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Qigong and Martial Arts

By FaXiang Hou and Mark V. Wiley

For centuries, in China, people have engaged in the practice of taiji and qigong for health and well-being. To this day, these slow movement exercises and breathing disciplines, used to harness intrinsic energy known as qi, are practiced daily by millions of people in the parks of China and Taiwan. For the martial artist, however, the development and qi is sought for other reason than health maintenance.

Martial artists look to develop qi as a means of becoming invulnerable to strikes, to make them stronger, and ultimately harm an opponent if necessary. To harness and develop their internal power, martial artists practice exercises known as neigong and qigong.

Qigong refers to specific health exercises combining Buddhist and Taoist elements. Such exercises are viewed as techniques for regulating the body, the mind, and the breath, and involve movement exercises and self-massage to effect changes in one's health. More specifically, qigong is the art of exercising the jing (essence), qi (vital energy), and shen (spirit). The nucleus of qigong is the exercise of consciousness and vital energy. Specifically, the practice of qigong exercises combines the practice of xing (shape-postures), yi (intention or concentration), and qi (vital energy). To exercise the so-called genuine qi is to exercise the three treasures of the human body (jing, qi, and shen), so as to relieve pain, strengthen the body's constitution, improve intelligence, and prolong life.

The Variety of Qigong Forms

The variety of qigong can be divided into four categories containing three areas each. As for a global categorization, there are Buddhist, Taoist, and Confucian qigong practices.

Within these categories, there are three primary applications of qigong. In times past, qigong was used in conjunction with various Chinese martial arts. Practitioners would spend countless time memorizing the so-called deadly points along the meridian system, and the specific time of day and month of the year during which each point was most effective. This was the prelude the using the secret "death touch" techniques, known as dimak, to maim or kill an opponent.

The primary use of qigong today is to improve one's health, thus extending life. This is known as medical or healing qigong, of which there are three subdivisions: 1) external therapy whereby a Chinese doctor would project his own qi into a patient's body to effect a cure; 2) self-training whereby a person would choose a qigong program and perform the exercises over a period of at least 100 days to improve his own health; and 3) a combination of external qigong treatments from a doctor and an individual's qigong training program. Within the self-practice method, exercises are done in any combination of three ways: slow movements, meditation, and breathing exercises.

The third category is the use of qigong for various demonstrative purposes. Many qigong and martial arts masters today use this method for attracting new patients and/or students.

How and When to Practice

When practicing qigong, one must be sure not to separate one thing from another. The movements/postures, visualization/meditation, and proper breathing must all be done concurrently. It is not the actual movements or shape-postures that are difficult, but the correct performance of them in conjunction with the proper regulation of the breath and the flow of qi.

Proper breathing and control of the breath is perhaps the most important aspect of qigong. Through proper breathing, the organs of the body are strengthened, and their functioning is improved. Inhaling brings nourishment into the body and assists blood circulation and organ function. Exhaling serves to cleanse the body of harmful elements and wastes.

Breath control is necessary for the conduction of the qi. Vital energy is both mental and physical energy. Correct breathing allows the vital energy to flow naturally.

The practices outlined below will help you to perceive a strong visceral feeling of qi and enhanced state of health, requiring no special time, place, equipment, age group, or physical condition to perform.

Don't expect too much too soon, however. There will be results if you practice according to the prescribed outline. In essence, you must devote yourself to qigong and make an effort to practice everyday, as qi can not be cultivated by part-time or once-a-week practice. Dedication to practice everyday for at least the first 100 days is essential. After the first 100 days, the body has developed the qi and will not loose it any time soon. After this time, the student/patient may practice the individual exercises as needed.

Sensations Felt During Practice

During the practice of qigong you may feel various sensations in your body. The most common sensation experienced is an increase of body heat in one of the dantien areas. This occurs as qi is being cultivated and stored in this area. An overwhelming sense of peace and comfort may envelope you as you practice or meditate. This, too, is normal and a positive indication that you are practicing correctly. Other sensations felt include a tingling sensation on the skin and an increase of saliva. Again, both are positive results of proper qigong practice. Some uncomfortable sensations which the novice practitioner may experience during initial qigong practice include a general heaviness due to incorrect breathing, dryness of the mouth, unusual visual phenomena such as colors, lights, or steam, and dizziness. None of these sensations will last long or have a negative effect on the body. Continued proper practice of qigong will eventually make such sensations disappear.

Fundamental Qigong Exercises

Proper and dedicated practice of the following eight fundamental qigong exercises is the key to developing foundation qi. Again, it is stressed that you practice these exercises everyday for at least 100 days. After this point you will have developed proper qi and can then cut back on the exercises, only practicing those that you need.

Prior to beginning this set of exercises, close your eyes, relax, and clear your mind. Imagine your head is in Heaven, your feet are on Earth, and that you are very large, like a giant, connecting yin and yang energies. (Be sure not to imagine the Heaven and Earth connection at the beginning of each individual exercise as this will become a distraction.)

Qi Ball

The qi ball exercise teaches you how to feel, circulate, and control the flow of qi. Begin the qi ball exercise, while standing or sitting, by closing your eyes, relaxing, and clearing your mind. With your elbows bent, and your arms held away from your body, configure your arms and hands as if you were holding a basket ball. There are three ways to develop and move the energy about in your hands. The first method is to move the energy back and forth, like a ping pong ball, from hand to hand, or palm to palm.

The second method is to swirl or spin the ball in a single direction, like a globe spinning on its axis. After rotating the qi ball several times in one direction, change directions for several more revolutions. When this becomes somewhat easy, try controlling the speed at which the energy moves in each direction, alternating from fast to slow, clockwise to counter-clockwise.

The third method is to hold the energy ball and begin to slowly and steadily move your hands apart and together, ever so slightly. As you pull your hands apart and then push your hands together, you may experience a magnetic feeling between your palms; this is the compression force of the qi. The more dense, and hence stronger, the energy, the more difficult it will be to compress it between your hands. The feeling is as if you were pushing two magnets together.

Comments: The qi ball exercise may be done formally standing or sitting as described with eyes closed, or informally while watching television, for example. This exercise may be performed for five minutes at a time or longer; as long and as often as you like. As you perform the qi ball exercise, you may begin to feel various sensations such as warmth, coolness, electricity, magnetics, and so on. All feelings and sensations are good; they are all manifestations and types of qi. Embrace them, develop them, control them.

Foundation Breathing Exercises

Foundation breathing exercises stretch meridians in respective areas of the body, and move qi around the organs. While doing these exercises, you may either stand, sit, or lie down. Regardless of your posture, however, it is essential that you remain loose, relaxed, and focused throughout the breaths. Breathe slowly and steadily, and physically expand and contract respective areas of the body, as dictated by the exercise.

These foundation breathing exercises have never previously been written about. They are used to treat PMS, balance hormones, treat the bowels and regulate bowel movements, treat digestive problems and regulate digestion, aid in weight control, and cleanse organs of infections and energy blockages.

To begin these breathing exercises, stand comfortably, shoulders relaxed, legs a comfortable shoulders-width apart, and with knees pointing straight ahead. Your arms should hang at your sides and your arms, hands, and neck should be relaxed. Remember to relax the perineum (hui yin point), the point between the anus and genitals. Next, close your eyes, relax, and clear your mind.

Chest Breathing: The chest breathing exercise helps the respiratory system, and may be performed for five minutes at a time. Do not take big, loud, deep breaths, and exhalations should last just slightly longer than the inhalations.

To begin chest breathing, pull the breath and fresh energy into your lungs, by expanding them to full capacity as you inhale through your nose slowly, quietly, and steadily. Make sure to inflate the chest only. You may feel your stomach suck in slightly.

Next, as you exhale, push the breath and stale energy out through your mouth slowly, quietly, and steadily. Slowly contract your chest and lungs to their least capacity. You may feel your chest getting concave.

Upper Stomach Breathing: The upper stomach breathing exercise helps the digestive system. Do not take big, loud, deep breaths, and exhalations should last just slightly longer than the inhalations.

To begin upper stomach breathing, pull the breath into the area between the navel and diaphragm, as you inhale through your nose slowly, quietly, and steadily. Expand your upper stomach (only) between the ribcage and navel to full capacity, making sure to keep your chest and lower stomach in or flat.

Next, exhale through your mouth slowly, quietly, and steadily. Pull or suck in your upper stomach as you push your breath and stale energy out. You may feel your lower stomach pull in ever so slightly as well.

This is generally a difficult area for people to isolate in movement. Stay loose, relaxed, and focused throughout the breaths, and isolate movement only in the upper stomach.

Lower Stomach Breathing: The lower stomach breathing exercise helps the reproductive and urinary systems. Do not take big, loud, deep breaths, and exhalations should last just slightly longer than the inhalations.

To begin lower stomach breathing, inhale through your nose slowly, quietly, and steadily. As you inhale, pull the breath into the lower stomach-only from the navel down. Expand the pelvic area, and drop the breath to the pelvic floor. As you inhale, inflate your lower stomach (only) between the ribcage and navel to full capacity, making sure to keep your chest and upper stomach flat and deflated. Next, push the breath and stale air out and pull or suck in your lower stomach as you exhale through your mouth slowly, quietly, and steadily. You may feel your upper stomach pull in ever so slightly.

This can also be a difficult area for people to isolate in movement. Again, stay relaxed and focused throughout the breaths, and try to isolate movement in the lower stomach. With continued practice you will progress.

Comments: All three breathing exercises may either be done formally as described or informally while watching television or sitting on a bus, train, or in a car, for example. If done formally, men should do thirty-six breaths while women should do twenty-four breaths, or their equivalent in time. (You should time yourself as to how long these repetitions take you to complete and just practice for this period of time to avoid the distraction of counting repetitions.)
< br> If done informally, there is no time or repetition limit, but do not do the exercise all day long (too much of anything is not good). Some people may experience slight discomfort when beginning these breathing exercises. This usually occurs in an area where qi is not moving freely. Continue your practice and the discomfort will gradually cease.

Standing Pole

The standing pole exercise aims to circulate the qi throughout the entire body and meridian system. It aids in whole-body circulation of blood and energy, utilizes the body's whole meridian system with the yin and yang forces, and stretches and adjusts 19 vertebrae-from the coccyx to T1.

To begin the standing pole, stand comfortably with shoulders relaxed, legs a comfortable shoulders-width apart, and knees very slightly bent. Keep your arms slightly away from your torso. Your arms, hands, and neck should be relaxed. Remember to relax the perineum-the hui yin point found between the anus and genitals. Breath and movement are combined in this exercise to circulate qi throughout the meridian system. All movements should be slow, steady, and deliberate.

Next, close your eyes, take a deep breath, and clear your mind. Inhale through your nose, slowly and steadily, and bring energy up the back of your body. Exhale through your mouth, slowly and steadily, and bring the energy down the front of your body. Be sure to breathe silently and calmly, paying no attention to the sound of your breath.

With each inhalation, concentrate on pulling the qi up your back side and moving your body as the energy moves. The qi moves through your heels and up the back of your legs. As the qi passes your knees they straighten. The qi then continues past your hips up your spine to the shoulder area. When the qi reaches the base of the spine, begin to pull your shoulders up, thus moving the energy up the spine and to the top of your head (bai hui point). Your hips, waist, and spine contract and rise as the qi moves through each area.

With each exhalation, concentrate on moving the qi down your front side the moment of moving your body following the energy movement. Follow the movement of qi from the bai hui point as your shoulders move forward, down across your forehead and face, down your chest, and down your stomach. At this point, the qi splits off and goes down both legs as your knees bend, and out the balls of your feet (yong quan point).

Comments: Repeat this sequence for at least five minutes, but as long as you like. While performing the standing pole exercise, you should experience a feeling of warmth over each area the qi travels. You may also experience sensations of cold, vibrations, or feel as though there is a clicking sound in your joints or spine. As your practice continues, you may feel heightened sensations in various areas of your body. Some people may also experience slight discomfort in various areas of their body, which generally indicates a place where qi is blocked. With continued practice the discomfort will gradually cease.

Closing Exercise

The closing exercise aims to wash the meridian system, and correct energy imbalances in the body, including high blood pressure. To begin the closing exercise, stand straight with your feet a comfortable shoulders-width apart. Stay relaxed throughout your body, close your eyes, and clear your mind.

Swiftly but not stiffly, and in a sweeping motion, raise your arms up along both sides of your body and above your head, as though you are scooping up the energy around you. (Men should raise their left hand just slightly higher above their head than their right hand. Women should raise their right hand slightly higher than their left.)

Next, softly and evenly bend at the elbows and move the palms down toward the bai hui point on top of your head, as though you are pushing energy into the point. Be sure not to touch your head.

Fold your thumbs in slightly, and move your hands down along the front of your body in a steady motion, with palms facing the ground. As your arms and hands move down you should feel energy washing down your body, like a waterfall. The energy washes down your face, chest, and stomach, and splits off down the legs and out the balls of your feet. You may feel a rush of energy leave your feet, and you may have an external and internal sensation as the energy washes down your body.

Comments: If you have practiced qigong for fifteen minutes or more, you should end with nine repetitions of the closing exercise. As a regular exercise, this can be performed for five, ten, or fifteen minutes or more at a time.

While this is only a sample of the vast number of qigong exercises available useful for the martial artist, continued practice will ensure greater strength, power, and well-being.

About the Authors

FaXiang Hou is the fifth-generation heir to his family qigong system. He can be reached care of the Qigong Research Society at 3804 Church Rd., Mt. Laurel, NJ 08054. (609) 234-3056.

Mark Wiley is an accomplished martial artist in a variety of Philippine and Chinese martial arts, French savate, tae kwon do and karate. He is Associate Editor for and has served as Martial Arts Editor for Charles E. Tuttle Publishing Co., Book Publishing Editor for Unique Publications, Editor of Martial Arts Legends magazine and Associate Editor for the Journal of Asian Martial Arts. He is also author of eight books on martial arts and qi gong (Qigong for Health and Well-Being co- authored with FaXiang Hou), and over 100 articles published in a variety of martial arts magazines.

To find more articles of interest, search on one of these keywords:

qigong, qi gong, chi kung, chi, ki, xing, shen, jing, yi

Read more articles by FaXiang Hou and Mark V. Wiley

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