Friday, October 30, 2015

The Science of Nei Jia Quan

Translation of The Science of Nei Jia Quan

We have another guest post by Jonathan Bluestein, who is the author of two of the all time favorite posts at Cook Ding's Kitchen: The Versatile Whip of Pigua Zhang, and Master Zhou: The Man, The Artist, The Teacher.

Today he brings us a translation of an important book on Internal Chinese Martial Arts from the 1920's, The Science of Nei Jia Quan by Zhang Naiqi

The Science of Nei Jia Quan

By:  Zhang Naiqi
Translation by:  Nitzan Oren and Jonathan Bluestein
Forward by Nitzan Oren

As I was strolling the used book markets in China when I was living in Tianjin, I encountered a book (more of a booklet actually) whose name caught my eye: “The Science of Nei Jia Quan” – published in 1928. I hurried to purchase this piece, which turned out to be a real treasure. The next day I showed it to my teacher, master Zhou Jingxuan, who had remembered reading it long ago, back when he was younger. Zhou was enthusiastic about me reading and researching this book.   

The Science of Nei Jia Quan is one of the most fascinating books that I had read on the subjects of Qi

Gong and Nei Gong (Internal Skill). It describes the benefits from training internal methods in a language which is coherent to any reader. Unlike in many other Chinese martial arts books (back then and nowadays as well) who use all sorts of complex lingo related to Traditional Chinese Medicine and Chinese Cosmology, the author of this book had attempted to provide scientific explanations to the beneficial results which arise from training Internal Methods. Even though the content of this book is relevant for us even today, it is important to take into account that the book was written over 70 years ago, and the knowledge we have now is slightly more advanced than it had been back in the day.
To better understand the contents of the book and in order to read more materials published by its author, Zhang Naiqi, I began to look for more information about his life, his education and his practice in the traditional Chinese martial arts. Most of my efforts came up in vein, and I couldn’t find much – neither on the Internet, nor in martial arts circles. From the little written in the forward of the book itself it appears the author had trained in Xing Yi Quan, Bagua Zhang and Taiji Quan. Recently I’ve managed to find out he was also involved in the revolution in China in the beginning of the 20th century, and that he had written an additional article on Qi Gong.

In 2006 I reread the book several times, and decided to translate it into Hebrew, so the Israeli reader could also benefit from its content. The book was later further translated into English, under my supervision, by my student – Jonathan Bluestein, in May 2013. As the book includes lots of descriptions, stories and explanations which I did not think were so important, I chose to skip them and only translate the parts which I felt were meaningful and useful to the reader.

The Science of Nei Jia Quan

Internal Skill and Fatigue

The Internal Skill eliminates fatigue in the following 3 ways:

1. During rest, the Chest and Abdomen, which contain the vital organs, are completely relaxed and flaccid.

2. While moving, the tension is transferred from the Chest into the Abdomen area.

3. By avoiding unnecessary tension in bodily areas which remain static.

Wu Ji – Full Body Relaxation at Rest

Before you begin to practice movement in the art of internal skill, there is a preparatory stage consisting of a static posture, in which the entire body is brought to a relaxed state. This preparatory position is very important for the whole practice. First, one should stand in a frontal stance or slightly facing sideways, while the entire body is in harmony with the mechanical principles of a fulcrum. Discomfort does not exist at any point in the body, and all the joints are naturally slightly

folded. Afterwards, one should use his Yi (Intention) to conduct an orderly inspection of the body: from up to down – head, neck, shoulders, chest, arms, abdomen, buttocks and feet – and feel whether there exist any unnecessary unconscious tension at some place or another. Tension created by improper posture should be corrected, and tension which was originally unconscious (created by mental causes) should be consciously released. Now, one should sense whether the breathing is natural and without disturbance, and make sure it is calm. Afterwards, the whole body, together with all the loosened and relaxed organs, should be allowed to drop down by the influence of Gravity. This dropping and sinking should become unconscious and completely natural.
The positioning of the skeleton is based on the laws of mechanics and that of the fulcrum, and the structure need not necessarily lean upon the muscles and tendons to keep itself together. The muscles and tendons should be as ‘hanging from a coat-hanger’, while the breath is in parallel light and calm like trail of smoke coming up from incense. Natural breathing is completely dependent upon the expansion and contraction of the lungs without directed intervention. 

At this time, it should not be allowed for the eyes or ears to notice the outside world, because as soon as they become aware of what is going on around them, an unconscious tension appears in the chest. One should only focus on keeping the relaxed state of all bodily parts, and especially make sure the breathing is natural. This sort of focus helps one avoid what goes on around oneself. Sometimes the breath is vocal and heavy. This is many a time a result of undue tension in windpipe, and not because of fast breathing. All that should be done to resolve this is to avoid any tension in the mouth, nose, neck and chest, and as a result the windpipe will expand and the breathing becomes easy.

One could notice that unlike adults, children do not have any tension in their chests. Among children, the abovementioned relaxation of the muscles and breath are natural. Their chests and bellies slightly protrude outwards. In this state, the stomach and intestines are lain rather than hanged. Even though practically and physically we are not really ‘hanging’ them, psychologically there is a feeling of ‘having no safe place to lay them, so one is forced to hang them up in order to prevent them from dropping. This also works the other way around – the feeling of the stomach and intestines being hung also produces the anxiety of their possible dropping in the unconscious, and this anxiety in turn produces a pressure from the abdomen upwards, supposedly ‘providing support for the stomach and intestines’. These two phenomenon produce and create each-other. Further,

the tension in the chest contracts the chest muscles and the internal organs.    
This cycle of anxiety and tension in the chest leads to fatigue. An upwards pressure of the intestinal wall is extremely fatiguing – anyone could feel it. Because of the fatigue, once in a while one has to loosen-up. But as soon as a thought arises, or there is a will to perform some sort of action, the upward pressure immediately returns. These cyclical contraction and release lead to a lot of excessive movement of the stomach and intestines and lead to fatigue.

(Jonathan:  Albeit being fairly accurate, the word ‘Psychologically’, which was used in the last paragraph, is a modern translation and interpretation to what Zhang was saying)

We must aspire to a state in which the entire body is free from any undue tension. This state of release from tension and the looseness of the body is in Daoist literature referred to as ‘Wu Ji’ (Without Poles), or: “Yin and Yang have yet to be determined”. What is Yin? It is Absence/Emptiness. What is Yang? It is Fullness. At this time, the entire body is free and loose. The chest and the abdomen too are in a state of complete looseness. When we start to move we should keep the belly full and the chest broad. Of this was said: “Emptiness and Fullness have yet to be determined”. All these names bear the identical meaning:  “Pre-heaven”, “Wu Ji”, “Yin and Yang not yet determined”, etc. It Buddhist literature this is called “Serenity”, or “Existing Naturally”. At this time, the inside and outside of the body accept the authority of gravity and sink downwards without the tiniest bit of resistance. At this time, all the ‘bodily cells’ (not to be taken literally) are separated from each-other, unrelated and care not for one-another – each of them exists by itself and for itself.   

Fullness in the Abdomen, Openness in the Chest

When we rest, our body is relaxed and loosened, but it is no longer so once we move. There are two reasons for this. First – to move our body we have to lengthen and shorten our muscles. Second – for us to be able to produce power we have to change the tension within the muscles and the intensity of their contraction. Therefore, tension in the muscles is unavoidable.

Like what we had now described as a form of more ‘external’ tension, so do the more ‘internal’ parts need hold some kind of tension. This can be easily felt – when issuing a punch, a momentary tension will appear in the chest and solar plexus areas. There are four reasons for the appearance of this type of tension:

1. Recoil, or a counter-force to the movement.
 While operating force with the hand or the leg to the outside of the body (away from it), a counter-force reacts upon the body. While throwing a movement in the air, the air itself is resistant with a tiny amount of force. When firing a cannon, for example, the body of the cannon is pushed in the opposite direction when a shot is fired. This recoil affects the internal organs, and it is natural that it would create some tension there so they can resist.
2. The connections between all the nerves. Even though the limbs and internal organs are connected to different nerves and nerve-systems (sympathetic and parasympathetic), a command given through one nerve commonly affects others. So, when we command the body, through our nervous system, to issue a punch, the spinal nerves commands the arm muscles to contract, which also affects the sympathetic nerves and causes tension to appear in the internal organs.
3. The movement of the lungs. When the limbs issue force to the outside of the body, the lungs are stimulated to ‘blow’ air, which helps produce that force. The action of the lungs contributes to the creation of pressure within the chest.
4. Tension in the intercostal muscles (the muscles between the ribs). This tension is directly affected by the onset of tension in the arms, because both the arm muscles and the intercostal

muscles are connected via the nerve plexus of the spine, which yield mutual influence. Tension in the intercostal muscles shrinks the volume of the chest cavity, which then creates a sensation of pressure in the heart and lungs.
Most people will feel this sort of tension in the chest area. For many, this tension in the chest is unavoidable even when doing nothing, and as soon as they use outwards-driven force, the pressure levels rise significantly.

Unification between Awareness and Movement

When the body is active, the tension reaches the limbs. Because of the nature of various movements, sometimes the left side is loose and the right contracted, or vice-versa, or they can both be contracted. Contraction means Fullness, or being ‘Yang’. Loose means Absence (lack of Fullness), or ‘Yin’. The mutual relationship between contracted and loose, between Fullness and Absence, is one of the five rules that explain the ancient principle of Tai Ji (same as ‘Tai Chi’ in ‘Tai Chi Chuan’ or ‘Taiji Quan’).

A lack of uniformity between movement and Intention (Yi) can point to a state in which the Intention predates bodily movement, or that the body reacts before one has the Intention for it to do so.

When we practice one movement for a long time in succession, it often happens that the bodily action comes ahead of one’s intention For example, among Xing Yi Quan practitioners, when they practice one of the Wu Xing (Five Fists) for a long time in a row. It can happen that before one had the intention to throw a punch, it already came out.    This is a state in which the intention chases the limbs instead of commanding them. In a state in which the intention has noticed the limb movement only after the movement has already began, the intention loses its ability to command the body, and is instead commanded by it.    

There can also exists a state in which we strongly strive towards a certain goal or target, and the intention very prominently projects itself even before we move (Jonathan: A good example would be what has been referred to in Western martial arts as ‘Telegraphing’ one’s strikes to the opponent).
Because of impatience, there results a situation in which the bodily movement is still half-way, but the intention already rushes ahead towards the target. This does not mean that the intention can really physically get ahead of the body, but that in our imagination and thought it is already there (too soon). Inside the body, this causes the feeling of a tendency and momentum forward, as the skin is some exterior shell we yearn to break through.

Awareness Towards the Inside and Towards the Outside

In the previous chapters I have explained that attention must be given to the state of the abdomen, and that one should be aware of the tensions in that area. I have also explained that in movement, one should pay attention to the hand and its outwards-driven power/force. Meaning – one should command the force with Awareness, or Intention (Yi). In this state, the Intention has to make two actions simultaneously, in opposite directions. How is that possible?

In fact, it is impossible for the Intention and Awareness to be directed at two opposite directions at

the same time. Therefore, the direction should alter interchangeably, and flow from an outwards focus to an inwards focus and back again. How can this be done?
While moving the hand away from the center of the body, the Intention commands the hand outwards. When moving the hand towards the center of the body, the intention commands the hand inwards, and at the same time, the intention should move towards the abdomen area. Inhaling air while the intention moves towards the abdomen area assists the intention to follow. One’s awareness accompanies the air that is sucked and moves inwards with it, because the distance to the abdomen is short. When pointing one’s direction outwards, the blowing of air guides it, and the direction of one’s stare helps a lot as well.

In movement among many people, the act of breathing becomes loud and vocal. As I have explained in previous chapters, this results from the narrowing of the windpipe due to excess tension. So one has to loosen the muscles of the mouth, nose, back of the neck and chest cavity, and reach a state in which albeit the breathing being heavy, it is not loud.

This unification between Awareness, Movement and Breathing is what is called ‘The Three Internal Harmonies’, or the harmonies between Qi, Yi (Intention) and Li/Jin (Power). What is called ‘Shen’ (Spirit), which is expressed in one’s gaze, is affected by this. Interchanging between inside and outside awareness aids in the concentration of intention and prevents one from becoming scatterbrained or being easily distracted. In case one makes a movement with the hand towards the center of the body, but forgets to aim and keep the intention pointing to the inside, then the following movements would be intentionless.

When the ancients said ‘The Real Power of the Dantian’ they were utterly wrong. They were mistaken to think of Intention as a type of power by itself. They were mistaken to think that the gathering of intention and concentrating inwards is ‘collecting power’. They were mistaken in that the thought that outwards concentration equals a release of force. The lower abdomen which they called Dantian is nothing but what  I have referred to earlier as ‘Fullness in the Abdomen, Openness in the Chest’ (as something which manifests downward pressure).  

(Jonathan: I don’t think Zhan Naiqi was trying to say that the Dantian is useless. He probably meant to suggest that the Dantian is a physical thing which could and ought to be explained with physical actions and language rather than a metaphysical one). 

The Importance of a Steady Posture, and the Vigor of Muscles, Tendons and Bones

Important posture is very important. First, when standing, the limbs should be in harmony with the principle of the fulcrum. The purpose of uniform movement of the hands and feet in the Internal Martial Arts is to find the correct fulcrum. When we release a punch outwards with all our might, if the hand and foot are not sent ther, the body loses balance because it loses the fulcrum.

Additionally, (it loses balance) because there is created a fear of slipping even before one has slipped, which prevents one from using all his power. Outwardly, the sending of the punch should be accompanied with sending the foot to provide as fulcrum. Inwardly, there is growing firmness in the belly, which supports the generation of downwards power vector. This way, the body gains stability.

In the Nei Jia arts there is a very interesting saying: “The three tips point at the same direction”. The three tips are the edge of the nose, the edge of the hand, and the edge of the foot. When the edges of the nose and hand point in the same direction, one’s eyesight is directed at the hand, and the Will and Intention are focused. When the edge of the hand and the edge of the foot simultaneously point at the same direction, the body gains a proper fulcrum.

In Nei Jia arts one should maintain the hand and leg joints slightly bent. This way, springiness is maintained when the tendons and muscles near the joints are flexed or extended. This helps assure that an outwards pressure cannot break the joint. Additionally, a state is created in which the tension in the muscles and tendons is low, which enables one to produce more power. Attempting to use any sort of force while the arm is fully extended can lead to the breaking of the elbow joint. On the other hand, insisting to overly flex the joint inhibits the initiation of forward-driven movements.