Ice Water Steam

Internal martial arts, qigong and meditation often use the metaphor of water to explain what they are doing.  Water is one of the primary metaphors used in the Daodejing to describe the principle of wuwei ("Like water it does nothing, yet leaves nothing unnourished.")

A simple way to know if your standing meditation posture is correct is that all the tension in your body (ice) melts (water) and pours down and out your legs.  It is then possible to experience ten directions breathing (steam) expanding and condensing in all directions from the dantian.

In the Internal Martial Arts, taijiquan, baguazhang, and xingyiquan, there is a basic sequence which allows for natural, uninhibited freedom to reemerge.  There is no inherent order to this sequence.  It can all be learned simultaneously; however, it makes some sense to conceptualize the stages:

  1. Ice Man: Jin, and jing-- the revealing of our most efficient underlying structure.  This stage is characterized by unbroken power.  Continuous expression of uprightness, twisting, wrapping, whole body power, and opening and closing the joints is achieved.   While muscle tension, over extension, limpness, and collapsing, are all discarded.

  2. Water Man: The fluid aspect of the body is emphasized to the point of discarding impulse control or defensiveness.  This stage is not very effective for fighting, it is more defensive in the limited sense that your attacker finds nothing solid to push or hit.  In a push hands match the opponent may lose to a "water man" only if he/she makes a mistake, like leaning or exerting a lot of effort against something that isn't there.  Heaviness is achieved.

  3. Steam Man:  It might be better to call this one "air man" or "mist man" because "Steam" implies hot or under a lot of pressure, which is not the case.  In this stage the mind discards its focus on the body in the sense that movement becomes effortless.  All movement becomes unified and multi-directional.  Attacks become unstoppable.  Lightness is achieved.