Unlike the “hard” or “external” martial arts that involve using muscular force to counter an oncoming attack, the primary principle behind the “soft” or “internal” martial arts is to evade or yield to an oncoming force and use that force against itself.
Within the Shao-lin system there are 3 main “internal” fighting arts that we teach. They are Tai Chi Ch’uan, Ba Qua Chang and Hsing I Ch’uan (pronounced “shing ee”). Tai Chi Ch’uan is considered the “softest” of the arts and is the first one taught. Ba Qua Chang is the second and Hsing I Ch’uan is the third.
Tai Chi Ch’uan
Tai Chi Ch’uan translates to “The Grand Ultimate Fist” and has been called the gift to the world from China. It is considered by many to be the perfect exercise. The practice of Tai Chi Ch’uan has been known to lower blood pressure and relieve stress; to increase bone mass and help with the relief of arthritis; to develop and maintain good balance; to build coordination; and to develop internal and external strength. These are things that everyone needs.
As an “internal” fighting art it uses a combination of linear and circular upper body movement, but the footwork is generally linear and yielding. All of the movements are fully functional joint locks, punches, open hand strikes and kicks. It is based on the balance of opposite powers. This style of defense seeks to find the harmony between opposite forces of Yin and Yang (hard and soft). Like placing a needle in a ball of cotton, the cotton seems light and soft to the touch, but squeeze it just right…ouch!!
In ancient China, Tai Chi Ch’uan was practiced by high level martial artists to bring the mind and the body together and to be able to move and to meditate all in one. Tai Chi Ch’uan was developed by a former Shaolin Monk approximately 1000 years ago. Chang Sang Feng developed Tai Chi Ch’uan to improve his martial arts abilities. Over time, those that followed in his footsteps soon discovered that through proper practice, not only did Tai Chi Ch’uan improve their martial arts ability; it also improved their health and fitness. Today, young and old alike enjoy Tai Chi Ch’uan for the many health benifits that it offers. Tai Chi Ch’uan is a very important aspect of our training; helping to balance and promote our self defense abilities as well as our health.
Ba Qua Chang
Ba Qua Chang translates to “8 Trigram Palm” or “8 Changes of the Palm”. It uses circular movements in a circular footwork pattern and is slightly more like an external art in appearance. Concealed within the training are throws, joint locks, strikes and holds. By using subtle evasive movements in deceptive circular patterns, one learns to avoid direct attacks by simply not being there as the attack arrives. The circular movements and unique footwork allows one to disappear from the focal point of an attack and end up behind the opponent. Power is generated from the waist by using a twisting motion. This, along with the circular footwork allows the practitioner to evade and redirect an attack while throwing strikes and kicks from odd angles. Ba Qua Chang compliments Tai Chi Ch’uan by providing grappling techniques for close-in fighting applications.
Unlike Tai Chi Ch’uan and Ba Qua Chang, Hsing I Ch’uan is direct, linear and powerful. It can be thought of as the connection between “internal” and “external” styles. While Tai Chi Ch’uan and Ba Qua Chang are evasive and seek to use less force to divert a greater force, Hsing I Ch’uan meets force with equal or greater force.
Some one who was observing another practicing this style wouldn’t see much difference between Hsing I and other external styles. This style of defense believes that one should attack straight in once the opening is obtained overpowering the opponent. There is no retreat and the straight line is the shortest and fastest line of attack.
Hsing I Ch’uan was developed around the 5 Elements. Metal, Water, Wood, Fire and Earth. This is where the practice begins. Each element, transmitted to a set of movements, gives the foundation of Hsing I Ch’uan training. Beyond this is the linkage form that links the elements together, the 12 Animals of Hsing I Ch’uan and the 2 Person Fighting set that teaches timing and distance.