Dantians, Centers, Haras: Centers of Power
In the essay on silk-reeling and Six Harmonies movement, there was an odd implication and question that came to light about the muscle-tendon channels. The muscle-tendon channels are connected lines/channels/groupings of muscles connected by tendons and fascia as functional conveyors of strength and power along which the “Qi of Earth” and “Qi of Heaven” act.
Strength and qi are always related, so it’s not incorrect to say that strength flows along the muscle-tendon channels and it’s not incorrect to say that “qi” flows along the muscle-tendon channels. Viewing the muscle-tendon channels from that perspective puts a different light on the acupuncture meridians… which apparently derive from the muscle-tendon channels (Deadman et al, A Manual of Acupuncture). The point is what has hitherto mostly been viewed as metaphysical “channels” or “meridians”, actually seems to have had a functional origin.
Along those same lines, many of us on the old Neijia List were somewhat surprised to see Chen-style Taijiquan experts having muscularly-developed “dantians”, when for the most part, we had all viewed the “dantian” as some metaphorical reference to an “area of change” (field of cinnabar). It was puzzling to find out that the dantian, in expert practitioners, was actually muscular and articulate. It could be moved/rotated like a separate organ.
One of the first questions in my mind was “which came first… the rhetorical dantian or the functional, muscular dantian?”. The odds of someone positing a rhetorical dantian first and then by some miracle a muscular dantian was developed later seemed to be absurd, so it seemed unavoidable that the functional, muscular dantian arrived first. And actually, since there is plenty of literature talking about movement starting at the dantian, it all makes sense.
The dantian, as discussed in the Silk-Reeling essay, controls the muscle-tendon channels; it is the main nexus of power through the human body. There’s actually a back-side to the dantian at the Mingmen point at L3 of the lumbar vertebrae, so the front muscle-tendon channels are mostly affected by the abdominal dantian and the rear muscle-tendon channels are affected to varying degrees by the Mingmen and by willed control of the “suit” (fascia aspects of the qi). Generally speaking, a person who has trained his “qi” uses the dantian to control the body. The dantian gets its power from the solidity of the ground or the weight from gravity, mostly. There are two major exceptions to the general power statement, but for purposes of simplicity, we’ll leave those discussions for another time.
Our human bodies are no longer the ancient cylindrical creatures we evolved from, although generally speaking our muscles and connective tissues and bone still reflect the ancient cylindrical origin. Over time we developed arms and legs (and a tail, but alas we have lost that over time), so the muscles, fascia, and bones adjusted the basically cylindrical shell to accommodate moving the limbs and head. So it’s logical that there are secondary nexuses of power for the legs and the arms. The nexus for the legs is the “lower dantian” just inside the perineum area of the pelvic cage. The nexus for the arms is the chest dantian, on the sternum in front, matched by a corresponding area on the back.
Naturally, there is also a nexus of power/movement at the hollow of the throat. The endpoint of the elastic connections through the vertical axis of the body seems to be the sinuses at the uppermost end. The sinuses are connected to the lungs, in TCM theory, and sure enough you can feel that elastic connection if you inhale deeply and tilt your head upward.
I’ve heard it said that a person’s “kung fu” (accomplishment of skill) hasn’t crossed into excellence until the lower dantian is developed to the point that you’re aware of its functioning as you move.
The main idea of this discussion was to offer once again the idea that the main dantian that controls movement in the “internal strength” sense is a functional thing, but there are other functional dantians in the body which are slaved to the main dantian. These ideas seems fairly obvious when you think about them, but again there is a nagging question about the relationship between “qi” and strength. Since qi and strength always go together, in the old qi-paradigm, has there been a slight skewing of perspective when we’ve talked about dantians and chakras as “centers of power”? What part of that “power” was functional strength and what part was the elusively-defined “qi”?