A typical Xingyiquan pattern, "Golden Axe Strikes Mountain". Notice that it is quite similar to the typical pattern of Baguazhang.

(This chapter is selected from an unknown and undated classic published in Chinese.)

What is Internal Energy?

The meaning of qi, or energy, is very wide. It is quite complicated.

Talking about the energy in our body, there is “kong qi” or “space energy” which is air from our breathing through our nose and mouth. There is energy flowing in our blood vessels called “ying qi” or “nourishing energy”. There is energy flowing outside the blood vessels and inside the skin in the flesh called “wei qi” or “defence energy”.

There is energy flowing in the chest called “chong qi” or “chest energy”. There is energy flowing in the stomach called “wei qi” or “stomach energy”.

(Editorial Note: “Wei qi” meaning “defence energy, and “wei qi” meaning “stomach energy” are written differently in Chinese, and pronounced in different tones.)

There is energy flowing in the upper-warmer called “zhong qi” or “tradition energy”. There is energy flowing in the middle-warmer called “zong qi” or “central energy”. There is energy flowing in the lower-warmer called “yuan yang qi” and “yuan yin qi” or “original yang energy” and “original yin energy”.

“Nei qi” or “Internal energy” is also called “zhen qi”, “yuan qi”, “zheng qi” and “chun yang zi qi”, or respectively “real energy”, “original energy”, “righteous energy” and ‘energy of pure yang”. This internal energy mentioned in internal arts is not the same as the “space energy”, or air, breathed through the nose and mouth during respiration.

Yet, to obtain internal energy, a practitioner cannot do away with breathing, irrespective of whether he uses abdominal breathing, chest breathing, foetus breathing, smooth breathing, reverse breathing, scholarly breathing or warrior breathing.

In “Simple Questions: Discussion on Heavenly Reality” of the Inner Classic of Chinese Medicine, it is mentioned that “When there is internal energy, and the spirit is focused inwardly, wherefore can illness occur?” This clearly shows the internal energy is not the same as “space energy”, or air, in breathing.

When internal art is trained using special training and breathing methods, when a practitioner has entered into a deep state of stillness, like a small boat in the middle of a large sea, or like a wooden cockerel in the middle of a pavilion, it will generate internal energy. It is like creating something from nothing.

As one continues in his training of the internal art, he will feel warmth at his lower dan tian. Initially he may feel as if there is something and as if there is nothing at his dan tian. Gradually the warm feeling becomes more pronounced and longer. Eventually it becomes stabilized. This is internal energy.

(Editorial Note: “Dan tian” means “energy field”. The lower dan tian is located about 2 or 3 inches below the navel. Some literature refers to this same dan tian as the middle dan tian.)

The Development of Internal Energy

Everyone has “zhen qi” or “real energy”. Due to work and living conditions in post-natal life, he has to use up some of his “real energy”. Thus, it is necessary to replenish his “real energy” sufficiently and in time. But not every one can do this.

If favourable conditions are present, like the availability of food and drinks, good living conditions, environment and emotions, correct breathing and appropriate methods, he can replenish fully and in time. But if conditions are inadequate, the replenishment may not be sufficient or in time, resulting in differences in people like being strong or weak, empty or solid, healthy or sick, and brave or timid

Those lacking in “original energy” are depressed and with a lot of illness, empty and weak, and can easily be afraid. Those with much “original energy” are spiritually radiant and fresh, strong and solid, healthy and brave. Thus, whether “real energy” is abundant or lacking is a decisive factor in a person’s life.

There are two fundamental factors concerning the development and source of “real energy” in a person.

One factor is inherited from his mother’s womb, is from the “real energy” of his father and mother. This kind of energy in Chinese traditional medicine is called pre-natal energy. This pre-natal energy belongs to a person’s kidneys, so it is also called “kidney energy”.

The second factor is after a person is born, when he has left his mother’s womb, and has come upon his livelihood, the most important of which is dependent on the fine nourishment from his food and drinks as well as breathed in through his nose and mouth the energy of the air.

Through the transformation of these two types of energy, i.e. the energy from food and drinks, and the energy from the air, is produced “vital energy”. This “vital energy” belongs to post-natal energy. Post-natal energy belongs to the spleen. Hence, after the birth of a person, the sole way to maintain life is post-natal energy, which nourishes pre-natal energy.

Post-natal energy is born from the transformation of the fine nourishment from water and grain of drinks and food, and the energy from the air. Then, why is it that in the methods of internal art, it is necessary to change the breathing methods of ordinary people?

Generally speaking, a certain amount of “vital energy” can be obtained from lung breathing, which is the breathing of ordinary people. But the pathway of flow in a person of the energy from lung breathing is short. It is only sufficient to flow between the lungs and the nose or mouth.

Hence, the transformation between the energy from the air that is breathed in, and the energy from water and grain in the five storage organs and the six transformational organs, is little. It is insufficient to fully use the energy from the air that is just breathed in.

(Editorial Note: The five storage organs are the heart, liver, spleen, lungs and kidneys. The six transformation organs are the intestine, gall bladder, stomach, colon, urinary bladder and triple-warmer. In traditional Chinese medicine, the triple-warmer is a large organ, consisting of three cavities, from the throat to the solar plexus, from the solar plexus to the navel, and from the navel to the anus.)

Specially for elderly people, and those who are weak and those who are sick, the energy from the air of lung breathing is already little, the length from the nose or mouth to the lungs is short, and this causes short and quick breathing and breathlessness, with the result that the energy from the air is not fully used. Thus, the ability of “vital energy” to transform is low. Gradually the amount of “vital energy” is inadequate. If, for a long period, the production of “vital energy” is not increased, it will be insufficient to replenish energy used by the body. This will result in the symptoms of aging before time.

Thus, to improve the circulation of energy in a person’s body, it is necessary to change his ordinary way of breathing. This can be accomplished by changing his lung breathing to abdominal breathing. This increases the length of flow of energy breathed in from the air, enabling an increase of transformation with the water and grain energy in the five storage organs and six transformational organs, fully using the energy breathed in.

In the breathing methods of internal arts, it is necessary to enable the breathing to be gentle, long, smooth and slow. Use intention to direct and lead energy breathed in from the air to the lower dan tian. Better still, when energy from the air has settled in the lower dan tian, pause for a short while, but do not forcefully hold the breath.

This method and principle are to increase and lengthen transformation between the energy from the air, with the water and grain energy from drinks and food. This will increase the production of “vital energy” that can replenish the energy used in daily life.

It is mentioned in martial art classics that, “Energy is the foundation, heart is the root, the breath is the origin, and kidneys are the controller. All these cannot be separated from breathing.”

What types of breathing are beneficial to better production of more “vital energy”? And how to employ intention to circulate energy and blood in the meridians and blood vessels of a person? The answers to these questions have constituted secretive and marvellous arts. They have become Buddhist qigong and Taoist qigong that are transmitted only to selected disciples. It is difficult for most people to receive these real transmissions.

Even in the Taoist training methods of Xingyiquan, the elderly generation of masters mostly closed their mouth like vase, not to transmit to disciples easily. It is like what is mentioned in martial art classics that “The marvellous art handed down by patriarchs, if you have attained it, you must not teach it indiscreetly to people”. Hence, although there may be many students, only one or two may receive the transmission.

(Editorial Note: Xingyiquan is spelt as Hsing Yi Chuan in English spelling. It means Form-Intention Kungfu. “To close mouth like vase” is a Chinese expression meaning not to talk about something.)

In Xingyiquan the process of application in the internal art is trained from the foundation of stance training in Wuji, one energy in the Great Void, Taiji, two dimensions, and three treasures.

(Editorial Note: “Wuji” literally means “No Limit”, and figuratively means the “Great Void”. The “Great Void” is everything there is without any differentiation. In Western terms it is “God the Holly Spirit”. “Taiji” literally means “Grand Ultimate”, and figuratively it means the Cosmos. The ”two dimensions’ are yin and yang. “Three treasures” refer to heaven, human and earth. In different context, “three treasures” may refer to hands, body and feet of a person.)

From Wuji, a practitioner enters silence. The nebulous one energy is generated. From Taiji, the energy becomes full and vibrant. According to two dimensions, the energy circulates. At three treasures, the energy becomes solid and through. This energy is applied in martial art.

(Editorial Note: A practitioner stands at the Wuji Stance, which is standing upright, be totally relaxed and still. Gradually, energy starts to move inside him. This is expressed in the principle that extreme stillness generates movement. Then the energy flow becomes full and vibrant. Outwardly, the practitioner may move vigorously. His movement is sometimes described as “flowing water floating clouds”, and is symbolized as Taiji, or the Cosmos. In other words, from Wuji, the Great Void, is issued Taiji, the phenomenal Cosmos.)

(Editorial Note: According to the two dimensions of yin and yang, the energy circulates. For example, the energy flows along both the yin meridians and the yang meridians. The energy flows to the hands, body, and feet, represented as the three treasures of a person. The energy flow makes the practitioners powerful and flowing. This energy is applied in martial art, like in Xingyiquan. In solo practice, and it contributes to the practitioner’s health, vitality and longevity. In combat, it contributes to his efficiency.)

(Editorial Note: The above passage may also be interpreted in the following way, which describes the main method in Xingyiquan force training. A practitioner stands at the Three-Treasure Stance, which is also called the Three-Body Stance, or Santi Shi in Chinese. While in the stance, the practitioner enters silence, attaining Wuji or the Great Void. The one energy starts to flow according to two dimensions of yin and yang, and this is symbolized as Taiji, where the energy is full and vibrant. As a result of internal force training using the Three-Treasure Stance, the energy becomes powerful and flowing. This internal force is applied in martial art.)

The method of internal art training described above is the fundamental of Xingyiquan stance training. Indeed, it is the most fundamental of Xingyiquan. But due to the conservatism of masters in the past, those who train Xingyiquan today do not realize its meaning. Because of this, many students today regard stance training in Xingyiquan as incidental, without much meaning, and it is therefore often neglected.

It is mentioned in martial art classics that “When the heart is still, the spirit is focused. When the spirit is focused, the heart is peaceful. When the heart is peaceful, it is pure and still. It is pure and still without anything. When there is nothing, one can circulate energy. When energy is circulated, there is no appearance. When there is no appearance, perception is clear. When perception is clear, spirit and energy flow harmoniously. Myriad things return to the origin.”

(Editorial Note: “The origin” means the Great Void. In Western terms, it is God and only God.)

Hence, while training it is necessary that the heart and the spirit are peaceful and still, the whole body is relaxed, not thinking and not intellectualizing, nothing and no ego, like a wooden cockerel in the centre of a pavilion, or like a small boat in a large sea, with the mind be totally quiet. This is the art of entering silence. It is Wuji, or boundless.

When entering silence to the ultimate, there is born the ultimate. This is “from nothing is born something”. At this time there is a feeling of energy at the dan tian. In the internal training of Xingyiquan, it is called “emptiness and nothingness contain one energy”.

Training further, when the art is continuously deepened, using the technique of focusing intention at the dan tian, a practitioner gradually lets the energy in breathing be deeply sunk at the dan tian. It will be felt that the longer one trains the internal art, the more complete and fulfilled he becomes. Warm sensation will be felt. This is known in Xingyiquan as Taiji, or the Grand Ultimate

When warm sensation is felt at the lower dan tian, practitioners must grasp this great opportunity, and apply the techniques of “focus energy at meridians” and “spirit and energy be united”. Gently let intention gradually move away from dan tian, and direct and lead warm energy to flow from the lower dan tian to “hui yin”, across the anus to “chang qiang”, up the spine, pass “yu zhen”, arrive at the sea of marrow called “nao hai” to the upper dan tian.

Then direct and lead energy down to the middle dan tian, and then down to the lower dan tian. This is known as the “Small Universe”, which is an art to transform essence to energy. This art of letting energy flow through the ren meridian and the du meridian is called “Liang Yi”, or “Two Dimensions” in Xingyiquan.

(Editorial Note: “hui yin”, “chang qiang”, “yu zhen” and “nao hai” are energy points located respectively just before the anus, at the tip of the back bone, behind the ears at the back of the head, and near the top of the head.)

(Editorial Note: The upper dan tian is located at the top of the head, the middle dan tian is located at the solar plexus, and the lower dan tian is located about 2 or 3 inches below the navel.)

(Editorial Note: The ren meridian, or the conceptual meridian, runs from the bottom of the lips in front of the body to the “hui yin” energy point just before the anus. The du meridian, or the governing meridian, runs at the back of the body from the tip of the back bone to the top of the head, then down the front part of the face to the lips.)

(Editorial Note: “Taiji” and “Liang Yi” are used here in Xingyiquan context, which are different from their meaning in general context. In general context, “Taiji” means the “Grand Ultimate”, or the Cosmos. “Liang Yi”, which means “Two Dimensions”, refers to yin and yang.)

From the Small Universe, one further trains to achieve the Big Universe, where energy flows to the head, hands and legs, and the eight marvellous meridians. In Xingyiquan, the attainment of the Big Universe is called “Three-Bodies”.

(Editorial Note: There are two types of Big Universe: the medical Big Universe or the phenomenal Big Universe, and the spiritual Big Universe or the transcendental Big Universe. In the medical Big Universe or the phenomenal Big Universe, energy flows through all the twelve primary meridians. In the spiritual Big Universe or the transcendental Big Universe, energy diffuses throughout the body and expands the spirit into the Cosmos.)

(Editorial Note: The twelve primary meridians are the three hand yin meridians, the three hand yang meridians, the three leg yin meridians, and the three leg yang meridians. The eight marvellous meridians are the ren meridian, the du meridians, the belt meridian, the rush meridian, the yin bridge meridian, the yang bridge meridian, the yin protection meridian, and the yang protection meridian.)

(Editorial Note: In Xingyiquan context, the “Three Bodies” refers to the attainment of the phenomenal Big Universe. In general context, the “Three Bodies” or the three aspects of the body refer to the hands, the body and the feet. The Three-Body Stance, or the Santi Stance in Chinese, where the hands, the body and the feet are held in specific positions, is a fundamental stance in Xingyiquan.)

The above is an explanation of the process of stance training in Xingyiquan. Internal energy is developed in this process to be abundant, powerful and flowing.

The Application of Internal Energy

The application of energy is very wide. It is beyond estimation and measurement. From the perspective of the natural world, the growth, development, movement change and death of everything is dependent on the process of energy. Thus, traditional Chinese medicine says that “The way of birth and changes is dependent on energy as the foundation. There is nothing in heaven and earth not dependent on it.”

“Real energy” is the foundation of the life of man. When “real energy” is present, life exists. When “real energy” is plentiful, life is prosperous. If “real energy” ends, death results. Thus “real energy” is related to the life and death, growth and decay, courage and timidity, strength and weakness, existence and manifestation, spread and release of all people and living things.

We know that every thing is composed of three elements, namely energy, liquid and solids. Human beings cannot do away with these elements. The human body is actually made up of countless solids. The human body can move and live because it is nourished by liquid and moved by energy, thus maintaining the movement of life. If the body is devoid of energy, it will cease to move. Thus, it is said that energy is the commander of blood. When energy moves, blood moves. When energy stops, blood stops.

Irrespective of whether it is five storage organs or six transformation organs, muscles or skin, meridians or bones, it depends on energy for its movement. It also depends on the nourishment from blood, saliva and essence for growth and development. If a person is devoid of nourishment, he will be dried, contracted and dead. It is like plants devoid of nourishment from water and fertilizers. The plants will become dry and die. Blood and saliva can continuously circulate in a person’s body without end because of the function of energy. The smooth flow of liquid in the body, the disposal of sweat, etc is due to the function of energy.

There are two objectives in the function of energy in Xingyiquan.

One of the objectives is through training the internal, to enable blood, energy and bodily liquids to be plentiful and fully fill the meridians, the four limbs, hundreds of bones, nourishing all parts, and to attain the stage where despite aging, energy is not weakened, and although the body is lacking, essence is not dried up. To attain this objective, it is necessary first to strengthen the foundation, to ensure the circulation of “real energy”. In this way, the body can be strong, and the person accomplishes good health and longevity.

We know that in whatever changes, internal reasons are the evidence, and external reasons are the conditions. If energy cannot be plentiful, the body cannot be strong and solid. A Xingyiquan master regarded this art of nurturing the origin and strengthening the body as “the original foundation of cultivating the body, and the great way of brightening heart and seeing nature, exhibit the transformation of yin-yang, the machine that turns the Cosmos, and is the pathway of strengthening the body.” From here it can be seen the great function of internal energy on human body cannot be overlooked.

The second objective is its application. From the perspective of martial art qigong, its objective is different from that of Buddhism and Taoism. The need to train qigong in martial art, apart from strengthening the energy and invigorating the body, there is one more important objective. It is to promote the legacy of Chinese culture.

In martial art, to train techniques, it is essential to train force; to train force, it is essential to train energy. If energy is lacking, force is insufficient. Martial art classics mention that “To apply martial art successfully depends on internal energy. It can be stretched and contracted, to and from, when called it cannot he heard, when observed it cannot be seen, it is circulated without end, flowing without stop, full in its capacity, beautiful in its look, flowing and moving, up and down and in all directions, there is nothing it does not have, there is nothing it does not generate. Thus, this is the real intention of martial art, the sincerity of real force, and it cannot hide its outward form.”

Therefore, the qigong of martial art, not only it has the function to promote and stimulate changes of the body, but also in the combat of attack and defence it focuses energy at specific parts of the body, adding to the defence against attacking force from outside. Also it can increase the force to attack opponents, being able to focus force to strike opponents suddenly. One of the signs of of a master with great internal force is to explode great force in a short time within a short distance.

In addition, in martial art it is required to join two or more movements together to explode force suddenly in one smooth flow of breath. This ability cannot do apart from the function of energy.

(Editorial Notes: Patterns in combat are not executed in isolation. They are linked together and performed in a smooth sequence, in a smooth flow of one breath. Energy training is necessary for this ability.)

Classics of martial art have said, “A volume can disperse a million pearls, a million pearls return to one volume. Although the patterns are different, energy returns to one. What is one? It is from head to toes, inside there are organs, tendons and bones, outside there are muscles and skin, his facial appearance and hundreds of bones, linked and combined into one.”

(Editorial Note: There are many different patterns in a martial art, but all these patterns serve similar objectives in the art. Although the patterns are different, the nature and application of energy are the same. For example, thrust palm and cannon punch are different patterns, and are performed differently. But the energy used in thrust palm and in cannon punch is the same energy.)

It is also said in martial art classics that “Strike but not leave. Control but not disperse. Think on top, follow below. Think below, top leads. Top and bottom move, middle section attacks. Middle section moves, top and bottom harmonize. Internal and external unite. Front and back connect. This is the function of energy.”

(Editorial Note: When an opponent strikes you, you do not run away; you respond accordingly. When an opponent controls you, like covering your both hands, you do not become helpless; you respond accordingly, like sinking back your body to release his control.)

(Editorial Note: When you use your head on top to think of ways to attack or defend, your hands and legs below follow accordingly. For example, when your opponent exposes himself while retreating, you move in to strike him. If you fail to do so, it is expressed as “hands and legs do not follow the heart”, i.e. you fail to “think on top, follow below”. If you succeed, you “think below, top leads”, i.e. you think of moving in with your feet below, and your hands lead in striking him. When you move your arms in your middle section, your head on top and your feet at the bottom harmonize themselves with your arm movement.)

(Editorial Note: When you strike your opponent with your hand, for example, you back up your strike with internal force. This is “internal and external unite.” When you move in front to attack, or retreat to defend, your movement must be co-ordinated. This is “front and back connect.” All these movements, like striking with internal force, and moving forward or backward to attack or defence, needs energy. They are a function of energy.)

The Difference between Internal Energy and External Energy

Internal energy and external energy can be viewed from a wide meaning. It is a difficult topic. If we do not differentiate the nature and limit of internal energy and external energy, but just talk about internal energy and external energy in general, it is difficult to explain the issues clearly.

In Xingyiquan, there are two views regarding internal energy and external energy. One view is the energy in the internal organs of a person that maintains life. This is called internal energy. The energy from the air breathed through the nose and mouth is called external energy.

The second view refers to wei qi or nourishment energy, and ying qi or defence energy that circulates inside our body. Because nourishment energy circulates inside blood vessels, we call it internal energy. Defence energy circulates outside blood vessels, but inside our skin and in between flesh. We call it external energy.

Defence energy is the energy directed and led by intention during qigong training. In traditional Chinese medical literature, it is mentioned that “pure energy is for nourishment, unclear energy is for defence. Nourishment energy is found in blood vessels. Defence energy is found outside them.” Thus, nourishment energy is circulated in the eight marvellous meridians and the twelve primary meridians.

Nourishment energy is full of nourishment. It flows inside blood vessels. One function is to provide nourishment to all parts of the body. As energy is the master of blood, the other function is that it can change the direction, speed, and internal respiration of blood in disposing stale and taking in the fresh. This increases the processes of metabolism and respiration.

In “Simple Questions: Discussion of Disorders” of the Inner Classic of Chinese medicine, it is mentioned that “Defence energy is the energy of water and grain, which is fast and smooth. As it is not found inside blood vessels, it is circulated underneath the skin amongst the flesh, without membrane, and spread in the chest and abdomen.”. This explains its functions of defending the skin against outside attack, warming the flesh and nourishing the skin, facilitating the opening and closing of pores. It is a type of energy that is thick and strong. Those with abundant defence energy, not only they are not easily affected by cold and attack by evil energy, but also it enables muscles and flesh to be strong and well developed, and increases a person’s strength. As defence energy flows outside of blood vessels, we call it external energy.

(Editorial Note: In traditional Chinese medicine, “evil’ is whatever that brings harm. Here, “evil energy” refers to harmful bacteria, viruses, and other micro-organisms.)

In martial art classics, it is mentioned that “Energy is originally born of one. Eventually it is divided into two, which are “hun” and “po”, the yin and the yang. “Hun qi” is spiritually glorious, “po qi” is strong and thick.

(Editorial Note: Originally there is only one energy, which is undifferentiated. Eventually this one energy is divided into two, called “hun” and “po”, or “spiritual” and “substantial”, which can be represented by yin and yang.)

The classics continue that “Spiritual persons not only function with their physical body, but also cultivate their spirit. Common people only know they have a physical body, therefore they cultivate their “po qi” or substantial energy, and neglect their “hun qi” or spiritual energy. The wise and righteous pay much attention to their spiritual energy, and not their substantial energy. They employ their spirit to control their body. The courageous pay much attention to their substantial energy, and not their spiritual energy. They employ their body to control their spirit. Herein lies a great difference in the cultivation of energy.”

What is called “hun qi”, or “spiritual energy”, is nourishment energy that flows inside blood vessels. To develop spiritual energy is to enable it to be soft and spiritually vibrant. It is the source of real force in martial arts.

What is called “po qi” or “substantial energy” is protection energy that flows outside blood vessels. To develop substantial energy is to enable practitioners to be powerful and plentiful. It is the source of strength in martial arts.

Hence, in Xingyiquan what is described as internal energy and external energy, refers to nourishment energy and protection energy.

So, in Xingyiquan what type of energy is being cultivated? Is it cultivating “hun qi” or “po qi”, i.e. cultivating spiritual energy or substantial energy?

Past masters have explained it clearly, saying “In Xingyiquan, is it forgoing substantial energy and cultivating spiritual energy, or forgoing spiritual energy and cultivating substantial energy? This is not the way of energy cultivation in Xingyiquan. “Xingyi”, or “Form-Intention”, uses the body for movement, thus it cannot neglect substantial energy to cultivate spiritual energy. On the other hand, if practitioners neglect spiritual energy to cultivate substantial energy, it does not fulfil the purpose of Xingyiquan.”

The classics continued that “The transformation of creativity and destructivity in Xingyiquan is marvellous in its application. The purpose of Xingyiquan is to consolidate the internal to flourish the external. It is to strengthen its force. If one neglects spiritual energy, changes and variations will not be dexterous; if one neglects substantial energy, there will be no force to back its action. Both spiritual energy and substantial energy must be cultivated. This, then, is the important task of energy cultivation in Xingyiquan.”

(Editorial Note: The concept of creativity and destructivity, which refers to “wu xing” or “five elemental processes”, is important in Xingyiquan. There are countless processes in the world, but masters have classified all the myriad processes into five categories, represented by metal, water, wood, fire and earth. These elemental processes create one another, like metal creates water, and water creates wood. These processes also destroy one another, like metal destroys wood, and water destroys fire.)

Hence, in Xingyiquan it is necessary to have both hard and soft training, yin and yang are equally important. Xingyiquan is a study and practice of both internal and external cultivation.

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