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Rare Video Interview with Xing Yi Master Song Zhi Yong: Part 1

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Song Zhi Yong is one of the top disciples of Li Gui Chang (1914-2000), legendary master of Xing Yi Quan and Tai Ji Quan. Master Song rarely talks about Xing Yi outside of teaching his own disciples. We are grateful to him for sharing his insights and experience in this interview, which took place in August, 2018 in Taiyuan, the capital of Shanxi Province.

The interview was conducted by Master Song’s school brother, Tom Bisio, with Mr. Huang Guo Qi translating. Master Song’s disciple, Valerie Ghent, filmed the interview.

Master Song talks about training with Li Gui Chang, and the importance of  Xing Yi Quan foundational training: Zhan Zhuang (San Ti Shi), Tu Na Si Ba (Four Method Breathing Exercises), and Pi Quan (Splitting Fist).

Tendon Strength, Fascia, the Sinew Channels & Internal Martial Arts – Final Questions (Part 6)


The fascial studies cited within this series of articles are quite fascinating and informative, however they raise as many questions as they answer, particularly vis-a-vis internal martial arts training.

In the internal martial arts, true strength and power are said to come from softness, and true movement from stillness. The Great Xing Yi boxer Liu Qi Lan said:

The function of the Daoist arts is to empty the mind within. When there is no effort, there is centering. When there is no expectation, there is obtaining. Follow the easy balanced way and the moment will emerge. [It says in the Boxing Classics:] “The boxing is without boxing. The intention is without intention. Within no intention is true intention.”  Stillness is the fundamental form. In movement lies the function.” By being silent and still, then upon sensing anything, you connect with it, and everything you do will be right. [21]

The Nei Gong Zhen Chuan says:

The critical factor between success and failure lies in the intervals between the firm (Gang) and the yielding (Rou); movement (Dong) and stillness (Jing), [22] for without great care in this one can be caught off-guard! It is imperative that when moving the stance-steps the heart remains unmoved, when moving the body the Qi remains unmoved. Then the heart will be calm and the stance-steps solid, the Qi can be calm and the body stable. Then the Jingshen can soar and change and transform. Therefore, once stillness is understood as stillness; [then] motion is also stillness. Once motion is understood, as motion, [then] stillness is also motion. Stillness is used in motion, not motion in stillness. In the transported spirit, the spirit is slow and the vision is fast, and the heart is slow and the hand is fast, and Qi is slow and the step is fast. Generally, it is necessary to be fast externally and to be slow internally, and to be gentle (yielding) internally and to be firm externally. This is the mystery in theory and practice. Firmness that comes from yielding, is true firmness. Speed that comes from slowness is true speed. Its mystery can not be understood through the external form. [23]

The idea of yielding (supple) and firm is also understood through exploring the concept of Song Jin. Song (松) can refer to a pine tree, but it also means to loosen or slacken, let go, or relax. The Nei Gong Zhen Chuan says: Jin must loose (Song) yet taut. At first the Jin must be slack, which can be followed by tightness. Only with slackness as the pivot can tightness reach its fullness. Therefore, the slack gives rise to the taut, the taut cannot become slack. [24] Song implies slack yet resilient, like a slackened rope that can tighten again, or hair that was bound up that has been let down. In Chinese martial arts a favorite example of Song is a pine tree with snow on its branches. The branches hang under the weight of the snow but retain an inner resilience. When the snow falls or is brushed off the branches spring back. A more modern take on this is that:

The slow-motion and deliberative Fang Song (Relaxing Loosening) methodology works to rein in the dominant muscle actions, and allows the inner muscles to fire more so that the internal and axial movements can better align and balance in the actions. This induces more optimal muscle activations at higher levels, which leads to more coherent bioenergy. The higher activation levels of the muscles are often experienced as a surge of heat in practice, registered as qi. The body learns to associate the elevated qi energy as a biomarker of better balance and alignment of muscle actions. This association in time grows the Qi as a more defining marker to regulate motion of inner balance. [25]

Statements like these lead to many questions:

1. How does  Song Jin play a role in fascial training?

2. What about other types of Jin that are trained in internal martial arts – how do they relate to fascial training? 

  • Visible Jin (明劲 Ming Jin): First firm and afterward yielding.
  • Hidden Jin (暗劲 An Jin): First it yields and then it is firm.
  • Elastic Jin (弹劲 DanJin) Jin accumulates and gathers like holding down (coiling) a spring.  Borrowing power and releasing Jin is like a slingshot.
  • Shaking Jin (抖劲 Dou Jin): Dou Jin occurs in an instant,  like a horse shaking off a fly.
  • Extending Jin (挣劲 Zheng Jin): Zheng Jin stretches left and right, moving outward in opposite directions. Zheng Jin is firm and quick.
  • Drilling Jin (钻 劲Zuan Jin):  Spiral rotation is drilling. It is like twisting silk around a nail. Zuan Jin is yielding at the start and then becomes firm.
  • Rotating Jin (旋劲 Xuan Jin): Circular, elastic and spiraling.  Xuan Jin is quick, firm and steady, like a revolving wheel.
  • Transforming Jin (化劲 Hua Jin): Hua Jin is like a ball floating in the air. Outside Hua Jin is yielding and restrained, receiving power by rotating. Inside, it contains spiraling and turning. Hua Jin yields, sticks, sinks and is firm
  • Wrapping Jin (裹劲 Guo Jin): Winding like a snake, Jin enters the center. The eight directions unite and concentrate. Guo Jin is heavy (sinking) and stable. [26]

3. How does mind-intention and the cultivation of intention-no-intention (Yi Bu Yi) affect the fascial system and its ability to perceive and respond to stimuli?

4. Vis-a-vis the fascial system, why is Zhan Zhuang (standing) considered the paramount training in arts like Xing Yi Quan? What is the effect of standing on the fascial system and the development of strength and power?

5. Does the inner sensing cultivated in Zhan Zhuang create subtle and profound changes in the fascial network?

6. If bouncing elastic movements train the fascia, how does moving incredibly slowly, as in exercises like Tu Na Si Ba, or the slow practice of Tai Qi Quan, develop speed and elastic power?

7. In the internal arts, we often say there are three kinds of breathing – normal Dantian breathing (deep abdominal breathing), Reverse breathing and “Fetal” (“Pore” or “Whole Body”) breathing. How do different kinds of respiration affect the fascial system and stretching?

8. Do different breathing methods create different tensions in the fascial system by changing the intra-abdominal pressure? Do these methods of breathing create pressure changes and tensile changes within the Upper and Middle Dantian (thorax and cranium)?

9. The Piezo-electric and Bio-magnetic phenomena in fascia and the body have yet to be fully explored. Studies in Japan have showed that practitioners of health, martial arts practitioners, Qi Gong practitioners etc. were able to emit strong electromagnetic fields from their hands (1,000 times stronger that the normal human biomagnetic fields). These fields were measurable with a simple coil magnetometer.[27] What is the role of bio-magnetic fields in fascial training and the internal martial arts?

10. Brain activity of “healers” from a variety of subcultures was studied by Robert Beck. Using an EEG, Beck noticed that they all had similar brain wave patterns when in “their altered state.” Beck also found that the brain waves phase and frequency synchronized to the electric field of the earth. [28] Researcher James Oscherman connects many of these studies with the following statement: We can speculate that these practices have in common and alteration of the connective tissue/cytoskeleton or tissue-tensegrity matrix system that enables individuals to synchronize or entrain their biomagnetic fields with their brain waves and the Schumann resonance in the Earth’s atmosphere. The result may be a whole-body collective oscillation, possibly driven by the higher frequency Frohlich oscillations involving virtually all of the billions of collagen molecules in the body, and, possibly, the water molecules associated with this quasi-crystalline array. [29] This research leads to whole host of questions!!

11. What is the role of water and fluids in tendon strength and fascial training? Recent studies have indicated that liquid crystalline aligned with collagen fibers in fascia may act like a super-conductor. Ho Mae-Wan has suggested that water confined in the small nanotubes within the fascia, being far more ordered, could be superconducting, because jump conduction could occur simultaneously down multiple chains of hydrogen-bonded water molecules. Superconductors are also able to maintain a current with no applied voltage whatsoever. Experiments have demonstrated that currents in superconducting coils can persist for years without any measurable degradation. Later, Gary Fullerton and colleagues at Texas University offered a convincing model of liquid crystalline nanotubes of water interwoven with the triple-helix molecules of collagen molecules in the collagen fibers. [30]


In closing, it is useful to return to the Nei Jia concept of power, strength and the inter-connectedness of the human body. What is often forgotten in scientific studies and models is the importance of mind and spirit in cultivating strength and power (Jin-Li).

Zhao Da Yuan, a master of Ba Gua Zhang and Qin Na, lists 6 Necessities (6 Musts) for gathering and releasing power:

  1. Shen is concentrated; Heart-Mind is calm.
  2. Gather Qi, loosen and sink.
  3. Firmly embrace Dantian.
  4. Use Intention (Yi) to lead Qi, and use Qi to urge.
  5. Each section urges the other, in order to release from the tips.
  6. Zheng Jin (Whole Jin) is integrated.

Master Zhao goes on to detail the three-step training method for developing power and fascial strength:

  1. Zhan Zhuang: Quietly holding a posture for a period of time in order to experience the body as an integrated organic entity. When one is still, the whole body is still. When one moves, the whole body moves. At the same time, Jing Shen is conserved internally and Qi is guided by the intention so that Dantian can gather and release.
  2. Coiling and Releasing: This means to train and test structure (posture), and refers to practicing the forms and movements with intention and spirit, and training the body to release whole body force (Fa Li). Qi and blood must circulate smoothly. One must employ Intention, and not use forced power, which leads to clumsy strength. This requires employing the understanding of Jin Li developed in Zhan Zhuang training.
  3. Drills and Application Oriented Exercises with a Partner: Developing the ability to change according to the changing situation, so that the Jin-Li is continuous, circular and alive.

Lastly, Master Zhao tells us that Jin-Li must have five important qualities:

  1. Zheng (Whole, Integrated): The various forces distributed throughout the body must integrate and consolidate into one. This is likened to the Earth Element.
  2. Tou (Penetrating): Having the intention of piercing through – Intention, Qi, vision and Jin Li must all “pierce through.” This is likened to the Metal Element.
  3. Yuan (Round): Every part of the body is round and curved. The body spirals, rotates and rolls, like a floating ball. This is likened to the Fire – like a Wind stirred by Fire.
  4. Huo (Lively): The body is loose and unblocked. The Qi is like floating clouds and the internal Qi and Jin, flow and change according to the situation. This is likened to Water adapting its shape to the form.
  5. Qiao (Clever, Skillful): Skillfully changing and transforming. One thing generates ten thousand things, all of which connect and respond to each other. This is likened to Wood, generating ten thousand branches and leaves. [31]


Read Part 1 of this article here

Read Part 2 of this article here

Read Part 3 of this article here

Read Part 4 of this article here

Read Part 5 of this article here



[21]拳意述真Authentic Explanations of Martila Arts Concept. Sun Fu Quan [Su Lu Tang]. March, 1924. Translation by Paul Brennan:

[22] Gang刚; Rou柔; Dong动; Jing

[23] Nei Gong: The Authentic Classic – A Translation of the Nei Gong Zhen Chuan, Tom Bisio, Huang Guo Qi and Joashua Paynter (trans). (Denver: Outskirts Press, 2011) p. 75.

[24] Ibid, p. 9.

[25] “A Scientific Perspective of Neijin (Internal Strength)” C.P. Ong* (International Journal of Complimentary and Alternative Medicine, Volume 5 Issue 3 – 2017)

[26] Practical Qin Na Part 2:Foundational Training, Techniques and Methods. Zhao Da Yuan, translated by Huang Guo Qi and Tom Bisio (Outskirts Press Inc, 2016) p.27-29.

[27] “Detection of Extraordinary Large Bio-Magnetic Field Strength from the Human Hand” A.C. Seto, S. Kusaka, et als. (Acupuncture and Electro-Therapeutics Research International Journal 1992) 17: 75-94.

[28] “Mood Modification with ELF Magnetic Fields: A preliminary Exploration” Archaeus 4:48 and A Biophysical Basis for Acupuncture. James Oschman Ph.D (Dover NH: Nature’s Own Research Association, 1993) p. 49-50

[29] A Biophysical Basis for Acupuncture. James Oschman Ph.D (Dover NH: Nature’s Own Research Association, 1993) p. 50.

[30] “Super-Conducting Liquid Crystalline Water Aligned with Collagen Fibres in the Fascia as Acupuncture Meridians of Traditional Chinese Medicine” Ho Mae-Wan. Forum on Imuunopathological Diseases and Therapeutics – January 2012.

[31] Practical Qin Na Part 1: Explanation of the Qin Na Nine Heaven Secret Text. Zhao Da Yuan, translated by Huang Guo Qi and Tom Bisio (Outskirts Press Inc, 2015) p. 270-277.


The Practice of San Ti Shi in Xing Yi Quan: Part 2

Liu Wen Hua: Eight Key Points for San Ti Shi

When holding San Ti Shi, one initially mentally reviews the Eight Necessities in order to train the form and the Qi correctly. Liu Wen Hua then summarizes the most important requirements for correct standing. These eight requirements for San Ti Shi are easy to remember and connect with the Eight Necessities and the Eight Word Song.

  1. The Head Presses Up
  2. Erect the Neck
  3. Drop (Hang) the Shoulders
  4. The Kua Embrace
  5. The Forearms Wrap the Elbow
  6. Lift the Knee
  7. Lift the Anus
  8. The Hand Hearts Draw Inward


1. The Head Presses Up  頭頂 (Tou Ding)

Tou: head; hair; top end

Ding: top; carry on the head; gore or butt; push from below

2. Erect the Neck 項竪 (Xiang Shu)

Xiang refers to the nape of the neck

Shu: vertical; perpendicular; upright

Because erecting the neck forcefully can cause unwanted tension which blocks Qi, many boxers describes this as imagining the nape of your neck touches an imaginary collar. When the neck is vertical or Ting, (erecting upward), then the head is correctly lifted (Ding), and Jing Qi penetrated upward.

3. Drop (Hang) the Shoulders 肩垂 (Jian Chui)

Chui: hang down; droop; let fall

The shoulders are part of the Three Drops or Three Droops (San Chui)

  1. Qi Chui
  2. Shoulders Chui
  3. Elbows Chui

When Qi Chui, then it descends to Dantian and the body is stable. When the shoulders Chui, then the arms are long and lively and the shoulders can push the elbows.When the elbows Chui, then the forearms will naturally drop and protect the ribs.

4. The Kua Embrace 抱胯 (Bao Kua)

Bao: embrace; wrap

Kua: refers to the inguinal area in the front of the pelvis and all the internal and external structures in that area, including blood, Qi and fluids passing through the area.

When the Kua embrace, the Three Embraces (San Bao 三抱) naturally engage

  1. Dantian Bao
  2. Heart Qi Bao
  3. Ribs Bao

The Dantian embraces Qi. When the Heart Qi is Bao, then one does not panic in adverse situations or upon meeting an opponent. This is sometimes described as(胸拔背Han Xiong Ba Bei):Contain (hold in) the chest; draw up the back” Containing in the chest is gentle, like holding something in your mouth. Embracing with the ribs allows the ribs to freely open and close. The Nei Gong Zhen Chuan says that the ribs are like a “fish gill.” They open and close so Qi can ascend and descend. When they [the ribs] are closed, Qi goes to assist the Dantian downward and the two kidneys backward. Once they open, like thunder coming to the ground and flying into the sky, Qi can flow upward automatically. [7]

5. The Forearms Wrap the Elbow 前膊裹肘 (Qian Bo Guo Zhou)

Guo: bind; wrap; bundle

This is related to three Curves or Bends (San Qu三曲):

  1. Forearms are Qu
  2. Knees are Qu
  3. Wrists are Qu

The three bends allow the Jin-Li of the body to be substantial and integrated

 6. Lift the Knee 提膝 (Ti Xi)

Ti: lift; raise; promote; put forward – in this case it means that although the knees are externally bent, internally they have a quality of extending upward. This also relates to the San Ting(三挺), the three Erects or Uprights

  1. The Neck is Ting
  2. The Yao is Ting
  3. The Knees are Ting

When the knees are Ting, then the Qi will be harmonious and the spirit confortable and smooth, like a tree creating roots. When the Yao is Ting, strength will reach the four extremities and Qi will swell through the whole body.

 7. Lift the Anus 提肛 (Ti Gang)

This connects with “Upholding Internally” – one of the eight Necessities. If the tongue props up the roof of the mouth, if the head and neck are erect ad if the tail sinks downward so the buttocks are smooth, then lifting or gathering the anus occurs almost automatically, without muscular effort or internal tension.

 8. The Hand Hearts Draw Inward  手心回縮 (Shou Xin Hui Suo)

Shou: hand

Xin: heart; center

Shou Xin: can refer to the palm cetner or “Palm Heart”

Hui: return; come back; circle; wind

Suo: contract; shrink; withdraw

This is relates to the Three Roudnings (San Yuan三圆):

  1. Back is Yuan
  2. Chest is Yuan
  3. Hu Kou is Yuan

When the back is Yuan power pushes from the body, the Sacral Gate (Wei Lu) is aligned, and Jing and Qi to pnenetrate and go upward to transform inot Shen. When the Chest is Yuan, the strength of the two elbows is full, the heart is calm and respiration is smooth. Rounding the back and chest help Hu Kou to be naturally round. This creates a feeling of the palm center turning back and drawing inward, so that the hands and fingers have an extending and embracing power.

Practicing San Ti Shi

The word Shi (式) in San Ti Shi Shi means posture or pattern. Thinking of the Sat Ti Shi as a pattern of interconnected and interacting body alignments is more useful than thinking of standing in San Ti Shi as merely an external posture that is held for period of time. Understanding San Ti Shi Shi as a “body pattern” is a great aids you in performing San Ti Shi Shi correctly. The “Pattern,” in the context of Xing Yi Quan, includes an interweaving of the external body alignments, the internal “alignments of the organs, the intention, Qi, Jin and Spirit. These alignments are described by the Right Necessities, and the Eight Word Song. Once body pattern is understood it can be monitored without conscious effort.

Holding a fixed posture builds strength and develops unified whole-body power. However it also teaches one to embrace inner stillness and feel the stirrings of movement with the stillness. Typically Xing Yi teachers advise students to stand in San Ti Shi for one hour. This teaches the body to relax and the Heart-Mind to sense inside. Once you can hold the pattern and walk for period of time without discomfort, you can engage with you can engage with what is happening inside.

San Ti Shi should be performed in a natural posture that is not to long or wide. The weight should be almost even between the two feet. Mai Ming Chun, a disciple of Master Li Gui Chang quotes Master Li’s remarks on San Ti Shi:

San Ti, was also called San Cai in the ancient times. San Ti refers to the heaven, earth and human beings. In Xing Yi Quan, it refers to the upper, middle and lower Dantian areas, and refers to the head, hand and foot externally. Before, many people training Xing Yi Quan injured their legs. This is a fact. The reason is that they did not stand in San Ti correctly. There are basically two reasons: In practicing San Ti, one must practice standing for a long time – from 6 months to three years. Many people stood in San Ti without inquiring about its principle, just standing there with strength. The second reason is that most people stand in thirty percent and seventy percent weighting. People do not understand that the thirty percent and seventy percent weighting is a single weighting method, a method for practical application of the attacking and defending techniques. It should not be adopted in the beginning of training. In the beginning, it is necessary to stand in a balanced position with a slightly bigger step, namely, equal strength in both legs and the same sensation in both soles. The purpose of this is to train the balance of the body and the balance of internal qi and blood. Without balance of qi and blood, there will be no health. If there is no balance in the body, how could it be possible to change? Therefore, it is necessary to seek balance before looking for changes. Balance is necessary for there to be single weighting. Then success will be possible with single weighting. [8]

It is interesting to note that all the Masters pictured in both parts of this article strand in a balanced and relaxed posture.

Xing Yi Master Song Zhi Yong, a disciple of Master Li Gui Chang, advises one to stand and merely sense. His advice: don’t think about sinking Qi to Dantian; don’t think about power; just sense what is actually happening inside. When I asked Master Song how to improve in Pushing Hands practice, he advised me to practice more San Ti Shi and embrace inner listening and inner sensing while standing. Robert Smith, author of Hsing –I: Chinese Mind-Body Boxing, expands on this idea:

The internal requires quiet, stillness. But this stillness is not simply the absence of sound. It is a total presence or attentiveness, which must be part of the discipline if excellence is to emerge. I believe that the silences a man must live with in training in the internal themselves produce part of the skill that ultimately comes. When the silence releases its new energy, a quiet mind is produced, and when this happens the whole being becomes truly active. [9]

When standing the body is apparently still externally, but internally there is motion. Once stillness is understood as stillness; then motion is also stillness. Once motion is understood as motion. Then stillness is also motion. [10] From stillness one can understand motion. Once motion is understood then one can perceive stillness within movement. This may seem abstract, but the experience of a student who practiced Zhan Zhuang (Standing) can aid understanding. He had previously practiced Aiki and Jiujitsu. After practicing Zhan Zhuang for 6 months he returned to practicing grappling with some friends. They were amazed that he seemed to know what they were going to do before they did it. He explained that by understanding what was his own internal movement, he then knew what was not his own internal movement, but came from outside. He could then detect the very beginnings of their movements and changes – the intention of moving before it became manifest.

Master Sun Lu Tang equates San Ti Shi with the Qi of emptiness. The One Qi arises from emptiness and Yin and Yang are produced from the One Qi. Yin and Yang combine to become the San Cai, the Trinity of Heaven, Earth and Human Beings. Heaven and Earth are the root, while Yin and Yang (within us) are the ancestors. Their interaction and harmony create the Golden Pill (Jin Dan 金丹), the Daoist Pill of immortality. The Golden Pill is a metaphor for the inner transformation that occurs through the practice of Xing Yi Quan – particularly San Ti Shi and Pi Quan (Splitting Fist). The Golden Pill corresponds with Nei Jin (internal strength) in Xing Yi Quan. The changes of Yin and Yang produce internal strength and skill in Xing Yi Quan. Pi Quan is the one Qi. Circulating Qi through the practice of Pi Quan (and San Ti Shi) allows things to come into being and to transform. The One Qi of Pi Quan generates all the other energies and forms in Xing Yi. [11]

Master Cheng Qun Gong a disciple of Li Gui Chang elaborates on movement within stillness:

Thus, after training Zhan Zhuang for some time, changes will take place in the body, naturally giving birth to some phenomena. Master Li described: ‘In winter, the insects drill into the ground like they are dead, and when the spring comes and vitality rises in the ground, the insects will live again. In the Zhan Zhuang posture, [we] want to stand so that this vitality arises, like the insects recovering and revitalizing, so that the body possesses refined strength.Master Li also said: ‘[After training] Zhan Zhuang for a while, naturally (one) cultivates and senses a flowing sensation, smooth and unhindered in some areas of the body and unusual in some areas. Then gradually [you] turn and shift or perhaps tremble and shake, until the whole body is smooth and unobstructed. In this way the outside body form regulates the internal (intrinsic) functions.’ Master Li described that in Zhan Zhuang, this phenomenon occurs naturally and spontaneously in the body, and this insect-creeping and flowing sensation is instinctive, not produced by imagination. In Zhan Zhuang, [one] must to stand so that the creeping, sensation comes naturally. It is only natural that the initial period of Zhan Zhuang is painful and arduous. The type of suffering varies from person to person. Older people feel more pain and those in young age feel less pain – more painful if the muscles appear obvious [12] and less painful if the muscles are not obvious. But, this pain will decrease gradually and is periodical. After going through this period, (you) will feel comfortable, and then (you) have a beginning and finally (you) will enjoy Zhan Zhuang a great deal and will walk lightly and freely.

Master Li said: ‘In Zhan Zhuang there is one important point, often tremble and shake the whole body. It is said that bears in hibernation in the winter, will spontaneously shake and tremble all over every few days. Otherwise, the body is stagnant and does not move, and a problem will occur. Similarly, why are [you] unable to maintain (hold) the standing posture? It is precisely because this shaking is lacking. By shaking the body delicately and slightly, (you) can enjoy the standing gong and nourish life. [13] In fact, when issuing force [14] during a martial contest, it is also this type of shaking.’ The truth of this ‘shaking’ is to relax your body, when any problem occurs during in Zhan Zhuang. [15]

After standing in San Ti Shi, Li Gui Chang’s disciples advocate taking a stroll for 5-10 minutes. Walking helps the body to relax and harmonize It is the “final settling” [16] that completes and integrates the practice. Walk briskly, moving from Ming men. Do not talk, just sense inside the body.

Liu Wen Hua sums up by saying that one must train diligently so that the tendons and bones have ample Qi and blood both internally and externally. Then they become strong. Qi and power share the same root. If Qi is sufficient, strength can manifest. In talking about the relationship between the power and posture, it is said that one must first seek to have sufficient Qi in order to train the posture and that you must also pay attention to the posture in training Qi, for both Qi and posture are inter-dependent. The difference is that posture is shown externally and can be seen and Qi flows deeply and internally and cannot be observed. Thus students who pay attention [only] to the postures neglect the flow of Qi. [17]

Training this way creates an ever-changing adaptive ability that allows for fluid application in accordance with the actual circumstances. Liu then goes on to say that one must train diligently, rather than sitting in meditation praying to the immortals. [18]


[7] Nei Gong: The Authentic Classic – A translation of the Nei Gong Zhen Chuan. Tom Bisio, Huang Guo Qi and Joshua Paynter – trans. (Denver: Outskirts Press, 2011) p. . 57.

[8] My Apprenticeship with Li Gui Chang. Mao Ming Chu. Translated by Huang Guo-Qi.

[9] Hsing –I: Chinese Mind-Body Boxing. Robert Smith (Tokyo and New York: Kodansha International, 1974) p. 22.

[10] Nei Gong: The Authentic Classic – A translation of the Nei Gong Zhen Chuan. p. 75.

[11] A Study of Xing Yi Boxing (形意拳学). Sun Lu Tang (Sun Fu Quan), May 1915

[12] Are well-defined

[13] 养生Yang Sheng: “nourishing life.” A term used to refer to many types of Nei Gong and Qi Gong practices. The implication is that these practices help to improve health and prolong life.

[14] 发力 Fa Li: literally “emitting strength” or “issuing force.” Often used interchangeably with Fa Jin 发劲

[15]Master Chen Quan Gong on Xing Yi Quan Theory and Training – Part 2 (Posted on November 22, 2016)

[16] 归宿 Gui Su: “returning home”; “ final settling.”

[17] Detailed Collection of the Art of Xing Yi Quan. Liu Wen Hua, (October, 1920). Translated by Tom Bisio and Huang Guo Qi (New York Internal Arts & Internal Arts International © 2013

[18] Ibid.



“Tendon Strength”, Fascia, the Sinew Channels & Internal Martial Arts – Part 5

During the publication of the first four parts of this series of articles on fascia, several people wrote to me asking about treatment of chronic soft tissue injuries. The ensuing discussions prompted me to write a followup about how and why Chinese medicine and its related Qi Gong and Gong Fu elements might be the primary choice for treating chronic soft tissue injuries.

Read Part 1 of this article here

Read Part 2 of this article here

Read Part 3 of this article here

Read Part 4 of this article here


Dr. Helen Langevin and her colleagues have conducted numerous studies on the possible mechanisms for the affects of acupuncture on the fascial system. These findings suggest that the location of acupuncture points, determined empirically by the ancient Chinese, was based on palpation of discrete locations, or “holes”, where the needle can access greater amounts of connective tissue. [1] An acupuncture needle inserted into dissected rat subcutaneous tissue reveals that a visible “whorl” of tissue can be produced with as little as one turn of the needle. When the needle is placed flat onto the subcutaneous tissue surface and then rotated, the tissue tends to adhere to and follow the rotating needle for 180 degrees, at which point the tissue adheres to itself and further rotation results in formation of a whorl. [2]

This winding creates a mechanism in which there is increased friction between the tissue and needle, creating a strong mechanical coupling of the tissue and the needle. The significance of this is that during manipulation there may be a pulling on collagen fibers, resulting in deformation of extracellular connective tissue matrix, which then creates a wide variety of effects “downstream” from the needle. These effects include cell contraction, gene expression, secretion of paracrine or autocrine factors, and neuromodulation of afferent sensory input. Also these effects may be prolonged, which could explain the ability of acupuncture to stimulate therapeutic effects lasting days, weeks or even much longer. [3]

Consistent with these findings is an electron microscopy study of debris found on acupuncture needles after insertion, manipulation, and removal in humans, which revealed that elastic and collagen fibers were entwined around the needle. Together, these observations support the hypothesis that connective tissue winds around the needle during needle rotation. [4]

Studies on cellular changes during acupuncture suggest that a mechanical signal is created by acupuncture needle manipulation and that this signal can induce intracellular cytoskeletal rearrangements in fibroblasts and possibly in other cells present within connective tissue, such as capillary endothelial cells. Cytoskeletal reorganization in response to mechanical load signals has been shown to induce cell contraction, migration, and protein synthesis. Other powerful effects also seem to occur. [5] During needle manipulation, the fibroblasts that manufacture connective tissue and dictate how collagen is secreted change shape. As the tissue stretches, the fibroblasts expand. As they expand, the fibroblasts release molecules including ATP into tissue, which may have a role in signaling within the tissue. [6]

Acupuncture needle manipulation can then cause a wide variety of sensory mechanoreceptors and/or nociceptors (pain receptors are nociceptors). The importance of this effect is that 1) connective tissue matrix deformation may not be restricted to the area of the needle, but may spread along interstitial connective tissue planes; 2) a wave of sensory receptor activation occurring over seconds to minutes may simultaneously follow the mechanical signal away from the needle site; 3) a second wave of cellular activation followed by altered gene expression, protein synthesis, and extracellular matrix modification, may ensue after a certain time delay and last hours to days; and 4) subsequent stimulation of these connective tissue sensory receptors by body movement may be modulated by this sequence of events. [7]

My own experiences with acupuncture over 30 years of practice and teaching is that acupuncture can produce remarkably quick changes in the tissue and in body function. Acupuncturists who needle appropriate points often achieve rapid results. A few examples of this that regularly happen in a clinical setting are:

  • An irregular heartbeat returning to normal within a minute.
  • Constipation for several days or even weeks relieved during a single treatment. The person gets up off the table and has to go to the bathroom.
  • Sprained ankles blown up like a softball that slowly reduce before everyone’s eyes over 10 minutes.
  • Needling through sheets of fascia or across planes of fascia that are spasmed and the tissue quickly relaxes and falls back into place.
  • Needling though an ankle from GB 40 to KID 6 (with the ankle under traction to release the interosseous talocalcaneal ligament) and the ankle falls back into alignment with a very gentle Zheng Gu (“Correct the Bone”) technique.
  • Needling through the interosseous membrane of the lower leg allows a spiral fracture of the tibia to virtually realign itself.

These are not extraordinary occurrences. They occur with some regularity in clinical practice.

Interestingly, modern research on meridians and acu-points shows that meridians and points are generally located are between two muscles in the grooves, the connective tissue planes, that separate the muscles. The likelihood of an acupuncture needle getting deeper into the soft tissue is greater at these locations. These findings suggest that the location of acupuncture points, determined empirically by the ancient Chinese, was based on palpation of discrete locations or “holes” where the needle can access greater amounts of connective tissue.[8]

We have found that needling across planes of fascia, or in the grooves of muscles, consistently relaxes the tissues the needle passes through. This does not just happen locally in the exact pathway of fibers touched by the needle, but can propagate outward from the needle or well past the tip of the needle. Needling through planes of fascia may be done by following the direction of the fascia, as in needling the Bonesetter’s Hua Tuo Jia Ji Line (outside of the normal Hua Tuo Jia Ji line where the rib heads articulate with the transverse process of the vertebrae), or across planes of fascia, as in needling in a curve around the neck beginning at the Bai Lao points of the neck.

Interesting new research into soft-tissue injuries shows that when there is an injury, an inflammatory response begins in the connective tissue. Fibroblasts attract inflammatory cells to heal the injury (this also happens with cuts and wounds). An inflammatory program is released which heals the wound, and rebuilds the collagen and connective tissue. However, if inflammatory cells stay in the tissue – a situation in which there is chronic inflammation – the fibroblasts secrete more and more tissue and then the injured area can become fibrotic. Helene Langevin relates that ultrasound studies of people with chronic low back pain show that connective tissue in the back is thicker and less mobile than normal connective tissue. [9]

Acupuncture is one treatment of choice in chronic injuries due to its ability to go into and release tissue bind, fibrotic tissue and even scar tissue adhesions, as well as relax and align ligaments, tendons and muscles. Probably some of this is due to the fact that channels and collaterals follow the planes of the fascia and connective tissue, and due to the connection between the Sinew Channels (Tendino-Muscular Meridian) and the fascia.

Tui Na and External Herbal Therapy

Tui Na hand techniques and manipulations provide many ways of modulating the tissue – bones, muscle, joint, tendons, ligaments, connective. Each hand technique sends a different “wave” into the body that penetrates to different depths, and affects the humors and substrates of the tissue differently. For example, Pinching (Qian Fa) lifts the soft tissue away from the bone, slowing it to enter the relatively empty space. Then the tissue is dropped, pushing Qi and blood forward toward the next segment of soft tissue. Pushing (Tui Fa), on the other hand, drives a wave of Qi, blood and body fluids through the soft tissue, while Rolling (Gun Fa), sends a rolling wave through muscle and connective tissue. These techniques are part of protocols for fibrotic tissue that is chronically “inflamed.” Some hand techniques like pushing are also designed to realign fibers or packets of fibers within the muscles and fascia.

Zheng Gu (Chinese Bone Setting) techniques realign muscle, bone and sinew. This realigning opens the channels and collaterals. It is not uncommon for Zheng Gu to immediately create large improvement in chronic injuries. An example is a “knee” injury that turned out to be a misalignment of the Quadriceps muscle. A simple acupuncture treatment followed by a manipulation of the knee restored the muscle to its normal track. Similarly, many people suffer from chronic hip pain that is due to a simple misalignment of the hip. This affects their gait and causes chronic pain. In many of these cases, adjusting the hip breaks adhesions and restores the soft tissue to normal alignment and functioning.

Many of the externally applied poultices and plasters, soaks ointments, and liniments used in Chinese medicine also restore normal circulation, and prevent the build up of inflammatory by-products which interfere with normal circulation leading to the production of granulations in the tissue and thickened fibrous tissue. These externally applied herbal medicines are easy to use, and in conjunction with acupuncture, Tui Na and Zhen Gu methods can help return injured connective tissue to its normal pliable elastic state. One particularly interesting external therapy is called ironing therapy – herbs cooked and placed in a soft bag, sometimes with heated “iron sand”, and the tissues are the ironed with the bag. This allows the herbal ingredients, which improve local circulation and relax spasm and binding, to penetrate into local tissues, while the action of ironing simultaneously aligns and literally “irons out” anomalies in the fascia.

Zang Fu Tui Na (Organ Regulating Tu Na) is another method of treatment that works indirectly with the fascia that suspends and wraps the internal organs. The facial chains that connect and suspend the organs also connect to the joints, tendons, ligaments and muscles. These tissues have global effects on the body. The liver and pericardial sac connect with the neck, and are often part of a pattern of chronic neck pain. Similarly, fascial binds in the liver’s suspensory system are commonly involved with right shoulder pain. With Zang Fu Tui Na, “unwinding” fascial binds in the tissues that suspend the pericardium or liver can be a key factor in changing neck and shoulder patterns in which the soft tissue is bound and rigid. These ideas tie in with the concept of tensegrity. A misalignment or abnormal tension in one part of the structure affects the whole structure. Therefore, releasing the tension or misalignment in one area can produce observable global effects.

Fascia And “Tissue Memory”

Some bodywork practitioners have proposed the idea that memory is stored in soft tissue – in the fascia. It is common in clinical practice to see a ”bad knee” that can never quite “remember” its orientation and function from when the knee was normal. The knee improves with treatment, but it never becomes like the “good knee”, even when there is little significant organic damage.

According to the tensegrity model, the whole body is a three-dimensional viscoelastic matrix, balanced by an integrated system of compression-tensional forces in dynamic equilibrium. Studies have also shown that fascia seems to have both the properties of a sol-liquid conductor and a crystalline structure. This means that fascia seems to have the properties in common with a crystal generator system, due to the polarity within in its molecular structure. Hence the ability of fascia to generate piezoelectricity and conduct direct currents, as well as vibrations. The orderly arrangement of collagen fibers in a crystalline arrays system produces oscillations that can move rapidly throughout the living matrix. [10]

Mechanical forces acting upon the internal and/or external environment, such as in postures, movements and strains, dictate the sites where collagen is deposited. Thus, a “tensional memory” is created in a particular connective tissue architecture formed by oriented collagen fibres. T this ability seems to be present not only in the collagen network but also in elastin fibres and in various cells throughout the connective tissue: fibroblasts, mast cells, plasma cells, and fat cells. Since these are relatively durable and long-lasting cells, they may represent a kind of “long-term memory” of the ground substance. [11]

Therefore, it can be proposed that manually releasing fascial tensions and binds through vibration, massage, acupuncture, etc. may stimulate fascial mechanoreceptors that send signals throughout this unified matrix, creating effects on many levels, electrical, mechanical, neurological and chemical. Exercise, stretching and “internal exercises”, like those practiced in internal martial arts, may also modify and change “memories” stored in the fascia.


Most people would agree with the idea that stretching helps reduce the possibility of injury, and that regular stretching can reduce pain and stiffness. The questions that are increasingly being asked about stretching are: What kind of Stretching? How often? Before or after other exercise or sports activities?

There is increasing evidence and agreement that stretching before running or athletic activities is not only not helpful but may be harmful. Dr. Ian Shrier conducted a systemic review of 24 studies on stretching. His conclusion:

There are many different ways to stretch. Static stretching was used in most of the studies, but the effects were observed with PNF stretching as well. Dynamic stretching is a combination of both stretching and warm-up (i.e., muscle is contracting). This review found that the effects were consistent across different modes of stretching for isometric force, isokinetic torque, and jump height. Although different modes of stretching in running produced conflicting results, another methodological difference was the duration of stretch, with the longer stretch producing worse results. 24 studies. [12]

Increasingly, current fascial research seems to indicate that “Dynamic Stretching“, or “bouncing stretches”, the staple of warm-up exercises many years ago, may more effectively train the fascia than the slow static methods of stretching that are often advocated.

Although stretching immediately before competition can be counterproductive, it seems that long-term and regular use of such dynamic stretching can positively influence the architecture of the connective tissue in that it becomes more elastic when correctly performed. Indeed, when practiced regularly, static as well as dynamic stretching have shown to yield long term improvements in force, jump height, and speed. [13]

A study on stretching compared three approaches to stretching: 1) Static stretching of the quadriceps muscle; 2) PNF Stretching of the quadriceps – briefly contracting the muscle against resistance and then stretching it and 3) Dynamic Stretching, consisting of a “butt-kick” exercise, which involved standing in place while individually bringing the heel of each foot toward the buttocks in a repetitive and alternating fashion. The percentage increases in knee extensor power showed that the dynamic stretching protocol resulted in significantly larger percentage increases than for either of the other protocols or the controls.

The authors of this study speculate that neuromuscular phenomena elicited from a dynamic stretch – post-activation potentiation following the contractile force and increased neural activity in spinal dorsal roots after muscular contractions (Post-Activation Sensory Discharge) may lead to a more rapid and forceful response from the muscle being activated. [14]

Schleip and Mueller point out that different stretching styles seem to reach different fascial tissue components. Classic weight stretches strengthen the fascial tissues that are arranged in series with the active muscle fibres, while also stretching and stimulating the transverse fibres that go across the muscular envelope, but there is little effect on extra-muscular fasciae or intra-muscular fascial fibres that are arranged in parallel to the active muscle fibres.

In contrast, classic Hatha Yoga stretches, have little effect on those fascial tissues, which are arranged in series with the muscle fibres. However they do seem to stimulate the extra-muscular fasciae and the intra-muscular fasciae oriented in parallel to the muscle fibers. Dynamic muscular loading patterns, in which the muscle is briefly activated in its lengthened position (Cyclical Loading), promises to be the most comprehensive way of stimulating fascial tissues. With this type of training, increase in collagen production is produced by even a few repetitions. [15]

In an interesting study on the effect of stretching on soft tissue inflammation in rats, it was found that induced connective tissue inflammation in the rat characterized by macrophage infiltration, increased local mechanical sensitivity as well as impaired gait. With the stretching technique used in this study, the animal was partially suspended by the tail, the animals were pulled slowly backwards as they grabbed onto the edge of the table with their front paws. This encouraged the rats to stretch the full length of their body, holding a position of stretch that was slightly beyond its usual range of motion. The rats underwent ultrasound imaging and analysis and histology and macrophage testing.

The altered gait, increased local mechanical sensitivity and macrophage infiltration of connective tissues were all ameliorated by stretching the tissues. Inflammation markers were reduced through stretching. [16] The authors stress that:

the rodent model of “active” stretching was not intended to simulate a clinical stretching treatment that can be directly applied to humans. For example, the duration of stretching in the study (10 minutes) is longer than typically used in physical therapy or yoga. It will therefore be important in further studies to determine the shortest duration of stretching that can have pro-resolution effects. On the other hand, the position adopted by the rats during active stretching, with pulling of the thoracolumbar fascia resulting from simultaneous extension of fore and hind-limbs, is remarkably similar to some basic yoga and “core” exercises. [17]

Irwin and Olmstead found that exercises like Tai Ji Quan, which has a cyclic loading, stretching and meditation components, decreases levels of circulating pro-inflammatory cytokines in older adults with risks of inflammatory disorders. [18]

In general, most fascial experts advocate a mix of stretching styles – static and dynamic (elastic), and changing the angle of a stretch to access different fascial planes. For example, in the classic “cat stretch”, one reaches out while kneeling to stretch the posterior connective tissue chain from the fingertips to the sit bones, and from the coccyx to the heels and the top of the head. By slightly turning and changing the angle of the stretch, different parts of these chains, including the frontal chain from the pubic bone to the chin, can be affected.

Similarly, in the Nei Jia exercise the Phoenix Stretch (see: How I Cured My Low Back Pain: The Phoenix Stretch), or the Xing Yi Nei Gong Exercise ‘Strengthening the Meridians by Rubbing the Knees & Stretching the Body’, slight adjustments are made throughout the exercise in conjunction with breathing into the low back and sacrum, thereby changing the fascial planes that are being affected. Additionally, breathing into the low back and sacrum increase the intra-abdominal pressure, adding other dimensions to the stretch.

Strengthening the Meridians by Rubbing the   Knees & Stretching the Body

The work of Pete Egoscue is also interesting in this regard as he recommends positional stretches that can be held for in some cases as long as 20 minutes, in order to release soft-tissue restrictions. [19] The Back Stretch Exercise for realigning the neck uses a principle similar to Mr. Egoscue’s work. Egoscue recommends the positional stretch pictured below to help align and unlock the hip and groin muscles. [20]


[1] Relationship of Acupuncture Points and Meridians to Connective Tissue Planes.” Helene M. Langevin* and Jason A. Yandow. The Anatomical Record (New Anat) 269: 257-265, 2002.

[2] Ibid.

[3] “Biomechanical response to acupuncture needling in humans” Helene M. Langevin, David L. Churchill (Journal of Apllied Physiology 91: 2471–2478, 2001.

[4] “Mechanical signaling through connective tissue: a mechanism for the therapeutic effect of acupuncture” Helene m. Langevin, David L. Churchill and Marilyn J. Cipolla (Department of Neurology, University of Vermont, Burlington, Vermont) FASEB J. 15, 2275–2282 (2001).

[5] Ibid.

[6] Interview with Helene Langevin

[7] Mechanical signaling through connective tissue: a mechanism for the therapeutic effect of acupuncture.” Helene M. Langevin, David L. Churchill and Marilyn J. Cipolla.

[8] Interview with Helene Langevin

[9] Ibid.

[10] Does Fascia Hold Memories” Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies (2014) 18, p. 259-265.

[11] Ibid.

[12] “Does Stretching Improve Performance: A systemic and Critical Review of the Literature.” Ian Shrier, MD, PhD. Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine. Volume 14, No. 5, Sep. 2004.

[13] Ibid.

[14] “Acute Effects of Static, Dynamic, and Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation” Stretching on Muscle Power in Women. Mateus E. Manoel et als. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research (Volume 22 No. 5, September 2008).

[15] Training Principles for Fascial Connective Tissues: Scientific Foundation and Suggested Practical Applications. Robert Schleip, PhD, MA and Divo Gitta Mueller, HP (Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies (2012) xx, p1-13.

[16] Stretching of the Back Improves Gait, Mechanical Sensitivity and Connective Tissue Inflammation in a Rodent Model” Sarah M. Cory et als Plos One (January 2012 , Volume 7: Issue 1, e29831)

[17] “Stretching Impacts Inflammation Resolution in Connective Tissue.” Lisbeth Berrueta, Igla Muskaj, Helene M. Lagevin et als. Journal of Cell Physiology (2016, July 231(7) 1621-1627 doi: 10 1002/j 25263) p. 1621-1627.

[18] “Mitigating cellular inflammation in older adults: a randomized controlled trial of Tai Chi Chih” M.R. Irwin, R. Olmstead. The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry 2012;20(9):764–772.

[19] Pain Free: A Revolutionary Method for Stopping Chronic Pain (New York: Bantam Books 1998).

[20] Ibid, p. 72.

The Practice of San Ti Shi in Xing Yi Quan: Part 1

Xing Yi Quan & San Ti Shi

Standing in San Ti Shi is one of the most important parts of foundational training (Ji Ben Gong) of Xing Yi Quan. In Xing Yi Quan there are three key elements that must simultaneously cultivated and integrated – Spirit, Qi and Form. Without Qi form is empty, and without form Qi cannot be employed. Qi and form are the root. Without spirit, Qi and form have no guidance and the forms can not be transcended.

In the Transported Spirit Classic of the Nei Gong Zhen Chuan it says:

Training Xing (Form), one becomes firm;

Training the Jing (Essence), one reaches fullness.

Training the Qi, one becomes strong;

Training the Shen (Spirit) one is capable of flight (ie: one is transported). [1]

Xing Yi Quan focuses on the simultaneous cultivation of the interior and exterior, and the integration of Spirit, Qi and body forms or patterns. Internally, Qi moves upward and downward, inward and outward, and externally there are constant changes in potentiated power – Jin (refined power) rises and falls, and moves vertically and transversely, inward and outwards, with an interplay of suppleness and firmness. Xing Yi Quan’s seeming magical results with regards to martial techniques and nourishing life (Yang Sheng) can only be realized when these elements are combined. San Ti Shi (Three Body Posture) is the one of the most important methods of training the various aspects of Qi, form and Jin and Shen.

San Ti Shi is a method of Zhan Zhuang (“Stake Standing”) in which one must stand relatively motionless, while holding the Splitting Fist (Pi Quan) posture. San Ti Shi is also known as Three Powers (San Cai 三才桩) Standing. It is the fundamental training of Xing Yi Quan. The martial abilities of the senior masters were mostly achieved by standing in San Ti Shi. There is a famous saying that, Three Splitting Fists are not as good as a one standing (三劈不如一站). Traditionally, students were supposed to stand in San Ti Shi for three years before learning the other boxing forms and methods.

Dantian, Qi & Form

Liu Qi Lan was one of the great Xing Yi boxers from Hebei Province. A direct disciple of Li Neng Ran (also known as Li Luo Neng), who organized Xing Yi Quan as we know it today, Liu Qi Lan went on to train many famous disciples. Liu Qi Lan’s son, Liu Wen Hua (also known as Liu Dan Chen), was also a skilled Xing Yi practitioner. Liu Wen Hua wrote the Detailed Collection of the Art of Xing Yi Quan, which today remains one of the best single books on the correct practice of Xing Yi Quan.

In the Detailed Collection of the Art of Xing Yi Quan, Liu Wen Hua goes into great detail about training Dantian, Qi and Form:

The so-called saying that the Dantian area must be drilled first if one desires to be proficient the martial techniques, means that Qi is not enough if one is deficient in the Dantian area, and strength is not enough if Qi is not sufficient. This leads to empty postures and forms in the five fists and twelve animal forms. In terms of the defending method it is like guarding an empty city. In terms of the striking method, it is similar a soldier riding a weak and feeble horse into battle.

When confronting an enemy, there must be an accumulation of firm strength around the umbilicus in the abdomen, flowing naturally from the waist upward to the back, neck and vertex, so that the eyes are able to look around first like a general to respond with the drilling, turning, crossing, erecting, rising and falling movements, applying the dragon, tiger, monkey, horse, eagle and bear styles in constant changes, so as to win the victory in a single moment. Because there is fullness in the Dantian area, the martial techniques can be proficient. [2]

Liu then discusses how to create fullness in Dantian:

First, it is necessary to accumulate Qi. Secondly, it is necessary to circulate Qi. Accumulation of the Qi is exactly what it is mentioned in the Eight Necessities, namely, the methods of touching the roof with the tongue, knocking the teeth, lifting the anus and integrating three central parts. Also, it is necessary [for Qi] to flow through the diaphragm and the five layers of the heart, liver, spleen, lung and kidney one by one without any blockage. It is what is meant by “the five elements should be smooth.” If Qi flows like this for a long time, Qi is able to be complete and gather in the Dantian area. If Qi is unable to flow smoothly, it is not possible to develop unique skills. Therefore, it is necessary to guide the accumulated energy in the Dantian area to flow from the back to the chest cavity to fill the abdominal cavity and internal organs and then to gather in the two hypochondriac regions and finally to gush into the vertex.

Training of Dantian, Qi and Form occurs through correct training of San Ti Shi

The Eight Necessities

Liu goes on to say the starting point for training Qi is the Eight Necessities, or Eight Musts. The Eight Necessities are trained in San Ti Shi.

The Eight Necessities are:

  1. Uphold Internally 內要提 (Nei Yao Ti)
  2. Combine the Three Centers 三心要並 (San Xin Yao Bing)
  3. Link the Three Intentions 三意要連 (San Yi Yao Lian)
  4. The Five Elements Should be Smooth 五行要順 (Wu Xing Yao Shun)
  5. The Four Extremities are Orderly 四梢要齊 (Si Shao Yao Qi)
  6. The Heart is Calm 心要暇 (Xin Yao Xia)
  7. The Three Tips are Lined Up 三尖要對 (San Jian Yao Dui)
  8. The Eyes are Venomous 眼要毒 (Yan Yao Du)

1. Uphold Internally

Uphold the anus in order to uplift Qi so it gathers in the Dantian area. Then Qi will circulate as it accumulates in Dantian – it circulates upward through the Du channel to the vertex at Du 20. This is known as gather the anus and uphold Qi internally.

2. Combine the Three Hearts

Integrate the vertex with the center (heart) of the sole [of the foot] and the soles with the palm centers. This allows Qi to circulate above and below and to the interior and exterior. Once these three parts are integrated, Qi is able to return to Dantian.

3. Link the Three Intentions

The Three Intentions are also called the “Three Internal Harmonies.”

The Three Internal Harmonies are:

  1. Heart-Mind and Intention (Xin and Yi)
  2. Qi
  3. Force/Power (Jin-Li).

Qi is the connecting link between intention and power and between strategy and application of force.

4. Five Elements are Smooth

The external Five Elements refer to the Five Fists: Splitting (Pi), Bursting (Beng), Drilling (Zuan), Pounding or Cannon (Pao), and Crossing (Heng) fists. The internal Five Elements refer to five Zang organs: heart, liver, spleen, lung and kidney. If the external forms (the Five Fists – External Five Elements) are practiced correctly, power and Qi will increase in the internal organs (internal Five Elements). The great boxer Cao Ji Wu said that the Five Elements (Wu Xing) are really five passes [3] that are not guarded or blocked. Liu Wen Hua adds that these five passes can become blocked if left unguarded. By training precisely and by breaking the blockage of the five passes, Qi can to gather in the Dantian area and flow into the four limbs.

5. The Four Extremities are unified [4]

  1. Prop up the roof of the mouth with the tongue so body fluid (saliva) can concentrate, ensuring the smooth circulation of qi and blood. The Tongue is the Tip of the Flesh.
  2. Knock the teeth together so Qi can flow into the bone marrow. The Teeth are the Tip of the Bones.
  3. Hold the fingers and toes inward slightly so Qi can pour into the sinews. The Nails are the Tip of the Sinews
  4. Tightening the hair pores (so the hairs stand up) to gather and unite the Qi of the whole body. The Hair Pores are the Tip of the Blood.

 6. The Heart is Calm

When training, the heart and emotions should be calm and tranquil and the Jing Shen must be concentrated. The moment the heart-mind moves, the intention (Yi) follows it immediately. Therefore, the Heart-Mind must not be apprehensive nor hurried. When standing In San Ti Shi, the respiration should be natural, without any direct intention or deliberate management.

7. The Three Tips [5] are Lined Up

The tip of the nose, the hand and the foot are lined up. If three tips are not in a straight line, it will be difficult to train the Qi.

8. The Eyes are Venomous

The “eyes are venomous” implies that the eyes are sensitive and perceptive. As Qi concentrates, the Jing Shen [6] will become agile and one’s mental ability ample. The senses, hearing, taste and smell will be keen and in particular the eyes will be lustrous and bright in their expression. The sensitivity of the eyes relates to the San Min (), the Three Sensitivities (Perceptions; Sharpnesses):

  1. The Heart is Min
  2. The Eyes are Min
  3. The Hands are Min

When the eyes and heart are Min, one can react appropriately to every situation and the hands will act in accordance with the changing circumstances.

The Eight Word Song (Ba Zi Jue)

The Three Sensitivities are part of the Eight Word Song (Ba Zi Jue 八字诀). The Eight Word Song is another method of detailing the body configuration – the internal and external alignments – that are integrated into an organic whole when training San Ti Shi.

1. 三顶 The Three Uplifts, Prop-ups or Out-thrusts (San Ding)

  1.  The head presses upwards
  2. The tongue touches the roof of the mouth
  3. The hands press outward.

2. 三扣 The Three Hookings or Clampings (San Kou)

  1. The shoulders clamp or hook
  2. The backs of the hands and feet clamp
  3. The teeth clamp together

3. 三圆 The Three Circles or Roundings (San Yuan)

  1. The back is round
  2. The chest is round
  3. Hukou (Tiger’s Mouth) is round

4. 三敏 The Three Sensitivities or Perceptivities (San Min)

  1. The heart is sensitive
  2. The eyes are sensitive
  3. The hands are sensitive

5. 三抱 The Three Holdings or Embraces (San Bao)

  1. Embrace Dantian
  2. Embrace Heart Qi
  3. Embrace the ribs

6. 三屈 The Three Bends or Curves (San Qu)

  1. The arms are curved
  2. The knees are curved
  3. The wrists are curved

7. 三垂 The Three Sinks or Drops (San Chui)

  1. The Qi sinks
  2. The shoulders sink
  3. The elbows sink

8. 三挺 The Three Erectings or Extendings (San Ting)

  1. The neck extends
  2. The spine is extended
  3. The knees are extended


Read Part 2 of this article HERE.


[1] Nei Gong: The Authentic Classic – A translation of the Nei Gong Zhen Chuan. Tom Bisio, Huang Guo Qi and Joshua Paynter – trans. (Denver: Outskirts Press, 2011) p. 69.

[2] Detailed Collection of the Art of Xing Yi Quan. Liu Wen Hua, (October, 1920). Translated by Tom Bisio and Huang Guo Qi (New York Internal Arts & Internal Arts International © 2013

[3] Dao Guan 道关: Dao means “path” or “road” and Guan means “barrier” or “pass.”

[4] Qi 齊: Orderly, Neat, Unified, Even; Together

[5] 對 Dui: points, tips, alignments. In this case, three points of structural body alignment.

[6] 精神 Jing Shen: Essence-Spirit. In Daoism and Chinese medicine, essence and spirit are transformed and replenished by the action of the Qi.





“Tendon Strength”: Fascia, the Sinew Channels & Internal Martial Arts – Part 4

The connection between traditional Chinese ideas about the Sinew channels and tendon strength and power, and recent discoveries about fascia and its relation to health and fitness are fascinating. This is the fourth installment in series of articles that explores some of these connections.

Read Part 1 of this article here

Read Part 2 of this article here

Read Part 3 of this article here

Principles of Training the Fascia

Tom Myers, the author of Anatomy Trains, elucidates three key principles that need to be taken into account when attempting to improve the strength and resiliency of fascial tissue.

Principle 1: Enhancing Systemic Elasticity is Essential to Systemic Resilience.

Principle 2: The Fascial system needs variation rather than repetition.

Principle 3: Proprioception and Kinesthesia are primarily fascial not muscular. [1]

Based on these principles, Myers advocates the following:

  1. Whole body stretching and whole body movements that use long myofascial chains.
  2. Avoiding exercises that use isolated muscle orientation.
  3. Do movements that utilize an elastic stretch of tissues – movements that contain a stretch and release component within a single action, and use elasticity rather than muscle power.
  4. Focusing on elasticity, rather than muscle power.
  5. Variation of tempo in the angle of the load – for example, walking on uneven surfaces rather than on flat ground.
  6. Sufficient rest to let the fascia respond. [2]

Whole body stretching and movement is not a new idea. The body is designed to be used as a whole. The more we use the whole body in a smooth, coordinated way, the more efficiently it can function. Kinesiologists have known for a long time that joints and muscles act in three-dimensional connected chains that wrap the body, crossing from leg and hip to the opposite shoulder and arm. This connection has been likened to a serape, the Mexican shawl, worn over one shoulder and crossing to the opposite hip. In pushing or throwing movements, we tend to generate power from the foot to the opposite hand. As the foot pushes off the ground, extending the hip and knee, the waist rotates and the muscles of the torso accelerate the outward extension of the arm muscles. When we pull or hold something we reverse this process, pulling from the periphery back through the body to the opposite foot. This “serape effect” is present in most sports activities, such as running, biking, tennis, and golf.

Movements requiring strength that are common to sports activities and exercise routines probably derive from the primal actions that we perform as infants, pulling things we want towards us and pushing things we don’t want away from us. An infant engages its entire body and spirit in these actions. Efficient employment of strength and power derives from cultivating coordinated, whole body action in these primal movements. Each muscle must contract and relax at the right time. This process can be likened to a series of inter-meshed gears. As one turns, the others must also turn.  In internal martial arts these full body movements emanate from the Dantian/Mingmen.

Movement in general, and whole body movement in particular, consists of rotations and spirals rather than straight lines. Even so-called “hinge joints” are not really hinge joints – much of their ability to work properly depends on internal torsion. The whole body then becomes a mini-universe, each part revolving in synchrony with the other parts, like planets in the heavens. Even blood and the Qi move in spirals through the blood vessels, and the channels and collaterals. Spiral movement creates balance of forces and counter-forces, operating at all times. These spiral and rotational forces are like waves moving through the body. When the muscles and joints are open and relaxed, the waves can move freely and send their reverberations unobstructed throughout the entire body. In martial arts and sports, this lack of obstruction is what allows the body to have a unified power, to be efficient, fluid and coordinated.

Training the Fascia In Xing Yi Quan and Ba Gua Zhang

Xing Yi Master Liu Wen Hua, the son of Liu Qi Lan, gives a very clear description of how fascial chains and whole-body engagement of the fascia is employed in Xing Yi Quan and specifically in San Ti Shi. His remarks are reproduced in their entirety below, because they so comprehensively illustrate how the theories of modern fascial experts have been expressed for centuries in the internal martial arts.

The exercises of Xing Yi boxing are different from the ordinary exercises. The efforts employed in ordinary exercise consist of actions on a single plane or are merely isolated actions of particular muscles. Therefore, the exercises are simple and easy to understand. In Xing Yi boxing, the joints of the whole body move with different axes of rotation, and the contraction of the muscles and tendons are neither tense nor loose, so as to guarantee simultaneous contraction of the muscles on every side without slackening, a comprehensive result. Then in advancing one can attack, and in retreating one can defend, without any gaps that can be exploited. The body has many muscles. Detailed explanations can only be given by individual sections of the body.


The eyes should be contracted by the anterior cephalic muscle to dilate the pupil and then contracted by the orbicular muscle of the eye to contract the eyelids, so as to be able to stare without any trembling motion. The mouth should be contracted inward by the orbicular muscle of the mouth, so as to clench the teeth tightly and touch the roof with the tongue backward. If so, the skin in the mandibular region, facial region and low chin becomes tight. The neck is contracted by the broad muscle of the neck to dilate the skin of the neck. Further, by the functions of the greater and minor broad muscles of the neck in the deep layer and coordination of the above-mentioned functions of the mouth, the head can be erected upward and the anterior and posterior parts of galea aponeurotica contract and extend to the neck through the down-bearing strength of the two shoulders.


The shoulder should drop downward as much as possible to control the ribs further by the contraction of the anterior sartorius muscle, so as to open the thoracic cavity. Simultaneously, by anterior and posterior traction of the greater pectorial muscle and galea aponeurotica, the shoulder becomes more fixed. The buttocks are also requested to drop downward forcefully, and the muscles in the lower abdomen are also requested to control the pelvic bone anteriorly and forward. The gluteal muscles are also contracted forcefully, to create outward rotation of the thigh. The sphincter muscle of the anus should also be contracted inward and upward. The waist should use contraction of the lumbar muscles and the diaphragm to stretch the lower part of the spine, so as to center the weight of the upper body on the midline of the pelvic bone.


The upper limb should be rotated inward, and the biceps muscle and triceps muscle are contracted equally to resist the anterior and posterior force. The elbow should be rotated to the midline of the body, to form an angle of from ninety to one hundred seventy degrees between the forearm and upper arm, so as to enable the wrist to stand laterally, with the contraction of the anterior circular muscle. The hand closes the fingers sequentially, becoming a semi-circle through contraction of the deep and shallow flexor muscles of the hand, with the base of the thumb and base of the small finger to move toward each other in order to achieve the equal force in the small finger and other fingers.

The internal rotation muscle in the medial aspect of the thigh in the lower limb, the sartorius muscle, is rotated inward to control the knee joint. Various big, medium and small gluteal muscles are also contracted to form an outward posture of the thigh. The quadriceps muscle and biceps muscle are also contracted to form an angle of one hundred fifty degrees between the calf and thigh, so as to maintain a stable posture. The gastrocnemius muscle of the leg and the soleus muscle, in the deep layer, should be contracted, so as to enable the heel to be close with the back of the leg. For the leg in the back, the knee should be flexed forward and inward by the forceful contraction of the biceps muscle and the function of the flexor muscle of the toe, and both feet should grab the ground forcefully, in order to maintain the body weight in the center of two feet. In this posture, the two feet are always in an angle of forty-five degrees. [3]

The famous Xing Yi and Ba Gua practitioner Sun Lu Tang also discusses in detail whole-body body alignments that engage the body’s global fascial web. In relation to walking the circle in Ba Gua Zhang, Sun says that the bend in your legs should have a rounded fullness, and that both heels both have an energy of twisting outward, and your legs are as if in a horse-riding posture, with an intention of closing inward. In addition, in the photo below, the right hip twists until it is aligned with the roundness of the forefinger of your front hand. Sun adds that the shoulders must loosen, and the elbows should have an energy of wrapping inward, so that the tips of your elbows point downward. The hands and fingers spread, with the wrists putting all their energy into twisting outward, until the forefingers stand straight, the thumbs, forefingers, and tiger’s mouths propped open to make semicircle shapes. The shoulders have an energy of drawing in, and the elbows drop down, as the hands push forward. The palms go along with your shoulders, with an energy of “shrinking in”, and the waist follows the wrists as they twist outward. The waist (Yao) turns as far as it can, like a rope being twisted, twisting until the forward forefinger and the gaze are directed to the center of the circle. [4]


Many martial arts incorporate exercises to develop supple dynamic strength. Hindu Squats known as bathaks and Hindu Push Ups (dands), are staple conditioning exercises used by Indian wrestlers wrestlers for centuries. The Great Gama, a legendary wrestler who was undefeated in over 5,000 matches, was said to have performed over 4,000 Hindu squats each day. Unlike regular squats and pushups, these exercises have an elastic rebound quality that develops explosive functional power. Indian wrestlers also perform dynamic exercises with various maces and clubs that involve elastic, functional, whole body actions.

The “Ninja Principle”

The work of Robert Schleip and Divo Gitta Mueller has shown that one of the goals of fascial training is therefore to stimulate fascial fibroblasts to lay down more youthful fiber architecture with a gazelle-like elastic storage capacity. This is done through movements that load the fascial tissues over multiple extension ranges while utilizing their elastic springiness. Indeed, when practiced regularly, static as well as dynamic stretching have shown to yield long term improvements in force, jump height, and speed. Different stretching styles seem to reach different fascial tissue components. In addition, variation among different stretching styles is recommended, including slow passive stretches at different angles as well as more dynamic stretches, in order to foster easy shearing ability between physiologically distinct fascial layers and to prevent the tendency for limited movement range that usually goes along with aging. [5]

Schleip and Mueller use the popular idea of the Ninja, the legendary Japanese assassins, to illustrate efficient training of the fascia. They particularly focus on the smoothness and elegance of movement, and performing movements a softly as possible, without any extraneous or jerky movements. Changes in direction are preceded by gradual deceleration of the movement before the turn and a gradual acceleration afterwards, each movement flowing from the last. This is much like the way a cat moves, jumping and landing softly and with precision. This kind of movement creates fascial spring, and is akin to the precision of dance. [6]

Many writers on fascia have extolled the virtues of running as means of training fascia due to the elastic recoil that goes through the body as force is compressed into the ground and released with each stride. However, based on the “Ninja Principle”, it is obvious that this elastic recoil will only occur if one runs well – with an light, springy, open, even and smooth stride that propels the body forward. This kind of running exhibits oppositional full-body movements of the arms and legs that create movement through the torso. However, utilizing this kind of light, springy movement unfortunately most joggers do not do. In observing most joggers, one sees an emphasis on heavy compression into the ground, with minimal elastic forward moving force, uneven and jerky strides and minimal movement of the upper body. It seems that correct running needs to be trained, so for those without training, perhaps walking might be a better approach for many people.

Fascia as a Sensory Organ

It was mentioned earlier that fascia has a rich supply of sensory nerves, and that internal awareness of the position and movement of the parts of the body (proprioception and kinesthesia) are primarily fascial, not muscular. The sensory systems of some fascial tissues detect slight angular direction changes. Recent findings indicate that the superficial fascial layers of the body are, in fact, much more densely populated with sensory nerve endings than connective tissues situated more internally. Many proprioceptive nerve endings are located in the more superficial layers where stretch and shearing motions of the fascia are more easily detected. [7] Studies have also indicated that limb and low back pain are decreased by increased local proprioception. [8]

These findings illustrate the importance of skin sensation in receiving proprioceptive feedback. The idea of the “Integrating” or “Bringing Together” the Four Tips (Si Shao) in Nei Jia Quan seems to stress the importance of proprioception at the periphery in connecting and unifying the fascia of the whole body. The four tips are:

  1. The Hair Pores are the Tip of the Blood
  2. The Nails are the Tip of the Sinews
  3. The Tongue is the Tip of the Flesh
  4. The Teeth are the Tip of the Bones

Xing Yi Master Liu Wen Hua had this to say about the Four Tips:

It is necessary to touch (prop up) the roof of the mouth with the tongue, knock the teeth, hold the fingers and toes inwards, and tighten the hair pores. When the tongue touches the palate, body fluid (saliva) can concentrate ensuring the smooth circulation of Qi and blood. When the teeth are knocked tightly, Qi is able to flow into bone marrow. When the fingers and toes are drawn inward, Qi is able to pour into the sinews. When the hair pores are tightened, Qi in the whole body can gather and be solid. To be “integrated” means that in every posture, there is unity in touching the roof with the tongue, knocking the teeth, drawing the fingers and toes inward and tightening the hair pores. If one of the four is absent, the Qi will be scattered and power weakened, so there is little purpose in discussing martial skills. [9]

One of my own observations about the importance of sensory feedback at the level of the skin in fascial training is that the sensation of one’s clothing against the skin, or moving across the skin, when performing martial practices and Zhan Zhuang (“stake standing”), gives feedback to the fascial networks. I have also noticed that loose flowing clothing, like the kind used in Chinese martial arts, gives useful proprioceptive feedback, both of the clothing moving across the skin, and also the soft tissue of the body, flowing, twisting, and gliding smoothly through space, whereas the tight, restrictive clothing so popular in sports today actually gives one the opposite feedback. In the past, many yoga practitioners and martial artists wore loose, flowing clothing which might be said to allow “free movement of the Qi” through the superficial layers of the body, thereby aiding proprioceptive feedback in the fascia. In contrast, tight-fitting clothing seems to block the smooth movement of the Qi in those same superficial layers of the body, thereby increasing the sense of tension and solidity (rather than elasticity) in the superficial musculature.



[1] Fascial Fitness: Training in the Neuromyofascial Web. Thomas Myers

[2] Ibid.

[3] Detailed Collection of the Art of Xing Yi Quan. Liu Dian Chen (Liu Wen Hua). Translation by Huang Guo Qi and Tom Bisio 2013.

[4] A Study of Ba Gua Boxing. Sun Lu Tang (April 1917). Translated by Paul Brenna

[5] Training Principles for Fascial Connective Tissues: Scientific Foundation and Suggested Practical Applications. Robert Schleip, PhD, MA and Divo Gitta Mueller, HP (Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies (2012) xx, p1-13.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Tactile discrimination, but not tactile stimulation alone. reduces chronic limb pain. G. Lorimer Moseley, Nadia M. Zalucki , and Katja Wiech (008 Jul 31;137(3):600-8. Epub 2007 Dec 3)

[9] Detailed Collection of the Art of Xing Yi Quan. Liu Dian Chen (Liu Wen Hua). Translation by Huang Guo Qi and Tom Bisio 2013.


“Tendon Strength”: Fascia, the Sinew Channels & Internal Martial Arts – Part 3

The connection between traditional Chinese ideas about the Sinew Channels and tendon strength and power and recent discoveries about fascia and its relation to health and fitness are fascinating. This is the third in a series of four articles that explores some of these connections.

Read Part 1 of this article

Read Part 2 of this article

Fluids & Fascia

In embryology, the movement of interstitial fluid precedes the development of the cardiovascular system. Water molecules are a very convenient medium to transport biomolecules and to carry out various cellular functions. Research has identified the five parts of what appears to be an integrated fluid system in mammals:

  1. The Primo Vasculature Fluid (PVF) with protein precursors and micro cells held in the Primo Vasculature System (PVS).
    Blood and its constituents in the cardiovascular system.
  2. Extracranial Interstitial Fluid (ISF) whose vehicle had a very irregular structure―the interstitium all over the body.
  3. The Cerebrospinal Fluid within the brain ventricles and spinal canal.
  4. The Extra-Cranial Lymphatic System, which drains interstitial fluid and joins the subclavian vein. [1]
  5. In the fetus, Primo Vasculature Fluid may be the first fluid system to develop and join to the not yet well-defined cardio-vascular system.

Distinctive tube-like structures, forming a water carrying system, have been found in different parts of the body in animals. The fluid contents (water plus the solutes and insoluble peptides/proteins) in different parts of the body are different. Moreover, the ratios of the amounts of bound and free water in organs such as skin, Achilles tendon, tracheal cartilage, muscle and others vary from site to site. [2]

Bound water is now considered to be a 4th state of water (liquid, solid and gas being the familiar three). Dr. Gerald Pollack researched muscles and how they contract. It struck him as odd that the most common ideas about muscle contraction did not involve water, despite the fact muscle tissue consists of 99 percent water molecules. [3] Pollack explored how water in its “bound “ state affects the flow of fluids through fascial tissue. He found that in healthy fascia, a large percentage of the extracellular water is in a state of “bound water”, as opposed to “bulk water” (water in its liquid form), where its behavior can be characterized as that of a liquid crystal. [4]

Interstitial fluids move rhythmically through the body and the fascia, driven by the respiration, which effectively creates fluid waves within the body. Cells in areas where there is resistance or restriction to this interstitial fluid movement are not getting sufficient nutrients and are not effectively disposing of cellular wastes. These areas become “dead spots”, places where the hydrodynamic fluctuation is not penetrating. [5]

The movement of fluids through connective tissue can be seen in the amazing anatomical work of Dr. Jean-Claude Guimberteau. Guimberteau graphically describes the fractal-like alignment of the fibers of the fascial matrix, which creates a web in which all parts of the matrix distribute loads and forces. In Guimberteau’s videos of living tissue, one can see small pearls of liquid move through the tiny individual fascial fibers. [6]

Fascial System Model from the video: Strolling Under the Skin by Dr. Jean-Claude Guimberteau.


These ideas are not unlike Chinese Medicine’s view of the Triple Heater (San Jiao) as a passageway for fluids, and speculation that the fascia and the San Jiao may have congruence. They also tie into Senior Acupuncturist Wang Ju Yi’s analogy of the channels and collaterals to those of a river (mentioned in Part 1 of this series of articles).

Laboratory studies on inflammation have indicated that the principal cause of inflammation seems to be due to mechanical pressure, including blunt trauma, foreign bodies, vibrations, and chronic pressure of low intensity. The basic mechanism of inflammation by pressure is most probably through tissue hypoxia. Exposed to pressure, hydrophobic matter (“water hating” – matter that cannot bond with water) is compressed, and oxygen is squeezed out. After pressure is released, the elasticity of the tissue does not rebound immediately and the tissue remains shrunk with diminished oxygen for a period of time afterward. Hypoxia may then generate inflammatory changes through the direct impairment of mitochondrially mediated anabolic (cell building) processes and consequent metabolic shift towards catabolism (cell tearing down). [7]

Fascial movement, compression and release, stretching and relaxing, in conjunction with deep abdominal breathing, are mechanisms for restoring fluid movement to areas of the fascia experiencing a reduced flow of fluids.

During application of mechanical load – whether in a stretching manner or via local compression – a significant amount of water is pushed out of the more stressed zones, similar to squeezing a sponge. With the release that follows, this area is again filled with new fluid, which comes from surrounding tissue as well as the local vascular network. The sponge-like connective tissue can lack adequate hydration at neglected places. Application of external loading to fascial tissues can result in a refreshed hydration of such places in the body.

In healthy fascia, a large percentage of the extracellular water is in a state of bound water as opposed to bulk water. Much pathology – such as inflammatory conditions, edema or the increased accumulation of free radicals and other waste products, tends to go along with a shift towards a higher percentage of bulk water within the ground substance. Recent indications suggest that when local connective tissue gets squeezed like a sponge, and subsequently rehydrated, some of the previous bulk water zones may then be replaced by bound water molecules, which could lead to a more healthy water constitution within the ground substance. [8]


Some trainers, yoga teachers and body-workers suggest to their patients and students that it is necessary to “hydrate” the fascia by drinking eight to ten glasses of water a day. Drinking eight to ten glasses of water daily can, according to “experts”, boost concentration, improve one’s complexion, make the brain work better, aid concentration, and help detoxification. So increasingly one sees people carrying around bottles of water and sipping water constantly.

Unfortunately, these benefits have not been substantiated, and there is much evidence that excessive consumption of liquids does more harm than good. In Chinese medicine, excessive consumption of fluids is thought to overload the kidneys, and over time, can weaken them. Daoist Physician Stephen Chang cautions that the excess liquids tend to be stored in the tissues. This water retention allows wastes to collect, which can affect the nervous system. Dr. Chang explains that this is why people with chronic water retention often appear “nervous and edgy.” [9] Professor Mark Whiteley, a vascular surgeon, feels that drinking excessive amounts of liquid over an extended period of time resets the brain’s chemistry to expect excessive amounts of water. People then feel they can’t go without constant sips of water and “feel panicky if they have to go without for even short lengths of time.” Professor Whiteley, is also convinced that over-hydration is linked to excessive sweating. [10]

In the case of fascia, if the ground substance is dehydrated, shrunken, and solidified, it cannot uptake water and oxygen, so consuming more fluids will not necessarily change the situation. If we believe Dr. Pollack’s theories about “bound water”, it is obvious that drinking more “bulk water” will not necessarily aid one’s fascia.

How much water should one drink? The general consensus is that you should drink when you are thirsty, and if you are sweating a lot and exercising, particularly in a dry climate, you will need to drink more. In other words, use common sense. On a daily basis, most experts agree with the ancient Chinese idea, drink no more than 6-8 cups a day, a number which includes the liquids contained in the foods you are eating.

Fascial Receptivity and Plasticity

Fascial plasticity cannot be understood by mechanical properties alone. Recent research has indicated that Fascia is densely innervated by mechanoreceptors. Myofascial tissue receptors respond not only to pressure and mechanical tension, but also may tie in with the perception of pain and proprioception. These “mechanoreceptors” are found in dense connective tissue (muscle fascia, tendons, ligaments). These receptors are likely responsible for the ability of fascia to change and adapt by softening and elongation of the collagen fibers. [11]

Connective tissue is able to adapt and adjust its matrix in accordance with the demands made upon it. Healthy connective tissue has undulations of an elastic quality, while less healthy tissue is flatter and less elastic. Fascial researchers have noted the ability of a gazelle or a kangaroo to jump much farther than can be explained by the force of contraction of their leg muscles. This seems to be due to the elastic storage capacity of their fascia. High-resolution ultrasound examination has shown that human fascia has a similar kinetic storage ability that comes into play not only when we run and jump, but also when we walk. In these kinds of movements, the length of the muscle fibers changes very little – it is the lengthening and shortening of the fascial elements that produces most of the actual movement. [12]

In younger people there tend to stronger undulations, like elastic springs. within their collagen fibres, In older people, these fibers appear more flattened and inelastic.

It is of interest that the elastic movement quality in young people is associated with a typical two-directional lattice arrangement of their fasciae, similar to a woman’s stocking, In contrast, as we age and usually lose the springiness in our gait, the fascial architecture takes on a more haphazard and multi-directional fibre arrangement. Animal experiments have also shown that lack of movement quickly fosters the development of additional cross-links in fascial tissues. The fibres lose their elasticity and do not glide against one another as they once did; instead, they become stuck together and form tissue adhesions, and in the worst cases they actually become matted together. [13]


Although inactivity appears to negatively impact fascial health, it has been noted that animals do not exercise to maintain their physical capabilities. Dr, Luiz Fernano Bertolucci notes, for example, that long striding movements will remain possible only to the extent that they are fully expressed. Yet most of the time animals are not expressing their optimal movement capabilities – in fact they only do this rarely, when they need to.

Many animals also sleep or nap a fair amount of the time. Sleep imposes regular periods of immobilization, which allows the development of fibrous adhesions, what Gil Hedely PhD calls “the Fuzz.” These adhesions interfere with the sliding surfaces between connective tissue. Each morning when you wake up yawn and stretch, you “melt” the Fuzz and free up the tissue. Each day that you don’t stretch, move and exercise, there is more buildup of Fuzz. [14]

How do animals in the wild maintain musculoskeletal health? They perform no stretching routines and yet still maintain their capabilities. Dr. Bertolucci and others have noticed that animals perform spontaneous pandiculation – shivering, shaking and stretching movements that are largely involuntary, and do not involve cortical stimulation. [15] Pandiculation is often defined as ”a stretching and stiffening of the trunk and extremities, as when fatigued and drowsy or on waking, often accompanied by yawning.” This is what most of us do when we arise in the morning to shake off any stiffness acquired during sleep.

Pandiculation in animals involves involuntary deep muscle co-contractions, in which the soft tissue actively elongates against the bony structures as the joints are stiffened. The contractions and movements form a sequential pattern from a mosaic of reflexes, the sequence of which can neither be anticipated nor purposely performed, in the same way that a spontaneous yawn is different from a purposeful one. This is interesting particularly when we recall that Wei Qi, as it moves through the Sinew Channels, allows the individual to respond in a reflexive and spontaneous manner without volition or cognition, and that Wei Qi and the Sinew Channels generate an immediate ability to respond to changes in an individual’s environment.

Dr. Bertolucci goes onto say that Eastern martial arts appear to have a connection with pandiculation:

Qi Gong, for instance, requires the body to be fortified with automatic (involuntary) tonus in the deep postural muscles at the same time the superficial muscles associated with voluntary activity are relaxed. Under these conditions, the body is integrated as a whole and all its parts relate with one another in movement. These conditions cannot be produced by voluntary motor action, but emerge spontaneously with appropriate states of attention in which mechano-sensing is enhanced. A person in such state could take advantage of elastic potential energy stored in the body when performing a blow. This characteristic of Qi Gong suggests a tensegrity-based mode of action with a high pre-stress level. In fact, potentiation of performance has already been shown in pre-stretched muscles, due to their ability to store potential elastic energy. [16]

These ideas are interesting especially in relation to Qi Gong exercises and martial arts movements, in which one holds postures while internally sensing spontaneous movement. This is part of the power=releasing dynamic found in holding Zhan Zhuang postures, like Xing Yi Quan’s San Ti Shi (Trinity Posture), for extended periods of time, and in Shanxi Xing Yi’s Tu Na Si Ba (Four Method Breathing Exercises). This kind of spontaneous movement can also be found in Qi Gong exercises derived from Daoist meditation practices, like those taught by Hu Yao Zhen, where one observes the spontaneous breath that moves between Dantian and Mingmen (a breath that is outside of the normal respiratory rhythm). Hu Yao Zhen describes this practice as follows: When you are able to observe like this for a certain amount of time, your body begins to move unconsciously. After the body is set in motion, your intention must always observe the Dantian. If the body wants to move in such a way, then it will move in such a way. [17]


[1] The Integrative Five-Fluid Circulation System in the Human Body. Peter Chin Wan Fung, Regina Kit Chee Kong, in Open Journal of Molecular and Integrative Physiology. Vol. 06, No.04 (2016), Article ID:72100

[2] Ibid.

[3] Dr. Gerald Pollack and Structured Water Science.

[4] Training Principles for Fascial Connective Tissues: Scientific Foundation and Suggested Practical Applications. Robert Schleip, PhD, MA and Divo Gitta Mueller, HP (Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies (2012) xx, p1-13.

[5] Ligamentous Articular Strain: Osteopathic Manipulative Techniques for the Body. Conrad A. Spence D.O. and William Thomas Crow, D.O. (Seattle: Eastland Press, 2001) p. 27-28.

[6] Strolling Under the Skin. Dr. Jean-Claude Guimberteau. SFRS: service du Film de Recherche Scientifique 2005.

[7] Definition of Inflammation, Causes of Inflammation and Possible Anti-inflammatory Strategies, Srdan V. Stankov* The Open Inflammation Journal, 2012, 5, 1-9

[8] Ibid.

[9] The Tao of Balanced Diet: Secrets of a Thin and Healthy Body. Dr. Stephen T. Chang (San Francisco: Tao Publishing, 1987) p.112.

[10] Are you an Aquaholic? Doctors are always advising us to drink more water but in fact drinking too much can be even worse. Mandy Francis. Daily Mail (Published: 15 February 2015 Updated: 17 February 2015)

[11] Fascial Plasticity – A New Neurobiological Explanation – Part 1. Robert Schleip. Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies, January 2003.

[12] Robert Schleip, PhD, MA and Divo Gitta Mueller, HP (Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies (2012) xx, p1-13.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Gil Hedley Fascia and stretching The Fuzz Speech YouTube.

[15] Pandiculation: An organic way to maintain myofascial health. Luiz Fernando Bertolucci, MD (January 7, 2016)

[16] Ibid.

[17] Les Jeu Des Cinq Animaux (Five Animal Play) by Jiao Guo Rui, De Ye Tao and Hu Yao Zhen, translated by Grégory Mardaga..


“Tendon Strength”, Fascia, the Sinew Channels & Internal Martial Arts – Part 2

Image for “Tendon Strength”, Fascia, the Sinew Channels & Internal Martial Arts – Part 2

The connection between traditional Chinese ideas about the Sinew channels and tendon strength and power and recent discoveries about fascia and its relation to health and fitness are fascinating. This series of four articles explores some of these connections.

Read Part 1 of this article HERE. Read More…

“Tendon Strength”, Fascia, the Sinew Channels & Internal Martial Arts – Part 1

Image for “Tendon Strength”, Fascia, the Sinew Channels & Internal Martial Arts – Part 1

The connection between traditional Chinese ideas about the Sinew channels and tendon strength and power, and recent discoveries about fascia and its relation to health and fitness are fascinating. This series of four articles  explores some of these connections. Read More…

The Eight Ba Gua Rolling Hands Exercises: Part 2

Image for The Eight Ba Gua Rolling Hands Exercises: Part 2

Ba Gua Rolling Hands Exercises (Rou Shou) are the Ba Gua Zhang equivalent of Tai Ji Quan’s Pushing Hands. The second of the Liang Style Ba Gua Eight Rolling Hands Exercises: Double Joining Palm.

Excerpted from Compendium of Ba Gua Zhang Art by Guo Gu Min, Edited by Zang Xue Fan. Jilin Science and Technology Publishers.
Read More…

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