4 stages of Qi

George Xu has simplified his explanation of the basic process of making martial arts internal.

First there is External-Internal, which means that the jing and qi are mixed.  Most martial arts use this method to great effectiveness.  It is high quality external martial arts-- muscles, bones and tendons become thick like chocolate.

Second is Internal-External, most advanced taijiquan, xingyiquan, and baguazhang practitioners get stuck here.  It means that the body is completely soft and sensitive.   While power is constantly available, the yi (mind/intent) is trained to never go against the opponent's force, so that when this kind of practitioner issues power it is in the opponent's most vulnerable place (in friendly practice it is often used to throw the opponent to the ground).  Unfortunately, if the opponent gives no opening there is no way to attack.  Also, at the moment of attack all jin, no matter how sneaky or subtle, becomes vulnerable to a counter attack.

The third is Pure-Internal, this is very rare.  All power is left in a potential state.  Because there is no jin, one is not vulnerable to counter attack. To reveal this aspect of a practitioner's true nature requires completely relaxing the physical body so that jing and qi distill from one another.  The body becomes like a heavy mass, like a bag of rice, Daoists call it the flesh bag.  Then one must go through the four stages of qi:

  1. Qi must go through the gates.  The most common obstacle to this is strength, either physical, psychological, or based in a world-view.  After discarding strength the shoulders must be drawn inward until they unify with the dantian.  The same is true for the legs; however, the most common obstacle to qi passing freely through the hip gates is too much qi stored in the dantian.  Qi must be distributed upwards and released in order for it to descend.

  2. Qi must conform to the rules of Yin-Yang.  As much qi as goes into the limbs must simultaneously go back into the torso.

  3. The qi must become lively, shrinking expanding and spiraling.  (This is what I'm working on.)

  4. This one in Chinese is Hua--to transform, like ice changing into water and then steam.  But George Xu prefers to translate in as melt the qi.


Personal Update:  I'm going on a classical music only fast.

Sandwich vs. Sausage

In stillness jing and qi differentiate. Jing, in this case, is a feeling of underlying structure particularly as it relates to the limbs when they are relaxed--but also a feeling of continuous unified connection of the four limbs through the torso (via the four gates at the hips and shoulders).
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It's Good for Your Internal Organs

The idea that something is good for your internal organs gets thrown around Chinese culture all the time.  Usually it is done with little understanding.  For instance I heard the other day that Eight Silken Brocade Qigong is good for your internal organs.

Putting aside for the moment that qigong, as a category, was invented in the 20th Century, Eight Silken Brocade is obviously a muscle tendon style of martial arts warm up of great antiquity (possibly 800 years old).  It involves stretching, twisting, sinking and lengthening.  One of the "Eight" is standing in a horse stance while pulling an imaginary bow.  It is clearly a form of gongfu.

None of this precludes it being good for your organs, as I will explain, but categorizing it as "Qigong for the Organs" is going too far.

Traditionally in China, and by that I mean anywhere from one hundred years ago to 1200 years ago, if you learned how to write you were first taught how to sit and hold the brush for proper circulation of qi and alignment, and how to breathe while you were writing.  Everyone copied the calligraphy of the same master from the Fifth Century in the hope that by writing the way he did, you would become like him.  His writing was his movement, his gongfu, and by copying his movement you would be invoking his upright (cheng) character (Cheng is also the name of that official style of writing).

So calligraphy could be good for your organs too, right?  The dao of Calligraphy was working with qi, it was what we now call qigong.  As was playing a musical instrument, and a hundred other activities which someone might "master."

But is it good for your internal organs?  In Chinese culture it is possible to divide up any event or object into it's component parts.  In English we usually call this "coorispondences" which is an academic way of saying linked-up catigories.  So I can take a muscle tendon style of Qigong and tell you which part is good for your kidneys and which part is good for your lungs.  But I can also do that with a the parts of a car.

The fuel is the qi.  The engine is the jing.  The fuel filter, the oil, the power steering fluid, and the coolent are all associated with the kidneys.  The air intake manifold, the fan, and the exaust are associated with the lungs.  The Heart is the battery, the distrubutor cap, and the spark plugs (the alternator is the paracardium).  Do you see where this is going? Because I can do this all day long.

It is highly likely that the associations of Eight Silken Brochade with healing the various organs were invent long after the fact, just like I made up associations for the car.  They are not meant to be REMEDIAL CURES!

So what is all this organ associations stuff?  What is it's value?  It is a tool for observing, remembering and possibly thinking.  By dividing something which is ostensibly already whole (like a person or a car) into separate categories it allows for novel observations.

Here is an example from Chinese Medicine.  People with "liver deficiency" tend to stand on straitend knees.  The main job of the liver is destributing blood.  Yes, I know the heart pumps blood but the liver is responsible for the surge of blood around the body which gives us the energy to get things done.  With a deficient liver it's hard to get up enough energy to get mad or to defend your positions-- and you will tend to stand on straightend knees.  Liver deficiancy will eventually lead to lethargy.  An early sign is the habit of lazily standing on straightened knees.

What I call the "Structure" school of Chinese Medicine posits that any problem one has will show up all over the body, including in the skeletal structure.  The reverse may also be true, that postural skeletal problems will eventually find their way into the internal organs.  For instance, I child with a perfectly healthy liver may imitate the posture of a liver deficiant parent over many years and eventually give themselves a liver problem.

The solution?  Bend your knees.  And practicing Eight Silken Bochade should teach you to keep your knees bent.  Atleast with practice you should notice that you are always getting tired and standing around on straightened knees...leading you to get some traditional Chinese medical advice.

So, in summary, if someone tells you a type of qigong is good for lungs, don't assume they mean that in a remedial way.  Try to find out exactly what they mean.  It is quite possible there is some useful or interesting information there, perhaps some complex and intreging notions burried in that simple statement--but you are going to have to seek it out.  Saying that such and such qigong is good for the liver, doesn't make it so.

Secret note for experts: Almost all exercise is good for the liver!

A Continuum from Meditation to Possession

Qi is a term that has often been used to replace the vocabulary of gods, ghosts, trances and possessions. This abstract, all pervasive, term "qi" functions to take the devotional specificity of religious cults out of the discussion while leaving the dynamic animation aspects of this world view intact.
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A 160 Pound Bone Hammer!

Hebrew HammerThe quest for power is endless.

However; we all know that no matter how frivolous or fruitless the quest for power becomes, people will still seek it.

The sacrifices we make in the pursuit of power are not small, and the likelihood of eventually becoming possessed is high. That's what power does, it possesses.

This is true of all sorts of power, including the most basic type: physical power. That's why demons in Chinese art are so often shown with "great" muscle definition.

Daoist precepts, which preclude the invention of internal martial arts, strongly discourage the development of physical power. Why? Because these precepts require us to be honest about just how strong we actually are-- from the beginning!

It is only through the quest for power that we come to think of ourselves as weak, or insufficient. Humans are naturally very strong.

Pure internal martial arts completely discard the idea of muscle force. They completely discard the idea that any form of exertion is necessary to generate force.

My hand, balled up into a tight fist, is mostly bone. So is my elbow, and so is the heal of my foot. I weigh a little under 160 pounds. If I can move, propel, rotate or swing my entire body weight and strike an opponent with all one hundred and sixty pounds concentrated at a single point, using my bony fist--what need do I have for muscle strength?

Even a 40 pound bone hammer can bring down most men with a single blow. Don't even waste your energy trying to image a 160 pound bone hammer, it's just too much force.

Relatively speaking, force generated from muscle exertion is pretty wimpy.

If you get possessed by the idea of being able to generate a lot of force; consider that time spent trying to move freely as a single integrated unit has a much bigger pay off than any muscle-force training.

A 160 pound bone hammer pay off.

Note: This post is a riff on Master George Xu's recient claim that he is a 160 pound bone hammer!

Second Note: The picture at the top of this post is from the Film "Hebrew Hammer," very funny, I recommend it! Shana Tova!!! (Yom Kippur starts tonight.)

And also I forgot to wish everyone a happy Double Nine Day (last Sunday)--It's Daoist New Year!!! and it's traditional to eat venison.

Practicing Internal Arts Will Shorten Your Life!

Continuing on the previous post "The Real Purpose of Internal Arts," I would like to say clearly for the record, Internal Martial Arts will shorten your life.

Why?  You thought they were good for your health didn't yah? Not a chance.  Yang Chenfu, the most famous Taijiquan Master of the 20th Century died at like 54.  Many Internal Masters have died in their 50's.  They were all too fat.  Many internal martial artists have died from fighting injuries and venereal diseases too.

Lets get this clear.  Practicing Internal Martial Arts does not make you a good person.  If you are a ruffian goon, you will live and die like a ruffian goon.  If you think you are practicing everyday for some future attack, to fend off some wild assailant, that view will determine the type of fruition available to you.

Even if you practice the highest level art, with the most supreme teacher, your view will still determine what results your practice produces.  The constant search for power and superiority will shut out the other types of fruition that these arts were in fact created to reveal.

The problem is that modern Masters have been cut off from their own roots, they have historic amnesia.   I know all these history book writers keep telling us that Internal Martial Arts were created by professional fighters because their jobs as bodyguards or mercenaries required it.  Poppy-cock!  It's just not possible.  Why would someone weaken themselves if they were facing actual violent adversity on a daily basis?

Immortal Insence BurnerNo, the Internal Martial Arts were developed by people who had already cultivated a subtle body; a weak, sensitive, feminine (yes I said that), humble, yielding,  and desireless physicality.  A body cultivated with the idea that lack of pretense is not only a moral way of being; but a moral way of moving.

This is not the morality of being good. This type of morality is based on being real.

The Daoist practice of being real produces freedom and spontaneity (ziran). The inspiration to create from that "body" has led to experiments in every walk of life. 

In every realm of living-- effortlessness, naturalness, and the complete embodiment of an animated cosmos, found a way into peoples' daily lives, into the sacred and the mundane.

If you just practice any of the Internal Martial Arts or Qigong you will probably get fat.  Why?  Because these arts were created from a "body" that was incredibly efficient.

When you begin training martial arts, especially if you start in your 20's or younger, you will automatically work hard, and over do it.  When we are young we have too much qi in our channels.  All we can really do with that extra qi is waste it.  Hopefully we blow it off in ways that won't leave a perminant mark on our bodies.

When working hard and training hard, we naturally need to eat a lot.  But if you seriously practice Internal Martial Arts or Qigong, you will become more efficient in your movement and you will have to be disciplined about eating less. If you do that, your appetite intelligence (your spleen function in Chinese Medicine) will become much more discerning. It will tell you what is good for you to eat, and how much is the appropriate portion.  You will be able to trust your appetite(s).

In addition, your digestive system itself will become more efficient over time.  Your body will extract more nutrients from less food.  If, however, you fail to regularly and consistently reassess your appetite, you will over eat-- and you will get fat.

Improved digestion and movement efficiency will happen simply from practicing any Internal Martial Arts method, it makes no difference what you think or what you believe.  But the fruition I'm calling "appetite sensitivity" will only develop if your view is that you are cultivating weakness.

Boom and bust fitness routines, like Boot Camps, are one of the worst thing a person interested in developing a subtle body could do.  Your appetite sensitivity will shrivel up and fall off.

The Five Healing Sounds

I recently got this interesting question from a reader.

I'm interested in the subject of voice: of resonance/vibration and its relation to Qi, chakras (is there a Traditional Chinese Medical term for energy centers?), meditation, inner insight, and states of consciousness.

Joseph F. Morales has written an excellent summary in which he compares what various modern Qi-jocks call the Five (or Six) Healing Sounds. But since none of these Qi-jocks seem to have a clue where these sounds came from or what they were originally used for, I'll take a stab at it.

The first needle an acupuncturist inserts in any treatment protocol is referred to as, "Calling the Qi to Order." This has a direct parallel in Daoist ritual. To begin (after days of preparations), the Daoshi (priest) visualizes massive demon armies in an unlimited chaotic torrent of violence. She then lets out a high pitch sound "Calling the Qi to Order." Through out the ritual there are other loud calls accompanied by ritual actions and visualizations which command the demon troops to do her bidding in the service of wuwei. [Wuwei is often translated as "not doing" or "non-aggression," even "without artifice." The term as I use it here takes on a cosmological quality. That quality is most succinctly defined as the teachings of Laojun (the iconized author of the Daodejing, Laozi).]

OperaThe so called Highest Clarity (Shangjing) Daoist movement took shape during the Tang Dynasty. One of the things it accomplished was the integration of internal alchemy with external ritual. This is a massive topic. My reason for bringing it up is to say that yes, Daoism has equivalents of the Chakras, but it also has 100,000 other things, categories, spaces, and organizations of the inner world. (I promise to pick a few to describe in future posts.)

Where did Daoism get these "Calls to Order" used in ritual? Obviously, one source would be warfare itself. A commander had to be able to make earsplitting sounds to command troops on the field. This ability in and of itself could be considered having strong Qi. If we go back to an earlier era, Shaman-Kings command troops and ruled through both their martial and spirit controlling prowess. In our era, Shaman are no longer kings (unless you count Sarah Barracuda?) but we still have people who are experts at controlling spirits. Spirit Mediums, called Wu in Chinese, also use sounds to call, to command, to signal entrance or exit of a spirit from a possessed person, and probably many other functions I don't understand.

This vocal skill has also survived and flourished in Chinese Opera, which itself follows some of the protocols of Daoist ritual and has some roots in shamanic clowning.

Thus I dare say, healing sounds have been used for a long time. Especially if you consider healing to be the banishing or rectifying of Yin Spirits. So the modern Qigong (or Qi-jock if you prefer) practice of using the five healing sounds has a wonderful historic precedent they don't really want you to understand.

Did Traditional Chinese doctors sometimes cross the lines into performance or exorcism? Yes they did. A doctor might prescribe making a forceful "HA" sound a few times a day to clear heat from the liver (Heat is the body's healthy response to decaying yin, it only becomes pathological over long periods of time.) They also might make particular sound vibrations to stimulate (move) or calm Qi within the a patient's body. (This is a highly specialized skill which a few talented people may be able to use clinically in conjunction with other methods.)

But something is missing from this discussion, big time! Singing is the most common and most potent way to use sound for healing-- And to curse someone, I might add.

One reason the Chinese invented the idea of Qi is that it separated the health giving aspects of singing from the enmity maintained by singing songs about the terrible things neighboring tribes did to your people in the past. If you want to bring a lot of very different ethnic groups together to fight for a larger nation, why not have them breathe together rather than have them sing their traditional, division creating, songs.

ShamanSo my advise to people interested in The Five Healing Sounds would be to avoid the qigong hysteria. I would also advise avoiding spirit mediums, unless you already have one in the family. If you can find a master Chinese Opera vocalist, he can to teach you how to sing from the different organs. Chinese Opera vocal training is likely to blow your mind.

If you are not in a place with Chinese Opera, a traditional African vocalist may be able to teach you the same thing. I took a class years ago from a Congolese vocalist whose first lesson was about how to sing from different organs. He said that to sing a song correctly one had to know which organ(s) it was emanating from. He also gave us visualization for the songs.

And if you don't have a traditional African vocalist nearby, perhaps you can find a Love Church in a black neighborhood! Their vocal choirs move large amounts of qi down there every Sunday.

When I studied modern dance with Sara Shelton Mann back in the early 90's, part of our warm-up was to use specific sounds to vibrate different parts of our bodies, starting with "nnngg" to vibrate the center of the head and ending with a deep "ooooo" to vibrate the tail bone. She got that material from Bonnie Bainbridge-Cohen whose workshops I took last May and June. Bonnie currently uses these vocalizations to activate specific glands and other parts of the endocrine system. Her studies were originally inspired by a 1960's understanding of Yoga and Daoism, but she has taken those ideas and made them more specific and precise than any vocalization teachings I have encountered from Asia.