When learning chess you first learn by rote a series of openings i.e. a sequence of moves that have been generated and explored by previous players. You can purchase books on particular types of opening (with names like Kings Indian defence, Ruy Lopez, etc) to understand some of the more obvious move combinations. These books tend to be about openings where the permutations and variety of moves are more limited. Once you get into the mid and end game it’s much more difficult to be prescriptive about what will happen next.
External martial arts are like this: learn a series of forms and learn them well. These forms will give you the confidence and freedom of being to adapt and resort to in combat. There is, however, another way to learn chess. The four squares that make up the centre of the board are the most important squares in the game. Control these and you'll win the game. You can make moves as you like and are not restricted to remembering or rote playing, move sequences – you become a very sneaky player. Therefore, by practicing very simple openings and seeing how to control these four squares gives the chess player an extreme advantage over those that have learnt the previous method. This latter method is akin to learning an internal martial art. The downside of this of course is that if you blow it, you have no learnt move sequences to fall back on. So, what kind of chess player would you like to be? One that relies on vast sequences of rote-learnt openings or one that plays by key principles?
Of course, the reality is somewhere in between: most chess players rote learn openings and play by attempting to control the centre squares. Both learning strategies are extreme cases, however, you can see how they colour the way an individual chess player thinks. All martial arts are the same; all eventually are aiming for the same goal but the route you take may be different. The path you follow affects you in a way that’s individual but also unique to the system you train under.
Our Nei Jia System is form based. This means that the System has been constructed in a conscious manner not to be a technique based system. The form is there to provide tools to help us understand the principles of the System. By form we mean the dynamic (movement!) integration of I (intention), Chi (breath) and Li (all of the structural components that are important: alignment, correct usage of force vector angles etc). Three Characteristics. The movement is driven via an 'elastic' expansion/contraction (creative/destructive) cycle. Thus, the punch bag must move a minimal distance when hit: the force goes into the bag rather than into moving the bag. Moreover, any movement is spiral (within the spherical realm/multidimensional/fractal/multiplanar): isolation of an individual joint nexus is impossible. Whole system myofacial locomotor anatomy is the underlying integrator for Li, Chi and I. By accessing the way these communication strains are distributed across the body we may understand not only the integration of our own bodies but the break-down of integration in opponent's bodies.
Forms are considered as ‘problem sets’ that you have to apply in order to understand the Principles that underlie our System. In our System additional forms, such as the animal forms in Hsing I, simply give you an additional, more difficult set of questions to answer, therefore if you actually understand the principles and their application, the doing of these additional forms becomes less relevant. The linking form within our School not only comprises linking the Wu Hsing together but also has a form comprised of some of the animal sequences. The animal sequence linking form is there to give you a foundation for the animal forms, in a similar manner to Pi Chuan in the Wu Hsing, but is also carried out in a number of specific ways, emphasising not only the releasing strength aspect of Hsing I but also it’s sinuous nature. Practice, therefore, becomes less about learning the forms but more about how you do them. Again, consistent practice with insight and more practice is the true secret of the Art. Forms are taught, within the School, by non-referral to external phenomena; fingers are not lined up with the nose for example in Pi Chuan. The form is learnt by reference to practical applications of the Principles i.e. Tools.
More examples from our Hsing I basics manual.
Two important elements in actual fighting are often ignored but stressed in Hsing I: tempo and grounding.
What's most surprising in a real fight is the rapidity that you tire. This is because the tempo or rhythm of this activity is broken as soon as you begin fighting. Shadow boxing, bag work and sparring can all help sharpen your skills but ultimately, in a class environment, it is incumbent on the teacher to provide a broken tempo. Practicing to music is the last thing you want to do as you’ll end up being predicable as you punch to 4:4 time.
The world is not composed of flat canvas rings nor polished, sprung wooded floors. If force is mainly derived from the ground then you’d better have a good root. Hsing I therefore stresses pushing both feet into the ground and gripping the toes. Footwork is therefore just an umbrella term for the ability to move and to simultaneously deliver force.
In Nei Jia we been explore how to access our own intrinsic movement. We examine, by doing and hence feeling, the concepts of pre-movement and micro-movement. Humans are like sharks – we die if we don’t move – but Nei Jia is unique in that it uses the framework of a proximal-distal expansion/contraction movement cycle. This is not movement for movement’s sake just to access ‘the flow’. There are foundational elements that repeat again and again no matter which aspect of Nei Jia you’re practicing: dynamic joint mobility and decompression, use of the core musculature to provide a counter oppositional force to lateral movement, full body movement by engaging the body’s core vibrational pilot wave, the use of a form framework to investigate the body’s structural alignment. And the list goes on…These foundation elements can be summarised succinctly: Li-Chi-I.
Spirals... the basic Ba Gua walk in our System is toe heel rather than heel toe. If one is toe heel and the other heel toe you can't be prescriptive about how to walk - they're both 'correct'. We do heel toe in tai chi and toe heel in Ba Gua so what's going on? Ba Gua walk forces you to place the lateral part of the foot down first. You’d do this naturally doing heel toe walk but there are so many personal variations that if you did this whilst walking heel toe you’d probably miss what's going on. The bones of the foot are designed that the spiral diagonal movement to the big toe i.e. to the medial part of the foot occurs. The foot in fact is shaped like a massive propeller. But the talus is mediating and allowing this spiral movement such that it’s transmitted to and through the rest of the body. So we're surfing on our talus...
So this is why you have to learn the whole 3 Nei Jia arts as one system: they complement each other. People that teach Tai Chi and other such systems and who also come from a misguided concept of 'soft' increase their proponents/students own confidence in their martial ability - detrimentally. I'm saying that doing that type of practice gives false confidence. Hsing i for example has more connections to bare knuckle boxing than nearly all those woo 'masters' on YouTube realise.
At the School there are no uniforms, no gradings and no coloured belts. This might seem strange as most people like the getting ready part, putting on their gi or training uniform, etc. as it helps to focus the mind and make the distinction between the outside world and the dojo (to use a Japanese term for training hall). So why not at the School?
There are 3 characteristics and 5 principles to the System. One of the 5 principles is the void and reality are one. On a superficial level this means that there is no difference between the outside world and the dojo. If you are walking along in the street and someone tries to attack you, do you say to them "Hold on a moment, I just need to run home and get my gi so that I can respond to your attack with the correct mindset". In external martial arts students are driven to exhaustion so that only at the end of the class do they begin to understand and experience lack of ego. In Nei Jia we begin from the position that we must attain this mind set right from the very start. Is a person defined by the uniform s/he wears or the colour of the belt around their waist? The colour of their skin? No. Our system is Northern Chinese i.e. hard line Confucian - you do not rely on external supports/crutches like a favourite tee shirt or a school uniform and the such. If it is easy, then make it hard, if it is hard then make it harder. You are defined as a human being (to yourself) by this struggle (i.e. kung fu). No uniforms, no visible grading system (every class is a grading), no short cuts, no easy way. This attitude means that you are always actively searching, always seeking the Principle behind the Art and attempting to return to the Source, to the very essence of the Art. A beginners mind. This means that you will always be learning; that the Art is alive, not dead or static and you continue to walk the Path for the totality of your life. The verbal word is therefore more important than the written word. Underpinning this is a monistic and unitary view of the world that gives the characteristic 'taste' of the System and everything we do within it, in that the natural and manifest universe is the real universe. The log-line for the System could thus be "Listen up, you who define yourselves by your struggle, the thing that you call the Tao or God (or whatever), is Nature, and this thing is one".