Dantian Disease

One of the most interesting discussions from Internal Martial Arts Summer Camp was about Dantian* Disease.  Now, at first blush one is likely to surmise this is a euphemism for being fat.  But actually it was about the specific types of work related injuries internal martial artists get.  

Some weird image from the internet demonstrating a bulging dantianFirst we need to put aside the over eating issue.  Any athlete who trains very hard when they are young is going to consume large amounts of food.  Most athletes who fail to improve the efficiency of their movement before age 30, get too injured to continue.  An athlete who succeeds at improving the efficiency of his movement, must significantly reduce the amount of food he eats by the age of 35 or he will begin gaining a lot of weight.  While reducing food intake is certainly an act of will, it does not require an act of will power.  As movement becomes more efficient, appetite naturally diminishes.  It is quite simply the result of paying attention.

We are also not discussing body type here.  All the various body types have intrinsic beauty.

As a person develops internal power (neijin), several changes take place in the body.  First of all, the legs do more of the work and the arms do less.  Secondly the muscles that run up and down the back closest to the spine become stronger.  These muscles are balanced by the iliopsoas muscles which travel in front of the pelvis from the mid- and lower back to the insides of the legs. The softer, and more relaxed one is in the upper body the more efficiently, and effectively internal power is expressed through these muscles and other adjacent muscles as well.  

The problem arises because the particular quality of muscle that develops is very dense, it becomes progressively more tendon like.  The thicker and denser a tendon is, the more elastic power it stores.  Like a strong bow that is very difficult to draw, once it is fully drawn it has immense shooting power.  His type of muscle must be lengthened everyday otherwise it will put pressure on the lower back.

Of course the lower back can actually handle an enormous amount of pressure.  But over long periods of time, or after some minor injury temporarily makes whole body lengthening difficult, the spinal discs can become compressed.  This compression causes the belly, casually referred to as “the lower dantian,” to stick out!

Compression almost always produces some pain, but we have wildly different sensitivities to pain, as well as mechanisms for coping with it.  Most people can ignore minor pain for years on end with out any trouble at all.  Especially in a case like this where there can be substantial benefits in the way of power.

So, how does one fix this problem? this internal occupational hazard? How does one reduce a bulging dantian?  By simply and completely conforming to Daoist precepts; cultivate weakness and emptiness

*Note: The term dantian, is literally cinnabar field.  It refers simultaneously to a long list of concepts.  In external alchemy (early chemistry), the composite substance cinnabar was supposed to be refined into mercury and then into gold and other rare elements.  In internal alchemy, mixed qi and jing are distilled and then refined into shen (spirit?) which is then refined into xu (emptiness).  The term could metaphorically refer simply to a place where change takes place.  Tian by itself simply means a field, but the pairing of cinnabar with a field implies a large outdoor space where ritual transformation or rectification takes place.  In martial arts the dantian most often refers to the lower third of the torso simultaneously as a location and a function of centralized organization or coordination for the storing and releasing of force.  There are other areas occasionally referred to as dantians, for instance the head is sometimes called the upper dantian in reference to its role in inner alchemy.  Three dantians an upper lower and middle is also conventional, and some would even venture that the whole body is a dantian.