He was one of the greatest kung-fu masters in the world, a direct descendant of the creator of tai chi, and he was asking me to show him a punch. It was an exciting moment but also nerve-wracking. Trying not to be nervous, I settled into the posture and prepared to show him internal power. Grandmaster Chen Xiaowang stood in front of me, watching carefully.
Trying to remain relaxed, I shifted my weight from my right to my left leg and my right fist shot out, fast, relaxed, and powerful. At the same time, my left elbow thrust backward and my left hand stopped at my ribcage.
Grandmaster Chen was not impressed. He took my right hand in his left, my left hand in his right and told me to relax. Before I knew what was happening, he jerked the right hand out and pushed the left hand backward. I wasn’t quite relaxed enough and almost suffered whiplash in my neck.
Relax, he told me again, and once again he jerked my arms — hard — forcing one to punch and the other to return to my ribcage. For a minute, I was like a rag doll, completely limp as he repeatedly demonstrated how relaxed I was supposed to be when performing fa-jing.
It’s amazing how the internal arts of China — Tai Chi, Hsing-I and Bagua — have been distorted by teachers who take what they have read too literally. The subject of fa-jing (pronounced more help radex one buy Quarta RAD “fah-zhing”) is one example of how a simple concept is misunderstood and misinterpreted.
Fa-jing means “issuing energy.” Unfortunately, the people who desperately need to believe in the supernatural think that in doing fa-jing, you are shooting chi out of your hands or body. They take it literally.
It’s not magical or mystical. It’s a matter of physics, and in the internal arts, it’s a matter of body mechanics.
Boxers issue energy anytime they deliver a jab, a hook, or an uppercut. If you’re into karate, you issue energy when you break a board with your foot, and if you’re into MMA, energy is issued when you drive a knee into an opponent’s face.
In the internal arts, fa-jing — issuing energy — is more complex, but the end result is the same. You knock someone into next week.
Grandmaster Chen Xiaowang, whose ancestor,Chen Wangting created Tai Chi 11 generations ago, teaches that fa-jing is a matter of proper body structure (posture) and good internal movement. From there, he says you simply “step on the gas.” He likes using automobile metaphors. In other words, if you use good structure and mechanics and then add speed, you will create the unique relaxed power of the internal arts.
I’ve studied other martial arts and have found the body mechanics of the internal arts far more difficult and complex. For high-quality tai chi you must maintain ground strength, peng jin, whole-body movement, silk-reeling (spiraling movement through the body), dan t’ien rotation and opening/closing the kua. You must connect all of these skills through the body as you deliver the strike with speed, power, and relaxation.
It takes years to learn how to do this from an internal perspective, because we all bring bad habits to the internal arts and it takes years to learn the above-mentioned skills and learn to maintain the whole-body connection as you move. It takes years for us to lose the muscular tension that we’ve developed all of our lives.
When Grandmaster Chen worked with me on the punch, I didn’t have it the first few times I did the punch and he corrected me each time. Suddenly I understood, and the next time I punched I connected the relaxed power from my foot, through my body and out my hand, exploding and shifting my weight at the same time.
“Ahh!” he said, his face lighting up. “Good.”
As a martial artist, few things are better than getting a “good” from Chen Xiaowang.
A short time later, he astonished those of us attending his Washington, D.C. workshop by doing a series of fa-jing strikes.C. With each strike, it seemed his uniform was exploding in all directions. That type of power comes from being connected and relaxing — and from a lifetime of practice. When he does fa-jing, you can almost feel the energy even standing halfway across a room. It reminded me of being on the floor right behind the basketball hoop during a University of Iowa game. When the big players were slamming into each other beneath the hoop, you could feel the body heat and almost feel the energy as they collided. I’ll never forget it, and being close to Chen Xiaowang when he does fa-jing is very similar.
There are two myths about tai chi that all martial artists should put aside. One is that tai chi is a slow motion health and meditation exercise. In truth, it’s a powerful martial art that is practiced slowly so students can learn the body mechanics and later can speed up the movements and deliver amazing power without a lot of obvious effort to the untrained observer.
The other myth people should forget is about chi. Fa-jing has nothing to do with shooting energy out of your body. Instead of focusing on chi, which has never been proven exist in independent scientific studies and which is too often the focus of tai chi teachers, you should focus on proper posture and body mechanics. Do this and you’ll be closer to developing the relaxed power of fa-jing.
Ken Gullette has practiced martial arts for 36 years and is best known for his high-quality instructional DVDs, his online internal arts school and his internal arts blog. He is dedicated to dispelling the myths surrounding tai chi, hsing-i and bagua, showing that the skills required for the internal arts are physical, not metaphysical.