Yi Chuan can be called an ancient method in a modern package. While Yi Chuan (also know a Da Cheng Chuan or great achievement fist) was systematized in the early 1900’s by Grandmaster Wang it is based on a method that has been around for much longer.
Branching out through time that ancient method has weaved its way into many martial, chi gung and healing arts. Sometimes the complete idea is preserved, sometimes only aspects of it survive and sometimes only the outer shell is left leaving a practice that looks like the original but is devoid of substance.
Every now and then, I think, it also gets rediscovered. Like all technology the method is based on awareness, understanding and knowledge of inherit relationships, qualities and hidden potential in all things. Humans didn’t make fire, they simply discovered how to start it and how to control it. Scientists and investors don’t really make new stuff, their contributions are discovering things that already exist or arranging what was already there in a new and creative way. For example, the potential for an iPhone existed long before the telephone was invented; it just took untold millions of interrelated discoveries about how our world works to get to the place and time where we could actually make one.
The ancient method that eventually spawned Yi Chuan is like that. It is about discovering hidden potential, relationships and experientially studying how mind, body and energy work together to express strength in an effective way. The Yi Chuan method leverages the insights and understanding of those who have gone before to give us a more direct path to developing integrated, oneness or Hunyuan strength. Integrated strength is the foundation of internal martial arts.
Yi Chuan training begins with guidelines on how to create the frame. By frame I am referring to tensegrity structure of the human body…tendons, ligaments, muscles and fascia that compress bones and cartilage into an integrated unit. Some of the basic requirements are well known like tucking the tailbone, lifting the crown, griping with the fingers and toes, sinking the chest, etc. The purpose it to put you in the right ball park so the next ingredient, the intent, can activate the frame.
Yi or intent is so critical to Yi Chuan that it is in the name. The idea is to use the intent to direct the frame to act as if it is doing the intended thing. For example, we may use lifting a heavy object as the intent while performing a Yi Chuan exercise. If done properly the frame will react as if it is supporting something heavy. So, while the body requirements in Yi Chuan prepare the frame it is the intent that is used to activate it. Once the frame is activated the strength of the entire body can be expressed in a gesture. In Yi Chuan we refer to this as integration, Hunyuan status and/or six directional strength.
At first the use of what I call feelizations (visualizations done to create the intended feeling) are necessary to achieve integrated status. As achieving frame integration becomes more familiar the state is achieved by recalling the feeling of the state rather than using a feelization to trick your way into it. Modern science tell us that skills which are repetitively practiced actually open up and speed communications through the parts of the nervous system that carry the signal for that skill. I think that’s what happens in Yi Chuan when you do the work; the ability to integrate the frame gets hardwired into your nervous system and can be activated anytime. My teacher often uses the phrase “leave the boat behind after you have crossed the river”, meaning once the feelization has been used enough to get the right feeling you leave it behind and work with the feeling directly.
Next comes testing. Just because you achieve frame integration does not mean you have any idea of how to use it. Through testing strength exercises I literally had to convince myself that integrated strength had advantages over the muscular strength I had invested so much time and energy in developing during my younger years. Further, how integrated strength is applied can almost be counter-intuitive to someone like me who was muscular strength centric in my thinking. So we test the root, we test the center, we test the balance we test the structure, we test the strength, we test the timing, we test the flexibility and then we test them all some more.
The first feedback loop is the teacher making sure you maintain the guidelines and requirements and are doing the exercises in the proper way. The second feedback loop is the feeling sensations. Are the feelizations actually changing your feeling state? Do you have a new sensation of heaviness or thickness in the frame? Are new sensations of stored strength manifesting? The third feedback loop is testing, challenging oneself to use integrated strength to achieve the purpose. Testing strength also builds confidence in how to use the new skill and help you adjust your solo training to get the desired results.
Round and round we go training, testing and refining until the skill begins to manifest spontaneously. To be useful in self-defense integrated strength needs to be hardwired in, manifest suddenly without conceptual thinking slowing it down. Reliance on a feelization or needing to recreate a feeling to integrate the frame are not enough, those boats need to stay at the river. The method must lead to a casual change of state, a new equilibrium, a new habitual pattern.
Grandmaster Wang once said using integrated strength must be like being burned by fire or catching a falling object, almost instinctive in nature. I remember coming into the house some years ago while carrying groceries and talking on the phone when my hyperactive German Shepard jumped off the couch to lick my face. I brought my arms up in a reflexive gesture to protect myself and she ended up flying across the room and tumbled over backwards. I dropped the phone and my groceries and ran over to make sure she was o.k. and apologize for knocking her back before I realized all those years of training had resulted in a spontaneous expression of oneness strength.
The way of Yi Chuan is to use an ancient methodology to activate and make useful integrated strength. Guideline and requirements to get into the right ball park, feelizations to activate the frame and get the right feeling, constant testing and feedback applied to reach a level where the skill is hardwired in and useful for self-defense. Yi Chuan is an ancient method in a modern package designed to simply awaken and make useful latent capacities we all share.