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.


A Simple Concept of Baguazhang - The Spinning Wire Ball

Bagua BallThere are three images that summarize the three main internal arts. They are simple images and do not encompass all the subtleties but still represent good concepts.

You can think of Xingyi (Hsing-I) as a wedge driving through an opponent. A Xingyi fighter explodes through an opponent and takes his ground.

A Taiji fighter is like a beach ball being submerged into a swimming pool. The ball will take your energy and Bagua-2give a bit, but there is strength underneath, and it will spring back and spin, dumping you into the water.

Bagua is like punching into a spinning wire ball. The ball catches your force and spins you off-balance, controlling your center and spinning you out in unexpected directions. It often leaves you broken by the time it spins you out.

Here is just one example. My opponent Bagua-3punches. I intercept the punch, wrapping my left arm around his punching arm. At the same time, I begin spinning to his outside.

I hook his right arm and continue to spin. At this point, I can break his elbow or dislocate his shoulder, or both. At the end of my spin, I am in position to also strike to the back of the neck or head.

Bagua-5Some of my favorite Bagua techniques involve uprooting, unbalancing, and controlling the opponent's center. This technique is a good example of punching into a spinning wire ball and being broken by the spin.I am also striking my opponent in the direction he is traveling. That is part of our fighting strategy called "Join and Unite." This strategy involves taking control of your opponent's center by melding with it, and causing it to continue turning in the direction it is already turning while you strike in the direction your opponent is traveling. Often, that means you are behind your opponent when you strike.

A Bagua fighter is said to disappear in front of his opponent and reappear behind the opponent. This is accomplished by lateral movement, spinning movement, and controlling your opponent's center so that you move him where you want him.

A lot of these concepts are demonstrated with techniques you can use to develop your skill in my DVD, Basic Building Blocks of Bagua Self-Defense. 

 

 


Kent Howard and the Internal Art of Baguazhang - the Internal Fighting Arts Podcast Interview

Ken-Bagua-Small-JPGI love to meet good martial artists who are dedicated to seeking out the best instruction. Since I launched my Internal Fighting Arts podcast a few months ago, I have had the pleasure of going on amazing journeys as I talk with instructors who, like I did, became attached to the internal arts.

The best instructors go through a lot of sacrifice, expense, and effort to seek out instruction. Many people looking to become students don't even realize how lucky they are to have such dedicated martial artists who actually speak their language (I focus on English-speaking instructors in the podcast). I have spent years, traveled many miles, and spent thousands of dollars gaining knowledge, not to mention investing in pain, sweat, and hard work. When I talk with teachers who have done the same thing, I am re-inspired.

I had never spoken to Kent Howard before interviewing him last Saturday via Skype. He is a good man, with a realistic view of the arts and a great sense of humor. He returned three months ago from spending three more years in Taiwan, where he has studied for decades in the Baguazhang style of Wang Shujin through Kent's teacher, Huang Shinjeng.

Kent is about four "generations" of students removed from Baguazhang's creator, Dong Haichuan.

He is the guest on this week's podcast - an enjoyable, no-nonsense and fascinating glimpse into the study of what became known as "Eight Trigrams Palm."

This interview may change the way you look at Bagua. Listen to it online or download via this link. It will be on iTunes where you can subscribe to the series and receive new podcasts as they go up -- about every 10 days or so. Go to the podcast area of the iTunes Store and search for "Internal Fighting Arts" to subscribe. 


Important Internal Body Mechanics Come Together in Silk-Reeling Exercises for Tai Chi

SRE Workshop 2
Leading a workshop on Silk-Reeling Energy March 7, 2015.

When I had my first class in Tai Chi as a student, I had been involved in martial arts for 15 years. Tai Chi was different. For more than a decade, I studied Yang style, and I was taught that I should be relaxing and "cultivating chi." Then I met Jim and Angela Criscimagna, my first Chen style teachers, and I realized within an hour that I had to start over.

The body mechanics of real Tai Chi are very different than other "hard" martial arts that I had studied. I had been a student of Shaolin, Taekwondo, Wushu (Tien Shan Pai), and I had practiced karate on my own. I had also studied Xingyi, Bagua, and, as I mentioned above, Yang Tai Chi.

Nothing prepared me for the nuances and subtlety of Chen family Taijiquan. Over time, as I learned from Jim and Angela, the late Mark Wasson, and masters such as

SRE Workshop 1
Explaining how to establish the ground path with John Morrow and Ron Frye.

Chen Xiaowang, Chen Xiaoxing, Ren Guangyi and others, I began to isolate six crucial body mechanics that you should know to get started. Another major influence was Mike Sigman and the knowledge about ground path and peng jin that he was spreading, in workshops, videos and online writings.

There are many skills to learn as you study Tai Chi, Bagua, and Xingyi, but over a period of 20 years, as I was learning and teaching, these six body mechanics rose to the top, in my mind, as the most important for internal movement:

  • Establishing and maintaining the ground path
  • Maintaining Peng Jin at all times
  • Whole-Body Movement
  • Silk-Reeling (spiraling movement through the body)
  • Dan T'ien Rotation
  • Opening and closing the Kua

These six body mechanics are explained and demonstrated on my membership website and on my Internal Strength DVD, which I am revising and updating this week. If you have not been taught this information, you should learn it before trying to move forward in your practice. There are many internal students, especially Yang style students in the world who have no idea of the body mechanics required by Tai Chi.

SRE Workshop 6
Silk-Reeling exercises, like all movements in Tai Chi, have self-defense applications.

On Saturday, I taught a workshop on Silk-Reeling Exercises, giving participants a glimpse of each of the body mechanics and how they come together in these exercises. The video from the workshop will also be on my website.

Silk-Reeling Energy is also called "San Ssu Jin" or San Ssu Chin." But do not be fooled by the word "energy." The way the word is used in the internal arts, it does not mean some mystical energy coursing through your body -- "energy" is a method of dealing with force. There are many "jins" or energies in Taiji and Bagua. Each of those jins is a different method of dealing with your opponent's force. They are physical skills that anyone can learn with proper instruction and a lot of practice.

There are many physical things to work on when practicing the internal arts, such as keeping the head up, keeping the shoulders and hips level, the internal and external harmonies, remaining relaxed but ready -- but your internal arts cannot have quality unless you understand these six body mechanics.

I was lucky to receive very good instruction from my Chen style teachers, but as I started teaching with this new information that I learned about body mechanics through Chen Taiji, I wanted to break it down in a way that made sense to me and to new students, isolating these body mechanics and looking at each of them in every movement. It still takes many years to develop skill. I am still trying to get better at all of it.

In the next couple of weeks, in a series of blog posts, I will revisit each of the individual body mechanics and discuss them. Subscribe to this blog to receive them as they are published. If you are in a hurry, check out the Internal Strength and Silk-Reeling DVDs (links above) or try two weeks free in my membership site to explore videos and ebooks on these mechanics and principles.

 


Silk-Reeling Energy Workshop to be Held Saturday March 7 2015 in Moline

Silk-Reeling Energy, also called Chan Ssu Jin, is one of the key physical skills you need for quality internal arts. It is important especially in Tai Chi and Bagua, but it is also used in Hsing-I.

Dover-Photo-pngSilk-Reeling energy provides your techniques with "coiling leverage," adding more power to your martial techniques and allowing you to deliver relaxed strength.

It is a key skill for Internal Strength.

Join me on Saturday, March 7, 2015 from 1:00 to 5:00 p.m. for a Silk-Reeling Energy Workshop at Morrow's Academy of Martial Arts in downtown Moline, Illinois. The workshop will be recorded for a DVD and all attendees will receive a copy when it is produced.

We will work on exercises that I learned from Grandmaster Chen Xiaowang, direct descendant of the creator of Tai Chi Chuan, Chen Wangting, and from his disciples.

You will learn:

1. 18 Silk-Reeling Exercises that teach you the spiraling movement required for high quality Tai Chi and Bagua.

2. How other internal body mechanics -- the ground path and peng jin, whole-body movement, Dan T'ien rotation and opening/closing the kua -- are used in these spiraling movements.

3. How to apply the movements to real-world self-defense. This is not "make believe mystical woo-woo" that doesn't work against an attacker. We will practice solid principles for self-defense demonstrating how Silk-Reeling Energy is used.

Internal Strength Workshop 2You are guaranteed to have many "Aha!" moments during this 4-hour workshop when you see how Silk-Reeling is done and how it is applied to self-defense. You will find it interesting regardless of your style of martial art, and it will deepen your knowledge and appreciation of the internal arts.

The Silk-Reeling Workshop costs only $35 and all participants will receive a copy of the current Silk-Reeling DVD on the day of the workshop, and they will receive a copy of the new DVD when it is produced (hopefully within a month of the workshop). Morrow's Academy is located at 1319 5th Avenue in downtown Moline, IL. 

For more information, contact Mr. Morrow at (309) 764-1929.

 


Board-Breaking with Tai Chi - Hsing-I - Bagua - and the One-Inch Punch

We like to have fun in my practices. A couple of nights ago, we took three rebreakable boards of different strength and practiced the following:

** Dropping Power

** The One-Inch Punch

** Movements from Tai Chi, Hsing-I and Bagua forms

We don't make board-breaking a regular part of our classes, but occasionally it's important to make sure you are focusing power for self-defense, even with internal movements.

At the end of the video, we do breaks with two or all three of the boards together. I hope it's as much fun to watch as it was to do.

 

 


New in the NOOK Store -- Silk-Reeling and Baguazhang Ebooks

Three of my ebooks are now available in NOOK format and are on sale in the Barnes & Noble Nook Store.

I published my first ebook in Amazon's Kindle format in June, 2013. Since that time, each new ebook has been exclusive to Kindle, but I am now beginning to roll them out in the NOOK format.

Each book is a great portable reference for its topic.

Bagua-Bldg-Blocks-Cover-3D-250The newest book, just completed last week, is Basic Building Blocks of Bagua Self-Defense. It contains 606 photos and detailed instruction in some of the primary principles for fighting with Bagua. Photos are in stop-action, step-by-step sequences, frozen from videos so you can get a clear idea how the technique is supposed to be performed. This book costs only $5.99.

Many martial arts books contain photos, but often there are gaps in the action, and it is not clear how to get from Point A to Point B. My books are written to be crystal clear. I write them with the eyes of a student.

Bagua 8 Main Ebook Cover 250Another ebook that is new in NOOK is the Baguazhang 8 Main Palms Form. It contains 340 photos and detailed instruction, taking you step-by-step in stop-action format through the entire Cheng-style Bagua form. This book costs only $4.99.

The Baguazhang Eight Main Palms Form is the first major form that my students learn after they are familiar with the basic skills of Bagua, including circle-walking, the mother palms, tea-serving exercises, and more.

SRE-Ebook-Cover-250My Silk-Reeling Energy ebook is also now available in NOOK format. Silk-Reeling Energy is a spiraling action that travels from the ground through the body, giving more power to your internal techniques. It is not mystical, it is physical, and this ebook is a great reference, showing exercises that are taught by Chen Xiaowang and others to beginning students. This spiraling motion is an essential element of Taiji and Bagua, and is also a key part of Xingyiquan. This book is also only $4.99.

Each of these ebooks are companions to a DVD, and is very handy if you are in a practice location with a tablet or phone and need to reference a movement or technique.

I don't really like to put this type of "commercial" blog post up, but this is a major development in the dissemination of my internal arts curriculum and I want everyone who uses NOOK devices to know.

In the coming week, two more ebooks that have been on Kindle exclusively will go up in the NOOK format -- my Qigong ebook and the Chen 19 Form Self-Defense applications book. Stay tuned.


Bagua Self-Defense Ebook Contains 606 Photos and Step-by-Step Instruction

Bagua-Bldg-Blocks-Cover-3D-250Baguazhang is a beautiful art -- smooth, flowing, with spiraling, twisting movements and circle-walking. 

But how do you fight with it? How do you use it when someone attacks you?

Like any martial art, you start with the basics and practice, practice, practice.

My newest ebook, titled Basic Building Blocks of Bagua Self-Defensetakes you step-by-step through some of the most basic and important fighting concepts in Bagua, and walks you through more than 130 fighting techniques that really work -- without mysticism, laser-focused on internal body mechanics.

Ken Gullette Bagua Self DefenseThese are the techniques I practice with my students. I believe in self-defense that works, not flowery, metaphysical stuff that falls apart as soon as you face someone who is not cooperating. Bagua is like any other martial art -- the most effective techniques are often the most direct.

You will learn 25 ways to achieve the three main goals of a Bagua fighter -- uproot, unbalance, and control your opponent's Center.

You will learn self-defense concepts such as Rotating, Twisting, Supporting, Boring, Scooping, and 20 more -- each one demonstrated and explained through specific self-defense techniques that highlight the movement and "energy" that each concept represents.

Photos are presented in stop-action sequences. You are not left to fill in the gaps from one movement to the next. Every movement and technique will be clear through the images and instruction.

The sequence of photos here shows one technique from the concept of "Scooping."

This ebook, and the companion DVD, is what my students learn after they learn Bagua basic skills and their first form, the 8 Main Palms form. Without understanding the basic building blocks of Bagua self-defense, Bagua movements are meaningless. This knowledge gives their movements depth, and provide them the tools they need to begin moving from form to self-defense.

I try to give a lot of value at a reasonable price. The cost of this ebook is only $5.99 on Amazon Kindle. Follow this link to the Amazon page for Basic Building Blocks of Bagua Self-Defense.

The internal arts seem mysterious, and when the techniques are clouded in abstract, mystical terms, they become indecipherable. Some of this is perpetuated by teachers who simply parrot what their teachers said, like people do in a religion. Other teachers have giant egos and they need people to see them as possessing of supernatural powers and "indoor" knowledge.

I write all my ebooks and produce my instructional videos to break through all of the nonsense and show you the real martial art beneath the supernatural silliness. Real Bagua fighting does not depend on some invisible and unproven energy (qi) flowing through your body. Real Bagua is amazing enough on its own without all that baggage heaped on it, so my ebooks and videos are aimed at showing you the internal body mechanics that give you the relaxed power that makes Bagua an effective art for self-defense. 


Punching Through Paper - A Test of Fajing for Taiji, Bagua and Xingyi

Can you punch through a sheet of newspaper?

Sounds easy, doesn't it?

Okay, smarty pants, have a partner hold a sheet of newspaper very lightly on the top corners. You stand in front of it and punch through it.

It's an eye-opening experience but it is a good test of your internal body mechanics. Are you able to maintain the mechanics as you "put on the gas?"

This is one of the videos on my membership website. It was shot around 2005 - maybe earlier. I was practicing with a student last night and he mentioned the video, so we got a sheet of newspaper out and tried this. He was not successful in breaking it, but I (fortunately) was able to do it with my first punch.

The secret is in applying all the internal mechanics -- ground path, peng jin, whole-body movement, silk-reeling, Dan T'ien rotation, and opening/closing the kua -- in a connected, relaxed way while speeding it up -- fajing.

Try it yourself. Let me know how it goes. And thanks to Nancy for being my partner, as usual. She is an ace at paper holding. :)

 


The Coiling Leverage of Silk-Reeling Energy -- Four Ounces Deflecting A Thousand Pounds

Taiji and Bagua are especially dependent upon Silk-Reeling Energy (San ssu jin) but it is also present in Xingyi.

Silk-Reeling Energy provides “coiling leverage” to movement. Silk-Reeling is not a scientifically valid “energy” in our bodies and it is not related to an invisible energy called “chi.” It is just like every other “energy” in the internal arts – it is a method of moving in response to force. The body mechanics of Taiji, Bagua and Xingyi are physical skills that require a lot of mental focus so you can be prepared to respond like an echo to an opponent’s force.

5-5-Lute-vs-grab1Silk-Reeling energy gives more power to concepts such as “four ounces repels a thousand pounds,” or “four ounces deflects a thousand pounds” depending on who tells it.

One of many ways this can be demonstrated is with a wrist grab. Your opponent grabs and you try using normal muscular actions to pull away as he tries to hold on. It will be difficult to escape. You may be able to escape, but it will take a lot of muscular strength.

Next, try spiraling out of the grip and see how the coiling leverage gives you an easier escape. It is described very well with the term "rotational force." By connecting the ground through the wrist and using the spiraling movements of silk-reeling (and other body mechanics listed below), your movements can overcome simple muscular force.

In normal internal movement, the rotational force of silk-reeling is dependent on your core internal strength:

  1. Establishing and maintaining the ground path
  2. Maintaining peng jin
  3. Whole-body movement
  4. Silk-Reeling (spiraling) movement
  5. Rotating the Dan T’ien
  6. Opening/Closing the Kua
5-6-Lute-vs-grab2
Coiling gives you the ability to deflect the energy of the grab.

Four ounces (“si liang”) cannot generate enough force without the core internal strength provided by the key body mechanics of the internal arts (neijia).

Properly using the coiling leverage of silk-reeling involves practicing the mechanics so you can develop an understanding from a physical perspective. When Chinese masters talk abstractly about developing “rou jin” (soft) with “gang jin” (hard), it can sound like gibberish. But you want your Taiji to be “iron wrapped in cotton.” The cotton is the softness – sensitivity, relaxed strength, supple flowing motions; the iron is the core strength of the body mechanics that give the movements their underlying power.

6-9-Monkey-vs-punch5Another way to apply this (there are countless ways) is to have a punch directed at you and you intercept it and spiral as it comes toward you, leading it softly into a different trajectory.

When you see someone like Chen Xiaowang do a form and suddenly explode with fajing, you see a burst of power that is a perfect combination of soft and hard (rou and gang) – yin and yang. It is not really that abstract but it requires an instructor to show you so you can practice it properly, and then it requires years of corrections and practice to begin getting it right. I am still working on it, but I have been shown the way by some talented internal arts teachers.

I will shoot a video this weekend showing this principle in action. It will be on the membership website by Monday (Aug. 11, 2014) at www.internalfightingarts.com. In the meantime, if you have not yet learned the core body mechanics of the internal arts, I would suggest checking out my Internal Strength and Silk-Reeling DVDs. They provide the foundation that you need for this long journey. They are available through my website (free shipping all over the world) and for U.S. members of Amazon Prime, they are available through Amazon with free 2-day shipping.

Both DVDs are available as a bundle at a special discount price. Go to this page and scroll down for the special offer.

Both DVDs are also available in the form of Amazon Kindle ebooks through Amazon’s Kindle Store.