Posts Tagged ‘soft styles’


Internal of “soft” styles of martial arts require a radically different use of the attention than do external or “hard” styles.   In hard styles (e.g. Karate, TaeKwonDo and many Shaolin styles) your attention is drawn to the power of the opponent. You meet their incoming force with the force of your block.  Whoever is more powerful, wins.

In internal styles (Tai-chi-Chuan, Pakua (Bagua) and Hsing-I), your attention is drawn to the empty spaces where the opponent is not concentrating his force.  You (very quickly) melt away from their force and move towards an empty space next to him to deliver your own force.

In order to train to not have your attention captured by an opponent’s force, you must first learn not to have your attention captured by your own habits.  These habits were programmed into you or were just repetitive behaviors that you fell into.  They are the opponent of your creativity.

The slow forms teach you how to make your attention more liquid so that it cannot easily be grabbed.  You learn to connect your attention to the ground by starting each movement from your “root” so that your attention is not easily pulled out and controlled.

Push Hands teaches you to be creative with your attention and use it in a dynamic way in relation to another person. You learn that force is not “his” or “yours” but lies in the relationship between you.  If his fist is moving towards your head and you move your head slightly away, then there is no force, at least none of consequence to you.

Once you are empty of your own habits, including the habit of letting your attention be grabbed by other people, then you are free to be creative in your fighting and in your life.  You pay more attention to the empty space in which you can move.  You pay more attention to the moving a relationship in positive ways, rather than butting heads.

Emptiness becomes the central focus of your “internal” martial arts training.  The tighter you are and the angrier you are, the less “space” there is.  Without this kind of space, you are forced to fight in a robotic way, becoming tighter and angrier.  If you can give up your inefficient habits, let go of anger and spar in a relaxed way, then the martial arts can be very enjoyable and you will be very effective.

While you are “empty” of habits, you are full of life and vitality


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).