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USING INTERNAL ENERGY

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).

RELAXATION IS POWER

The power in Tai-chi-Chuan sparring comes from relaxation with a minimum use of muscle tension. This contrasts with “hard” or “external” styles. The power of the punch, for example, originates in the foot as it presses into the ground. Each joint expands sequentially from there so the force emanates upward. The force moves through the leg and hips and then directly to the elbow and fist, bypassing the upper body. The upper body sits loosely on the lower body. To the extent that the upper body tenses, this detracts from the force that moves out into the opponent’s body and increases the amount of force that stays in the puncher’s body.

At the moment of impact, the body must not tense up any more than is minimally necessary to maintain the firmness of the body’s structure (including the punching arm). Any tension beyond that point decreases the amount of force moving into the opponent. Your fist is not completely tensed up as you strike.

In the fraction of a second it takes to impact, your body must perceive the balance and alignment of the opponent so that your body can re-align itself to take the opponent’s situation into consideration. Your body aligns itself to deliver the most effective punch according to the alignment of the opponent. Your muscles and joints must re-align, all at the same time, instantly. And of course, your body must have the knowledge of how to sense the opponent and re-adjust. If your body were stiff, you would sense nothing and not be able to re-adjust.

Your force must move out equally into the floor, through the foot, as into the opponent. In external styles. the tension of the body is used as the “floor”. You punch out from your own tension. In Tai-chi-Chuan, the actual floor is used as the floor. This releases the body to be flexible and responsive.

As the front part of your body expands to deliver the punch, your back must relax and sink into the floor. Your front cannot expand if your back doesn’t relax. And if you expand your back and front at the same time, you just lift yourself out of your root (your connection to the ground). There need to be an equal amount of you sinking as expanding.

In this way, your center remains still, and the stillness of the center is necessary for power. It is like jacking up a car to change a tire. If you place the base of the jack on marbles or on slippery mud, it will slip and the car will fall down. If your center moves about, the structure of the body cannot remain aligned to deliver the maximum power.

Even the arm itself remains relaxed until it makes contact. Only then does it tense and only enough to prevent the collapse of the arm. The arm does not create the power. The body creates the power. Any attempt to add more power by using the arm muscles to punch actually cuts off the body’s power.

So relaxation is a vital ingredient to developing power in sparring. And in life, relaxation allows the body to remain strong and not be worn out. Your training in sparring helps you to deal with life in a more realistic way. You no longer feel you are battling your way through life.

STOP FIGHTING YOURSELF

My students say that the most important effect of Tai-chi and Zookinesis training for them is that it helps them to understand other peoples’ behavior. They can understand the turmoil going inside other people and can see their outward behavior in context. They understand that if someone is aggressive towards them, this behavior probably has very little to do with the students but is just an outward manifestation of the other person’s inner problems.
If they then react to that person as if that person were actually not aggressive, the student can calm down the situation. Most people are so unaware of their own behavior that they judge their own behavior by other peoples’ reactions to them. If you act as if they were not aggressive, they may come to believe they are not being aggressive and will calm down.
The student has the confidence to calmly face the aggressive person because they see the situation clearly and, through Push Hands and self defense training, they know they can protect themselves if the other person does become physically aggressive in spite of the student’s efforts.
In order to develop the ability to “see through” other people into their inner workings, you must first see into your own inner workings. You begin by discovering every instance in daily life where you use too much physical tension to accomplish a task. I advised one of my students last week to notice how he holds a pen. How much physical tension is actually needed to write? He discovered that he tensed up his hand and his whole arm as he wrote, using a tremendous amount of energy. By keeping his arm relaxed he was able to stop fighting against himself as he wrote.
Many students realize that they hunch their shoulders during the day. They get better and better at catching themselves doing it. Then they simply stop hunching. There are many behaviors we do during the day that don’t make sense. Once you discover the many ways you are fighting against yourself by using excess tension, you can see that same process in others.
There is another benefit to discovering these unneeded behaviors inside yourself. As you peel off these behaviors you notice that some of the behaviors deal with purposefully ignoring experiences of life. You purposefully tune out these experiences. One of the reasons we all do this is because our culture does not recognize some experiences. One of these is the sense of chi (internal energy) and the dynamics of attention itself.
As students of Zookinesis and Tai-chi, we need to develop a great awareness of these experiences. In many Tai-chi schools, you are told that the experience of chi is like a tingling in the fingers. Actually that feeling in a beginning student is the blood moving through the fingers as you move them. When the momentum moves through the body, it stimulates blood to flow.  And indeed, the word chi is sometimes used as a substitute for the word blood.  
The clue to really experiencing chi is that it is easiest to experience as it moves out from the body and connects with the chi of the environment (like tentacles moving out and feeling things). It is the release of energy from the body that is the students first true experience of chi. In order to achieve this release, you must stop fighting yourself. If you are filled with internal tensions and battles, the chi is locked by these battles.
As you end your battles, the chi naturally wants to flow out and connect with the environment. You can then exerience your environment by more than looking and listening. You can vividly feel everything around you. This is not done through purposeful exertion but by letting go of the unneeded internal battles. This process of simplifying your internal behavior allows you to perceive realms of experience you may not even know existed. The result is that the world is greater and makes a lot more sense.

PHANTOM KUNG-FU – DIVIDE AND CONQUER

In most martial arts styles, technique is pitted against technique and one body is pitted against another body. In the Phantom Kung-fu system you divide the opponent’s attack into its smallest components. You analyze the structure and movement of the body and the dynamics of the opponent’s attention, second to second, tenth of a second to tenth of a second.

This requires an extreme familiarity with proper body mechanics and alignment. It requires being able to sense the dynamics of the opponent’s attention and how each of his body parts would be able to respond to any action on your part. It requires that your sense of time is expanded so that one second seems like a long time to you and you can move and adjust easily within one second or even a small fraction of a second. It requires that your own attention is not just pulled by the opponent’s actions but is independent.

Phantom Kung-fu requires three years of preliminary training, including learning Tai-chi forms and Push Hands as well as the Zookinesis exercises, so that your mind and body can be conditioned to function in this way. Since most potential martial arts students want to fight from the very beginning, this eliminates those students from participating. They are welcome to join the classes but usually choose not to or drop out quickly when they learn they will not be fighting for at least three years.

The divide and conquer strategy means that you view the opponent, not as one big person, but as a combination of many body parts and behaviors. You can perceive which part or which behavior is central to any particular movement and strike the root of that movement. In Tai-chi it is called, “Striking the root”. The root of a punch may be the shoulder or it may be a hip. You strike whatever destabilizes the opponent the most, both physically and mentally. In other words, you go right to the root of the problem and don’t focus on the end result (the fist or foot).

As a strike comes in, we often slap the top of the incoming wrist because that tends to break the strike and we don’t need to move much to get out of the way. A tiny slap to the top of the wrist allows us to strike the opponent at the same time as we are defending. Both actions take place at once. In fact we use the least motion possible to cause the desired effect. Striking the root requires less movement than blocking the end result.

If our actions are small enough, people watching won’t notice any movement on our part. This is because the opponent’s movements are usually so extreme that ours seem non-existent in comparison. The opponent seems to be magically defeated with no apparent effort on our part.

Yet there is a lot of effort in terms of concentration. Our attention must be very active to assess every little action and behavior of the opponent and to be aware of every little part of our own body so that each part is ready to respond. The more internal activity in terms of the dynamics of attention, the less physical movement is needed.

This is true in life in general. The more we are aware of what is going on around us, the sooner we can respond to situations. We deal with a situation at its root. We don’t let things drag on and hope they will go away. This creates a very powerful way of life. It is not aggressive in a negative sense. We just deal with each situation as it comes up. The sooner we deal with it, the more choices we have and the nicer we can be about it.

When we observe the details about a situation, we can avoid another problem. There is a tendency to label the situation. When we call it a name then we respond to it in a programmed way – a way we are used to and comfortable with. When we examine it more closely and learn about its component parts, we find each situation is different and we can be and need to be more creative in how to respond it.

In Phantom Kung-fu we create our techniques each moment anew. We do not use a pre-set series of responses. Every moment is different. We cannot let ourselves get caught up into a pre-conceived idea of what is going on or we will miss what is really going on. Let go of your pre-conceived ideas and just observe. Observe the opponent and observe your own behavior. Look for programmed behaviors in both. Take advantage of those in the opponent and drop those inside you like a “hot potato”. If you are observant and creative each moment then you won’t miss anything. Your responses will be more appropriate to what is really going on and therefore will be more effective.

Some people focus in on their problems and others on their self-image. There is often a central focus in our lives that everything else revolves around. It is the central reference point for our lives. Yet we rarely examine it. In Zookinesis, the central focus is attention and creativity. Attention and creativity don’t have any fixed form. We humans tend to want a fixed structure as our central focus and therefore we ourselves become fixed. Those first three years of training are designed to soften that fixed state of the body and mind. This allows you to see life itself as kaleidoscope of interacting forces and to respond to it in that way. It allows you to perceive the fullness of your life and to allow creativity to flow through you. This is a joyful way to be. In this way, Phantom Kung-fu not only teaches you to protect yourself but to experience life more fully.

TAI-CHI-CHUAN – THE “GRAND ULTIMATE MARTIAL ART”

Tai-chi-Chuan is a unique self defense system due to its basic principles. STICKING – You remain connected to your opponent, following every nuance of his movements with your own body.  To him, it seems that you are like wet clothes, clinging to him.  As he tries to move back, you move back with him.  As he moves forward to you, you move back to maintain the same relationship.  
He controls the movements and you follow the movements.  But you control the relationship. That relationship consists of mirroring his movements and then your strikes emane from the flow of movement. You do not block his strikes because that would mean that you are disconnected from him in the first place.  Rather, you remain connected even to his strikes, keeping a light connection between you.  He feels as if he were punching or kicking into the air.
REMAIN CENTERED – All your movements should revolve around your center. When you respond to your opponent, seek your own center first and then his.  This means that your response should emanate from your center (the tan-tien, an area about 1 ½ inches below the navel and in the center of the body). More generally, movements should originate from the hips and power originates from the legs and hips. You then direct your power to the opponent’s center of gravity to create the maximum effect.  By keeping the dynamics of power at the centers, you need the least strength and the least amount of movement for the maximum effect.
There is a tendency to expand your body and to bring your attention up to the top of the body. In this way you may feel more powerful but you are actually the least effective. Each of your strike’s power must pass through the center. There is a tendency, after the first strike, to keep striking without returning to the center. This is a mistake because a strike that does not come from the center is ineffective.
BOTTOM HEAVY, TOP LIGHT – This is called, “aligning heaven and earth”. The air is light. The ground is solid and heavy. We arrange our bodies in the same way. The legs are heavy and provide a solid support. The top of the body is light and fast. The hips are rubbery (in between light and heavy) to allow for the transfer of energy from bottom to top and vice versa. Yet, as shown in the Yin/Yang symbol, within Yang there is the “eye” of Yin. Within Yin there is the “eye” of Yang. Within the heavy legs there is a springy energy created by the compression of the body. This allows for fast leg movement. Within the light top of the body, the power of the legs and hips flows through, providing solid strikes. This is the meaning of the phrase that a Tai-chi fighter is like steel wrapped in cotton.
STRIKE THE INSIDE – We do not focus the strikes on the surface of the opponent’s body. Neither do we focus past the opponent’s body. If we are striking the torso, we focus on the inside surface of the opponent’s back. Thus our attention is already within the opponent’s body. When we strike, we are already past his defenses. Focusing our force on the inside of his back causes a reverberation of the force within his body cavity for maximum effect. The idea is to pass by his front muscle and bone layers and create the effect within his body. Many people have strong muscles and are used to taking strikes. Furthermore, they may have practiced types of chi-gung that toughen the surface of the torso. We penetrate that layer as cleanly as possible. When we do focus on the muscles themselves, we focus on the interior of the muscle.
THREAD THE STRIKES – We train to narrow the force as much as possible as it is being delivered. We are usually not trying to damage the surface but want to penetrate that surface. The more narrow the force can be made (while still maintaining the actual amount of force), the more easily it will penetrate the surface (either the surface of the torso or the surface of a muscle if you are trying to injure the muscle). It is like threading a needle. You can’t thread a needle if the thread is frayed.
YANG FORCE FLOWS THROUGH YIN PARTS OF THE BODY – The Yang parts of the body (back and the outside of the arms and legs) serve as the conduits of force, like a pipe serves as the conduit of water. The Yin parts of the body (front and the inside of legs and arms) should be kept “empty” (relaxed), so that force can flow through them. Force should never move through your back or the outside of your arms and legs. The Yin parts of the body are like the inside of the pipe, which is empty so the water can flow through it. The Yin parts of the body even stays empty at the moment of impact so that the force cleanly moves out of your body and into the opponent’s body. The force is thus contained so that it doesn’t dissipate. The result is that you (the striker) hardly feel the strike (but your opponent certainly does!).  All the force has left your body. If you tense up the whole body as you strike then much of your force goes into your own tension and you block your force from moving into the opponent.
STRIKE THE ORIGIN OF THE FORCE – If the opponent punches, we do not have to strike his arm but usually strike the origin of his force, which is usually the shoulder. The shoulder may be the origin of the force because many people bring their energy up to their shoulders and then strike using the strength of their arms. This is not effective, of course. But if the shoulder is the origin of the force, then we strike that shoulder, weaving our bodies away from the strike at the same time. If he kicks, we may gently re-direct his kick with our palm but at the same time, strike his hip. We look at the opponent in terms of how the force is being generated and directed. We strike to interfere with that force as much as possible, rendering the opponent’s actions ineffective.
In grappling, direct his force into your center. This brings the arena of action into your center where you have the most control. As he grabs you, notice each contact point and the direction of his force from each contact point. Re-arrange your body so that the force from each contact point goes to your tan-tien, and into your hips and legs. Direct the interaction from there. If he twists your arm to lock a joint, notice the direction of his forces. In this case, align his forces with both your own center and with his shoulder. Receive his force in a spiral manner towards your center and then back outward into his shoulder. This is an advanced training which is hard to contemplate without direct instruction from a teacher (as is the case, really, with all of Tai-chi-Chuan training).
MOVE AWAY FROM YANG AND INTO YIN – When the opponent strikes, we call that “Yang”. That is where he is concentrating his force. We move away from Yang and into the “Yin” areas of his body. We never move away from him (we stick with him), except in rare cases to create the element of surprise. We are always moving into his “Yin” and striking. If we were to move into his “Yang” (as in blocking his strike) then we would be placing our attention at the focal point of his power. This puts us into a vulnerable position. Blocking also wastes a move and if the opponent is big and strong, your arm may get hurt. Let him strike. It is your job not to be where he is striking, but not to move his arm or leg out of the way. Let him wear himself out.
STAY ROOTED – Each joint must sink into your root. The root is the weight of the body, sinking into the ground. Each joint individually connects with the ground so that every point in the body has an active connection to the ground. When you strike, your weighted leg presses into the ground as you strike. This creates a pressure within the body which then explodes into the punch or kick. The strength of a grappling opponent is drained through each of your joints into the root and provides you with even more compressed force. Furthermore, this draining of his force then provides you with a direct “route” back into the origins of his force.
These are some of the basic principles of Tai-chi-Chuan (and Phantom Kung-fu) sparring. There is an excellent movie showing Tai-chi sparring – “The Tai-chi Master”. While the plot and the editing of the film makes it a bit hard to follow, the sparring is genuine (though exaggerated) and is a rare opportunity to see how Tai-chi is truly the “Grand Ultimate Martial Art”.

HOW TO AVOID ATTACK

Tai-chi-Chuan teaches you how to avoid attack on the street and to make it difficult for a sparring partner to defeat you in class.  Even if you are not strong or are not used to fighting, there are ways you can thwart the attacker’s efforts.

A mugger is looking for an easy attack on someone who won’t or can’t fight back.  He mugs for a living and doesn’t want to get hurt “on the job”, just like anyone else.  The mugger must assess the physical abilities of his victim as well as the victim’s state of awareness. 

There are three qualities you can develop to lessen the chances of becoming a victim.  The first is the alignment of the body.  If your body is not aligned properly you are probably not involved in any physical activity that requires coordination.  The mugger can sense this.  Any training, such as Tai-chi, Zookinesis, Yoga or Pilates can teach you the proper alignment of the body.  Even the use of such physical therapy aids as the foam roller will improve your posture.  This will also improve your overall health.

The second quality is the fluidity of the body.  If your body is stiff and tight, you probably can’t move very well and certainly can’t run after the attacker.  A person who walks fluidly and is well connected to the ground may offer the mugger trouble.  If your body seems bouncy and alive you may have the energy to run after him.  The training methods mentioned above as well as such activities as trampoline work will bring that fluidity to the body.  Trampoline, Zookinesis and the animal forms of the martial arts are especially good at adding that bounciness to the body.

The third quality a mugger looks out for is awareness.  If you are aware of what is going on around you, you can prepare for an attack.  Strong awareness also shows that you have had some training, as the awareness of most people is very dead.   All of the above training helps with awareness, especially the Push Hands exercise of Tai-chi, sparring in general and the Zookinesis exercises.

In a classroom situation there are ways to thwart the sparring partner as well.  Most fighters concentrate on the opponent’s fists and feet and sometimes elbows and knees as well.  But they don’t concentrate on the space between the sparring partners.  Proper Tai-chi training teaches you to move into the open spaces so that the opponent is jammed.  You should be more interested in the spaces between you than in the strikes of the partner.  Let his strikes trigger you to move into the open spaces where you can easily deliver your own strikes. 

This requires that you don’t keep moving forward and back as with most styles of fighting.  You stay in and don’t allow the partner space to move or even time to relax and catch his breath.

Another way to quickly tire out the partner is to make his attention move rapidly.  Most people have very weak attentions.  While a properly trained martial artist has a “field of attention” so that he can deal with many things going on at a time, most have a “single-pointed attention” which can only be in one place at one time.  That person’s attention has to jump from one place to another and it gets tired.  

So you should strike to different parts of the body.  You can punch the legs as well as the head and body.  You can integrate kicking with the punching rather than using kicking for a while and then switching to kicking.  Add a little bit of grappling as well, just for a second or two, here and there and then go right back to punching and kicking.  If your partner cannot predict what you will do next, his attention is uncertain and wears out quickly.

Keep the body fluid.  Allow your hips, lower ribs and elbows to rotate in small circles and allow the head to reflect this movement.  This will allow you to respond quickly and will make it difficult for your partner to aim.  It will require his attention to follow your movements and most people cannot do that for long.

These are but a few simple ways that proper Tai-chi training can teach you to be uninviting to attackers and to make it difficult for an attacker to defeat you.