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"Chi Kung Practice and Power in Wing Chun Kung Fu"

By Si-Fu Scott Baker, Ph.D.

 

The internal or Chi Kung side of Wing Chun is one of the last great secrets of the art. Many schools do not teach, or even discuss this internal side. Others pay it lip service but do little to bring its power into their training. Perhaps this is partly due to the fact that Wing Chun can be an effective fighting system without learning the difficult internal side. Aikido is similar in this regard. Many law enforcement officers learn Aikido techniques to help them control and subdue a difficult individual. These techniques work effectively, but possess only a small portion of the true power they can manifest when learned with the internal side of Aikido. The same is true with Wing Chun. Its techniques work because they are scientific; principle centered motions designed to be efficient and effective. Even done poorly Wing Chun is more than a match for many other Martial systems. But when Wing Chun is performed with its full essence intact, with chi kung skills behind the framework of quality techniques, it is many, many, times more effective, powerful, and even magical.

Wing Chun is an internal, chi kung art. All its principles, stances, techniques, and philosophies point to this. It is so obvious it almost seems ridiculous to need to point it out! Why then is it difficult to find a teacher who can and will teach the internal side of Wing Chun? Any who know chi kung will know the answer. Any martial system is much easier to teach without the seemingly mystical internal side included. Martial arts have become very commercial. Teachers try to attract more students to bigger schools so they can make more money. Students are pushed through the training quickly, and thus they do not develop quality skills. Teaching chi kung properly requires a dedicated patient student and a wise teacher who can point the way. There is no way to rush this essential aspect of kung fu! Those who still attempt to teach the internal side find that it is most difficult to teach. In fact you can not teach it! All a good teacher can do is point the way, he can invite the student to experience his chi, it is up to the student to learn it. It is much easier to teach a technique or a motion. Techniques you can see, you can correct, you can drill them and practice them. The student can also imitate it easily. But with internal skills they can not be seen outwardly, they can only be felt, experienced, and this is most difficult to teach to another. These are some of the reasons we see less real chi kung development in Wing Chun, or any of the martial arts today.

The beginning of developing control over your chi energy comes from learning to relax and calm the mind and body. Relaxation is important and does not occur all at once. Through training you will learn that deeper and deeper levels of relaxation are possible over time. Learning to calm the mind and the breathing are also part of relaxation. Correct meditation practices should teach the student to control the breath and calm the mind. As this training progresses one of the first practical manifestations of chi kung development can be seen in the development of the energy "root". As relaxation levels deepen, the mind become quiet and calm and the energy or chi sinks within the body and drops down into the ground. This can be tested through some simple exercises that determine "root depth" in a novice student. The energy sinking into the ground is often thought of as the roots of a tree. The deeper the chi kung skills of a student the deeper he will be able to sink his energy root. One of the first tests that can be used to check and practice this rooting skill is to have the student kneel on the ground. Then standing in front of him the teacher would place his hands on the studentís shoulders. The student then places the palms of his hands softly under the teacherís elbows. In this position the student must relax and root into the ground. Then the teacher attempts to push the student over backwards. If he is rooting correctly, the teacher should not be able to push him over.

On one occasion I was asked to demonstrate this skill by a friend of mine at a small outdoor party. He challenged a large line backer for the University of Utah to push me over while I kneeled down in front of him. Naturally he accepted. Being a line backer he pushed people over professionally, and usually the people he pushed over were a whole lot bigger than I was. This guy was at least twice my weight! He began to push, and push, and push. He tried so hard he dug a ditch with his shoes in the grass! He tried 3 or 4 separate times, each time he was more determined than the last. Finally he gave up in despair when after pushing for several minutes I stood up and threw him away. Naturally he was embarrassed! He asked how I was able to do that? I could tell he was looking at me trying to determine where someone my size could have gotten so much strength. I tried to explain to him that it wasnít physical but internal strength. Finally my friend told him I practice kung fu and that seemed to satisfy him.

If the person kneeling does not know how to root and present that root against the push properly he will usually try to fight the push by leaning in, and in doing so will often injure his back. When one gets competent at this test he can have three or more people line up behind the first pusher all pushing on each otherís backs, and still they should not be able to move his root. Other tests of the energy root can be shown from the front stance, or the forward leaning stance out of the pole form. From the stance, the student puts his arms forward and braces them. The pusher places his hands on the wrists of the studentís arms and ties to push him backwards. If he has a good energy root and is able to presence that root through his body he will feel as solid as a tree. The arms will often move if the pusherís force has inconsistent direction, but the stance will not move. A third, and more difficult test of rooting skills, is the un-liftable stance. The skilled practitioner stands in a wide horse stance with his arms hanging wide to his sides. Two people position themselves, one at each side, and place their hands under the practitionerís arms. Then, they attempt to lift him together. As they try to lift the practitioner can sink his root deeper, if he is skillful he will cause the two lifters to loose their strength and force them to either disengage, or collapse as he sinks.

Energy rooting is the first level of chi kung skill. Once this has been achieved to some level of proficiency, the student must also learn how to move with this root. A static root is one thing, but a dynamic root is quite another. The dynamic root comes from first learning the static root, and then refining this skill until he is naturally centered and sunk. Then with correct footwork, and chi sau training, the student learns to maintain that sunken energy while in motion. If done correctly, the moving root can produce surprisingly fast body motions. A dynamic root is essential when you are in contact with your partner. If you are unable to maintain your sunken energy when moving all your opponent needs to do is step to gain the advantage. Fighting is motion; a dynamic root is therefore essential. Learning to throw the energy into the legs and spring from the stance while maintaining the down/forward presence is the key to being able to move with the energy root. The test for this skill is in chi sau. The teacher should be able to feel when the root is lifted and test the student with a pull or thrust at the right time to unbalance him. If you find yourself unbalanced often in chi sau practice then your dynamic root needs work.

Chi kung training works the whole body/mind as a single unit. Rooting skills are the foundation to all the chi kung skills. As the student progresses from rooting skills, he will begin to learn how to release energy through his hands. The wall bag training drills are an essential part of this practice. The wall bag should be used regularly over long periods of time to deepen the ability to release energy. The punching practice on the wall bag must be done correctly, with a good stance and without tension. If the student is trying to hit the bag hard he will gain little benefit from the practice. He needs to relax and let his energy flow through the fist into the wall. Correctly practiced over many months, this will bring the short explosive power found in the one inch punch. Other tests of releasing energy can be seen in palm strikes. To test the palm, someone has to be struck. The effect of releasing energy into a bag is difficult to determine. One has to feel it to know if it is working. In testing the palm strikes, often a pad or large book will be held against the chest of the volunteer. The student then thrusts his palm, striking the book, and releasing through the book into the volunteer holding it. If his releasing skills are proficient the volunteer will not wish to have the strike repeated. He should feel the energy thrust through the book, and through his chest. The force should knock him back and he will often feel as if he has been hit with a shotgun blast! Another less painful test is done to test the release of chi through the fingers in the Bu Tze techniques. A standard 8 by 10 piece of paper can be held, and the student will thrust at its center with a straight finger thrust. If he has learned to release, the paper will make an explosive, popping, sound and often a tear or hole will appear in the center of the paper. Some paper is tougher than others are, and sometimes several strikes may be needed to tear a strong piece of 8 by 10 paper. A newspaper is also useful. Newspaper is relatively easy to tear and so several sheets can be held together. Correct releasing into a newspaper will often shred it. The paper explodes into confetti as if hit with a shotgun blast.

Releasing energy from the arms can be greatly enhanced by learning to release with the whole body. Far Jing is the correct term to refer to such explosive power. Once the student has develop the root depth, and learned to release energy through the limbs he then will learn Far Jing. Far Jing is accomplished by learning to shake the body as the blow is executed releasing a great deal more chi energy through the blow. A natural form of Far Jing occurs when one lets out a loud sneeze! Often the whole body shakes as the sneeze is released. For a split second, the body is completely out of control. This is a characteristic of good Far Jing. This can be demonstrated by striking on the hand pad. A strike using just the energy of the arm can be impressive, but with Far Jing added it is extra, ordinarily, powerful. A Far Jing strike is an amazingly powerful strike! It is the kind of blow that one does not get up from! It takes years of practice to master chi sufficiently to be able to refine these skills. But once these skills have begun the student will realize his Wing Chun is so much more than he had ever anticipated.

Many internal skills do not produce explosive power. In fact, some of the more refined and difficult skills are the listening and reading skills of energy. Often called listening Jing, these sensing skills are practiced extensively in Wing Chunís chi sau exercises. The truly deep chi sau skills can only come when energy is taught along with this exercise. The article on the stages of being interaction outline 12 levels of progression in these sensitivity skills of Wing Chun chi kung.

Even as the body gets old and weak, these internal skills will not. The old master with great power has that power because he learned chi kung skills as he practiced through the years. In time, the chi kung skills have become his greatest weapon. They are the accumulation of all his skills.

About the Author:

Dr. Scott Baker earned his Ph.D. in Psychology from Brigham Young University in 1995. Born and raised in New Zealand, he began his training in Wing Chun there in 1972 under the direction of Master Tam Hung Fun. He is now a member of the Yuen Kay San line under Zopa Gyatso. Si-Fu Baker resides in New Zealand.

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