Stages of Buddhist & Taoist martial training

Posted on July 26, 2020Comments Off on Stages of Buddhist & Taoist martial training

In this post we will describe how the health & spiritual concepts of Buddhism and Taoism were applied and influenced the training of Chinese martial arts.

5 Stages of Chinese holistic martial training

In the Buddhist & Taoist concept of martial training, the practitioner develops themselves through 5 stages:

  1. Muscle & Tendon
  2. Mind
  3. Qi – life energy
  4. Shen – spirit
  5. Kong – void

We will refer to Chinese holistic martial art as CHMA for short.

CHMA Stage 1 – muscle & tendon

The name is not exactly accurate, as what is primarily developed is the fasciae. The classical exercise is the Muscle & Tendon Transformation Classic. Over the years, many variations of this set has evolved. One version that is particularly good for transforming the physical body is the Mountain Guarding version of the muscle & tendon transformation classic. The transformation is induced by using muscle strength pulling on your fasciae and tendon structures to promote the desired change.

CHMA Stage 2 – yi – mind

The second stage develops the appropriate mind, one that is present, clear, and free. Meditative practices help the practitioner come to accept the present and to let go of attachment. This develops the mind that can interact with our physical body without conflict. If you have a lot of stress and or mental obstacles in your daily life, I recommend the webinar series called Inner Engineering by the Isha Foundation.

CHMA Stage 3 – qi – vital energy

Qi refers to life energy that fuels our physical life. Qi is an inclusive word in the Chinese language that is used in many contexts. As it turns out, the qi described here is not necessarily the same as the qi that is manipulated in acupuncture medicine theory or Chinese herbal theory. It is more often referring to the universal life energy called Prana in Hindu and yogic traditions. This is not surprising if you consider that Buddhism was developed in India.

A variety of “qi”-gong is practiced to help a practitioner develop their awareness and access of this energy. The Yijinjing muscle tendon changing classic neigong can be practiced in this process. You use softer intention to cause the movement of the body and promote prana flow rather than the gross strength used in the 1st stage.

CHMA Stage 4 – shen – spirit

Shen refers to spirit in Chinese medicine terminology. In this context, it refers to learning to open the subtle flows of prana through the body. This is developed with more advanced neigong such as the Marrow Cleansing Neigong.

In Yiyangmen, we undertake this portion of the journey through the practice of the Sushanti meditation. It can be refined through stationary mudra practice.

CHMA Stage 5 – kong – void

Through the developed awareness of prana in our body, the trust in our physical body, and the letting go of attachments in the mind, one becomes aware of the non-form nature of our existence. The non-form nature frees us of the chains that limit our thoughts and actions. Familiarity with our non-form nature allows the practitioner to perform at the utmost capacity.

In Yiyangmen, we begin this practice of understanding our non-form nature with the Isha Kriya meditation.

Pros and cons: correct but difficult

We have outlined the journey that a practitioner of a chinese holistic martial art takes. It is comprehensive and develops the required attributes to succeed. The practitioner can reliably acquire these traits in this approach.

But we have found that it is a difficult journey because the paths are not obvious. The difficulty lies in using these attributes together when you wish to perform a martial arts action. Hence, many people practice kungfu or taichi or xingyi or bagua, and many of them can perform their martial art well. But they have a hard time applying it in combat and they may not obtain the skill levels of the ancient masters.

Great for cultivating a healthy & strong body

The Buddhist & Taoist path for developing martial ability genuinely develops our holistic health. For people who are not concerned with combat, it is an effective approach.

Stay tuned for the next post where we will explore the stages of training in Southern Chinese martial arts such as Hung Gar, Wing Chun, and White Crane. We will see how Southern Chinese martial arts refined this journey to make it more accessible to practitioners.

How have your practice incorporated these aspects of personal development? Please share your stories in the comments below.

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