Making your Internal Martial Art MORE effective

“Outside like Cotton: Inside Like Steel”

Highly focused tensile strength projected through a relaxed body

Key Points”

A Special kind of relaxation with power called “Athletic Connection”

Counter-force:  100 percent forward 100 percent backward

(From New Book, Section XI)
However, although these forms of martial arts are sometimes said to be relaxed, or “soft,” one must ask, why? What is this “softness,” and what makes it different from other kinds of athletic activities? In many respects, this kind of “soft” power is no different from the power expressed in other pugilistic forms. Although, in these examples, they might sometimes be described as “soft” or “relaxed,” this category of power is no different from examples found in baseball, basketball, and many other endeavors.

What characterizes many top tier athletes in their sport is the competitor’s ability to apply highly focused tension through a relaxed body. Thus, when the term “softening” is applied to t’ai-chi and related arts, on one level, this seems to be a contradictory notion. It might seem paradoxical that something “soft” and “relaxed” could simultaneously be powerful and effective. However, from a bio-mechanical viewpoint, the “softening” of t’ai-chi and other internal arts is no “softer” than the action of a loose spring-release-like throwing arm of a highly skilled baseball pitcher. † However, what does make the internal martial arts distinctive is their approach to training, which incorporate a special kind of relaxation as the basis of their practice.

† Note, an example of tensional strength in the martial arts, applied through a loose and relaxed body, can be viewed via the link provided in Box 11-33.

Link to Video Demonstrating Tensional Strength applied through a Relaxed Body. The Song-Peng Continuum

The Song-Peng Continuum
Confusion over the issue of “softening” starts to dissipate when one considers the special type of body mechanics inherent in these “internal” martial arts. In martial arts such as t’ai-chi and baguazhang, the contradiction is at least partly explained through the interaction of two central principles called song (鬆) and peng (掤).

Illustrated in Figure 11-32, the phonetic “song” forms the bottom half of the character for song. The top is a semantic, meaning the appearance of long hair about the shoulders. Although song is often translated as “relaxed,” this idea of “relaxed-ness” is often over-applied. This sometimes results in the practitioner acquiring a “soggy noodle” style of practice with no, or at least very limited, martial value. In contrast, and as demonstrated in the video that can be accessed from the link in Box 11-33, to be useful when one is in close contact with an opponent, akin to the pro baseball pitcher, one must simultaneously master the ability to direct tensional lines of force within the body. Access to this kind of skill is dependent on one’s ability to gain control over the continuum of tensional forces in the body.

The model of a continuum of tensional forces involves myofascial lines overlaid on a relaxed frame. In this light, it is suggested that a more complete picture of internal martial arts includes song, or “relaxed-ness,” as only part of a continuum. The other part of the proposed continuum includes the principle of a “repellent force,” described in t’ai-chi literature as peng, or, pengjin (掤勁).

The song-peng continuum can be imagined as expressing the tenacity of young, healthy bamboo, that springs back into position after being pushed out of shape. As used here, song-peng refers to a variable, yet tensional, strength that can be accessed by a person who is in a tensegruous state. The practitioner who embodies a range of highly focused, springy power through specific myofascial lines learns to apply the tensional line of concentrated force to an exact point where it meets the opponent. This model coincides with eighteenth-century martial arts master Chang Naizhou’s (苌乃周) teachings on training the qi by combining softness with hardness and the importance of “focusing the body’s energy to a single point.” (Section VIII).