him into a locker.  I noted at the time that basically the owner was relaxed because he was very strong.  If he had tried to tell me that he was “relaxed” because he was using internal-strength, I would have laughed at the idea, though.  The basic point, whether using normal muscle or internal-strength, though, is that no one can “relax” without having conditioning of some sort to support it.  If you want strong, relaxed internal strength, you have to condition it gradually.

If someone is trying to learn to move using jin and the coordination of reeling-silk/six-harmonies, they have to practice a fairly long time to re-coordinate the body to use dantien, ‘suit’, and jin (and a couple of other things).  If you interrupt your re-coordination and patterning constantly with normal strength usage, you will never develop very much.  So, for example, if someone is practicing Taiji, Xingyi, Bagua, etc., and they’re also doing normal weight-lifting at the gym, it’s pretty certain that they have never developed or will not develop the body coordination of traditional internal strength.  On the other hand, after someone has spent a few years learning how to move with proper internal strength, they can of course move weights with dantien, jin, ‘suit’, and so on.


Jin and Contact

As mentioned earlier, the body has the ability to aim forces from the ground and from the weight and to bring them where they’re needed.  The dantian is the main control of direction, jin, and the body’s connectivity.  

Basically the body becomes a changeable structure that propagates the solidity of the ground to where it’s needed.  Here’s an illustration of one way in which the body can be viewed as a frame; in this example a bookshelf bracket is the model for the frame:



 The dantien and the connected body control the shape of the frame and the mind directs the jin across the frame.  The shortest path from the ground to the application force is the most efficient. 

Again, note that the incoming force from the opponent is really no different in principle than the weight of a book resting on the head and relaxedly being supported by the ground and more or less balanced against the ground in the same way that the book is balanced against the ground.  Lean too far one way or another and the balance is broken and control is lost for the book.

Something else happens, though, when a firm contact is made with another person or object.  A person alone can bring the support of the ground to where it is needed to counter in incoming force, usually at an angle that is underneath the incoming object or push or whatever so that the incoming force is pushing against the ground, thus thwarting the push.  But if someone pushes hard enough into another person or grabs firmly enough, no matter how briefly, those two people become essentially one object.  The traditional description is that you “become one with the opponent”.  Koichi Tohei, of Aikido fame, coined the term of “become a four-legged animal”, but the idea of becoming one combined unit is the same, no matter what the words.

When two people become one unit, no matter how briefly, the dantien/center can be used to control the whole unit.  In the below illustration, two protagonists have engaged firmly enough so that they are effectively one unit.  The person on the left, by maintaining a firm frame, can move the other person’s dantien because they are both part of the same unit.  By “acquiring” or controlling the other person’s dantien through the joined framework, the person on the left can direct the opponent’s dantien in a favorable direction in order to take his balance, apply a technique, and so on.



There are many more details and tangents that could be discussed, but hopefully this primer on jin will get people thinking and experimenting along the lines of traditional principles of the internal martial-arts. 

If you want a method for setting up a jin path from the ground to something, here’s a suggestion. Put your hand or forearm (or shoulder or whatever) against a wall so that there is a moderately firm connection.  Push from your rear foot (for this example) directly to the hand/wall connection so that you can feel almost a direct line from the foot to the hand.  That is the optimal path from ground to hand.  Maintain that path while you back off your push somewhat and while you relax every bit of tension in your body that you don’t need to maintain that path.  That’s a jin path.



Saturday, October 6, 2012


In general terms, the two main blogs on Silk-Reeling (Six Harmonies) and Jin fulfill a baseline of information that I think people in the internal martial-arts should have.  It's amazing how many "teachers", "tournament winners", "push-hands champions", etc., in the West have no idea about those basics.  Even a guy who purports to have one of the world's greatest understandings of internal strength (but never studied a Chinese martial-art) was completely flummoxed and didn't recognize basic jin when he saw it.  It's embarrassing.  The study of internal martial-arts has become some sort of merit badge for people who have little interest in the topic other than as a status symbol and access to chat groups in order to do some role-playing.

I know there are some really serious investigators out there, but they're not that easy to find, so my suggestion to beginners is to try to understand the basic principles in the two main blogs and then to use those as a basis for searching out legitimate teachers.   If someone doesn't have the baseline information, the rest of what they're doing has to be wrong.  Good luck out there.

More in-depth discussions of a lot of these topics often are done on the QiJin forum, with the caveat that I'm personally trying to disengage more on QiJin and let others do the talking.

Mike Sigman

Friday, October 5, 2012

Mike Hsu posted this video as an example of something he admired, so let's take a look at what is happening:

The main point I want to make is that nothing is going on here that is not a portion of the 2 major blogs on Reeling Silk and on Jin, although this video relates almost entirely to the Jin blog.

Essentially, the students push in on a high section of the instructor's body and he responds with a force coming from the ground that goes up under and into the students' forces coming into him.  There's nothing to speak of in terms of the reeling-silk usage of the body and it goes to show that "muscle jin" can certainly have utility, particularly when used against students who have no idea of how to use basic jin (and are somewhat cooperative).   Let's hope that the teacher, Seronko, is also showing his students how to do this fairly simple use of basic jin so they can enjoy doing these things, too.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Breath and Internal Strength

(Note: this is a basic discussion of mechanics and is not a recommendation.  Breathing exercises, when done gently and over a long period of time are tonifying, but like most other things these exercises can be done improperly with adverse effects on health.  Consult your doctor if you have questions.)

The “baseline” blogs on Silk-reeling and Jin need to be rounded out with a “here’s the basic points on Breath” blog.  All three of the topics are intertwined immutably.  Jin relates to the powers from the earth that are controlled in a person; breath matters relate to the powers we borrow from air/heaven and use in our training; silk-reeling/six-harmonies (and related) skills are how we train the body to handle and interact with the powers from the earth and heaven.  Since the basics of body movements (as in reeling silk) are the first thing that the Chen Village people treat, I tried to mesh into their pedagogy with the silk-reeling blog and then move to other topics.

Traditional martial-arts are going to stress the basic forms and will tend to broach the subject of “qi” (in terms of “suit”, jin, etc.) through comments about relaxation and postures.  “Jin” is probably the most interesting first topic dealing with “qi” for many people, but it has to be understood that “jin” is a function of intent, suit, and breath, so the silk-reeling blog was necessarily the first blog and the jin blog logically follows as the second blog.  Breath is an obvious third discussion. None of the major topics is a stand-alone topic, so it’s easy to see why “qi” seems to be talking first about one thing and then later about something else, among the three major topics.  Everything is interrelated in the over discussion of the qi skills and developments of the human body.

Breath Training

Breath training should be used in conjunction with movement, jin, power, dantien, and so on, but it is a very deep topic in itself.  The “suit” approach and the discussion of jin can be logically examined because the relationship to gravity (ground-support and down-weight) can be analyzed and demonstrated from basic physics.  Breath, breathing exercises, pressure, and so on are not so clear-cut, though.  The general principles can be discussed, but when it comes to which approaches are best/better, it becomes a moot topic.

Breathing methods have fixed principles, but the spectrum of methodologies have a wide variation across Chinese, Japanese, etc., martial arts.  Most breath-training (qigongs, kiko, neigongs, etc.) methods are usually closely held within individual arts.  For example there’s a fairly common southern Shaolin qigong from Taiwan, Fujian, and points west which is widely distributed (you can see a version in some of Mantak Chia’s books), but it’s difficult to get access to many other qigongs.  That being said, if you understand the basic principles and a few of the more general variations, most qigongs and neigongs (“internal exercises”) aren’t that difficult to analyze. 

Because it’s difficult to get complete information on breath-training methods (I’ve only had access to three and I know there are some nuances I missed, even then), you’ll see a lot of purported “internal” arts in southern China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and so on, that actually utilize a lot of Shaolin training methodology.  As noted in the other two blogs, mixing a whole-body methodology with a body-training system that is not whole-body doesn’t work very well.  However, it should be fairly easy to spot an “external style” (waijia) qigong being passed off as an “internal style” (neijia) qigong.

If I recall correctly, I believe Kumar Frantzis noted that when he moved to Beijing he realized that a lot of the internal-arts he’d studied on Taiwan actually were hybridized with southern Shaolin methodologies.  In the US and UK, because of our early influx of immigrants from Hong Kong, Taiwan, etc. (remember, mainland China was closed until about 1980), and because so many people studied on Taiwan and Hong Kong, a lot of the “internal arts” we see (or saw) were actually hybridized with southern Shaolin practices, to some degree.  Since the original teachers of the northern “internal arts” who visited southern China were sparing in showing all the training methodology, some importation of training gongs and practices from Shaolin was inevitable in order to fill in gaps.  Hence some of the situations we see nowadays.

The point through all this is that while the basics of qigongs are reasonably clear, the optimal methods can’t be clearly extrapolated from a bedrock analysis in a logical way like the other two main blogs… and therefore they represent more of opinion, experience, and observation. 

Training basics

If there is any single starting-point in qigong studies, it is that the connective tissues can be worked through stretching and contraction of various sorts, often involving breathing, stretching, holding postural stretches and pressure aspects.

I usually suggest that people stand up straight (slightly stretched) with their arms and hands stretched out fully to the sides.  Sometimes, as an aid, the hand can be slightly bent back to enhance the “stretch” feeling in the hand.  Then inhale through the nose while slightly pulling the stomach/abdomen in and keep the perineum area pulled up, in order to help contain pressure.  Generally, most people will feel a slight increase in pressure in their body and there will be a slight pulling toward the torso center of what I call the “suit”.  Try it and see if you can at least feel the pulling sensation around the fingers and hand, perhaps even to the forearm, etc.  As one’s training continues, the slight pulling sensation will gradually spread over the whole body, but at first a good idea is to pre-stretch any part of the body that you are trying to access with this method.

There are a number of variations to this type of pulling sensation induced by inhale.  Often you can see the idea of initiating a pull described as “breathing in the qi” at a certain point.  It’s not hard to apply the same pulling to the pores of the skin and to feel a subsequent tightening and pulling inward of the skin.  This is “skin breathing”. Or, similarly, one can initiate the tensions at the protruding points of bones (like the knees, elbows, toes, fingertips).  Sometimes this is referred to as “bone breathing”. 

The overarching point, though, is that an inhale of breath can be used to assist a tensioning of the fascial tissues in the body and the fascial tissues need to be connected to the dantien so that the dantien can control the body.   Breath, Silk-Reeling, and Jin all work together.

A lot of seated and standing meditations, in addition to martial-arts, utilize these techniques of tensioning with the breath, and some movement training is done by initiating the tension inward while opening the limbs outward.  Conversely, sometimes closing movements are aided in their “store” by these types of breath-initiated tensions. 

Natural and Reverse Breathing

There are two main types of breathing: natural-breathing and “reverse”-breathing.  Natural breathing is the type of breathing where the inhale expands the abdomen, hopefully somewhat not only in the front, but in the kidney areas, also.  “Reverse”-breathing refers to the idea that on the inhale the lower abdomen comes somewhat in and then goes somewhat out on the exhale. Because the lower-abdomen isn’t allowed to expand on a reverse breath, there is a slight pressure build-up in the abdominal area.

“Natural Breathing” is often confused with directions from a qualified teacher saying to “breathe naturally”.  In fact, because of limited English skills in some experts, it can be difficult to understand whether by “Natural Breathing” they mean abdominal-breathing or  whether they’re simply saying something like “don’t worry about the breath stuff,  just breathe naturally”.

When learning a form or qigong, etc., usually the choreography comes first and correct breathing and/or trained breathing is too much to try and add into the potion, so most students are simply encouraged to breathe naturally, although of course you don’t want to breathe in such a way that needless chest expansion occurs.  You want to breathe into the dantian area, but not fixate on it so much that it interferes with learning other beginning moves and exercises at the beginning.

Reverse Breathing is the type of breathing practiced in the internal-arts proper, after real development and training begins.  Reverse breathing does a number of things, but it does two things that are particularly important for someone who is learning to move the whole body as a connected unit, as described in the Reeling Silk blog:

  • reverse breathing controls the body-wide tensions it initiates and
  • reverse breathing helps control the pressures which are an intrinsic part of internal-arts that are controlled by the dantian. 

Note again that a person who functionally uses normal “external” strength is not going to be doing the same things that are involved in a cultivated “whole body” controlled by the dantian, so reverse breathing in essentially external-movement arts is a different situation from in a real internal-art.  Some element of pressure and controls, though, is still used in the so-called “external” martial-arts; the comment was simply to note that there are inherent differences in what the different types of breathing exercises do because of the different body development strategies.

In reverse-breathing and in natural-breathing there is an increase in the connecting tension of the whole body and there is an increase in pressure, particularly in the abdominal and kidney areas.  However, reverse-breathing is able to focus the tension and pressures better and is pretty much the standard in all of the internal martial-arts that I’m aware of. 

From a side view, here’s an illustration of roughly what the dantian area does through an inhale-to-exhale cycle.  Pressure goes firstly up the back and then is pulled down the front as the dantian goes out; this matches precisely with the movements described in the Silk-Reeling blog-post:

Pressure basics

Within the body cavities, breath initiated tensions are used in conjunction with the increase in pressure to train and develop the connective tissues.

As a person inhales while either slightly pulling in the abdomen or at least holding it in stasis so that it isn’t allowed to bulge outward, the diaphragm comes down.  It must come downward or air can’t be pulled into the lungs.  As the diaphragm comes downward and the front of the abdomen is kept from expanding outward, pressure increases in the abdominal cavity and kidney areas.  There is a training advantage to this type of pressure (in and around the internal organs), but it can also obviously cause some problems until the body develops correctly to accommodate the pressure.  That is, this type of training must be approached slowly and cautiously.

I’ve seen some people practice these types of exercises with their arms and legs somewhat tense.  If you think about it, that can be a pretty dangerous tactic.  With the lungs full of air and the limbs tensed the increased pressure in the abdominal cavity has another outlet: the cranium.  That’s dangerous: pressure should be kept out of the cranium.

In the olden days of India and China, breath-pressure training was accompanied by the same three “locks” (“bandhas” in yogic practices).  The anus/perineum area is pulled up to help restrain the pressure on the lower side.  The abdomen is pulled in to restrain pressure in that area.  The chin is tucked slightly to help prevent the pressure from going into the head.  Qigong, Neigongs, and martial-arts trainings use the same locks in both India and China, for the most part.

Most of western yogic practices, just like most western versions of Asian martial-arts, seem to be bereft of understanding about the relationships of fascia, dantien, pressure and the two “energies” of gravity… even though the presence of these locks, discussions of the “center”, and so on should be a giveaway.

What Breathing Exercises Do

As you can guess, the pressure aspect of breathing exercises can get more complicated (very much more so), but ideas of “suit” tensioning and pressure manipulation should clarify why the term of “Balloon Man” is actually fairly appropriate. 

Your balloon needs to be slightly inflated and the skin of the balloon needs to be conditioned, connected and over all the surface in order for a person to move well in the silk-reeling/six-harmonies sense.  The pressure and the skeletal structure aid in the propagation of Jin.

Breath practice and exercises aid movement of the body and dantian and can condition the body in unusual ways.  Breathing and stretching the connective-tissue and “packing” (pressurizing) the breath will develop the body’s conditioning, affecting mainly the connective tissues, tendons, etc.  The constant tension and release of properly done breathing will also gradually increase bone density.  Breath controls call tensions to different areas of the body through the use of the mind, another part of the “intent” of willing things to happen, in addition to aspects of movement and the direction of forces.

Another point, if you think about it, is that breath involvement with the body-wide “suit” tensions is going to affect movement (and therefore power) in a radically different way in a body that uses isolated, normal strength (even if rudimentary muscle-jin is present) and in a body that is essentially a single unit controlled by the dantian.  This is why I mentioned in the silk-reeling blog that while knowing how to pack the body and use some variant of pressure-pulsing (to hit, etc.) is nice, there is going to be a big difference in methodology and results in the internal-styles’ unit-body and the body using normal strength.

Breathing exercises (along with jin controls) also develop the intrinsic elastic strength of the body, and last, but not least, the breath exercises are a major contributor to the unusual power referred to as “qi”.  However, those discussions are beyond the scope of this baseline-oriented article.  The one comment along those lines that I’ll offer is that a lot of the mechanical analyses of “how to do punch X” are somewhat missing the point because the “qi” forces should be paramount.

Breath’s place in movement

In most movements using reverse-breathing, there is a sequence of “tension” (not a good word for what is happening, but close enough for foot-in-the-door discussion) that goes up the back of the “suit” as the dantien turns on the inhale; then, on the exhale, the dantien pulls the area of tension down the front.  This is the basically the breathing side of the “microcosmic orbit” discussion in the Silk-Reeling blog.  The breathing aids the movement.

Lifting the arms up in the opening movement to Taiji forms involves not only the jin from the ground and the upward turn of the suit by the dantian, it also involves a slight “tensioning” (at first learned by breath) up the back an over the tops of the arms (to be cautious, let’s note again that the whole ‘suit’ is involved, not just isolated parts).  As the arms go downward, not only does the dantian turn and the weight of gravity shift to the undersides of the body surfaces, the tensioning connection to the dantian on the undersurfaces increases.  Movement is assisted not only with selective tensioning of the “suit” along the appropriate channels, but also by selective manipulation of pressures within the body.

In the arm-wave example in the Silk-Reeling blog-post, the inhale assists the tensioning of the “suit” on the back in raising and outward-swing of the arm: the appropriate channels or segments of the “suit” that are needed to assist a movement are brought into play.  This movement is called “Heng” in Chinese and “Un” in Japanese.  The exhale assists with suit relaxation and contraction to bring the arm down and inward: this is “Ha” or “A”.  Naturally, the complete body is affected in the breathing so all the body tensions/connections are involved, down to the feet.

For someone just learning the basic movements of the body, the inhale and ground-support is used to assist the general Open and the exhale and gravity is used power closing. This is a common learning sequence of movements within the internal martial-arts: first use the inhale to assist Opening and then use the exhale as an assist to a natural closing.  As a person begins to practice beyond the stage of just learning the general movements, more often there is a focus on inhales as the body Closes and tensions and pressure “store” in the cycle of movement.  Then the exhale is used along with other factors to effect the power-release.

That second general mechanic is not just something in the internal arts: it’s very common for all the Chinese martial-arts to refer to the use the breath effects in conjunction with some basic jin in conjunction with the body for “swallow and spit”, “absorb and project”, Heng Ha, and so on.  Anyone with general familiarity with Chinese martial-arts will recognize those types of terms and will hopefully understand the common relationships.

Using pichuan as an example for breath and power relationships, the cycle of movement is famously “Rise, Drill, Fall, Overturn”, but if you look at it more simply, as you’re inhaling and winding inward (legs, too), power is being “stored”; as you release, adding down-weight, pressure, and so on, you are exhaling.  This is the very typical “store and release”, “absorb and project”, and other similar terms that describe this basic movement in Asian martial-arts.  The trick is to not get involved in just the mechanics of the punch, but in feeling the inhale/store, the winding, the whole body as a Balloon Man, the jin, and so on.  It’s easy to copy appearances and to miss the real complexities of the internal-arts.  And please note that there are more advanced skills that are based on the principles already discussed, but which are beyond the scope of these baseline discussions.

Breathing in conjunction with the winding and unwinding of store-and-release, while doing forms work, will work the body in such a way that an “Iron Shirt” will be developed, to some degree.  Similarly, proper use of breath, jin, and body-connection channels during a martial-arts form will strengthen the internal organs, the bones, etc.  In that manner, many/most Chinese martial-arts can be said to be actual moving qigongs.