Western body-conditioning notions centre mainly on strengthening superficial elements of the torso and limbs. Traditional Chinese methods involve surprising extremes of this, supplemented by comparable expertise in the conditioning of the body’s interior, an area of which the west is largely unaware.
Yin and Yang Balance; Optimum Body Conditioning
In the well-known Taiji diagram the white Yang ‘fish’ represents the body’s external body-structure (visible in gym mirrors etc.) whilst the black Yin ‘fish’ represents the westernbranchchiropractor body’s invisible interior. Condition Yang areas of the body only and an unhealthy imbalance occurs, exacerbated by the degree and intensity of the efforts involved.
The externally focussed, materialistic West emphasises Yang body-conditioning excessively. The East, however, has long practised internal (Yin) body conditioning alongside its external (Yang) counterpart as part of a balanced approach to this issue.
The former, in fact, is considered superior, more difficult to achieve and a more advanced martial attainment whilst The two together are considered the healthy, balanced ideal. Yin conditioning being more difficult to learn and apply, many Asian Wu Shu/ Kung Fu students begin with external Yang conditioning and progress to internal Yin conditioning as skill, and experience levels increase. Not all get this far.
External(Yang) Conditioning Methods
This is sometimes described as external (wei dan) martial Qigong
i. Wu Shu Massage
Shaolin Changchuan ‘Longfist’ Kung Fu Wu Shu Massage can benefit all Martial Arts styles. Used after (or before) competition or intensive training, for example, it ensures the physical body’s optimum condition for the next intensive bout of activity. Prolonged regular practice, significantly enhancing the body’s external health and resilience, has noticeable anti-aging effects.
Many techniques involve anticlockwise massage, part of External (Wei Dan) Martial Qigong. Conditioning the body’s Exterior thus complements Internal (Nei Dan) Qigong Internal body-conditioning. The two when practised together represent progress towards the ideal mentioned above.
ii. Self-Beating Arts
A Yang example of Shaolin Temple Secret Arts Self-Beating Arts increases the body’s resistance to external stresses and trauma. It accords with the Shaolin Kung Fu maxim: ‘Before practicing the skill of striking others, first learn the Arts of being struck’.
Whilst Self-beating Arts (pai da gong) doesn’t approach Shaolin external body-conditioning’s furthest extremes it is an essential pre-requisite for progress towards these.
Internal (Yin) Body Conditioning Methods
Sometimes described as internal (nei dan) martial Qigong
i. Conditioning the Internal Organs
Spleen, lungs, kidneys, liver and heart, the five major muscular internal organs are strengthened and taught to work together systematically via 5 Elements internal Kung Fu and Qigong. This difficult and prolonged process has tremendous health benefits and increases stamina and endurance, will-power, concentration and more.
ii. Iron Cloth Sack Arts
This demanding Internal Kung Fu Exercise (bu dai gong) is a yin example of the Shaolin Secret Arts. This developes the abdomen into a flexible and resilient container half-full of air-the ‘Cloth Sack’ mentioned above. Sometimes known as the ‘Mee Luck’ or Universal Bag of Air, those mastering this Art can defend themselves against any attack, illustrating the life and health preserving effects of internal body conditioning..
External Plus Internal Body Conditioning
The Shaolin Temple’s 72 Secret and Consummate Arts, the ultimate range of body-conditioning exercises are classified either Yang/External or Yin/Internal. This highlights the importance and inter-relation of the two complementary conditioning approaches.
5 Elements internal and external Qigong, always key ingredients in Shaolin Temple Kung Fu training, provide foundations for the more specialist conditioning exercises or ‘kungs’ to build upon later. Shaolin’s structured, integrated, mutually-reinforcing, Yin/yang approach to body conditioning makes this the healthy, balanced ideal
Sifu Peter Allsop M.Ed. teaches Shaolin Kung Fu and Qigong in Sheffield, Yorkshire U.K. With over 40 years experience he is Shaolin Fists International Area Instructor for this region and Senior Student of Grandmaster Yap Leong.
Trained in the U.K. and China, Peter teaches Changquan (‘Longfist’) Wu Xing (5 Animals), Wu Tzu (5 Ancestors) and 5 Elements Kung Fu and Qigong. He also publishes ‘Martial Arts Ezine:Red Dragon’ available free online.