THE REAL THING
When I first took up the study of martial arts I believed that
the peculiar forms of punching, striking, and kicking contained some
special force, a kind of "magic" (for want of a better word) that would
enable me to knock the largest adversary flat on his butt. You have to
admit that the forms of punching as they are demonstrated in the
various forms of karate and kung-fu are a little strange and not at all
like the knee-jerk, "natural" form of haymaker that most people would
throw if they were engaged in a scuffle.
I'm convinced that my first teachers believed in that same magic
because they never mentioned things like, "using the whole body as a
fist" or "striking with the force of the entire body."
Needless to say, I found out in pretty short order that the
peculiar punches, strikes, and kicks bestowed no mystical power on me.
Being a very slow learner, I suffered many beatings before I had to
admit that something was amiss. But what? What could be missing?
Surely, there was more to these arts than I could see.
It was my primary kung-fu teacher, Master W. C. Chen, who opened
my eyes. "You are using your strength," he said. "And you are too
small to exert much strength. You are fast but you have no real
power. You hit only with your arm or leg. A strong enemy can overcome
your technique easily."
And so it was that I began learning REAL martial art. It began
with the horse-riding stance (ma bu) and then the bow and arrow stance
(gong bu), cat stance (ding bu), and several others. "Strength begins
in the legs," Chen told me. "If your legs are weak you cannot get
(generate) real power. If you cannot stand, you cannot walk. If you
cannot walk, you cannot run. So, first you must learn to stand. Just
Once my "foothold" was firm, I learned how to move my body to
generate power. This was done via six forms of body movement (which
are known as the "six body actions" in Yiliquan - and which have since
been expanded to "eight body actions"). So, Chen first emphasized the
foothold. The next step involved learning basic technique and the
third step included learning to apply the foothold (root) and technique
via the six body actions. This was what Chen called "quan (chuan)
shu", which means, "fist art" and refers to the (outer) form of martial
art. It is what is easily seen, what is often admired by the public,
and it is only the first stage of true skill.
Most modern martial arts adepts aspire only to learn the "quan
shu" and once they have developed skill in it, they feel that they have
reached the pinnacle of martial prowess. But they are wrong. All they
have done is acquired skill in the outer shell (wai zhuang) of the
art. They have yet to examine the meat of the matter.
Once the pupil has trained in the wai zhuang to develop quan shu
(and this absolutely MUST be done correctly), he or she is then ready
to begin practicing the nei zhuang (internal power) of the art. It is
presented in stages. In Yiliquan, students may, even during the wai
zhuang training, begin to learn and practice some of the nei zhuang
gong (special conditioning exercises intended to strengthen, stretch,
and toughen the unseen internal tissues that are utilized in generating
real internal force) and the so-called "engaging" exercises, in which
intrinsic force "inflates" the internal tissues.
Only after the internal tissues have been properly conditioned
and trained to "engage" can the student begin to learn the panjaozhang
gong (hand/arm coiling exercises and power) and eventually the special
qipanjao (energy/breath coiling) techniques, which are practiced in
1. Standing, Big Frame Coils
2. Moving, Big Frame Coils
3. Standing, condense the coils to reach the Small Frame Coils
4. Moving, ditto
Only throught the application of these "coils" can true fajin be
It is my contention that the original forms of karate, which
developed largely from southern forms of Chinese boxing, contained all
of this information and it is still hidden within some of their kata
I have been asked to write down these coiling techniques but
because they involve much more than simply moving the arm or hips one
way or another, it is really almost impossible. The small, unseen
tissues (ligaments, fascia, and so forth) not only of the arms, waist,
and legs, but the torso as well, must be properly employed in the
correct sequence and to put this down in writing would be extremely
difficult. Besides, I fear that there would be those who might try to
learn the nei zhuang from such writings and that is simply impossible.
Even in my own training hall, it is necessary for students to
place their hands on my body and actually feel what is going on inside
as the coiling technique is applied and fajin is generated. Only then
can they really begin to understand it. Incorrect practice can lead
not only to simple failure; it can result in very real damage to
Too often, students hear about the nei zhuang and get in a hurry
to learn it. This is foolhardy since the development of proper wai
zhuang is essential before moving into the realms of nei zhuang.
Nowadays, there are teachers (including Chinese!) who assure their
students that they can begin the nei zhuang even in the early stages of
their training but be assured that this is intended only to fatten the
purse of the teacher at the risk of injuring or, at the very least,
discouraging the hapless pupil who doesn't understand why he "just
can't get it."
Even in the "old days", real "kung-fu" (also, "gongfu") was very
rare. It still is.