Wu Shu Kung Fu April/May 1996

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 you.

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 functions.

2. Relation 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.

3. Relation 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 body strong.

4. Relation 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.

5. Relation 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.

6. Relation 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.

8. Relation 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 higher level.

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.

9. Relation 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 adversary.