Saturday, 29 May 2010

Jin Gang Li Gong, Iron Strength Qigong

The style of Qigong I practice is called Jin Gang Li. It is a martial art Qigong, which means there is a large focus on building up and developing internal power.

The main method of practice is standing posture, where you hold your hands in front of your chest as if holding a ball and a bent knee stance with the toes turned in slightly. This strengthens the leg muscles and after years of practice condenses the bones. While standing, we focus on building and strengthening the Dan Tian, which is the area of the lower belly, beneath the navel. There are actually three Dan Tians, but the lower one is the foundation, the part of your body where Qi is stored. The lower Dan Tian is strengthened through concentration on that area and deep breathing. You must breathe all the way down into your lower belly, expanding it. After a while of dedicated practice, you will begin to feel warm, numb or inflated feelings in your lower belly. This means Qi is beginning to accumulate here. It is recommended you stand for a bare minimum of 30 minutes, but 1-2 hours will give you greater benefits. It also requires long term persistence, you wont get any benefit just doing it on and off, it must be done daily.

There are also supplementary moving forms and sitting meditation. The sitting meditation focuses on using the mind to guide the Qi through different channels in the body. The moving forms help to strengthen the body, open meridians and release power. The first moving form is a collection of six basic movements which do all of the above. Then, there is the Sun form, which opens the meridians between the hands and the lower Dan Tian and increases the Qi flow there. The next form is the Moon form, which is taught once the middle Dan Tian, located at the solar plexus is opened. The middle Dan Tian acts as a kind of pump, it helps send your Qi from your lower Dan Tian to different arts of your body. The Moon form helps to open and strengthen the middle Dan Tian and the chest. The next step is the Heaven form, which focusses on releasing power. A a higher level, once your lower and middle Dan Tians are both full, you can work on the upper Dan Tian, orthird eye. This is located between the eyes, and is said to be the gateway into developing more esoteric powers, such as being able to send you Qi out of your body and other skills. I have been fortunate enough to feel this, when I had lower back trouble, while standing in Qigong, Master Guo would come over and press his thumbs into my back every day for a week. I got a feeling of intense heat coming from his thumbs into my back and my whole got a hot flush and I started sweating intensely.

Another important part of Jin Gang Li is Iron Shirt training, which is conditioning the body to withstand blows. Any part of the body can be conditioned, such as the back, ribs, stomach, arms, palm, fingers, even the head. Advanced practitioners can take full power kicks to the stomach or ribs, have sticks broken over their back, break metal bars over their heads and more.

Jin Gang Li is an art which is being practiced less and less. Master Guo told me that nowadays, young martial artists want to do acrobatics and kickboxing, nobody wants to stand on one spot for long periods of time, so the art is not spreading. There are many westerners who come to our academy and they learn Qigong from Master Guo, but few will be around long enough to get a high level in the system. In 8 months I have got to focussing on the middle Dan Tian and the Moon form, but with my main focus being Mantis Kung Fu, I dont have the time to really focus on Qigong. Perhaps in the future, when my Kung Fu is much better, I can spend some time to focus more on this interesting art.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Some books I recommend on martial arts

Sword Polishers Record-Way of Kung Fu: This is on of my favourite books on Kung Fu. It is written by a master named Adam Hsu, who teaches a number of traditional northenr styles, such as Baji, Xing Yi and Chen Style Taiji in America. This is a compilation of years of articles hes written on Kung Fu, such as principles, philosophy, purpose of forms, role of a teacher and senior students, culture etc. I really like this book as it relates to any style of Kung Fu and is a treasure chest of knowledge about real, traditional Kung Fu. He dispels a lot of historical myths, explains the misunderstandings about what constitutes internal and external, northern and southern, describes principles common to all Chinese martial arts as well as so much more. If you read one book on Kung Fu it should be this one.

A Tooth from the Tigers Mouth: This book is a good supplement for martial arts training. It deals with treatment of sports injuries using Traditional Chinese Medicine. Firstly it introduces the principles of TCM and the common practices, then the later sections deal with treatments for common injuries, using pressure points, herbal medicines, ointments, massage and more.

The Tao of Gung Fu: A compilation of Bruce Lees earlier writings, this book is packed full of Bruces thoughts on martial arts, styles, famous masters of the past as well as techniques he used in Jun Fan Gung Fu before he created JKD. It is packed full of philosophy and theory for martial arts and is good for all Kung Fu practitioners.


Xing Yi Nei Gong: This book advertises itself as presenting a set of supplementary internal strengthening excercises for internal martial arts. However, it does much more than that, containing translations of all the Xing Yi classes, which I have found very helpful, as a lot of the internal concepts relate to any style, I think practicioners of any style will find this book interesting and useful, especially for internal arts.

Whirling Circles of Ba Gua: Although this presents Cheng style Ba Gua and I practice Yin style, I still found this book interesting. It had a good section on the history and central philosophies of Ba Gua, demonstrates the 8 Mother Palms, 8 Palm Changes as well as some applications and weapons. The theory/philosophy is excellent and the end portion of the book has translations of the Ba Gua classics, which have been indispensable to training.


Saturday, 1 May 2010

A Look into Mantis Fist

I feel that now Ive been learning mantis for more or less 7 months, Im beginning to get a bit of an idea what it is all about. To an outsider, 7 months may sound like a long time, but anyone who has studied Kung Fu will know that it just the beginning of a very long journey.

Master Qu teaches slowly and thoroughly, and he doesnt always tell you things at first. Before, I thought that a teacher should tell you everything, but now I see that its not good to know things too early, you probably wont appreciate or understand them. When I practice forms, he is very thorough, I get one move at a time, and I need to practice that one move until its right, then I get the next one. In some cases, I have spent 2-3 weeks with no new move to my form. While this is frustrating, repetition is very important, to develop good body mechanics, good posture and correct use of power. It also develops patience and determination, as you have to earn the next move.

Mantis uses a lot of trapping and controlling techniques, it has some similarities to Wing Chun in this respect, although Wing Chun is very linear, Mantis is more circular. While to an outsider, the application of the two arts may look similar, the ideas behind it are very different. Wing Chun is based on the principle of economy of motion, the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, which is the same idea as Xing Yi Quan. Mantis on the other hand uses the idea that circular movements generate more power, akin to Taiji. Every movement uses the whole body in a twisting motion, starting from the feet and twisting from the waist. Each movement sets you up for the next one, like a swinging door. This also uses the centreline principle, except slightly differently from Wing Chun. In Mantis, the centreline is the core of the body, which is the axis for any rotation of the body.

Mantis footwork is very powerful, but agile. Every step is light, yet strong, and provides power for the attacking arms.. The weight is not fixed on any particular leg, but is free to move between the two depending on the situation. For example if I straight punch from my front arm, the weight comes slightly forward, a hook punch from the back arm would bring the weight back again as the body twists. It has similarities in this aspect to the footwork of Ba Gua Zhang, which is why Master Qu teaches these arts together, as they are complementary.

Another interesting thing in Mantis is that despite the fact that on the surface it is vicious, fast and powerful, it is most definitely an internal art. Qigong is an important part of Mantis, standing postures provide the base for this, and then later on there are many movements, designed to strengthen the tendons of the body, open up the channels and meridians and develops deep, abdominal breathing, which strengthens the diaphragm and internal organs. Qigong not only develops these, but quietens the mind, giving clarity of thought and teaches you how to use your intent to generate much greater power than just the muscles.

The thing I like most about Mantis is that it is a very complete system. It contains elements of everything I want from martial arts, harmonizes the internal and external, develops powerful internal energy, is practical for fighting, good excercise for the body, is incredibly effective and vicious and looks stunning when performed well. It is a very complex art, not just the surface movements, but inside too. There is much more going on that what you see when being performed.

Finally, a good book in English on Mantis!

I just bought this book on Mantis. It is the first book I've found in English that is actually good and interesting. It explains the history, putting a lot of myths about its so called connections to Shaolin to rest, and explains it according to its Taoist principles and as an internal art. Another nice thing about the book, is how it draws similarities between Mantis and Taiji, and has examples of the similarities throughout. This is something not many people are aware of, but something my master has mentioned. 

I hope that practitioners of Mantis, and also Taiji or any Kung Fu or martial art can get a copy of this book, its a really good read.