The Internal Athletics
by Tommy Kirchhoff
The human race has some amazing athletes: we can sprint 100 meters in nine seconds; we can run 100 miles non-stop; we can bench press 1000 pounds; and we can become so flexible that we get jobs in the circus. But just about any 120 pound mountain lion can outperform the best human athlete in a myriad of physical feats. As a race, we are physically inferior to most of the animal kingdom.
The purpose of this book lies in the interest of optimum physicality and its application to athletics. It is my belief that the systems of training which offer the greatest benefits to athletes, the internal athletics, go unrecognized and remain covert. I believe this is due to the fact that the internal athletics have foundations in so-called "mysticism," and are therefore snubbed by the authority of western science and trainers alike.
The information I offer here is not that of just pure book research. While I attempt to convey this information with some humility, I believe I am uniquely qualified to discuss these matters.
My father was a champion sprinter/athlete in high school; he began teaching me about athletics when I was very young. My father became an M.D.(anesthesiologist), and explained physicality and medicine to me in specific western science terms. I was a high school and a collegiate athlete who trained very intensely. In different periods, I ran long distance, trained 3-4 hours a day for triathlons, and followed a body building regimen for many years. I studied kinesiology at the university level, and have continued my research and physical training since that time. I have been ski racing and studying the technique since I was nine years old. I have worked with many great ski racers and coaches, and learned a great deal about the sport. I began intensively learning and training in Fu Style Wudang Boxing from the world-famous Grandmaster Victor ShengLong Fu in 2003.
In this text, there are some underpinnings which come from classic Chinese texts or articles by internal arts masters; but my knowledge of internal training systems will be fairly specific to what I've learned from Grandmaster Victor ShengLong Fu.
To you, dear reader, I offer my combined knowledge and experience in order to pull back the grand curtain on something as mysterious as it is important to modern athletics. I hope to enlighten you with superb new information--
the likes of which you cannot simply find on the Internet or in the library.
It is my hope that this information piques your interest so that you may take the first actual, physical step into internal athletic training, whether it is to improve your athleticism or simply improve your health.
Before I offer any information on internal athletics or their application TO EVERY SPORT, I'm compelled first to broach the subject of Chinese culture, specifically Taoism (pronounced "dow-ism"). Suffice it to say that this culture, these people, their language, their lifestyle--
most everything in and around the word "Chinese" is radically different than the way we understand things in the West.
Not only are there multitudes of words and concepts in Chinese that have no literal translation; but "Chinese" is comprised of two different languages (Mandarin and Cantonese) and two accepted standards for translating them to English (Wade-Jiles and PinYin). If you do any research on Chinese culture (even to support what we will explain in this text), you will find the same name or concept spelled five different ways, and each explanation can be as different as red is to blue. Most words in Chinese have four different meanings, depending on the tone of the speaker (like singing notes). Most phrases mean two or three or four things at the same time because they are morphed from old, old Chinese proverbs. These points do not make Chinese weird. They simply illustrate how different things can be.
Regarding Taoism: In most simple terms, Taoism is an old-school system of thought primarily regarding the harmonious nature of the universe, and man's place in it; this system is both logical and analogical (mystical) as it emphasizes life energy at the basic level of everything (this is also referred to as intrinsic energy, internal energy, chi and Qi; "the force" in Star Wars is borrowed from the concept of chi). Through this approach, and with 7000 years to invent ideas and test theories (westerners dubiously call this "pseudoscience"), the Taoists have created many highly-developed system sub-functions to live a better life. At last in this 21st century, the West has access to these functions, and we're falling in love with them.
Chinese medicine like acupuncture seems bizarre and mysterious to a westerner; but many will acclaim its effectiveness. Feng Shui seems like complete hocus pocus when you first hear about it; but it does in fact make your house more comfortable. Every culture of the world seems to embrace the simple beauty and metaphorical balance of the Yin and Yang symbol (Taijitu); equally beautiful and profound is the symbol of BaGua. The list of Taoist greatness goes on, but we'll now focus on what could be the greatest technology ever developed.
The Internal Athletics are highly-developed systems of physical training borrowed from an esoteric branch of Chinese martial arts called Nei Jia, or the Internal Martial Arts (most prevalent and recognized are Tai Chi, Hsing-Yi and BaGua). Until recently, there has been no concept of internal athletics in the West; and it wasn’t until the turn of the 20th century that internal martial arts (Wudang) were even classified separately from the external martial arts (Shaolin) in China. This is due to the fact that families and small villages practicing Nei Jia were able defend themselves with "dragon-like" physicality and martial superiority. It’s only logical that because these groups had special powers in a dangerous place like warring China, they did not share them with outsiders.
The grusome, but well-documented story I will cite is this: around 1900 AD, a 26-year old Chinese athlete named Fu Zhen Song defeated a mob of 100 skilled and armed bandits all by himself, with just a spear. Prowess and skill like that can only be imagined, and quite obviously, he didn’t accomplish that feat in a matter of minutes (his level of physical endurance goes without saying). Compared to any of the highest-level athletes in the world, Fu Zhen Song would be a superhero among mortals. And there were many more like Fu who had similar ability, although probably less.
(FOOTNOTE - Inside Kung Fu Magazine; Bagua Journal; Chinese pub's)
Because internal athletic training systems come directly from the martial arts, they typically get pigeon-holed as "sport specific training." However, in recent years, famous internal martial artists have begun bridging the gap between internal athletics and other sports. Master George Xu has been telling people for years that the principles of the internal martial arts, like Tai Chi and BaGua, apply to every sport. Years ago, Master Xu began working with ultra-marathoner Danny Dreyer to develop "Chi Running." Dreyer and many of his students claim ChiRunning is a revolutionary approach to effortless, injury-free running.
Articles have surfaced and disappeared on the internet regarding the use of tai chi in athletic training for professional football and basketball players, Olympic kayakers, collegiate swimmers, equestrian, etc. It is well-known that professional golfer Tiger Woods has been practicing Qi Gong (translated, "chi practice") since childhood; Qi Gong is similar to tai chi, but far more simple. (FOOTNOTE - Wall Street Journal) The Modern Ski Racing Team has integrated these principles very effectively into ski racing.
As I venture forward with this information, I would also like to clarify who I am speaking about in the Fu family. Fu Zhen Song (1881-1953) was widely considered the most invincible martial artist in China; he was mostly revered as a BaGua grandmaster, but in hindsight, he was a great innovator of Chinese martial arts. Zhen Song is the creator of Fu Style Wudang Boxing.
Fu Wing Fay (1913-1993) was Zhen Song's oldest son. Wing Fay grew up surrounded by the best martial artists in China, and worked diligently to become his father's prodigal son and top student. Wing Fay received many corresponding accolades in his lifetime, and became the lineage holder for Fu Style. Wing Fay was also a great innovator, and well-qualified to reinvent Fu Style.
Fu ShengLong, or Victor Fu, is the oldest son of Wing Fay. Like his father, Victor grew up immersed in the internal martial arts, and worked very hard to become his father's top student. Victor resides in Vancouver, BC, and holds the current lineage title for Fu Style Wudang Boxing. In this text, when we speak of "Master Fu," we are referring to Victor Fu, who is alive and well today.
To understand the difference between external training and internal athletics, one should first consider common physical training modalities: weight lifting, cardiovascular training, stretching, "core strengthening." These modes are unrelated, non-integral exercises focusing on muscular tension/strength, agility, endurance and skill development/applications. This kind of training relies on knowledge of bio-mechanics (kinesiology), physiology, and "creating movement with the muscles on the outside of the body." Systems of external training can change suddenly and dramatically as trainers discover new modalities (exercise fads) and inject them into the mix i.e. trainers sometimes prescribe yoga or Pilates as part of an athlete's regimen.
On the other hand, internal athletics systems are to the body what introspection is to the mind. These systems encompass fully integrated exercises focusing on posture, pliability, breathing and actual self-healing medicine. This kind of training relies on ancient theories (laws) of energy & nature, proven principles of human physical alignment, and "creating movement using the mind to direct internally-stored energy or "chi" out to the extremities from within." Systems of internal athletics rarely go through radical changes because they have been precisely developed over many thousands of years. Most of these systems have become extinct or have been watered-down so much they are no longer very useful. Some systems, however, have developed to the highest-levels ever.
The most easily recognized difference between the internal athletics and "everything else" is that proper practice of the internal athletics heals the entire body, while weight lifting, jogging and other forms of "external muscular exercise" degenerate the joints, cause the tendons to shrink, and rob energy from the internal organs (causing sickness). External training is simply NOT SUSTAINABLE; MOST people cannot and will not lift weights or jog into their 50’s and 60’s. However, internal athletics practitioners can remain powerful, flexible and performance-oriented in their 70’s and 80’s, and live well to 100.
Several external athletic systems stand out for offering phenomenal skills to their athletes. No one can dispute that top ski racers are amazing; boxers and fighters are too. Gymnasts of many countries display incredible flexibility, power and grace with their bodies. High-level figure skaters are both wickedly powerful, and feather soft. Internal athletics offer any and all of the benefits of "external" training*; but also offer body skills, awareness and "physical reaction" of which most of the world is completely ignorant. As an example, "softness" can be seen when a figure skater jumps up into the air and absorbs the landing. This kind of softness is a byproduct of the technique, whereas internal athletics actually train the body for perpetual softness, absorption and sensitivity.
But again, find those athletes when they're in their 50's and 60's. On Yahoo! Answers, a woman with the handle "maigen_obx" posted this answer regarding a gymnastics question:
"I was a gymnast for over 10 years, not olympic caliber. I'm 37 years old and am in pain every single day, I never get relief. All my doctors agree that the cause is the abuse I heaped on my body during my gymnastics training. Sometimes I see a chiropractor 3 times a week. I take muscle relaxors and prescription anti-inflammatories on a regular basis, because sometimes that's the only way I can sleep. I trained for about 3 hours a day, 5 days a week. That's not enough training for a olympic gymnast. You seriously want to think about this; there are only a dozen olympic gymnast at a time. That's a pretty small chance for a lifetime of pain. No one tells you this when you're 15 and think you could never get hurt. You will get hurt as a gymnast; it's a just a question of how bad."
With the idea that there are significant differences between internal and external training, we’ll now take a look at what makes up internal training, and what kind of tangible benefits it offers
* there are just a few exceptions, i.e. the strength one gains from power-lifting cannot had with internal athletic training; this type of strength is functionally useless to almost every sport and athletics.
How do we start obtaining internal skills? The answer lies within very special, highly-developed movements. These movements are purely external when you are a beginner. As you practice them, your body will begin to move in a different way: from the inside to the outside. You will have aches and pains as your body naturally begins to heal-- this is because you will turn back the clock and begin to counter-act all of your bad physical habits. Of course, there are plenty of other pieces to the puzzle (like special breathing and special posture), but the special movements are the foundation of internal development.
In my first lesson, Master Fu said to me,
"More than 90 percent of all tai chi is bad. What it mean—‘bad,’ that when you see someone do tai chi, they don’t follow the principles. You don’t know the principles yet, but you can look for yourself if the tai chi is good or bad. When you look, look at the waist. When the tai chi is good, (they) always turn the waist. When the tai chi is bad, the arms move but the waist doesn’t turn, or the waist only turns sometimes. That’s principle. In good tai chi, the waist always turns."
I cite this anecdote for several reasons. First, athletes have the most to gain by practicing tai chi. There are untold skills an athlete can obtain from practicing Hsing-Yi and Bagua; but tai chi is definitely the place to start in internal athletics. Tai chi offers an extrapolated cornucopia of benefits and skills; but most importantly, athletes, and people of all ages need the reparative healing of tai chi to mend the entire body, ward-off injuries, and strengthen the immune system.
Next, I would tell you that the skills developed in the internal athletics are sheerly invisible to those with no experience. Even after years of training, many are unable to see the differences between his or her practice and that of a master. Tai chi classes are offered just about everywhere. With this information about waist turning, potential students and current practitioners have a simple but effective basis to decide who the qualified teachers are. This is very important.
Last-- and this is a primary concept-- waist turning is the key to your new body. Mental focus on the waist, and activation of the waist in rotational movements is the quickest way to begin developing internal control. Other tai chi teachers repeat "Relax. Relax. Relax;" or they suggest that practitioners "sink the chi." More often than any other piece of advice, Master Fu tells his students to turn the waist.
There are classic texts, well over 100 years old, that refer to the principles of tai chi. These are often called "The Tai Chi Classics" or "Quan Jing" (the tenets of tai chi). Several great masters have re-written these in different forms, but the principles don’t change. People can claim to be masters, teach some movements and spout out Chinese proverbs— but adherence to the principles is what makes the movements tai chi.
Fu Style emphasizes tai chi for many reasons; so we will primarily focus on the principles of tai chi. However, Fu Style is Wudang, which encompasses other internal martial arts. In what I have coined the internal athletics, there are principles and skills which are derived from tai chi, but also from Hsing-Yi, BaGua, Liang-Yi and Baji Chuan
1. Waist Turning
In the Fu Style system, turning the waist is the first principle. If you think about moving the body, you can turn your fingers or wrist and little else is affected. If you lift your shoulder girdle (scapula), your whole arm must follow it— but none of the rest of the body must move. When you turn your waist, everything follows it to some degree. In the west, we call this phenomenon coordination.
Many martial arts styles of Asia either include themselves as part of the internal arts— or they dispute the existence of internal arts altogether. This principle of waist turning should convey to you the kind of differences we are discussing here. All movement starts at the waist. All parts of the body must follow the waist.
Fu Wing Fay wrote a short document called, "How Does One Practice Tai Chi Properly." In it, he says,
"The waist is the lord of the body. The commands and intentions originate from the waist. The waist is like the axle of the chariot, and the hips are like flags.
The intentions originate from the waist? How can that be? Our brain is on top of our shoulders, not down, inside our core. Right?
The waist is the engine that makes the whole body move. Intrinsic to the nature of waist turning is flexibility. If you have no training in internal athletics, it’s unlikely that you have much range of motion to turn your waist. Even most yoga practitioners, with their great ability to stretch, have little range of motion when it comes to waist turning.
Waist turning is primarily a washing machine-like motion, with the spine remaining erect; this is fairly specific to tai chi. But because Fu Style is Wudang, the Fu School often makes use of the term "waist skills." Waist skills encompass waist turning, and a myriad of other control skills such as rolling, projection, shaking, snapping and swinging.
Rolling is a high-level skill from BaGua Zhang; it is much like it sounds, but the rolling happens at the waist. Projection is a fascinating skill; Master Fu calls this gudong. Shaking is like the washing-machine motion, but much more vigorous. Snapping is typically moving the waist rapidly from one position and stopping at another. Liang-Yi Chuan makes use of "swinging;" this is waist turning with acceleration.
The subject of posture is somewhat understood by many, but completely mis-applied by most. The nature of postural study and application is to align the bones of the body in the most beneficial way by manipulating the joints. The underlying problem with postural application is that virtually no person or system of widespread visibility has a complete, natural and comfortable system of posture for the entire body. While a few systems of internal athletics (like Fu Style) have the ultimate postural system I am suggesting, most tai chi systems have very different views as to what makes up good posture.
It is common belief that the inward curvature (lordosis) of the lower spine and the outward curvature (kyphosis) of the upper spine exist to absorb shock. The very thought of this makes us cringe, as the spinal column also houses the spinal cord-- this is grey matter folks; an actual extension of the brain. For most people, the spine does absorb a great deal of shock; that doesn't mean it's correct, or even beneficial. Why do we absorb shock? Most of the body can take shock very well, especially the minute but endless shock that comes from walking. The only reason to absorb shock would be to keep it from rattling the brain (many people walk with the head stretched out in front, absorbing the shock of walking with the neck). Really, it only makes sense to absorb the bulk of shock with something other than the spinal column, or "the brain." (I am suggesting the joints of the lower body here...)
At the heart of the matter, we must be aware that posture is a practice, and is generally not something we can perform all the time. By practicing posture, we create good habits which will allow us to hold the carriage of our bodies much closer to the realm of perfect posture without the substantial concentration required to actually practice perfect posture. It must also be noted that postural practice can be either static or dynamic. There is much to gain from mere "standing practice."
Fu Style Wudang prescribes a postural application for literally every inch of the body. The three main parts of Fu Style posture are "Hollow Chest," "Pelvic Tilt" and "Upright Head."
If the waist is the engine, hollow chest is the joinery mechanism that links up the structure of the body, and facilitates coordination. Generally speaking, everything must follow the waist; however, the upper body has many more joints than the lower body (consider the range of motion of each individual vertebrae, shoulder joint, shoulder girdle, etc.).
Fu Wing Fay says,
"When your chest is thrown outward, the chi will well up into the area of the chest, and you will become heavy on the top and light below. Your feet will seem to float, and you cannot stand firmly. If you can let your chest sink inward, you’ll also naturally push out your back. Not only will all illnesses be eliminated from the body and life be prolonged, but at the same time, whenever required, the strength of the whole body will issue forth from the back that such force will carry off all that is before you."
The chest must sink inward and the spine must push backward. This dynamically changes the entire structure of the body. The arms and hands are always in front. The back is raised and the head is held very high, almost as if it’s being propped up. In experienced internal practitioners, the back loses the natural curve that doctors and chiropractors are so fond of.
Master Fu says,
"When you do it right, the back is all flat." What Master Fu means is from a profile view, the spine and back are all straight.
We liken this to the nature of tall, heavy things, like trees. Big trees, like redwoods, are straight and true—not curved. When we build tall buildings, we do not build them with curves. The nature of structure is straightness. When the vertebrae stack vertically, and the spine becomes straight as viewed from both the front and from the side, the structure of the body becomes very strong in this way.
While orthopods, chiropractors, coaches and your mom will tell you that the above postural practice is wrong, pelvic tilt has seemingly become common practice in the world today. By rolling the tailbone under and to the front, we lengthen and straighten the lower back which takes pressure off the lower spine. This is prescribed for pregnant women, auto accident victims, runners, etc. This practice also places the weight of the upper body more onto the heals and dynamically changes which muscles around the trunk are stretched, relaxed, or tensed.
Postural practice in the internal athletics must always include the habit of returning to a position with the head straight. Most athletics do not address this habit. Athletes end up moving in a way where the head and neck are clumsy and disorganized
The famous professor, Mr. Cheng Man Ching, explained it this way,
"Xu Ling Din Jin is hanging from the top of your head. It is like a man with pigtail (at the top of his head), which is tied to a beam and his body is hanging above the ground. Like this, his whole body can spin. But if his head faces down or up, or moves left or right, then he cannot do this."
Everything else, in brief:
In accordance with the major three points of posture, there is specific, recommended posture for the whole body
Fu Wing Fay speaks of,
"Chen Jian means let the area of the two shoulder joints be naturally lax and droop down, and the two arms would seem to hang on strings. You should never use strength to raise your shoulders. If the shoulders are raised, then the chi would follow upward to the shoulders and create a condition of being heavy on the top and light at the bottom. All of your strength would be tried up at the shoulders, and your "whole body" would not have any strength. At the same time it would become easier to admit illness because with the shoulders raised, the internal organs will change their positions and move upward, losing their comfortable natural positions. If this is persisted for long then internal illness will certainly result. Chui Zhou means to let the two elbows point downward with the upper arms "standing" straight (perpendicular). If the two elbows are raised either to the left or right, then the shoulders cannot droop downward. If the shoulders cannot droop downward, then you cannot muster your strength in the area of the waist and thighs, and cannot throw anyone very far."
In an article in T'ai Chi Magazine (FOOTNOTE), Fu Style Grandmaster Liang Qian-Ya describes practice of "The Three Empties." These are hollow chest, empty palms and empty yong quan (pronounced "yong chwan").
Empty palms are likened to palming a piece of fruit, such as an apple. The hand is relaxed, but the fingers curve, and the middle of the palm is recessed.
The yong quan are two special acupuncture points located on the bottoms of each foot, just behind the ball of the foot. These points must also recess, and pull upward. In the west we call this the arch of the foot; but in the internal athletics, there is a lot more going on. The yong quan are sometimes called, "the bubbling wells" because when one reaches a certain skill level after years of practice, the yong quan feel as though they are bubbling up with energy. Also, when the hips and waist have any stiffness, this "bubbling" will cause the entire body to shake somewhat violently.
The feet are extremely complicated in anatomical terms. As obviously esoteric is the yong quan, the posture of the feet is very difficult to summate. The empty yong quan is important. Texts from many great masters talk of "the root" being in the feet. The great masters say that when you have root, the feet spread, twist and grab the earth as if they had roots growing down into the ground. Another simile would be if your feet could clutch the earth like an eagle does a tree branch.
William C.C. Chen (FOOTNOTE) 's article on "The Three Nails" points to an empty yong quan, and three points of the foot having a quality like a driven nail: the big toe, the ball and the heel.
Most internal athletics systems include a posture for the tongue. Because the jaw (mandible) is the only part of the body that's detached, posture of the tongue becomes very important. The tongue must push up into the hard palate. It fits very well there. If this sounds strange, it's because you are not familiar with how energy flows through the meridians of the body. The tongue is sometimes called "the little bridge." When it's pressed up into the hard palate of the mouth, energy can flow through from the neck.
Worth mentioning in Fu Style posture are the following:
A. Hips and knees twisted out laterally
B. Various positions for the wrists; tai chi wrists are not broken from the line of the forarm
C. Various postures of the hand: Piercing palm, plexus strike, single whip hook, BaGua palm, Bagua split (Vulcan sign), fist
D. Elbow in, elbow out
E. Chin in and chin out
F. Wrapping body
G. Heel down, heel up
H. Hollow chest and open chest
3. Loosen the waist and open the hips.
Loosening the waist requires rotational, multi-planar stretching, and deep relaxation of all the muscles surrounding the lower spine, pelvis, femur and even some muscles which are inserted into the upper tibia and fibula. In our experience, this loosening extends all the way down into the feet.
Opening of the hips requires simultaneous hip extension, hip abduction and posterior pelvic tilt. Hip extension means one is not broken at the waist, but extends the pelvis forward as if performing a back bend. Hip abduction means separating the legs laterally, as if one were performing the splits. Pelvic tilt means curling the tailbone under, and toward the front.
At the bottom of the spinal column, the weight of the upper body rests on the sacroiliac joints, which are in the middle of the pelvis. From there, the weight of the upper body then drops diagonally onto the hip joints. This diagonal loading is the cause of many physical problems, because muscles in this area must chronically flex in order to "stabilize" the upright position of the body. As humans, we try to remain upright.
Fu Wing Fay says,
" Yao (the waist) is the Lord of the body. Kua (the hips) is the hub center between the upper half and the lower half of the body. If you cannot loosen the waist and hips, you're body will become a stiff as a stick, and fall with one blow. If you cannot loosen your hips, the upper and lower halves of the body cannot turn easily, and your chi cannot descend to the soles of your feet (called Yong QuanXue). If you cannot "grow roots," the center of gravity of your body will not be stable. Cheng Man Qing said,
Yong quan (the soles of the feet) must have roots otherwise
the Yao (waist) will not have confidence. You may strenuously
No bones? This flies in the face of every bio-mechanical model in the world. But when you watch the graceful movements of a Wudang master, it seems as though his or her body is as soft as water.
Cheng Man Ching's quote about practicing your whole life without ever creating "roots" illustrates how just how difficult the internal athletics are. Finding a qualified teacher, and practicing properly are critical to progress. It is said that 20 years of improper practice can be worth far less than three years of proper practice.
Tai chi is an excellent beginning to loosening the hips and waist; but leave it to Fu Style to find the distant edges. The Fu Style system places a heavy emphasis on a warm up exercise Master Fu calls "Grinding Waist." This unconscionable, rotational, back bending, stretching, waist turning exercise from hell is one that professional athlete, Erik Schlopy, added to his regimen the first time he tried it. Olympic gold medalist Ted Ligety says he still practices it. It's one your chiropractor might tell you to stay away from. Net result: loosening of the waist and hips.
4. Soft and Hard
As mentioned earlier with the example of the figure skater jumping into the air and gently absorbing the landing, softness is an important skill trained in the internal athletics. Softness comes from learning how to relax; it is also developed by studying and adhering to the Chinese proverb, "Change 1000 pounds with four ounces." Internal teachers say that you must never "fight force directly with force." Instead, yield to force. Cheng Man Ching used to say, "Invest in loss." These are to say that fighting 1000 pounds of force with 1000 pounds of force is not the natural way. The softest things, like water, overcome the hardest things, like rock, because they are fluid and yielding. Even the strongest oak tree is likely to snap off in heavy winds, while a willow tree will bend and yield.
Parallel the concept of yielding, one must also learn to relax. To say that physical relaxation is misunderstood among mankind is to understate this in astronomical proportions. How does one relax? Vacation? Alcohol? A good book by a warm fire at the end of the day? When we asked a friend of ours, she said she relaxes by swimming. She puts her ears in the water and floats. This is a good idea, but still not the kind of relaxation we are capable of.
The human body harbors amazing amounts of tension, especially in the waist and hips. We manifest psychological anxiety and tension in our bodies. We also sit too much. High-level relaxation requires special movement, special training and profound study of this paradox:
You must simultaneously relax and concentrate.
Fu Wing Fay says,
"Tai Chi Chuan is a kind of profound art where you use your intent (mind) and not your strength. Our chi and mind (or intent) is the master, and our flesh and bones are but servants." Because of this, when you practice, your whole body should be completely relaxed. There should not be a single iota of brute strength remaining within your bones and sinews-- your blood adds pulses to bind your body. Then only can you lithely affect changes, and spin around as you wish."
Because tai chi is both soft and hard, the softness has to come first. Then, and only then, is a practitioner capable of "hardness." Hardness is an emission of power called "jing." If we liken chi or life energy to the gasoline which fuels the engine (the waist), "jing" is the conversion of chi to power. The first, and most sought-after variety of this power is called "fa jing," or explosive power. A small, seemingly weak, 75-year old woman (like Bow Sim Mark of Boston, MA) is capable of throwing a 250-pound man across the room with this kind of power.
Master Fu always says,
"The movement is very fast because of relaxation. The hand turns to Yang (hard) for a brief second, then must relax immediately back to Yin (soft) again. How you can tell if it's done correctly is to look for the recoil. To issue good power in the internal arts, there should always be recoil, not rigidness. The hand should bounce back like a rubber band."
If there were one route of training clearly missing in western athletics--
one objective that were so needed, so obvious, and just plain non-existent that trainers of the world should take a step back and scratch their heads in global unison--
it would be breathing training. Even if the most brilliant trainer in history had an epiphany and declared, "our athletes should learn how to breath in the most effective way possible," he or she would have nowhere to start and nowhere to go. About the best anyone has come up with is "Diaphragmic breathing." This is absurdly simple, and hardly worthy of teaching it to the top-echelon athletes of the planet.
To have an inkling of understanding of the internal athletics, you must open your mind completely and accept the reality, or at least the possibility of the "dan tien." You see, the dan tien is an analogical organ of the body. It is both the focus of Taoist breathing, and the underlying control unit of the entire body (when one turns the waist, it is simply a shortcut to turning and controlling the dan tien).
The dan tien lies below the naval, inside the pelvis. It's like a balloon that expands and contracts with breathing; it is also very dense and stable like a spinning planet with its own gravitational field. If you put your hand on the lower abdomen of a tai chi master, his dan tien is palpable when he breathes. If you cut open a cadaver, you cannot find it. It is, however, very real. The dan tien is critical in the storage of chi and the transmission of energy to the extremities in order to create movement.
Have you ever watched a baby breathe? When they inhale, babies' lower abdomen contracts. When they exhale, babies' lower abdomen expands. Why? Why does your friend inhale sharply when he recoils from your push, fearing that you might actually send him reeling? The answers to these questions lie within tai chi theory and the natural way of breathing.
The Taoists have been developing breathing technique for thousands and thousands of years. These days, it's called Taoist Breathing or Reverse Breathing. This type of breathing is infinitely more complex than diaphragmic breathing, and it takes scores of years to get it right (however, like all training in the internal athletics, the payoffs come very quickly when one even starts this kind of practice).
At the root of Taoist breathing is again chi or life energy. However, chi takes different forms inside the body, and the theory is very, very complex. We will attempt to simplify each of these segments into terms you can digest.
First, when a tai chi master exhales, the air in the lungs or "post-natal chi" is breathed out; at the same time, the pre-natal chi dumps into the dan tien, causing it to expand (exhalation causes the lower abdomen to expand). It's sort of like two connected bubbles on either side of the diaphragm; when the lungs expand, the dan tien contracts, and vice-versa.
When that same master inhales, the pre-natal chi in the dan tien squeezes through a portal near the anus and flows up along the spine, causing the dan tien (in the lower abdomen) to contract. Taoist breathing and chi flow require the tongue to be pressed up into the hard palate. In this way, dan tien breathing coordinates and drives the movements of the body.
Generally speaking, one exhales when extending the arms and inhales when withdrawing the arms; one inhales when rising and exhales when sinking; to lift is to inhale, to lower to exhale; when opening up, one inhales; when closing, one exhales.
Again in over-simplification, there are two sounds which coincide with high-level Taosist breathing: Hung and Haah. The sound "Hung" is made when one inhales. The sound "Haah" is produced when one exhales. As both inhalation and exhalation are done through the nose, these sounds are also audible through the nose and nasal passage.
6. Void and Full
In accordance with the profundity of the Taijitu or symbol of yin and yang balance, the parts of the body must also balance the yin and yang or void and full. In essence, tai chi practice normally puts emphasis on a 70/30 weight distribution for the legs, and demands infinite repetition of weight transfer back and forth. Thus, when one performs a movement, one leg is biased over the other. When the weight is 70 percent biased on the left leg, the left leg is full, and the right arm is full; conversely, the right leg is void and the left arm is void (empty). In this instance, the left foot (full) grips the ground as if it's glued there; the right foot is void, and can move swiftly and easily, pivot, step or kick.
Fu Wing Fay says,
"In learning Tai Chi Chuan, the primary requisite is to clearly distinguish between void and full. Void is yin and full is yang. Briefly speaking, when you practice Tai Chi Chuan, you must never place your body weight on both legs. Distinguishing between void and full can be compared with the example of the peddling of a bicycle. If the right leg applies pressured downward, then the left leg should be lax and follow upward in accordance with movement of the right leg. When the left leg presses down, then the right leg must become lax and follow upward in accordance with the movements of the left leg. Naturally, you can then go as fast or slow as you please, and your movement forward will not be impeded. But if you press with both legs at the same time, and the pressure is equal on both sides, you'll stop altogether and cannot move it all."
Void and full in practice emphasizes differentiating the left from the right side. That may seem simple, but left and right must be separated again at the waist. The body becomes a very much like balancing scales. If one stands on the right foot, the right leg is full, and the upper left half of the body is full. Accordingly, the mind must make it so by stacking the weight of the left upper half of the body over the right half of the lower body. Athletes can not make this visualization and kinetic balancing without special training.
Most Western athletics trainers will agree that coordination is more important than strength. Typically, coordination is a genetic gift. In recent years, the advent of what has been termed "functional movement" training does in fact develop coordination; however, it is still relatively infantile compared to the whole-body coordination developed in the thousands-of-years old internal athletics.
In a treatise on Fu Style Liang-Yi Chuan, Fu Wing Fay offers,
"The axle goes down the center from shoulder to pelvis.
His "How Does One Practice Tai Chi Properly" says,
"When practicing Tai Chi Chuan, the limbs and the upper body should not be allowed to move involuntarily. When you want to move, then the whole body-- top and bottom, inside and outside-- all move together like one family. Once you move there must be nothing that does not move."
This is where things get fun. When Fu Wing Fay says, "inside and outside all move together like one family," he is speaking about yet another principle of which most trainers have no consciousness: combined coordinations. Functional movement training may begin to coordinate the trunk with the extremities; but it's focus is much more simple than the concentration required for the "interior combinations" and the "exterior combinations."
Fu Wing Fay says,
"The tenets of Tai Chi speak of, 'you must have three combinations on the interior, and three combinations on the exterior.' By the three interior combinations, we mean that the heart and intention must combine, the intention and chi must combine, and chi and strength must combine. By the three exterior combinations, we mean that the shoulders and hips must correspond, the elbows and knees must correspond, and the hands and legs must correspond."
The exterior combinations listed here are somewhat easy to grasp. If one has whole-body coordination, the shoulders and the hips will relate to each other, using the "core" as the axle. In accordance with the shoulder/hip coordination, the elbows and knees will coordinate, and the hands and legs (or feet) will coordinate.
The interior combinations are much tougher to get your arms around. I will explain this to the best of my ability. By the translated words of Fu Wing Fay, who is quoting the tenets of tai chi, the first interior combination is that of the heart and the intention.
Our understanding of this combination is that the Chinese see there being two parts of the mind:
A. There is the passionate, visceral, autonomic side of the mind that is loosely translated as the heart (coincidentally, the rest of the world considers the heart somewhat the same thing). The example we like to give is when you are walking down the beach and you step on something sharp; your sympathetic nervous system suddenly does everything it can to keep you from getting hurt. You don't intend to let your weight drop or jump off the piece of glass, but your heart makes that happen. New western studies are suggesting that the "enteric nervous system" is the other brain, and that it resides in the abdomen.
B. The other side of the mind is what the Chinese call the "Yi" or the wisdom mind. This is the thinking half of the mind. The Yi has intention, or the will to carry out tasks.
These two sides of the mind, the heart and the Yi, don't always agree. The side that typically wins is the heart-- which could also explain a lot of the mistakes we make as humans. We want to do the right thing (intention), but our heart has a slightly different plan.
So again, the internal athletics exercise three exterior and three interior combinations. The first internal combination is the heart and the intention (Yi or wisdom mind). The second combination is the Yi and the Chi. This means that the wisdom mind directs the energy stored in the dan tien to move up along the spine and out to the limbs. Movement created in this way can be very powerful, or very soft. The third combination is the chi and the strength. The Chinese call the kind of strength developed with weight lifting "Li." Internal athletics do not subscribe to strength training; Li or strength is considered low-level and unsophisticated skill. This last interior combination suggests that all the inside work we do in the internal athletics must then coordinate with the strength (the Li) of the body. In this way, the practitioner becomes very powerful.
8. Continuous Movement
This principle is interesting. Of course, certain sports and training modes like bicycling, jogging and swimming demand continuous movement; but many team sports like football and baseball have down time when athletes are stationary, resting, or waiting to reactivate. Athletes should refocus their energy so that they are constantly in motion, even if the motion is very minute.
Fu Wing Fay says,
"One's movements must be continuous and never broken. In practicing Tai Chi Chuan, it is most objectionable to use one's after-birth brute force-- intentionally starting, and then as though you have come to the end, stopping-- after delivering one blow. In this way, you can easily be taken advantage of at the time when your new force has not yet been summoned. This is why in practicing, you should use your intention and not your strength so that in the stillness there is motion; and although there is motion, there is stillness, from the beginning to the end."
Clearly, Fu Wing Fay's example of "delivering one blow" comes from martial arts. But the importance of continuous motion cannot be overstated here.
(Wing Fay's reference to "after-birth brute force" means Li, or the use of unsophisticated strength)
9. Power of the mind, not power of strength.
For the uninitiated, this principle is going to seem just plain crazy. The power of the mind in the internal athletics is not clairvoyance or hocus pocus. It relates to and controls the calm, smooth, flowing energy of the natural world. This energy is like the stored or potential energy of a river. It starts high on the mountain in small rivulets, and gains power and intensity as it combines with other rivulets to become creeks, streams and eventually rivers. When we train the mind to control this energy, we are able to summon it to any degree at any time. To continue the metaphor, we can guide small amounts of "the river" to merely wash away dirt; or we can calmly open the floodgates to unleash devastating power.
Fu Wing Fay says,
"Strive for calmness whilst in action. In practicing Tai Chi Chuan, it is absolutely forbidden to leap about in one breath so one is streaming with sweat, and panting like a buffalo. One should use calmness to control one's action, using one's breath to control one's movements, and making one's movements correspond with one's breathing. Although you are in action, you are calm. The slower your movements can be made the better. When your movements are slow you can then breathe deep and long, and your chi will sink."
Fu Wing Fay's suggestions were in earnest. He wanted you to relax, stay calm, and tap into the natural, flowing energy of the universe. That energy is always there for you, but it takes special training and lots of practice to utilize it. Wing Fay suggested that you avoid the tense, laborious nature of external muscular movements so that you may find the awe-inspiring beauty of natural, free flowing energy.
10. Principles from the Sister Arts
What I have provided so far in this section are primary principles of internal athletics. I have focused on Fu Style tai chi, which has "flavorings" mixed throughout the forms from the sister arts, BaGua Zhang, Hsing-Yi Chuan and Liang-Yi Chuan. Here at the end, I would like to touch on a handful of important principles from the sister arts.
Across the board, each of these individual arts have very specific and difficult stepping techniques. Just to name a few of the Fu Style steps: tai chi step, swing step, T-step, crossing steps, stomp step, follow step, ripple step (or mud walking step).
BaGua demands the importance of circle walking. To experiment with this principle, simply create a circle roughly six or seven feet in diameter and start walking. Twist your trunk toward the center, bend your knees deeply, and allow each step to follow the outline of the circle. As Master Fu says, "It will change your whole life."
Also, Fu Style BaGua makes principle "balancing on one foot." Try it while walking the circle. With each step, firmly find your balance on each foot before taking the next step
Hsing-Yi translates roughly as "Form-Mind." This means the Yi or the wisdom mind creates and dictates the form the body will take. This is excellent training for the mind and body, as higher-level Hsing-Yi is based on the movements of animals. Swallows swoop down; monkeys leap; bears maul-- roosters have amazing skills for movement.
Hsing-Yi stresses the importance of "hard and soft" more than the other arts. A big part of this comes from sudden, launching linear movements that require recoil.
In this section, we will expound on the benefits of internal training (most specifically tai chi practice). What we are attempting to provide here is a correlation between the numbered delineations in the PRINCIPLES section and those which follow. While this can help you, dear reader, somewhat understand how "A + B = C," we need to emphasize that the internal athletics are a system; this means each part is related to and dependent upon every other part. As we discuss internal athletics benefits, it should be preconceived that each benefit cited does in fact come as a result of diligent practice and adherence to all of the principles. In essence, no specific benefit comes from any single principle practice.
It is also important to note that our discussion of benefits surrounds sports and athletics. In recent years, some astounding western science studies have begun leading folks to believe that tai chi practice is in fact the panacea (miracle cure-all) that the great masters have been claiming it to be; however great a health boon tai chi is to the world, the elderly, the sick, etc., this text was founded on the concept of improving athletics.
1. Waist turning is an obvious and dynamic part of most athletic movements. Swing a golf club. Swing a baseball bat. Throw a ball. Even walking and running require turning of the waist to facilitate gait. At the highest levels of performance, athletes physically express what is termed the Serape Effect; this is the coordination of the trunk with the extremities to create extremely fast and powerful movements. This is how a baseball pitcher throws a 90 mph fastball. The arm cannot create that kind of power and speed by itself.
Internal athletics requires the mind to control the waist, and the waist to control the body. We asked Master Fu about this kind of movement in popular sports. He said,
"Yes, they (the athletes) use their waist to make power, but they’re not thinking about their waist. That means they can do better."
Master Fu has said many times that the slow waist turning in tai chi practice gives the internal organs a massage. Numerous benefits could result from this massage, but one can imagine that the internal organs would function better if it were stimulated every day.
When coaches and trainers think about balance, seldom do they consider that the feet can actually grip the earth. In tai chi, this is called root. Coaches don't know about this addition to balance because it requires years of gentle waist turning to train the feet to both relax and to clench.
2. Development of proper posture creates many benefits. As balance is the keystone of athletics, we'll start there. Balance (or equilibrioception) is the range of stabilization and equilibrium of a body's center of gravity. Balance is primarily sensed through the detection of acceleration in the vestibular system; this is a complex system of canals and fluids in the inner ear. If someone pushes you unexpectedly from behind, the fluids in the "labyrinth" slosh backward, and let you know that you are suddenly accelerating forward. This allows you to rapidly recalibrate and attempt to regain whatever balance you are able (based on your body).
The first point made in both Yang Cheng Fu's, "10 Essential Points of Tai Chi" and in Fu Wing Fay's "How Does One Practice Tai Chi Properly" is that of straightening the head. Look at the people around you. Look at photos. Look in the mirror. How straight is your head? How straight are people's heads in general? When the head defaults to an upright, straight, and plumb posture, such that it is"propped-up" comfortably on the neck, the vestibular system will have the greatest "control" baseline to begin its calibrations for acceleration. Also, relaxed posture of the neck and shoulders will allow more blood (and chi) to flow to the inner ear, allowing greater sensitivity to linear or rotary acceleration.
Internal athletic posture also creates a superior athletic stance. The weight of the body stacks much more effectively on the bones, tendons and ligaments, and allows the sympathetic nervous system to begin relying on this structure. In doing so, the so-called "stabilizing" muscles of the body begin to relax, allowing the agonist muscles to perform much more efficiently.
Static postural practice develops a more finely-tuned sense of equilibrium and the earth's gravity; dynamic postural practice mobilizes the joints to perform specialized movements which enhance posture and body skill.
As mentioned earlier, shock absorption may not be the best use of the spine. With proper posture (also sensitivity, softness/absorption, and a connectedness to the ground), one can absorb the same shock with the feet, ankles, knees and hips; then the shock is mostly dissipated before it reaches the spine.
With internal training, the power of the waist is immense. When one can use the power of the waist and couple it with posture, this power is transmitted through the integrity of the body’s structure, and can be guided or projected any direction. In essence, the body can be driven like a vehicle. This is a boon to any and every sport.
When one considers that all of the cells of the immune system are derived from the bone marrow, it's easy to imagine that weight bearing exercise strengthens the bones and in turn, the immune system. Tai chi and the internal athletics stack the body's weight optimally on the bones; it also adds the element of gentle twisting. The great masters say that when one unblocks the flow of "the one chaotic chi" through the body, it strengthens the bones to the point that they become unbreakable. Every athlete needs the strongest bones and immune system he or she can obtain.
3. Practice of tai chi and the internal athletics loosens the waist and hips. Consider to what degree you stand upright. Think about your parents, or grandparents, or someone very elderly. As we get older, the tension we harbor in the waist and hips eventually causes us to chronically bend over and take smaller steps; thus, we become stiffer and stiffer, until we no longer have very much balance. By loosening the waist and hips, one increases his range and control of motion such that his body better facilitates the autonomic responses of the balancing mechanisms; thus, better balance.
As the waist and hips become more supple, the heaviest, most dense part of the body becomes more controllable. Westerners call this "the core." When one has posture, which creates skeletal structure, AND can control the core (or center of gravity, or dan tien), one can move about very skillfully. This is why we call control, efficiency, agility, power, speed, and flexibility "body skills."
(FOOTNOTE) A somewhat recent western study was done to show that western balance training techniques are as good as tai chi for improving balance. That one really strikes a funny bone. Somehow, tai chi became a standard for high-level balance training, and someone (NAME) decided his balance training regimen was just as good.
4. Most athletes need soft training more than hard training. First, athletes need to become supple, absorbent, and relaxed. For most athletes, speed will be the most sought after gain from relaxation training. What athletes would not expect is "ting jing," or the ability to "listen." The slow, precise movements of tai chi require softness, relaxation and concentration. This creates a dynamic environment for enhancing tactile sensitivity and awareness. By awareness, we mean mental acuity, and proprioception or consciousness of one's own body, mood, and that contextual world around him
Contained within the benefit of awareness lies a real jewel. Somehow, with developed awareness comes a sense that time has slowed down. This could be hard to believe, but many internal athletics students have reported this same experience. Activities that happen very fast, like ski racing or fighting, seem to happen more slowly. An athlete seemingly gets more time to react, and react properly. With more body skill and body awareness, accuracy is increased and mistakes are reduced. With softness and relaxation, an athlete has more speed to perform a movement or technique correctly and with the correct timing.
Hardness is just as important as softness; however, softness needs to be obtained before hardness can be understood or applied. Hardness can come in many forms, but the most common is that of fa jing power. Fa jing is the explosive movement that coordinates mood, intention, breath and the body with what is called the one chaotic chi. In most fa jing applications, the body must be soft and relaxed; then the hard fa jing comes very quickly, followed by an instantaneous reverse back to soft.
Hardness can also be considered fullness (yang). Energy can be transmitted more like that of a bulldozer-- slow and steady, but "full" and unstoppable. Hardness can also be concentrated in the dan tien. If you have the chance, Google "Wang Shujin." Master Wang was an internal martial arts grandmaster who seemingly looked overweight. The guy could move like a fleeting sparrow, and he could take repeated blows to the abdomen from just about anyone without any sign of pain or fatigue. At the same time, Master Wang was incredibly soft.
5. Taoist Breathing and posture are lockstepping principles. Proper breathing is a major component to developing posture, and posture facilitates proper breathing. So the benefits of toaist breathing are the same as those of posture, which in turn create superior efficiency of movement. This is such that an athlete will deplete his energy stores much slower than if he were tense and breathing erratically.
Additionally, proper breathing develops serious cardiovascular endurance as termed by western athletics. As cited with the story of Fu Zhen Song defeating 100 bandits by himself, high-level internal athletes can move about vigorously for long periods of time, without even needing to breathe through their mouths. The long, slow, controlled breaths of a master theoretically compress and store in the dan tien, allowing him to call upon these reserves whenever he needs them. I liken deep Taoist breathing to saturating the lungs with oxygen.
6. Practice of the Void and Full Principle is important to proprioception, or the development of sensing the location of the body's parts. When one can visualize the relationships and differences between left and right, the awareness of where the limbs lie, and the biofeedback from those extremities is greatly heightened. Because of this, the kinesthetic sense (of movement) and the biofeedback of such more acutely signals to the athlete how much or how little motion he has, either in certain body locations or as a whole.
Void and full is a big facilitator of waist rotation. When an athlete is keenly aware of left and right, rotation of the waist comes much more easily. Easy turning of the waist facilitates control, speed and power in nearly every athletic movement
By coordination, we mean the sum of the parts of the whole body move together as one unit; no parts antagonize the movements of any other parts. This is the opposite of muscle isolation i.e. strength training. Most trainers and athletes agree that coordination is more important than strength. For this reason, the best athlete is not always the biggest, strongest athlete.
A coordinated athlete uses his body more efficiently. So when he moves or applies force, the movement is more graceful, more balanced; and the force he commands is amplified because his muscles fire more evenly and sequentially than someone less coordinated. The coordinated athlete can perform movements with fewer mistakes in regards to "form." This allows him to run faster, jump higher, throw farther, and perform more consistently.
Coordination in the internal athletics is very specific, and requires concentrated training. The hips and the shoulders are the four corners of the trunk; when the hips correspond with the shoulders, there is far less twisting (in general, beginner-level coordination training should eliminate twisting of the trunk; BaGua develops twisting power, but it is much higher level than tai chi). With less twisting, the body will have more functional coordination.
The same is true of the knees corresponding with the elbows, and the hands corresponding to the feet. This type of training begins as visualization; but later, when these "exterior combinations" are manifested in the body, an athlete will command "whole body power."
Because the mind is the most powerful element of the body, there must be no conflict between one's mood and one's intention. When the heart (emotional mind) and the Yi (wisdom mind) combine, you are of one mind and you will have no internal conflict. With no internal conflict, you will not hesitate and your movements will have poise, power, grace and follow through.
Chi is life energy; it's like gasoline for the body. The mind is like the spark plug to ignite the chi. When they meet, the resulting fire is called jing, or kinetic energy. When the mind and the chi combine, you will direct your body to carry out movements exactly the way you intend. So intention is very, very important.
The final coordination involves strength-- the so-called unsophisticated power tauted by so many in the west. When the shoulders and hips combine, the elbows and knees combine, the hands and feet combine, the heart and wisdom mind combine and the mind and chi combine, a physical coordination can exist such that there is no corresponding concept in the west. When all of these things combine, and then coordinate with an athlete's strength, this is called whole body coordination. This kind of coordination is unsurpassed.
It is unfortunate that we mention the "Yi" so late in this section. We must however ensure that you, dear reader, understand its importance. The "Yi" or the wisdom mind is the keeper of intention. After the Heart (mood/emotion) and the Yi hash it out, the Yi owns is the mechanism to decide to "do or don't do."
Intention can be spontaneous, or premeditated. Premeditation of movement could be very time consuming--
the constant ponder of how you will move when the pressure of performance is upon you can eat up day after day after day. But with concentrated, relaxed practice of both the internal athletics and sport specific training, premeditation of movement comes naturally. Then spontaneous intention of movement becomes formulated and consistent, especially in the face of performance pressure. Your intention will make your body perform.
8. Continuous Movement
Practice of continuous movement keeps an athlete from having dead spots in his movement. He is at all times, ready for action and/ or reaction. Imagine a tennis match between two greats. While one player prepares to serve the ball, and then subsequently serves the ball, consider what the other player is doing. Does he stand there, perfectly still, waiting to gauge and then witness the trajectory of the ball? Or does he move, and move, and move, bouncing on the balls of his feet, shifting back and forth, regripping his racquet? Continuous movement prepares the athlete for the next melee. An object at rest tends to stay at rest; so when an athlete rests inside a dead spot, his reaction will be much slower.
Research shows (FOOTNOTE) that repetitive exercise is beneficial to sleeping. Most forms of repetitive exercise are continuous movements; there would be no logical way to separate the two. So practice of continuous movements can also help you sleep.
9. Power of the mind, not power of strength
The internal athletics emphasize calmness, and adamantly reject the use of brute strength (we're contrasting brute strength to the coordinated use of strength as a final combination). Intrinsically, brute strength pits force against force (or some object of resistance); the power of the mind intrinsically implies skill. Like coordination, high-level skill always beats out brute strength when it comes to performance.
When we use the power of the mind and the skill we develop, time seems to slow down. We are sure the high-level of awareness developed in the internal athletics comes from posture, relaxation, etc.; but certainly, when we combine awareness with skill, the mind has more time to calculate, react, re-stabilize, and keep performing.
When one can relax, stay calm, hold proper posture comfortably, and turn the waist, the chi will sink down. First, it will sink to the dan tien, and collect there. Later, the chi will sink down to the soles of the feet. By using the power of the mind to develop body skill, one will become highly attuned to the gravity of the earth; he or she will develop an amazing relationship with gravity, and use it to move. This relationship and use of gravity lends serious stability and balance.
10. BaGua and Hsing-Yi principles
Each of the Wudang sister arts has several different kinds of stepping. Each of these kinds of steps develops speed and accuracy of weight transfer, and also awareness of "void and full" (left and right)
Most of these steps are demanding of opening the hips. The stomp step will teach the practitioner how to pull power from the earth; the follow step trains accuracy in weight transfer, and controlling the dan tien; the ripple step or "mud walking step" is the most difficult step in the world...
Because Fu Style Wudang is a complete system, the skills and posture from one of these martial arts blends smoothly with all the others. So while tai chi develops whole-body coordination, Bagua does too, but it has much more bending, twisting and rotational range of motion. It also demands rising and sinking.
Circle walking is primary in Bagua. Circle walking does many things at once. It will stretch and loosen the waist and hips; it will develop a lower, more stable stance; it will develop coordination in twisting and bending; it will strengthen the equilibrioception (Fu Style Bagua employs a lot of spinning).
Hsing-Yi develops incredibly powerful and coordinated movements with it's special stepping. In particular, the feet, ankles and calves become highly-trained in order to fire sequentially in the proper order, and to re-center and balance the body.
Hsing-Yi also develops visualization, as each of the five elemental fists and each of the 12 animal sets require intention to mimic its special properties.