What is "fa jin"?
This question perplexes many martial art students. How do you develop it? How is it applied? Does it exist?
Before getting into explaining it, I will share an experience about how I discovered it by getting rocked on my heels.
After class, one day, several students were wondering how exactly power is generated in Kung Fu.
Does it start with the waist which drives the heel into the ground, sort of like preloading a spring, which then sends the energy back up with a greater force. Or...does it all start with the foot, sending energy up, spirals through the waist then up through the torso, down the arm and to the hand. Basically it was semantics, but we were interested in the flow of power.
To find answers, we went to Master Wang.
Master Wang takes these kinds of things seriously and passionately.
He gets up and explains, it starts from the ground, but real power is generated in the lower torso area, known as the "dan tian" in Chinese.
In the midst of all his antics and explanation, he placed a palm on my chest and then...*pop* I get rocked with a tremendous force that landed me in a chair 5 feet away.
My chest throbbed with pain.
The weirdest thing was, his movements were imperceptible, it was just out of nowhere, a powerful explosion.
With nearly every type of punch that you see, even the "one-inch" punch, you see a dramatic movement clearly expressed, the shoulders and waist turning sharply. But this was nothing like that.
This is the true essence of fajin.
So what is this force and how can it be applied?
What we need to understand first is that it is a Chinese word. Fajin is defined as the ability to apply force. If you are off balance, you have no jin, if you feel sick, you have no jin, if you are distracted, you have no jin, if you scared stiff, you have no jin.
So it is, in a very holistic way, about the ability to apply force. Certain situations, mental states and physical states increase it or decrease it. The way it's described is that when you are off balance, the qi can't penetrate into your muscles to generate a force. Jin is closely connected with qi.
While westerners speak about athletic performance in terms of body mechanics, muscles, and posture, Chinese use terms like jin and qi. In the west, we categorize things, individualize them, Chinese are holistic and see everything connected and rooted in part of a whole.
Many of these concepts feel very abstract to westerners, but I will do my best to explain it from a scientific point of view which is the language we like to speak.
A Grandmaster at the School Demonstrates Fajin
In the video above, Grandmaster Wang Dezhen, (Master Wang Jianqiao trained under) demonstrates at the school his ability to generate an immense amount of fajin. Those bricks are stacked on flat ground with no spacers in between (which would make it a lot easier) and breaks them with a slap. By comparison, using those same type of bricks at the school, the most I could do is break two, hanging over an edge. Even breaking one on flat ground would be incredible.
How to Develop and Train Fajin:
The Root of Fajin:
Fajin is rooted in your nervous system, it is about training your nervous system. Your main source of power is generated from your core and is strongest around your waist (dantian).
One of the core exercises in training fajin is breathing down into your dantian. Your lower stomach should expand out when you do this. This does several things for you. By breathing deep, it relaxes your whole nervous system, it brings more oxygen rich blood to your muscles, it increases circulation and it also grounds you to put you in the best state to release a force.
This is more than just biomechanics.
By relaxing, you relieving a lot of internal resistance from the antagonistic muscles, which works against you. By breathing deep, you are increasing oxygen and circulation. Your body uses oxygen to produce energy, that is why you become breathless when you are doing intense physical activity. If you increase the amount of oxygen coming in and increase circulation, your performance increases immediately. Your whole system functions much better when there is ample supply of oxygen flowing through your system.
A second part to the dantian breathing, is creating a pressure that tightens up your whole core. This sort of pressure pushes more oxygen through your bloodstream. Greater pressure differential in the lungs (by compressing the diaphragm) increases circulation of blood. And when you tighten the core, you also engage more muscles in the torso for more power. A metaphor Master Wang likes to use in explaining it, is it's like a balloon. If you hit the balloon, there is a recoil or a rebound. This causes an explosive type of force. It takes a little bit of training to get the feeling, but if you squeeze your lower abdomen in which will cause you to breathe out, but more tightly, you can begin to feel it.
Just practicing these concepts above will greatly increase your fajin. To take it to the next level, you need a basis in qigong. You should be able to "feel qi", which is another topic. But to briefly explain what happens in qigong, is you become aware of your SNS (sympathetic nervous system) which is normally unconscious. 80% of the weight of your SNS is in the fibers of your skin and is sensitive to temperature and environment changes. This is where the qi sensation occurs. Being able to create this feeling allows you to feel and train fajin much more easily.
The One Main Principle of Fajin:
The main principle in fajin is hyper-activating your nervous system. This is done through breathing, focus, and circulation. This is what the body does in a high stress response where people develop what seem like super-human strength. The science around this is fairly loose because it's difficult to study spontaneous phenomenons.
The generic explanation is adrenaline.
But what happens during a high stress response is glands release adrenaline and noradrenaline hormones, which put your body and mind in a ready state. These hormones trigger a cascade of effects throughout the body.
Adrenaline affects your muscles directly. Specifically, when adrenaline is released from the adrenal medulla (located above the kidneys) it allows blood to flow more easily to your muscles, which is also bringing more oxygen to your muscles. This allows your muscles to function at elevated levels. There are greater electrical impulses sent from the nervous system to contract the muscles needed.
Normally we rely on hormones to produce that state, but we can learn what those processes are and train specifically for it.
This is done through breathing, focus, and circulation. You may have noticed in the video above, the Grandmaster swinging his arm before he crushes the bricks. This floods his arm with blood and oxygen, it is a mechanical way of increasing circulation. The scream triggers the brain to release adrenaline to increase circulation and bring greater focus.
The limits on our strength are actually in our minds. Our brain puts limits on our physical body to protect it. But through proper and safe training, we can tap into it. Just like a bodybuilder lifts heavy weights and eats a high calorie diet grows in strength and muscle mass over longer periods of time. We can do the same with our nervous system. This is done through the practice of qigong, using your breath and focus while improving circulation through physical action. When you practice the breathing mentioned above and maintain your focus when practicing qigong you are training your nervous system to become stronger. And over time you will feel the effects.
About the blog
Luke Shao and Master Wang are on a mission to share the ancient Chinese approach to acquiring any skill.