Key Points in the Practice
of Liu Ho Pa Fa
The important thing, in my view,
is to grasp the experience of the old masters so as to understand what
lies behind their development of a successful and reliable training method.
It is vital to reveal this, above all, to those who are new to the art,
in order that they may avoid the pitfalls of practicing incorrectly. It
is something that goes to the core of what is essential in martial arts
development. I have a great deal of hands on experience in Liu Ho Pa Fa,
as well as the other internal arts, plus 32 years of practice and contemplation
that I would like to share with those who are interested. It is only through
careful analysis and sharing that these arts will survive as more than
an empty shell.
A martial art is like any other exercise.
It is a part of human activity; it pertains to the stud of biomechanics
and the relation of forces to the structure of the body. It is necessary
to employ scientific ideas if we expect to study and teach it effectively.
Because it belongs to science rather than opinion or belief, you must submit
your practices to the test of proof. You must demonstrate the validity
of your claims. For a good idea of the congruence between the thousand-year-old
Chinese approach and current scientific research, see for example Philip
J. Rasch, Kinesilogy* and Applied Anatomy.
However, a martial art adds another
dimension and rings into play something deeper than the physical aspect
alone. Liu Ho Pa Fa not only rests on a foundation of biology, physiology
and anatomy, but also the spirit enables its proper performance. Its theory,
from every perspective, complies with what is practical and scientifically
sound. To develop youself, you must turn away from mysticism and mythology
and the belief in secrets that you imagine will transform you. Science
and nature are your true teachers, correct training is what will transform
Practicing martial arts involves
not only factors concerning oneself -- physiology, anatomy, psychology
and so on -- it also requires at least a basic awareness of the principles
of physics and the related concepts of leverage, coiling, turning, slanting,
triangulation, friction, balance of power, and opposition of forces. If
you follow a training program based on such considerations, then your art
will improve. You must keep your feet on the ground. By adhering to the
instructions of scientific theory, with constant practice and proceeding
step-by-step, you will move to the next level. What follows is intended
to add detail to this overview.
1. Why the need
for proof in learning martial arts?
With proof your understanding will
be clear. Only then can you see through the haze of myths and secrecy that
stand in the way of progress. For example, the relation of gravity, air
pressure, leverage, physics and so on the nervous, circulatory and respiratory
of internal and external in Liu Ho Pa Fa.
The full name of the style is Hsing
I Liu Ho Pa Fa Chuan. "Hsing represents the outside of things, their
form. "I" means the inside, the idea behind the form. The creator
of the style saw how animals fight for survival. He noted the form their
actions took and grasped the idea behind these actions. What this teaches
us is how the spirit and body use the chi and the mind. It shows us how
we can use our limbs, bones, and muscles to bend and stretch, how these
affect the chi circulation and enable us to improve the body. It relates
the chi and the spirit.
You move the way you do because your
mind tells you to do something. How the body moves is controlled by the
mind. In any situation first you see, hear, and feel. That has to do with
the spirit. Spirit is the number one signal. It says danger, perhaps, watch
out. Mind is the number two signal; it tells you how to do what you do.
Where the mind goes, the energy goes too, and then the whole body follows.
When the body follows, it is very natural. From this we can see that any
movement truly comes from the mind. The mind controls the whole system.
The implications of this are considerable. Fake and real, stillness and
motion are not separate and have the same root. They all stem from the
working of the mind.
between practice and physiology.
The relationship between these two
is necessarily close. If you practice wrong you will harm the body; when
executing techniques you must be in conformance with physical laws. Each
time you move, you must search for harmony, for then your breathing will
be smooth and regular. The mind must go with the technique. It is important
not to focus on power, you must relax the body. If you do this, the circulation
is helped. This cannot be over stressed. The blood is vital. The blood
is like a transportation system carrying nutrition and oxygen to make the
of the breathing system to tensing and relaxing.
Whether moving or still, relaxation
is crucial. You need to relax the whole body in order to breathe normally.
Only then can your circulation be good. If you are nervous, or if you force
the power, you will tense your muscle, especially around the chest, and
the breathing will be unnatural.
between movement and breathing.
When you are practicing, every movement
must have harmony. This is because there are three parts to the whole body:
the body proper, the hands, the feet. Suppose when you punched, the
hands went first, then the feet, then the body followed. This would
violate what the classics say: one thing moves, everything moves. But why
do they say that? The reason is because it has a direct connection to breathing.
One technique done incorrectly, as above, will require three breaths and
make the breathing fast. This is why the old masters insisted if one thing
moves, everything must move. The correct way is body, hand, foot together.
In other words, one breath, inhale or exhale, one energy. If you don't
follow the classics there will be no oxygen and thus no energy. Try an
experiment. First punch to experience how you breathe; then move your foot
after that and you will see for yourself what the old masters found. I
have no doubt it took much time and much real, even painful, experience
to come up with this one-thing-moves, all-things-move theory, and I deeply
admire their analytical intelligence.
of physics to bones and joint function.
The old masters created techniques
which all follow physics and physiology. Therefore, when practicing, pay
attention in every technique that the shoulder and elbow are down, the
chest rounded and so on. Every movement must follow correct principles
in order to have a complete and effective technique. The bones allow us
to use leverage, the joints may be compared to a switch that enables us
to change the angle and thus the leverage.
7. The relation
of leverage to correct practice.
Optimal performance comes from observing
correct principles. In sparring, for instance, you must always pay attention
to leverage. Only then can you reach a natural, relaxed state, save energy
and save power. As the Tai Chi classics say, "Use four ounces to defeat
a thousand pounds." Or take the case of Japanese Judo. In both instances,
what is involved is leverage. In a real-world situation, everyone's body
type is different. But if you follow the leverage theory, the weak can
defeat the strong, the small can overcome the large.
of psychology to performance.
Cultivation of a strong, tough mind
can change the state of a person. If the body is not healthy, you cannot
have a good psychological state, to say nothing of high aspirations. And
even if you do have good ideas, if you lack energy, you will not be able
to carry them out. Let some external factor get in your way, you will lose
your confidence, and be unable to move forward. A person who does martial
arts, though, not only should have a healthy body, he should have confidence
in his daily affairs. Presented with difficulties, he can use his energy
and strength of mind to deal with the problem. He will have the courage
to face it. If your art is at a high level, you necessarily have energy
and courage by necessity; with courage your skill automatically is at a
This higher level skill that appears
alongside courage is not only in regard to the body. More important is
how it cultivates the spirit. The martial arts use psychology from the
beginning to the end in their training. You must concentrate your spirit
in your daily practice. If you do, you will not have any fear. If you have
no fear, in a fighting situation your mind will be very strong. It is something
that shows up in daily practice: in concentration, the absence of fear,
in the readiness to act. These are three essential qualities. Many years
ago on television I saw an American Olympic high jumper. Before he jumped
he concentrated his spirit, judging how many steps he would need before
attempting his jump. He used his mind in order to succeed. When you do
that you enter the psychological state that is necessary for achieving
success. The proper state not only allows you to have confidence physically,
but when you have difficulties,or must confront an opponent, you will always
maintain a clear mind and believe that you can win. In such a state, you
will be able to react immediately and easily.
of mind to nervous system function.
Any exercise is controlled by the
nervous system. Proper neural functioning is what allows the muscles to
stretch and contract. The bones have to do with leverage, the joints enable
us to change leverage, as noted, while the muscles produce movement and
delivery of power. It is how all activity shows up in the body. From this
we can see clearly the critical role the nervous system plays in controlling
bodily activity. But the nervous system, from beginning to end, is influenced
by the spirit and the mind. The mind is the ruler of the power.
Why do the classics insist on that?
If you talk about Hsing I, that is form-idea, you are emphasizing mind. Liu
Ho Pa Fa uses mind in the name to point to its cruciality. In martial arts
the mind is of central importance. A skilled painter, for instance, must
have a detailed image in his mind in order to be able to transfer it to
paper. It is the same in martial arts. If you separate the mind from the
power, then you are unable to bring it to bear. The whole art presupposes
a very high level of unification of the spirit and the body. If you don't
have the body to show the form, the mind is only an image, and idea. If
you don't have the mind, you have a blind form. You cannot have one without
the other. No real fighter would dare to use a form alone, or merely imaginary
power, against the muscle and bone and sinew of an actual flesh and blood