dimanche 27 janvier 2013

About Qi (second part)

As seen in the first part of this article, it seems that the notion of "vital breath" or "energy" (Qi) has a strong bound with Taoist Alchemy. We can find this relationship down to the graph of it : The oldest character representing the vital breath comes from the western Zhou (11th Century BC - 256 BC). It is written with the air element on top and the fire element on its base. As the ancient Zhou civilization and its shamanic rites have crossed the age through the Taoism, the taoist alchemy takes its roots directly in the culture of the chinese Zhou ancestors.

 scripture on turtle shell, the origin of the chinese characters

Many centuries later comes a variation of this character showing the same idea. During the Song dynasty, this character is starting to be used to represent the pre-heaven Qi (pre-natal Qi / xiantianqi), in opposition to the post-heaven Qi (post-natal Qi / houtianqi). The first of these two character represent the air or the breath on the fire (炁), the second one represent the air or the steam and the seed or germ materialized by a rice grain (氣)

In her book "yiliao tiyu huibian, hunyuan jianshen fa" (Collection of medical and sport texts, method of the primordial chaos for body strengthening), the master Wang yufang explains us : 

 "Some people say that the Qi of Qigong is, in fact, simply the air that we breath  (Nowadays, the Qi character is the same as the Air character as the rice element disappeared in its simplified form). Of course, it is not true. 
In the ancient writings talking about Qi, the one we talk about in Qigong, the graph is . So it is definitely not only air (气)."

In the same book, Madam Wang yufang says :

"Zhanzhuanggong is the yangsheng training of Yiquan (vital breath nourishment) as found in the Xingyiquan. Yiquan is so a form of qigong. The standing postures exercises for nourishing the vital breath is a mix of martial art and Qi practice. It comes from our ancestors culture and is thousands years old... 
...The knowledge we have today on the usages of these ancestors is very small as few people are able to understand the meaning of the writing we got from them." 

If we want a better understanding of this thousands of years old notion, we can check in the Taoism and its conception of human being :

For taoists, man can only be because of the two complementary entities that are above and under him : the sky and the ground. The sky is Yang, warm, it represents the spiritual and creative force and it is related to the fire element. The ground is Yin, cold, it represents the physical and material potential. It is related to the water element.

The man is, so, always torn between those two elements which compose its nature. The Taoist alchemy propose, in a certain manner, a way of harmony for the human being.
By putting "Fire under Water" (taking control of the body with the mind), it is possible to "humidify the fire to control its excess" and, at the same time, to "warm up gently the water" to make it boil. By boiling the water, "something" happens that is similar to transformation of water into steam, Qi.

Tripod cauldron, symbol of alchemy, between sky and earth

Qi is, then, "what does appear when fire is placed under the water" (the Zhou graph of Qi : fire under steam !).
In this process, breathing is very important and this is probably the reason why the second most ancient graph for Qi is represented by the fire under the breath (炁).

Master Wang xiangzhai said : "When zhanzhuang is practiced correctly, there is no more "fire syndrome".

The "Fire syndrome" ( (huohou / 火候 ) is a taoist way of speech for the nature of the 
mind and its characteristics : difficult to dominate, voluble, it can burn everything on its 
way if not controlled. To suppress this "fire syndrome" means to "control the mind", which is the first step to make this "something", that is Qi, to appear...

mardi 1 mai 2012

About Qi (first part)

Qi is a very important concept in the chinese culture which is always difficult for a westerner to understand. The character Qi / 氣 (气 in simplified characters) has often been translated using the word "energy" since it's introduction to the west. Many sinologists prefer to use the expression "life breath", which is a bit better to give us an idea about this concept but still doesn't help us understand it.

If we analyze the ethymology of this character, things become even more complicated and shows us how rich and complex the Chinese language can be :

According to Madam Catherine Despeux (in "Traité d'alchimie et de physiologie taoïste" / Treatise on taoïst alchemy and physiology, les deux océans, Paris, 1979) :

According to the Shuowen (Juowen jiezi, one of the first dictionaries from the 1st century, giving a detailed explanation of each character), this term is pointing to the rise of steam. We can notice four different characters for this notion. The first one is made of the steam element (气) with, below, the fire (  ). We can find it in the Zhou inscriptions on the vital breath circulation, published and studied by Guo moruo. The second () is an ancient character, made of the negation on the upper part and of the fire in its lower part. Since the Song dynasty, this character was used to designate the pre-heaven vital breath, as opposed to the post-heaven vital breath. The third character is only made of the steam element and was more employed in the "Lishu" calligraphy style. Finally, the last character and the most common one, is made of the steam element on top of the rice element, it is the vital breath in its nourishing fonction.

Qi from the ancient Zhou dynasty

It is very rare to hear about the first character that Madam Despeux is describing and which seems to be the oldest representation of this notion. The Zhou inscription that she is talking about here is made of many inscriptions on turtle shells and lamb's shoulder blades from the western Zhou dynasty (11th - 7th century BC) that Guo moruo had deeply studied. This character looks like the one used nowadays (氣) but, under the steam element, on the rice place, comes the fire.  

This "Qi" is, then, very close to the second one that Madam Despeux is talking about. Especially when we take a close look to a very common mistake made in its interpretation : Here, it is said that this character is made of the fire element on its lower part (灬) and of the negation (无) but the element on the uper part (旡), according to Leon Wieger, is the opposite of the element (欠) which represents the act of yawning or noisy exhalation. This Qi is often used to describe the pre-heaven vital breath (xiantianqi) and it is probably the reason why this confusion came out : the Qi "without fire" makes sense when we know that the fire represents the conscious spirit which doesn't exist before our birth. Actually, this character represents the fact of breathing in ( 旡) put into action by the conscious spirit (灬, the fire) : It is the first inspiration, the newborn's first breathing in, which starts every human being's life. 
To these different characters representing the Qi that Madam Despeux is talking about, we can add one more, the caracter 既 (prononced Ji). This one is composed of two elements : a seed (the life potential) on the right and, one more time, the breathing in on the left. 

Ji character

According to those different characters, it seems that the Qi notion comes together with the chinese traditional cosmology, born under the Zhou and brought to the present through the Taoïsm. A very important point to better understand the sens of this "vital breath" lies in the relationship that it has with water and fire elements (body and mind, yin and yang). Qi is representing an "harmonious link" between those two major elements. This link is expressed in the Taoïst alchemy by the association "Jing - Qi - Shen" (essence - vital breath - spirit) and represented with the water - wind - fire elements.  

Thanks to Gary Mc Cabe for his help in the translation

jeudi 17 mars 2011

Yangsheng : Art of nourishing the vital principle (second part)

Since the Song dynasty, texts on Taoïst alchemy are talking about Yangsheng as a practice for mutual maintain of xing and ming ( xingming shuangxiu / 性命双修).

In the book "Traité d'alchimie et de physiologie taoïste" (Treatise of Taoïst alchemy and physiology), which major content is a translation in french of the "Weisheng shenglixue mingzhi" (clear explanations on physiology and hygiene) by Zhao bichen, the author, professeur Catherine Despeux, enlightens us on the notions of xing and ming :

"The caracter xing is made of the life radical
dded to the heart radical. It represents the proper nature, the essence of the being. Ming is the destiny fixed by the sky for a man, the amount of life which was offered to him at his birth. It is also the being considered in space and time. We could use here the work of Heiddeger and translate those two notions as the being and the being there. According to Granet, xing is the vertical manifestation of the being and ming is its horizontal manifestation in the space."

Xingming guizhi, birth of the embryo

In the "Collection of essential principles on the xing and ming"
(xingming guizhi), taoïst book from the 17th century, it is said (from a translation in french by Catherine Despeux) :
"Body, mind and thoughts make three families. When they meet, the embryo is finished. Essence, breath and spiritual energy have three different origins. When they return to the one, the cinnabar is accomplished. To make the three go back to one, one must be in quietness and have an empty mind."

Mi jingke, shield and spear stance

In her book "
Dachengquan shiyong xueshuo",
Mi jingke, one of Wang xiangzhai's disciples, talks about the importance of the "forget yourself" and "enter the quietness" - two expressions from the Chan buddhism - to make the practice really beneficial. This reminds us the deep bonds that exist between the two major chinese religions accross history : the taoïst idea of "embryo" does also exist in the Buddhism as soon as the 8th century by the name of "Holy embryo"and the xingming guizhi showes its close relashionship with the notion of Dharmakaya, the Buddha nature that everyone has inside of him.

When it come to therapeutic zhanzhuang, it has been developped in the 50's by Wang xiangzhai and some of his disciples, in collaboration with different hospitals and medical research institutes, like Beijing city and Hebei province medical research institutes.

Wang yufang, teaching zhanzhuang to a paraplegic

Many positif results have been noticed on different affections after a regular
practice of
Among others, high blood pressure, chronic hepatitis, hemiplegia, polyarthritis, depression and other psychic affections had been, at the time, treated by zhanzhuang and followed in its different stages of progression by scientists and doctors. Basically, a general improvement of health, caracterised by a better appetite and sleep, could be noticed during the first weeks of practice, sometimes even during the first days. An action on the production of white blood cells by the organism has also been noticed (increase of the production or decrease and stabilization, according to the case).

Madam Wang yufang, yougest daughter of master Wang xiangzhai, published many books on this subject and
"Yiliao tiyu huibian, hunyuan jianshen fa" (Collection of medical and sport texts, Hunyuan method for strengthening the body) might be the most complete one. This book contains many papers and training methods from her father, her own papers and, among them, "31 postures of yiquan", which is a more complete version of the 24 postures standardized by Wang xiangzhai and Yu yongnian.

Madam Wang yufang shows some shili moves

So, the practice of Yangsheng contained in the yiquan / dachengquan has been developped as a way for recovering a good health. Its foundation is to "maintain the vital principle" (yangsheng), that we can sometimes in modern chinese texts find with the expression "to protect the vital principle" (weisheng).

But, as the master Li jianyu, disciple of Wang xiangzhai, tells us in his own book "Shenyiquan, yangshenggong" (Divine intention boxing, training to maintain the vital principle) : zhanzhuang's practice is to look for move inside immobility. This all starts in the mind but has consequences on the body, at first, and then, even, to outside of the body !

And this reminds us the origin of yangshenggong, more than just a practice for health...

dimanche 13 mars 2011

Yangsheng, the art of nourishing the vital principle

The teaching of Wang xiangzhai, known today as Yiquan or Dachengquan, was established on the basis of the several researches he made during his living. These searches, focused on the chinese tradition, brought him to the creation of a method for the developpment of the human being in harmony with its proper nature. He taught this method, so called zhanzhuanggong, by assimilating it to an antic Yangsheng form (Yangsheng : nourishing life). In his text entitled "Zhanzhuanggong" (the pole standing exercice), he speaks about it in those following words (personal translation) :

"The pole standing (zhanzhuang) is an antic form of the "nourishing life" art (yangsheng) of my country.
More than 2000 years ago, the yellow emperor's book of esoterism (Huangdi neijing) was already speaking about it in those words : " ... In the ancient times, there were men able to understand the mysteries of the sky and earth. Men who had understood the principles of yin and yang, of the vital breath, able to preserve their spirit in loneliness, to make their muscles be one. As a result, they could live as long as the sky and earth ... "
A few hundreds of years later, that kind of exercice became only a way for martial artists to work on their basics."

Yangshengzhuang, by master Wang xiangzhai

But if Wang xiangzhai is quoting the "Huangdi neijing" as the first book which mentioned that art of preserving vitality, the expression Yangsheng was already used in several taoïst classic books. The "Zhuangzi", one of the very classic corpus of Taoïsm from the 3rd century is mentionning it in its chapter 3 "Yangshengzhu" (About nourishing the life).

In a text entitled "Process of nourishing the vital principle in the old Taoïst religion" (Journal asiatique, 1937), Henry Maspero talked about it in these words :

"As it is the original breath, and not the external breath, that you have to make circulate in the body, there is no need to make it enter and to hold it with effort, as some ancestors were doing : No breath holding, which are tiring and sometimes harmful. But it doesn't mean that it is an easy thing to do. On the contrary, it requires a long apprenticeship. "The internal breath...is naturaly in the body. It is not something that one has to look for outside of the body ; (but) if one doesn't get explanations from an enlightened master, (all the trial) will be only wasted time and one will never succeed" (Taiqing Wanglao (fuqi) chuan koujue, Daozang, 569)."

Taoïst symbol, the
tripod vase of alchemy

This work on nourishing the vital principle (Yangsheng) is nothing else but the origin of the Taoïst internal alchemy (Neidan).

The goal of this alchemy, in the Taoïst tradition, is to trancend the human nature and reach immortality. Immortality which was regarded in the chinese popular myths as the final state of development that only superiors being could reach. As a reality it was a representation of the ultimate spiritual stage of regression proposed by the Taoïst religion which allow the human being to go back to the primitive way of fonctioning, when it was free of any conditionning...

samedi 27 septembre 2008

the origins (last part)

In the xinyi school, wich was at the origins of the yiquan, the method used to link the inside and the outside was represented by the six harmonies (or six coordinations / Liuhe) theory. But there is another chinese boxing school that uses this notion as its basis : the liuhebafaquan, also called xinyi from the Yue mount, in reference to its geographical origin.
One of the best specialist of this boxing was the master Wu yihui, whom Wang xiangzhai met in Shanghai and whom he was a great admirator of. Some of the very first disciples of Wang xiangzhai even became disciples in this school as well, like Zhang changxin and Han xingqiao.

Zhang changxin in a liuhebafa form, this boxing is also called "water boxing"

Those six harmonies are divided in three internal harmonies and three external harmonies. The heart (xin) leads the intention (yi) that leads the energie (qi) wich one leads the force (li), constituting thus three internal harmonies.

About the three external harmonies, they are often said to be wrists-ankles, elbows-knees and shoulders-hips. But this theory, then, doesn't help the practicionner in his achievement, according to the fact that any movment can only be the result of a good coordination between those body segments.

Now, as we did already see in the first part of this article, according to the different exercices like the xinyiliuhe's "squatting the monkey" stance and the xingyi's three wholes stance, wich are the ancestor of yiquan's stances, we can explain this theory in another way :

The "three curves" wich are mentioned in the old xinyiliuhe would be three major articulations of the whole body, the same that link the "three whole" (santi) of the xingyiquan. Those three curves would be the articulation of the hips (lumbar curve), the articulation of the back (dorsal curve) and the sternal articulation (sternum-shoulder curve). A right coordination between those three curves allows an effective use of the deep muscles, wich are close to the spinal column...

Tiger and dragon representing the yin and yang

These three articulations are used to generate a natural force in the six directions : up-down, forward-backward and closing-opening. Those six directions were technically represented, in the old xinyi, by the three old fists : Zuan (piercing), guo (wrapping) and jian (stepping in). Wang xiangzhai talks about it in his first book and says that those three forces must be mixed together.
Besides the six harmonies, considered as the "method" of achievement in the xinyi and xingyi boxing, Wang xiangzhai's teaching was also based on the yin and yang theory.

The name of the stances known as "to lean on the tiger" (fuhuzhuang) and "to ride the dragon" (xianglongzhuang) are coming from taoist esoteric expressions.

In the chinese tradition, tiger and dragon are the representations of yin and yang energies. The dragon is mythical, he represents imagination and fabulous, he is flying in the air and in the water, he evokes the sky. His force is subtle, it is pure yang. The tiger is a real and concrete animal, his territoty is the land, he evokes the ground. Simple and direct, his force is natural and brutal, it is pure yin.
For the man, yang represents his spiritual developpment and yin represents his lower and primal instincts. "To lean on the tiger" (fuhu) in order to control him shows the idea of controling our lowest instincts. "To ride the dragon" (xianglong) shows the idea of spiritual developpment.

Fuhuzhuang by master li jianyu

The two stances allow to developp martial capacitates attributed to the yin and yang : direct and powerfull force for the tiger, flexible and adaptable for the dragon's one.

Xianglongzhuang by master Li jianyu

Wang xiangzhai did developp those two "vitalities" at the beginning of his teaching in the 20's. He was, then, talking about two energies wich are the tiger's and the dragon's one...

jeudi 25 septembre 2008

the origins (second part)

According to Wang xiangzhai and to the interview he gave to the People's daily, the chinese caracter used for the word boxing takes all his sense with the expression "quanquan fuying" (拳拳服膺) wich means "to be sincerly confident" or "to keep sincerly in his heart".

In this expression, quanquan (拳拳) symbolises the action of closing the fist or the fists and designate the idea of sincerity, determination. Fuying (服膺) symbolise the idea of wrapping in one's chest or keeping in his heart.

Another interpretation of this expression, in a much more litteral sens, would be "the real boxing remains in our heart", wich means that the martial art should not be linked to the external form but to the intention that lead it.

Calligraphy of 7 traditionnal expressions by Wang xiangzhai

A famous calligraphy by Wang xiangzhai shows seven traditionnal expressions he was especially found of :

Zhongxiao ren'ai (忠孝仁爱), Xinyi heping (信义和平), Quanquan fuying (拳拳服膺), Yiquan zhengzong (意拳正宗), Duanlian shenti (锻炼身体), Hongyang guocui (弘扬国粹), Zhenxing zhonghua (振兴中华).

The translation of those four caracters phrases could be the following (personnal translation) :

Respect the elder and be charitable, be loyal and pacific, be sincer in your heart. (So is) the orthodox (ancestral) school of yiquan, (wich allows to) train your body, (so that) the best of the country will developp and extend (in order to) revivify the chinese nation.

To be "sincer in your heart" (quanquan fuying) is a human quality that is much beyond the martial art practice. But still, this expression, in an another way is nothing else but the teaching of Wang xiangzhai on the use of the intention in the practice.

The chinese caracter used for intention shows a standing man (between ground and sky) on a mouth, the whole reposing on an heart. The ancient signification beeing the possibility of formulating (represented by the mouth) the material as well as the immaterial (man between ground and sky) in an affective way (the heart).

The yi caracter in its ancient graphy (calligraphy from the author)

The yiquan / dachengquan founder was used to say that the intention is the general and the force, his soldier.

So the intention (yi) comes from the heart (xin), commands the energy (qi) wich leads the force (li).

This corresponds to the three others of the six harmony, the three internal harmonies.

(to be continued...)

lundi 22 septembre 2008

the origins

In the establishment of his teaching and all along his life, Wang xiangzhai has been in constant research of his ancestor's knowledge, those men who created the chinese martial art. He did study always more and more to understand this ancient knowledge, considered in China as supperior to the contemporary.

More than a great martial artist, Wang xiangzhai was a great historian and theorician of the arts and traditions of China.

Wang xiangzhai, great master, historian et theorician of martial art

Many expressions and many terms used in his teaching are coming from lost ancestral knowledges that he did use back again.

As an exemple, in the book "Everything about xingyiquan art" (Xingyiquan shu daquan) written by a group of experts in this school, we can find this paragraph on the practice of zhanzhuang :

"The standing postures of xingyiquan were called, in the ancient school of xinyiquan, "meridian posture" (ziwuzhuang) or "three wholes posture" (sancaizhuang).
The expression ziwuzhuang is refering to the zi caracter, wich stand for midnight - moment when the yin is at his maximum - and to the wu caracter, wich stand for noon - moment when the yang is at his maximum. The importance of this posture is suggested in its name : it must be practiced "from noon to midnight" !

Yiquan's ziwuzhuang stance by Li jianyu

Moreover, in the chinese tradition, noon is a reference to the south and to the fire, while midnight is a reference to the north and to the water. When practicing, it should be facing the south and back to the north, while mixing fire and water with the intention...

...In the ancient xinyiquan, the ziwuzhuang method goes with two steps. During the first step, man practice the accumulation of qi in the dantian using the monkey stance, also called "squatting the monkey" (dunhouzhuang). During the second step, man learn how to "squirt out from the dantian" (shedantian). This practice consist in a steping method forward while doing the "sound of thunder" (leisheng, the name used for the emission of sound in the old xinyiquan) that teaches how to make the qi flow out from the dantian. Dai longbang and his son did both put a lot of importance on the dantian practice."

"Squatting the monkey" by the xinyiliuhequan master Wang yinghai

The linking of the three body parts (santi) wich are the legs, the trunk and the arms, goes by three majors articulations, designated in the Dai style of xinyiquan as "the three curves".

Those three parts unified correspond to three of the six harmonies (liuhe) : the three external harmonies.

(To be continued...)