Fa Jin Power

The term fa jin, or fa jing, is commonly used in Chinese martial arts to describe a method of striking with power.  Fa means issuing; Jin means energy.  Naturally, there are entire books related to this area of martial arts.  I’ll discuss the physical mechanics of fa jin in this post, including the motion of the body, what’s required to perform it correctly, and why zhan zhuang is beneficial.

A Wave-like Motion

The motion of the body during fa jin is similar to an ocean wave.  The heel is the “external factor” that initiates the wave-like motion by pressing against the ground and generating force.  Each segment of the body (from foot to leg to hip, etc.) transfers the force through the soft tissue of the body, building momentum.  At the point when the momentum is the greatest, the last segment (the hand, for example) strikes the target, the entire body tensing upon impact.  The body then relaxes and returns to a balanced position, ready for the next strike or block.  This last step is critical because it prevents you from overextending, and because it enables your body to immediately respond to the reaction of the target.

A Crucial Factor

Fa jin is a method of striking that relies on the body being relaxed, with the exception of the moment of impact, during the entire motion.  In my experience, it’s best to start learning fa jin strikes only after your body has started to relax and your joints have started to open.  It typically takes a year or two for your body to begin to relax and open.  The reason it’s best to wait is because performing these strikes tends to create tension in the body and mind and, therefore, distract you from relaxing, which is ultimately what will allow this kind of strike to be effective.  Overly focusing on fa jin strikes could lead you down the path of external martial arts where tension is encouraged in which case a different method is required.  Conversely, not practicing fa jin strikes will not train you to deliver effective strikes.

Zhan Zhuang (Stance Training)

Zhan zhuang exercises can resolve many of the weaknesses that are experienced when training fa jin.  Standing in postures from which strikes are delivered will allow you to become comfortable in those postures.  It will align your body and enable maximum power to be delivered.  It will increase the physical and energetic root between your foot and the ground.  And, it will strengthen the connections between the segments of your body.

Like any technique in martial arts, fa jin takes time to become good at.  You have to develop a relaxed and coordinated body.  You also need to develop proper timing so that the force rolls up the body and into your opponent.  Stance training can help prepare you for fa jin strikes.

Tai Chi Chuan Essential #10

This is the final post in a series of ten posts that discuss Yang Chengfu’s Ten Essentials of Tai Chi Chuan as they relate to stance training.  The ten Essentials are guidelines that Tai Chi practitioners must follow in order to excel in that martial art.  Practitioners spend their lifetimes striving to adhere to these Essentials in their every action, even while doing every day activites, like walking or sitting.  This Essential applies to all internal martial arts, like Hsing-I and Ba Gua, not just Tai Chi.

The ten essentials have been translated from Chinese into English in different publications.  Naturally, this has resulted in variations.  I’ve selected the following two for the purposes of our discussion:

“Seek stillness in motion”

-Mastering Yang Style Taijiquan by Fu Zhongwen

 

“Seek quiescence within movement”

-“The Ten Essentials of Tai Chi Chuan, Part 2” translated by Jerry Karin

This Essential sounds like a Buddhist koan.  It immediately makes you think, “How can I remain still while in motion?”  Fortunately, it’s not a koan which may require years of meditation to comprehend.  It is, however, important enough that you should meditate on it.  This Essential does not refer to a physical juxtaposition.  It is a reminder that you are more than just your body tissue.  You are body, breath, chi, and energy.

This complexity should be capitalized on.  Don’t allow yourself to become focused on only performing your stances or techniques with physical effort.  Calm the emotional mind, breathe deeply, and let your chi flow.  Combine all of these aspects of self to reach your highest potential.

The translations of Essential #10 speak to physical activity where excessive movements waste energy which should be conserved.  Excessive activity stresses the circulatory system when it should be encouraged.  Such movements result in panting, exhaustion, and stress on the body.  Tai Chi uses slower, conservative movements to develop the body, mind, and chi.  This allows the breath to deepen and qi to develop in the most efficient way.  This, in turn, enhances physical performance and energizes the body.

A good way to test this is to run for 20 minutes one day and perform a Tai Chi form for 20 minutes another day.  Or, if you don’t know Tai Chi, go for a speed walk one day and a gentle walk another day.  After you’ve done one, or both, of these, compare how your mind, breath, and body feel afterwards.  I typically feel tired after a fast-paced exercise; I have to take time to catch my breath, and my mind is hazy with exhaustion.  I typically feel energized after performing the 108-posture Tai Chi, can breath slowly and deeply, and have a clear mind and am able to turn to my next task immediately.   

Notice that both translations contain the active verb “seek”.  Stillness doesn’t just happen (I can think of a few funny things to say here).  You can’t stand around empty-headed and expect to live this Essential.  You have to engage your mind and work towards it.

Stance training is the ultimate in physical stillness.  It allows you to work on energizing the body, to practice breathing properly, and to open the chi meridians.  When you do move, this training will allow your breath and chi to move strongly and not be overcome by distracting physical movements.

Tai Chi Chuan Essential #9

This is the ninth in a series of posts that discuss Yang Chengfu’s Ten Essentials of Tai Chi Chuan as they relate to stance training.  The ten essentials are guidelines that Tai Chi practitioners must follow in order to excel in that martial art.  Practitioners spend their lifetimes striving to adhere to these essentials in their every action, even while sitting.  This essential applies to all internal martial arts, like Hsing-I and Ba Gua, not just Tai Chi.

The ten essentials have been translated from Chinese into English in different publications.  Naturally, this has resulted in variations.  I’ve selected the following two for the purposes of our discussion:

“Linked without breaks”

-Mastering Yang Style Taijiquan by Fu Zhongwen


“(Practice) continually and without interruption”

-“The Ten Essentials of Tai Chi Chuan, Part 2” translated by Jerry Karin

The idea of everything, including movement, breathing, thinking, etc. being continuous is pervasive throughout internal martial arts.  The forms and exercises in these arts are designed to embrace change.  The Tai Chi forms, for example, exhibit continuous movement in an obvious way – the form flows no matter how slowly or how quickly you move.  The line forms of Hsing-I are filled with sinuous changes from one posture to the next until you run out of room and then turn and head in the other direction without pause.  The circle walking and spiraling movements of Ba Gua are even more obvious than Tai Chi.  Even strikes (the whipping motion of fa jin), where you would expect there to be endings and beginnings, exhibit Essential #9.  The strike goes out and comes back, only to go out again.

You may wonder if Essential #4 – “Separate empty and full” from “The Ten Essentials of Tai Chi Chuan, Part 1” as translated by Jerry Karin is contrary to Essential #9.  It is not.  Empty does not stop before full begins, empty leads into full and full leads back into empty.  There is no break.  The mind flows continuously and, therefore, so does the chi and, finally, the body from one state to the other smoothly.  The analogy of a flowing river is perfect for this Essential.

How can Essential #9 be applied during stance training?  Take advantage of the stillness of the body to focus on constantly and smoothly moving the mind, breath, and chi.  Feel the body settle, changing as it reacts to gravity, relaxation, and stress.

Everyone wants to know how often they should train?  Essential #9 holds the answer.  Continuously, day after day.

Essential #9 can be applied in everyday life.  Every action you make, or don’t make, and every interaction you have involves change.  When you have a conversation with someone, both of you alternate between speaking (full) and listening (empty).  If you apply Essential #9 well, your conversation will flow smoothly from one state to the other.  Pay attention throughout your day as you see this Essential exhibited.

Tai Chi Chuan Essential #8

This is the eighth in a series of posts that discuss Yang Chengfu’s Ten Essentials of Tai Chi Chuan as they relate to stance training.  The ten essentials are guidelines that Tai Chi practitioners must follow in order to excel in that martial art.  Practitioners spend their lifetimes striving to adhere to these essentials in their every action, even while sitting.  This essential applies to all internal martial arts, like Hsing-I and Ba Gua, not just Tai Chi.

The ten essentials have been translated from Chinese into English in different publications.  Naturally, this has resulted in variations.  I’ve selected the following two for the purposes of our discussion:

“Internal and external are united”

-Mastering Yang Style Taijiquan by Fu Zhongwen

 

“Match up inner and outer”

-“The Ten Essentials of Tai Chi Chuan, Part 2” translated by Jerry Karin

To me, this is one of the more esoteric and, therefore, difficult to understand essentials.  And, if that’s the case, how does one follow this essential?  It was helpful to read multiple translations in order to begin to understand this essential, as did putting it in my own words.

The “internal” that Yang Chengfu refers to is the spirit.  Essential #1, which involves gently lifting the head and keeping the gaze level, is the first step in raising the spirit.  The spirit should expand upward and outward.  This will make your body feel buoyant and enable you to take swift action as needed.  Like the engine on a train, lifting the spirit engages the mind, which then leads the chi, and finally moves the body.

The complementary opposites—inner and outer, open and closed, empty and full—entail such physical actions as opening and closing of the chest and hands, shifting weight from one leg to another (emptying and filling), stepping back while striking, etc.  They include the constant energetic chi changes from yin to yang and back, like yielding and warding off.  They also include the opening and closing of the mind as it shifts in response to the opponent, the environment, and the body’s needs.

When you practice zhan zhuang, pay attention to the complementary opposites.  Note which leg is empty and which is full.  Note which hand is empty and which is full.  Note your internal landscape, including chi and mind.  Note how your spirit rises as you lift your head.  Stance training is the ideal time to work on the ten essentials.

Memorizing and investigating each of the ten essentials is critical to success in internal martial arts.  Some are straight-forward in meaning and others are esoteric.  Tai Chi essential #8 is one of the more esoteric ones.  Most of us get distracted learning specific techniques or exercises and forget to study and experiment with the ten essentials.  Unfortunately, doing so leads to mediocrity.  To excel in the internal martial arts, continuously go back to your system’s essentials.  Obsess over them and reap the benefits.

Tai Chi Chuan Essential #7

This is the seventh in a series of posts that discuss Yang Chengfu’s Ten Essentials of Tai Chi Chuan as they relate to stance training.  The ten essentials are guidelines that Tai Chi practitioners must follow in order to excel in that martial art.  Practitioners spend their lifetimes striving to adhere to these essentials in their every action, even while sitting.  This essential applies to all internal martial arts, like Hsing-I and Ba Gua, not just Tai Chi.

The ten essentials have been translated from Chinese into English in different publications.  Naturally, this has resulted in variations.  I’ve selected the following two for the purposes of our discussion:

“Upper and lower follow one another”

-Mastering Yang Style Taijiquan by Fu Zhongwen

 

“Synchronize upper and lower body”

-“The Ten Essentials of Tai Chi Chuan, Part 2” translated by Jerry Karin

There is a saying that when one part moves, all parts move; when one part doesn’t move, no parts move.  This essential relates to integrating the physical, mental, and energetic aspects of martial arts, within each element and together.

Physical

The entire body should stand and move as a whole.  The entire body should be involved in each action, not just one part, like the arms or the legs.  This is not something that people naturally do; it requires training.  The longer you train and the more time you spend training in a system that promotes whole body integration, the more unified your body will become and the more power you’ll be able to generate.  People who have not trained to integrate their whole body use only one or two parts.  For example, their punches are derived from their shoulders as opposed to their waist or, ultimately, their feet.  This is what gives a person who is comparatively weaker than their adversary the ability to overpower him or her.

Mental

The mental focus, which can be developed from standing in stances, is critical to succeeding in this essential.  The mind cannot be scattered.  While the mind can be similarly trained while meditating, stance training has the added element of physical strain over time.  Although there can certainly be physical discomfort while meditating, it is not the same as standing in a posture.  Every time I stand in a stance, I’m tested.  Thoughts, such as “Why are you doing this?  Wouldn’t you rather move around or sit down?”, immediately rise to my consciousness.  They do this because zhan zhuang is difficult, requiring significant concentration and effort.  Have you noticed this?  I don’t notice as much of this internal dialog when I perform exercises that involve moving.  The body distracts the mind in these situations.  The encouraging thing is that the more you stand, the less of this internal dialog you’ll hear, until your mind and body begin to unify and share the same goal.

Energetic

The chi must not be neglected.  Relaxing the body means that chi can flow seamlessly throughout the body.  Focusing the mind means that you can lead the chi where you most need it.  Chi can then move from the feet to the hands in a single, unbroken thread to be used for healing or defending.

Use stance training to develop the body, the mind, and the chi.  Doing so will integrate these elements and synchronize the segments of the body, meeting essential #7′s requirements.  Notice the changes over time and practice regularly to get the best results.

Tai Chi Chuan Essential #6

This is the sixth in a series of posts that discuss Yang Chengfu’s Ten Essentials of Tai Chi Chuan as they relate to stance training.  The ten essentials are guidelines that Tai Chi practitioners must follow in order to excel in that martial art.  Practitioners spend their lifetimes striving to adhere to these essentials in their every action, even while sitting.  This essential applies to all internal martial arts, like Hsing-I and Ba Gua, not just Tai Chi.

The ten essentials have been translated from Chinese into English in different publications.  Naturally, this has resulted in variations.  I’ve selected the following two for the purposes of our discussion:

“Use consciousness, not strength”

-Mastering Yang Style Taijiquan by Fu Zhongwen

 

“Use intent rather than force”

-“The Ten Essentials of Tai Chi Chuan, Part 2” translated by Jerry Karin

“Consciousness” and “intent” refer to using your mind to direct the energy of the body instead of relying  solely on your muscular strength.  Those familiar with internal martial arts know that power is developed in these arts by first relaxing physically and mentally and by building chi.

Physical tension traps chi and restricts the flow of blood (even if you’re not convinced of the existence of chi, it’s hard to argue that improving blood flow is not beneficial to the body).  Physical relaxation allows chi to flow, sink, and permeate the bones, which results in the body becoming heavy and the bones strong like steel.  It allows the outer layer of soft tissue (the muscles, tendons, and ligaments) to lengthen.  This has the benefit of opening the joints and increasing their rotational ability (not a bad thing when performing grappling).  This further encourages blood and chi to flow throughout the body.

Mental tension prevents the body from reacting naturally to the situation.  Mental tension causes you to overextend and to lack fluidity.  When you overextend, your body or mind reach a point where you are no longer in a balanced state.  Your opponent can take advantage of this and, using your forward momentum and imbalance, pluck or grab you.  When you lack fluidity, your mind and body react with a staccato (choppy) tempo.  Again, your opponent can take advantage of this and block, strike, grab, etc.

How does this relate to stance training?  Stance training is the ideal exercise to perform when you want to work on relaxing the mind and body.  We often use more muscular effort than we need to to hold ourselves up and to move around.  Align your body properly and let the natural structure in concert with the minimum amount of soft tissue flexed to hold you upright.  This is easier said than done, which is why martial artists spend their entire lives practicing stance training.

The result of following Tai Chi essential #6 is a healthier body and mind, a deep, strong root, a steel-like structure that is difficult for an opponent to manipulate, and enhanced power.  Be mindful of this essential whether you are doing drills, push hands, forms, or zhan zhuang.

Yi Quan (I Chuan)

Yi Quan is a Chinese internal martial art that uses zhan zhuang (stance training) as its primary training tool.  Yi Quan (also known as Dachengquan) translates as mind boxing or intent boxing; Dachengquan translates as Great Achievement Boxing.  Yi Quan emphasizes mental techniques, such as imagery, to develop the mind, making standing postures ideal exercises.

Wang Xian Zhai invented Yi Quan in 1925 after studying various Chinese martial arts.  As most creators do, Wang Xian Zhai borrowed what he thought were the essentials from other styles to form Yi Quan.  You can see similarities to Hsing-I, Bagua, and Tai Chi, which also include zhan zhuang as part of their curriculums.  I’ve listed the UK Yiquan community’s syllabus below.  Note the similarity in the areas of study to those of other Chinese internal martial arts.

Zhan Zhuang – standing postures

Shi Li – testing of strength

Mo Ca Bu – friction step

Fa Li – release of power

Tui Shou – pushing hands

Shi Sheng – testing of voice/breath

Ji Ji Fa – combat practice

One interesting difference between Yi Quan and other internal martial arts is that chi is not discussed.  The theory is that chi is an intermediary and a by-product of one’s thinking and, therefore, it’s not necessary to discuss it or visualize it.  If you agree that your mind leads your chi, then as soon as your intent is engaged, your chi will flow whether or not you acknowledge its existence.  For example, if I focus in front of my hands as I push my opponent, then my chi will flow there.  This approach could be compared to external martial arts, like karate, where practitioners focus on executing moves without thinking much about what is happing internally.  Despite this approach, and like other internal martial arts, Yi Quan executes training exercises, which develop chi.  Because my background does include discussing and understanding chi, I use the word in this post to describe this style.

Yi Quan divides zhan zhuang postures into two major purposes: health and combat.  Postures that open chi channels, balance chi, and improve chi exchange between the environment and the practitioner are practiced for health.  Postures that build chi channels and direct chi to specific areas of the body for striking power are practiced to enhance martial prowess.  Standing in the martial stances allows each segment of the body to integrate and strengthen so that the whole body is engaged during each move during combat, as opposed to just the arm or leg.

One major benefit of stance training is its simplicity.  You do not need to memorize long forms or learn complicated movements, many of which require soft tissue changes to perform properly.  A beginner can easily imitate the physical aspect of stance training and begin gaining the benefits and rewards of the mental and internal aspects of stance training.

Instead of focusing on chi, Yi Quan’s emphasis on using the mind includes using specific imagery while performing zhan zhuang.  This imagery is used to create serenity and peace, allowing the mind and body to relax.  By emphasizing stance training, Yi Quan acknowledges the importance of developing a calm mind and whole body connections.

The following is a quote from Wang Xian Zhai which, in my opinion, sums up the significance of stance training:

“Great movements are not as efficient as small movements.

Small movements are not as efficient as stillness.

Stillness is the mother of eternal movement.”

The Lower, Middle, and Upper Dantians

There are three dantians (dan tian) in the human body: the lower dantian, the middle dantian, and the upper dantian.  They are significant areas of concentration of chi.  The lower dantian is the one most frequently discussed by martial artists and chi kung practitioners; however, the others are important too.  The following is a description of their locations and their function.

Lower Dantian

The lower dantian, sometimes called the real lower dantian, is the main storage area of chi.  It is located about 1.3 inches below the naval and about 2 inches in toward the center of the body.  The associated acupuncture point is located on the Conception Vessel.

In addition to being stored, chi can also be generated and disseminated to the rest of the body from the lower dantian.  This point is where your Original essence produces and stores Original chi (pre-birth energy), a type of Human Chi.  According to Traditional Chinese medicine, Original essence is the chi we were born with and have a finite amount of.  Although you cannot increase the amount of it, you can refine and conserve it.

After Chi Kung, Tai Chi, Bagua, Hsing-I, or any other internal martial art training, you should take a moment to lead your chi back to your lower dantian by relaxing and focusing on that point.  If the chi that flows to the extremities or the skin is not led back to the lower dantian, it will disperse into the environment and be lost to you.

Middle Dantian

The middle dantian is located at the solar plexus, also on the Conception Vessel.  This is where post-birth energy is produced and stored.  Post-birth energy is generated by the air and food you intake.  It stands to reason that the quality of air you breath and the food you consume directly impacts the quality of this chi.  Your emotional state and the amount of rest you get also affects the quality of post-birth chi.

This region is tied closely to the Triple Burners, which are comprised of the upper, middle, and lower burners.  These involve respiration and digestion activities.  The upper burner includes the lungs, which process air.  The middle burner includes the stomach, which processes food.  The lower burner includes the lower abdomen, which contains the intestines.

Upper Dantian

The upper dantian is located on the forehead between the eyes.  This is where your spirit lies.  Spirit in this sense means your life spirit, not your heavenly spirit.  The chi here is supplied by the Thrusting Vessel, which flows up the spinal chord to the brain.  You tend to lose your mental focus and emotional balance when this chi is weak or unbalanced.

Elements of Rooting

There are many elements, or factors, that impact the quality of your rooting ability.  Below are eight of the most important ones.  These are constantly in flux and may be influenced by your martial arts or chi kung stance training.

Center of Gravity

Your center of gravity is the balance point of your mass.  Most people’s center of gravity is just below their belly button in the center of their body.  Of course, this is dependent on body type: wider hips than shoulders results in a lower center of gravity; wider shoulders than hips results in a higher center of gravity.  You can lower your center of gravity by either squatting or increasing the dimensions of your stance (a sumo wrestler’s squat would be an extreme example).  Conversely, you can raise it by standing higher.

All other elements/factors being the same, the person with the lower center of gravity has the advantage.

Body Mass

Your body mass is equal to your weight.

All other factors being the same, the person with the greater body mass has the advantage, both because he is harder to move and because he can put his weight behind his attack.

Stance Dimensions

The dimensions of your stance are the distances between your feet in relation to your torso.  The further the distances front to back and left to right, the larger your base of support.  Try standing with your feet close together and then apart.  Can you feel the difference?

All other factors being the same, the person with the larger stance dimensions has the advantage.

Leg and Foot Strength

Your leg and foot strength directly affect your ability to maintain your position.  The feet and legs act like vices, gripping the ground.

All other factors being the same, the person with the stronger legs and feet has the advantage.

Chi Exchange

The yongquan pressure point in the center of the sole of your foot is the main transfer point for the exchange of chi with the earth.  This energy gate must be developed so that energy can pass freely.

All other factors being the same, the person with the better ability to exchange chi with the earth has the advantage.

Energy Channels

Chi flows through meridians in the body.  These channels can be developed and blockages can be removed.  Stance training (zhan zhuang), chi kung, and internal martial arts train focus on improving the flow of chi through the body’s energy channels.

All other factors being the same, the person whose energy channels are healthier and stronger has the advantage.

Amount of Chi

It’s logical that if you have very little chi, you will have a weak energetic root.  You cannot do something with nothing.  The constitution you were born with and the type of lifestyle you lead affects the amount of chi you intake and store.

All other factors being the same, the person with the greater amount of chi has the advantage.

Mental Abilities

Chi is directed by the mind.  Your ability to focus and the duration with which you can focus impact your ability to direct chi.  Visualization and breathing techniques can enhance your control over your chi.

All other factors being the same, the person with the stronger mental abilities has the advantage.

What is Chi (Qi)?

Chi is the energy that flows through and around all living and non-living things in the universe.  There are many different names for it: in Chinese it’s called Chi or Qi; in Japanese it’s called Ki; and in English it’s called Energy.  From a martial arts perspective, and, specifically stance training, there are three types of chi that we are concerned with: heaven, earth, and human.

Heaven Chi

Heaven Chi is the result of the forces exerted by the heavenly bodies.  The sun, moon, and planets produce sunlight, moonlight, and gravity, which affect Earth and Human Chi.  The weather is included as part of Heaven Chi since it is impacted by the heavenly bodies.  Its affects on Earth and Human Chi are numerous and range from subtle to obvious.  Temperatures that are low or high require additional chi to heat or cool the body.

Earth Chi

Earth Chi is the energy that surrounds the earth, including the large magnetic fields around the north and south poles and the smaller magnetic fields surrounding plants, animals, and even rocks.  This energy is controlled by Heaven Chi and interacts with Human Chi.  Humans exchange chi with their surroundings; some chi gung exercises focus on drawing chi from trees.

Human Chi

Martial arts and chi kung training focus on cultivating human chi.  Human chi is the life force that infuses every part of your body.  Like blood, it flows through the body via a series of channels, eventually reaching every cell.  In traditional Chinese medicine, chi is said to lead the blood.  It is what gives us life.

There are twelve major meridians on either side of the body through which chi flows.  There are eight chi vessels.  And there are many minor channels that branch throughout the body.  The meridians are often compared to rivers and the vessels reservoirs.  The reservoirs store and supply the rivers with chi in an effort to balance chi circulation.  Balanced and continuous circulation are required to maintain a healthy system.

Chi kung works to balance and enhance the chi in the body to increase longevity and improve health.  Its standing postures and moving exercises are designed around these goals.  Martial arts, especially internal martial arts, actively work with chi to improve health and enhance physical prowess in order to generate power for fighting and self-defense.