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Muscle-Tendon Change, Marrow Washing & Fascial Training: Part 2 by Tom Bisio

This is the second part of four posts on the Muscle-Tendon Change, Marrow Washing & Fascial Training. This series of articles examines the efficacy of the Muscle-Tendon Change and Marrow Washing exercises on fascial fitness, bone health and marrow health, and immunity.

To read Part 1 CLICK HERE

Fascial Science

Fascia has been shown to change its architectural properties to meet the specific demands required of it. Fibrous, collagenous connective tissues have the capacity to continuously adapt to regularly occurring strain, particularly in relation to changes in length, strength, elasticity, and the ability to shift and shear laterally. Fibroblasts[1] help the tissues to remodel the arrangement of the collagenous fiber network. For example, with each passing year half the collagen fibrils are replaced in a healthy body.[2]

     9 Ghosts Drawing   Swords

Fascial Fibers ideally have an elastic, lattice-like arrangement. 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.

A number of studies have indicated that intramuscular connective tissue, is part of a continuous network of which includes tendons, periosteum, aponeurotic fasciae, ligaments and joint capsules. This network interlinks with various structures throughout the body’s musculoskeletal system and contributes to the elastic tissue response of the muscle. The extra-cellular matrix seems to play an important role in the structural characteristics of the skeletal muscle, by providing a three-dimensional scaffolding matrix for muscle fibers. Recent bio-mechanical studies indicate the importance of this matrix on the mechanical transmission of force and some researchers report that pathological changes in skeletal muscle are associated with extra-cellular matrix fibrosis. Researchers have noticed that changes in the matrix quantity and quality and increased muscle stiffness can tip affected tissue into a pathological state. With aging, changes in the extra-cellular matrix and intramuscular connective tissue appear to reduce tissue adaptability and interfere with the normal gliding mechanisms of the connective tissue.[3]

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 fiber arrangement. Animal experiments have also shown that lack of movement quickly fosters the development of additional cross-links in fascial tissues. The fibers 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.[4]

The Muscle–Tendon Change is a method transforming weak, flaccid tissues, fibrotic tissues that have lost elasticity, and tissues with misaligned fibers into healthy and strong tissues. This is accomplished by combining breath, movement, intention, and subtle internal movements and vibrations through the tissues with movements that engage the whole body.

The Muscle-Tendon Change exercises engage long chains of fascia that pass through the body like a twisted rope. These fascial lines all connect to the center of the body (Dan Tian), so that the body learns to move from this central, internally connected hub. The facial network is a single interconnected web-like entity. When properly trained, compressive forces on one part of the body are distributed around the whole body through this web-like facial tensegrity [5] network. This is more easily achieved if the body stays relaxed and supple, so that it can detect the moment-to-moment changes in the incoming force and redirect and redistribute those force vector changes.

The Sinew Channels & Immunity

In Chinese Medicine, the Sinew Channels or Muscle-Tendon Channels (Jin Jing 筋經) are broad longitudinal bands of muscles, tendons and ligaments, and connective tissue that wrap or “knot” at the big joints of the body (hip, knee, ankle, shoulder, elbow and wrist, occiput and face). The joints divide the limbs into sections, like the nodes in bamboo. Other words commonly used to describe the knotting action of the Sinew Channels at the joints are “inserting”, “binding”, and “fruiting. The Sinew Channels also interconnect at the center of the Body, at Dan Tian/Ming Men, which acts as a kind of hub, or nexus, for the Sinew Channels

The Sinew Channels are the conduits of Wei Qi (Defensive Qi). Wei Qi warms and protects the body, activates upright posture, and activates movement. Wei Qi, as it moves through the Sinew Channels, allows the individual to respond in a reflexive and spontaneous manner without volition or cognition. Wei Qi and the Sinew Channels generate an immediate ability to respond to changes in an individual’s environment, including internal and external responses to pathogens. Science recognizes that fascia functions as an important infection barrier. Just as the skin prevents pathogens from getting into the body in the first place, layers of fascia limit the spread of pathogens. This is very much in line with the concept of Wei Qi, which is said to flow in the superficial layers of the body (the spaces between skin and flesh) and to guard against pathogens entering through these layers. The Sinew Channels have connections with other channels and collaterals and other parts of the Jing Luo (meridian) network, as well as connections with the internal organs.

The order of the exercises in the Muscle-Tendon Change is very important. Muscle-Tendon Change exercises start with relaxation and guiding Qi through the channels, and then moves on to exercises that subtly contract and relax the tissues. The channels and collaterals become more open and free flowing so that the fascia is suffused with Qi, blood, and Jing, which in turn nourish and repair the tissues. This also has positive effects on the functioning of the internal organs, the nervous system and the brain.

Together, the Muscle-Tendon Change and Marrow Washing Nei Gong create enormous changes in the immune system by stimulating the muscles, sinews and fascia and by restoring production of healthy blood cells, including lymphocytes.

There are two parts to the Muscle-Tendon Change. The first part consists of 12 very specific exercises (like Nine Ghosts Drawing Swords – pictured above,), that combine breath, movement and focused Mind-Intention. A second part involves rhythmically stroking patting, tapping, or even gently striking specific areas of the body, particularly the Ren Channel (Ren Mai or Conception Vessel) on the mid-line of the body.

Massage and patting strengthen the Qi and accumulate Qi while preventing Qi from leaking. Accumulating Qi while preventing Qi leakage increases body strength and vitality and augments the ability of the acu-points to open and close. These aspects of abdominal massage and body patting are particularly important when practicing the Muscle-Tendon Change, because when directing Qi to the extremities, the Internal Qi must remain substantial and full at all times in order for the exercises in the Muscle Tendon Change to have their full effect.

In the patting methods relating to the Muscle-Tendon Change, one is stimulating the body to expand its tissues and Qi outward, thereby filling in declivities and gaps. First Ren Mai (Conception Vessel) is filled and Qi is accumulated in the center of the body; later patting, knocking, and massaging are applied to the limbs. Filling the body with Qi, and filling in the declivities or empty spaces where pathogens can lodge, activates and strengthens both the Wei Qi and the immune system by stimulating the entire endocrine system through its glandular connections to Ren Mai. Included in this process are tapping methods that stimulate the thymus and its connection with the kidneys and the bone marrow in developing lymphocytes like T-cells that are an important part of the immune system.

Fascial Gong Fu

Yi Jin Jing and Marrow Washing are a type of Fascial Gong Fu. The organs are enclosed by the bones, ligaments and tendons and the bones and tendons are in turn surrounded by the muscles and flesh. The organs provide the tendons, bones and muscles with Qi, Jing, blood and fluids. So the organs and Qi and blood must be cultivated in order to strengthen the bones, ligaments, tendons and muscles. This requires a delicate balance. Training only the organs, Qi, Jing and blood alone will not strengthen the bones and sinews (tendons, ligaments, muscles) and training the bones and sinews alone develops the external body and external strength, unsupported by internal strength. Therefore both must be trained simultaneously.[6]

In a translation of the “original text” by Indian Monk Ban Ci Mi Di we find the following passage:

If (you) train tendons without training fasciae, the fasciae cannot be grown, If (you) train fascia but without training tendons, then the fasciae have nothing to rely on. If (you) train tendons and fasciae, but without training Qi, then the tendons and fasciae are stagnant and cannot be raised. Train the Qi without training tendons and fasciae, then Qi is impotent and cannot be spread to circulate continuously and smoothly in the Jing and Luo (i.e., Qi channels and branches). (If) Qi cannot circulate continuously and smoothly, then tendons cannot be strong and firm. This is what is said: mutual exchange and mutual application is the Dao of interdependence. Train until the tendons are raised, (then you) must train even harder and must make the fascia of the entire body raiseable and as strong as the tendons, then it is completed. Otherwise (even if) tendons are strong (you) will not have assistance (of Qi).[7]

The twisting-strengthening exercises of the Muscle-Tendon Change strengthen the sinews and bones, and restore flexibility and elasticity to the fascia, while Muscle-Tendon Change massaging and patting methods increase fascial mobility further lead Qi into the fascia where it is stored and can circulate freely. This stimulates the fascia to expand, thicken and fill. Practicing Marrow Washing enhances the ability of the intention (Yi) to lead Qi to the fascia and spaces between the tissue membranes, and to circulate marrow and fluids (Jing) to “wash” and “clean” the marrow and the brain.

Each part of Yi Jin Jing and Marrow Washing has a purpose and each part is interdependent on the others.


[1] Fibroblasts are cells that contributes to the formation of connective tissue – a fibrous cellular material that supports and connects other tissues or organs in the body. Fibroblasts secrete collagen proteins that help maintain the structural framework of tissues.

[2] Schleip, and Müller, D.G. Training Principles for Fascial Connective Tissues: Scientific Foundation and Suggested Practical Applications. Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies (2012)

[3] Caterina Fede and Chenglei Fan et als. “The Effects of Aging on the Intramuscular Connective Tissue” International Journal of Connective Tissue Science (Sci. 2022, 23, 11061.

[4] Schleip, and Müller, D.G. Training Principles for Fascial Connective Tissues: Scientific Foundation and Suggested Practical Applications. Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies (2012)

[5] Tensegrity is a term coined by R. Buckmister-Fuller to describe structures that maintain their integrity primarily through the balance of tensile forces that pass through the structure, as in for example a spider’s web, as opposed to maintaining structural integrity through gravitational loading, as in a Greek temple.

[6] Qi Gong The Secret of Youth: Da Mo’s Muscle/Tendon Changing and Marrow/Brain Washing Classics, Yang Jwing-Ming (Boston: YMAA Publication Center 2000) p. 108-11.

[7] Qi Gong The Secret of Youth: Da Mo’s Muscle/Tendon Changing and Marrow/Brain Washing Classics, Yang Jwing-Ming (Boston: YMAA Publication Center 2000) p. 112.