These terms: yi, qi and li are usually the hardest concepts to grasp in Chinese Kung Fu, but they are fundamental to understanding the core concepts of the martial art.
They are difficult to understand, at least initially because they follow a different system and use different terminology that doesn't translate precisely into English.
But, here we are going to attempt to break them down, bit by bit and relate them to western concepts that you may or may not be more familiar with.
Pain control is central to physical training. The one who goes further, is the one who can manage being uncomfortable.
Your brain puts limits on what your body can do. It limits how much you can lift even when you are exerting yourself. And it limits how fast and how far you can run.
So, is it really possible to block out pain that is arresting. It grabs a hold of your mind and clouds out all other thoughts. When you feel pain, it controls your mind, it controls you and you cannot process anything else. It is the ultimate stress test.
How does pain work?
Pain is a distress signal sent to your brain. It is all in your brain. No brain, no pain.
When I started practicing kung fu and actually a long way into it, I always wondered, what is the real point of kung fu forms anyways?
Why should I spend all this time memorizing and perfecting a stance, a certain punch or movement when I wouldn't ever fight like that? Why not just train with simplistic techniques like punches, kicks, and throws? Why bother spending all this time with forms when there is a much shorter route to getting good at throwing a stiff punch.
One of the best models that I have come across to explain the complexity of human development has come from the model above: The Five Levels of Human Potential.
The reason why it is so powerful is it explains how your body interacts on different levels with different techniques.
Many people are familiar with the mind-body connection, but this expands the concept to consider a wider range of aspects.
A young Shaolin boy goes and studies at the Shaolin Temple. His first training exercise is to slap the water in a basin.
The boy, perplexed, asks, "Why?"
The master said, just do it. Slap the water.
In the video above, artist Tobias Gremmler captures the fluidity of Chinese Kung Fu. You can observe the elegance of the movements as they flow and pause at the right time. It is refined chaos - adapting to an ever changing environment.
Life is a lot like that. We have to flow, change and adapt. The more skilled we are, the easier it looks and more powerful we become.
But there are principles at play that are subtle and go unnoticed to the untrained eye. If you look closely, you will see how the energy flows swiftly and easily. It achieves all things without effort.
The opponents strength becomes their weakness. An obstacle becomes the strategy.
Your source of strength comes from your mind. That may seem like a radical suggestion, after all, a person's power is greater when they are more muscular. So how is it possible that your source of strength comes from your mind?
If you look at things scientifically, the amount of muscular contraction is derived from your nervous system, which gets triggered by the brain. So the original source is the brain, where it sets everything in motion.
So, said in another way, your body is actually mental.
Depending on how much "effort" is applied is determined by the perceived efffort.
This is an idea I have been contemplating for a long time about what exactly is mental toughness.
I looked at what Navy SEALS did, I looked at what Shaolin Monks did, and athletes. I looked at a bunch of different areas trying to figure out what exactly is mental toughness.
I took me awhile to nail it down to a simple formula.
When you have a formula you can better understand it. You can use that as a framework so that when a situation comes up, where you need to be mentally tough you can recall the formula to figure out how you can utilize it.
What is mental toughness?
Breaking bricks with your hands are a way to test how powerful and conditioned your hands are. It is also about overcoming mental limits in your mind by literally breaking barriers.
You will want to be well conditioned before attempting to break a brick. Typically this involves a lot of hard qigong through Iron Palm Training.
Iron Palm training hardens the bones and toughens the skin so they are capable of breaking extremely hard surfaces, like stone and brick.
The video above demonstrates a more difficult style of brick breaking, which is taught by Master Wang. This is to test how explosive your strikes are, rather than about generating force.
If your strikes are not explosive enough, the brick will simply catapult off the ledge. It requires more skill and concentration.
There are easier methods to start with. The easiest method is to hold a brick over an edge, and hold it down with one hand. As you are holding it down, you focus and concentrate, then swing your other hand down hard on the top of the brick.
The way to train and prepare to break a brick is as follows...
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.
About the blog
Luke Siljander began training with Master Wang in 2007. He and Master Wang want to share the value of Kung Fu.
Kung Fu is about the application of hard work throughout your life to better yourself and to gain mastery over your body and mind.