Say No to Noodle Legs -- Do Not Collapse Your Legs in Tai Chi, Xingyi and Bagua

Collapsed Leg 4-BestSee the two images here in this post?
 
The top image shows a mistake that I see a lot. In fact, there is a good chance you are making this mistake in your forms, especially Bagua and Taiji.
 
I spent several years making this mistake and I was never called on it.
 
Then, I was training with Chen Huixian and her husband, Michael, and they pointed it out. I was doing "Buddha's Warrior Attendant Pounds Mortar" and it was pointed out that my rear leg was collapsed.
 
In the top photo, my right leg is collapsing. I have lost my peng.
 
Collapsed Leg 2In the lower image, I am maintaining peng through the legs.
 
As you can see in the upper image, my stability and strength is far less with a collapsed leg. I cannot "defend from all directions."
 
It is a lot more difficult to maintain peng in the legs. It helps to relax and sit deeper into the kua, and it requires a lot of mental focus until you break the habit of collapsing.
 
That one bit of advice changed a lot of my stances. And now, I see people collapsing their legs a lot; even some people who are called masters.
 
Sometimes, there is no one to tell a master that he has gotten lazy, or perhaps his teacher did not teach him this particular thing.
 
Don't have "noodle legs."
 
Try to find a mirror so you can watch to see if your legs are collapsing. Watch for it in all movements. In Bagua, I see it a lot in movements such as "Sweep the Rider from the Horse" and similar movements.
 
It happens often when you are shifting weight -- the knee on the non-weight-bearing leg will collapse. 
 
Remember to maintain peng throughout the entire body at all times.
 
The photos are taken from my book, "Internal Body Mechanics for Tai Chi, Bagua and Xingyi." If you don't have it, you can click the link and buy it through my website or through Amazon.
 

Can You Lift Weights and Do Tai Chi, Xingyi or Bagua?

Bagua Pole 3The photo shows a practice tip that is on my Bagua Basic Skills DVD and in the Bagua section of my website. It shows me walking the circle with dumbbells in my hands.
 
One of the traditional training methods for old school Bagua students was to do this with a brick or a stone in each hand. Now, we have dumbbells, so we can use those.
 
This not only helps develop circle-walking, but it is a weight-training exercise to help build your arm and shoulder strength, not to mention leg strength from circle-walking with the extra weight.
 
A Huge Fallacy in the Internal Arts
 
I have heard many people in the internal arts say that weight-training is a violation of internal principles. Even doing push-ups is a violation. They believe you should only do Taijiquan, for instance, and nothing more.
 
If you practice an internal art like Taiji, the argument goes, it is all the fitness training that you need.
 
One guy who claims to be a "master" instructor of Tai Chi told me that he went to China and saw masters pulling tires full of rocks, but not with muscular force. He said they were "soft as a baby."
 
I expected him to sell me a time-share in Florida after that.
 
I think this type of belief is one of the problems in the internal arts. I am going to use the ground and peng and proper mechanics to pull a tire full of rocks, but I am also going to need some healthy muscle tissue, too.
 
Simply doing an act like that is the same as weight-training, isn't it?
 
I'll bet that the martial artists who are dragging tires filled with rocks began with tires that only had a few rocks, and kept building up more and more as they got stronger and stronger.
 
Weight-training, my friends. But the public doesn't see the training - only the results.
 
There have always been myths and superstitions in physical activities. Sports are full of superstitions.
 
Coaches used to tell players to avoid sex the night before a game. "It will sap your strength," they would say.
 
Remember that a lot of these old beliefs came from a culture that believed if a man had sex with a LOT of women every night and did not ejaculate, he could absorb the energy of the women and achieve immortality.
 
But if he ejaculated, his chi would be lost.
 
You will have to forgive me for being skeptical about this type of thing. I hope you are skeptical, too.
 
Besides, I couldn't do that if I tried. Nancy would really be steamed if I absorbed another woman's energy. :)
 
Strength Training Helps You Live Longer
 
It is certainly true that Taiji, Xingyi and Bagua are great physical activities. They get you moving and they have been proven in clinical trials to improve leg strength, balance, flexibility and more.
 
Physical exercise can also reduce blood pressure and helps prevent many diseases. The internal arts are physical activities. It is common sense that the same benefits apply, and clinical trials have confirmed it.
 
But according to the Harvard Medical School, strength training is crucial to maintaining a high quality of life, especially as you get older.
 
You will lose at least a quarter of your muscular strength between the ages of 30 and 70. You will lose half of your muscular strength by the age of 90.
 
I have always done cross-training. Doing Taiji, or Xingyi, or Bagua, or all three is simply not enough for overall conditioning and strength.
 
What Happens As We Age
 
Here is how it works. The less weight-training you do, the less muscle you have. As you age, your muscle mass diminishes.
 
The more muscle you have, the more calories you burn when you are at rest. When you burn more calories at rest, you gain less fat.
 
If you lose muscle mass, as we all do as we age, you burn fewer calories at rest. You get flabbier as you burn fewer calories.
 
It becomes a vicious cycle -- less muscle means you burn fewer calories and build more fat. You can do less and less and your strength declines.
 
Cross-Training is Common Sense
 
You can do Taiji for two hours a day and you will STILL not be in shape to play a pick-up basketball game.
 
You can practice forms every day and then try to go three rounds of sparring and see how far you get.
 
Doing any of the three internal arts is a leg workout. Zhan Zhuan (Standing Stake) is great for the legs. The thighs of the Chen family are like tree trunks. That really helps longevity.
 
But the upper body strength is the issue here. Doing an internal martial art does not work the upper body enough to help maintain the strength you need for a better quality of life.
 
Weapons Training Can Substitute
 
Have you ever used a combat steel straight sword or broadsword? How about a combat-strength kuandao? Have you ever used double broadswords made of combat steel?
 
Those are serious weapons, and they are heavy.
 
Doing a weapons form is a weight-training exercise if you have the right weapon.
 
But in the modern age, most of us practice with lighter weapons -- practice weapons -- if we practice weapon forms at all. A lot of people don't do weapons forms.
 
The Bottom Line - There Is Nothing Soft About the "Soft" Arts
 
See that photo at the top of the post? It should tell you all you need to know about strength-training and martial arts.
 
In the old days, if you were going to defend your village from bandits, or if you were going to be hired by another village to train their young men to fight, I will bet you a dollar to a donut that you would not be "soft as a baby."
 
You would be hard as a rock. And tough as nails.
 
And you would do everything to make your body as strong as possible.
 
The Chen family men were hired out as guards. When things hit the fan, I don't think they worried very much about using the proper energy with the proper amount of softness.
 
My common sense, and my experience defending myself, tells me that all they really thought about was breaking the opponent as quickly as possible.
 
That sort of fighting ability requires not only strong legs but the type of upper body strength and overall conditioning that comes from cross-training -- from running, from hard work, from chopping wood, from lifting weights, from jumping rope, from doing push-ups and chin-ups and leg lifts and crunches.
 
The old school internal arts masters and students in China did not have gymnasiums or weight benches or racks of dumbbells or running tracks.
 
They worked the fields, the chopped wood, they lifted things, they were very, very active. And they practiced their arts. These were people who were accustomed to pain, hunger and very hard work.
 
There was nothing soft about them. And there was nothing soft about their fighting.
 
When I was near death at the Cleveland Clinic in 2009, and doctors tore a pulmonary vein and pierced my heart accidentally with a wire, some top doctors told me that the only reason I survived was the physical shape I was in.
 
I weighed 206 before I got sick. I weighed 156 by the time I left the hospital. I lost a lot of muscle mass and have never gained it back. But I survived.
 
I know the value of strength training from a variety of perspectives. Do not neglect it. It may have saved my life and it can save yours.
 
Having strong, healthy muscles does not, in any way, prevent you from achieving the relaxed power of the internal arts. All you need are the proper body mechanics and the ability to avoid tension. You gain that skill by practicing and training your body, not by avoiding strength training.
 
A person with weak muscles has the same problems learning these arts as anyone. They are tense, too. They just aren't as strong.
 
My ideal body shape was always Bruce Lee, not Arnold Schwarzenegger. I always have weight-trained with lighter weights and did more repetitions. That way, my muscles weren't bulky, they were toned and ready for action.
 
So I recommend a full range of conditioning, including all types of cardio plus push-ups, crunches, chin-ups, and weight training -- not for bulk, but for toning and for health.
 
It is a much more balanced approach, and isn't balance what the internal arts is all about?

Using Internal Principles in Grappling -- How to Escape a Clinch

Can Tai Chi, Xingyi or Bagua be used against a grappler?

A lot of macho types say no, but that's because they do not understand the internal martial arts.

Tai Chi has been slandered, maligned and unfairly criticized during the past year or two because a couple of people who claimed to be Tai Chi "masters" (they are not masters) had the stupidity to take on a trained MMA fighter and they lost. Badly.

I had a Wing Chun guy come into my school once and he wanted to spar full-contact. I told him we didn't do that, but we would gladly spar with him and do light contact. We hit him in the face anytime we wanted. My top student and I both tried him out. It was pitiful, but I did not judge Wing Chun based on this guy.

The internal arts have principles and body mechanics that work if you follow them, just like any art. Sometimes, you simply have to fight. That includes punching. But sometimes, you use body mechanics to take advantage of your opponent's force or to break his structure.

This past Wednesday night at practice, three students -- Justin Snow, Colin Frye and Chris Andrews -- worked with me as I demonstrated how to escape from a clinch. We had a good time playing with this.

Justin and Chris are both around 300 pounds. They are strong guys, around 30 years old. They have experience fighting. Real fighting.

I am 65 with one lung, heart issues, and I lost a lot of muscle mass when I got sick 9 years ago. 

They still can't hold me in a clinch if I use internal principles. And I can't hold them, either.

We had fun playing with this. Enjoy the video and I hope you learn from it. And remember, 850 video lessons and pdf downloads are available 24/7 on my membership website at www.internalfightingarts.com. Check it out.

 

 


New Book by Ken Gullette - Internal Body Mechanics for Tai Chi, Bagua and Xingyi

Book CoverI believe this is the first time that someone has tried to organize and teach, step-by-step, the fundamental body mechanics that are required for high-quality Tai Chi, Bagua and Xingyi. I have seen at least one book titled "Body Mechanics," but it did not discuss body mechanics. After 31 years of studying these arts and 21 years of teaching them, I decided to write a book that is clear on this topic.

Body mechanics for Tai Chi, Bagua and Xingyi are much more than simple directions such as "turn your foot out 45 degrees and relax."

I have included 250 photos and clear, straightforward descriptions in this book. I am confident you will have several "Aha!" moments about internal body mechanics when you read it. If it does NOT teach you anything important, or give you insights that help you in your internal arts journey, send the book back to me and I will refund your money.

Basically, I wanted to write the book that I wish I had when I began studying the internal arts back in 1987. If I was able to read it back then, it would have saved me many years and thousands of dollars in class fees. Based on some of the martial artists I have met during the past 20-something years, I know there are millions of internal arts students who are not learning these skills.

The six fundamental body mechanics for internal power include:

** Establishing and maintaining the ground path at all times.

** Using peng jin at all times along with the ground path.

** Using whole-body movement -- when one parts move, all parts move.

** Silk-Reeling "Energy" -- the spiraling movement that adds power to techniques.

** Dan T'ien rotation -- guiding the internal strength and power as the body moves.

** Using the kua properly -- opening and closing the kua, like a buoy in the ocean, helping the body stay balanced as incoming force changes.

Each of these body mechanics represents a physical skill -- NOT metaphysical. You can "imagine chi" for the rest of your life and still not be able to develop real power in your Tai Chi, Bagua or Xingyi. It takes hard work and practice -- real study -- to move with internal power in these arts. When a teacher does not know the body mechanics, it is much easier to make students think that "cultivating chi" is the goal. It is not the goal. 

The intent of Tai Chi, Bagua and Xingyi is self-defense. You can practice for health and meditation if you want, but unless you understand the body mechanics and the way the movements are used to defend yourself with relaxed power, you are not studying the complete art.

The book does not attempt to explain the history of the internal arts, much of which is lost in the mists of time and usually results in political squabbles among different factions within the arts, much like different denominations or sects will argue over religion.

I also do not use abstract wording that confuses more than it clarifies. 

Instead, I try to get right to the point, as I do in my teaching, writing in a straightforward way that attempts to strip away the mystical mumbo jumbo. Along the way, I try to deliver a few good heel kicks to some pillars of mythology that stand in the way of many students. 

I first heard about these body mechanics from Mike Sigman, through his online discussions and his videos. Through his online forum, I was guided to instructors Jim and Angela Criscimagna, living at the time in Rockford, Illinois, a couple of hours from my home. I became their student, and through them and another teacher I had later, the late Mark Wasson, I was able to learn from Grandmaster Chen Xiaowang, Grandmaster Chen Xiaoxing, Ren Guangyi and Chen Bing. I have also learned from Chen Ziqiang and Chen Huixian.

I began studying martial arts in 1973 at age 20, and I also practiced with the Iowa State University boxing team when I was 39 and 40 years old, when I was "adopted" by Coach Terry Dowd and the young boxers on the ISU team. I began studying the internal arts in 1987, and three years later, I won a gold medal performing the Yang 24 form in Tai Chi competition at the 1990 AAU Kung-Fu National Championships. I won more medals than any other competitor in the championships -- six medals in all, for Tai Chi, Xingyi, Bagua, and sparring. I thought I knew the internal arts, but years later, after learning the body mechanics I describe in this book, I realized that not only did I not understand internal body mechanics, neither did the judges. I was probably the best of a bad group of students who were doing external, muscular arts but calling them internal.

As I taught Tai Chi, Xingyi and Bagua beginning in 1997, as the Internet was becoming popular, I was reading Mike Sigman's online forum and realized there were holes in my knowledge. A few months later, I met Jim and Angela, and realized that what I had learned and practiced during the previous decade was empty. Over time, I identified the six key body mechanics that are basic to good internal Chinese gongfu. This book offers information on these skills that your teacher may not have taught you.

A few years ago, Kiefen Synnott wrote to me and said, "I live in Japan and study Baguazhang and Xingyiquan, but the language barrier makes me miss some of the meaning. Your training has filled in the gaps and has been responsible for most of the progress I have made so far."

Another martial artist who lives in Shanghai wrote to me that he was "amazed at how few instructors here know the body mechanics." 

The book is sold in the U.S., the UK and Europe through Amazon. It is available for Prime shipping. If you are in the UK or Europe, please go to Amazon and search for "Internal Body Mechanics." In Australia or other parts of the world, you may be able to order it through bookstores.

If you are in the U.S. you can order the book directly from me on this blog.

There is Free Shipping within the U.S. (Sorry, due to high shipping fees, Ken cannot mail the book internationally). BONUS -- If you buy this book plus a DVD from this site, you may select another DVD free of charge as a bonus (just email Ken with your selection for the bonus DVD). 

Order the Book Now with Free Shipping - U.S. Customers Only 


New DVD Set Teaches Bagua Elk Horn Knives Form and Applications

Bagua Elk Horn Cover-250Have you ever bought an instructional DVD that didn't really teach much detail?

Yeah, so have I. 

Some DVDs include different views of a form, different views of movements repeated over and over, but not very much about WHY you're moving this way, exactly what the body mechanics are, and what the movement means for self-defense.

That's what I decided to change when I began making videos and DVDs back around 2003.

My latest DVD contains 3 1/2 hours of detailed instruction on the Bagua Elk Horn Knives form, a Cheng-style weapons form that teaches the form step-by-step, with an emphasis on internal body mechanics and the "intent" of each movement.

It is a 2-DVD set.

The elk horn knives are also called "deer horn knives" or "Mandarin duck knives" because elk horns, deer horns and Mandarin ducks are always found in pairs. The names are used interchangeably, depending on the teacher.

Disc 1 is 2 1/2 hours long and includes complete demonstrations of the form -- a front view at normal speed and a rear view in slow-mo. I do solo instruction for each section, starting at the beginning and taking you move-by-move through a section. Then, you learn as I coach a student through the section. It drives home the mistakes to avoid when you see a student learning a form and being corrected on mistakes. It truly is the next-best thing to being in an actual class.

Disc 2 is an hour and 10 minutes long, featuring fighting applications for each movement of the form. If you are going to learn a weapons form, you must learn how the weapon is used. Martial arts depend on the "intent" of movements and techniques. By the end of Disc 2, you will know what each movement means and how to apply it against an opponent with a weapon. There is also a section on how to take the applications and begin sparring with an opponent.

This 2-disc set costs only $24.99 and is available through this blog with free shipping anywhere in the world. Click here to go to the order page. It is also available on Amazon with Prime 2-day shipping. Check out the clip below for a highlight of what to expect.

 

 Click to Order and Start Learning!

 


A Chen Pan Ling Lineage: the Internal Fighting Arts Podcast Interview with Dan Djurdjevic

Dan Djurdjevic and Chen Yun Ching
Dan Djurdjevic (standing) with his teacher Chen Yun Ching.

One of the things I admire about the guests on my Internal Fighting Arts podcast is the determination they have, and the pains they go through, to learn and to develop their martial arts skill.

The latest interview -- with Dan Djurdjevic -- is no exception. Dan is considered by his teacher, Chen Yun Ching, to be a master instructor in the style of Chen's father, Chen Pan Ling.

Dan lives and teaches in Perth, Australia. He and his brother have a school in Perth called Traditional Fighting Arts and he has an excellent blog called "The Way of Least Resistance."

This wide-ranging interview touches on subjects including the teaching style of Chen Yun Ching and modern-day self-defense.

As an attorney with experience as a prosecutor, Dan has an interesting angle on self-defense. The section on "flipping the script" is outstanding; a tactic that every martial artist needs to hear.

Click this link to listen to the podcast on Audello, or to download it to your hard drive.

You can also listen to the Internal Fighting Arts podcast and subscribe to it on iTunes.

 

 


Newly Revised Silk-Reeling DVD Offers Detailed Instruction for 19 Chan Ssu Jin Exercises and Tai Chi Pole-Shaking

SRE-Workshop-2015
Portions of the new Silk-Reeling DVD were shot at a workshop Ken did in 2015.

My first DVD on Silk-Reeling Energy was shot in 2008 in the old 4:3 TV format. I was never really satisfied that it was spread over two DVDs, forcing me to charge a bit more for it ($24.99). But it has been very popular over the years with internal artists worldwide.

Now, I have completely redone it in widescreen format and I have managed to put more than 2 1/2 hours of instruction onto one DVD at a lower price ($19.99). The camera angles are better, too.

Silk-Reeling "Energy" has been misinterpreted by many literal-minded people. When you talk about internal "energies," you are not talking about an actual "energy" coursing through your body like the concept many use for "chi." What energy means is "method." What are the methods of moving in the internal arts that helps give you relaxed power, without the muscular tension that some martial arts use?

Silk-Reeling, or Chan Ssu Jin (Chan Ssu Chin) is part of that method. It involves spiraling movement through the body, which is combined with the ground path, peng jin, whole-body movement, Dan T'ien rotation and proper use of the kua. Now, I always get flamed when I say that SRE is not mystical, especially by people who are into the woo woo, but it's true. The spiraling movement of Chan Ssu Jin is a physical skill, like all skills in the internal arts. You can still believe in the woo woo if you want, but the exercises still work.

SRE-1-CoachingThe Silk-Reeling exercises on this video teach you how to take the six key body mechanics that form the basis of internal movement and put them together into exercises that will help make your internal movement better.

There are many "energies" involved when you practice self-defense with Tai Chi, Hsing-I and Bagua, but there are also basic body mechanics that you need; without them, your movement is empty.

I first learned these exercises and concepts from Chen Xiaowang, Chen Xiaoxing, and their students and disciples.

One thing I love about these exercises is the fact that you can do most of them even if you don't have a lot of room. Most of them can be done in a cubicle, or in a small office, anywhere you find yourself without room to do a form.

When you do a Silk-Reeling exercise, you are doing Tai Chi. 

They can be done as qigong, too. Sometimes, if I'm watching TV at night at the end of the day, I'll get up and do these exercises rather than sit on the couch. They build leg strength and, if you practice as intended, they will improve your internal movement.

The DVD also contains a section on pole-shaking, which is one of the ways to begin putting all the body mechanics to work for fajin (issuing energy).

Here is a short clip from the Silk-Reeling Energy DVD. If you are interested, you can click here for more information and to order it. There is free shipping worldwide and an iron-clad, no hassle, money back guarantee. If you're not happy with it, just return it for a fast refund. I have never had anyone return this DVD after selling more than 1,000 of them since 2008. All the video from the DVD is also on my website at www.internalfightingarts.com. 

 


Xingyi and Bagua Instructor Robert Allen Pittman - the Internal Fighting Arts Podcast Interview

Pittman
Robert Allen Pittman

The new edition of the Internal Fighting Arts podcast features an interview with Robert Allen Pittman, a martial artist and author who teaches Xingyi and Bagua through his system that he calls Wisdom of the Body. He is the type of martial artist I love to talk with -- a man who has gone to extraordinary lengths to learn his arts, particularly Xingyi and Bagua.

Allen was a student of Robert W. Smith, a pioneer who wrote some of the first books about Chinese kung-fu for the Western audience. Allen also co-authored books with Robert W. Smith on Xingyi and Bagua

I was thumbing through my martial arts library a few weeks ago when I came across his book, "Walking the I Ching." I tracked him down on the Internet and we arranged an interview while he was visiting his mother in England. I have seen his name for a long time, because of his work with Robert W. Smith, but I had no idea that he had such a good story.

Download the file or listen online by following this link, or play here:

 

 

 

 


The Eye of the Tiger and the Three Internal Harmonies -- Spirit is the Beginning of It All

Ken-Spars-1983-EyeofTigerDid you ever find yourself in a situation where a bigger bully attacked you and it was clear that you didn't have a chance? Have you ever been frightened and covered up to protect yourself?

Here is another question. Have you ever found yourself in a position when you had to defend yourself and you were determined to win?

There is a big difference between those two situations, and the difference is Spirit.

In the internal arts, Spirit is called "Shen." It is the "emotional mind."

The Three Internal Harmonies begin with Spirit. The state of your emotional mind combines with your Mind/Intent ("Yi" -- pronounced Yee). Shen is often called the "emotional mind" while Yi is sometimes called the "wisdom mind."

Think of one of the greatest fighters in history -- Muhammad Ali. Think of his attitude when he entered a fight. Confident, bold, smart, ready and willing to rumble.

Then think of a time when you were sparring -- or perhaps in a fight in school or on the street -- and you were not confident, not sure of your toughness, and afraid you were going to be defeated.

This is the difference between strong and weak Spirit.

You can train spirit when you are practicing. If you practice weak technique and fail to push yourself toward excellence and precision, you have weak Spirit. But if you push yourself to be stronger, faster, and precise and powerful with your mechanics and techniques, even when you are just practicing, you train your Spirit to be strong.

Sometimes, I get on students for having weak Spirit. They just sleep-walk through their techniques in a sloppy way. Sometimes, I can tell a student's spirit is weak when he expresses doubt in his ability to defend himself.

TourneyOne student spent years training, but he was unable to solve his own poor self-esteem. He constantly put himself down and said he would be unable to defend himself in a real fight. Early on, he competed in tournaments, but he was defeated time after time, and it became a vicious cycle -- he did not have the Spirit to win and he did not win. He gave up and stopped competing.

"I can point the way," I told him many times, "but I can't take you there. You have to understand and believe that you can do this."

When I find myself in a situation that could potentially require self-defense skills, I instantly adopt the Eye of the Tiger. I am calm but ready, and I will not be defeated. It is this Spirit that helped me win fights when I was younger and tournaments when I was older. 

When rapists are targeting victims, they look for women who appear to have weak Spirit. Women who are confident and appear strong are passed by in favor of victims who look like they will not fight back.

In Tai Chi, Hsing-I and Bagua, your Spirit and Intent combine, then your body mechanics, body structure and technique are directed to achieve the Intent. If your mechanics and technique are right, your Chi is flowing. In this way, the Yi leads the Chi. Your mind's intent leads the body mechanics and technique. 

When you are determined, and have good technique, your Strength (Li) happens naturally. Strong Shen and Yi and good Chi cannot help but generate strong Li.

This is the meaning of the Three Internal Harmonies. It is not mystical. Chi does not mean a mystical invisible energy flowing through meridians in your body. It means proper structure, mechanics, and technique. Strength is the result of a strong mind and a precise body.

By training seriously, pushing yourself toward precision, power, and good conditioning, and sparring with a variety of partners to develop your self-defense skills, proper Spirit should come naturally.

But I can't take you there. I can only point the way. Your Spirit is unique and lives within you.

Finally, do you want to see a great example of Spirit? It is embodied in a small French bulldog who could have been eaten by two big bears that invaded his yard. But his Spirit and his Intent produced some powerful Chi. It is a funny video, but it truly drives home the point. Do you have the Spirit of this bulldog?  


Do You Understand the Body Method ("Shen Fa") of Your Martial Art?

Body Method
Colin Frye and Chris Miller work on Xingyi body methods with fighting applications.

What does the term “body method” mean when it comes to Xingyiquan, Taijiquan and Baguazhang? The Chinese term for body method is “Shen Fa.”

Putting it simply, body method is the way you train your body to move in practicing an art so you achieve the result of moving in this same way when you do self-defense. It involves structure, body mechanics, and concepts for receiving and discharging force.

Each art has distinct ways of training, but I have broken some of the key body mechanics down, and I teach those body mechanics as a way to begin developing the body method for effective internal arts.

The six key body mechanics include:

  1. Establishing and maintaining the ground path at all times.
  2. Maintaining peng jin at all times.
  3. Using whole-body movement.
  4. Silk-reeling energy connected through the entire body.
  5. Dan T’ien rotation.
  6. Opening and closing the kua.

When you develop these six body mechanics as you train the various exercises, forms and fighting concepts of the internal arts, you develop the body method.

Ken Hsing-I 2-25-06 Web
Ken performing Xingyi at a tournament in 2006.

For example, holding the San Ti stance in Xingyi. With proper instruction, it teaches you to drop your energy, to root, to establish the ground path, peng jin, and develops leg strength, a solid base from which to move. Some people also use Standing Stake (Zhan Zhuang) in their Xingyi practice, but holding San Ti accomplishes the same thing. Other teachers have various training methods and exercises to help develop the body method.

When you learn the fist postures, you learn to move in a connected way, using whole body movement and maintaining the ground and peng even when exploding forward to take an opponent’s ground. You learn Dan T’ien rotation and opening/closing the body. And you learn how to apply all these mechanics and delivering power through opening the body and closing the body, in rising and in falling, in crossing, at angles, and in moving straight.

This body method is developed as you work on your forms, but the test comes when you apply it against a partner.

Working with partners in two-person drills helps you develop further, and then you should incorporate light sparring into the mix. As your experience and skill grows, your sparring can include a bit more contact.

Along with body mechanics and structure, sparring also allows you to develop the proper intent – the proper “spirit” of Xingyi – which should be confident, strong and willing to explode through an opponent and take his ground.

When most of us are new to martial arts, we react to someone attacking us with tension – by “rising” up with the body and tensing the muscles. Our mind scatters and we are often overwhelmed by the information our brain is receiving, not to mention our mind’s refusal to believe we are being attacked. Quite often, our reaction is to cover up, hoping the attack stops.

When you develop the body method and the proper intent of Xingyi, you react differently – sinking your weight, establishing structure and instantly adopting a mindset of driving your opponent off his ground – and driving his head off his shoulders.

I have been involved in martial arts now for nearly 42 years. We all start with the desire to improve our self-defense skills. And even as we grow older, as the arts evolve into something beyond simple self-defense, it is common to go through “what if” scenarios in our minds when we are out in public. “What would I do if this guy suddenly took a swing at me,” or “What would I do if that group of guys came rushing at me?”

I study three internal arts, but Xingyi is the one that I use when I visualize those “what if” scenarios. As I think through these visualization drills, I also visualize my body moving in the way I have trained it to move when doing Xingyi.

The body method of Taijiquan has some similar qualities to the body mechanics of Xingyi, but it also includes many different ways of moving that you don’t find in the more explosive art of Xingyiquan. It includes methods of dealing with an opponent's force and controlling an opponent's center that are sometimes unique and more subtle than Xingyi.

The body method of Baguazhang has certain mechanics that are also common to Taiji and Xingyi, but it also involves unique ways of moving, twisting and walking. It also involves concepts of dealing with force and controlling the center that are subtle like Taiji.

The concept of Shen Fa -- Body Method -- is fairly new to Western students of the internal arts. Quality internal arts instruction has only arrived in the United States during the past 20 years or so. 

Can you summarize the body method of the art you are studying? If you can’t, you should ask your instructor for help in understanding it. 

Two DVDs that help you start developing body method are the Internal Strength and Silk-Reeling DVDs. They contain exercises and concepts that provide the foundation for all three of the internal arts.