Thursday, July 28, 2011

Got Qi?

     Over many years I've spent a great deal of time visiting with numerous martial arts practitioners and listening to their ideas regarding the acquisition and application of intrinsic force.  Recently, I've also spent time on various martial arts forums doing the same thing.  And overall, one thing is very clear...most of these people have no clue as to the nature of qi or how to express it in their chosen martial discipline.

     The nature of qi is elusive.  Over the generations there have been many explanations, debates, and outright arguments regarding this very subject.  Everyone has their own opinions and ideas.

     But one thing is certain; skilled internal stylists are capable of generating uncanny force with seemingly little physical effort.  Some can withstand very heavy blows to most areas of the body without injury or discomfort - and without relying on tensed, hardened muscles. 
     This same kind of skill has been demonstrated by long-time practitioners of various karate styles, who have gone "full-circle" in their training.

     Most martial arts beginners dream of acquiring this kind of power but they have no idea how to go about doing it.  The same thing is true of a good many martial arts veterans.

     So they start out trying to imagine generating or emitting vital force when they practice their basic techniques and forms.  And...nothing happens.  They huff and puff and keep at it but the result is always the same.  Nada.  After a time, many of them simply give up on their quest and that's the end of it.

     Learning to execute fajin (emit power/vital force) isn't something that just naturally happens if you keep repeating the same movement over and over.  To be sure, some qi is emitted whenever you make any kind of movement but emitting a concentrated force requires that you practice correctly and progressively.  That's what this lecture is about.

     Applying fajin isn't magic nor is it the result of lengthy periods of lofty meditation (although that can help - but more about that later).  You can't just fire off your techniques and hope that someday it'll "happen."  It won't.
     Power is emitted through our physical bodies and our physical bodies are governed by certain laws of physics and principles of kinesiology.  So, the first thing we need to acquire is correct position.  That is, how to stand correctly (in accordance with the applicable laws of physics and principles of kinesiology) when we execute techniques.  This is often achieved through repetitious training in various forms of what is known as "zhan-zhuang" (stake standing); static postures that are held for lengthy periods of time to help the student learn how to properly align the (part of the) body.  It ain't easy, believe me.  Nay, it's bloody well painful!
     Most students loathe this training not only because of the discomfort involved, but because it appears to be relatively pointless!  After all, they reason, how can you develop a stronger punch or kick when you spend so much time standing in weird, static postures?  And many will walk away.  They have shallow minds and weak spirits.  They should trust their teacher and do what they're told.
     For this training, a good instructor is a must.  He can quickly spot any "kinks" in your posture and correct them.  Fajin is much like getting water to gush out of a hose.  If the hose has any "kinks" in it, the water cannot come through very powerfully.  "Kinks" in your posture will prevent force from being powerfully emitted through your technique.  Thus, zhan-zhuang.
     At the same time, these static exercises strengthen and toughen the legs and hips - a necessary prerequisite for being able to deliver truly powerful technique.  They also promote the develop of a very strong yi (intention, will) which is another necessary ingredient in the development of fajin.

     The second aspect of correct training involves movement.  This includes not only footwork, but also forms of body shifting and turning.  It has to be done correctly so that no "kinks" are created when you move in a given fashion.  Only then can power be emitted easily.  Again, this involves exercises that can be more than a little tedious but consider that learning to stand in a static posture correctly is one thing; learning to maintain correct posture while you're moving is a whole different game.  It's going to take a lot of practice.

     The third part of correct training is your actual technique.  It has to be executed exactly so, using the appropriate laws of physics and principles of kinesiology to your best advantage.  If your technique is incorrect or sloppy, fajin is not possible.  It's like putting very expensive fuel in an old, piece of junk car.  It won't run any better.  It's still junk!  This is why practitioners of some forms of martial arts cannot perform fajin; their techniques are terribly flawed.
     You may think that your technique is ultra-spiffy but only your instructor can tell for sure.  You have to learn and practice them slowly, making sure that everything is just right...then develop speed from there.  Actually, speed will develop naturally as the technique is made sharper and cleaner.

PRACTICING PROGRESSIVELY     Learning martial arts and developing real power is like making tea.  It takes time.  It can't be hurried.  Any attempt to hurry the process will only ruin it and you have to start over again.

      First, learn to stand and then move correctly.  As you're doing this, you'll be taught new techniques so you must pay close attention and practice them correctly as possible over and over and over.  Don't worry about power or speed - those will come naturally in time.

     You'll also learn various forms of qigong.  These are crucial to developing fajin and they have to be practiced progressively.  The main idea is that you must first clear the (internal) pathways of chi so they are unobstructed.  This is accomplished largely through regular practice of breathing techniques (which can be done as a form of meditation) and also through exercising certain postures.  If the main pathways are obstructed, you won't be able to fajin, even though your posture, movements, and technique are correct.

     Once the channels are clear you must learn to draw energy up through the soles of your feet as you perform your techniques and movements.  Power comes through the soles and is emitted through the striking surface of whatever bodily weapon you're employing (so long as posture, movement, and technique are correct).  And you have to learn to relax as you execute your technique.  That is, you must not use any more (muscular) force than is absolutely necessary.  This may sound fairly easy to do but it'll require a good deal of practice.    

     Don't concern yourself with trying to emit fajin right away.  It's going to take a while before you get the external (posture, movement, technique) right.  Your instructor will let you know when you're ready to begin training to fajin and there are some two-person training methods that you'll practice over and over.  The skill develops gradually; it doesn't happen all at once.  You must be patient and study yourself and your technique.

     And as you go through these processes you'll find one glitch after another - some large, some small - but glitches, nonetheless.  It's a never-ending process; constantly striving to perfect your technique, constantly polishing out smaller and smaller glitches.  A lifetime may not be enough.


  1. Nice article!

    Another apt metaphor is that our bodies are like a colander; strong enough to hold noodles but not strong enough to hold water. Through the arduous practice of zhan zhuang, each correction in the structure fills one of the holes...

    Hey, I'm curious on your thoughts to my answer to, "How Long Does It Take To Develop Peng-Jing?"

    All the best to you in 2012!