You are going through a furnace
Everything mental and physical
Is being tempered and molded
Everyone in the martial arts seeks to develop some type of power for defensive purposes. In the methods know as internal arts we find a curious concept called Yiquan (intention fist). Yiquan was created through the efforts of a Chinese martial artist named Wang Xiangzhai (1885-1963).
At its core, it seeks to develop what is know as internal power.(Neineng) which leads to Zhengti-jin (whole body force). Whole-body force simply means that to produce a kinetic force of high quality for striking, throwing or kicking, the body must be used as an integrated system with all parts working in synergy.
The basic training in Yiquan is called standing (Zhan Zhuang) pronounced Jam Jong. Roughly this translates as “stand as a post or tree” and is a method of holding static body positions while employing various types of breathing exercises aided by the use of mental imagery and the conscious relaxation of muscular tension.
Standing is used in China as a way of enhancing health and longevity and also as a way of developing whole body power for martial use. Any great idea soon becomes a “new fad” subject to much misunderstanding and misinterpretation and this is true of Yiquan aka Dachengquan. Wang Xiangzhai created a very scientific, non-mystical method for developing internal power with step by step methods that when followed correctly can lead to some amazing skill sets and health.
However today people become “masters” by having cards printed after taking one workshop, reading a book or watching a YouTube video. Yiquan is also subject to this as one can readily see with the legions of “instructors” purporting to teach internal power through standing around holding an imaginary ball. Without a thorough understanding that Yiquan is a complete system that begins with standing but evolves into systematic movement exercises, push-hands and combat applications one is not truly following Wang Xiangzhai’s model.
Basics of Standing
Holding static postures allows the practitioner an opportunity to fine tune balance, improve structural stability, remove stress from internal organs, increase the flexibility of both skeletal and internal muscles, and discover the ability to release unnecessary tension as well as using the mind to improve the health of internal organs.
Standing is divided into two categories: health standing and combat standing methods.
One should use the health standing methods first even if the goal is martial power as the goal is to learn to relax the body and develop a heightened sensitivity to alleviate unnecessary tension (song). Without this skill the martial abilities cannot be developed. This attainment is achieved by learning to take control of your own relaxation response through the use of mental imagery as in Li Family Drala Smile.
Li Family Drala Smile
In the Li family version of Yiquan known as Yixingong there is a method of helping to create deep natural relaxation (song) through mental attitude and facial expression. One cannot relax the body (song) if the face is tense. A tense face and neck spread the feeling of tension throughout the body reducing our ability to sense and feel the all important subtle feelings needed to practice Zhan Zhuang.
Li, Long-dao advocated what some call the Inner Smile. This is a part of Daoist longevity and healing practice that goes back thousands of years. There are numerous interpretations of this exercise that vary from teacher to teacher. For our purposes, we will use the simplest version. The inner smile is an expression of feeling and is not an external grin on your face, rather it is a feeling or sense memory that you call up of some happy memory or emotion from your past. You savor the feeling and allow it to flood your body with its essence.
It is best if this feeling is of some time and or place where you observed something in nature that made you feel at peace or content. Inner Smile should bring up a feeling of gentleness where you sense calm inner relaxation. Perhaps it was a time while you were watching a raindrop on a windowpane or dew sparkling on leaves after a shower, or trees swaying gently in the breeze, a new snowfall bringing silence to the forest. It is some event where you suddenly felt at one with it all. This is the feeling you want when practicing inner smile.
Inner Smile is a Daoist concept but it is very similar to part of what the Tibetans call Drala. “The basic definition of Drala is ‘energy beyond aggression’.” It means we find the wisdom of nature by observing it. When you invoke Drala, you begin to experience basic goodness reflected everywhere; in yourself, in others, and in the entire world. Experiencing a Drala moment you begin to view the universe as a sacred world. We use this Drala Smile during all phases of training in Yixingong (Yiquan) from the Li family.
The Drala Smile can help relax the body, however we must also learn to notice unnecessary tension in any muscles that are not being used to help us maintain our stance and consciously relax them through some form of visualization. In time we can begin to also relax the postural muscles holding us in our stance position if they are generating excess flexion not necessary for maintaining the position.
Combat stances are used to develop the whole body power (Zhengti-jin). At this stage one uses what is called sensing of kinetic force (Mo Li), these are very small movements that are generated through imagining an action while remaining relaxed and still. This type of mental work is not the same as visualization of an emotional attitude as discussed above.
Here we are using kinesthetic feelings of movement in which the body is sensing a feeling of stretching or contracting or reacting to some external pressure inwardly. When one can generate these kinesthetic feelings of movement in stillness the nervous system will be enhanced and correct bio-mechanical alignments will become natural.
Move Before the Move
I call these kinesthetic feelings the move before the move. This ability is generated through the use of your intention (Yi). What happens is that you decide on a specific action to make and your mind forms the intention to move.
With this thought there will be signals sent from the brain to the specific muscles to be involved. With the thought there will be some slight muscular activity associated with preparing your body for the action. Your stabilizer muscles will be activated even though you are standing still. In everyday life, you would not sense this activity as it is overridden by the actual movement. However, in standing you are relaxed, sensitive and remaining still with a calm mind so you can feel this move before the move as a sensation of subtle movement. In Yixingong we call this the feeling of dynamically opposing forces. This feeling is the core of sensing of kinetic force (Mo Li). Without attaining this Zhan Zhuang is just standing around waiting for something that never arrives.
Dragon On Guard Posture
Here is an exercise to try that helps produce the Mo Li feeling. This advanced posture helps improve the strength of your legs, stabilize your posture, increase physical balance, and provide the mind (Yi). It is an intense workout. It will be easier to use this posture after you have spent some months with the void stance (Wuji bu) and holding the ball (Zhi-qiu) postures to develop a high level of control over your relaxation ability (song).
The upper torso from the lower center just below the navel (Dantian) to the crown of the head (Baihui) feels light as if it is lifting upward to facilitate a better view, like a Dragon surveying the terrain. From the Dantian down to the soles of your feet you feel strong and firm like a tree deeply rooted to the earth.
Part of your weight is on the front foot gently bearing down on the Bubbling Well (Yongquan) point just behind the ball of the foot. The rear foot has a majority of weight centered on the central point (Pingheng Xue) cavity situated in the arch of the foot with a very slight amount shifting to the Bubbling Well (Yongquan).
See Very Far
This concept means to fix your gaze as if you had X-ray vision and could see through any obstacles all the way to the horizon. You are projecting your vision like a laser beam while at the same time your gaze remains relaxed enough to see everything up and down from the left to the right as if you could see forward and also in a 180º semi-circle from one shoulder to the other. Remember with this gaze to use the Drala Smile so as to reduce emotional and physical tension.
Reach Very Far
This is known as projecting the intention (Yi). Allow the upper torso to become relaxed (Song) imagine large balloons supporting your arms. From your shoulders to the tips of your fingers feel as if the arms are seeking forward. The feeling is as if they are like tree branches or roots stretching out towards the horizon. Keep the palms relaxed and slanted slightly upward reaching with the ten diffusion (Shixuan) points on your fingertips and the center of palm points (Laogong). You must not “push” the arms forward or lean, simply have a strong intention that they are reaching for something far away. You may feel as if being drawn forward. In the beginning, breathe normally with natural belly breathing. Stand until your support leg begins to quiver slightly then shift to the other leg and stand in the same position. Work up to standing on both legs for up to 5 min. each. Later you can employ Daoist reverse breathing if your instructor has taught you the correct method. Patience with these methods pays off. If you do it correctly you won’t be just standing around.
Here is a Yixingong (Yiquan) video showing the movement and some applications from our YouTube
There is of course much more to Yiquan or Yixingong than we can convey in this short article. For information on a complete course in these methods please visit our websitewww.thegompa.com or contact us at Thegompa@aol.com