Shaolin Iron Wire

The flow method in Iron Wire


In the recent Iron Wire courses, Sifu has used the flow method as an alternative to the force method. Does this opportunity, to use the flow method, exist in other kung fu sets and styles? For example, does Xingyiquan have this opportunity and can we use this flow method in some parts of Flower Set force training?

Sifu Mark Blohm


Once you have acquired the flow method you can apply it in any set, including in such external arts like Karate and Taekwondo.

On the other hand, once you have acquired the force method, you can apply it in any set, including in such internal arts like Taijiquan, Baguazhang and Xingyiquan. This is an excellent example of spread and depth.

If you apply the flow method successfully in Karate and Taekwondo, your performance will not look like Karate and Taekwondo, it will look like Taijiquan or Flower Set using Karate and Taekwondo forms.

If you apply the flow method unsuccessfully, it will also not look like Karate and Taekwondo, it will look like a dance in Karate or Taekwondo forms. As not many people have the opportunity to learn the flow method, dancelike performance is usually the result, especially with forms that are already flowing and graceful like Taijiquan and Flower Set.

If you apply the force method successfully in Karate and Taekwondo, your performance will not look like Karate and Taekwondo, it will look like high-level Shaolin Kungfu in Karate or Taekwondo forms. If you do it wrongly, it will also not look like Karate and Taekwondo, it will look like isometric exercise using Karate or Taekwondo forms.

You can find some examples on Youtube of Karate masters performing isometric exercise, mistaking it as the force method. A student who used this isometric method before told me that his master warned him not to practice often as it would shorten his life. I remember greatly puzzled why masters still practiced it or taught it to their students when they knew it was harmful.

But if you practice the force method correctly, even using Karate and Taekwodo forms, it will enhance your health, vitality and longevity, besides giving you internal force and mental clarity. You will get better result in shorter time if you use Shaolin forms, like Iron Wire, because Shaolin forms are more conducive for the force method.

If you apply the force method to internal arts like Taijiquan, Baguazhang and Xingyiquan, your performance will not look like what people think Taijiquan, Baguazhang and Xingyiquan to be, but look like what Taijiquan, Baguazhang and Xingyiquan were in the past. How do we know what these arts looked like in the past. We can have a good picture from descriptions in Taijiquan, Baguazhang and Xingyiquan classics, some of which actually explained the process of the force method, like stamping of feet, consolidating flowing energy into force, and exploding force with a shout.

It is helpful to remember that the terms "flow method" and "force method" are our innovations, created for convenience. The terms are created by us, but the techniques or methods are not, though with the advantage of breadth and depth we have improved on them. The techniques and methods were used by past masters, though they did not call them the flow method or the force method, and probably they might not be aware of what was subtly happening inside them while they trained though they were fully aware of the techniques and methods they used.

For example, past Taijiquan masters knew that to generate internal force they had to repeat certain movements hundreds of time, but they might not know that these repeated movements generated an energy flow, and they did not know that this occurred only when they were in what we now call a chi kung state of mind. Knowing all this, we can achieve similar result by repeating the same movement just 30 or 40 times.

Past Shaolin masters knew that if they repeated certain movements like those in the Iron Wire Set hundreds of time and made appropriate sounds, they could consolidate internal force. But they might not know that there must be energy flow first, before internal force could be consolidated, and that the sounds not only prevented energy blockage but also promoted better energy flow. Knowing all this enable us to attain similar result in much shorter time.

Yang Style Taijiquan and Iron Wire represent the full range of the flow method and the force method. In orthodox tradition, Yang Style Taijiquan employs 100% flow method, whereas Iron Wire employs 100% force method. Other arts use a mixture of both methods, with varying focus on one method or the other.

As a rough estimate, the proportion between applying the flow method and the force method in the following arts are as follows. Yang Style Taijiquan 100-0, Baguazhang 80-20, Xingyiquan 60-40, Flower Set 40-60, Triple Stretch 20-80, Iron Wire 0-100.

With a clear understanding of their underlying philosophy and the required skills and techniques as well as the invaluable experience of breadth and depth, we can modify or improve the proportion between the flow method and the force method in the arts we wish to train in. At first we approach prudently. We have a great advantage of chi flow, which not only erases harmful effects unwittingly derived but also speeds up progress remarkably. With successful experience we can progress with more confidence and certainty.

Therefore, if we use Taijiquan as an internal force training method, we can use 100% flow method, or 100% force method, or anywhere in between with varying proportions of the flow method and the force method.

The flow method will be more effective than the force method because the movements of Taijiquan are designed for the flow method. How effective the flow method will be over the force method depends on various factors, like how relaxed the practitioner is when generating an energy flow, how skillful he is in consolidating force, and how much his experience is in these two and other methods.

But as a rough guide, for most practitioners the force method will only reach to about 40% of the flow method. In other words, if they develop 1000 units of internal force using the flow method, they will only be able to develop 400 units using the force method.

Although the movements of Taijiquan are designed for the flow method, it does not mean that we won't improve the result if we incorporate the force method into the flow method. This is because the force method is actually present, though most Taijiquan practitioners using the flow method to develop internal force successfully may not realize it. This in fact is the norm, even among masters.

Shaolin Flower Set

The flow method in the Flower Set

Masters may have developed a lot of internal force in their many years of training, but they normally do not know what happened. That is why developing internal force takes years. But if we know what happens, and works at it purposely, we can speed up the progress remarkably. That is why we only take months to develop internal force.

As a rough estimate, if we use 70% flow method and 30% force method, we can develop 1500 units of internal force, when those who use 100% flow method can develop 1000 units, and those who use 100% force method can develop 400 units. Please keep in mind that this is a very rough estimate. Many factors are involved, and even when one factor changes, the estimate will be different. For example, the above estimate is based on practicing Single Whip. If we use Lifting Water, we would have to reduce the proportion of the force method so that a good proportion would be 90% flow method and 10% force method.

Let us look at Iron Wire for comparison. The orthodox approach is to use the force method. Practitioners use 100% force method to develop internal force in Iron Wire training.

It is pertinent to keep in mind that I am referring to those practitioners who have been successful, and they constitute only about 20% of the total number of people who have a chance to practice Iron Wire. The other 80% use isometric exercise.

I myself used the force method when I practiced Iron Wire many years ago, and produced a lot of internal force in much shorter time than expected. On hindsight I realize that although I was not aware of it at the time, I also incorporated the flow method which I earlier acquired in One-Finger Shooting Zen which I learned from my sifu, Sifu Ho Fatt Nam.

It is interesting that when I introduced the flow method to the Iron Wire course in Barcelona in May 2012, all the participants, i.e. 100%, found it produced more force than the force method. At the Iron Wire course in Las Vegas in October 2012, only 60% found the flow method more powerful, and 40% found the force method more powerful.

I have not found out the reason for the discrepancy between the Barcelona course of 100% and the Las Vegas course of 60%, though with hindsight I could say that at the Barcelona course the distinction between the flow method and the force water was clear-cut, but at the Las Vegas course the distinction was merged. In other words, at the Barcelona course when practitioners used the force method, there was no element of the flow method, and vice versa. At the Las Vegas course, when practitioners used the force method, there was some element of the flow method, and vice versa.

But it was evident that the flow method contributed substantially to developing internal force in Iron Wire training. How is this possible? How is it that in Iron Wire where the movements are designed for the force method, incorporating the flow method in it would enhance the result remarkably?

When we know the underlying philosophy, substantiated with actual experience, it is not difficult to find the answer. Energy flow is needed before internal force is consolidated. Past masters who could be very powerful in their Iron Wire might not realize this important fact. The past masters could still be very powerful even when they did not know this fact because of their many years of dedicated training.

With this background knowledge, which is interesting and useful by itself, we can answer the question with insight.

Yes, the flow method exists in other kungfu sets and styles, though masters of these sets and styles may not realize the existence of the flow method even when they have developed a lot of internal force using these sets and styles.

Energy flow is necessary before internal force can be consolidated. If energy flow is necessary, and the masters do not realize it, how can the masters develop a lot of internal force?

The masters may not realize the energy flow, but the energy flow does occur. As the masters do not make a conscious effort to have energy flow, it does not occur every time they train. Suppose they train 10 times, and energy flow occurs 3 times interspacingly.

So, although they have trained 10 times, they actually have consolidated their energy into internal force 3 times. If they train once a day, they would have trained for 30 days a month, and have consolidated energy into internal force 9 times. Suppose each time they consolidate, they build 10 units of internal force.

Will they build 90 units of internal force in one month? No, it is because the internal force is not built up continuously, some of it would be dissipated. They may have only 50 units of internal force for the month.

Let us see what happens to us in our training when we know the underling philosophy and purposely work towards it. When we use the flow method, we generate a powerful energy flow, not interspacingly but every time we train. Because our energy flow is powerful, we can consolidate not just 10 units of internal force each time, but 20 units. Because we have the benefit of accumulated effect which creates not just an arithmetical progression but a geometrical progression, we will have built not 600 units of internal force in one month but 1000 units.

Other practitioners would have built only 50 units of internal force in one month. This explains why we can attain in a few months what others may need many years.

There are many different techniques and methods to develop internal force. In the Wuzuquan course in Deceember 2012, we employed numerous techniques and methods to develop internal force using movements from the San Zhan set. We found that we could develop a lot of internal force.

But all these different techniques and methods may be generalized into two main categories, which we call the flow method and the force method.

In our school we can use only the flow method, or only the force method, or both in various combinations for any set or style, including Xingyiquan and Flower Set. This is a special benefit available to us. Practitioners of other schools do not have this benefit. Not only they do not differentiate between the flow method and the force method, they also do not differentiate between skills and techniques.

Practitioners of other schools normally practice the techniques of their set or style as it has been traditionally taught, without knowing whether they use the flow method or the force method. If they are fortunate to practice a genuine art, in Xingyiquan it will be 60% flow method and 40% force method, and in Flower Set it will be 40% flow method and 60% force method. In Taijiquan it will be 100% flow method, and in Iron Wire 100% force method. The great majority of practitioners will not be as lucky. They just practice their set or style as physical exercise.

We are in a better position. We can vary the proportion between the flow method and the force method according to our needs and other factors. The estimates given about are for general situations. When the situation changes, like when we change to another exercise or have a different objective, we may modify the proportion accordingly.

How does one know what proportion of the flow method and the force method to use if he does not have sufficient knowledge or experience? A good way is to follow wu-wei, which comes after yu-wei. The yu-wei part is to perform the set or style according to what is taught by a competent teacher. Then enjoy wu-wei. Later you may look back and determine the proportion you have used and access whether it has been beneficial. In fact, that was how the various estimates were made.

Xingyiquan, Hsing Yi Chuan

The flow method in Xingyiquan

UK Summer Camp 2013
Xingyiquan Questions and Answers

The questions and answers are reproduced from the thread 10 Questions to Sifu about Xingyiquan in the Shaolin Wahnam Discussion Forum.


Preparation for Xingyiquan Course