IS IT NECESSARY TO HAVE A CHI FLOW AFTER PRACTICING A CHI KUNG TECHNIQUE?
If students practice techniques from the 18 Jewels, and afterwards don't have a chi flow but just stand still, is there any harm? And does this apply to other types of Chi Kung and also to performing Kung Fu sets?
Sifu Mark Blohm
Firstly we need to be clear of the term “chi flow”.
For convenience we may define the term “chi flow” under two main categories, its wide interpretation and its narrow interpretation.
In its wide interpretation, the term is self-explanatory. Chi flow refers to chi flowing in a person’s body.
Actually, chi is flowing in every living person, irrespective of whether he practices chi kung. If the chi flow is interrupted, he becomes sick or in pain. If the chi stops flowing, he is dead.
But this is not the meaning we refer to even when we use the wide interpretation. We refer to an increase in the flow as a result of his chi kung training.
The increase of flow may be just a little or a lot, and it may take a long time or a short time. If the increase is just a little and takes a long time, as in low-level chi kung, it is not obvious, but we still regard it as chi flow in its wide interpretation.
If the increase is a lot and occurs in a short time, as in high-level chi kung, it is usually obvious and is manifested as chi flow movements. Sometimes the movements are gentle, like swaying about while standing on a spot. Sometimes the movements are vigorous, like jumping about and rolling on the floor.
Irrespective of whether the chi flow movements are gentle or vigorous, so long as we can see the chi flow movements, we refer to this as chi flow in its narrow interpretation. In fact, this is how we generally use the term “chi flow”.
It is also possible that chi is flowing powerfully inside a practitioner’s body but it is not manifested outwardly as chi flow movements. In this case we refer to it as chi flow in its wide interpretation.
To sum up, if the chi flow is not manifested outwardly as chi flow movements, we refer to it as chi flow in its wide interpretation. If it is manifested outwardly as chi flow movements, we refer to it as chi flow in its narrow interpretation. Until we have new terms to denote these two different types of chi flow, we have to use the term chi flow in its wide interpretation or narrow interpretation.
We take some time to explain how we use the term “chi flow” because the term is widely used by us but seldom used by other practitioners, now as well as in the past! If you check classical Chinese chi kung literature, you will not find the term “chi flow” described as a genre in Chinese, which is literally “qi liu”. If you check modern chi kung literature in English, apart from ours, you will also not find the term “chi flow” described as a genre.
Why is this so? It is because chi flow is a phenomenon very common to us. It has become a hallmark of our chi kung as well as kungfu training. But chi flow manifested with chi flow movements, i.e. chi flow in its narrow interpretation, seldom happens now and seldom happened in the past to other practitioners!
There is a type of chi kung with outward manifested chi flow movements, now as well as in the past. But its practitioners do not call it chi flow, they call it self-manifested chi movement, or "zi fa dong gong" in Chinese. This is a modern term. In the past, it was called by the name of the art it was practiced, namely Five-Animal Play, or "wu xing si" in Chinese.
When I first wrote “The Art of Chi Kung”, I described this phenomenon, which was very effective in helping students overcome pain and illness, as self-induced chi flow. Students often moved about vigorously, sometimes making interesting sounds.
The movements as a result of self-induced chi flow appeared to be spontaneous. For example, some students might jump about, hit themselves hard but without any harm, or roll on the floor. The students did not voluntarily make these extra-ordinary movements. The movements spontaneously came about due to vigorous chi flow inside their body. But the practitioners had control over these movements. They could slow down or stop the extra-ordinary movements if they wanted.
Self-induced chi flow occurred as a result of performing techniques from the Eighteen Lohan Hands. Later I devised some exercises, which formed part of the Eighteen Jewels, to speed up these extra-ordinary movements and make them more vigorous.
A senior student commented that other chi flow movements, which were gentler and less extra-ordinary, like swaying gently after practicing Abdominal Breathing, were also self-induced. Hence he suggested that self-induced chi flow did not refer just to these spontaneous, extra-ordinary movements.
This prompted me to change the term to self-manifested chi movement, which was a translation of the already existing “zi fa dong gong”. Since then I have used the term “chi flow”, without the qualifier “self-induced”, in a wider sense to include any flow of energy, with or without outward manifested movements.
The closest term in Chinese classical chi kung literature for chi flow is “xing qi”, which means “circulating energy”, in contrast to “yang qi”, which is “nourishing energy”. Please note that the “yang” in “yang qi” is different from the “yang” in “yin-yang”. However, “xing qi” or circulating energy is not exactly the same as “chi flow” as we often use the term, especially with outward manifested chi flow movements.
With this background knowledge, we can now answer with some insight the questions asked.
If students practice techniques from the 18 Jewels, and afterwards do not have a chi flow but just stand still, irrespective of whether “chi flow” is taken in its wide interpretation without outward manifested movement, or in its narrow interpretation with outward manifested movement, there is no harm.
When chi flow is taken in its wide interpretation, which means there is no energy flow inside a practitioner’s body, the techniques are performed not as chi kung but as gentle physical exercise. This indeed is the situation of more than 80% of chi kung practitioners the world over, regardless of what chi kung techniques they practice.
The techniques are correctly and sometimes beautifully performed according to their form, but the practitioners lack the skills to generate a chi flow. Recently I discovered that it is the chi flow, not the techniques, that give the benefits of practicing chi kung. In other words, if they do not have chi flow, even when the techniques are correctly performed according to their form, the practitioners will not overcome pain and illness, and not attain good health, vitality and longevity regardless of how long they may have practiced their exercises.
Hence, if there is no chi flowing inside the practitioners’ body, there is no harm, but there is also no benefit. This is true provided, of course, the practitioners perform their techniques correctly. If they practice the techniques wrongly, like straining their muscles or over-working their organs, there will be harm.
The harm is not due to their not having chi flow, but due to their wrong training. But if they have a chi flow, especially a vigorous one with manifested movements, the harmful effects due to their wrong training will be overcome by the chi flow.
There must be chi flow in its wide interpretation before chi flow in its narrow interpretation can follow. In other words, if there is no chi flowing inside a practitioner’s body, logically there will be no outward manifestation of chi flow movements due to the internal chi flow.
If there is chi flowing inside a practitioner’s body, and if he is relaxed and not thinking of any thoughts, outward chi flow movements will be manifested. In classical terms, this is expressed as “extreme quiescence generates movement”. Usually, but not always, the more vigorous the internal chi flow is, the more vigorous will be the manifestation of external movements, unless the practitioner controls or modify the movements.
Is it harmful if after practicing techniques from the Eighteen Jewels or any chi kung exercises, students do not go into chi flow manifested with external movements but just stand still? No, there is no harm.
Indeed, this is the normal way people practice chi kung. As a result of performing any chi kung techniques correctly, chi flows inside their body. The chi flow inside their body normally does not manifest as vigorous outward movements. Sometimes it may manifest as gentle movements, like swaying gently, but not as vigorous movements like swinging their arms wildly, hopping about or performing graceful dancelike actions, often with making interesting sounds.
On the other hand, if there is no chi flow inside their body, they merely perform the chi kung techniques as gentle physical exercise and not as chi kung or energy exercise. As mentioned earlier, this is the situation of more than 80% of chi kung practitioners all over the world. Irrespective of how long they may have practiced, they will not derive any chi kung benefits, simply because they have not practiced chi kung.
These practitioners usually do not differentiate between genuine chi kung and gentle physical exercise. This is because chi flow inside practitioners’ body is not visible, and unless it is powerful it is also not noticeable by the practitioners themselves. This is unlike chi flow manifested in outward movements, which is easily visible.
Moreover, the term “chi flow” is not explained in chi kung classics. As mentioned before, the phenomenon of chi flow is particular to us in Shaolin Wahnam, it is uncommon to most other practitioners.
Hence, these practitioners do not realize that they are actually not practicing chi kung, which is an art of energy management, though they practice chi kung forms as external gentle exercise. In the same way, most Taijiquan practitioners today do not practice Taijiquan, which is an internal martial art, though they practice Taijiquan forms as external dancelike movements.
To recapitulate, the same chi kung techniques, like those from the 18 Jewels, can be performed at three levels.
At the external level, they are performed as gentle physical exercise where there is no chi flow at all.
At the chi kung level, they are performed as energy exercise where there is chi flow inside practitioners’ body but not manifested outwardly. For convenience we regard this as chi flow in its wide interpretation.
At a higher chi kung level, they are performed as energy exercise where there is chi flow inside practitioners body which are manifested outwardly. We regard this as chi flow in its narrow interpretation
Understanding these three levels of performing chi kung techniques, we can now better understand that if students practice techniques from the 18 Jewels or any chi kung exercise, and afterwards do not have a chi flow but just stand still, there is no harm, unless they practice the exercise wrongly. Here they practice the techniques at the first level, i.e. the external level.
If students practice the techniques and afterward do not have vigorous chi flow movements, but just stand still though chi is flowing inside their body, there is no harm, unless they practice the exercise wrongly. Here they practice the techniques at the second level, i.e. the chi kung level. They will have some benefit, but the benefit will be more if they let go and have vigorous chi flow movements. This will enable their chi flow inside their body to be more vigorous, enabling them to progress to the third level, i.e. a higher chi kung level.
Nevertheless, it should be noted that as practitioners progress further, their manifested chi flow movements may become less. Eventually, they may not have much or any manifested chi flow movement, yet the chi flow inside their body can be very powerful.
Hence, practitioners complete a full circle. First, there are no manifested chi flow movements. Next the manifested chi flow movements become more and more. Then the manifested chi flow movements become less. Eventually they become quite still.
At first there are no manifested chi flow movements because the chi flow inside their body is weak, and they have a lot of blockage. Next, when the chi flow becomes stronger and the blockage less, the manifested chi flow movements become more and more. Then when there is less blockage for the chi flow to push through, the manifested chi flow movements become less, though the chi flow itself has become powerful. Eventually practitioners become quite still as there is little or no blockage, and being still facilitates the process from cleansing to building and nourishing.
The same principles apply to other types of chi kung as well as to performing kungfu sets. But because the nature of practice and the force derived from the chi flow are different, there may be differences in their approaches and emphasis.
The 18 Jewels are relatively low level in our repertoire of chi kung techniques, though we may operate these low-level techniques with high-level skills to produce high-level results. On the other hand, Sinew Metamorphosis is a set of high-level techniques, though we may operate these high-level techniques using low-level skills to produce low-level results.
Please remember that low-level does not mean it is less useful. In fact most people today practice chi kung with the purpose of overcoming illness, which is considered a low-level result. Expanding into the Cosmos is a high-level result. But not many people feel the need to or are interested to expand into the Cosmos. Thus, low-level techniques meant to attain low-level results of overcoming illness are generally more useful today than high-level techniques meant to attain high-level results of expanding into the Cosmos.
Techniques from the 18 Jewels are primarily meant to overcome pain and illness. Hence, they are low-level techniques. The skills best suited for this purpose are generating energy flow and self-manifested chi movement. These skills are considered low-level skills.
Techniques from Sinew Metamorphosis are primarily meant to develop a lot of internal force and to attain mental clarity, which are high-level skills. A lot of internal force is needed to break through the illusory body to expand the spirit into the Cosmos, which is a high-level result.
We choose the best techniques and the best skills to attain our desired results. If students wish to overcome pain and illness, for example, an excellent choice is techniques from the 18 Jewels and self-manifested chi movement as the primary skill is excellent.
This agrees very well with what has been described. If the students have no chi flow inside their body, they only perform the techniques as gentle physical exercise, and they will not attain the desired result of overcoming pain and illness. But this is not harmful.
If they have chi flow inside their body, which is manifested as vigorous chi flow movements, they practice the same techniques as high-level chi kung, and are able to attain better results in shorter time. If they do not manifest their vigorous internal chi flow into external chi flow movements, it may or may not be harmful depending on the relationship of their physical body condition and the amount of energy they have generated.
If their physical body is too weak to hold the tremendous amount of energy, it will be harmful. It is a case of over-training. If their physical body can manage the tremendous amount of energy, it is not harmful.
This description may not apply to using techniques from Sinew Metamorphosis to operate the skill of expanding into the Cosmos, though the basic principles are the same.
If students do not have chi flow inside their body, they merely perform the Sinew Metamorphosis techniques as gentle physical exercise. Not only they will not attain the result of expanding into the Cosmos, they may harm themselves. The harm is due to the exercise causing energy blockage.
If they perform the same techniques correctly and have generated a lot of chi flow inside their body, but they just stand still and do not have manifested chi flow movements, they will get the best results if they are ready for this high-level exercise. By standing still, they allow their chi to build and be nourished. If they have the appropriate skills, they can expand into the Cosmos.
If they are not ready, like they still have much blockage, not manifesting into chi flow movement may be harmful. Students normally do not have sufficient knowledge and experience to understand such intricacies. Hence it is important that they must practice high-level chi kung under a master’s supervision.
If having generated a lot of chi inside their body, the students go into vigorous manifested chi flow movements, it may be beneficial or it may be harmful. If they can dispose off their toxic waster in time, it is beneficial. They will have good health, vitality and longevity. But they will not have high-level result like expanding into the Cosmos.
If they do not dispose off their toxic waste in time, it will be harmful. It is a case of over-cleansing. They may be in pain and feel uncomfortable.
Some of you may mistakenly think that the progression here in Sinew Metamorphosis contradicts that in 18 Jewels. In the three-level progression of 18 Jewels -- namely no chi flow, chi flow inside the body, and chi flow manifested as chi flow movements – the best results are obtained at the third level.
It seems that the best results in Sinew Metamorphosis are obtained at the second level where practitioners stand still, and not in vigorous manifested chi flow movement. Actually, it is not the second level, it is the fifth level, where the chi flow movement has completed its cycle.
If students are at the second level, they should not use such powerful exercises like Sinew Metamorphosis. They should use less powerful exercises like techniques from 18 Jewels or 18 Lohan Hands.
Like chi kung exercises, kungfu sets vary in the amount of chi flow and internal force generated from the sets. The principles and progression of the kungfu sets are similar to those in the chi kung exercises, except that kungfu sets are generally more powerful than chi kung exercises.
A kungfu set like Four Gates is relatively low-level, compared to a set like Triple Stretch which is relatively high-level. Please note the term “relatively”. In the hands of a master, Four Gates can be very profound. Four Gates is like the kungfu counter-part of 18 Jewels, and Triple Stretch the kungfu counter part of Sinew Metamorphosis.
Hence, if practitioners practice only the outward form of Four Gate, they perform the kungfu set at an external, physical level. There is no harm, but they do not get much benefit. This is what more than 80% of kungfu practitioners do, not just with Four Gates but with any kungfu sets, including those considered by their schools as very advanced sets.
If practitioners can generate an internal chi flow by practicing Four Gates, but the chi flow does not manifest as chi flow movements, they practice the kungfu set as an internal art. In the past all kungfu sets were practiced as internal arts by masters. Hence, even when these masters did not practice any supplementary internal force training methods but just by practicing their chosen kungfu sets, they had a lot of internal force. If they selected a high-level set like Flower Set or Flowing Water Floating Clouds, the internal force would be greater and attained in shorter time.
Is it harmful if practitioners, due to their ignorance or by intention, do not have an internal chi flow when their practice of a relatively low–level kungfu set like Four Gates has generated one? Yes, it is harmful. Their stopping of the chi flow causes them physical tension, mental stress and energy blockage.
If practitioners can use their internal chi flow to direct their kungfu movements, they would have attained a very high level in the performance of the set. It is difficult, but not impossible, to do so with a low-level set like Four Gates. High-level sets like Wudang Taijiquan and Dragon Strength are very suitable for this purpose. The practitioners will be very powerful and very fast, yet they will not be panting for breath and not be tired even when performing for a long time.
Is it harmful if practitioners who can manifest their internal chi flow movements into kungfu forms or external chi flow movements, do not do so but just stand still? No, it is not harmful if they allow their internal chi flow to continue but without outward manifestations. Yes, it is harmful if they also stop their internal chi flow by will or by tension.
Let us examine the progressive stages of practitioners performing a high-level kungfu set like Triple Stretch.
If they perform a high-level kungfu set at a physical level without any internal chi flow, it is harmful. It is unlike performing a low-level set physically. Why is it so?
It is because a high-level kungfu set is meant to be performed correctly as an internal art producing tremendous internal force and mental clarity. There are many techniques in the set for this purpose. If the set is not performed correctly, it will be performed wrongly. Performing a high-level internal kungfu set wrongly is harmful.
It is unlike performing a low-level kungfu set. If one does not perform a low-level set correctly, he may not necessarily perform it wrongly. Even if he does it wrongly, the adverse effects are not serious. His daily activities will be sufficient to generate enough chi flow without his knowing that can erase the adverse effects.
Take an analogy of riding a bicycle and driving a car. A bicycle is a low-level vehicle for transportation, and a car is high-level. If you do not ride a bicycle correctly, like sitting on the seat and holding the handle bar properly, you can still move with the bicycle and it is relatively not risky. But if you do not drive correctly, like stepping on the accelerator instead of the brake, you will be driving wrongly, and it is relatively risky.
The many techniques in a high-level kungfu set are devised to generate chi flow and then consolidate the chi flow into internal force. If practitioners do not have these skills, they are likely to practice the techniques as isometric exercise, which is harmful.
Just as in the case of high-level chi kung, if practitioners have generated a tremendous amount of energy which can manifest as chi flow movements, but they stand still instead, it can be harmful if they are not ready for this developmental stage yet, or it can be beneficial if they are ready.
If they are not ready, it will be a case of over-training. They will feel tired, drained and irritated. If they are ready and have the required skills, they can employ the tremendous internal force to expand into the Cosmos. They will feel a tremendous sense of freedom and joy.
Chi flow, both in its wide interpretation and its narrow interpretation, is a hallmark of our school. It gives us three wonderful benefits:
It spontaneously and almost immediately erases harmful effects which we may unwittingly sustained in our training.
It overcomes pain and illness, and gives us good health, vitality and longevity.
- It speed up our progress at a ridiculous rate.
Many people are afraid to practice internal arts because of their fear of deviation. This was a serious hindrance facing many kungfu practitioners in the past. We are so lucky that our chi flow can overcome this huge problem that some of us may not even realize this issue.
The wonderful thing is that we do not even need to know how, where, when and why it works. So long as we practice our exercises, which inevitably include chi flow, whatever adverse effects we may unknowingly sustain will be erased. This is an important reason why we can afford our three golden rules of not to worry, not to intellectualize and to enjoy our practice.
Again without us doing anything extra and intellectualizing how it works, our chi flow will overcome pain and illness, and give us good health, vitality and longevity. Even internal art masters in the past did not have these benefits. Thus some masters were sick and had to undergo orthodox medical treatment like taking medical herbs, some sustained injuries for life, some were angry or depressed, and some did not have longevity.
Chi flow makes us ridiculously cost-effective. We can achieve results in a few days what masters themselves took months or even years. Since ancient times, the concern of kungfu and internal art cultivators was dogged perseverance, characterized by the term “ku lian” which literally means “bitter training”. Our concern is to tell our students not to over-train, and have fun. It is almost a joke.
The questions and answers are reproduced from the thread 10 Questions to Grandmaster Wong -- 18 Jewels of Shaolin Wahnam Chi Kung in the Shaolin Wahnam Discussion Forum.