The Qigong Corner - 1: The Basics

By John Voigt

Qi.

A general meaning of this word is “life energy,” and the meaning of Gong relates
to “work,” “cultivation,” and “accomplishment.” Qi is pronounced chee with a fast
descending soft (close to she ) sound. In Cantonese, a language often spoken by
more older people from southern China, it sounds like “hay,” so we have hay gong.
The older English spelling is “chi kung.”

Feel the Qi.

Qi manifests in many ways, one is the flow of bio-electricity in our body.
It is relatively easy to physically experience this by doing the following exercise: Rub
your hands together, then stretch and wiggle your fingers. Tap your fingertips
together, and tap them on each palm. Wiggle your fingers again. Now pretend you
are holding a ball approximately a foot and a half in circumference. Inhale and feel
this imaginary ball expand. As you exhale squeeze it back to its original size.  Do this
for a few minutes or until you feel your palms and fingertips grow warm—or even
better hot—with the energy of life. You are experiencing a manifestation of the
reality of qi, of life force, of bio-energy.

Qigong.

Its origins are Chinese and many millions of Chinese people practice it daily
throughout the world in any number of ways; most often with gentle physical
movements, stretches, meditations, and mentally focused visualizations. The term
actually relates to the harmonious interplay of yin and yang energies in the body:
specifically in the way we hold our bodies and move, the way we breathe which
effects internal energy, and what we have in our minds. Its repeated practice helps
bring about mental, physical, and spiritual well-being and healing.
Stretching is a good example of body work, and you don’t need a park in Beijing to
see thousands of people doing it, just go to a baseball park during a game and take
part in the seventh inning stretch. If there is space for it after the stretching walk
about some. It all helps get the qi moving.

Or do as so many people do, upon awakening in the morning get out of bed and take
several deep breaths—(one definition of qigong is “breath work”)—as you stretch
your hands and arms upwards and pay attention to the way it feels. As with most
qigong this is best done in the morning in a park with people all about doing various
qigong or tai chi (actually the word is taijiquan) or other forms of physical health
regimes.

It is a simple step to see the resemblance of this kind of stretching to a qigong
master doing the first movement of the most popular worldwide qigong form, the
Standing Eight Pieces of Brocade” (Baduanjin). The stretch is called “Holding Up
The Heavens” and it is said to regulate the passage of qi in the body and mind, and
tone and promote healing in the functions of the body’s inner organs.

Take a look at a grandmaster doing it on YouTube:
Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming. Standing Eight Pieces of Brocade. [it runs from 0:17 to 3:26].
More about Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming here

I suggest after you see Dr. Yang in action, you do some similar stretches
immediately. Five of them is enough. And take it easy: as you can see from the video,
qigong does not subscribe to the “No Pain No Gain” school of thought. If fact if there
is any pain stop doing it immediately and go see a health professional.
You now have an idea, and more importantly a physical experience, of what qi and
qigong are. Practice these or any gentle stretches in the morning as you breathe
calmly, smoothly, fully and gently into the lower abdomen.

Don’t do any qigong as if were a forced prison exercise drill, but rather as if you are
a young child having fun playing. And very important: keep noticing how the energy
feels inside of you. That way you become cognizant of the movement of the qi. And
don’t forget to smile. Smiling always helps increase the flow of this vital qi.

For the next issue of Chinese Medical Living we will go to a park near Boston’s
Chinatown and join the elders in the great healing exercise of social walking, and
learn about a simple walking regime that helps in the healing of cancer. If you wish
to learn something about that right now, on your browser explore this name, Guo
Lin and her walking qigong.

Qi has many appearances and definitions. One is “universal
consciousness.” Here is a painting by visionary artist and distance viewer
Ingo Swann titled “Cosmic Intelligence” which is an artistic depiction of such Qi.

Author with painting at the American Visionary Art Museum,
http://www.avam.org/ Baltimore, June 2018

Note: For more about Qi and Qigong go to qi-encyclopedia.com

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John Voigt is a regular contributor to Chinese Medicine Living - you may read his bio here.


Happy Fun Qi Gong - Part 3

**This article originally appeared as "Happy Fun Qigong."Qi JournalVol. 25, No 3, Autumn 2015.**

By John Voigt

Laughter.

Learn to laugh deep inside, feel that the laughter is vibrating tremendously inside you. When you do this, the blood, the chi [qi], the energy are all moving. So the stagnant chi is gone, and the most important pump, the heart, can work with less effort. Mantak Chia. Wisdom Chi Kung. Destiny Books, 2008. pg. 64.

 

With a big smile and without saying what you are about to do, go up to people in the group and slowly and softly start making “Ha” sounds. When someone joins in, show your approval with grinning nods and thumbs up gestures. Wave your hands inviting others to join in. When you have as many folks conscripted into this as you practically can get, increase the tempo and volume. Once they catch on they have been tricked into laughing, they will laugh even harder. After a minute or so of this stealth hilarity, signal them to stop. Some should still be giggling or at least smiling. Most of them should be feeling good all over. Now you may want to give a mini-lecture along these lines: “As an old great qigong master of the past said, Laughter is not only the best medicine, sometimes it can be the best qigong. [Note to reader: actually I made that one up, but I like the way it sounds and anyway it isn’t totally wrong.] I continue with, “Much of the so-called “civilized” world that surrounds us is just plain nutty, and has the ability to creep behind our eyes into our minds with its worries, fears and negative judgments—and that can mess us up. Laughter helps prevent that from happening.”

this joyous image from thegospelcoalition.org

 

Five Organ Laughter for Emotional Wellbeing.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) there are five major organs, but these organs are not exactly like the body organs of western medicine. Rather than being like something seen in a display case at a butcher shop, the Liver, Heart, Spleen, Lung, and Kidney are interrelated profound energetic forces. That is why they are capitalized and not written as plurals. Even though understood as being in part physical, in traditional Chinese thought these organs are more like active verbs than stationary nouns. The way they function is the basis for all life, including physical and mental health or sick- ness. For our purposes sending laughter into any organ enhances its well-being.

 

Have the group begin with some deep belly laughs. A minute or so is enough. This should bring qi into the dan tian located in the center of the lower abdomen; this is the place where qi is gathered and stored for future use. Carefully monitor the group so that no one laughs too hard. At times you may need to lower the volume to a quiet or medium laughter so no one hurts themselves. Finish with a clockwise rub- bing of the lower belly. Cats and dogs like their dan tians rubbed this why. Why shouldn’t we?

 

Next laugh gently into each of the organs in the order given below. Silent laughter and even humming into the chosen organ seems to help break up negative emotions. Simply smiling into an organ might even produce good results, as long as a full but comfortable abdominal breathing is maintained throughout this gymnastic.

Liver (on the central right side of the torso).

When the qi flow is harmonious in the Liver a person feels empowered. When the flow is disturbed a person may suffer from personal frustration and feelings of being too vulnerable. Laughing into the Liver can function as a way to change feelings of anger into a sense of relaxed self-assurance.

Heart.

The Chinese traditionally conceive the Heart as being the center of both mind and emotions. It is located in the upper center of the torso, in much the same place as the heart chakra, or the Middle Dantian. When the flow of Qi is disturbed or if there is an excess of qi in the Heart, a person may become mentally hyperactive, even hysterical. Laughing into the heart will not only increase the healthy circulation of blood in the arteries, veins, and capillaries, it is said to smooth out and reduce excessive emotions; and the over-thinking of what the Chinese call, “too many monkeys in the head.”

Spleen.

This organ is on the lower left side of the torso and governs digestion. In TCM it often includes the pancreas and stomach. (Mantak Chia tells his students the importance of owning an anatomy book and study at its pictures so you know where to look inside yourself when doing qigong). Disharmony here triggers worry. Harmony here helps create a state of clear calm mindfulness. Laughing aloud or silently into your lower left abdomen seems to drive away worrisome thoughts and replace them with feelings of clear happy confidence.

Lung. (upper torso).

It is given as a singular and not plural “lungs” because we are talking about one interrelated group of energetic

It is given as a singular and not plural “lungs” because we are talking about one interrelated group of energetic functions, and not simply a physical organ on both sides of the chest. Here disharmony, stagnation, and depletion of qi can create - or be created by - feelings of isolation, grief, and depression. (It’s the same in all the organs: the emotion effects the qi and the qi effects the emotion.) The Chinese saw that when a person was in a state of intense grief and or depression they would seem to stop breathing, and often bend over so much that they could hardly breathe at all. If we understand the word “qi” can also mean “breath” it makes sense that laughing into the Lung can bring about feelings of courage and victory. I like using the image of the Tarot card The Chariot, as a visual metaphor of this positive state of being, with the breastplate of the Charioteer signifying the ribs of the chest.

Kidney.

As mentioned above, the Kidney is a singular term in Chinese traditional thought. When a person is very frightened they may “pee themselves.” Therefore the Chinese posited that the Kidney relates to the energy element Water, and when the qi is not right in the Kidney the bad emotion most likely to appear is fear. To create harmony in the Kidney, access it by laughing into both sides of the lower back, and into both sides of the lower front of the body just below the belly. Breathe in, and with short staccato repeating exhalations, laugh into the Kidney. As with all Happy Fun practices be relaxed and don’t force anything. A minute or so of this inner laughter can help in dissolving the emotions of fear into feelings of joyful personal power.

If the group would be comfortable with it, here is a way to close the Laughter gymnastics. It comes from http://www.laughteronlineuni- versity.com/150-laughter-exercises/64. Heart to Heart Laughter: (Intimacy Laughter) Hug each other and laugh by feeling the vibrations in each others’ bodies; alternatively, you can hold hands and laugh. The participants come closer and hold each other's hands and laugh with compassionate eye contact. One can shake hands and hug each other while laughing if convenient.

Ending The Happy Fun Qigong Session.

1. Total Body Shaking, Twitching and Wiggling.

This is a quick gymnastic to cleanse and refresh the organs and meridians. It should be done quickly and loosely. It should feel good and be fun to do. We start twitching, shaking and wiggling the toes, then the feet, and continuing these nervous wiggle twitching movements in the feet, we move it up the legs, waist, body, head, and still continuing this wiggle twitching in all those places, we move it into the shoulders and down the arms and into the fingers. Now your entire body, legs, arms, and head should be twitching and wiggling like a rag doll in a wind storm. Now reverse the process. As quickly as you can, stop the wiggling in the fingers, then stop it in the lower arms, upper arms, shoulders. Then stop in the head, upper body, lower body, hips, upper legs, lower legs, feet, finally the toes. End by taking a deep breath and carefully jumping up and coming down with a shouted “HA!” Next, pretend you are a collie dog coming out of the ocean after a swim and shake the water off your fur.

2. Flicking the Schmutz Off.

Next, we do some outer gymnastics I have often seen people doing early in the morning in parks around the country. It is a way to get rid of any remaining xié qì! meaning “bad qi.” (For any Mandarin purists out there it is pronounced shay chee. The arrows indicate pitch direction of the words.) Schmutz is a German word, and the similar“ shmuts” is Yiddish; both mean “nasty, filthy, yucky, or xié qì.

The Gymnastic. Bring your hands up and out to your sides and as if they were covered with dirty dish water shake and flick the schmutz off - especially from the fingers. I instruct those in my groups to do it this way. Shake off the bad stuff. Wipe it off yourself, wipe your arms, hands, legs and toss it on the ground. Don’t worry about ecology, this stuff goes right down into the earth like compost.

3. Kicking the Schmutz Off.

Next, I lead the group in kicking their feet forward as if we were getting rid of dog poop on our shoes. Then we kick the heels back. Then we kick the feet out sideways. Having the group move about kicking this way is a lot of fun. It gives me a chance to yell out, “Don’t kick that stuff on me!” to really enhance the experience, (and I seriously don’t want that stuff on me anyway.)

This all may seem silly, but nevertheless, it is a valid Chinese technique to get rid of xié qì. If you are doing this gymnastic outdoors and there is sidewalk close by, go to it and wipe the bottoms of your shoes on the curb, the area between the sidewalk and the road. We don’t want to be tracking any bad qi into the house, now do we?

4. Close the session.

You can close the session with any standard smoothing and centering the qi exercises that you might normally perform.

Disclaimer.

Happy Fun Qigong is practiced to gain feelings of health and well-being. It is not meant to be a substitute for medical treatment for physical or psychological illnesses. Consult your doctor or an appropriate medical professional before beginning this or any other exercise regimen. Otherwise, Fun Happy Qigong is not suitable for people who have physical or mental health problems. This is even more so for anyone who may suffer from uncontrolled high blood pressure, heart disease, metastasized cancer, epilepsy, hernia, serious backaches, or psychiatric disorders. If discomfort or pain is felt when doing this or similar exercises consult a doctor immediately. The author and the publisher disclaim any liability or loss, personal or otherwise, resulting from any of the procedures and information presented in this article.

Concluding Comments.

Even though I used the word “visualization” in this article, I really do not like the term; it puts too much of a distance between the individual and what she or he is imagining. “Visualization” carries the idea of internally seeing something, and not actually being it or doing it. As in: You are here. It is there. You are watching it. It is being watched.

Instead of “visualizing” I prefer the terms “active imagination” or even better “inner-imaging.” But most people do not know what they mean. I want the practitioner to internally create an imaginative reality and then actively merge with and become it. However, this is advanced inner-energy work and therefore best studied with an advanced master. I am not saying don’t do it by yourself. What I am saying is that it is mandatory you are able to leave this “inner imaging” state whenever you wish and return to a more normal everyday reality. Otherwise, it could begin to resemble insanity. After all, you are not really Tarzan, Jane, or the ape.

In summary, Happy Fun Qigong uses inner-imagining yourself to become some or all of these formidable characters: Franz Liszt, a hula dancer, LeBron James, Tarzan (or Jane), a tiger, phoenix, peacock, a car lube air dancer. In this qigong you talk and listen to your smiley heart, laugh into your organs, shake twitch wiggle and jump, then flick and kick off the schumtz.

After all that I hope we all return to our everyday lives happier, healthier, and full of radiant healthy qi. BTW: Feel free to keep Tarzan and any of the other creatures alive inside yourself and ready to bring out of hiding and use whenever you wish - as long as you can put them back whenever you want to.

Endnotes

  1. If you are going to send qi-energy to anyone first always ask and get their permission; not to ask is impolite, improper, and invasive. The same with touching anyone to correct a posture or to show them an acupressure point: always first ask permission.
  2. Wiggling Fingers A personal note. This practice has helped me heal, or at least eliminate, the pain of arthritis in my fingers. Some of the joints are still gnarled, but now I can move my fingers easily.
  3. See “T-cell Modulation Group” at http://www.tcells.org/beginners/tcells/.
  4. “Five Animals.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Five_Animals.
  5. “Phoenix (mythology)” [at] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phoenix_(mythology).
  6. “Fenghuang” [at] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fenghuang.
  7. The “Phoenix Spreads its Wings” gymnastic presented in this article is a simplification of number 15 of the second set of Taijiqigong- Shibashi created by Lin Houshung, See “Lin Housheng’s Qigong” [at] http://www.lin-housheng.com/products.php.
  8. After these techniques are learned there is the potential of adding to them other Asian healing modalities such as using mantras, hand mudras, qigong gestures, ritual movements, affirmations and tuina massage. And adding some love into all this increases its effectiveness. Only the safety and security of the group and the presenter limit what may be done. Nevertheless laughing into the organs creates a foundation for any such future work.

Happy Fun Qi Gong - Part 2

**This article originally appeared as "Happy Fun Qigong."Qi JournalVol. 25, No 3, Autumn 2015.**

By John Voigt

Qi-Balling

1. Sensing qi.

Another fun and seemingly magical gymnastic is to have the group rub their hands together, then have them pretend they are playing small accordions. When their hands go out, they should inhale. When the hands come in, they should exhale. I have them do this for awhile, and then ask, “Does anyone see the qi between your hands?” If no one does, I suggest they look for an ethereal mist, a commonly used description of qi energy. (The Chinese word “Qi” originally meant “vapor”—like the phosphorescent mist you see hovering over a lake very early in the morning.) We do some more squeezing in and out then I ask, “What does it feel like?” If they do sense it, their answers often are, a heaviness, a tingling, magnetic, electromagnetic, prickly, it’s hot, cold, a suction. If they see or feel nothing, I tell them, to imagine it. Using the imagination can be effective in preparing someone to gain more skills in their qigong practices.

2. Forming a qi ball.

Have them mold a ball out of the qi between their hands; as if the qi were a clump of moist flour dough and it was being kneaded on a cutting board. If they don’t get it tell them “Pretend you’re playing a game.”

3. Tossing the qi ball.

Now have them toss the qi ball from one hand to the other. Tell them to watch the ball as it goes back and forth (that will enhance the experience). Suggest they feel the ball in their hands when they catch it.

4. Lifting the qi ball.

Then have them lift the ball from side to side. The right-hand lifts the qi ball up to the left shoulder and holds it there for a few seconds. Then the right hand comes back down dropping the ball into the left hand. Then the left hand lifts the ball to the right shoulder, holds it for a few seconds, and returns down dropping the ball into the right hand. These movements should be repeated for a few minutes. Once people are comfortable doing this, when the hand is at its zenith they should toss the ball a tiny bit straight up in the air, and quickly catch it.

5. Tossing the qi ball around.

This is an exercise in which we create through our imaginations the sensations of sending and receiving qi with other people. We pretend we are all at a playground tossing our newly created qi balls to each other. I occasionally stir the process up by saying, “Hey, not so hard!” when they toss the ball too vigorously at me. Imagination is wonderful. You can do so much with it if you only allow yourself to.

6. Basketball - the Qi way.

Here is a way to combine all the Qi Ball gymnastics. I call it the “Free Throw Game.” I introduce this by saying, Did you ever watch an NBA basketball player shooting a free throw? Next time you do, study how he coordinates his breath, body posture, and mind to project a ball towards a basketball hoop. That is pure qigong ladies and gentleman: body, breath, mind, energy all being used together. Okay, time to play ball. Feel that energy ball as a basket ball between your hands. Toss it from hand to hand. Take a deep breath and imagine you are LeBron James (or your favorite basketball player) and walk around and bounce it off the floor, dribble it. Hold the ball in front of your the solar plexus (the second dantian). Center yourself by breathing into the lower abdomen and allow gravity to ground you. Take a few more deep breaths and fill your lower belly dantian with pure high powered qi-energy. Your whole torso should feel like a balloon filled with water, pleasantly heavy and bouncy. Once again feel the energy resonance between your hands and the basketball. Mentally picture seeing the ball going into the hoop, and after that relax your shoulders and entire body and toss the ball in. Another point for your side.

Happy Fun Animal Frolics.

In ancient times Chinese Shamans, usually women called “Wu”, would do ritualistic dances to gain the energetic powers of animals and birds. As time passed such practices were recast into the first documented qigong form, the classic Wu Qin Xi, or Five Animal Frolics.4 But be prepared for a new spin on an old theme. Our Happy Fun version may look more like dances from1960’s—as in the Bird, the Duck, the Funky Chicken, the Horse, the Pony, the Raccoon, the Dog, the Funky Penguin, the Monkey, etc.

Tarzan Thumps His CV-19 and Makes the Victory Cry of the Bull Ape. The ancient Chinese were not the only ones seeking
to gain the power of wild animals, Tarzan did too. Here is a Happy Fun Qigong TCM version: With closed soft fists, or with percussive fingertips, thump or tap on the center of your upper chest, between the breasts (over and around the acupuncture point CV-19). Do this about twelve times and not too hard. Then you might add your version of Tarzan’s Call of the King of the Jungle - however, this is optional, especially in public. You can hear and see it on many YouTube sites, just type in “Tarzan Call.”

Benefits

This type of exercise is said to revitalize the thymus gland, a source of T-lymphocytes (T cells), which kill virally or bacterially infected cells and naturally eradicate cancer cells. I have no idea what benefits accrue from making that weird Call of the Jungle - but it is so much fun I like to do it anyway, and suggest you might too.

CV-19 (ZiGong) Acupuncture Point

Note

If any women have a problem with visualizing themselves as a semi-nude male pretending he is a big monkey doing silly things and making funny sounds, this gymnastic can work just as well for them if they turn themselves into a Jane the Queen of the Jungle Beats On Her CV-19. The original Jane did; go to YouTube and search Jane Tarzan call.

Tiger Claws.

Make your hands into tiger claws. The hands are cupped and squeezed in as if squeezing a tennis ball, but the middle finger is a bit extended. Members of the group can walk around waving their claws at each other. Any growling is optional. Occasionally they should bend forward and trust out their arms and grasp at imaginary prey with their paws.

Benefits

Squeezing your hands this way will compress qi and cause it to be absorbed into the fingers, hands, and possibly into the muscles and bones of the arms and shoulders. This resembles a martial art technique called “Iron Shirt” which internally armors the body to prevent injury. Tiger qigong is said to be good for the Liver, and also to stimulate the flow of qi in the du mài and rèn mài channels of the microcosmic orbit (the major pathway of qi up the back and down the front of the torso.) The grasping motions help open the six acupuncture points at the tips of the fingers.

The Phoenix.

The Phoenix is a mythological creature that reincarnates itself by rising from the ashes of its past. In Chinese Mythology it is called Feng-huang, the “Bird of Wonder,” and signifies the merging of masculine (yang) and feminine (yin) life forces, which brings about good fortune. So in this gymnastic there is an implied re-birthing of the self along with the gaining of good fortune. That all sounds pretty good to me.

                       

The Gymnastic

With feet spread apart wider than shoulder width, turn to the right, inhale and keeping the wrists limp and fingers hanging down, lift the arms up by your sides. The heel of the left foot should rise up as you do this. When the hands are level with the ears, open and unfold your hands and arms out to your sides as if you were a beautiful Phoenix unfolding its wings. Pause as if you were floating high up in the sky. Then slowly exhale and float your arms (wings) back down and return to facing forward with arms hanging down by your sides. Then turn to the left and repeat this rising up and down gesture. When turning to the left, the right heel should lift off the ground. Do this exercise for six times or for as long it feels good to do.

Benefits

Shifting the weight of the body from side to side and rising up with extended arms increases the circulation of blood, as well as the flow of qi in all the meridians of the body. Bending to the left and right will smooth strengthen and harmonize the yin and yang energies of the practitioner. Therefore this gymnastic is good for all the organ systems of the body, but especially for the Lung, Pericardium and Heart.

Peacock Spreads Tail To Show Beautiful Feathers.

Raise your hands straight up, palms facing out. As they go above your head spread your arms open. From the sides of your eyes using peripheral vision imagine your beautiful feathers. With your arms uplifted and palms facing out, slightly bend the elbows and slowly sway to the left and right like audiences at a rock concert.

Air Dancer.

In our present day urban environment it is not easy finding free roaming apes, tigers, peacocks, and just forget about the phoenix. But it is easy to find Air Dancers: they’re endemic in the city – they are often used to advertise car dealerships, gas stations and other automotive places. When you do the Air Dancer you freely wave your arms around and bend over a lot. (If you have health issues, especially uncontrolled hypertension, you shouldn’t do this without a doctor’s approval). The Air Dancer I work out with is advertising oil changes. However, I’m advertising we all get “qi changes” by flushing out the old bad qi and breathing in some good new qi. For those skeptical about the reality of this, I propose that circling and bending up and down from the waist facilitates bowel, kidney, and bladder functions. So don’t be shy, try it out for yourself. But do make sure there’s a bathroom close by. You can find varied kinds of Air Dancers doing their thing on YouTube or better yet somewhere in your neighborhood. But seriously, take it easy unless you too are made out of heavy rubber tubing.

Rather than an oil change, the author is attempting a Qi change.

**Beautiful featured image from combinedarts.org

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Happy Fun Qi Gong - Part 2 : The Health Benefits of Qi Gong Exercise : Chinese Medicine Living


History and Development of Internal Martial Arts in China

Watch this episode from CCTV English on the history and development of the internal martial arts in China, the most notable of which is Tai Chi Chuan and learn why martial arts are not just a fighting system, but an important part of healthy living for mind, body and spirit. Running time 25:53 mins

Original link here - Chinese Martial Arts - Internal Martial Arts


I Know Kung Fu.

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac

Ever since I can remember I have loved kung fu. It is hard to pinpoint where the love came from, but there are a couple of possibilities. I am a child of hippies, and grew up in a house filled with music, ethnic food and martial arts. My parents are martial artists - Aikidoists - and they tried, in vain, to get me into Aikido.

I remember going to class with them and watching the graceful interactions. Students running at each other and, being gracefully flung about and landing, silently rolling out to standing awaiting their next chance to politely attack. It was beautiful to watch, and it looked effortless. The thing that especially impressed me was that strength and size didn't seem to matter. This became even more impressive when I saw my mother, who is five foot four, throw my father who is more than six foot three over her head like he was made of cotton balls. This filled me with delight, and, I suspect, deeply frustrated my father.

Aikido is a Japanese martial art developed by Morihei Ueshiba. It is translated as "the way of unifying with life energy" or "the way of the harmonious spirit". One of the interesting things about Aikido is that it is purely defensive. There is no way to "attack" someone using Aikido in its true form. It is purely used and was developed as a way to defend oneself, but also to do so while protecting your attacker from harm. What a lovely philosophy. Because there is no way to attack someone using Aikido, what began to happen around our house was that my father, desperate to show me his new moves and joint locks (which hurt like hell) would ask me, in desperation, to grab his wrist. Only then could he throw me around and bend my joints into pretzels. If I was feeling generous I would oblige, but if I was feeling sassy I would refuse and taunt him. Grab my wrist became the most uttered phrase in our house for years.

Morihei Ueshiba

The other wonderful thing about Aikido is that you are using your attackers energy and inertia to either direct them out of the way, or, throw them into the next room depending on how much of their energy you want to use. For this reason, the Aikidoist is using very little of their own energy. It is also incredibly graceful, and does not have any of the hard edged movements of many of the Korean and Chinese martial arts. It is one of the most beautiful martial arts to watch. Here is a video so you can see what I mean.

I have an enormous respect for all the martial arts, and Aikido in particular is so elegant, refined, efficient and beautiful, but it wasn't the one that resonated with me. What I wanted to learn was kung fu. Perhaps it was all those years of kung fu movies, but I decided that this was what I was going to learn. It was my dream to be a doctor of Chinese medicine and a master of kung fu - 2 very complimentary pursuits, I thought.

For years I had been obsessed with kung fu movies and every Friday had gone to Kung Fu Friday's at the Royal cinema where a group of enthusiasts would sit and bask in each others euphoria at watching these ancient movies with elaborate fight scenes and terrible dubbing. The nerd level was through the roof, but it was the best hour and a half of my week. Once I finished college, I was excited to seek out a kung fu school and start my training. I went all over, looking for the right school that was teaching a style that felt right for me. It was a long search, but I knew the right place as soon as I walked in the door. It was a very traditional Chinese kung fu school in Chinatown. On the outside it looked like a small storefront painted red and black with the windows covered. The writing was in Chinese but in English it said Kung Fu. I walked in and it was dark and smelled of sweat. There was a Chinese guy sitting at an old counter reading a Chinese newspaper. He looked up at me surprised.

*Perhaps now is the time to explain something. I, at least on the outside, am not Chinese, but am a tall blonde girl. I do not blend in most places, least of all a kung fu school in the heart of Chinatown. If I thought I had been an outsider before, I was about to receive a rude awakening...

The man looked up and thought I was lost. I said no, I was there to inquire about kung fu. His surprised look remained as he slowly explained what styles the school taught, when their classes were and how much a year membership cost. I nodded and asked if I could return to watch a class. He said sure, the surprised look never leaving his face. I had a good feeling I had found the place. This was the real thing. Old school. I returned to watch a class and fell in love. I bought my uniform and showed up for my first class and managed to hold my own. It was tense, as I was one of a few girls and the only white girl. I could see the smirks on the faces of some of the guys. I found out later that the guys had a running bet on my first day to see how long I would last. Most said I wouldn't last longer than one class. A few said I might make it a week. I stayed 8 years. They all lost that bet.

kung fu

The school taught two styles - Choi Lee Fut  - created by Chan Heung, a disciple of the famed Shaolin Temple, and Do Pi - a Southern style . There are many styles of kung fu, and I think finding the one you like is just like anything else, you have to find the one that resonates with you. These styles really spoke to me because they had large sweeping movements which suited by tall body and long limbs. I later tried Wing Chun - a style that focuses on close range combat. I found it cramped and awkward, like watching a spider monkey fight another spider monkey nose to nose. You have to find the style that is right for you. Classes were 2 nights a week and one Sunday afternoon and were about 4 hours each. They consisted of stances, punches, kicks, stretching, callisthenics and finally, forms - a series of movements that you move through beginning to end. They were the most hard core workouts I had ever had and I had been an athlete all my life. I pushed through. Thankfully, in this case, my stubborn nature probably exceeded my physical abilities, at least at first. No one spoke to me for about 6 months. I think they were all waiting for me to drop out and were confused as to why that hadn't yet happened.

After the six month mark I got the occasional smile. I couldn't believe it. Finally, they were accepting me as part of the group. I knew it wasn't going to be easy, but I was determined to follow my dream of learning kung fu, and I loved it. I am happy to say that after the guys decided I wasn't leaving they accepted my presence and we all became friends. We went to class together and the ritual became to go out to eat Vietnamese afterwards. It became like a family and we had dinners for Chinese New Years and participated in parades through Chinatown in our uniforms, holding banners and doing Lion Dance. It seemed every time a new restaurant opened, our kung fu school would be called upon to do a Lion Dance (a good luck omen for any new business) and I felt like I was always at the school for class or some function. Hanging out with my classmates socially became a window into this culture which had always fascinated me and I felt so comfortable in. We would have big dinners together and spent way too many evenings doing karaoke. I don't think I will ever be able to listen to Hotel California without fondly remembering my tone deaf classmates.

Studying kung fu was an amazing experience. It was not just learning a martial art, but becoming part of a living breathing organism. The school was an integral part of the Chinese community and it was fascinating and wonderful to feel like a part of something that perhaps few people had been able to experience before. I learned so many things. I learned that a martial art is not about just training your body, but training your mind, understanding the mind of your opponent and honing internal skills like Qi Gong to develop your internal power. I was privileged to become immersed in a culture that I have so much respect for, and I think it made me a better person and a better acupuncturist. I learned discipline, and that usually things that are worth learning, take a lifetime to master. I also learned that I love Vietnamese food. I later dabbled in a few more martial arts - Wing Chun, Jeet Kun Do, Muay Thai, Escrima, Kali and Savate (French kick boxing), and although I loved them for what they had to offer, my heart will always belong to kung fu. <3

 

Here are some clips you can watch which demonstrate the awesomeness of kung fu. Many of my favourite movies are too old to find now (I have them all on VHS!!) but these are some of the masters. Enjoy.

Shaolin Kung Fu

Here is a National Geographic Episode on Shaolin Kung Fu which gives some history and shows some of the monks incredible skills.

Bruce Lee - The Chinese Connection

Bruce is, and will always be, my hero. <3

Ip Man - Donny Yuen - Kung Fu Fight Scene

Jet Li - Fist of Legend

Jackie Chan - Drunken Style Kung Fu - Drunken Master

Master Killer / The 36 Chambers of Shaolin - Trailer

My favourite kung fu movie of all time. :)

A clip from Master Killer detailing Kung Fu training at Shaolin.


Why We Should All Do Qi Gong

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP

I suspect we have all seen the groups of elderly Chinese in parks, moving gracefully in unison, seeming to be listening to something that cannot be heard by the rest of us. I have this memory as a child, living across from a huge park I would go out to walk the dog and sit in the grass, watching them. They were so beautiful, moving all together, like a flock of birds, communicating by some unseen force, many individuals, moving as one.

I later would discover that this was Qi Gong.

A Brief History of Qi Gong

Qi Gong has been practiced in China for thousands of years. Its purpose was to build the body’s internal energy or qi to promote health and fight disease. In 1122BC the I-Ching or book of changes was one of the first books to introduce the idea of qi. People used the concept of the universe to explain the laws of nature which was seen to be an integration of three fundamental energies - heaven above, earth below and man between them, joining the two. Studying the relationship between the three was the first step in the development of Qi Gong. During the Zhou Dynasty (1100-221BC), Lau Tzu, founder of Taoism, wrote about breathing techniques in his famous book the Tao De Jing. Interest in qi was heightened, and Qi Gong became an integral part of the development of traditional Chinese medicine along with concepts like yin and yang and the theory of the five elements.

Later, duning the Han Dynasty (206BC - 220AD) Buddhist meditation techniques arrived in China from India, integrating meditation with Qi Gong practice. Buddhist practitioners worked to cultivate their qi, strengthen their internal organs and control mind, body and spirit to achieve enlightenment and avoid the cycle of reincarnation.

It was during the Liang dynasty (502 - 577AD) qi gong was integrated into martial arts. This was a powerful union, as external martial arts like kung fu with its quick, explosive movements with an emphasis on strength, power, agility and flexibility, joined with the internal art of Qi Gong which focusses on using mindful breathing to strengthen the body, cultivate the mind and spirit, prevent and cure disease and increase longevity. Qi Gong practices were also introduced from other countries including Japan, India and Korea as information passed more freely from country to country.

Qi Gong developed into many traditions, each having its own purpose and methods. Below is a brief description of each.

Buddhist Qi Gong

Aims to liberate the mind, cultivate virtue and to obtain enlightening wisdom. The human body is considered a tool for attaining enlightenment. (84000 approaches mentioned in history; most popular type of Qi Gong.)

Taoist Qi Gong

Stresses preservation of the physical body and high virtue. Many Taoist Qi Gong masters enjoyed long lives. (3600 approaches are mentioned throughout its history.)

Confucian Qi Gong

Aims to promote high moral character and intelligence

Medical Qi Gong

Medical Qi Gong emphasizes the free flow and balance of qi (vital energy) in the body. The primary purpose is to treat illness or cure a disease. Medical practitioners learn how to use the inner qi for diagnosis and healing.

Martial Arts Qi Gong

Trains the body for protection from cuts by weapons or attacks using the four limbs. It also trains the body to deliver fatal blows enhanced with qi.

There are basically two ways to practice Qi Gong. One is with a series of gentle movements, or sets, where one moves systematically through the set, smoothly transitioning from one movement to the next, concentrating on the breathing and mindful awareness. The other is to practice Qi Gong by standing, sitting or lying  also paying close attention to the breath. This focus on breathing is to strengthen the immune, digestive and circulatory systems as well as strengthening qi and gaining an awareness of what is happening inside the body and mind. It is most effective when practiced outside, being connected to nature and the cosmos, which  is why it is so common to see groups of people practicing it in parks and outdoor spaces.

The doctor of Chinese medicine learns these practices so that he may cultivate his qi, developing an awareness of both his qi and the qi in everything around him. This leads to the ability to diagnose and restore balance in his patients using all of the tools in his Chinese medicine toolkit, including acupuncture, Chinese herbs, cupping, tuina and guasha.

Qi Gong is an excellent way to develop an awareness of your own internal energy and become more sensitive to that energy if it becomes unbalanced. It is also an avenue to restore that balance when it should arise. It is a practice that emcompasses all parts of our being, helping us to become more aware and with skill, to maintain a healthy body, mind and spirit.  


Tai Chi - History & Health Benefits

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac

China has a long tradition of using exercise techniques to promote health and longevity. Its roots go back to ancient times. In the 6th century BCE (Before the Common Era) Lao Tzu wrote in the Tao Te Ching, ‘Yield and overcome, bend and be straight.” From these origins of Taoism comes the central philosophy of Tai Chi Chuan – literally Supreme Ultimate Fist.

In 250 CE the physician Hua Tuo developed a system of exercise based on the movements of five animals. He believed that regular exercise was necessary for good digestion and circulation, and that this would assure a long and healthy life. These Five Animals Exercises form the basis of the modern systems of Tai Chi Chuan and Qi Gong.

In the 6th century CE an Indian monk named Bodihdharma came to China to the Shaolin monastery. He noticed that the monks there were in poor physical condition from meditating too much and moving too little! He developed an exercise system called the Eighteen Form Lohan Exercise, from which came Kung Fu and all other external martial arts forms. Some of these exercises survive today in modern Tai Chi Chuan.

tai-chi-2

Today Tai Chi Chuan enjoys a world wide following of people with little or no interest in martial arts. They practice Tai Chi for its physical and mental health benefits. Concentrating on the movements of the forms and regulating the breathing brings about a state of mental calmness and clarity. The physical movements rotate the joints of the body to about 95% of their capability, keeping one limber and flexible. No other Western exercise comes close to this range of movement.

Researchers have found that Tai Chi practice improves balance, flexibility, and cardiovascular fitness. Other health benefits include relief from pain, fatigue, insomnia, depression, and symptoms of diseases such as diabetes, fibromyalgia, ADHD in adolescents and many others.

Tai Chi’s gentle, low impact movements burn more calories than surfing, and nearly as many as downhill skiing! These many health benefits explain the huge popularity of Tai Chi Chuan world wide.

 

*Note - CE (common era) is the same as AD (anno domini). (ex: 1400 CE is same as 1400 AD)


Kung Fu Style: Choy Li Fut

Choy Li Fut (Cantonese), 蔡李佛, or Cai Li Fo (Mandarin) Kung Fu is a traditional martial arts system based on Shaolin martial arts from the Shaolin Temple.

It combines the agile footwork of Northern Chinese Martial Arts with the intricate Hand Techniques of the Southern Kung Fu styles, making Choy Li Fut one of the most complete and effective styles for health and self-defense.

Choy Li Fut , 蔡李佛, emphasizes relaxed, internal power rather than stiff, muscular force. This is not only more effective in combat, giving the smaller person an advantage, but is also better for the practitioner’s health as it develops the entire body.

Choy Li Fut forms are circular, powerful, and as beautiful to watch as they are effective in combat. They often contain over 150 individual movements, each having a practical application in self-defense. Done at full speed, forms provide an excellent cardiovascular workout.

Unlike many other martial arts, Choy Li Fut contains a wide variety of techniques, including long and short range punches, devastating kicks, deadly sweeps and takedowns, lethal pressure point attacks, joint locks, and grappling, making it one of the most well rounded and versatile fighting systems. Each set covers many aspects and concepts of the martial arts and even provides dynamic 2 and even 3 person combat sets, giving the student the ability to develop a real time sense of the techniques in combat application.

Choy Li Fut also has forms teaching the use of a large arsenal of traditional kung fu weapons, 53 to be exact, divided into long, short, twin, and flexible categories with the Nine Dragon Trident as the symbol of the Choy Li Fut system. There are even 2 and 3 person weapon combat sets to develop the full range and abilities of the practitioners with their weapons. Finally, it includes internal training such as meditation and breathing exercises unifying the body and mind with traditional Chinese Martial Arts.

Choy Li Fut has proven itself effective through it’s conception during revolutionary times to the modern days of combat sports, and is still one of the worlds most popular Chinese Kung Fu systems. Famed for it’s effectiveness in the Chinese underground full contact martial arts tournaments, it’s traditional values and self-discipline and self-protection attitude provides Choy Li Fut as the perfect martial arts base for anyone looking to better themselves.