I've already touched on this in the previous topic. However, this type of breathing is essential to learning contact martial stills and so deserves further elaboration. In natural breathing, the traditional theory states that your internal energy goes up the back during the inhalation and down the front during the exhalation, while during a reverse breath it goes up the back on the exhalation and down the front on the inhalation.
Of course, this process also, even from a traditional point of view, has much to do with visualisation, and the actual physical difference in the way that the Qi circulates may well be purely in the mind. It is also true that some qigong teachers tell their students that women will naturally use reverse breathing all the time as it is natural to their gender or that breathing is not all that important.
As to reverse breathing, by using the mind, the physical sense of fullness in the tan-tien area can be transmitted down to the legs, hence contributing to firmer stances and more powerful use of the feet and legs. Thus, a well trained bagua practitioner feels as if the upper part of his or her body is fluid and relatively light, while his legs are heavy and firmly rooted to the floor without being rigid. By the way, being rooted does not mean that you are planted in the floor; a competent practitioner can maintain a sense of root while moving freely.
Let's be pragmatic and use the analogy of pushing a car: if you don't breathe properly while exerting physical effort (some teachers refer to this as having insufficient "pneumatic pressure" in the core muscles of the torso—particularly in the abdominal area, as well as where the psoas muscles connect with the lower back), this results in having insufficient muscle power to do the work at hand.
While using this idea when striking someone or being struck yourself, it is also essential to learn how to use this type of breath automatically, as it can save you from having the wind knocked out of you if you are hit with any power in some parts of the front of the torso. (N.B. It is only on tv and in the movies that the good guy doesn't get hit, or effortlessly shrugs off the effects of repeated blows.)
If you are exhaling and contracting the abdominal area while fighting, you are in for trouble if punched well. The goal is to have air in you at point of impact and your torso not in a contracting phase. Of course, this is complicated because your torso—except for the point of contact—must remain relatively relaxed to avoid causing your structure to topple or affect your balance, which can have serious consequences in a fight.
Reading any of the taiji, bagua, and hsing-i texts that have been translated into English in recent years will reveal a bewildering number of martial jings that apparently have to be understood by the internal arts practitioner. The word itself can be confusing, as the meaning can vary depending on how you pronounce it or the context in which it is used. This word can mean "sperm," or "the vital life force contained in hormones," or "a skilful physical application of the body and mind."
It is also essential to remember that in the older texts the author meant his words to be read only by his family members or senior students and perhaps by their eventual senior students. These texts were not designed to be instructions for beginners, and such a teacher would not have imagined—or desired—that his words would reach a modern Western audience.
Consequently, when the average modern student reviews these lengthy lists of jings, it is important to consider that these were notes for experienced students who already knew how to apply all or most of these skills in a martial context. Those readers also understood how the various jings interacted and supported each other from practical combative experience.
I think it makes better sense for the average modern practitioner to stop obsessing about learning dozens of separate jings and only distinguish a few key ones. In practice, it is impossible to do many of the described jings in isolation. Remember that an opponent who is charging you swinging wildly and powerfully, or launching a surprise attack, is not going to give you much time or space to react with any of these specific jings!
Martially, these interrelated skills must be so automatic that they are done by your body and mind in the correct sequence, and as the martial situation demands. You can not think or plan your way out of a real combative situation, you can only react. The few real internal martial experts I have met seem to focus more on teaching their students the basics and encouraging them to understand the martial truth behind "seizing the moment to gain the advantage."
The development of these essential energies requires competent hands-on instruction as well as good training partners with whom you practise in a controlled manner on a regular basis.
Ting ("listening") jing is the most basic of the necessary skills and one of the most elusive martially. Younger, fitter students tend to substitute speed and power as soon as they feel threatened, while older, more intellectual ones tend to assume that being able to go through the motions of circling their hands and bodies in a connected manner with a partner is somehow enough to stop a real punch, rather than being just a basic choreography. In the long run, actual physical contact becomes less and less essential, but this is an elusive skill that comes, if at all, after many years of practice.
Remember that listening requires you to be able to survive the initial attack and successfully make contact with the opponent rather than being overwhelmed by that contact. What is comparatively easy to do in a formal exercise in class is much harder to achieve when someone is actually moving in with a real attack.
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