Qin Na (chin na) is variously translated as “capture methods,” “seizing and controlling,” seizing and locking.” Qin (擒) means to capture, catch, or seize. Na (拿) means to hold, grasp, or squeeze. Qin is like an eagle seizing prey in its talons. Na implies squeezing and controlling. Because the word Na also implies seizing, some practitioners simply refer to these kinds of techniques as Na Fa (seizing or grasping methods). Others simply refer to Qin Na as joint locking, although technically Qin Na includes:
- locking and controlling the joints
- dislocating bones
- seizing sinews (tendons and ligaments)
- sealing the breath by closing it off directly or by attacking the tissues around the lungs causing them to contract and seize up
- attacking cavities or points to effect meridians and or nerves
These categories are not really separate, as many Qin Na methods combine them in order to achieve the desired result. For example, seizing a point on the wrist while attacking a tendon at the elbow, thereby weakening the arm in order to lock, control and dislocate the joint.
Qin Na theory and technique have a connection with traditional Chinese medical massage known as Tui Na (推 拿). Tui Na (literally, “pushing and grasping”) includes many Zheng Gu or “bone setting” techniques, which are very similar to techniques of dislocation and control. The difference between re-aligning and attacking is in the force, intention and angles used. Tui Na also realigns muscles, tendons and ligaments, and employs pressure on acupuncture points in its treatments. It is no surprise that many Qin Na experts are also proficient at bone setting.
Qin Na Fa (Qin Na methods) are not specific to one style of Chinese martial arts. Most styles of gong fu include Qin Na techniques to some degree, just as they include striking methods (da fa), kicking methods (ti fa) and throwing methods (shuai fa). How much Qin Na is employed can vary not only from style to style but also between practitioners within one style. Ba Gua in particular, employs a wide variety of qin na techniques. Partially this is because Ba Gua’s unique footwork and spiraling actions lend themselves to effective use of Qin Na.
Qin Na methods are rarely used alone. They are almost always employed in conjunction with kicking, striking and throwing. Hence the expression, da na jie he (“combine striking and seizing together”). In fact the Ba Gua song/rhymes which serve as mnemonics for training warn against an over-reliance on qin na methods.
The Avoid Capture Method (Ji Na Fa) states: Ba Gua hand does not talk about seizing, My skill is poor if I seize a person. It is not appropriate if there are many opponents, Direct attack and direct withdrawal are required.
The Picking and Dissolving Method (Zhai Jie Fa), discusses the limitations of seizing methods, implying that many seizing techniques can be dissolved simply by following the opponent’s posture and pushing the hands overhead: Don’t boast about numerous seizing methods, The power is marvelous when two hands grab one. Even if he is skillful at seizing, he is afraid of being pushed over-head. Piercing the nose and poking the eyes is difficult to avoid.
Many people misunderstand qin na techniques and underestimate their value. Often it is assumed that qin na only works on a stationary partner who grabs your wrist or lapel, or that qin na techniques will not work on someone larger or stronger. Partially this misconception stems from the fact that in training, qin na is often practiced slowly and smoothly, when in fact the techniques are meant to be done like lightening. Ba Gua qin na is not meant to be a kind of submission hold, in which you cause pain in order to get your opponent to surrender. Rather, the techniques are designed to quickly dislocate joints in a single movement or to momentarily control a chain of joints, thereby allowing unobstructed continuation of one’s attack. Qin na techniques applied against the knee and ankle are often kicks that twist and shear these joints, rather than submission holds.
Because qin na methods are not single techniques but moments within a chain of connected movements, they are a flexible examples of employing the Ba Gua strategy of having multiple objectives in mind at any one moment. Often one cannot disable the opponent with a qin na technique, but one can momentarily control him or gain position, allowing another technique to unfold based on his response.
Keeping the above in mind, there are two general categories of Qin Na techniques:
- Those used against a grab or against a stationary opponent, whether applied singly or in combination. Kicking and striking are often combined with these techniques. These are more basic.
- Those employed against a moving opponent, often in chains of techniques and completely integrated with kicking, striking and throwing. These are more advanced.
In Ba Gua, single stationary methods are generally learned first. This introduces the basic principles of locking and controlling each joint, while learning to release and escape from grabs. Then techniques are linked, switching from one technique to another, and one area to another (for example: wrist to elbow to shoulder to neck), as the opponent counters. Finally, techniques are performed at higher speed, against moving opponents or in the midst of freestyle push hands practice. Anatomical weak points are exploited at each stage of practice. Li Zi Ming’s disciple Zhang Hua Sen was a master of moving qin na techniques, seamlessly blending joint locking with striking and kicking. One his favorite exercises was na shou or “seizing hands,” in which he would attack with a hand strike. When you raised your hand to parry, he would seize that hand and attack again, forcing a slightly more desperate parry, which would again be seized and locked. He could do this smoothly, at full speed, using a variety of locking methods. Zhang Hua Sen liked to teach the Eight Linking Qin Na, a flowing qin na exercise, with variations in order to make students comfortable with changing from one lock to another. There are two sides to this exercise: you learn to apply qin na techniques and your partner learns to escape from them.
Zhao Da Yuan is a school brother of Zhang Hua Sen. Zhao is famous in Beijing for his Qin Na ability. In his excellent book, Practical Chin Na: A Detailed Analysis of the Art of Locking and Seizing, Zhao gives very practical advice on the use of Qin Na:
- Strike, then control, then take what you want.
- Grab tendons and seal veins to reduce his strength in order to lock joints.
- Move like lightening.
- Follow the opportunity to flow with the changes.
- The power is flexible and should follow a spiral path.
- Use the power of the whole body.
In a conversation with Zhao Da Yuan, he stressed that “locks” were only one part of qin na. Equally important are seizing tendons and flesh, as well as vital points and cavities. The initial instinctual response away from the pain when the flesh or tendons are seized, aids in controlling and directing the opponent while opening a pathway for another technique.
Gao Ji Wu gives very similar advice to Zhao Da Yuan. For Gao, Qin Na must include striking to be effective. He additionally stresses that qin na techniques in Ba Gua necessarily stem from the most basic movements of Ba Gua, contained in the Single Palm Change. Therefore, every qin na technique must follow a spiral path that incorporates: ning (twisting), guo (wrapping), zuan (drilling) and fan (overturning). Gao’s qin na techniques often begin and end with a strike, the locking technique creating a path for the finishing strike.
Training in qin na should be done slowly and carefully. Zhang Hua Sen stressed starting with the wrist and elbow joints to learn principles of locking, controlling and vital point seizing. One reason for this is that the wrist is the “outer gate” which must be by-passed in order to reach the body. A second reason for starting with the wrist and fingers, is that with these joints pain is usually felt before the joint will be damaged. Once the basic principles are grasped on an instinctive level, qin na techniques on the shoulder, neck, knee and ankle can be added. Qin na techniques on these joints are more dangerous because pain is felt almost simultaneously with damage to the joint, so both partners (performer and receiver) must be more aware of the limits of the joint.
Training should start slow, with individual techniques, and then graduate to faster speeds and combinations of techniques, one lock flowing into another. Even when practiced carefully, qin na techniques can overstretch ligaments and displace bones, muscles and tendons.
A basic knowledge of die da (literally “fall-strike”) medicine which specializes in trauma is a key element in training qin na methods. Training can be realistic, because minor strains and “tweaks” to the joints are treated after each training session, so that they can heal properly. Untreated, these repeated minor injuries lead to chronic joint damage which impairs training. This kind of damage is very common in arts which emphasize attacks to joints, such as Aikido and Jiu-jitsu. Liniments such as die da jiu and tendon lotion, as well as medicated medicated plasters (gao), can be very helpful – both in treating acute injuries caused by qin na, and in preventing minor injuries from developing into chronic ones. If the teacher is familiar with tui na and zhen gu (“correct the bone” or bone-setting) techniques, slight displacements of the bones and soft tissues can be corrected immediately.