What is Qi?

CHI

For so long we have referred to “qi,” without actually describing what qi is so that we all know what were are talking about. Lifeforce, energy and so on are words. Through experience we interpret them, but if you have no experience, defining qi becomes more elusive.

Qi is change. Not like “spare change” as in money, but shifts that occur in the position of the body, for example. In order to shift you probably need a shift in the mind. Perspective has to change. You need to discern more subtle positions of the body and the feeling of flow. Qi flows. One way to identify qi is to seek out places in the body that have nothing flowing through them. This understanding is achievable by everyone who tries, I believe.

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Six Power Stretching Steps

ImageGuest Post by Shifu Susan A. Matthews, MS, ND

Power stretching is part of basic training in the Lan Shou System, an internal style of fighting characterized by its side-power technique. Any practitioner of Chinese Internal Martial Arts who studies consistently for long enough will eventually learn some form of power stretching exercises. Power stretching tones the body and prepares the bones, tendons and ligaments for whole-body connection, one-unit movement. It’s an excellent preparation for applying spiraling biomechanics in Chen Style chan shi chin practice. This is what I have learned from my teachers Lan Shou Masters George Xu (http://www.georgexu.com), Wu Ji and Ye Xiao Long, as well as Wang Ming Bo and Shou Guan Shun. These masters are from Shanghai. All have study several forms of internal arts for many years, and consider power stretching essential.

. . . .  Power stretching works well for creating a strong root, great balance, and formidable power. I describe in detail six steps to powerstretching on my website (http://www.susanamatthews.com). The key is activating the musculoskeletal structure to connect the upper torso to the waist/hips and the waist/hips to the ground. The steps are:

  1. Create Ground Force:Connect the Upper and Lower Body
  2. Stretch the Joint Tendon Ligaments
  3. Straighten the Posture
  4. Practice Energy
  5. Three-Dimensional Expansion/Contraction
Image of wu ji

Master Wu Ji

Key points to consider when power stretching.
References and sources of this information are recorded on many videos found on the website.

Power stretching is initially a physical practice, meaning you focus on what the muscles, joints, tendons, ligaments and skeletal structure are doing. Strength is felt in the physical body and testing creates a form of hard power through the bone-tendon-ligament, as opposed to power derived from energetic focus. When practicing on the physical level, forces are set up to oppose and stop rather than to yield and redirect as in taijiquan.

With practice over time power stretching can physically transform you. After reaching this stage, power stretching can still be practiced, except the focus should be on energetic lines of force flowing through the bone-tendon-ligament channels within the body.

Describing it in anatomical terms, power stretching focuses on transforming the body’s connective tissue including tendons, ligaments, fascia, joint capsules, cartilage and bone, as opposed to focusing on muscle-tendon lengthening. The translation, “powerstretching” is somewhat misleading, it is not as one usually thinks about stretching, nor is it like yoga; but it is a form of isometric stretching (muscles stay the same length) combined with using ground forces to actively stretch and manipulate the joints. The joints and attendant stretched connective tissue becomes more hydrated, elastic, and bouncy.

The primary goal is to connect the body into a one-unit snake that makes the body a whip that can transmit spiraling force; alive, vibrating like a well-tuned violin. Force and energy are transmitted fast and easily, just like plucking a string or banging a drum. So after combining power stretching with spiral training the body moves as one unit with suppleness, fluidity, and flexibility, a beautiful and healthy place to be.

Image of Ye Xiao Long

Ye Xiao Long

A body trained like this is great for all martial arts and every other sport or movement art. This training allows the body to transmit qi easily. Energetic meridians, blood vessels and lymphatic vessels run in fascial planes and when the fascia is aligned, stretched and made more elastic, qi energy and fluids flow more openly.

Image of George Xu

Master George Xu powerstretching in Lan Shou Cao Quan form

At the beginning,physical work modifies the tissues and changes the physical structure. At higher levels, the work can become energetic mind work, revealing lines of forces, with the physical body responding to the energetic command. At the simplest level, I describe the specific anatomical manipulations that create basic rooting and the fundamental postural changes, anatomy and biomechanics required in all power stretching. Selected video titles contain a variety of power stretch sets. George Xu presents it almost as a Qigong practice, while Ye Xiao Long demonstrates martial applications and amazing flexibility. Wu Ji has the most beautiful long, full-body stretches. Jin Shin Ba Gu from Shou Guan Shun and Wang Ming Bo also trains for maximum extension.

Note: This Guest post is excerpted from Shifu Matthews’ new educational powerstretching page where she has posted new streaming video links of the mentioned masters and other info useful for powerstretching.

martial art therapy

In martial arts, overcoming one’s fears and ignorance is a major task that the practitioner undertakes. It’s therapy for those wishing to overcome obstacles within themselves and not so much overcoming an opponent in battle; although, it applies to both all the same. I would say that it is the one struggle each of us signs on for when we take the first step towards learning martial arts.