Tuesday, October 9, 2012

“Real Fajin” and other things: Internal and External

(This is an interim blog to comment about some issues that have come up in emails)

The previous silk-reeling blog was to explain roughly how six-harmonies works generally works in the so-called “internal arts”.  The problem a lot of people have is in understanding that almost all the so-called “external” arts also use parts of the same six-harmonies theories, but the dependence on dantien-control is not the same.  Training methods like overtly stretching connective tissues, “dynamic tension”, etc., the use of neigongs, etc., overlap both “internal” and “external” arts, but just because an external art uses “internal exercises”, it’s not the same thing as an “internal” style art. 

An internal-style art is going to use the type of movement described in the previous blog and it takes quite a while of knowledgeable practice to develop the body connections in a way that is controlled by the dantien.  It can’t be faked (well, maybe to a bunch of newbies who don’t know anything).

I saw a video of a western Taiji teacher who was showing what he called “Real Fajin”.  It was interesting to watch and he obviously used a variation of the pressure-packing stuff you see in a lot of southern Shaolin arts common to Hong Kong, Fujian Province, Taiwan, and so on.  Without getting too involved with the pressure-packing things, let me just indicate that most styles use some aspect of this phenomenon, but a style that uses the “external” type of movement and body-mechanics is going to use different aspects of pressure phenomena in different ways.  In other words, someone who has trained his body to move as a unit controlled by the dantien is going to apply pressure phenomena differently than someone who uses more localized movement.  So the over-arching point is that before the discussion ever reaches the “I’m internal, too” stage, the first thing to do is to look at the basic six-harmonies/reeling-silk aspects.  Someone using an aspect of the pressure phenomena is not necessarily doing Taijiquan by any means.

Another thing to consider is antagonistic tensions (sometimes called "contradiction").  Some arts use varying formats of antagonistic tensions in postures, stances (screwing into the ground with the legs, for example).  There are antagonistic tensions that use jin and a lot that simply use different grades of muscular tension.  The point is that using tensions of the muscular and winding types preclude full control of the body by the dantian.  So once again, no matter how effective different approaches are, the type of strength developed by relaxed channels controlled by the dantien and assisted by jin, is noticeably different from the type of movement in the so-called Waijia, the external-style arts.




  1. Interesting ideas.

    I am a doctor of physical medicine and rehabilitation, so I'm very familiar with the biomechanics of muscles, tendons, ligaments, bones, joints, and nerves.

    A few months ago, I had the privilege of meeting a Caucasian Taiji instructor, Willow Seronko, who was able to demonstrate the difference between internal strength and muscle strength.

    First, Willow showed me what internal strength looks like. He stood in a rather tall, narrow "ward-off" position. He was centered (i.e., not leaning forward) and his warding-off arm looked relaxed. He had me try to push him. When my hands met his arm, there was no reactive movement of his body. I pushed as hard as I could, leaning all my weight into his arm, even pushing with my feet like the strongmen do when pulling trucks, and I couldn't budge his arm, body, or feet. It was like pushing a tree trunk. He remained upright and centered, looking very relaxed. Then he took a couple steps forward, and despite all my efforts, I was pushed backward as if he were a slowly moving truck.

    Then he showed me what muscle strength looks like. He leaned forward in a front stance (what fake Taiji instructors will often do during "wardoff") and put tension in his arm. When my hands met his arm, there was a countering push. I was easily able to move his body and lift him off his front foot. I then asked him to relax his arm like a wet noodle (another false Taiji strategy), and was still able to push his body off balance.

    He explained that internal energy was like "hydraulics", and that it could only work if your muscles were completely relaxed. You start by sinking "pressure" through your feet into the earth. The pressure will "pump" fluid up through the legs, into the dantian, and into the arms. He explained that there was a difference between weight and "pressure", and that you can increase the pressure through your feet even without adding more weight to your body.

    Now, I know enough basic physics to know that you simply cannot increase the pressure between your feet and the ground without adding weight (provided you're not changing the contact surface). Even if there was a way that pressure could build up in our fluid channels and make us stiff without muscle tension, that wouldn't make it harder to push someone over (if anything, it would make them topple over easier). There is nothing from a traditional physics standpoint that would explain why I couldn't budge this man, as he stood erect without moving or reacting to my force.

    Willow also demonstrated what he referred to as "connecting" to the other person. We stood normally, facing each other, our toes nearly touching. He gently got a hold of my wrists with a pincer grasp. As soon as I reacted, he was able to tip me off balance with only a very low-velocity and low-amplitude rotation of his arms. If I didn't react, he wasn't able to move me. The curious thing was, if I even moved the slightest bit in reaction to his grasp, I couldn't help but be tipped off balance. It was as if his "connecting" had the effect of stiffening up my arms or amplifying my muscle tension by several orders of magnitude.

    I highly recommend that, in order to expand or refine your model of how internal energy works, that you meet someone like Willow and try to push him. Here's a video of him demonstrating this several years ago on some of his students:


    Other people I suspect have this ability are:

    Michael Phillips (Texas)
    Adam Mizner (Australia)
    Wee Kee Jin (Australia)
    Henry Wang (Vancouver Island, Willow's teacher)
    Anthony Ho Nan Jie (LA)


  2. Hi Mike:

    Well, again, let me ask that people discuss/debate in terms of what they themselves know, no in terms of what someone else said or did. I get nowhere fighting a ghost that is an outgrowth of a perception.

    If you look at some of the comments I made, in particular the ones about "muscle jin" and "pressure pulsing", I actually covered all the cases you're discussing. I can teach someone to basically handle muscle-jin as you pointed out in that video or I can show someone how to develop a (somewhat different) type of pressure pulsing like in the case of Michael Phillips. My point was that someone can develop skills like the ones you're pointing to and still not have the basic movement of full-blown internal strength that I tried to describe in the Silk-Reeling blog. I don't want this to devolve to a discussion of who can push whom because I've done that sort of thing for years and I understand that just because I push someone doesn't mean much in terms of the final description of internal strength.

    I can feel someone's push and go "Oh, that feels pretty pure", even if I can push them... and by that I mean that we can keep the discussion a little higher level than "meet someone like Willow and try to push him". What if I meet him and push him fairly easily or I release an amount of power that overcomes him... do you see how that is actually outside of the academic discussion? Let's try to refine what it is that we're saying.


    Mike Sigman

  3. Incidentally, Mike, assuming the Mike Hsu at Kaiser in Portland is you and you're a physiatrist, I'll be happy to meet up with you sometime and go over the physical parts of it. My wife's an orthopod, BTW. As I said, the real problem is that these kinds of skills involve a whole-body coordination that normal people can't grasp until they get some of it. Then there's this sort of "Oh yeah". There's actually a lot more to these skills than the baseline parameters that I put in the blog so far, but bear in mind that I'm attempting to achieve a goal of affecting the current level; I'm not trying to tell everything I know, by any means.

    Over the years I've learned, though, that until someone puts in the time and conditioning, it's pointless to talk about other things. My email should be in my profile on the blog, so if you're ever out this way, let's plan on meeting and comparing notes.


    Mike Sigman