Jin 勁 : Heavy Hands
Heavy Hands Email # 7
This is the 7th email essay I have sent out to my Heavy Hands Iron Palm group in hopes of helping people while training. I thought I would share this short essay publicly as it may be of some use to people training other types of qigong or internal martial arts. I feel that we are all able to help one another and sharing with one another is a great way to help strengthen the martial arts community.
Whole Body Intrinsic Connected Force. The entire body working together in an efficient way to create force, this is most often how I translate the character Jin 勁. To look at the character itself is helpful in working to understand the idea of Jin 勁. To the right we have the radical Li 力 which means physical strength, implying force in the Jin Character. The left side of the character is in two parts, below is the radical Gong 工 which is translated as work, it is a pictograph of a measuring tool used by carpenters. The final part of the character is the top of the left side and represents a river (Chuan 川 ) that flows underground. A river is a very powerful image for a martial artist as it implies unstoppable force with the ability to kill and change shape due to its circumstances. The character Jin 勁 implies a type of powerful force like a flowing river that cannot be seen but can be attained through skilled work 功夫 or gong fu training.
However, even armed with knowledge of the specialized characters used in martial arts and their etymology we tend to make assumptions when training to attain the skills they are referring to. The use of the radical for strength or force which occurs again and again in the martial artists lexicon leads us to a certain type of thinking about how movement and training should be done. As English speakers the words we use to describe things to ourselves changes the way we interpret and act upon them. Thinking we need to do our training with great strength and effort however is a road to self-sabotage. Unnecessary tension of the body during training or use of any martial skill is antithesis to breaking through the gate of ‘internal power’.
Internal power is not the result of mystical magical energy flowing in rivers through our bodies, indeed meridians and acupoints are often misinterpreted that way and that leads martial artists to think similarly. Internal power is a result of the skilled use of the body and mind to create cascading muscular contractions. Each muscle group firing and then releasing as the movement ripples from the point of origin (normally the body’s centre – Dantian 丹田) to the extremity it is moving. The ability for this to take place with little to no resistance from the bodies antithesis muscle groups to the movement being performed is the idea behind training Heavy Hands and other internal power methods. By dropping the resistance of the body to the desired movement we can accelerate our bodies weight more quickly towards the point of impact. Originating a movement inside the torso or legs and allowing it to travel unimpeded upwards and out through the hands gives us many muscle groups to recruit for power and more time for the acceleration to take place. In the case of something like to one-inch punch we can see the result of the hand itself travelling very little yet delivering a great amount of ‘trained force’ Jin 勁.
If we look to the classical sayings of martial arts, we can see reference to this idea in many different places and styles throughout history. “Power is rooted in the legs, controlled by the waist and expressed through the hands” from the Taiji classics of the past or “Let the enemy feel your gravity, your weight, I don’t feel me, you feel me.” From my own teacher contemporary Master Xu Guoming. The concern we have with working ‘hard’ to accomplish something gives us an idea that effort equals physical exertion. In the internal arts we can see that much exertion is needed to practice a movement or form again and again to gain its benefit. But the effort must be expended in how see think about and see our bodies. Constantly working to release more and more tension to become soft and heavy, in Taijiquan lingo ‘Sung’ or ‘relaxed like a pine tree’. Movement should become natural and a release of tension not a creation of tension in the body. One master told me that issuing force (Fa Jin) should be like sneezing, a huge contraction followed by an equal release. In the classical writings from Shaolin temple we see reference to “Releasing that hand like an arrow shot from a bow”. There is an abundance of these sayings from the past and present day that are telling us to achieve relaxation and naturalness in movement.
While relaxing in motion seems to be an idea that we can easily understand, again we tend to overlook our own cultural biases. In modern day for most people the idea of relaxing is to melt into the couch after a hard day’s work. This is not the relaxation that ‘sung’ is talking about. Without any structure or muscular engagement no work can be done at all, let alone a hidden and skilled type of it! Like a pine tree standing effortlessly with its branches out, to become ‘sung’ we endeavor to train ourselves to find a way to stack the bodies structure, so we can maintain any position with little effort. If we can train ourselves to do this in many different positions with only a small amount of our muscularity when we do exert ourselves to gain that position, there will be much more power than if we were to do it without training.
Heavy Hands qigong is meant to innervate (have a trained nervous system response to thought and intention) different lines throughout the body and to create the ability to release muscle tension while attaining those positions or lines of force. The standing qigong method is the most important part of the entire system and it cannot be overlooked. Heavy hands is not a body hardening exercise, in many ways using the term ‘iron palm’ for it is a misnomer as it implies hitting and hardening the palms. It is a method of release and structure. Relaxation and application of ‘gravity’ on an opponent. It is when used in application lazy and little to nothing to feel for you, but a great deal to feel on the receiving end.
Neil Ripski 2017
Happy to help.