Sunday, May 11, 2014

The three essentials of internal martial art - No 3: Nano movements

This is the last article on three essentials of internal martial art. It is the most complex concept, in terms of understanding and execution. In practice, there are different ways to execute this concept, some better some worse, some safer some more dangerous. The essential concept remain the same: Use minute and dynamic joint opening (and closing) to generate chi energy. With powerful energy thus generated, a practitioner will be able to use it to reshape his own body structure and opening blocked chi-channels (and muscle-groups) for different healing purposes.

As explained in some of my previous articles here, our joints are powerful energy source. And one of the way to tap into this source is joint-opening. In all exercises of internal martial art, chi kung and meditation, our mind is to relax so that our breathing muscles and/or bodily movements can gently open and close our joints to liberate the stored energy. Nano-movements are minute movements localized at the joints to liberate energy.

A meditative mode of mind is a pre-requisite. A highly focused meditative mind (and possibly with autosuggestion of being possessed), broad brush movements (rather than the more difficult nano-version) are good enough to induce massive liberation of chi energy in our joints (primarily our pelvic and shoulder joints).  In Qing Dynasty this method was particularly common in China's Shandong province, which led to the Boxer rebellion and the invasion of the European Imperial powers in late Qing. Nowadays, a lighter version of this Boxer stuff is still practised as spiritual combat (神打) and self induced chi kung (自發功). I am not referring to these practices.

Recently I came across a video by a HK Chen-style tai chi master demonstrating his version of tai chi nei gong. During the past decades, masters from different internal disciplines are opening their practices to the public, and put up video for free in the internet, with detail explanations. An overflow of information rather than a lack of information. The problem is to digest rather than begging for food! Good for the humble and painstaking practitioners, bad for folks seeking secret formula to solve all their practice problem. In the internal arts, it is not "No pain, no gain". It is "Practice, patience, practice and patience". Any way this master, whom I found have many interesting points to share (and for viewers to digest), started shaking his body to generate chi!  A more controlled movement, but from my perspective it resembles more self-induced than nano.

The most important teacher using the nano-method is master Wang Xiangzai, a famous internal martial artist whose understood and took from many internal arts and was able to digest and reinvent old techniques. The traditional tai chi method is a rocking movement from arrow stance to seated stance in a continuous process. It is interesting to note that different students of Wang used different methods of nano-movements. Clearly master Wang had experimented with different methods and tried them on his students at different periods of time. Master Wang's teachings in nano-movement and other techniques changed during his teaching life, not necessarily the later the better, all changes enriched his teachings. He even changed the name of his style during his life time: he originally learned XingYi(形意). Then he incorporated techniques from other martial arts and created his own style: YiQuan (意拳). Later he changed YiQuan's name to DaChengQuan (大成拳literally translated as Major Achievement Style).

In master Wang's practice, nano-movements are executed in combat stance. I would like to show two variations below:
  1. Testing jing in six directions (六面爭力摸勁) - with a focused mind, a student is to do nano movements in six directions (up/down, front/back, in/out - some add left/right to make eight directions), finding points of maximum resistance at minute points at his joints with a focused mind. The result is like a floating joint in the socket.
  2. Front back rocking - it is similar to tai chi's rocking movement but the movements here will be more minute, and therefore it is more difficult to practice but if practised correctly the result will be better.
These are easy methods that interested students can try and experiment by themselves. The reasons why students generally find them difficult to learn is firstly they do not have trust in these methods (for one thing it is against market economy to offer goodies for free, and such thinking is correct in most cases), and secondly they lack "Practice, patience, practice and patience".

Ref: First article - Second article

Classic combat stance by a DaChengQuan master - Wang Xuanjie


  1. Wonderful article. Can I ask if opening the joints means to unfold the joints, or to move the bones joined together by the joint further apart, creating a gap?

  2. Joint opening is called 松沉 which means increase flexibility and strength at the same time. The criteria of success of which is the ability to transmit power (jing) across muscles group (the definitive example is from foot to hand via all in between muscles groups, as in doing fa jing or power punch in martial art). Hence transmission is the key. Nano movement aims at strengthening weak muscle tendons and loosening tight muscles around major joints. The result will be increase mobility (no need to be "highly flexible" as in yoga), and with joints "fitted" together correctly and with strength. All can be felt as subject experience by a practitioner. It is not only a logical understanding, but experiential understanding, though logical understand can speed up the experiential training experience, especially for educated modern man who likes to ask WHY.


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