Wang Hsiang Zhai, (Wang Xian Zhaï) the creator of Yiquan, has been labeled by many as one of the greatest masters of Chinese kung fu in the history of the arts. Many stories are told of his legendary abilities. He defeated some of the best martial artists of his generation, including boxers, wrestlers, kickers, and hybrid style practitioners.
In the 1940s, he published an article in one of the major newspapers in Beijing, Shi Bao. In the article, he challenged all martial artists to visit him, and test his skill. As a result of the article he was challenged numerous times, but never defeated. He would routinely ask his opponents to pick a landing spot. Wang was able to place his opponents at that exact spot, following the first clash. This sounded like a tall tale, so I asked one of my teachers about this ability attributed to grandmaster Wang. My teacher is one of the few remaining students of the grandmaster. He confirmed that indeed grandmaster Wang had the ability to throw the opponent exactly where he wanted to. He was not a physically imposing man, and he suffered from asthma. Grandmaster Wang used to say that the fight had to end quickly or he would run out of breath. Most fights were over following the first clash. After a period of defeating all challengers, he allowed his students to accept challenges. His students were victorious in all encounters. Many of his students went on to become famous fighters and teachers in China.
Wang traveled throughout China in search of the best martial arts knowledge. He did this, in part, because he thought that Chinese martial arts had lost their edge. He blamed part of the problem on the master-student relationships, and the other part on teaching methodology. At that time, teachers were known for teaching only a few disciples, not teaching them the real essence, and taking much of their knowledge to the grave. Often the most talented students got little for their effort. Wang thought that all students should be taught equally. He viewed secrecy and mysticism as being significant obstacles to the training of superior martial artists, he believed in martial science. During his travels he fought numerous challenge matches, and discussed martial science with the best fighters. As a result of his experiences, he developed a system of martial arts called Yiquan, or Intention Fist. Yiquan is based on the idea that mind and body have to be trained together to get the best results. Central to his training philosophy, was the idea of developing qi (chi), or internal energy. Qi is developed from static postures, and then it is circulated through the body to be used in combat. Qi is developed from standing and sitting postures.
Sitting postures were developed because of the inability to predict when an attack would be initiated. Practitioners had to be ready to counter an attack at any time, whether standing, or sitting. In modern China, sitting postures are also used for enhancing health. These postures are currently used in Chinese hospitals to increase strength and develop more energy. Many of these practitioners are unable participate in the more rigorous practice of standing postures because of diminished physical abilities.
Finding a proper means of sitting support is the first requirement. At the beginning, it is best to use a large comfortable chair with lots of support and padding, an arm chair with a cushion would be a good choice. The full support will decrease the amount of effort and discomfort felt by the participant. In the initial practice, the spine and the arms can be supported in certain postures. As you progress in the practice, a chair without arms would work well; the spine may still be supported. At the more advanced level, a stool with little support is the best choice.
Engaging the Mind
In Yiquan, the mind and body must be engaged at all times. Most martial arts stress technique over mental work, but in Yiquan both are important. The mind is fully engaged while each posture is being held. The following two methods work well for beginners.
Breathing practice is the starting method for most students. The instruction is easy to understand, but hard to achieve. Simply follow the breath with your mind, and count the number of exhalations. The process will help promote concentration and relaxation. While sitting, pay attention to body parts that have increased tension. Apply your mind to relaxing these areas. Otherwise, just pay attention to your posture. You should look into the distance with a light focus. If your mind wanders, quickly refocus on the breathing. Do not try to stop wandering thoughts; simply refocus on your breathing when you realize that you are off track.
The second method is more advanced, but it takes more mental effort to achieve. This method can be taxing for practitioners who are sick, or with significantly decreased physical abilities. The method will become easier as the fitness level increases. It will help relaxation, and increase energy. Think of a relaxing scene, a familiar place such as a forest, or a lake scene. Place yourself in that scene, and completely experience it through your senses. Create a complete picture in your mind, with feelings, sounds, tastes, and visuals that put you right in the middle of the picture.
1. Sitting and Holding the Belly
Sit at the edge of a comfortable chair with both feet on the floor. The thighs are parallel to the floor forming a 90 degree angle with the lower leg, knees are pointing straight ahead, and the feet are shoulder width apart. The trunk is straight, rising from the chair like a mighty tree reaching for the sky. The head is suspended from above, as if being lifted by a string attached to the back of the head and pulled by a floating balloon. The eyes look straight ahead with full intention. The shoulders are relaxed, and the hands rest on the thighs with a relaxed feel. The elbows are slightly separated from the ribs. The arms and hands are rounded, as they cuddle a very large belly.
There is the feeling of gathering and packing energy into the center of the body. This is a great posture for concentrating on the tan-tien, or center. Pay special attention to your abdomen as it raises and lowers to facilitate breathing. (see photos on this page)
2. Lifting While Sitting
The lower legs hold a position similar to the previous posture. Both feet are shoulder width apart, with the thighs forming a 90 degree angle with the lower leg. Knees point straight ahead, and thighs are parallel to the floor. Both hands are lifted away from the thighs and are raised to the level of the belly button. The palms are facing up, while the fingers are naturally spread. The elbows are away from the ribs and further out to the side. There is the feeling of lifting a heavy object with both hands. The idea of lifting a heavy object does not increase the amount of physical tension in the body. The body should be relaxed, while the mind is concentrated.
This posture is more rigorous than the previous one. It creates more tension in the neck and shoulders. (see photos on this page)
3. Stretching the Legs and Holding a Balloon
Sit on a chair, with your spine close to the back of the chair. The thighs are still parallel to the floor, but the lower legs are now in a very different position. The feet are now wider apart than the shoulders, with the feet lifted from the floor. The knees are straightened making an angle of more than 90 degrees between the upper thigh, and the lower leg. The trunk is straight, and the head is suspended from above by a string. Both hands are level with the shoulders, as if holding a balloon. The palms are facing in, and fingers are relaxed and slightly spread.
Eyes look straight ahead, with the intention of digging into your opponent. The shoulders are relaxed, while the breath is smooth and easy. Initially, there should be more bend in the knees to make the exercise easier to accomplish. After a couple of weeks of practice, start increasing the extension of the knees. This exercise can be done any time whether at work, or at home. It is a great way to exercise from the sitting position. This posture is the most difficult of this set. Limit the amount of time you spend practicing this posture at the start of your practice, then build up gradually. It may take a few weeks before you can properly assume this posture. (see photos on this page)
4. Bending Knees and Hands on Lower Back
Sit on the edge of a chair with your weight evenly distributed between the right and the left side of the body. The thighs are no longer parallel to the floor, but have a downward inclination. The lower leg has also changed positions with a decreasing angle of less than 90 degrees. The balls of both feet touch the floor, with the heels four inches away from the supporting surface. The back of the wrists rest on the hips and the hands are relaxed and fingers are straight. There is a gap between the body and the elbows on both sides of the trunk. The hands feel like grasping very soft tennis balls. The trunk is straight, and the head is suspended from above. There is the feeling of the head and shoulders reaching up to the clouds.
Breathing is calm, smooth, and even. This posture has a relaxing effect on the body, especially if used at the end of a workout. In some cases, it is also used at the beginning of practice to prepare the body for the rest of the postures. It can be most useful in promoting relaxation to workers who spend many hours a day working on computers, or doing paperwork. (see photos on this page)
Method of Practice.
At the start of your practice, use the breath counting method of concentration. This method is easier, and allows more time to concentrate on the newly learned movements. Practice each of the postures individually, and take a rest when tension significantly increases, or fatigue sets in. If you find that you can only do one posture for a short time, then rest for a few minutes before continuing. With time your endurance will increase, and so will the benefits derived. Warm up by doing some calisthenics and stretches before starting the practice. Conclude by stretching and moving around in a relaxed manner.
After mastering the four postures, practice them in a circuit. Start with number one and finish with posture number four. Posture number four is useful for relaxing the body after the previous three postures. If the practice of any of the postures causes pain or discomfort, discontinue the practice, and find a suitable alternative. You will find that the quality of your practice may vary from one day to the next. This is normal since, not only are you using physical energy, but also mental energy. If you feel like stopping shortly after the beginning of your practice because your mind is not right, persevere.
After a few minutes of practice the world takes on a different look and feel. When you are feeling an energy drain after many days of continued and intense practice, take a day of rest. The next day should find you refreshed, and ready to continue. For best results, find a qualified instructor and learn the finer points of standing practice.
Yiquan practice is based on the complete integration of mind and body. Yiquan experts believe that practicing pre-arranged movements is not useful for combat situations. They believe that the nurturing of energy, and its circulation, are most important to the development of a good fighter. They also believe that this energy can help achieve great health, and relaxation. It is rare, in the martial arts, to find a practice that is both good for fighting, and beneficial for health.
Rene Changsut is a martial arts instructor and therapist. He has been practicing the arts for close to 40 years. Sifu Changsut has studied various martial arts, and has been practicing Yiquan for a number of years. He is the founder of the Portland Kung Fu Club, and has taught martial arts to all age groups all over the world. Sifu Changsut has learned from some of the best teachers inside and outside of China. Copyright © 2009, Rene Changsut.
Copyright: Qi Journal, Spring 2010 issue