Mechanics of Power in Ba

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by John D. Bracy

Guo Gu Min (fpgj lived from 1880-1968. Those who knew him say that when he had the lightest contact with his opponent his adversary would be tossed. A subject of endless discussion among practitioners of Ba Gua is the legendary and effortless power and ability of martial artists like Guo. In the summer of 1995 I attended the international Ba Gua conference in Beijing, China. Zhan Shui Fen, a teacher and theorist from Chang Chuen, China presented a paper on the subject of how Guo and others like him achieved such power and sublime skill. According to Zhan how they developed it can be understood by applying principles of physics. Zhan believes that this analysis unveils the deeper secrets of Ba Gua and the other internal arts.

In his paper Zhan discussed:

1. The nature and definition of song [Mt), the importance of its development and its understanding in light of modern physics.

2. How the mind directs internal power via control of elasticity and direction of spring like coil.

3. Understanding correct posture for angle of attack and effective power.

4. Metaphysical aspects of practice.

1. The nature and definition of song, the importance of its development and its understanding in light of modern physics.

Song is spring like power essential to Ba Gua mechanics.

Understanding and being able to employ song is essential to acquiring internal power. It is the core of correct Ba Gua practice. The word "song" has no exact equivalent in English language. It might be translated as "tenacity" or "tenaciousness" and refers to a quality of resistance, but not looseness. Often translated as "looseness" or relaxedness, these terms lack exactness in translation since song applies to a principle of physical resilience such as being a "springiness," not hard nor loose. Applied to the model of the human body, it describes physical attributes much like that of a spring. Its quality is so much like a "spring" that Zhan uses the analogy of a spring and applies laws of mechanical engineering to the human body and study of the internal martial arts.

Zhan believes qi, internal power, is largely explainable by the relaxed yet tenacious, "springy" power of song. According to Zhan, the dan tian is the most important and central aspect of the spring quality in human body mechanics. The spring at the dan tian causes the internal power to spread to the entire body and energetic channels. (what he refers to as the "four extremities & ren, du mai"). Implementation of this concept begins with a special kind of "relaxedness" which leads to a powerful effect in combat. This "relaxedness," is not loose and without structure, but, again, like a spring which maintains resistance and tenacity.

According to Zhan, the secret of full power rests in mastering the hard and soft since hard and soft together equals life and power while separation of these aspects in the body equals death. Hardness makes a spring brittle and rigid thus its value is limited. Too soft of a spring becomes a "slinky" toy where the tension of the spring is nearly insignificant. The optimal spring lies in the middle of the spring continuum and possesses the greatest tenacity, resistance and spring like quality.

Thus, to study this concept we can use the analogy of a spring. In diagram 1 below taken from Zhan's paper, the energy of song is explained.

L = height

D = Diameter of coil t = distance between each coil ( of spring)

d = thickness of wire

K = Spring Constant (Flexibility as it relates to

"d"; index of how much force it takes to compress the spring.)

The following is germane:

1. When d is greater, K is greater. When d is smaller, K is less (F=KAt)

2. At = Change in compression of spring (change in t as it relates to distance between the coils)

3. When d is greater, At is smaller (to store the same amount of energy). When d less, At is greater (to store the same amount of energy).

Zhan says that tension in the body is analogous to coil thickness and that the power a spring has in a static situation is like a human body in song status. Therefore, to increase or decrease "internal force," change "d," which in the human body is done by control of song (tension in the body).

Imagine two springs one with larger d, one with smaller d. Different degrees of force are required to compress these springs to the same level. More d takes more energy to compress. To a certain point, the more tension you release, the greater the internal power. This principle applies to practice of Ba Gua Zhang.

In applying this model to the practice of internal martial arts, Zhan's point is that a practitioner who is more tense has less internal power potential. This is because he possesses more d, or "coil thickness" (tension). In comparison, a less tense practitioner has greater internal power potential since, his "d" or "coil thickness" (tension) is less.

2. How the mind directs internal power via control of elasticity and direction of spring like coil.

The mind and "Song."

The mind via the central nervous system controls the degree of tension of the "spring" in the body to create the song effect. Signals from the brain cause muscles to tense or relax. Thus, thought and mindset, as well as basic flexibility, are important. Thought and emotion are causal in creating gradations in body relationships and corresponding muscular tension. Applying the spring analogy to the human body, Ad are conscious and unconscious, trained and habitual gradations of muscular tension. Since d is central to the optimal spring function, Zhan offers a tsung "spring" paradigm, which defines spring as internal power.

However, controllable tension (song) is never "on" or "off," but realized by degrees, the other aspect in the "tension continuum" being elasticity. "Springiness" is bi-polar, and elasticity of bi-polar muscles and tendons. Another way of saying this is that yin and yang must be balanced. Correct elasticity is productive of internal force (nei jing). The following rule applies:


Force can be broken down into internal and external.

According to Zhan external force is a product of normal weight and mass rules interacting with the earth's gravity. It is created by the human body's resistance against the earth. This force, is called "wai W or external force, since it comes from the outside.

Unifying your entire body's inner "spring" coil and bringing this to focus on one point will result in "nei jing" or internal force. Then, according to Zhan, "internal power" is the result of the body's force being concentrated to one point with mechanical principles originating inside the body. In other words, the "spring" release of pressures originating inside the body must have a focal point and be channeled or force will be dispersed and useless.

Zhan believes that since Ba Gua is the art of coiling, the potential for Ba Gua to develop internal power is superior to other arts. The entire art of Ba Gua can be said to be like a continuous coiling spring.

The interaction of spring power and the mind.

Internal jing is directed via action of the mind which controls the channel of force. In regards to the development of Ba Gua Zhang skills, this internal jing principle is applied through yi (intent). The classic songs of Ba Gua say:

"Concave the chest and the qi will sink.

With the back rounded, relax the shoulders and the yi (intent) will extend."

Zhan says that although the classics say that qi circulates and fills the myriad points of the body, it is problematic that the source of qi isn't discussed. Zhan believes that qi is based on physical mechanics described earlier. It comes from song and is generated from song. Thus, according to Zhan, the only way to "practice qi' is through song. The correct way to train is brought about by correct movement. Correct movement releases song, and if movement is incorrect song will be defective and internal power cannot be released.

"Song" defined

Zhan explains that "song" is not weak, but tenacious. True strength is both hard and soft ("strong and tender"). If too hard, it interrupts the ability to apply the true laws of physical mechanics ("true natural principles") and jing (force) will lack; if too soft, there will be no structure. According to the classics, "that which is too hard will break." Too hard becomes stiff, stiffness = stagnant energy. Excess hardness = death. "Song" is alive, not dead. Only in the condition of balanced and merged hard and soft is tsung produced.

Zhan suggests the following classical poem as a training guideline:

Silent as a mountain movement as fast and "uncatchable" like a rabbit.

In this poem the mountain represents solidity and resolve. The "uncatchable" rabbit, is the adept with the springy and ever changing quality which represents the epitome of evasive movements.

More on "Song"

When the condition of song exists, you have the ability to "fa jing" (transmit internal force), respond instantly at any moment, fluidly and without hesitation. According to Zhan, "You fa jing and then instantly at completion of fa jing you return to song."

Zhan gave the following advice about "song:"

"Many who have some understanding of song pay attention to its principles until it is time to use it. They overly focus their attention on the object or use overextended movements and lose principle. If you pull a rope from the floor it will become vertical, but drop it and it has no form." This suggests that acquiring softness is not enough to achieve song. The body, without song and the mind directing it is as powerless as the limp rope.

Ba Gua is an art based not on torque, nor momentum but on coiling and stretching of both common and rarely used muscles and tendons. Only when the tendons and corresponding muscular tension are released can "song" reach the perfect state. Master the principle by releasing tension and using spiraling movements.

3. Understanding correct posture for angle of attack and effective power.

The importance of correct posture.

The classics say: concave the chest, keep the back of head pulled up, the pelvic tilting forward. Straighten your back (align structure, this does not mean straighten the back completely vertical). This position allows the waist, pelvic, and legs to release song. Through practicing this posture jing & li (internal power and physical force) is able to transmit through the shoulders.

Zhan's position is to consider the spine's angle. Diagram 2 illustrates the natural curvature of the spine.

Diagrams 3 and 4 compare two ways of transferring force through the body.

Diagram 2

In diagram 3 from Zhan's paper efficient and correct force and power does not transfer through this posture since it is not aligned efficiently along the axis of force. The principle from physics was applied known as "cosine of theta (0)," where the transmission of force is disturbed due to the 0 angle. The 0 angle in the diagram shows the disturbed axis. In diagram 4 the posture more effectively conducts power since the 0 angle which disperses the line of force is reduced or eliminated. Zhan suggests the following formula for understanding the transmission of power,


In diagram 3 the force generated along the F axis is reduced due to the 0 angle. In other words, F in diagram 3 is weaker than F in diagram 4.

An example of cosine of theta (cos©) relates to a man opening two different heavy windows that slide up to open. In one case the man is able to put his body directly underneath the window and press straight up. In the other case, the man has to reach over a desk. (See diagram a). In the former, the angle of force is more direct; in the latter, the force opening the window is at an angle to the ideal line of force, thus creating a © angle. Cosine of © is the ratio of the length of the horizontal side of the right triangle to the hypotenuse. See diagram b:

cos 6 = x / h "ratio of length of horizontal side to length of hypotenuse"

x = length of horizontal side of triangle y = length of vertical side of triangle h = length of hypotenuse

cos 6 = x / h "ratio of length of horizontal side to length of hypotenuse"

x = length of horizontal side of triangle y = length of vertical side of triangle h = length of hypotenuse

Diagram a


4. Metaphysical aspects of practice.

In Conclusion:

For the most part Zhan's discussion of internal power centered on principles that could be explained according to laws of physics. Exceptions to this rule occurred when the discussion turned to that of qi intermingling with intent and/or mind. Zhan says that the concept of Yi, "intention," extends beyond the limits of the physical body. As in the case of many traditional internal martial art theorists, sometimes Zhan intermixed concepts of mystical with mechanical to explain power and qi.

According to Zhan when the qi is concentrated at the dan tian (the traditional center of qi) it will rise to the top of the head and even "extend through the top of your head."

He quoted the classical Ba Gua song's advice to evenly circulate the qi that many of us already know: Keep your mouth closed, tongue on top of the inside of the mouth, breath thru the nose.

Extending your "mind" beyond the limits of the physical body.

Zhan, via extrapolation of principles of physics, presents an interesting way to look at internal power. His analysis provides a fascinating arena for discussion and blending together Western ideas of power with the mystical. At this time these models only goes so far since it doesn't fully explain more mystical aspects of qi. There may be further explanation in the future when instrumentation or other ways of understanding internal power can be proposed. For the time being I am glad that internal power theorists leave room for the mysterious.

About the author: John Bracy is Director of the Hsing Chen School of Martial Arts in Orange County, Calfornia. He began martial arts training in 1967. In 1981 he was introduced to Ba Gua Zhang by Ho Shen-Ting of Taipei, Taiwan. In 1988 he became a student and 5th generation lineage holder under Liu Hsing-Han of Beijing, China. He is presently working on several Ba Gua books and video-tapes.

These are some aspects of qi circulation: The lower abdomen is the base of qi. Qi "moves like clouds" within its system. Qi and the ability to manipulate it is linked to yi (intent). Yi is very important since ability to understand and experience qi as sensory data beyond the physical limits of your nervous system is linked to its development. An example of extending the nervous system beyond the body is when someone is able to sense strong emotions when they enter a room.

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