Thursday, April 14, 2011

Fire and Water: Drawing Silk by Marcus Brinkman

This article was first published by my teacher Marcus Brinkman OMD in the Pa Kua Chang Journal.

A metaphor used to symbolically indicate the way in which Yi (intention) should coalesce with Jing (essence) as one attempts to begin the process of cultivating Qi goes like this. . .
. . . . If one were to attach a single strand of silk to a small pebble and then proceed to move the pebble along without breaking the delicate fiber, success would require an even and unhurried pull, like a prolonged fine breath. . . An anxious or sharp tug would easily cause the strand to snap.
In one context, these words refer to a method by which the body's hormonal system and central nervous system may be harmonized. In another, it is a way in which the mind and body may link in stillness and in motion. "Drawing Silk" (Chou Szu) is the name used to describe this process.
The words "move" and "pull" relate to the word Chou which has the meaning "to draw." This is the function of the yi. It is suggestive of the "intent" aspect of awareness, or the directing force. If the directing force of the yi is too intense the silk string (Szu) cannot endure. If the yi's force is too lax, the string cannot be grasped.
The "pebble" relates to the object that is being acted upon by the yi. In this case the pebble refers to jing. jing translated in its literal sense is "sperm essence." In the larger sense it is suggestive of the body (flesh and blood), and the energetic potentials and properties pertaining to its substance.
One’s awareness should be directed to cover and permeate the body. The yi must be directed to the body as a whole. When the mind initially begins to attempt this, there will be difficulty in maintaining the right degree of tension, However, with continual practice, as one is able to sustain the right degree of awareness for extended periods of time, a fine stream of consciousness, like a fine silk thread, linking the Mind and Body may result. The longer one is able to maintain that link, the longer the string becomes. When there is inability to carry this out, the silk string of consciousness will vanish like a thought. One may space out or be carried away by some exterior activity or concern, lost in imagination or conversely, constrict one's awareness to a part of the body, instead of the whole. When either of those conditions exist the silk string that connects the yi and jing will be lost.
The silk strand is a simile that suggests an uninterrupted flow of awareness, maintained between the mind and the body. When the yi and jing are united in this manner there is cultivation of qi. So, in other words, the silk strand is symbolic of qi.
In Taoist terms, jing, q'i, and shen are referred to as the Three Treasures. Chinese medically speaking, yi (shen) is associated with "Heart Fire," whereas jing is synonymous with "Kidney Water,"
The equilibrium that exists between Heart (Fire) and Kidney (Water) is the core concern of Chinese Life Extension practices. When there is neither excess nor deficiency occuring in regard to both Fire and Water, qi may be cultivated. However, what is sometimes evident. among martial artistS, is an overly exuberant Fire (yi) that is capable of depleting the body's Yin essence (jing).
Just as sunlight may pass through the lens of a magnifying glass and be focused to ignite fire upon the object of its intent; so may the influence of yi ignite the jing.
Practitioners of Ba Gua Zhang should therefore avoid over reliance of the "Will" to accomplish their goals. "Will power" is suggestive of a kind of energetic release that is akin to "psyching one's self up". In this way, the yi (Heart Fire) stimulates the jing above and beyond the balance that is required for dual cultivation of Fire and Water. Practically speaking, Willpower must rely on Emotion to gain its strength, when Emotion becomes over-stimulated, the jing is fueled by a blazing un-refined fire, capable of consuming one's qi instead of cultivating it.
Almost all martial artists have at one time or another experienced a situation where your opponent has gotten the better of you or vice versa. This often leads to an emotional response, which is most often out of control. The adrenline rush of anger is exhilarating, but it exhausts the Kidney Water and induces a hypertensive state.
This is comparable to fueling a steam engine with crude oil, the burn is explosive, dirty and hard to control. As such the steam that rises erupts in spurts that are capable of causing interior damage. When there is not mutual cultivation of the yi (Fire) and jing (Water) there cannot be equilibrium in regard to the other organs of the body.
If this occurs on a regular basis, one may experience swings of both mood and physical energy. Typically, one's mind may feel overly stimulated while the body feels exhausted. In more severe cases, those conditions may be constant. They are commonly referred to as feeling "wired" or "burned out."
When the practice of Drawing Silk is developed correctly the fragile silken link will eventually increase in strength and diameter. Eventually this form of practice will enable one to link the silk thread to the body as it is in motion,
Yi and shen are both terms that are designative of one's intellective processes, shen, is literally indicative of spirit. Spirit is connotative of both the Heart and Mind. Yi is designative of one's directed awareness, and is an aspect of shen. The difference lies in their contextual usage.


  1. Probably the greatest article about neigung ever written. Thanks for putting this up Owen.

  2. I agree. It is one of my favorites!