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Meditations on San Ti – by IAI Instructor Valerie Ghent

 Song Zhi Yong practicing San Ti Shi. Photo: Valerie Ghent

I’ve contemplated writing about the practice of San Ti Shi in the context of the Xing Yi “Triangle” for many months. Not an easy subject! Needless to say, my first attempts to convey some of the images and sensations which come and go while practicing San Ti in an essay or article format did not come to fruition.

Finally I came to a realization. Since the practice of San Ti Shi is in and of itself a meditation, rather than writing “about it” in a linear fashion, perhaps I could let the practice guide me in a more fluid form.

The result arrived as a kind of free-flowing meditation on San Ti Shi, one which emerged spontaneously, written by hand, pen to paper, late one night. As we know, words are deeply inadequate to convey what one experiences when practicing Xing Yi. Everyone’s internal process is different. Yet at the same time there are threads which run through Xing Yi that are similar for all who follow its path.

Through our practice we are engaged in a shared experience, yet the specifics of that experience, how we perceive it, and what it means to each of us internally, has its own resonance. It is my hope that the words below might resonate with students and practitioners, not as a fixed guide or even a sense of something to “look for”, but more as a meditation on the often incomprehensible practice of San Ti Shi that cannot be defined or categorized, to hopefully reach beyond the words to evoke another, more wordless place that we sense in our internal practice.


Meditations on San Ti – The Triangle in Xing Yi

Stillness taking the familiar shape. The structure defines the shape. The shape is the structure. Holding, roundness, rooted, triangle. The wedge of energy, the wedge of my body, each uphold the other. Sinking into the ground, feet heavy and grounded, roots going into the ground below me, seeking, reaching, expanding. The more the energy goes down the more it rises up. But don’t look for it. Be empty. Sink down but ding, the structure holds form. The big leaf on a thin stalk doesn’t compress the stalk, the two work together in tandem. Float above freely when rooted.

When did I first feel the triangle, was it while standing in San Ti on the ship in the middle of the ocean, feeling my roots seeking the ocean floor? Was it facing into the wind, feeling the waves break around my prow? Or in China, feeling hints of a shape yet to arrive. Silent in a cave with walls on both sides, watching ice breaker ships on the Hudson River, or perhaps in France looking over the vineyards, watching a sea of grape leaves open in the dawn light as mists lift across the valley with the rising sun.

Hold fast the knee. The first lesson from my teacher, Song Zhi Yong. Hold the knee, the knee holds fast. Do not waver. Focus and the knee stays straight. Notice if it wavers. Do not criticize, notice and review the alignments. Sense the structure, how each is part of the structure. Each alignment is connected to the others. The triangle. Or rather, a hint of the triangle, at first, the possibility of its existence.

Master Song Zhi Yong and Valerie Ghent, Taiyuan, China (2013)

Spirals, movements, the body constantly in motion, we don’t feel it until we quiet the mind. The mind doesn’t like to be quiet. It is seeking, questioning, searching, pleading, wanting. Let go of desire to achieve. Watch what is, let unfold the amazement of what arrives. Don’t seek what you found the day before, it is a new day and discoveries will emerge on their own, of their own accord. Stay with the quiet. What is there to fear? It’s only stillness.

Time, passing, slow time, alternate time, the seconds expand and compress like ripples on a mountain lake. The light changes in slow time, refracting, coalescing, redefined. Focus, clarity, the triangle makes clear where the structure is holding, or where it is not. Be honest, see what is there. Maybe not what you want to see but can you see it. Be with it, let go fear, let go desire, let thoughts dissolve into the triangle, the structure is the shape, the shape is the structure, the strength is the structure. Unified, united form. When structure is balanced the form is strong (unbreakable).

Down, up, sides in balance, breathing out and in and up and down. Yet only by letting it happen. Intention, no intention. Yi bu yi. Let it happen. Can not make it happen. Let go of wanting it to happen. Watch it unfold and the mystery as it arrives. The mysteries arrive. Present themselves.

Floating glimpses of internal structure arrive and dissolve. Trust the process. Meditate on the alignments. Sink the tail, sit the kua, the head is erect (ding), loosen the shoulders, the elbows sink, soften the chest, fullness in ming men, and breathe into dan tian. Feel the breath expand into ming men, through the body. Breathe into ming men. Feet press downward. Knee over foot don’t collapse, notice the triangle, feel the triangle. Trust the structure, it will respond to your trust.

Master Li Gui Chang – San Ti Shi

Triangle, three sides, the wedge, San Ti Shi, three body posture, three sides become three dimensions. Meditating on San Ti, on the triangle, on the wedge. Three rounds. Three hearts unify. Align foot, hand, nose. When the alignments fall into place, click into place, the triangle comes alive. Engage the tips, the teeth, the hair, the tongue, the toes and fingertips, feel the energy at the tips but never force it, let it arrive. Watch where it goes. Marvel in its journey. Wonder in its arrival. Connect to the nexus.

oxalis triangularis

The roots connect, hand and foot, foot and hand. Front foot to back hand, back foot to front hand. Front foot to front hand, back foot to back hand, the triangle in all directions connected to ming men. The thighs and yao, full and solid. The feet press, deep into the ground. The hands rounded. Eyes alert, looking forward, soften the gaze, perceive the world. Breathe. The structure supports itself. I gaze at the oxalis, broad leaves floating so easily on a whisper-thin stalk. The thin stalk holds up the leaf effortlessly. It is rooted, connected within its structure.

Hold your structure. Play with it, feel where it holds and where it bends. How the internal moves as the structure holds the form. Inward, outward, the forces are equal and fluid. Elastic, growing, shifting, expanding. Breathe. Relax. Sink. Rise. San Ti unfolds before you, pure, beautiful, endlessly curious, the ever-flowing, ever-unfolding minutiae of the internal world.


Valerie Ghent is a musician, singer-songwriter and senior instructor in Xing Yi Quan, Ba Gua Zhang and Qi Gong with Internal Arts International. Valerie began her study of Shanxi Xing Yi Quan in 2001 with Song Zhi Yong, disciple of Li Gui Chang. In 2013 Valerie became Master Song’s first American disciple.