The following was written as a response
on the yahoo [Bagua] list.
Subject: Re: [Bagua] Tendon Training Practices in Yin-Style BaGua
Date: Fri, 25 Jan 2002 16:28:54 -0800
From: "Dave A. Anselmi"
Ed Ramirez wrote:
> I heard that Yin-style BaGua has a number of tendon training
> exercises that develop the body's ability to deliver power.
> I was wondering if you could share some training principles
> and ideas that are found in your system.
I don't practice "formal" Yin-style Bagua. However, I've done extensive tendon-training beginning with Park Bok-Nam's school, etc. Here's what I know, & have noticed.
Lots of ppl mistake "tendons" for "muscles". A simple distinction is:
* muscles contract, -whereas-
* tendons stretch
When muscles lengthen, they are 'relaxing', & aren't bunched-up. When they contract, they 'tense', and get 'hard', like Schwartzeneggar ;-D
Here’s 5 steps to developing conscious control of your tendons:
1. The first step is to be able to *feel* the difference between your tendons & your muscles. Twisting a (lightly) stretched-out limb, can make your tendons more noticeable. Two classic exercises for this are:
1. "Lion Rolls the Ball", rolling a "ball" of air in front of your chest,
towards you... &
2. the "second" stage of I-Chuan, wherein you actively twist your stance(s),
drilling your limbs in & out.
Man-tak Chia has a nice picture(s) of the high-horse stance in his books (Iron Shirt Chi-Gung 1, etc.), with a "screw" happening from the feet into the ground. This is the feeling-awareness you cultivate when doing Stage-II I-Chuan. This is *not* simply a visualization thing: you actually twist the limbs at first. Later you begin to make the twist more & more internal, by twisting the tendons inside the limbs, instead of the limbs themselves. Finally you minimize the physical twisting completely, while keeping the “feeling-awareness” (ie., energy/ch’i) of the limbs continuing to twist. At this stage, you can ‘thrum’ your tendons w/o actually moving your limbs (perceptibly) at all.
2. To start-off your training, I recommend twisting your wrist, pulling the palm-back like a "heel-strike" hand, and the twisting it around until you feel the "buzzing" or "scratchy" feeling in your inner forearm. This is where your tendons lie, & you're noticing them. DON'T OVERDO IT. You can give yourself a really uncomfortable "tennis-elbow" ;-0
At first it's often necessary to [almost] hyper-extend your joints, 'stretching'/'bending' the joints to make the tendons more taut. Later, as you get better at it, you don't need to bend so much... in fact, you can begin to feel where this "buzzy" feeling happens in your Forms/Sets/Gua's... This is a *physical* matter, that of stretching-out your tendons, & might take weeks. I really recommend to not "force" it. OTOH, gently doing these stretches is the best way I know to handle Carpal Tunnel Syndrome ;-D
3. Once you get a handle on how the tendons lie, and can get them 'twitching' w/o a lot of effort, begin to relax as you get them twitchy. The more muscles you tense as you do tendons, the less benefit you get. Ideally, when you relax your muscles radically, you need a [alternative] structure to 'rely' on, & that is your tendons & bones. You won't feel how your bones naturally lie/stack/balance if you're tensing muscles; similarly, you cannot feel how your limbs push-pull together [via tendons] if your muscles are clenched. [I know this is a BaGua group, but I believe the Internal Mechanics are the same, across Taiji - HsingI - Bagua. Thus, Chen Man-Ching's warning is apropos: "relax relax Relax!! I know a man who for 30 yrs came to me insisting he was relaxed. I beat him [soundly] every time. He would not relax".]
4. Once you get 'twitchy' happening in your arm, & it's getting a bit relaxed, then start "connecting" that twitchy from your arm, to your shoulder... & later your T5 (5th thoracic vertebrae, behind the heart), then ming-men, then coccyx, then knee, then ankle. For instance, 'pull'/bend/twist your shoulder & see if you can feel the twitching sensation in your wrist. Then 'pull' from T5, by hunching over. Keep trying to feel that twitchy sensation. Even-better, try to feel your palm get 'taut', inside the skin, as you twist/hunch/'pull' from your ming-men. You can eventually "reel" your tendons, from ankle to wrist, in one long unbroken "pulling" sensation. To the point that you can twist your ankle, which pulls your hip, pulling your ming-men, which pulls your T5-area, pulling your shoulder, which pulls your elbow, which smoothly pulls your wrist... in one long arc across your back. From ankle to wrist works well with strikes; pulling from wrist to ankle helps 'receive'/dissipate strikes... esp. from chest to ankle.
5. Once this is smooth [after many months of practice], you can experiment with putting a 'wave' into that arc, via either shaking [horizontally] your hips, or rippling [vertically] your dan-tien/ming-men. This can be a sharp vibration, like a "whip", or light ripples; the former is great for strikes, while the latter is great to put into your iron shirt to dissipate a vibratory strike when someone smacks you ;-D
When you've got your tendons working together, then it's a LOT easier to really relax, b/c then you still have something to 'feel' as you do your forms/motions. Instead of feeling like you're "really doing something" by tensing your muscles, you can [lengthen]/make-taut your tendons instead. This will feel kinda "strange" for a while, wherein your body & mind "think" that you're not doing "enough"... it even has made some of my students quite frustrated, saying: "I don't have any power!!" In fact, when you're relaxed & aligned, you have MUCH more power than when you're tensed-up-- so I usually lead the students to a heavy-bag & let them [punch] & notice the difference -- you might [not] hit noticeably harder [at first ;-D], but you certainly will hit faster, have a quicker-recovery, & wear-out *far* slower than if you hit w/ muscles. I usually wear-out the skin on my knuckles on the 300lb bag long-before my shoulder/hip/back get weary.... a far cry from my Tae Kwon Do days 17 yrs ago ;-DDD
Other than power, alignment, & relaxation, a final use tendon-practice gives-us is another opportunity to "feel-within", "listen-within", and/or cultivate "internal quietude". BaGua is an Internal Martial Art. If you're not doing these things, you not-only don't get the ['gross'] results of power/alignment/relaxation, but you also won't be skillfully developing the more subtle things like Listening, Interpreting, Receiving... which allow you to handle an opponent w/ minimum of effort.
Besides, it just "feels" better to be Internal ;-D
Copyright: Dave A. Anselmi, 2002