Many times in my experience with Yi Chuan the right path was the opposite of what I thought it was. For you Seinfeld fans out there I felt like George Costnaza…..if I just did The Opposite of what I thought it was I would get way better results. Let me explain.
Yi Chuan works by awakening, strengthening and making functional a latent capacity we all have expressing integrated, hunyuan or internal strength. Coming from an athletic background that included extensive strength training the method seemed to contradict what I thought was the right way to develop strength. How could Yi Chuan effectively make me stronger without my precious resistance training?
Integration vs. Isolation
Before studying Yi Chuan most of my strength training involved isolating muscle groups in order to strengthen them. While the strength increase was obvious in performance of an exercise like barbell curls, it was seldom obviously useful when doing things that required the coordination of the whole body. I would gain strength in the gym only to feel slow or uncoordinated while sparring or grappling.
In Yi Chuan we use the Yi or intent to link and unite the body’s muscle chains into coordinated expressions of strength. Rather than strength from isolation the art seeks strength through unification. Movement is re-patterned in a way that allows all the muscles to participate in expressing strength. To put it another way, I can’t curl as much weight as I used to but I can hit a lot harder.
Sinew vs. Muscle
My myopic focus on muscle as the source of strength caused me to ignore the role of the tissues they are connected to and, in fact, interconnects them all. Tendons, ligaments and fascia form an elastic net that compresses our bones together into the tensegrity structure of the human frame. This structure not only gives us the ability to generate force but transfer and store it as well.
Perhaps you have seen pictures of elderly martial arts masters who’s muscle mass has withered with age to expose thick ropy tendons that snake around their body? My teacher calls the type of force that is derived from developing the connective tissue “Old Tendon Strength”. The idea is to build strength by developing the connective tissues ability to elastically store and structurally transfer force. While muscular strength tends to wane with age the connective tissues tend to remain resilient. My teacher says, “You don’t want to be hit by someone with Old Tendon Strength”.
Wave vs. Particle
Even after I had done the hard work of linking and connecting my frame through Yi Chuan practice I struggled to understand how to properly use it to express integrated strength. The idea that force equals mass times its acceleration resulted in my using the united frame like a battering ram, constantly slamming it into my training partners (sorry Al) while my teacher shook his head in frustration.
Connecting the frame in 3 dimensions, or 6 surfaces as we say in Yi Chuan, opens the door to a different expression of strength. Like a slinky stretched out end to end the frame can propagate a wave. This wave can be used to express the strength of the entire frame and all the muscles that created it. The challenge of using strength then changes from how to accelerate mass to how to maintain the integrity of the frame while making contact with the target. In other words, it is the opposite of what I thought it was.