The practitioner's head must be held as if gently suspended and with the neck feeling long. Unfortunately, students often tighten the neck muscles in order to keep the head upright and the chin pulled in. It is better to imagine that a small object is resting on top of the back of the head and must be supported there through proper posture alone. The other way to approach this is to feel as if your head is being pulled upwards gently, as if suspended, like the strings of a marionette support its head.
As to the mind inside the head, the ultimate goal is to bring a mindless attentiveness to your solo practice. This is, of course, easier said than done, and I certainly don't experience it with any consistency during my training. It is also hard to put into words and tends to vary with the form being done. One day, the Circular Form may have a smooth and wave-like feeling—like being in a river and floating along in a mild current on a warm summer day. On another day, the Linear Form can feel quite imperative—like you are a barbarian charging and shrieking to throw yourself on the unsuspecting Roman legions marching past in the Teutoburg Forest. (Yes, I have watched too many historical movies over the years!)
Even though the gaze of the eyes should be unfocused when doing the Wuji Posture. If you change direction suddenly while moving from one posture to another, they must express attitude in the sense of looking forward through the lead hand or in the new direction once you start to move. The gaze should not be lowered even when the practitioner focuses inwardly. The mind, as much as the eyes, is responsible for maintaining a sense of where you are and where you are going while training.
The eyes are also responsible for leading the body in a new direction when a change of direction is necessary. This is a difficult concept to get, as the natural tendency is to turn the head instead of the eyes when changing direction. It take time to learn how to lead with the eyes and turn the head properly at the right moment.
One of the reasons for not turning the head just any old way is it encourages the skull to be centred and gently raised, as it should always be. If you were struck in the head (remember the martial roots of bagua) or pulled suddenly by the arm, with your head loose and unaligned, you are more likely to be injured or knocked out.
Conversely, using your eyes properly but not allowing the head to turn, means that it can become difficult to do some of the directional changes without losing your balance. In addition, if you don't exercise them, the muscles of the upper shoulders and neck tend to stiffen or atrophy to some extent. This is why you should supplement your form training with other exercises or qigongs that safely train a full range of motion in the neck and, for that matter, in all of the joints.
The lips should stay gently closed, and the teeth should remain in light contact. The tongue stays raised on the upper palate. While there are different opinions on what type of facial expression (if any) is appropriate, my own feeling is that a gentle smile is most appropriate for setting the mood for solo training and relaxing the many small muscles of the face and jaw. You may find that the type of expression can vary spontaneously depending on the type of form being done as well as your mood on a particular day.
Learning to keep the tip of the tongue gently pressed up against the roof of the mouth and held behind the two front teeth is an integral part of the internal martial arts and qigong. There are exceptions to this rule, of course. For example, when using a cleansing breath by exhaling through the mouth, the tongue will drop temporarily away from the upper palate. Similarly, issuing power by striking while using a ha sound will also mean that the tongue drops temporarily away from the upper palate. In general though, the tongue stays up and behind the teeth. Instructors who have been trained in a traditional manner may talk about the importance of doing this in conjunction with lifting the Huiyin point between the legs when inhaling or exhaling, depending on their preferences and to the type of breath being done, to maintain a more efficient flow of Qi through the Governing and Conceptor Vessels along the midline of the back and front of the torso and head respectively.
However, there are two other very pragmatic reasons to keep the tongue against the roof of the mouth. Deep breathing can dry the mouth out surprisingly quickly, leaving that orifice more prone to infection by viruses and bacteria that more easily cross the membranes of the mouth and throat under such conditions—particularly, if you don't make a conscious effort to only inhale through the nose. However, keeping the tongue lifted stimulates the production of saliva which moistens the membranes and also has antibiotic properties to defend against such infection.
This flow also stimulates the digestive system, which may also help explain why a very common by-product of doing qigong is feeling hungry after you train. Similarly, saliva is full of hormones, and swallowing this fluid during practice, as is often recommended, ensures that these hormones are not wasted by being expelled. As Erle Montaigue has often said, only partly in jest, "the internal arts are very green" (i.e., in favour of recycling).
Bad martial habits are easier to create than to correct, and one such habit is failing to keep your mouth shut and your tongue in place behind the teeth and not between them while practising combat skills with a partner, or while fighting. Over the years, I have noticed that a number of otherwise talented practitioners have had difficulty breaking the habit of letting the tip of the tongue protrude or keeping the mouth slack while training. Such habits are more likely to develop when there is little or no contact to the head as in most modern martial arts.
It is one thing to constantly verbally remind someone that they should pull their tongue in and close their mouth, but some have to be tapped in the jaw once or twice before they realise how painful it can be to ignore the teacher about what seems like a meaningless detail. Small details, like this one, are what make up the bulk of one's training once you are no longer a beginner. From all this the seeds of true skill are sown.
Oh, and by the way, there is the issue of learning to avoid getting into a scrap that would otherwise never had happened if you had remembered your teacher's good advice "to hold your tongue." (I say this only partly tongue-in-cheek, which in itself is also a very bad pun!)
Was this article helpful?