Ahhhhhh…. ‘Feather on the Breath of God’ by Hildegard Von Bingen, one of my favourite albums to practice qigong and form to. Hildegard was a 12th century Christian abbess, visionary, mystic and healer, she wrote the most beautiful music to lift your soul and raise your spirit. ‘Feather on the Breath of God’ describes the feeling of qigong and taiji perfectly.
We were practicing ‘medical’ qigong, scattering the energy throughout the body with exercises such as ‘dropping post’ and ‘trembling horse’ and cultivating it with exercises like ‘stroking Kwankung’s beard’, ‘kidney circles’ and ‘golden ball’. I could feel myself relaxing and the familiar tingling and pulsing sensations associated with an unrestricted flow of energy as my tension eased, posture corrected itself and the meridians opened. With this ‘warm up’ I knew that we would be working on the ‘Taiki’ form that Sensei had put together to provide karateka with the links between taiji and karate.
“Taiki!” (I was right) It was good to practice a form that related directly to the qigong we had just been practicing. As I stretched and twisted my torso and limbs I could feel the movement promoting the flow of energy – you would think that the links between taiji and karate were pretty tenuous, and yet this form showed just how direct they really were. Techniques such as jodan uke, gyakuzuki in karate are fair lady plays at shuttles in taiji. Uchi uke in (Wado) karate is roll back in taiji, gedan barai, gyakuzuki in karate is brush knee in taiji, and soto uke in (Wado) karate is part wild horses mane in taiji.
In the background, the inspirational music written by Hildegard continued, with the monophonic hurdy gurdy background tones coupled with the soaring female soprano voices made a strange but compelling mix of ancient western religious mysticism and eastern taoist exercise.
I felt no ‘argument in heaven’ as I moved to the music and ‘reeled silk’, this meant keeping the thread of the movement even, not too tense (as that would snap the silk), not too loose and sloppy (as that would cause the silk to do the same and snap when taken up) and not jerky (as that would also snap the silk) the lilting background rhythm matched the movement perfectly and the soprano voices matched the feeling of my energy.
The first section was qigong in martial arts, the second, giving the trapping skills and deadly elbow strikes but still twisting and stretching the torso against a fixed and rooted base in classic qigong maneuvers, the third section is the uke or receiving part, quickly going into circles, curves and spirals, all unbalancing and weakening the opponent with one hand whilst dispensing ‘karmic justice’ strikes with the other. The fifth part of the form focuses on the legs with locking, trapping dislocating and kicking leg skills.
“That felt good” said Dave as he sat down afterwards for Q and A.
“Yeah the mix of qigong and form to the music is magical” said Pam, “I can’t describe how uplifting it is”.
“Yeah we noticed” said Dave with a mischievous smile.
“Don’t lower the tone now Dave” said sensei. “Does anyone have any questions?”
“I have Sensei” said Pam, “you always talk about the ‘trinity of kata’ and say how the ‘medical’ aspects are of prime importance and I can see how the exercise is good for me and how calming the music and movement is, but am I missing something?”
Sensei smiled. “Your body and subconscious mind aren’t, only your thinking mind is” said sensei.
“Explain…” said a frustrated Pam.
“Firstly, a well structured posture, an alert mind, softened muscles and tendons and deep natural breathing allow a ‘free passage’ of energy through the body. This is the first stage of good mental and physical health. When you practice these exercises and form, your mind and body will reap the benefit, even if your thinking mind can’t see how.”
“So is that like mol gik or wu chi in chinese or mushin or zazen in Japanese?” Asked Dave.
“Yes,” said sensei. “But then we need the motion of the exercises and form to activate the physical ‘pumps’ for the energy, blood and waste expulsion in the body. This will also strengthen the muscles, heart, bones and ligaments and help remove waste from the lymphatic system. The different types of breathing bring more air into the lungs and therefore more oxygen into the bloodstream and up to the brain making us feel more alert. Breathing is also the doorway between the sympathetic and the parasympathetic nervous systems, meaning that we are able to positively affect the function of the internal organs by the control and regulation of the breath.
The ‘martial’ aspects of what we do, make us focus that alert mind with a ‘life and death’ aspect of what we do, enabling us to have a well focused and ‘alive’ intention, sending our energy to where we want it to go. The techniques make us more spatially aware and balanced meaning that our ‘mind’ permeates all of our body.
This means that we can identify dis-ease in our body long before we would otherwise be able to. The pumping of energy up through the governor vessel and draining down through the conception vessel feeds all the meridians of the acupuncture system and nourishes the body internally.
By working on the mind we can affect the body and breath, by working on the breath, we can affect the body and mind, by working on the body, we can affect the mind and breath, so as you can see, there is another trinity there, this is the sanchin or ‘battle of three elements’ (mind, body and breath) that affect the state of man. Martial arts training can bring these into harmony, thereby resolving the conflict. Sanchin kata is named and structured around this battle.”
“In effect, the health benefits can’t really be separated from the skills or martial aspects then?” asked Dave.
“Exactly!” said sensei, “but equally they can’t be ignored, they are a trinity, not three separate entities.”
“They are inextricably linked”, said Pam “but there’s a lot more to do with the health aspects like the chakras and alchemical process… you haven’t talked about those yet”.
Sensei laughed. “That’s right Pam I haven’t, but that’s getting deep for a Q and A session and would require a full lecture or course on the subject.”
Sensei then gazed out across the class. “The fact is that martial arts have an ingenuity that is unique, the trinity of health, skill and martial application fosters a kind of power that in their isolated form, none of these individual qualities are able to.
Students that work only on the fighting application don’t have the internal tools to make their techniques work so well and can become quite violence obsessed, eventually maybe causing illness and oddly, often the pendulum swings from violence to religious obsession. Those that work only on skill are often ‘empty vessels’ winning competitions for the sake of vanity – and those who only train for health are never able to achieve it without the necessary skills and mindset.
“That is why studying the trinity is essential….. Shall we go again?”