The autumn leaves are falling like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are always two cups at my table.

T’ang Dynasty poem

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Three Essentials of Yiquan's Wang Xiang Zhai

Below is an excerpt from a post at Taoist Meditation. The is the first of a three part series. The original post may be read here.

The three essentials of internal martial art - No 1: Isometric contraction and relaxation

Master Wang Xiangzai is one of the most important (if not the most important) contributor to internal martial arts in the modern era after the Qing Dynasty. Master Wang's contribution goes beyond his style of YiQuan (意拳) or Da Chengquan (大成拳). In the later years of his life, he focused his teaching on healing. In Chinese, healing is always primarily physical or medical in nature, with psychological healing plays a second fiddler. I am going to write about the three essentials of his advanced contribution (beyond his contribution to standard zhan zhuang) as emphasized differently by his three important students.

In this article, I shall talk about Master Wang's first essential as presented by his student, the late Master Yu YongNian 于永年 who passed away a few months ago in Beijing. Master Yu became famous in the West mainly through the teaching of his student (or grand-student) Master Lam Kam Chuen who now resides in UK and has established an internal martial art academy there (teaching tai chi is included, as most Westerners know tai chi more than any other styles of Chinese internal martial art. It makes good business to teach on tai chi, irrespective of anything!) Master Lam has also written a number of good books on zhan zhuang and related topics on internal martial arts. Interested readers will have no problem Googling his books on internet.

Master Yu's contribution had mainly been in the area of healing. He had written only one book on the subject (though printed in two different versions in China. An interesting phenomenon in China's publishing industry, which is highly boisterous, is that many published books there come and go quickly, a new version with different name but the same materials sometimes appear with a new publisher a few years later. The reasons behind such phenomenon I shall not deal with here.) In one chapter of his book, he wrote about his method of advanced zhan zhuang, a subject most authors hardly touched upon, and if mentioned at all, nobody pays much attention anyway. Stories of touch (or even no contact) and throw, though unrealistic, are more interesting than advanced workout methods.

In his book Master Yu focused on presenting different kinds of stationery zhan zhuang, tailored made for patients with different problems. He was not a professional chi kung healer, and he did not impress me with his clinical skills as presented in his book (which contribution came from another student of Master Wang Madam Zhuang whom I shall write about in the second post on the topic). His main contribution is his system of widely applicable stationery forms, together with his advanced techniques for the more eager students.

His advanced technique, in the briefest sense, is to use isometric contraction and relaxation during zhan zhuang, preferable using combat stance. In the beginning, two nearby points/joints will be selected, for example, left hand and left shoulder. While in zhan zhuang, a student focuses on these two points and does isometric contraction and relaxation. All muscles will contract at the same time between the two points and then relax. From then on, different points and different parts of the body will be engaged for isometric contraction and relaxation. In the limiting case, the muscles of a student's whole body will contract and then relax together. A special manifestation of muscles-as-one. In demonstration, a student's calf can be felt, by a touching hand, as contracting and relaxing rhythmically. Finally in the most advanced form, one point will be fixed outside a practitioner's body.


Jonathan Bluestein said...

This is an incorrect way to practice Zhan Zhuang, in terms of the original intent in Xing Yi Quan and Yi Quan. The feeling of 'relaxation' following an isometric contraction is a false one. You do not become more relaxed by contracting strongly for a while - you only feel better the relative state of relaxation that you are in compared to the tense state you were in a moment before.

The original intended method for achieving relaxation in Zhan Zhuang is to:

1. Make sure all the alignment are correct.

2. Hold the posture until the body as a whole becomes very tired and painful, often resulting in minute muscular spasms and shaking.

Only through this process can a beginner achieve proper relaxation. It stimulates the mind to find a way to deal with the stress and pain, causing it to relax the muscles appropriately. After this stage is clear, one can begin training the Yi (Intention) in his or her Zhan Zhuang.

There is nothing inherently wrong with Isometric tension and conditioning - it is simply not a Zhan Zhuang method, as it interferes with other processes in this type of training.

I also disagree with the author's criticism of Yu Yongnian. What does he mean by "I was not impressed with his methods" or "he was not a professional Chi Kung healer"? Who is he to decide? I for one may not agree with some of Yu's methodologies, but he had a lot of proven experience in helping countless people in hospitals with their process of healing. He was also one of the first people get Zhan Zhuang into hospitals and spread them as a health methods.

Rick Matz said...

I am sure that both you and Paul know more about this than I do, so I can add nothing.

Paul said...

Rick, sometimes practitioners of the internal arts can disagree among one another more than religious people. This arises from the fact that we have different body structures, mental conditions, issues/problems and learning environment (and so do religious people - having different internal/life experiences). My view is that the more different ideas/views the better, students of the arts can choose from among them the one(s) that are suitable to his own conditions. Orthodoxy only limits oneself.

Rick Matz said...

Thanks for replying, Paul!