Free Content

Muscle-Tendon Change, Marrow Washing & Fascial Training: Part 5 by Tom Bisio

This is the fifth part of our discussion of the Muscle-Tendon Change, Marrow Washing & Fascial Training. In this installment we examine the impotance of fiber alignment in the fascia and make analogies between Yi Jin Jing/Xi Sui Jing and bowmaking and swordsmithing, that can be helpful in understanding subtle aspects of Yi Jin Jing and Xi Sui Jing training.

Useful Muscle-Tendon Change Analogies

In the previous posts on the Muscle-Tendon Change and Marrow Washing we looked at the importance of maintaining an optimal position of the collagen fibers, adapted to a specific anatomical structure (muscle, joint, visceral capsule, meninges, etc.) in order to maintain healthy tissue. In a healthy state, fascia is relaxed and malleable with directional fiber orientation. However, connective tissue can lose its malleability when damaged via local trauma or inflammation. This can then cause fascial layers to tighten and restrict the movement of underlying tissues, leading to pain, hindered range of motion, or decreased blood flow.

One distinct feature of fascia is that it possesses strength because it is wrapped tightly, while also being tightly packed with bundles of collagen. The fibers are usually oriented in one direction so that the structure does not become loose or lax. This makes fascia quite flexible and able to resist tension. It also allows tension and load to be distributed more or less equally across a particular structure. We also looked at the work of Schleip and Müller, [1] and the work of Bordoni et als,[2] which indicate that 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. Lack of movement and/or injury create a situation in which the fibers develop cross-links with a more haphazard, multi-directional fiber orientation. The fibers then lose their elasticity and do not glide against one another. They stick together and even can be come adhered and matted together.

When fascial fibers develop a cross-grain multi-directional orientation, stress and load are no longer evenly distributed and the misaligned fiber area now absorbs more stress, making both it and other contiguous fascial areas prone to injury, increasing the area of misalignment and making it more susceptible to tearing and tissue damage.

Earlier we discussed how the Yi Jin Jing regulates the energy flow through the meridians so that the limbs, muscles, sinews, bones, and fascia are adequately supplied with Qi, blood and fluids. Yi Jin Jing strengthens the Wei Qi (Defensive Qi), and loosens and fills up the muscles and sinews with Qi while stretching, strengthening, and realigning the muscles, sinews, bones and fascia. This “filling up” and augmentation of Wei Qi is aided by the An Mo/Pai Da part of the Yi Jin Jin.

Yi Jin Jing also restores elasticity to the tissues and creates elastic power dynamics through the bow-like structures of the spine, arms and legs. The spine and the two arms and legs are often referred to as the “Five Bows” in internal martial arts. When performing the Yi Jin Jing exercises, the Five Bows are slightly curved – like a drawn bow. Feeling and sensing this curvature fills the body with an elastic power that is neither slack nor rigid. This makes the tissues resilient and allows them to generate sudden, explosive force.

In thinking about bow-like structures it is interesting to know that bowyers (people who hand-make bows) are very concerned about grain alignment of the wood. When making a long bow out of a single piece of wood, the grain should be straight (oriented in a single direction) from end to end. Cathedral grains (that have an apex), any type of curly grain or grains that run off to the side of the flat board should be avoided. The diagram below shows the equal tensions that are distributed along the length of the bow when the grain runs the length of the bow.

The undesirable grain orientations mentioned above cause tension to accumulate more in the curly or runoff grain areas, making the bow prone to break in those areas. Fascial fiber alignment follows a similar principle.

In previous posts, I mentioned that Chinese masters often compare internal exercises like Yi Jin Jing and Marrow Washing to “forging steel.” Rubbing and patting the body in conjunction with stretching and twisting the joints is a bit like forging steel, using heat and pressure to create both strength and flexibility. The right amount of heat and force must be applied to create a blade that is both strong and flexible. I recently talked to a friend of mine who learned blacksmithing and forges knives and blades. The conversation brought up some interesting parallels between Internal training and forging blades. I apologize in advance to swordsmiths if I am not completely accurate in my descriptions.

A piece of iron ordinarily will be attracted to a magnet, but when you heat the iron to a high enough temperature (called the Curie point), it loses its ability to be magnetized. Heat energy scrambles the iron atoms so they can’t line up and create a magnetic field. When forging a blade, heat is used to mold and shape the blade and the cooling process creates and specific crystalline structure of iron and carbon that is both flexible and strong. This requires creating a consistent grain structure along the edge and point through specific hammering processes that align the grain. After being heated, the metal must be rapidly cooled by quenching it in liquid. This quenching restores the magnetic properties of the metal. Quenching makes steel harder by changing the crystalline structure so the carbon and iron in the steel can be more evenly distributed. This creates a high level of hardness, but if too hard the blade becomes brittle. In the tempering phase the metal is reheated, but not to the high temperature in which the metal losses its magnetic properties. The tempering phase releases stress in the structure of the metal, creating more ductility and flex. The metal is still hard but also has a springy quality.

The quenching process restores the magnetic properties of the metal and it also helps create a proper grain structure. Grain structure apparently depends quite a bit on the cooling process and the speed of cooling. My friend tells me that old-time swordsmiths traditionally cooled blades with the tip facing north, because this aids the grain alignment. Many modern swordsmiths pooh-pooh this idea, but my source tells me that in his experience it makes a difference in how the metal aligns and straightens.

I find this (I hope not too long) segue into bowmaking and swordsmithing interesting for a number of reasons. Both crafts have to negotiate tensile strength, and the firmness and flexibility of the material they are working with. Both crafts also must create an integrated structure where force and load are distributed relatively evenly throughout the structure, with some adjustments for different parts of the structure. And both crafts are concerned with grain orientation. This is not dissimilar to various fascial structures which interweave with each other and whose fibers (“grain”) must be properly aligned in order to distribute force throughout the structure, while maintaining both strength and flexibility. Hence the training method (forging) method must be precise.

I have also found that the imagery of bow imagery and imaging forging steel can help one stay on track when training Yi Jin Jing and Xi Sui Jing.

Does Practice Direction Matter?

Another interesting aspect of this discussion regards direction. Just as some traditional swordsmiths feel that direction matters when quenching a blade, many texts and many practitioners say that one should practice exercises like Yi Jin Jing, and Marrow Washing while facing south, the most Yang direction, although some masters say one should face east.

With a south-facing orientation one’s back, kidneys and the bladder channel face north.[3] This alignment is said to activate the Qi and balance Yin and Yang. Aligning yourself with the North-South axis lines the body up, not only with the earth’s magnetic field, but also with the movement of the Five Phases (Five Elements), which is understood as a person facing south. When facing south, the sun rises on the left (East), rises overhead and sets on the right (West). The body then corresponds with the rising sun and rising expanding energy of Yang Qi and springtime in the East – hence it is said that the “Liver Qi rises on the left.” The sun moves overhead (summer) and then sets on the right, corresponding to the contracting energy of Yin and autumn – “Lung Qi descends on the right.”[4] Aligning ourselves in this way (as illustrated in the diagram below) is said to increase the effect of the exercises.

Over the years I have talked to people who adhere strictly to this idea and others who say it is not so important. I have friends who say they can tell a difference between when they practice Qi Gong or Muscle Tendon Change when they practice facing south and when they do not. Does facing south make a difference?

Hard to say, however there is research that suggests the human system can tell north from south, and that biological magnetite has been found to exist in organisms from bacteria to humans and has been linked to the geomagnetic sense in many of animals.[5] There may also be a mechanism involving special cells containing iron-based crystals. These crystals are thought to rotate rather like the needle of a compass, opening or closing pores in the cells, thereby affecting signals being sent to the brain.[6]

The orientation of iron filings around a bar magnet provides an interesting image for the practice of Yi Jin Jing. Iron filings are small shavings of a ferromagnetic material. The iron filings align themselves with the magnetic field created by the magnet.

In the diagram below, notice how iron filings align themselves in relation to the north and south poles of a bar magnet.



Magnetic field lines spread out from one pole, curve around the magnet, and return to the other pole. This can be useful image for imaging how fiber alignment may be influenced by the exercises and also by the direction one faces when performing them. The diagram above also provides a useful image of how the body might create its own field effect in the fascia.

I have always been a bit skeptical of the importance of direction in performing self-cultivation and meditation exercises, and for me the jury is still out. However, just the other day as I was thinking about this aspect of practice, I realized that in both places where I regularly practice the Muscle Tendon Change and Marrow Washing I have been performing these exercises daily facing south. Does facing south make a difference? Hard to say, but in light of the information about forging swords, I am a bit reluctant to change the habit I have developed. Certainly this is something that requires further research.

Some Thoughts About Electromagnetic Fields & Fascia

Scientist and inventor George Lakhovsky concluded that living things could not only emit but also receive electromagnetic radiation, and that health could be equated to the oscillatory equilibrium of living fields. Lakhovsky made the analogy of electricity traveling through a wire, and the resultant electromagnetic field it produces. He felt that the human electromagnetic field presumably exists as an oscillating invisible energy field, correlating with both health and disease in the body.[7]

Based on research on electrical fields and the human body, Dr. Robert Becker postulated the existence of a “positive current of injury”. In his book, The Body Electric, Becker discusses the discovery of the subtle DC electrical system in the meningeal-perineural tissue previously considered only protective and without other function.[8]

This theory has interesting overlaps with Internal martial arts and the acupuncture meridians. For example, measuring the current in an extremity, the shoulder is more electro-positive than the elbow, which is more electro-positive than the wrist, even though there also is a sensory current polarized in the opposite direction in that extremity. Therefore, the shoulder has an electrical value quantitatively different from the elbow and wrist, we begin to understand the formal structure of this system as an analog system. Every location on the body has a specific electrical identity. Injury disturbs that specific electrical identity.[9]

In Acupuncture, polarity tends to change as Qi passes through a meridian and reaches the fingers and toes. For example, Qi traveling from the chest to the fingertip on the Lung Channel is predominantly Yin Qi. Yet on its way back up the other side of the arm (Large Intestine Channel) Qi shifts to become predominately Yang Qi. This polarity change probably occurs occurs gradually, and more strongly between the elbow and the fingertips, and between the knee and the toes. Therapeutically, it is at points below the knee and below the elbow that energy polarity changes can be most easily accelerated or retarded.

Studies have shown that when the body is stimulated by electroacupuncture, with a current of a definite waveform and ever-changing frequency, ions in the tissues will move in the direction leading to depolarization of the cell membrane and a change in concentration and distribution, resulting in functional changes in the body.[10]

Hence Yi Jin Jing and Xi Sui Jing exercises may partially exert effects on the fascia and fascial tissue orientation through these oscillating currents that move through the limbs. This may be particularly true of exercises like “Stretching Talons and Spreading Wings” and “Green Dragon Stretches Its Claw” in the Yi Jin Jing, which focus on the fingers and fingertips and or on some of the visualizations relating to the arms and legs in the Xi Sui Jing.

Modern fascial research indicates that electromagnetic fields may be important in relation to fascia (below are two examples). However this relationship requires much more research.

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.[11]

Recent studies have also 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.[12]


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

[2] Bordoni B, Simonelli M, Morabito B. The Fascial Breath. Cureus. 2019 Jul 23;11(7):e5208. doi: 10.7759/cureus.5208. PMID: 31565613; PMCID: PMC6758955.

[3] Obviously if the sun is hot one should practice in a shaded area.

[4] Fluid Physiology and Pathology in Traditional Chinese Medicine 2nd Edition, Steve Clavey (Churchill Livingstone, 2003) p. 7.

[5] Connie X. Wang, Isaac A. Hilburn, Daw-An Wu, Yuki Mizuhara, Christopher P. Cousté, Jacob N. H. Abrahams, Sam E. Bernstein, Ayumu Matani, Shinsuke Shimojo, Joseph L. Kirschvink. Transduction of the Geomagnetic Field as Evidenced from Alpha-band Activity in the Human Brain. eneuro, 2019; ENEURO.0483-18.2019 DOI: 10.1523/ENEURO.0483-18.2019

[6] Shaw J, Boyd A, House M, Woodward R, Mathes F, Cowin G, Saunders M, Baer B. Magnetic particle-mediated magnetoreception. J R Soc Interface. 2015 Sep 6;12(110):0499. doi: 10.1098/rsif.2015.0499. PMID: 26333810; PMCID: PMC46144

[7] The Secret of Life by Georges Lakhovsky (1920)

[8] The Body Electric: Electromagnetism and the Foundation of Life Robert Becker and Gary Selden (1985).


[10] “Channel Theory”, Eunkyung Kim Acupuncture Today (

[11] “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

[12] “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.