"Traditional Northern Chinese Martial Arts
are all Sons of the Same Mother,"
- The late Liu Yun-qiao
Introduction - The ability to fa-jing (), i.e. express effective explosive power through the body is common to many of the martial arts systems found in Northern China. This characteristic energy expression is most commonly associated with such systems as xing yi, taijiquan and baguazhang (, , ) and is developed in a very systematic way of training. In the bajiquan () system taught by the late Liu Yun-qiao, fa-jing is mother's milk to all techniques and applications. In this article we will address how power and fa-jing are systematically trained for in the bajiquan/pigua zhang (/) system currently being taught by Tony Yang, a formal student of the late Liu Yun-qiao. It is important to note that many of the methods illustrated in this article are common to many of the aforementioned Northern Chinese systems.
The ability to delivery power and fa-jing is not an all-or-nothing proposition. Almost every individual has some degree of power and fa-jing applying their martial art. However, the question is whether its delivery is effective and if it can be delivered at a level where serious damage can be inflicted upon an opponent. This energy/body property can be best conceptualized along two continuums for training in the martial arts: 1) ineffective to effective and 2) undeveloped to developed. In the bajiquan system addressing three key areas systematically develops this energy body property: 1) legs, 2) waist, and 3) arms.
Three Simple but Effective Fa-jing Exercises - To develop effective and powerful fa-jing initially everything must start with the legs and the popular horse stance (mabu). The proper width of the horse stance is given in Figure A-1 and the depth is given by A-2. This stance is critical for generating power and developing the waist/kua () area for the effective transfer of power from the foot to the fist. Although difficult to infer from the pictures, the upper body is held in a relatively relaxed state and the fist itself is curled lightly and held hollow.
The first exercise develops punching power with fa-jing by punching from a horse stance to a bow stance ()and back to the horse with alternating sides. This is illustrated in Figures B-1 through B-11. Initially the practitioner moves from the horse to the bow and back to the horse in relatively slow motion, making sure that movement is properly transferred from the feet through the waist and out to the fist. No issuance of power is used and the teacher must check proper alignment. After 10 or more repetitions the exercises is performed fast and the fist is only tightened at the moment it is extended. The leg, waist, and back arm also drive the power of the forward thrusting fist. Breath is exhaled on the punch and inhaled on returning to the horse stance position. Chan si jing () is quite explicit in the feet and the waist. The instructor will often test the bow stance by walking upon the back leg. However, the upper body must remain relatively relaxed.
A second exercise consists of punching from the side and downward. Metaphorically this is referred to as fire and water (). This is illustrated in Figures C-1 through C-12. The initial strike is aimed at the opponent's eyes and needed to open up the waist area. Like fire, it rises; but the fa-jing strike is downward, like water and executed from a horse stance. Again the initial set of repetitions is done slowly to check alignment and full body extension. Additional repetitions are done faster and fa-jing is used in the strike.
It is also important to note that each of these exercises can be done as a two-man application. This is not recommended in the initial stages of training because body alignment must be properly held and relaxation must be present in the movements. In blocking the punches one quickly learns the importance of chan si jing employed in defensive movements. The exercise's application is illustrated in Figures D-1 through D-5.
The last exercise is to move from a horse stance to a bow stance while simultaneously blocking in the direction of the movement and then punching while returning to the initial horse stance. The twisting of the waist and the pulling power of the arms in opposite directions is strongly felt and trained for in these movements. Illustration of this movement is found in Figures E-1 through E-13.
The Addition of Da Qiang Exercises - In conjunction with these exercises, the da qiang () or big spear training is also used. The tapered spear is generally twelve feet or longer and must not be excessively heavy (it must have flexible movement). A spear that is too heavy will constrain the effective transfer of power from the feet through the waist to the tip of the spear. These exercises are designed to extend the power of the practitioner beyond the fist and help develop both power, fa-jing and open hand movements. The generation of circular movement at the tip of the spear is a general indicator of effective power transfer. The following are three of twelve da qiang exercises that are employed early in the practitioner's training. Other da qiang exercises also employ two-man applications.
The first exercise is one in which the practitioner, in a horse stance, holds the spear with both palms up and turns the spear over while rotating the feet into a bow stance. This is illustrated in Figure F-1 through F-5. Breath is also coordinated with exhaling done on the extension and inhaling on the return. If properly done, one can literally feel the winding and unwinding of the waist/dantian () area and the twisting and untwisting of the arms and the legs. When the alignment is proper and relaxation has been achieved, one then adds fa-jing expression when turning the spear over and when returning the spear to the initial position.
The second exercise, punching with the da qiang, takes the first exercise one step further by adding a punch after the spear has been turned over. This exercise is illustrated in Figure G-1 through G-10. Extending the spear with a punch also adds a strength dimension not found in the previous exercise. Upon retrieval of the spear from its initial punch, one to three spirals should be observed at the tip of the spear. Its dynamic motion actually looks like a corkscrew. A proficient practitioner will also produce a popping sound from the hands when the spear is punched out. The tempo is medium and should not be done fast. This exercise is particularly important for developing proper extension and fa-jing punching power in the open hand form.
The last da qiang exercise is baji's version of pole shaking. Pole shaking is found in both Yang and Chen's taijiquan (,) and possibly in xing yi systems. In this exercise, illustrated by Figures H-1 through H-13, the practitioner takes a standing position with the spear tip extended and positioned forward. The practitioner snaps the tip upward while simultaneously inhaling and sinking into a horse stance. The pole is held at a forty-five degree angle to the practitioner's body. When the tip of the pole stops shaking, the practitioner exhales while extending the arms and spear to form a ninety-degree angle with the body. While remaining in the horse stance the practitioner slowly lowers the tip of the spear to the ground. When it touches the ground, the practitioner snaps it upward, remaining in the horse stance and simultaneously inhaling. The sequences can be repeated out of the horse stance for five to ten repetitions. This exercise develops the back and waist/dantain area and can incorporate heng ha () breathing.
The Foundational Form - The last component of this training involves the baji jia form (). Prior to learning the form, the practitioner will begin with single moving postures. Once this phase is completed, then the actual posture training of the form can begin. There are approximately forty-three movements to the form with a potential of twenty-four basic postures that can be held for a count of eight breaths. When holding these postures each breath is directed to a certain area of the body: 1) head, 2) shoulders, 3) elbows, 4) hands or wrists, 5) tailbone, 6) hips or kua, 7) knee, and 8) feet. This helps build power, structure, and alignment in the body. It often takes many months to reach this goal and many practitioners only hold three or four breaths with half the postures. Also, after the breathing sets are complete, one last set is played with speed and fa-jing expression in each of the major postures. The form with transition movements is illustrated in Figure I-1 through I-56.
Putting it all Together - Developing power and fa-jing is a very rigorous but systematic way of training. Fa-jing will not simply magically appear at an effective level by simply doing the form. The traditional way of training, as transmitted by the late Liu Yun-qiao would first have the student begin a training session with some basic baji and pigua stationary movements (often referred to as neigong  by today's practitioners). Upon completion, the xiao baji form () and da qiang exercises would be done alternatively with the last set of xiao baji played with fa-jing expression. The fa-jing exercises, without a partner, would likely follow. Later in the training a partner might be added. It would be required that the practitioner practice this entire schedule three or four times a day, seven days a week, for a minimum of three years. This is virtually impossible to attain in today's modern world unless one completely devotes their time and life to the practice of martial arts. However, it is this training that produced the "invincible" warriors of China past and most commonly found in the major traditional Northern systems of Chinese martial arts.
Concluding Remarks - Many practitioners judge the effectiveness of a general martial arts system by its ability to generate fighting skill in a relatively short period of time (six months to a year). However, this is not the only way to judge a martial art's prowess. Effective power and conditioning along with fa-jing skill (explosive release of directed body energy) is essential for utilizing and executing the advanced techniques and applications of many traditional Chinese martial arts systems. Power and fa-jing must be trained for and require many auxiliary exercises to accompany form performance. Without this knowledge a practitioner's training and system is incomplete and advanced forms become of little use.
A system must have a way to develop the necessary conditioning and alignment to deliver power and effective fa-jing. Bajiquan, along with many other Northern Chinese systems incorporates this methodology at the very initial stages of conditioning and development. An art may be authentic in name or lineage but if it lacks this essential training and conditioning component then the practitioner will be incomplete. It is hoped that other traditional martial arts systems will reveal or make public such methodology in hopes of preserving the true art of China's fighting systems. To do less is to condemn the Chinese martial arts to the screenplays of wildly exaggerated movies and to the pages of fantasy driven martial arts comic books.
Special Thanks to Andy Lianto for his commentary and photography; James Findley for his comments; Rob Peterson and Richard Makruski for their appearance in the photographs.