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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The internal arts and methods are perhaps best defined by the way in which they utilize the body to create, receive and transform forces. There are many different ways in which the body is used in this regard from rotating and rolling the Center, to tensioning the connective tissue web, to co-ordinating the limb and body into a unified action.  But in this post we will be looking at one of these interesting methods that utilizes the Axis of the body in a ‘wave’. This is often referred to as the ‘spine wave’.

The spine wave is created by the action of the Lumbar Spine, the thoracic spine and associated tissues working sequentially but in harmony with one another. It is often seen in the crashing forward direction of Xing Yi Quan’s Pi or ‘splitting’ method or in TaiJi Quan’s An or ‘push downwards’ method.

These methods utilize the spine wave to create a power akin to a wave breaking and crashing onto a beach or an Axe chopping wood. But these two examples can be thought of as slightly different in execution and practice, although extremely closely linked.


Thinking of the person chopping wood is a useful initial analogy for understanding how the spine and tissues of the axis can be used to create and release power in one of the method. During the rear swing of the axe the body will Bow storing and preparing the tissues for the forward action, then this bow will release, curving in the opposite direction as the wood is chopped.


This bowing and un-bowing of the spine is one very powerful way in which the Internal Arts adept can utilize the spine to create force or power. But the Spine wave can also produce force in a slightly different way much more akin to the ‘wave crashing’ example.


In this alternative method the Coccyx acts as the base or root of the wave and doesn’t actually move very much.  The action of the wave travels up the spine from this point using the tissues of the front and back of the body to transmit the force up the torso and out of whatever surface is utilized in the action.  For the root of this method to be stable and able to allow a wave to occur, the Pelvis needs to provide a stable but mobile platform for the tissues of the torso to work off. Much like the frame of a door, the pelvis is semi fixed in this method with the focal point being the coccyx. Seeing the pelvis as a triangle, using the hip joints (or sometimes the Illiac Crests) and the Coccyx to monitor 3 dimensional stability is a very useful trick when teaching this method to new students.


Once this stable root has been established the start of the wave is actually created by the rolling forward and down of the Lower Dan tien. This rolling action is physical and can be easily felt when placing the hand on the belly of a skilled adept. This forward rolling of the lower dan tien (tissues of the pelvis & lower abdomen) pulls on the Lumbar spine, increasing the lumbar curve and beginning the forward & downward motion of the torso.


This initial forward curvature of the Lumbar spine then holds its position as the curve travels to the juncture of the Lumbar and Thoracic Spine. This has the effect of actually flattening the Lumbar region as the initial ‘dent’ passes up through the Lumbar into the Thoracic Spine. As the wave travels further up into the thoracic spine, the scapular and shoulders are roll slightly back and in, somewhat loading their associated tissues. Finally at the T3 to T4 vertebrae the wave splits into the arms and is transmitted through to the utilized surface.

In the early stages of training this method is very slow, very soft and very gentle. As the strength of the tissues in the axis increases this wave motion becomes compressed until it is hardly noticeable but the huge power associated with it remains.


It is important to note that if the wave is allowed to travel up to the head past T3 & T4  it can cause problems in the juncture between the cervical and thoracic spine. This problem can be recognized by a pronounced head shake when moving quickly. Some Arts manage to display this attribute with seemingly no ill effects while others have seen pronounced health problems as a result.


Distinct from the example of the Lumberjack chopping with an axe, which is also a much utilized internal power method, this technique can be thought of as maximizing power in the vertical plane. When we add the action of the waist, which is responsible for action in the Horizontal Plane, we gain access to the all of the Diagonal planes of direction too.


We will be looking at the Bowing method of spine usage in a future post as well as the use of the waist for horizontal action.

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