As a young boy in the 1970’s I remember hearing about a class that people could take at the local college that emphasized breathing, and holding their body in strange and specific postures.
The teacher of the class talked about using and feeling their energy. The class had a strange name and it was from the East. Many people swore by the class though, and they said that it helped them with many ailments, and improved their overall health and concentration.
The class was shunned by many people as antithetical to their religion, as tomfoolery, or just plain strange. The class was Yoga. It may seem hard to believe that Yoga was seen as so alien back then, but it was, and it really was not that long ago.
Now Yoga is in the mainstream, and no one thinks twice about studying it. Qigong seems to be going through the same type of experience as it becomes more popular, and people become more curious about it. As a practitioner and teacher of Qigong, I have often likened Qigong’s growth and acceptance as following the similar path of Yoga.
I don’ think that anyone doubts the benefits of Yoga for building a strong yet flexible body, and greater awareness of the breath. Qigong has similar benefits, and may be better suited to more people, especially those that study martial arts. It is my personal quest to make Qigong more accessible.
One only has to look at the benefits of Qigong to see that it is as worthwhile as its internal cousin.
Qigong means “energy work.” It seems that sometimes there is a stumbling block put in the way of practicing Qigong, because of the idea that a person has to become an expert in Traditional Chinese Medicine, understand the meridian system, or other esoteric information.
It may be controversial to say, but I don’t believe that any of that is necessary. In fact, I think that some of those things may be a barrier to more people practicing Qigong and a wider acceptance of Qigong for both health and martial arts.
By working with the breath, alignment of the body and our intention, the Qigong practitioner can improve their health and martial arts without having to have any esoteric knowledge. I think that Qigong is best when it is kept simple.
There are some martial arts that already have some kind of internal exercise, philosophy, or component that is used to provide more power. The standing exercise of San Ti Shi is the cornerstone of Xing Yi. The circle walking of Ba Gua is another good example, but there are others such as the hard energy form Sanchin from Shidokan Karate (different from Shotokan) and many others.
The focus of the breath, body alignment and intention is a powerful combination that can be channeled in many constructive ways regardless of what martial arts style that you study. For a person that studies a style that doesn’t have an internal component, there may not seem to be a reason to study Qigong.
However, I think that anyone will feel the benefits if they give it a try, regardless of what they study.
By practicing the dynamic stillness of standing forms, or the relaxed motion of moving forms, the practitioner’s body learns to train and cultivate the best state for martial arts: Better balance, relaxed upper body, deeper breathing, and a strong foundation.
I have found that standing forms are especially good for this purpose, so I am including a very simple standing form below, so that the reader can give it a try.
This is a deceptively simple exercise that can yield remarkable benefits. As you stand you will feel your legs working a bit harder since they are slightly bent.If you want to increase the intensity of the form, bend your legs more. Add a minute or more every couple days.
You may be surprised at how taxing standing Qigong is on the body regardless of what shape you are in. It should be remembered that “internal” doesn’t mean easy.
Do it every day, and soon you will be able to hold the form easily for a long duration.
For now, I suggest that the practitioner focus on the breath exclusively and use the counting method, but eventually, the practitioner can implement imagery and a variety of visualization techniques to make their practice more dynamic.
I will write more about the topic of visualization in a future article. As you can see in the pictures, I am not practicing in a park, or a stream, or any of the typically serene settings that are commonly associated with Qigong.
It doesn’t matter where you are. It is about what you are doing, regardless of where you practice. Any flat surface is your training area. One of the best aspects of standing Qigong is that it is portable.
I encourage anyone that has thought of Qigong as not relevant to what they study, strange, or just not a worthwhile form of exercise to give it an honest try. The strong sense of center and balance the practitioner will develop will absolutely help with grappling, striking, and virtually any other form of martial arts.
Having been a skeptic myself, I think that the best thing to do is try it for a while, and see how you feel. Focus on the posture, breath, and intention. Try it for a month. This may be the beginning of developing your internal power.