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(8 pages total)

Page 3 - Finding Qi in Internal Martial Arts

Liu Men-Gen instructs Dave Phelps in Beijing in finer points of neutralizing force.

Realistic self-defense aspects of the internal art is essential. Liu Men-Gen instructs Dave Phelps in Beijing in finer points of neutralizing force.


As briefly introduced above, today, in both Asia as well as in the West, too many internal martial art teachers tend to be drawn either to the pole of the physical-mechanical model or the soft-and-sensitive energy model. A practitioner of the first type embraces physical mechanics and structure. Often, while demonstrating muscular control, power, and strength, this type of teacher places minimal attention, if any, to the development of sensitivity methods. While downplaying the mystical aspects of the ­martial arts, this point of view sees the answer to the puzzle as pure structure, mechanical leverage, alignment and technique. I do not believe that this approach, standing on its own, does justice to the uncanny and elusive nature of soft power arts. This type of power has been well documented in the record of many famous ­masters of the twentieth century who had the ability to lightly touch and defeat an opponent without recourse to physical tension, nor over reliance on structure and mechanics.

Examples from the other pole, one that emphasizes extreme softness, today dominate the internal arts, especially in taijiquan (tai chi chuan). Those that subscribe to this model often minimize or eliminate solid structure mechanics, and even the importance of self-defense ­ability in the search for the truth of the inner arts.
The author's late teacher demonstrates the exercise

The author's late teacher demonstrates the exercise around the time of his 86th birthday.

It is not difficult to find examples of this approach in the parks in China or taiji new age circles in the West. Practitioners who are under the gravitational influence of this pole tend to eliminate or disavow what they consider the aggressive methods of the more physical and external approaches, which are replaced by soft methods and sensitivity. In some cases practitioners of this type will, in a public forum, ­criticize a teacher or method that promotes the more physical and practical self-defense side for suggesting that the arts be considered useful for self-defense. When pressed, this type of practitioner will claim that qualities such as lightness (and of course, non-competition), will lead the aspirant to knowledge of self, attainment one day of the ultimate level of self-defense, while perhaps even finding the Dao along the way.

Based on 35 years of experience, I've come to the conclusion that both sides in this argument are rightand wrong. One needs both strong mechanics and good sensitivity to develop real internal power. The best approach is one that accommodates both poles: the physical/ mechanical with the light, sensitive, and even the mystical side. In my experience, the essence of the secret lies in this middle ground where electric soft energy methods merge with the hard reality of physical mechanics. This is the message I find in the perennial Daoist icon of the phenomenon of the universe: that strange, yet fascinating symbol of the primordial ­co-mingling, the interplay of opposing primal forces of the yin and yang diagram.

A balanced approach that merges the two poles is more than philosophy, it is the application of yogic principles developed by Daoist alchemists long ago. It is based on a fundamental idea that a tremendous energy may be expressed when conditions are right and opposing poles merge. It is the key to the puzzle of internal power that is activated by merging physical mechanics with internal energy. But, before we look at some examples of how and when the poles merge, let us consider aspects of them separately.


Pole I: Principles of physical mechanics

The first pole involves physical mechanics. It applies toward what is real, concrete and mechanical to the internal arts. This aspect involves: 1) learning efficiency and mastering hidden (unseen) leverage, 2) attaining root, the art of optimizing strength and effect by correct alignment in relation to the ground, and 3) learning to release, instead of forcing or pushing power (similar to the way a star pitcher throws a baseballa practice involving a totally interconnected spring-like release). These are all very important, but only one side of training. The other is more obscure and difficult to describe.


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