Chi Kung is training the proper use of tension!
Tension usually has a negative connotation in Internal Martial Arts. It is said that we must flow like water and “relax” into movements for the most benefit. The big question that runs through many peoples’ mind is HOW?!?
To turn the traditional teaching around, the main question to ask is not how do we relax, but rather, How can I use my tension more efficiently?
Truthfully it is tension that holds us up and moves us. Relaxation on the other hand is us letting go, it makes us heavy and connects the body as a singular unit. Relaxation by itself is a simple thing, yet putting it into movement requires a refinement of the tension needed for a task. In this post specifically we’ll focus on the use of tension which influences the efficacy of movement.
Tension in the sense we are talking about is the state of contraction in a muscle. For us to generate any movement we must contract our muscles, there’s no way around it. For us to do anything at all, our body must have some level of tension. To flow like water and relax into our movements we must pin point this tension to exactly what we want to accomplish.
Alignments and timing of tension are very important to refining our movement. Seeing as this is very much movement specific, today we’ll work on illustrating the basics of using tension with some simple examples.
Simply put, any tension that moves you away or holds you back from where you want to go is wasted effort. Keeping this in mind the use of tension in striking or weight lifting can be summed up in one phrase… Create a solid anchor for your force to launch from.
The caveat to this is the more joints the force has to travel through the more difficult it is to execute correctly. An example is a simple Preacher Curl vs a Standing Bicep Curl. The Preacher Curl (bottom left) is significantly easier to perform because the elbow joint is the only joint involved in the exercise, since the arm is supported on a pad. On contrast a Standing Bicep Curl (Bottom Right) the whole body must work to stabilize and focus the work in the bicep, making it much more difficult. This stabilization has more real world application and builds potential for more martial power as we require the same kind of stabilization from the ground up in executing any standing martial technique.
Another illustration of this difficulty and stabilization in movement is a basic Kung Fu Straight Punch. In this movement the bottom half of the body stays stationary while the upper half executes the movement. These alignments are seen and trained in “Punching with fierce eyes”. An exercise from the 8 pieces of Brocade. @ 5:52 in the video below
The necessity to stabilize forces us to focus and pinpoint our tension. The more we focus and pinpoint our tension the easier it becomes to relax and connect our body. With practice the shaking subsides and we become strong as well as sturdy. When sturdiness has been achieved we can begin to shave off the unnecessary tension. It is in this way Chi Kung starts with tension and moves toward relaxation.
A summary and recap of important points
Daniel R. Hyde
Licensed Massage Therapist
OIF, OEF Veteran
U.S. Marine Corps
Tui Na, Chinese Massage
Shiatsu, Japanese Massage
Tai Chi Chuan
Kwan Ying Do Kung Fu