December 2016 – Spirit Dragon Institute

Spirit Dragon Institute

Authentic Traditions ~ Modern Teaching

Taiji Quan As Internal Cultivation

Wave Hands Like Clouds Tai Chi Sifu Franklin FickTaiji Quan is an art with Taoist origins. Like the Tao, Taiji Quan is hard to talk about because it encompasses so many different aspects. Taiji Quan can be described as a physical exercise, qi gong, a martial art, and a spiritual practice. The origin of Taiji Quan is very obscure but the benefits gained from practice are not. Taji Quan is just one of many ways to experience Taoism.

Like most Taoist exercises Taiji Quan works with energy or Qi. The form and the principles of Taiji Quan are in accord with Taoist philosophy. The beginning posture of the form is called the Wuji posture. Wuji is the state of nothingness before Taiji (the two energies of yin and yang). While in the beginning posture (Wuji) the practitioner calms his mind and a state of tranquility is achieved throughout the body. From this posture the practitioner then moves into the form. When movement starts the body as entered into the state of Taiji (yin and yang are differentiated). This appears in the body as insubstantial or empty and substantial or full. At the end of the form the practitioner once again returns to the Wuji posture and the state of nothingness. This process of beginning in nothing and returning to nothing mimics all creation in the universe. Everything begins from nothing and returns to nothing. This in direct correlation to the Tao Te Ching when it states in chapter forty two “the Tao begot one / One begot two.” The Tao begot nothingness or Wuji and the nothingness (Wuji) begot the two (Yin and Yang). This differentiation of Yin and Yang is Taiji Quan.

When practicing the form the whole body must be relaxed and the tongue must touch the roof of the mouth. This will connect the Du and the Ren meridians. If the body is tense the Qi will not be able to flow and the mind will not be able to direct the movements. The form is practiced in a relaxed manner very slowly and it should appear rounded and have no breaks. The Taiji classics state: be still as a mountain, move like a great river. This means that when standing still you should have the same intention as a mountain, unmovable, and when moving you should look like a great river, ever flowing. By practicing in this way, relaxed and slow, the Qi will naturally start to flow.

The differentiation of yin and yang on a basic level means that the weight is always being shifted from one leg to the other. The leg with the weight on it is considered yang or full and the leg without the weight on it is considered yin or empty. The form is just like the Taiji diagram. The extreme yang changes into yin and vise versa. In the form this is shown when the weight is fully shifted on to one leg it is then shifted to the opposite leg.

The slow movements of the form and the constant weight shifting give Taiji Quan many of its health benefits. The muscles of the legs get an aerobic workout from practicing the form. This is important because the legs contain the largest muscles in the body. Because of the slowness of the movements the practitioner should never get out of breath. This makes the practice of Taiji Quan adequate fro the weak or old as well as the young and healthy.

 

Sifu Fick Yang style Taiji

 

On the physical level the movements of the form help to loosen and joints and strengthen the body. This is done through what is traditionally called silk reeling. What this means is that the movements of the form twist the joint in one direction, then the other. Moving the body in this way strengthens the tendons and ligaments of the body. This twisting motion also works to generate and store internal energy. The form done slowly with this silk reeling energy helps to realign the body so that it can move as a whole unit. This is what gives Taiji Quan its effectiveness as a martial art.

The other thing that gives Taiji Quan its effectiveness as a martial art and as a health exercise is its use of the mind and the cultivation of the spirit. First the mind must sink the Qi to the lower Tan Tien, which is located about 3 inches below the navel. Once this is achieved the mind can direct the qi to move the body. The principle is that the mind leads the Qi and the Qi moves the body. The classics said, ‘first in the mind, then in the body’. This means that before the body can move, the mind or the spirit must direct it. The movements are practiced slowly so that the spirit and the mind can harmonize with the body. The practitioner should seek stillness in motion. At the basic level the mind is not concentrated on anything but the form. This means that when you finish the form you should not remember doing the form because the mind is completely in the present. At the higher level of practice the form becomes a meditation.

Along with being a movement meditation, Taiji Quan is also a method of Taoist alchemy. By keeping the Qi in the lower Tan Tien the form works as a Qi Gong exercise to store and generate Qi. One of the main things to observe and practice is that the spine has to be straight. The straightness is ensured by relaxing the hip joints and sacrum downward. This will tip the pelvis slightly forward, which straightens the lower part of the spine. To straighten the upper part of the spine you should have the sensation that the crown of the head is suspended from above. Practicing this way strengthens the spine and also allows the spirit to travel up to the brain.

When practicing keep the mind and the breath concentrated into the lower abdomen (Tan Tien). This means the inhalation causes expansion of abdomen and the expiration causes the contraction of the abdomen. This stimulates the internal organs and gives them what can be considered a massage.

In Taoist internal alchemy, putting the mind in to the lower Tan Tien is called putting the fire underneath the water. Once enough Qi is in the lower Tan Tien the small heavenly circle will start to open. This happens naturally during the form. As you inhale the breath and the Qi collect in the lower Tan Tien, and as you exhale the pelvis tips slightly forward and the energy travels up the Du meridian to the brain. Further development opens the large heavenly cycle and condenses Qi into the bone marrow. This has health effects on all the body’s system and makes Taiji Quan a very powerful martial art. The final stages deal with training the spirit and returning to the void, Wuji.

Taiji Breathing Techniques

When you first start practicing Taiji Quan your emphasis is on perfecting the form. Usually on the first day you are taught the basic Wuji posture and told all the requirements that you must fulfill to hold the posture correctly. Just standing still it feels awkward, uncomfortable, and some times overwhelming to get everything right. After a while it becomes more comfortable and natural. As you are introduced to Taiji Quan walking and single posture practice you are forced to apply all the requirements that you learned while first standing still. At first it is very difficult but just like the beginning standing posture Wuji it becomes more natural and manageable with some practice. Later you start to learn a form which puts the different postures together and with more practice realize that you have just scratched the surface. You realize that there are levels of refinement to the requirements that you thought you knew. Only after you get to a level where the form becomes somewhat natural and you do not have to think about the basic requirements while practicing the form are you introduced to how to use your breath to circulate energy while practicing.

The basic circulation of energy used while practicing the form is the microcosmic orbit. The microcosmic orbit is both a basic and advanced practice. It is also used for sitting cultivation and uses the Ren and the Du meridians. The Du Meridian runs up the back of the body’s centerline (spine). The Ren Meridian runs down the front of the body’s centerline. Some of the basic requirements of the form help to connect these two meridians. The most important thing is touching the tip of the tongue to the roof of the mouth. This allows the Qi that has risen up the Du Meridian to descend down the front of the body to the lower Dan Tien. This circulation of Qi can be considered another manifestation of Taiji in the body. The Ren and the Du Meridians are both considered extra meridians in the body. What this means is they do not pertain to one of the organs like the twelve regular meridians in the body. The extra meridians, of which there are eight, all deal with fundamental substances or the movement of Qi. The Ren Meridian is the “sea of Yin” and the Du Meridian is the “sea of Yang.”

The first step is to learning to circulate the energy is to coordinate the movements of the form with the breathing. At the beginning this can be very difficult but it is the same as other stages of training in that with time and practice it will become more natural. When the form is trained with the breathing it becomes a Qi Gong or energy cultivation exercise. The next step is to circulate the Qi or energy through the microcosmic orbit in coordination with the breathing and the form. As you inhale the Qi sinks down the front of the body along the Ren Meridian into the lower Dan Tien. At the end of your exhale the pelvis tips slightly forward and the Qi travels up the back to the head along the Du Meridian.

When you can circulate the energy through the microcosmic orbit while practicing, the form becomes a method of cultivation and has the same benefits as sitting meditation. It is very easy to describe the methods but it is very hard to put them into practice. Some teachers do not talk about these methods but instead say not to concentrate on the breath and just breathe naturally. They say that through correct practice all will be taken care off. One of my teachers who followed this way of teaching did point out that these things were happening naturally without even thinking about them as a result of correct practice over time. I have had teachers that taught both ways and I can see benefits of both ways of teaching but my understanding is the results are the same.

I believe that using Taiji Quan as a method of cultivation can sometimes be better that other methods including sitting. There is minimum danger of the body and meridians not being opened or ready for the energy flow because every time you practice you are conditioning the body, joints, and meridians. It also takes a lot of time and work to get to the point of using Taiji form practice as cultivation. This can be both a blessing and a curse. It is good because everything will open up in its own time when the body is ready so there is minimum danger of progressing to quickly. The main drawback is that it does take a lot of work to achieve results and not many people will be willing or able to put in the work and time.

One danger of any type of cultivation is getting stuck or preoccupied with one aspect of the whole and forgetting about the bigger picture. What happens is the practitioner gets stuck and does not progress further because they might seek similar sensations each practice time. Instead always seek to improve yourself no matter what stage you are at. Question and critique yourself and never be satisfied with your achievements. This can be hard because after many years of hard work it would seem natural to be happy with your achievements. Instead I believe that you should regard yourself as a beginner even if you are teaching other people. If you put yourself above others then you block yourself from being able to learn from them. If you are teaching people regard yourself as a guide not a guru. I mean that you must be honest with people. If you do not know something tell the truth, don’t set yourself up as a god. You can refer student s to a better teacher than yourself. Your student will be happy. The other teacher will be happy. But I think the most important thing is that you have kept yourself honest and in doing so have given yourself the chance for further improvement because you have acknowledged that you have some room for improvement. Having this state of mind is important to cultivation and practice because it acknowledges reality instead of creating an imaginary one.

I would like to describe one more stage after the microcosmic orbit that one of my teachers introduced me to. This method allows you to draw energy from the heavens and the earth into the body and circulate it through the microcosmic orbit while you practice the Taiji form. The breathing and movement of Qi is the same as in the microcosmic orbit but you add a couple things to the inhale. As you inhale you still descend the Qi down the front of the body along the Ren Meridian to the lower Dan Tien. At the same time draw Qi from the heavens down through the Bai Hui (hundred meetings) point on top of the head and into the lower Dan Tien and Qi from the earth up through the soles of the feet at the Yong Quan (bubbling spring) point and into the lower Dan Tien. The Bai Hui point is located on the midline of the head at the midpoint of the line connecting the apex of the two ears. The Yong Quan point is located on the bottom of the foot about 1/3 of the way from the toes to the heel, in the depression right beneath the ball of the foot. On the exhale the pelvis tips slightly forward and the Qi travels up the Du Meridian to the head.

The methods that I discussed here are kept secret by some and ridiculed as not being the correct method by others. They are methods that I was taught by my teachers. My goal was not to teach these methods but just to introduce them. I can see why some people would keep these methods secret. If you don’t put in years of practice these methods are just theories. Because it is very hard to verify the movement of Qi in someone else’s body these theories could be used by people with little training to deceive others into thinking that they were at a higher level or had some answers that they did not have. Some people will ridicule these methods because they do not believe in Qi or do not think the method is correct. For the people that do not believe in Qi there is not much to say. The people that say this is not the correct method will say that it differs from the microcosmic orbit used for sitting meditation. This is true. When doing the microcosmic orbit during sitting meditation on the inhale the Qi ascends up the Du meridian to the head and descends along the Ren Meridian during the exhale. When doing the Taiji Form it is the opposite. During the inhale Qi descends along the Ren meridian to the lower Dan Tien. After the exhale is complete at the end of a posture there is a slight pause in the breathing and the form and this is where the pelvis tips slightly forward and the Qi travels up the Du meridian to the head. So actually when doing the Taiji form the ascension of the Qi happens at the end of the exhale and just before the inhale starts. This will happen naturally when doing the form correctly. One other thing to take into account is that some modern forms have altered the transitions between moves so sometimes the breathing will not be able to naturally combine with the movements no matter how long you practice. My goal in presenting this information was to share some of the things that I have been privileged to learn and at the same time hopefully expand your idea of what Taiji Quan practice can encompass.

Kung Fu Training Prohibitions

Anyone who’s been in the Chinese martial arts for a period of time will be familiar with some sort of training prohibitions. Some of these prohibitions make perfect sense like don’t exercise with a full stomach. But, other prohibitions seem very far-fetched and almost mystical. To the Western mind some of these don’t make any sense at all. In this article we will tackle someone most common prohibitions and explain their reasoning.

Common Prohibitions

Before we get started with explanations we should first layout some of the common prohibitions. Some of these you may have heard before and some of them might be new. This list is not all-inclusive and should not be taken as such. Listed above are just some general prohibitions that I can come up with off the top of my head while sitting in front of my computer. You can click on the links above and be taken to that section of the article.

So these are just some general prohibitions for practice. As you read the list I’m sure you can understand some and some might be a little confusing.

We will go into each of these prohibitions and explain them a little bit more.

You must keep in mind that these are just general prohibitions. Certain arts or certain practices might have their own specific prohibitions depending on the nature of the training, the goal of training, and the origin of the practice or art.

It’s important to remember that even though we might not understand the reasoning behind a certain prohibition we must remember that there is a reason these rules were passed down. These prohibitions were passed down so that students could benefit and avoid certain dangers. Even though the origin of certain rules might not follow what we consider scientific knowledge today, we must remember that they were created based on observations and experience.

 

 

Don’t Exercise When Too Full Or Too Hungry

This one is pretty much a no-brainer. Even in Western culture we know that we should not eat a sandwich and then go for a run or that we must wait a certain period of time after eating to go swimming. This is just common knowledge and this same knowledge applies to the practice of traditional Chinese Kung Fu.

Before practicing traditional Chinese Kung Fu you should wait at least 45 minutes to one hour after eating. And, you should wait 45 minutes to an hour after practicing to eat. This ensures that your stomach is not full while practicing. This is important for several reasons.

The first reason why this is important is because, when you eat your body diverts energy away from other functions to focus on digestion. This means that other nonessential processes in the body take second stage to the important physiological process of digestion. When the body is in the process of digesting a meal it is not the best time to exercise, resources are already diverted and are not available for strenuous exercise.

In addition, when you eat your stomach becomes full. The process of digestion works to break down the food in the stomach and sends it further down the digestive tract. If the stomach is full moving around too much can hinder the process of digestion. In addition, when the stomach is full and you move around it can place stress and pressure on the surrounding organs and tissue.

So it makes sense not to eat before training, but why should we wait after we train for certain amount of time before we can eat? The answer is also simple, after we finished training the body is in a cool down period as it returns to the state of rest. During this time it’s important for the body to naturally go through this process, changing from works to rest. This process should not be interrupted. If you eat at this time, then naturally this process will be interrupted. Not only would it be interrupted by the physical addition of the food in the stomach, but the body will start to divert energy away from other processes and channel it to the process of digestion. This would basically hinder the body from going through its natural cool down process, which is important for normalizing the body’s systems, repairing damage, and making the body stronger.

Some people might forget that these prohibitions are important, especially if the practice time is devoted to something non-strenuous like Tai Chi or Qigong. Why keep these prohibitions if it doesn’t feel like you’re doing a strenuous exercise? The reasons are the same, and these prohibitions are just as important regardless of how strenuous the exercise is. It is very important to warm the body up before exercise and cool the body down after exercise. This process is physically interrupted if a meal is taken too close to training.

Now we must cover the other aspect of this provision which is not to train when feeling overly hungry. Similar to training on a full stomach, when you train on an empty stomach and you feel hungry the body is also not in its optimum state for exercise. Usually when the body is in a state of hunger and means that the body is lacking energy. This means you don’t have the resources to perform strenuous exercise. You won’t get benefit from exercise period because it’s like trying to drive a car without a gas, you just won’t get anywhere. In addition, if you exercise while in a state of hunger, then your body will not have the resources to cool down and repair itself after the exercise finished. If you feel hungry, it is better to eat something and then wait to do your training.

Something as simple as not eating too soon before and after exercise or not exercising when hungry can have a profound impact on the body’s state of health in the long run. Proper training can build the body over time, increasing your health and vitality. This simple prohibition can help make sure that you don’t damage yourself and that your body has the resources to become stronger and repair itself after strenuous training.

Empty the Bladder and Bowels Before Practice

This is one of the more obvious training prohibitions for Traditional Chinese Kung Fu and Qigong. Don’t exercise with a full bladder or when you need to use the restroom. Use the restroom first and then do your practice.

First- practicing while you need to use the bathroom is uncomfortable. You will be concentrating on holding it in rather then on your practice. This makes no sense- just use the bathroom and then practice.

But there is actually more to this prohibition then that. When the bladder or the bowels are full, the waste material is taking up internal space in the body cavity. As we train we are moving our body and breathing. This creates movement and pressure changes in the body and in the internal cavities. These movement and pressure changes are part of the training. When the bowels and bladder are full then this creates an obstruction or a fullness in the body cavity that should not be there. This fullness will change the way the movements and the exercises exert pressure and move the internal body spaces.

In addition, during the movements of the exercises, the fullness caused by the waste material can exert pressure on the nearby structures of the internal body and it can also make the proper execution of the movements more difficult or impossible. The fullness can also negate or make the purpose of the movements or internal training impossible to achieve or even change the outcome of the training and create undesirable effects to the internal body.

Also, exercising while the waste material is present might facilitate the transfer or re-absorption of waste material back into the system. This can also have adverse effects on the body.

So it is best to empty the bowels and bladder before training Kung Fu or Qigong.

Wait one hour after meals to train and wait one hour after training to eat

This prohibition has two parts. the first is not to train with a full stomach and the second is to wait after training before you eat. These are both very simple and practical prohibitions but violating them can cause some problems for your health.

The fist part is not to exercise on a full stomach. This is important for several reasons. The first is that when the belly is full right after a meal the body goes into digestion mode. Energy and blood is diverted from other parts of the body to aid in the digestion process. If you train at this time you disrupt the digestion process. This causes discomfort, but it can also adversely effect the health. If you train on a full stomach the food might not be properly digested, you might create stomach upset, and similar to the last prohibition that we talked about, the internal fullness changes the pressure and effect of the exercise and might adversely effect the surrounding tissue and structures.

So why wait for one hour after eating to train. In the hour after eating the stomach is processing the food. The stomach is full. After about one hour the food has moved beyond the stomach and into the intestines. The stomach is full only after eating so it is best to wait until the stomach is finished with its job before doing your exercise. It takes about 24 hours for the food to pass through the body completely, the rest of the time the food is being processed by the intestines. The intestines are almost constantly working unless you have been fasting for a period of time, so the food in the intestines is not a training concern.

Now the second part of the prohibition- wait about an hour after training to eat a meal. Why? If we finish our training why can’t we eat? This one is also very clear once you think about it. When we train Kung Fu or Qigong we activate the tissue, the organs, and the energy. So we want to give the body a chance to cool down first before we introduce food and the task of digestion. Sometimes we can easily forget that we need to take some time to cool down after training because sometimes training can be calm and relaxing and leave us energized and invigorated. But, even if we feel these states after training we must still remember that we should let the body cool down and normalize before introducing a new task. You would not run sprints and then expect to sit down to a meal right after word. It is the same with training Kung Fu or Qigong even though the effect of the training might not be so easily noticeable.

So what can happen if you eat too soon after training. The first thing is that you can create indigestion. The body is not ready to accept the food and is not prepared to go through the processes it need to to digest the food properly. The body’s energy and resources are being used elsewhere and are not ready to be diverted to the process of digestion. Second it can create a problem for the organs and the energy as it is a type of shock. Think about how you would feel if you tried to eat a meal after running some sprints- maybe your body would reject the food and you would vomit. The reaction internally is the same if you try to eat too soon after training but might not be so externally visible or noticeable.

Observing this prohibition can strengthen the health in the long term- exercise and digestion are very important for the proper functioning of the body. Don’t neglect this wisdom and train smart and stay healthy.

Don’t Expose Yourself to Wind

This training prohibition might seem a little strange, don’t expose yourself to wind, especially in the west where sometimes we seem to forget that the things around us actually have an effect on us. But, this wisdom does exist in the west too. There are several old saying that demonstrate this point. One warns to not let your head get wet in the rain otherwise you might catch a cold and the other warns to keep the neck covered for the same reason. Actually both of these saying are demonstrating that the west also has a concept of what the Chinese call wind.

To the Chinese, wind is an external pathogen, there is also an internal pathogen called wind but we will only concern ourselves with external wind today. Wind invades the outside of the body and causes colds, stiff necks, and aching and soreness. This is why we are told not to let our heads get wet, the coldness created by the wet will let the bodies defenses down and the wind can more easily invade the body. Keeping the back of the neck covered also serves this same function- to protect the body from the external wind invasion. The back of the neck is one of the place that is most susceptible to wind invasion, this is why massaging and heating up this area is prominent in many Dao Yin or health keeping routines.

When we train either Kung Fu, Qigong, or Meditation the training heats up the body. The training opens the pores and can also cause sweating. If we expose ourselves to wind while we are training it is easy for the this external pathogen to invade the body. If we sweat during training and then expose ourselves to wind it will create a cooling effect as the sweat is evaporated. This will chill the body and also create problems. This is why you see many traditional people practice and even in the summer time they don’t expose their bodies to the wind, even if they are hot and sweaty after training. It is important to keep your shirt on and your body covered when you finish training to avoid exposure to the wind pathogen.

Another aspect of this prohibition beyond the general health keeping effect has to do with the bodies energy. As we train we, we not only generate heat and movement inside the body but we also collect energy or Qi outside the body. When we finish training it takes some time for the body to readjust and also absorb some of this external energy. If we exercise with a wind blowing on us, it doesn’t allow the Qi to collect on the external parts of the body but instead the wind dissipates it. This is the same reason why there is another prohibition not to shower or bathe right after you practice.

Another point of interest that I think I should bring up is the knees. Many people today like to exercise in shorts, but from a traditional viewpoint this can be very bad for the knees. When we exercise we of course generate heat and sweat. If the knee is exposed to the wind then the evaporation of the sweat will have a cooling effect on the knees. This is bad for several reasons. The first is that the knees in Chinese are called the house of the tendons. This cooling effect can have a detrimental effect on the tendons and the ligaments of the knees. It is very important to keep your knees healthy. If you have ever had some knee pain then you know that this is not an empty statement but is just a fact. The other reason is because the energy channels that run through the knees are easily effected by the cold. If you train and expose your knees to the wind and cold- the cold and wind can easily invade these channels and cause problems in the body. This is important to avoid for both sexes but especially important for women.

I just want to add a short story about the knees and wind. It seems that this type of knowledge seems alien to us here in the west, but I was cautioned by a coworker to the same effect years before I studied any Chinese Medicine. When I was young I used to work construction during the summer breaks. I would always wear my old cloths to work because of the nature of construction work, you get sweaty, dirty, and your clothes take a beating. So one summer I was wearing an old tattered pair of jeans to work that had the knees ripped. An older gentlemen that worked with me pointed out that this was no good- the rips allowed the wind to blow on the knees and cool them off. He said this is no good – it will damage your knees. After I had this pointed out to me, I did notice that the wind blowing on my knees did in fact make my knees very cold and I never wore those jeans to work again. This is a lesson that I remembered years later while studying Chinese Medicine and also when hearing some of my older generation Chinese teacher talk about keeping healthy and training right.

This type of knowledge is easy to turn your nose up at. A little wind- how can it effect me? But, we have to remember that the goal of training – no matter if we are training Kung Fu, Tai Chi, Qigong, or Meditation- is to keep ourselves healthy. Everyday when we practice we want to be getting stronger. Instead if we do not pay attention to the training prohibitions we actually might be creating a weakness in ourselves. This might not be a dramatic weakness, it might take time to become something that we notice, maybe even years. So keep these training prohibitions in mind and use them to your advantage and to build your health over the long term.

 

 

Don’t practice when it is raining or storming out

This one is another training prohibition that people in the west are likely to scoff at. If its raining or storming out we can just practice inside, that is why we have buildings right? Well lets take a closer look at this prohibition.

In ancient times people lived closer to nature. Daily, monthly, and yearly schedules were tied to the movements of the celestial bodies (sun and moon) and the weather. Today – we try to pretend that we exist outside of these influences. We have electric lights, heating systems, cooling systems, etc., but in reality we exist in nature.

When it is raining and storming out the air is moist and damp. When we train or practice we open the pores and generate heat. The open pores can allow the dampness to invade the body (damp is one of the external pathogens in Chinese Medicine). In addition when we practice our breathing becomes deeper. So practicing during a time with rain and storms means that we are inhaling the moisture laden air deep into our lungs. If you know anyone with a lung condition or asthma – ask them if extremely damp air makes it comfortable for them to breath. In fact sometimes doctors even go so far as to suggest that people move to a more dry and arid climate for health reasons.

Another factor concerning the rain is that when the rain starts to fall and strikes the dry ground it kicks up all sorts of dust. If we practice at this time we inhale this dust deep into our lungs. But it is not just dust, it could be mold and many other things that get kicked up into the air by the falling rain.

A more esoteric reason not to practice when the weather is storming is that during practice we exchange and take in Qi from the environment. So the stormy weather is not the best Qi to take it.

Another reason for this prohibition is very practical. Some practices require calm and quite, like meditation or Qigong. If you practice during a storm the sudden thunder and noise can disturb your state of calm and cause a shock to the body. During practice when the internal energy and circulation has become smooth and clam, a sudden loud noise is like a jolt to the system and can actually cause some harm.

Even though in our modern time we can still go inside and not be bothered by the damp and wet weather, it is important to understand the natural cycles and our place in the natural world. This knowledge is powerful not only for self improvement but also for understanding how systems work. The understanding of the interrelations of a system can benefit all aspects of life because we are forever in the process of relating to something and do not stand alone.

Don’t practice while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

This one is pretty self explanatory and we don’t need to go into this one in much detail.

Don’t practice while under the influence of drugs and alcohol. Drugs and alcohol have an adverse reaction on the body and impair the mental function and also effect the circulation in the body.

Training Kung Fu, Qigong, and Meditation seeks to harmonize the circulation and quiet the mind. This can not be achieved while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Furthermore, drinking and kung fu training do not mix. Drinking can inflate the ego and lead to injuries. Think back to when you were in college, there was probably one time where a drunk guy had to be talked out of trying a backflip- even though he insisted there was no problem and he could do it.

Alcohol also has a warming property and can adversely effect the Liver organ in Chinese Medicine- aggravating anger and aggression- two things that should not be a part of training. They can very easily lead to training accidents and serious injury.

So basically this prohibition is in place to keep you from injuring yourself and others- it’s a good idea to keep it in mind and not practice while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

During training or after training avoid drinking anything cold.

This training prohibition is also very simple, but the main objection that people have to this is that they don’t understand how drinking cold beverages effects the body. The common thought process that many people have is- if I am hot, then if I drink something cold it will cool me off. Actually drinking something cold has an adverse effect on the body- especially when you are hot. Lets go into this in more detail.

Digestion in the body is a process of heat. The body sends extra blood to the digestive organs after a meal to facilitate the process. That is why you might have a good , warm, feeling in your belly after you eat and also why you might feel a little drowsy after eating- because the blood is being directed to the belly. If you eat or drink cold things- the stomach has to warm up the “pot” to get the process of digestion going. Because of this the Chinese actually have a health practice where the intake of cold food and drink is something that is refrained from- as they see this as impairing the digestive system and something that is done over time will decrease the health by putting undue stress on the system.

For training- we are warming up the body and stimulating the circulation of Qi and blood. We already talked about how you should avoid eating before or after training because it is bad for the system. The same thing goes for drinking liquids, and especially for drinking cold liquids. It is common in the west for people to stay hydrated while working out, but training Kung Fu and Qigong is different. If liquids need to be taken they should be in small quantities and definitely not cold. During relaxed practice sessions in the park it is common for practitioners to have tea breaks- but sometimes these relaxed practice sessions are more social then hard core training workouts. If you are working out seriously it is best to not shock your system with liquids, especially cold ones, let your body cool down first and then hydrate if you need to- in reasonable quantities.

Shocking the body is never a good thing, so please take this training precaution to heart and don’t damage your health in the long run.

Do not practice when angry or upset

This is another fairly straightforward training prohibition. Don’t practice when angry or upset. There are several reasons for this. Some will be directly obvious and some might be a little more hidden- keep reading to find out.

The first thing that should come to mind is that being angry and practicing martial arts is not a good thing. The problem is that many people can not understand that even though the training deals with the subject of violence- the purpose of training is not to be angry. They are two very different things. Training when angry is a good way to get hurt- both during training and also during any encounter that the training is supposed to be preparing you for. On top of that, if you are angry- it will be very hard for you to find training partners. Even if you don’t hurt them, not many people will want to be around you.

The same thing goes for if you are upset- it impairs your judgment and you will lack concentration.

So far we have only talked about the martial aspects of this prohibition. Now lets talk about how this prohibition relates to the energy systems of the body. Emotions have energy and they effect the body. The Chinese classify the emotions according to the Five Elements. Each Element has certain characteristics such as color, internal organs, directions, planets, food, animals, sounds, etc. and also emotions. Anger is the emotion that corresponds to the wood element and the Liver Organ. The Wood Element is responsible for the smooth flow of Qi throughout the body. Anger adversely affects the energy and instead of allowing the energy to flow smoothly throughout the body it makes the energy rush up to the head. Similar to the western phrases- hot head or red in the face.

If you are angry and the energy is not flowing smoothly- it is not a good time to practice Martial Arts, Qigong, or Meditation. The same goes for if you are generally upset in some way. The best time to practice is when you can concentrate on what it is you are doing.

Don’t use the bathroom directly after practice.

This prohibition – don’t use the bathroom directly after practice- is the one that most students ask me about, because logically it doesn’t make much sense – unless you already know how the body works energetically. If you don’t, or if this prohibition is not making much sense to you right now don’t worry- just keep reading and you will understand why it is not good to use the bathroom directly after practice.

Ok- so first things first- if you have to go to the bathroom with urgency- then it is best to go, but don’t make it a habit to go to the restroom directly after practice. What do we mean by directly? Directly means that you just stopped your practice and the next thing you do is use the bathroom. The big reason why you should not do this will be explained a little bit later in the article. Right now I want to point out that if you always do something it becomes a habit. Pathways are built up and the body is trained to respond to the cycle that has been set in motion.  So if you need to use the bathroom after practice- it is OK but don’t make it a habit.

When we train we are doing more than throwing the limbs around. There are energetic things happening and training Kung Fu should be transforming the body inside and out the same way that Qigong and Meditation transforms the body. When we train we lift the tip of the tongue to touch the upper palate. Not only does this connect the Ren and Du Meridians, but it also helps to lift- it helps to lift the Qi and it also helps to lift the diaphragms of the body. This includes the pelvic diaphragm at the base of the torso. This lifting is subtle and happens by placing the tongue at the roof of the mouth. (Some Qigong systems and exercises use force to lift the pelvic diaphragm- this is not what we are talking about here.) This lifting is one of the reasons why you feel more energetic, “lighter”, and happier after practice. It is the internal lifting that takes place through correct training.

When you use the bathroom directly after practice it “breaks the seal” and stops the lifting from continuing to happen. Think about a can of soda- after you pop the top it breaks the seal and the container no longer holds the carbonation. In a similar manner using the bathroom directly after practice stops the internal changes and processes from continuing to happen. In western sports science they measured that you don’t stop burning calories when you stop exercising- the effects of the exercise continue to give you benefits for a period of time after you have stopped. It is the same with Kung Fu, Qigong, and Meditation practice. Just because you stopped the exercise, the internal processes are still continuing for a while. So don’t use the bathroom directly after practice- it stops these processes and you don’t get the full benefit of your practice.

Then the next question you will have is how long to wait after practice- the answer is that it is the same as with eating or taking a shower (45 minutes to an hour).