The Internal Power Training Blog

Check out the latest info and research from Coach Chris' explorations in the Subject of Internal Power.

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It is common in the internal arts for practitioners to focus on their ability to ‘Root’ or maintain a type of sinking stability. We see this phenomenon in myriad videos of TaiJi practitioners performing fixed step push hands for instance, where the slightest step is seen as a failure or defeat.

Certainly, if you have read my recent article on the skill of being heavy you will note this ability is a very useful one both for health and combat. However, there is another side to the coin when it comes to the body skill in the internal arts, one that is often neglected but remains equally important none the less. The skill of lightness.
This skill is often portrayed in the Martial Arts Movies as an ability to leap huge distances, to run up walls or atop bamboo stalks, but there is a much more down to earth utility to this skill. The skill of lightness has a positive impact on many body functions and has a great applicability to the combative environment. Lightness is predicated on the tissues of the body being springy and healthy, the body being lengthened and open, and of the mind being unfixed and free, the result being a balanced agile body and a light and open mind.

I have discussed light body skills in a short previous post many years ago, but here we will take a slightly deeper dive into some of the hows and whys of the light body skills found in the internal practices.

The first verse of the Tai Chi Chuan Ching Attributed to Chang San Feng reads thus:

"In motion the whole body should be light and agile,
with all parts of the body linked
as if threaded together."

This is the first comment on Tai Chi Chuan that the Author, whomever they may have truely been, made. It was not talk of softness, smoothness, root, instead they place a light and agile body that was connected together at the forefront of their teachings.

The light body training has a direct impact on the health of the practitioner’s mind and body. The skill of lightness and agility stems from the training of elastic components in our bodies such that their ability to store and release energy is very refined. Further, it is the interplay of the effect of gravity on these tissues and how they store elastic energy through extension as a result. This is not possible if the joints are stiff, the tissues are brittle and the muscles are tense. Natural elasticity is a process of development that happens over a long period of time via training the connections inside the body. It is simply not possible to have lightness skills and be tense or ‘stuck’ in your body.

Further, when we view the Internal arts through the lens of their original purpose, methods of combat, it makes sense for agility to be a founding concept in their effectiveness. Agility is one of the core attributes that the martial artists must possess but in the Internal Styles it can look quite different to some of the other classically ‘Agile’ Martial arts out there like Silat or Capoera.

Lightness in the body.

At its heart, agility though lightness is founded in the practitioners ability to utilise the ‘UP’ direction. In contrast, of course, Heaviness and root allows the practitioner to utilise the ‘down’. The up direction is used in a variety of ways in these arts, from ‘floating’ the limbs; for instance the leg in order to kick without giving anyway sign of it, to the ability to raise a partner out of their root when in grappling exchange, to the ability to use deceptive or agile footwork. For health, utilizing the upwards direction is used to lengthen or open the spine, to release pressure in the joints, to create extension and ‘leading’ forces that relax and transform the tissues.

The heavy body, as mentioned previously, is largely alignment and interaction of the bodies mass with the Earths Gravity. We use or body tissues and alignments in such a way as to maximise the effect that gravity has on them when interacting with a partner.

The Light body, conversely, is described in some traditional models as connecting to the upwards or rebound force of the earth, and is considered the equal opposite of the force of gravity. This is, in fact, a bit of an illusion in that the earths surface is simply providing resistance, stopping us sinking to the earths core. However, because we are essentially a tensegrity structure of bone linked together with Elastics (muscles, tendons, ligaments, fascia) we constantly store a level of energy in our bodies. It is along this network that the ‘up direction’ is focused and achieved, again through refined alignments but also through the pulling of the tissues over the bones, and through the extension or leading of the body in 6 directions.

Feeling the up direction

One way in which we can start to feel the upwards directions in the body is through articulation. It is how we jump in normal action or how we reach. However, when combined with intent we can clearly feel an upwards direction form in our bodies and an extension occur, even though the initial movement may simply be an articulation.

For instance, try standing shoulder width, legs soft and bent. Then begin to straighten the legs very slowly while simultaneously intending to put the top of your head against the ceiling. The feeling Is clear and immediate.

The reason this feels so clear is that the mind is performing a rising motion it understands and feels all the time, extending the legs, however this is combined with extension of the torso by intending to place the top of the head on the ceiling. The mind maps the bodies direction in a new way because of this extension, the tissues of the torso become slightly taught and the proprioceptive network fires up to let us know we are going up.
We can then go further and rather than straightening the legs we instead engage the crotch arch and feel a similar upwards force (see image).

This very simple example can be layered on to many different motions and directions, the method of articulation, stretch and tautness in elastic tissues and intent to lead the body helps us to create powerful upwards forces.

In upcoming articles we will look at how ‘Balance’ between these up and down forces is used in these arts.

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