Posts Tagged ‘internal energy’


During the winter months, I take the goldfish from my outdoor pond and bring them to a large fish tank in the basement.  I didn’t dig the pond deep enough to be able to leave them out over the winter.  As I watch them swim around I wonder if they are aware of the medium of water they are swimming in.  The water supports them, protects them and allows them to move.

We are also moving within a dense medium – air.  While we can’t see it, the pressure of the air around us is over fifteen pounds per square inch.  Several miles of air above us press down on the air around us, making the air at sea level very dense.

Yet we are not usually aware of air unless it is a windy day.  Then we can feel the air on our skins and can see dead leaves and trash flying around.  We are aware of the effects of air even if we are not directly aware of the air itself. 

Without an atmosphere life could not exist.  Without water, fish would suffocate, dry out and die.  There is another medium which is equally as vital to life as air and water and equally as hard to see.  This is the medium of consciousness.  While most people can’t perceive consciousness directly we can see its effects.  In fact, everything we are aware of is the effect of the medium of consciousness. 

I am writing this subject as this week’s lessons for an important reason.  Many people have told me that they are seeking spiritual development or self awareness or some kind of inner training.   There is a tendency in modern times to think that there is some trick or secret to be learned that will immediately lead to enlightenment or spiritual awareness.  So they repeat phrases to themselves or listen to motivational speakers repeat various clichés.  If they only hear the right phrase or repeat the right magical spell, they will be transformed. 

My take on this is that any kind of training must begin with the awareness of the medium you exist in, the mechanism that you are as a human being and how this mechanism has been designed to work in the medium.  Fish have fins so that they can swim in water.  They are not just decorations someone placed on them.  Animals have muscles and bones so they can use leverage to work with the force of gravity, which is another medium.  Reptiles developed a thick scaled skin to avoid drying out in the medium of air.

We can understand how our bodies have evolved to work within various mediums.  To understand our minds, emotions and other inner aspects of being human, we need to understand the other mediums in which we exist. 

We can know consciousness by the dynamics of our attention.  I have discussed this in other lessons.  I believe that there is no secret phrase or idea we can think about that will lead to a significant transformation of our lives.  But awareness of how our minds, emotions and other “inner” parts are designed to work in the medium of consciousness can’t help but to restore our full potential and vitality.

One of the Chinese Zen (Chan) masters witnessed a group of Buddhists arguing about a waving flag.  Some of the Buddhists said that the flag was waving.  Others said that it was actually the wind that was waving.  The Zen master told them that it was their minds that were waving. 

The wind and the flag show how you can perceive an invisible force by watching a visible objects reaction to that force.  The force was the movement of the air.  In the same way the movement of the flag created an effect on the minds of the Buddhists.  The thinking mind and the consciousness are in the same relationship as the flag and the wind. 

If you were to see a flag moving but didn’t know about the wind you would wonder, “Why is the flag moving?”  In the same way, my first koan (Zen question) as a child was, “Why does one thought follow another in a particular pattern?”  To understand this you need to understand the relationship between thinking and consciousness.  They are not the same. 

The movement of consciousness does not necessarily have to result in thinking.  It can lead to the movement of chi (internal energy).  It is said that consciousness leads, the internal energy follows and the body then follows that.  The saying actually is translated as “mind leads” but this mind does not mean thinking.  It refers to attention itself.  I use the term “attention” very often in my writings instead of “consciousness”.

Our attention is often ripped and pulled this way and that by the influences around us, like the wind waving the flag.  When we are seeking spiritual development, or whatever glorious phrase is used, we are usually trying to bring our attention more under our creative control.  We want our creativity to be more of an influence over our attention than the external forces such as advertisers or peer pressure. 

So spiritual development is really about perfecting the relationship of creativity and attention.  In Taoist philosophy creativity is referred to as the “Yang” force and attention as the “Yin” force.  Creativity is active; it is the shaper.  Attention is passive; it is the substance, the medium that is shaped.

What we are trying to discover in our training, is: to what extent is what we perceive a result of what is actually there and to what extent is it a result of how our attention is shaped and affected by the forces around us.  We are trying to get a clear picture of our lives and the world around us. 

Telescopes are placed high on mountaintops because the atmosphere interferes with the light coming into the telescopes.  This light is distorted by the miles of compacted air which is usually in a state of turbulence.  The higher up you go, the less air and the less distortion.

That is why silent meditation is part of any spiritual practice.  The thinking mind is like the miles of air.  It is usually in a state of movement which distorts your perception of the world around you. The key is to see things as they really are.

Then you can work on your forms, your push hands or, in other systems, on your rituals and really know what you are doing.  You can do your healing such as Tai-chi Massage and really see the problems within your patient about how his creativity and attention interact and how that interaction affects the body.  When these factors become clearly visible, then you can easily see how to use the techniques you have learned to correct those problems. 

There is another saying that if you put a frog into hot water it will jump out.  But if you put it into room temperature water then slowly heat the water up, the frog will not notice the slow increase and will eventually get boiled.  We are in a similar situation.  We cannot see how the influences around us control our thinking minds, how this affects or interferes with the dynamics of our attention and how that degrades the body.  Our whole system gradually degrades until we are in a sorry mess.  The solution is to become aware of this whole process.

One of the reasons I love Tai-chi and Zookinesis so much is that it so clearly explains this whole process and gives you a clearly defined, step by step process to use for your training.  There is no mysteriousness.  Yet there is an appreciation for the process and an awe of the process.  It is similar to a car fanatic who loves his cars and knows every detail about how they work.  He will spend an enormous amount of time repairing and improving his cars while people like me would rather just send it to a mechanic and only if it really needs fixing.

This winter solstice is unusual.  It is also the time of the new moon.  The mythological significance of this is that now we look forward to both an ever increasing length of day and an ever increasing brightness of the moon.  This is considered to be the best time to work on any practice that gives you greater awareness (light).  That is the way ancient people understood things.  Our inner world should be in harmony with the dynamics of nature around us.  If we can see, understand and predict the patterns of nature, we will then know when to plant, when to harvest, etc.

If we can see and understand the forces “inside” of us, then our training will be more effective.  Rather than just making the mind more “windy” by repeating clichés to ourselves or trying to discover the “correct” ideas, we can quiet down the wind and perceive our basic nature and how our nature is designed to work in the medium of consciousness.


The use of internal energy (chi) as power is a very difficult subject to understand and to use in actual sparring. We usually associate power with muscular tension and with forcing the opponent’s strikes out of the way. Internal martial arts systems are based on a different concept of fighting. I was trained in Tai-chi-Chuan (“the Grand Ultimate Martial Art”) and in Zookinesis which is my translation of the particular type of chi-gung training I teach. I combined the two into what I call “Phantom Kung-fu”. The principles of this system are as follows:
1. Move away from the incoming strike and move into an unprotected area of the opponent. You learn to perceive when the opponent is about to strike so that you can move at least as soon as the opponent moves. Your strike is delivered at the same time as his would have landed on you. There is no attempt to knock his strike out of the way. You move your own body out of the way.
2. When you strike, your force should come out of you like an arrow coming out of a bow. The bow (body) has the energy and the arrow (arm or leg) transmits the energy. The arrow does not generate the energy. When you send out the bow, it is a release of the stored energy of the bow. You let go of the string. In the same way, the stored energy of compressed springs of the body, stretched ligaments and tendons and the internal energy which is connected to an inbreath, is what shoots out the force. 
3. Your physical tension maintains the structure of the body; it does not generate the force. Your force is stored in the structure and is released from that structure. If you try to use muscle tension to generate force you have to tighten up the body to maintain your structure and strike at the same time, which in turn, blocks your force from coming out. We train to use our muscle tension to maintain the body structure and to use compression, stretching of the connective tissue, breath etc., to store energy. 
4. The explosion of the outgoing force must have the floor as the base. In external styles, the tension of the body is the base against which your strike emanates. In internal styles, the floor is always the base. The explosive force presses as much into the floor as into the partner. So your legs press into the floor as you strike and release your energy. This results in the upper body expanding spherically outward. It is the structure of the body which channels this force specifically in only one direction – towards your strike. Tension is like a pipe. Your energy is like water or air flowing through that pipe.
5. Internal energy (yang) flows through the yin parts of the body. The yin parts are the front and the insides of the arms and legs. The yang parts are the back and the outside of the arms and legs. We channel force through the yin areas and use the yang areas as the structure. In external styles, muscle force is channeled through the yang parts. 
6. Power comes from the balance of yin and yang. There is a tendency to feel that the more yang you are, the more powerful you are. In Phantom Kung-fu it is the resilient springiness of the body and the connection of body, breath and attention that results in power. We do NOT magnify anger to stimulate us to fight as in some styles. We must stay in a meditative state.
7. Force is generic. We deal with the opponent as force and do not bring emotions into the interaction. We do not view the situation as some big, strong person is about to beat me up so I’d better beat him up first. We view the situation as dealing with force and we use the Tai-chi and Zookinesis principles (Taoist principles) to deal with that force, through neutralization, letting the force slip by or re-directing the force back to its source. This is done with complete calm (in order to be effective). Our attention remains completely connected to the behavioral patterns and intentions of the opponent but we do not allow those behavioral patterns to stimulate similar patterns inside us. We just use his patterns to our advantage.
8. There is no opponent. In this way, you deal with force as you deal with the everyday events of life. You do not view force (or situations) coming at you as an opponent attacking you but live your life second to second through Taoist principles of living in harmony with nature. Each action on your part is an attempt to create maximum harmony. In a sparring situation, that may have to be achieved by striking the other person with force but it is not done with anger. In our classes, when someone does get hit, the person who got hit usually laughs and contratulates the partner who hit him. Yet the strikes are done with great force. (We use padding).


A Tai-chi form is a way of revealing the internal dynamics of mind, attention, emotion and internal energy, in external movements. If your movements are jerky, for example, then your attention proceeds in discreet, segmental units. If you turn your head to look where you are going, then you are thinking about the future and not paying attention to the alignment of the body in the present.
 If you use facial expressions to disapprove of the move you just did, then you are wedded to the past. If you hold yourself up, with your chest and shoulders high, then you feel that “you” are the top of your body and you don’t have a good feel for your whole body. This is also true if you step by lifting your leg and hip as you step.
The teacher can see a great deal of what is going on inside of you by watching your form. On the other hand, the teacher can correct internal problems by correcting your form. The patterns and behaviors required for a correct form, then affect your internal condition. Many people have a poor feel for their position in space. They may be leaning forward or backward and think they are straight. When they are corrected, they feel uncomfortable. If they were leaning back and are corrected to be straight, they will feel as if they are leaning forward. They are surprised when they look in the mirror.
Most people think they are relaxed most of the time. Yet when their form is corrected and their upper body is finally made to relax, they feel an intense weight in their legs. Now their weight sinks through their muscles and not just through their bones. Their muscles act as a spring and their weight partially compresses that spring. Their whole body becomes springy, not stiff.
Each time the teacher points out part of their body that is tense, they are surprised that they had any tension. They are also surprised at how much weight their legs must receive when they relax the upper body. It is important for the legs to be strong because they support the whole upper body.
If the body is relaxed, then the weight sinks into the center (the inside) of the legs. The legs act as an arch under a bridge, which can support a lot of weight. The weight an arch supports must be directed to the inside of the arch or the arch will collapse.  If the knees are in a locked position, the legs are no longer in an arch position and the body becomes rigid.
The activity of the eyes are also important in the form. They should be like the edge of a waterfall, receiving the water into the pool of the tan-tien (the center of the body, about one and a half inches below the navel). In other words, the eyes are soft, receiving the sights, but your attention doesn’t grab onto anything it sees. The eyes remain at eye level and the head aimed in the same direction as the hips.
Doing the form in this way will lead to great relaxation yet alertness. It will bring you to a state of meditation. It is important to have a good teacher correcting you as you would never achieve these qualities on your own. You might have a “pretty” form but not really make any internal changes. Tai-chi requires this internal change to a more natural way of moving and living.
It is sometimes discouraging for a student to be corrected (and corrected and corrected!) The mind, body and emotions have a great deal of resistance to change. But each improvement is one step on a journey to freedom and to health. You free yourself from the patterns of behavior that have controlled your life and that alone improves your health.