by Jason Tsou

I know what I know (my personal training) – First level of six sense training


I know what you know; I know what you don’t know (interaction with a partner) – Second level of six sense training


I know you don’t know what I know (understanding of the natural rules) – Third level of six sense training


“It is futile to block an opponent’s attack because doing so invites ten additional strikes instead remember that all you need is one strike” “不招不架只是一下, 犯了招架就有十下”. This was General Chi Ji Guang advice to his soldiers. Within this statement are a number of truths. First a strike must be effective. Secondly, blocking an opponent’s strike with force conveys information to your opponent which sets the stage for additional strikes and parries. The General used the word “remember” to express the need for a certain type of mindset.


This mindset opens our senses in such a way as to allow us to be in position to strike effectively. Such a mindset requires us to use our sensitivity. It is through our senses that we gain information about our opponent. At the same time, this sensitivity needs to be tempered with enough awareness of the situation as to preclude our divulging too much information about ourselves.


Some may say that we are reading too much into the General’s words. Many people would have us believe that the General was emphasizing the need to dodge and find a place from which to strike. While this may be true in part, the reality of any fighting situation is that as we fight, we need a strategy which gives us the greatest possibility of success and minimizes risks.


If a person’s fighting style is predictable, it becomes easier for an opponent to exploit it. If a fighter becomes known for his reliance on dodging and quickness, his opponent will expect such tactics. Dodging and quickness are good qualities to have as a fighter but in this context they are exploitable making the goal of finding an opportunity for a fatal strike fraught with risk. As risk increases, probability of success decreases proportionately.


Instead of understanding the General literally, we need to hear his words in terms of developing and using a good radar screen. We develop this screen as we acquire heightened sensitivity, and learn to interpret and better understand the signals we are receiving. Experience will help us sort through the data received and sort out important information that we can use. The process itself is often described in terms of the four energies (Jins) (勁)of Ting 聽, Hwa 化, Na 拿and Fa 發. Ting Jin is listening energy, Hwa Jin is diverting energy, Na Jin is controlling energy and Fa Jin is the energy involved when power is issued. When we impose this over the four quadrants of the Taiji symbol, we find that Ting Jin lies in the quadrant known as greater Yin, Hwa Jin in the Quadrant known as Lesser Yin, Na Jin in the quadrant known as greater Yang and Fa Jin in the quadrant known as lesser Yang.





Ting Jin and Hwa Jin constitute our radar screen. The point that Chi Ji Guang is making is that we can’t use Fa Jin effectively until we have Na Jin or control of our opponent and we can’t have Na Jin without using Ting and Hwa Jin. As a result, we may repeat Ting Jin and Hwa Jin many times but, we don’t want to invite additional repetitions of Ting and Hwa except as part of our process of collecting data.


A second point that needs to be addressed is that Fa Jin is not totally Yang energy. In baseball many power pitchers begin their throw by bringing their gloved hand towards their body. This movement is a Yin movement and it performs two functions. First it allows them to remain better balanced so that they can better field their position after throwing and secondly the inward Yin movement of their gloved arm increases the speed of the Yang movement of their throwing arm.


Likewise in combat, Greater Yang occurs with Na Jin. Sometimes, our sense of Na Jin is fleeting or illusory. We may feel we have control but before we issue power our target has moved. If this occurs, then we need to start the process over again. The Yin energy of the Fa Jin allows for easier transition to Ting and Hwa Jin.


At the same time, we need to know when to act. There is a path (balance point) between the hesitation that leads to a lost opportunity and the recklessness that leads to falling into an opponent’s trap. We need to learn to recognize this path trust the accompanying feeling and we develop the ability to immediately act.


Years ago a typical fourth grade library contained a biography of Buffalo Bill. As a Pony Express rider it was said that he had developed the ability to draw his gun while riding at full speed and fire into a clump of bushes killing an enemy waiting in ambush. If true, this would be a good example of only needing one strike to kill as well as a man with a highly developed radar screen. The Na of this situation is interesting as well. The control aspect is in his enemy’s mind. Na is the idea that the enemy thinks he is safe and is waiting for a better opportunity to strike and while waiting in his place of ambush, he is shot.


Wang Zhong Yue said in his Taiji treatise that when my enemy is not moving I am not moving but when my enemy forms the intent to move, I move ahead of him “彼不動我不動, 彼微動我先動. Most people interpret this in terms of body movement. Such an interpretation leads to a lot of frustration and failure. But, if thought of in terms of the mind (the Chinese would say the Heart) Wang Zhong Yue’s meaning becomes clearer. When we combine our physical experiences (with others) and our mental training (much of which involves the discernment of force patterns), we can better react to a situation.


We often hear about the six harmonies 六合. All of us know that the external harmonies are the shoulders and the hips, the knees and the elbows and the feet and hands. What many of us pay too little attention to is the internal harmonies, Xing –Yi 心-意 goes to Yi- Chi 意-氣 which goes to Chi-Li 氣-力. I am thirsty (Xing) I want water (Yi) I take a glass of water (Chi). I drink the water (Li). This internal process can be compared to an employer (Xing) who tells his chauffeur where he wants to go(Yi).Then the Xing lets the chauffeur(Chi) take him there(Li).


As a result, the internal six harmonies, Xing- Yi (telling the driver the destination); Yi-Chi (this intent generating energy and Chi –Li (energy-force notice that the employer may leave it up to the chauffeur to drive to chose the route, chose the speed and cope with traffic as they drive).


While the Six Harmonies are always present in our training, the area of focus changes as our training deepens. Arguably, by necessity, the first level of training focuses on the body which in our prior analogy is the vehicle.


Much of what is contained with the Six Harmonies theory is capsulated into the expression Jing Qi Sheng 精氣神. In Jing- Qi- Sheng, Jing becomes the vehicle Qi the chauffeur and Sheng the employer. Jing not only refers to the body itself it also contains within it the concept of the body as essence. In terms of our analogy, this would include the gasoline and oil within the car. In other words, when we speak of the body’s essence we speak of those things that compose the body which can be burned as energy during the metabolic processes which take place.


The Chinese word Sheng is not the exact equivalent of the English word Mind. Literally, Sheng also can connote a god and in the context we are using it in, it refers to a godly spirit reflected within a man. When we speak of Sheng, we have the picture of a vibrant and alive person as opposed to a passive and perhaps depressed one. In some ways this may be best understood in terms of what we mean in English when we speak of a spirited horse.


Our approach involves use of and development of the sixth sense as a guide to all facets of training including body awareness and body maintenance. The training must be balanced in such a way as to allow it to become aware of and better use all four Jins. Too often, in Martial Arts, we see young people who injure themselves because the focus of their training involves hard and heavy workouts designed to develop great strength. Using our prior analogy, such an approach has a higher likelihood of damaging the vehicle (our body).


We all understand the importance of maintenance as a means of insuring high performance from a vehicle. We know that we need a good mechanic to maintain the vehicle. No one would intentionally drive his brand new Mercedes into a wall in order to strengthen the frame. So why should we abuse our bodies in the hope of improving our strength or stamina? Like a high performance vehicle, your body requires routine maintenance and it requires a mechanic with the proper knowledge to perform the tasks properly. If we put our mind into the proper care of our car it is more likely to remain pristine but if we abuse it, then like our bodies, it will deteriorate.


As we have said, the Mandarin word Sheng suggests a mind as well as a radiant vibrant spirit. In this sense it implies an effectively focused mind. At any given moment, each of our minds (Sheng) is engaged in the performance of multiple functions. The business man’s need of a good chauffeur (Qi) is better understood when we think of him as pulled in many directions. The Chauffeur takes on the specific task of manning the vehicle. To ask this driver to not only function as chauffeur but also to be actively engaged in the upkeep and overall maintenance of this car becomes more of a necessity than a luxury.


The driver needs to be honest. He needs to be loyal to his employer. He needs to be experienced and able to respond to his employer’s moods and needs. He must be able to take orders but also anticipate these orders and, most importantly, he must be able to work independently when the situation requires.


Everyone has Qi, but Qi is less useful when it is less trained. With properly trained Qi, the employer can be free to concentrate upon the tasks that he alone can do. If the employer’s time and energy is diverted by ancillary tasks such as driving (or for that matter worrying about the red lights his driver ignores) then he cannot focus upon the tasks which he alone can do. Often in business, those who want to micro-manage their employees find themselves frustrated by a lack of time and energy to perform those tasks which they are most responsible for performing.


In martial arts terms, one set of martial artists find themselves in the situation where their minds control their bodies while the other set of martial artists are in a position to allow their Qi to control their bodies. We prefer this second situation over the first. If the Qi controls the body, the mind is free to perform those functions that it does best. In Mandarin the term Feng Sheng applies to this person. The term means sidetracked or suggests that a person is not using his mind to manage the proper tasks.


A mind that is free to analyze, strategize and problem solve is obviously more likely to be successful than one preoccupied with tasks better performed on a reflexive and non-conscious level. Timing, endurance, sensing and accuracy all improve when Qi (bio-magnetic energy) and not Sheng (the conscious mind) is controlling the movements (driving) the body.


A majority of our body consists of water. When a pebble is thrown into a pond, a ripple occurs. Likewise, when our body contacts any sensory vibrations, ripples occur within us that feed our senses. Our body at the level of our bio-mechanical energy can react to these senses faster if the Qi doesn’t have to report each incident to the employer. Imagine for a moment a chauffeur who has to report to his employer each car he sees, each light, pot hole and piece of debris he encounters on the roadway before he can react. Obviously, the driver and employer of that vehicle on a high speed roadway are speeding towards disaster.


For the above reasons, we can describe the first level of training as not only emphasizing our body (Jing) but including preliminary Qi and Sheng training as well. We can say that employer has already hired the chauffeur and both parties are getting to know each other and develop a working relationship that is based on mutual trust through their mutual experiences.


The second level begins as the driver and the employer actually begin their travel on the road. As they begin their drive, they encounter many different road conditions. Traffic may be light in one area and heavy in another. Pot holes may exist, as may sharp curves and steep inclines, a rainstorm or sleet deposit may make a portion of the road slippery while high altitudes or heat may affect the temperature of the engine and its ability to travel at high speeds.


Most of us have had the experience of slowing because we know that a car is about to change lanes and occupy the same space we would be occupying were we not to react. This process is not always conscious. It is often instinctive. The decisions in those cases are handled by the driver and not by the employer. The driver has learned this through experience. He has developed his own radar screen and his own G.P.S. system. At the same time, the employer can also give the driver simple commands such as “turn left at the next block” or “let’s stop here for coffee”. What the employer cannot efficiently do is “micro-manage”.


In order to maintain our bodies, second level training may include aspects of first level training but we want our experience to progress to a different level. As a result, second level training revolves around developing the experience that can only be gained by training with a partner (the other cars on the road). We are not talking about one way of training but about “versatile training”.


If our chauffeur only knows one way between his employer’s house and work, he will be delayed every time there is construction or a sig alert. If he knows a few side streets he may avoid a few delays and if the chauffeur has good knowledge of the whole city and how it is laid out, he will have an intuitive sense of where to go even in areas where he is not intimately familiar.


When we looks at the various martial arts that are presently studied, we see that some focus primarily upon punching, others upon kicking, others combine punches and kicks, others focus on wrestling, others go so far as to focus on ground fighting or some other feature of what can be characterized as a martial behavior. For example, Tui Shou or “push hands” involves preset patterns, a fixed stance and makes very little pretension of resembling a street fight or unsupervised confrontation between two or more persons. We see many of these activities in tournaments. From a point of view of scoring, (judging) as well as for the participants safety having these rules and emphasizing specific aspects of fighting makes a great deal of sense. At the same time one is often hard pressed to find the creative essence of what constitutes a martial art within these exercises once they have been so modified.


Martial arts are by necessity holistic. The goal of learning a martial art at an earlier time was survival. The primary rule was to do what was necessary to insure that you or the principles you aspired to survived. Today, much of the benefit of practicing a martial art involves what health benefits can be gained from this practice. Arguably one of the greatest potential benefits to be gained involves the ability to adapt and effectively cope with ever changing situations. To the extent that training is limited to learning how to win under a defined set of rules, such training may be counter-productive because it is too limiting. At the same time, understanding rules and complying with them may help develop coping skills when that process is seen in the proper context.


When we focus upon context rather than individual pieces our meaning becomes clearer. We as people need a theme or purpose in order to bring meaning and understanding to our experiences. In this same way, a martial artist who has learned a number of techniques will probably lack a sense of cohesion if he has failed to grasp the underlying principles below the techniques and thereby failed to see the thread that holds those basic techniques together. Like the chauffeur who is in an uncharted area, a martial artist who grasps the underlying principles behind his art can rely on his intuition to find his way through whatever problem he confronts.


If a martial artists tries to memorize a set of techniques without understanding the principles he is wasting a lot of effort and is also likely to defeat himself. First of all the act of memorization makes us busy. It puts us in a position where our mind set is one of focus. We have all heard the adage that someone is so close to a problem that they can’t see the forest for the trees. That in short is the problem with memorizing techniques. If we understand the principles that underlie an art, the techniques flow logically from these principles and we will know these techniques without having to memorize them. Furthermore, they will be available to use to use appropriately because as we understand the context so will we understand the underlying dynamics of a situation.
An employee of a paint store once told a young lady that the best technique for the removal of paint stains was to use kerosene. She purchased the kerosene and went home to remove the stains on the floor near her stove. Within a few minutes the fumes ignited and she was badly burned. Neither she nor the employee understood the underlying dynamics of the situation. The employee was correct when explaining to the woman that kerosene can be used to remove paint but ventilation, flammability, overall safety and many other issues were not addressed.


When practicing with a partner, the principles that you need to be aware of involve human behavior. As you work with your opponent, you want to be receptive to manifestations of the following behaviors as they occur in yourself and as they occur in your partner. The degree of awareness that you develop is exponentially related to the development of one’s sixth sense.


1. Human beings consist mostly of fluids


2. You are facing a moving object


3. We all have a basic instinct to resist an incoming force by either blocking or grabbing


4. When people strike they will employ force


5. Human beings tend to aim at a target


6. As people become focused, they tend to ignore sensory input


7. People idolize technique and strategy


8. People become too serious when they fight.



Human beings consist mostly of fluids


Many people like to train against a hard object. The reasoning behind this behavior is that they believe that a hard object will help them prepare to better deal with an incoming force. This process begins with the assumption that we must always meet hard with hard and as a result we must always be harder. Because of this mind set, these people will train themselves to be tense when they face an incoming force. Quite logically they tense their muscles and use this tension as a means of resisting the incoming impact. The concept is true but only to a certain degree. While being strong may enable us to overcome certain forces, better use of our body involves learning how to use the fluid content of our body to absorb and also divert the incoming force involved. If you hit a large ball filled with water, the resistance of the ball and the impact returned to you from the ball is different than when you strike a hard surface such as wood, rock or cement block. Continuous practice against a hard surface can be damaging and also misleading to you since it does not give you sufficient experience with the rebounding quality of striking a person who knows how to use the liquid portion of his body to absorb a blow.


Fluids produce vibrations. A ripple effect occurs each time the body is struck. These ripples can damage internal organs as well as the head. (Traditionally, the brain was not considered an internal organ in Chinese Medicine). To clarify this further, if properly trained, a person can strike another so as to produce these vibrations. Also the person being struck can use the liquid part of his body to absorb and send back a destructive vibration that can seriously injure the person doing the striking. While we are emphasizing proper training as a prerequisite to using such blows effectively, sports medicine is concerned about the concussions experience by athletes especially in contact sports such as boxing and football.


There are certain ways of striking a person that will increase the internal vibrations within the body and also there are certain ways of training that will reduce the affects of such a strike upon a person’s vulnerability. Additionally there are methods whereby a person receiving a blow and return such a blow so as to cause internal vibrations within the attacker.



Your opponent is a moving object


Many people have begun to train on punching bags that are filled with water. In doing so, they believe that they are creating a target that more closely reflects the consistency of a human target. To an extent, this is true. It is good for beginning practice since it allows one to experience the fluid sensation previously discussed.


But, a water bag can only take us part of the way. You can get further with a moving bag. If you move the bag (either by bouncing or having your partner move it) effective issuance of power will require that you move as you adjust your distance from and with the target. The moving bag takes you closer to a real situation. In almost all fight scenarios everybody moves.



We all have a basic instinct to resist an incoming force by either blocking or grabbing


At the beginning of bag training everyone tries to use hard against hard. One manifestation of this is to attempt to either block or grab the incoming bag. A collision between the moving bag and the person blocking or grabbing the bag is inevitable. Assume that both objects weight 120 pounds. The bag increases in weight as it moves towards the other person so that at the time of impact it may weigh as much as 200 pounds. We submit that this is the wrong way to practice.


In martial arts, we teach people to use Ting Jin and Hwa Jin. Ting Jin involves judging the speed and direction of the bag and Hwa Jin involves speed and agility. A bull fighter who moves behind his cape in such a way as to avoid the horns of an attacking bull is using Hwa Jin.



When people strike they will employ force


Some people will try to punch the incoming force of the bag. The rationale is that doing this will help them develop more force against incoming power. There are two reasons why this is a bad approach. First of all the wrist and hands are vulnerable and they can be badly damaged with this type of practice. Secondly, practicing this technique will never help you achieve a higher level of martial arts. At a higher level there are three techniques that can be effective. You can strike your opponent before the force is issued. You can strike your opponent when his force is only partly issued or you can strike your opponent after his force has been issued and when he is most vulnerable before he can retract. Training on the bag should be the same. The bag can be hit before it begins its swing, (you may strike from the front or sides)) as it goes by, (striking from the sides) or as it reaches its apex (usually from a backward angle or directly from behind).



Human beings tend to aim at a target


When we issue power we tend to focus. Focusing involves narrowing our attention in such a way as to fix our thoughts on one specific object. Often this involves neglecting other factors that may have equal or greater importance. As we focus to issue power, we do need to focus on incoming power, speed and direction, but not to the total detriment of our diffuse sensory system. We do not want to degrade our radar.


Many teachers feel that they need to make their students focus and they feel that focus is a necessary prerequisite to good performance. We do not disagree. But, as we become more and more focused, as we become more and more zeroed in we don’t want to unduly narrow our radar screen. Was General Custer an example of what happens when one narrows one’s radar screen too much? Would General Custer have acted differently had he sent out scouts before chasing what he thought was a small band of Indians right into the heart of the Sioux camp?


When people work with the bag most people start to focus on diverting and punching back. For instance, if the bag is hanging from a tree then they need to see the tree. Will the weight of the bag make the branch sway, are there roots below the tree that will affect footing, what else about the whole picture is relevant. Diffuse vision needs to be panoramic but it also needs to be deep and not superficial.


This and other thoughts need to be present during any training exercise so that as we train we begin to gather a better and better understanding of all the forces involved in the whole picture. Focus has its place. However, we should not focus our force or our concentration until the moment we strike our target. To be effective, we need to learn when the right moment or effective moment for concentration occurs.


As a pitcher, Babe Ruth, the great batter, was said to stick his tongue out whenever he threw a curve ball. A curve ball is most effective when it surprises the batter. If an opponent can tell from our vision, our muscle tension, our wind up or any other trait or behavioral habit that a punch is about to come we are giving him information that he can use against us.


In Bagua, one of the moves that a new student learns is “Green Dragon Turns Its Head”. When a student practices with a partner part of the feedback he will get is that the move becomes effective and power is issued as he turns his head in his partner’s direction. Further feedback can occur when he learns that he can also use this same head turn as a means of transitioning into a different move without trying to throw his partner. When the head turns as part of a throw, this is the moment of focus. If you turn to soon the partner is prepared and if you turn to late the throw is not effective. Part of this has to do with your spine and how energy travels through your body but part of this involves the dynamic of finding the right moment to focus.



As people become focused, they tend to ignore sensory input.


Riflemen are trained to relax before they take aim. Often this relaxation involves taking a deep breath and exhaling. This period of relaxation is a necessary prerequisite for a successful shot. When we relax we use our diffused senses as opposed to our focused senses. We can equate this period of relaxation with accessing the autonomic nervous system. In a fighting situation, when a person becomes focused too early he becomes more susceptible to deceit and distraction.


As we evolved our somatic system became increasingly dominant and we developed much if not all of our conscious awareness through this system. As a result, our awareness of our somatic sensory system increased. Although we cannot say that there are no direct connections between our autonomic system and the outside world, we are not as consciously aware of these connections as we are of the somatic connections.


The price we have paid for this involves a sense of increasing alienation from our autonomic system. At the same time, the somatic system is more easily deceived and confused. Reaction time through the somatic system is slower and less efficient particularly in sports, fighting and other situations which require quickness. We all use expressions such as “I have a gut feeling”; “I feel a prickling in the spine”; “that doesn’t smell right”; “that leaves a bad taste in my mouth”. These imply that we are receiving a message from our autonomic system. In many cases, the dilemma we face is whether or not to trust that message.


As we develop a better understanding of “Ting Jin” (listening energy) we learn to understand how this messaging system works and where and when it is appropriate to trust it. As we learn to listen with our body, we are learning to heed the messages of our autonomic nervous system.


We have previously discussed the idea that each of our senses can be divided into a focused sense and a diffused sense. An examination of the autonomic nervous system and its reactions to the outside world can best begin if we think of each of these diffused senses as part of a radar screen that is being viewed by the autonomic nervous system. We can go further and imagine a loop which involves stimuli picked up on this radar screen and a reflexive reaction thereto by our autonomic system. When we imagine this, we become aware of the lack of conscious thought involved in this process that called “the loop”.
The problem with developing a loop is that absent conscious thought, these reactions are indiscriminate. For instance, in sports, an athlete needs to use quick reflexes but he also needs to control the amount of force used to keep his movements from being consistently deadly to his opponent.( A hockey player who reacts without conscious control could easily kill an opposing player or even a teammate with his hockey stick.) The conscious mind needs to be involved in the behavior not only to modify it to conform to societal standards but also to focus it into the most effective and appropriate behavior for the given situation. This connection between the autonomic system and the conscious mind becomes the basis for the idea of distilling Li (brute force) into Jin (refined energy).



People idolize technique and strategy.


It is a normal human tendency to resist change. We all like to live within our comfort zone. As a consequence we become both predictable and exploitable. High level Martial Arts involve understanding changes and variables. If we view the Yin and Yang symbol as a universal symbol of duality, then these changes would constitute the Yin portion of the equation and the Constant Heart would constitute the Yang half of the equation. This does not mean that all change is Yin but rather the ability to be facile and change with the situation is Yin-like. Alternatively the ability to remain constant, to accept that life is a series of changes and respond to this reality in a steady and effective manner are all Yang-like qualities.


Perhaps, the true benefit of practicing Taiji Quan can best be understood in this context since arguably it starts the body off on this path and thus sets the stage for further development either within that system or within another system as the case may be.


Often when we analyze how people train, we see that the major emphasis of their training is repeating the use of various combinations of techniques. A new student will often ask how to respond to a specific move and then attempt to memorize a technique shown as a possible response as though it were invaluable information. We could compare this process to entering a large forest with the thought of memorizing every tree. This would include the task of memorizing where all the branches were, the shape and size of the twigs, the pattern of the leaves, the size shape and pattern of the bark and its place in the forest. Obviously such an approach would not only be futile it would be so time consuming as to render it utterly useless. Conversely, if we leave the understanding of the forest to our autonomic senses and take the forest in as diffused perceptions we will have gained enough awareness to be able to function effectively within the forest.



People become too serious when they fight.


How can we detach ourselves from the situation confronting us enough to access our autonomic nervous system and allow it to do what it does best? Part of the answer involves not becoming too serious. Many people may argue that it makes no sense to talk about not taking life and death situations seriously. They might however agree with our statement as they began to understand more about the autonomic nervous system.


The autonomic nervous system has a Yang component, the sympathetic system and a Yin component the parasympathetic system. The Yang component excites us and the Yin component calms us down. When we are calm, our internal organs relax. As they relax our endurance improves and our ability to control Jin (issuance of power) exponentially increases. Conversely, if we cannot access this part of our nervous system we tend to panic. With panic comes shortness of breath, loss of control over Jin and lack of endurance since we have a more difficult time accessing our internal organs. If our hearts are beating wildly and our lungs are constricted we will quickly tire. Much of what decides defeat or victory involves our ability to balance our internal organs.


While it may seem counter-intuitive, the highest levels of martial art training involve development of calmness and relaxation while fighting. Although most of us in the west are accustomed to thinking of the high level fighter as the intense boxer out to destroy his opponent, one has only to think back to the fight between Mohammed Ali and Sonny Liston to realize how effective the relaxed, mocking attitude of Ali was against the deadly serious Liston. Ali was a heavy weight who danced. He described his movements as “rope-a-dope” and he developed a system of psychological warfare that was arguably more forceful than any punch he ever threw.


As we observe various cultures, we see that before a fight there may be a ritual. The ritual may include a dance (American Indian war dance) it may include various movements in the ring (Thai Boxing or Sumo wrestling) or it may involve some other process (Crusader Knights kneeling in prayer before battle). In all of these cases, the effect of this activity is to access the parasympathetic system. Before a fight, Chinese swordsmen liked to meditate. The meditation is a form of Qigong in which they used their imagination. All of these methods involve reaching the same result, they enable the person involved to find an inner calmness and that calmness is achieved through the activation of the parasympathetic system.


When the Chinese Swordsman uses his imagination, he does not use it to imagine techniques; he is trained to use it to think about victory. Timing is important when it comes to this use of the imagination. The swordsman who starts thinking about victory as he begins to thrust and parry with his opponent is likely to defeat himself. He is already rested, he has purified his mind and now it is time to play.


The concept of being at play needs further explanation. Fighters at the highest level have relaxed faces. They may even have a smile on their face. They toy with their opponent as a cat toys with a mouse. Reaching this level requires mental prefight preparation. When we begin a fight we need to believe that we are surrounded by allies. Picture David and Goliath; David is small but he is allied with the Earth, the stars, the sun and all the rocks, slings, armor and even the war cries of the enemy Philistines are accessible to him to work for his advantage. How can Goliath hope to win when he is alone against the world? David is assured of victory because he has mentally prepared himself for victory. This state of mind can be described as one of being “blessed”. Whether we are religious or not, if we think we are blessed, we are blessed.


We often hear about the power of positive thinking. Too often this phrase is bandied about in such a way as to make it seem trite and hackneyed. But in fact positive thinking is a good technique to use when accessing the parasympathetic system. David is definitely smaller than Goliath. He has nothing but a sling and Goliath is dressed in armor. All of the Philistine army which greatly out numbers the Hebrew army is shouting for Goliath. If David panics he is lost. Instead he accesses his parasympathetic system, stays calm, sees (ting energy) an opportunity and seizes it. Perhaps he moves in such a way as to cause Goliath to expose enough of his head (Hwa) to make him vulnerable (Na) before he casts the stone (Fa ).


One trap that we all need to be wary of is becoming too cocky. As in everything else, Yin and Yang balance must temper our knowledge that the universe is on our side. For this mental approach to be most successful, we have to understand that humility is an important aspect of our mental attitude. If the universe in our ally, we need to be grateful to the universe for helping us. If our opponent gives us his energy we can use it but we have to respect its source and the fact that he gave it to us.


In this sense, Mohammed Ali, great fighter that he was might have been even greater if his tone had been less mocking and more humble. He angered people when he ranted that “I am the greatest” and he may have lost an opportunity to receive an even higher level of energy from the crowds had he not turned some off by what some described as arrogance.
Conversely, could Sonny Liston have used Ali’s energy. In the fight, Liston seemed to be getting more and more frustrated. He also seemed to be getting more angrier as the rounds progressed. He seemed to grow tenser and more focused on delivering a knockout punch. He seemed to tire as this happened. Ali continued to dance and Liston pursued.


What if Liston had smiled and relaxed? What would have happened if he had copied the “rope-a-dope? Would Ali have felt a need to become more aggressive? Would Ali have lowered his guard and given Liston an opportunity? Perhaps, but we will never know. What we do know is that the more likely way to be successful in combat as well as most competitive activities is to stay relaxed and use what is given to you to your own advantage. The smart fighter will alter his environment. When David goes into battle against Goliath, he might decide to hear the Philistine’s cheers as supporting him or he may decide to feel their force as a positive wave he can send back upon Goliath. Whatever he chooses, so long as it works for him, he is in a position to accomplish his goal. In other words, David needs to access his creative side as he engages in mortal combat. He needs to be relaxed enough to let this happen and he needs to be humble enough that he does not take himself so seriously that his ability to access this side of himself is compromised.



I know that you don’t know what I know


In Mandarin the word Sancai refers to Heaven, Man and Earth. San means three and Cai means treasure. Conceptually, the treasures are linked. Just as we interact with other creatures including human beings on Earth, we are so positioned as to transmit energy between Heaven and Earth. There is a Chinese saying, Tian Shi Di Li Ren Ho 天時地利人和. Literally this means right time, right place and right person. Implicit within the statement is that all three elements need to be present in order to achieve a great accomplishment. Success is dependent on having a person so situated that he can make use of the energy coming from Heaven, Earth and his interaction with other people which in this context can be extended to include anything that is animate.


One must be in a place where all three ingredients are available. The energy and the time must be appropriate for the person to properly use the available energy as well. Absent one of these elements some success is still possible but the results will by necessity be limited by either the circumstances or the individuals involved.


The focus of this phase of the training involves learning how to interact. The interaction includes other people and training with them comes more readily to us. Learning how to interact with the environment requires a deeper level of understanding. In Chinese history, Gong Yechang 公冶长 is a famous scholar, who studied from Confucius. He has the apparent power to predict the future which he learned as a result of learning to speak the language of the birds. What makes Bo Lau relevant to this discussion is that he only appears to have magical powers. Since a bird has a better opportunity to observe events, his ability to understand what they are saying allowed him to create the impression that he had a level of precognition.


Six sense functions in much the same way as. Our autonomic system and our somatic system both collect information and we respond to this more quickly than a normal person would. As a result, we can appear to have a magical level of precognition. Grand Master Liu Yun Chiao would say that he always used mental pictures to train himself. His training would begin with daily observations. He would look at scenery, photographs and paintings, colors and their linkage to the five elements, materials, sounds, geometric shapes, weather patterns, animals, weapons as well as other inanimate and animate objects. The object of this training was to experience the object of his attention at as deep a level as possible. Often this may have taken the form of experiencing the vibratory sensation that emanated from the object. Strangely enough the expression, “I am getting good vibes” or “I am getting bad vibes” has a real meaning in this context.


We know from physics that this entire world is composed of certain atoms and the differences between the objects we perceive involves how these atoms combine. We also know that atoms are composed of protons, neutrons and electrons and they are in motion around each other. Such motion has to create some friction, some static force and ultimately vibrations. From this we can infer that everything vibrates.


People familiar with Qigong and with Taiji and some of the other martial arts will tell you that they experience a sense of vibration particularly in their fingers. Perhaps the vibrations emitted by all objects are the lowest common denominator in the physical world. Just as these external objects vibrate, so also does our body. In particular, our internal organs vibrate at frequencies which are said to be consistent with the five elements of Chinese Alchemy. Thus the lungs correspond to metal, the Stomach, Pancreas and spleen to Earth, the liver to wood, the heart to fire and the kidneys to water.


In the old times, martial artists would train in specific geographic areas such as the mountains or by a body of water in order to absorb the energy from that locale. We can learn to use our conscious mind to exponentially increase the amount of energy we receive from our environment by guiding the energy from a given element to a given organ. A good example of these techniques can be seen in a DVD we produced called “Bagua Chi Kung- the secrets of the Dragon”. In there, we proceed through three levels of Qigong training, the first bringing energy into the body, the second issuing energy from the body and the third circulating energy in and out of the body using both our conscious mind and the autonomic nervous system. This Chi Kung is not the only way to accomplish these techniques but it is an extremely good training device.


In a real combat situation, the energy will automatically link with the surrounding vibrations to create a resonant vibration. We have become accustomed to these resonant vibrations because we connect with them all the time. They have become our allies and as such we can use these allies to help defeat our opponent particularly if our use of these vibratory forces is unexpected and not something an opponent has been trained to accommodate.


Let’s use Xingyi as an example because Xingyi clearly spells out the linkage between the organs and the elements. Xingyi also clearly describes certain movements in terms of each element. One punching movement in Xingyi involves a movement that corresponds to drawing a bow to shoot an arrow (Beng Quan) the fists begin close together and the outside fist retracts (Yin) sending the inside fist out(Yang) as a punch. The movement is designed to involve liver energy and as such any tree or wooden object can be used to support the movement. For this reason Beng Quan is best learned near a wood environment. One idea that may help begin this learning process would be to link the wood energy to the retracting or Yin fist. If we happen to be in a desert or on a beach or in an environment that lacks wood we can mentally picture wood or think about wood and the same energy will come out and support our punch. This same approach can be used for all the five elements.


Geometric shapes can also be a source of energy. We can visualize the circle of the sun, the triangles of a mountain peak, and the squares of a rice paddy and then incorporate these shapes into our movements. Remember that the beginning shape is always a circle and that the outer portion of this circle is then mentally and physically molded into the shape desired.


During a fight, as we do Ting Jin and Hwa Jin we can imagine any sort of circular shape be it a sun or a cloud. (Clouds may be irregular but they have a vacuous circular quality which lends itself to Ting Jin and Hwa Jin.) Na Jin can be a square or rectangle and Fa Jin can be a triangle. So when we do Na Jin we can think of a rice paddy, a box, a fenced in area or whatever else fits the situation and when we do Fa Jin we can think of a sharpened point such as an arrow head, a spearhead, or a pointed sword. Also, since square can turn into many different triangles ranging from a diamond shape to a triangular shape. We may find that we intensify our power when we do Fa Jin by imagining a mountain peak or any other large pointed object.


When we use a body part we can imagine we are using it as though it were a weapon. We speak of the knife hand; we speak of the fist as a hammer, the elbow as a dagger, the shoulder as a battering ram, the body as a tank. Some punches resemble shooting an arrow the eagle’s beak is like a hook the downward motion of a heel kick like an axe chopping a tree, flicking the hand and fingers like a whip are but a few examples.


One reason we learn weapons is that we can imitate the usages of these weapons with our body. At a high level, the entire body becomes a weapon. For instance, we hear people talk about Bagua Palm and some will limit their discussion of the palm as an anatomical part of the hand. The true meaning of Bagua palm is that the whole body becomes a palm and has the potential to be used as both a defensive and offensive weapon changing its role with the circumstances and often functioning as both an offensive and defensive weapon at the same time..


Most Chinese Martial Arts imitate animals. Xing yi, Bagua, Praying Mantis, Pigua and Baji as well as Taiji all involve movements describing the movement of an animal. The spirit of the animal is reproduced in the movement and it is the spirit of the animal that needs to be learned. The importance of learning the spirit as opposed to learning a certain application cannot be stressed strongly enough. We have all seen forms that imitate animals down to the last detail. Whether a person who moves like a monkey and scratches himself like a monkey can in fact defeat an opponent who looks like a snake and wiggles like a snake is really less important than whether we can learn how to use certain body movements that resemble those of a certain animal to control energy. In this context, we are not interested in the mannerisms of the animal per se. What we are interested in is how they use their nature for defense and attack. If we can deflect a blow or attack an opponent by scratching like a monkey, then all to the good if it does not relate to our martial arts, why do it? As we will see, it may have something to do with learning to relax.


Actually we learn three things from imitating animals. We learn how they play, we learn how they hunt and we learn how they escape. We then need to adapt what we learn to our own bodies and we need to understand how this information can be useful to us. The playfulness gives us insight into how animals relax. The hunting tells us how they fight, how they use power speed and accuracy in finding their target and when and how they remove themselves from situations which are fraught with more peril than they feel able to cope with. When we watch dogs at play, we see how they dodge, how they attack and how their instinct for survival functions within them. We also get a better insight into what constitutes bravery and what constitutes mere posturing. If learning to imitate a monkey scratching himself allows a martial artist to better relax, then the action or at least the visualization may be appropriate. If scratching tells an opponent that you are nervous and need to relax then perhaps a silent visualization is better. In neither case should it be done for no other purpose than because a monkey does it.


Just like an animal, we have to build up our instincts. Much of the communication that takes place between our conscious mind and our autonomic nervous system takes place through visualization. Just as a small bird can keep a predator hawk away from its nestlings; so can a smaller person use his speed and maneuverability to avoid the attack of a larger person. Just as a tiger uses its weight to pounce on its prey, so also can a person use this visualization to adjust his forearms so as to uproot an opponent using the spirit of the pouncing tiger as the inspiration for a move such as Seal the Gate in Taiji.


If there was only one way to approach this process, the approach itself would be self defeating. We begin with the premise that our opponent does not know what we know. In order for this to be the case, we must bring our own individuality and originality to bear upon this process. A pharmacist will have one set of images while a hod carrier will have another. Grandmaster Liu used to say that he used the same Qi for his martial arts that he used for his calligraphy. Grandmaster Chang Dong Sheng was a musician. He would hear his music in his mind as he wrestled with an opponent. Since everybody has different hobbies, different professions there is no way that another person can be in your head if you have trained yourself to a deep enough level to be able to make proper use of your potential talents and their interplay with the environment.


It is one thing to take energy that naturally occurs within our environment and another to attempt to adapt man-made energy for our use. To understand why we make this distinction, we need to look at how we evolved and the length of time it took for us to develop in such a way as to reach the point in which we now find ourselves. We have had millions of years in which to learn to adapt energy from our natural surroundings but few years to learn how to adapt energy from those things that are artificially made. When we eat food, our body will accept what it has been designed over the eons to digest and make proper use of it. But, as we eat processed foods with various chemicals a different result is likely to happen. If our food is cooked over a traditional fire, our body knows how to process the energy we receive. Is this also the case with food cooked in a micro-wave? Perhaps yes, perhaps no, we do not know and suggest that the reader take steps to find out for themselves.


Our body may not recognize what we have eaten and it may reject the food. As it begins to reject various unknown substances, we will develop antibodies to protect us from these substances and as a result, we will begin to have a greater level of allergic reaction to these substances. If we hold our arm outstretched and have someone push it down, we have a certain amount of strength with which to resist. If we take a glass of water and place it in our other hand, the ability to resist will be increased or remain the same. If we put this glass of water in a microwave for but a few seconds, and then hold it in our other hand as we stretch out the empty hand and do the muscle test again we may find that we are weaker, stronger, or we may remain the same.


If it feels as though the energy runs backwards from the outstretched hand into the hand holding the glass, then this might mean that our body has not had sufficient time to adapt and recognize food cooked in this manner. Whether this is true or whether the water has been modified in such a way as to interfere with the ability of our brain to send a concerted message to the outstretched hand is beyond our knowledge. If we experience a palpable difference in how well we can resist the pressure on our arm, this is important for us to be aware of. This test may also work with cell phones similarly; some people may find a difference in strength when they hold a serving bag of raw sugar and when they hold a serving bag of saccharine. For those who are sensitive to the difference between natural products and artificial ones, this awareness is important.


We cannot begin to entirely explain this phenomenon other than to say that we have tried it with students who were not told what to expect and have found it to work most if not all of the time. Under such circumstances, it seems prudent to train using natural as opposed to artificial materials as the source of energy when you attempt to borrow energy.


While it is inevitable that we will be constantly exposed to artificial materials by virtue of living in this modern world, being aware of the effects of negative energy produced from electro- magnetic force fields, as well as negative energy derived from the ingestion of processed foods, artificial sweeteners and other food products that we as creatures have had little time to adapt to can significantly improve our effectiveness in the martial arts. As a by- product, it may also significantly improve our health as well.


If we can train our body in harmony with our environment we will be able to take in the good energy within our environment and filter out the bad energy that constantly surrounds us. We can communicate with energy in such a way that we never lose our fuel. The distinction between our original Qi 元氣which cannot be replenished and the Qi which we ingest after birth from the environment is important in this context. The longer we retain a reservoir of original Qi the longer we can expect to experience a higher quality of life.


In Science Fiction movies we see space ships traveling for light years from one place to another. These ships never run out of fuel. In order for this to take place these ships need to take energy from the environment. We as martial artists need to have the same goal. If we can forever take energy from our environment, we should be able to continue on into perpetuity without ever running out of fuel. While the result may not be achievable on a literal level, attempting to achieve this goal has all the earmarks of a healthy and rewarding approach to the process of living.


At this point the poem becomes clearer. I know what I know refers to the typical martial arts training we all go through. This includes forms, stances, Qigong, weapons and whatever else we have come into contact with as we have practiced martial arts. I know what you know and I know what you don’t know refers to the second level and the need to practice with a partner. As you practice with that person you begin to build up your own game plan and mind set. Once you have developed this phase of your practice, you reach the level described as “you do not know what I know”. This is the level where you have developed to the extent that you can employ your own creativity and uniqueness. This is also the level where you connect your energy from your environment and make Heaven and Earth your allies.


In Mandarin this alliance is described as Tian Ren He Yi 天人合一 or environment and you all in one. Tian literally means Heaven but in this context it can be extended to include that part of the environment that provides healthy and useful energy as well.


With this information in mind we can look back at the poem in a different light. As we begin the first level of training, I know what I know involves cultivating the sixth sense. When we train, our intent is to develop a sixth sense and our training is geared towards creating connections between our consciousness and our autonomic nervous system.
At the second level we use our interactions with other persons to build up our peripheral sensors. We learn about each of the five senses both as focused and diffuse. With our partners we develop an understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of each of our senses as well as how to exploit these strengths and weaknesses in others. We begin to understand when our conscious mind needs to take charge and when it needs to delegate responsibility to our autonomic nervous system. We become more comfortable with this process as we become better aware of it and how it operates.


Our training is both the obverse and the reverse of what seems intuitive. This may confuse some people but as we look at human behavior and what we understand as the consistent principles that define it, we can see that this training avoids most of the traps that the unwary fall into. We learn to recognize another’s behavior patterns. This makes them predictable while we learn to avoid those behavior patterns within ourselves that would result in our predictability. As we practice with others we improve our level of spatial intelligence. We become more aware of all of our surroundings and this leads us into the process of making a stronger and more effective connection with our environment.


At the third level we take our training to the next dimension. We are not alone. We need allies and we have them if we can connect with the energy available to us within our environment. This process requires an even better level of communication between our autonomic nervous system and our conscious mind. First of all it requires that we understand that our method of communicating with our environment is often through our autonomic nervous system and how it experiences ambient vibrations and secondly it requires that we understand the need to trust the autonomic system to do those things that it does best and avoid the tendency to micromanage.


Your opponent may see you as having magical powers. But, you understand that you have learned how to manage the energy that surrounds you through much practice and much hard work. The opponent however, has not reached this higher level. If he had he would not be fighting you. As a result he cannot understand how to respond to your movements. It is for this reason that you can comfortably say, “I know that you don’t know what I know”.


Were we to plot a graph of a Chinese martial art we would find that it forms a circle. The beginning and end of this art reflects the philosophies and cultures in which it is rooted. The premise of all of this is that everything in the world is in a state of transition and that it all begins and ends at the same point. Regardless of changes, the basic principles or underlying laws never change. The circle can be big, small or it can even be changed manipulated into different shapes as we see in the transition from ball to bowl that is prevalent in Yang Style Taiji.


Regardless of the variables, the basic point never changes. In Chinese Culture the world begins with energy (Wuji) this energy is unstable and as a result matter appears. With the advent of matter come polarities (Taiji) and as the matter divides Yin and Yang (the positive and negative poles split from each other forming Liang Yi (two directions). From this develops two sets of polarities (Sixiang) and then three sets of polarities (Bagua) and so on as more and more binary systems are formed. The concept of Yin and Yang stands for the binary systems we find in our universe. The law of thermal dynamics which states that energy within a closed system is never created or destroyed also applies because eventually the universe restores its own balance and in the process returns to Wuji or the transitory state of pure energy. In martial arts as in much of life, the more we allow ourselves to become aware of the forces of energy with which we interact the deeper and more efficient our sense of and response to reality.




The Sine Qua Non of a highly developed martial artist is the possession of a constant heart. He is an effective martial artist and a winning warrior because he has the ability to cope with the changes taking place in his environment. The development of a sixth sense is essential to learning to survive. Having this sixth sense allows us to more readily cope with change. This makes the process of coping less stressful and improves our statistical chances of survival.