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21 Things Every Internal Martial Artist Should Know about Chinese Medicine – Part 3

This is Part 3 of a series of articles detailing the 21 Things Every Internal Martial Artist Should Know about Chinese Medicine, by Tom Bisio.

Virtually everything in the Chinese internal martial arts is congruent with traditional Chinese medicine. All the body principles and alignments are designed to line up the soft tissue, joints and even the organ cavities, so as to maximize free-flowing circulation through the blood vessels and body tissues. Many of the movements common to Tai Ji Quan, Ba Gua Zhang, Xing Yi Quan, Liu He Ba Fa and Tong Bei Quan have the dual purposes of teaching martial techniques with correct body mechanics and simultaneously harmonizing organs and meridians. One of the caveats of this duality is, if you fail to harmonize the organs and meridians, the martial techniques don’t quite mesh properly.

Read Part 1 and Part 2 of this article by clicking on the links.

12. The Kidneys fear the cold.

The Kidneys rule the lower body. Cold has a tendency to sink, just as heat has a tendency to rise. Therefore, cold has a tendency to begin at the bottom, and effect the lower body and the lower back. Cold can enter through the Yongquan (KID 1) acupoints on the bottom of the foot. Cold, through is tendency to contract and constrict, can cause painful stasis in the feet which can hinder walking. If cold rises upwards, it can lead to a sensation of icy cold lower legs and inhibition of blood circulation in the legs. [10] Cold can rise from the feet to the low back, but it can also attack the low back directly, causing tension and constriction of the muscles.

When training outdoors in Winter, it is important not to sweat too much, as open pores and wet clothing will allow the cold to penetrate directly into the lower back and loins. Wearing clothes that wick sweat away can help protect the body from the effects of cold. Similarly, wearing thin-soled shoes when training outdoors in cold weather can allow cold to penetrate into the soles of the feet from below. Although cold weather is generally associated with winter, in modern times sweating in rooms that are frigid from air-conditioning can create similar problems.

Many Chinese teachers advise not training when/where it is windy, or performing standing exercises in cold blustery weather, because wind and cold can easily penetrate into the lower body and create a host of problems.

Moxibustion on Mingmen (DU 4) and Shenshu (BL 23) in Autumn can make the body less susceptible to cold in the Winter. Both points are found in the center of the lumbar area.

13. The Liver governs the sinews, the sinews home to the joints, and the nails are surplus of the sinews.

The Liver releases blood to the muscles and joints during activity; while during rest, blood is stored in the liver. The sinews (tendons, ligaments and cartilage) all attach around the joints and help them to function properly. It is said that is the blood from the liver “nourishes” the sinews. If the liver has sufficient blood, and functions smoothly and without restriction, than the blood will easily flow outward to the sinews when needed and the movement of the joints will be agile and harmonious – meaning that the joints will be able to bend and extend properly. If the liver’s ability to release blood at the appropriate time is impaired, then the joints will be stiff, the sinews will have a tendency to contract and will become prone to injury. The knee in particular is called the “home of the sinews.” Both the kidneys and the liver have a lot to do with the integrity and proper functioning of the knee

Because the liver is responsible for the smooth and orderly movement of Qi and blood, anything that interrupts this movement will effect the sinews and joint. If there is not enough blood to nourish the joints, they can become prone to injury and can be slow to heal. This is often more a problem for women than men, because of the monthly loss of blood with the menstrual cycle. It is one reason menstrual disharmonies can be part of the picture when considering injuries to tendons and ligaments. For men, the loss of Jing via ejaculation can be a factor, particularly as one gets older, as Jing and its connection to the bone marrow forms the foundation of the blood. Also, emotional upset can prevent blood from moving smoothly to the sinews, so one should train with a calm and relaxed mental framework.

The nails are said to be the surplus of the sinews. When the sinews are well supplied with blood, the fingernails and toenails are strong and healthy. The nails, like the teeth, are one of the four ‘tips’ or four ‘extremities’ that in the internal arts must be unified in order to issue whole body power. Because the nails are an extension of the sinews, in training the fingers and toes have a faint sensation of drawing inward – then Qi is able to pour into the sinews. {11] 

14. The Liver dislikes wind.

Wind is characterized by erratic, quick and shifting movements. Wind penetrates, it has a palpable force and a persistence that can push its way into the body through orifices like the nose, mouth, and ears, or even through the pores of the skin. Wind also has a tendency to combine with cold or dampness to penetrate into different areas of the body. The Liver in particular dislikes wind. This is partly because the liver smoothes and harmonizes the Qi and the emotions, so erratic, unpredictable movements irritate the Liver, which in turn irritates and impedes the action of the sinews.

This action has several implications for practitioners of the internal arts. First, students are frequently cautioned not to practice outside in strong wind, because the wind can penetrate into the body and cause disharmony and illness. Standing in Zhan Zhuang postures in a brisk wind is counterproductive. One is trying to quiet the mind and still the body, so that the most minute arousal and movement of the Qi and Jin can be sensed. This leads to sensing that the whole body is harmonious and infused with Qi. Wind can interfere with this sensing by stirring up the Qi, so that the movement of the Qi become erratic and unpredictable. This virtually undoes the benefits one is trying to accrue. Wind also penetrates easily into the nape and neck, causing rigidity and stiffness, because the Liver connects to the neck. [12]

The Liver’s dislike of wind also refers to things that are like wind. Practicing movements in a harsh, hard and fast manner aggravates the Liver and the sinews, so that they become stiff and less responsive. This is why in training one moves slowly and smoothly through the movements and the postures, without becoming angry or using the emotions to “ramp up” the system. Practicing slowly and smoothly keeps the Liver calm, and allows it to “spread and flow” – ie smoothly circulate the Qi and Blood. [13] 

15. The Spleen governs flesh and the four limbs

The Spleen governs the shape and strength of the muscles and the flesh. This concept is connected to the Spleen engendering Qi and Blood, which in turn respectively give power to and nourish the muscles and flesh. Because the Spleen governs the muscles and flesh, through them the Spleen also gives energy and strength to the four limbs. The muscle tone and appearance of the limbs can give an indication of the health and functioning of the Spleen. If Spleen Qi is deficient, then the flesh may become flabby, weak and tired.

The Spleen and Stomach oversee the digestive processes of the body, and the differentiation of food and drink into “pure” and “impure” substances. These processes begin in the Stomach, and continue in the intestines under the influence of the Spleen. The pure part of food (its essence) is transported upward by the Spleen to the Lungs, where it is converted into Qi, Blood, and Body Fluids. The Lungs in turn disperse these substances throughout the body. The important role of the Spleen in the metabolism of nutrients is crucial to the production of Qi and Blood. It is for this reason that the Spleen is considered to be the root of the post-natal Qi, which supplements the Jing and kidney Yang

For the martial arts practitioner, this concept underscores the importance of diet and good eating habits. Eating well gives strength to the limbs, and allows the muscles to be properly toned, relaxed and able to move.

16. The Spleen governs the upbearing of the clear.

When the Spleen and stomach digest food, the clarified “pure” essence that is extracted is transported upward to the lungs and heart, to be converted into blood and Qi. However, the raising action of the Spleen Qi also plays a role in promoting clarity of consciousness, by sending clear Yang energy to the top of the head, the hair and the brain. Once the “Clear Yang” reaches the head, the orifices (eyes, ears, nose and mouth) are open and unblocked, and one’s perceptions are clear. This action underscores the importance of the Spleen in acting as a mediator between the various energies of the body and the outside world. The Spleen, in conjunction with the Heart and the Intention (Yi), influence one’s ability to think and to focus clearly. The Yi also allows the capacity for reflection. If the Spleen is not harmonious, thinking may be dull and concentration difficult.

When the upraising of the Clear Yang is deficient or blocked, Yin becomes abundant and the orifices in the head become blocked, often by turbid mucus or phlegm. Therefore Spleen disorders can result in insufficient Yang energy reaching the head. The head then has a cloudy or muzzy feeling, and thinking becomes difficult.

In the nei jia, dropping the shoulders, relaxing the low back, smoothing the buttocks, sinking the coccyx, and lifting the vertex upward all help Qi descend to Dantian and the bottom of the feet. At the same time, these actions create a complimentary tendency for the Qi to rise upward, from the bottom of the feet to Dantian and then upward along the Du Channel. This “upbearing of the clear” is facilitated by gathering in the anus, with a sense of uplifting the perineum, and feeling as though the tip of the coccyx hooks under and slightly upward. These same alignments are used in Nei Gong exercises and the Micro-Cosmic Orbit breathing and meditation.

The ability of the clear to go upward facilitates sharp perceptions and a clear mind. It is also part of the mechanism of issuing power.

Read Part 4 of 21 Things Every Internal Martial Artist Should Know about Chinese Medicine HERE

[10] Huangdi Neijing Ling Shu Books VI-IX with commentary Volume III NVN Edition (English Version), Nguyen Van Nghi, tran Viet Dzung, and Christine Recours-Nguyen.

Sugar Grove NC: Jung Tao Publications, 2010, p. 182.

[11] Detailed Collection of the Art of Xing Yi Quan by Liu Dan Chen (Liu Wen Hua). Translated by Huang Guo Qi and Tom Bisio.

[12] Yellow Emperor’s Canon of Internal Medicine, (Bing Wang), translated by Nelson Liansheng Wu and Andrew Qiu Wu, China Science & Technology Press, p.25.

[13} The liver rules “spreading and flowing” (shu-xie) – The Web that Has No Weaver: Understanding Chinese Medicine, by Ted Kaptchuk OMD, p. 59.