Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Dantien Movement and Falling Force

I had a talk with Rick once, and we were inquiring into the nature of physical force in movement. He talked about how utilizing power via a wave from the ground and into the opponent is different from the expansive/contractive force that is generated in Wujifa and various other styles of internal martial arts when practiced correctly . I used to generate force from the ground and into the opponent in a wave like manner and was taught this way as well. But as i started to do push hands more and more i became confused as to how the connection to the ground could remain....

 I had practiced with various people often and we would take turns pressing gently upon each other. When the push was light and slow it was easy to see the importance of the connection with the ground. I noticed that as i applied force to the opponent the connection to the ground was breaking. So i learned to maintain this connection throughout the entire push. This appeared to defy my previous training which purported a wave-like action that transfered force from the ground and into the opponent. 

The problem was... "How do i maintain my connection with the ground and send force into the opponent and/or object without loosing my own connection to that ground?" You see, if the force was applied strongly, the wave, having so much momentum would eventually lift the body slightly and make an opening for the opponent.

As i continued to train, i developed the ability to stay connected to the ground better and better throughout my training, but it wasnt until i was at work one day when i was suddenly enlightened as to how the force is generated without loosing that ground. I was learning this concept subconsciously, through my training, and had developed a descent 
ground, but everything fell into place as the insight came: when i saw the entire process at once as it happened while trying to rip a piece of wood off the side of a wall with my hammer. 

If one was to be on top of a step ladder and have to apply a strong pulling force, such as trying to rip a piece of wood off the side of a house with a hammer, one would hope that the wood would not give unexpectedly. If the man on the ladder was to pull with great force and the wood gave easily, the momentum would surely be enough to off balance the man and send him flying off of the ladder. So when working on a ladder the learned man is very aware of the precarious situation he is in while applying force in either direction. 

The common way that i see most anyone do this (in fact i have never seen anyone who doesnt use this method besides people who are of high level skill in the martial arts) is to calculate two basic forces and hope that the wood doesnt give. The force of the man is applied as a pulling movement at the arm. If the wood on the wall is to be pried off, the man pushes his weight backwards, and in essence hopes that the wood does not come free with a net total of resistance that is less than the amount of weight that the man has applied in a backward direction. If he has miscalculated, and the wood gives way the man looses his balance and falls (hopefully not to his death or injury) or he must quickly catch himself before then. 

This method is a common problem in push hands. When force is applied to another it is resisted by 'falling' back into the pusher. If the pusher is to reverse his direction then the one who is resisting will succumb to his own inertia of resistance and fall forward, loosing his balanced connection with the ground. This principle applies either way, to pushing or pulling. 

                           Video illustrating the 'falling' action of a man walking
                                    through a door. The door suddenly gives way, revealing 
                                    the strained unhealthy habit of an ungrounded push. 

This problem is not so easily remedied. This resistance, in my experience, is the explicate manifestation of the psychological way in which we deal with situations. It is the result of the ego and its fight to establish itself as a coherent individual. This is the result of (trying to escape from)  feeling insufficient. The mind is fragmented and in turn uses force or a 'positive' action to create the illusion that it is coherent to itself. This kind of action i refer to as 'strife'. The mind is striving when it is incapable of listening; or you could say the listening is not creating the intention (the action) but it is the ignorance (the running away from the truth of what it is) that is creating the action. The latter is the strife that i am referring to. 

Similar to the way in which the mind resists others as a product of its content trying to present itself as coherent (cause it is not, otherwise it would not have to try [or strive]), one man resists the other mans force. In nature the path of least resistance is taken*, yet in man we have created a resistance to meet resistance. Some may say that our path of resistance is the path of least resistance due to our condition. This is true, but the fact is we are alive, and therefore are able to discover ever more efficient ways of being, which is proven here by the insight i had into the nature of the incorrect way that i was issuing/releasing force. This insight is what prompted the awareness of the new way of movement. It is important to note here that the insight was the motivating factor, and not a matter of ignorance, of running to another way of force out of my reluctance to pay attention to the way i was utilizing force. In fact, it was quite the opposite; it was the insight into the nature of the way i was issuing force that allowed the noticing of the new way in which to move. The mind did not have to strive to attain, but instead it was passively aware and open enough to allow the new way of movement be perceived. 

In internal martial arts there is an idea of connectivity. This connectivity is central to allowing the body to move properly. 'One part moves all parts': i remember someone asking master Chen Xiao Wang once, "Where does movement start?" He answered, "The dantien is the center, but if one part moves, all parts are already moving." This idea of the dantien 'interpenetrating' the entire body through practicing zhan zhuang is, as i understand it, at the root of my situation on the ladder. I have the option of falling into the weight, which is dangerous and unstable, or i can allow the connection throughout the body to travel through different 'pathways' that are connected to the dantien area and are an expression of my entire being simultaneously. 

                           The center is allowed to spin freely, rotating, and
                                    giving the force a pivotal point that remains
                                    inside the body as opposed to leaning, which makes
                                    the pivoting point outside of the body.

To better illustrate this, imagine a ball... On each side of the ball there are sticks that are connected to the ball via a joint (in the case of the body there are multiple joints and interconnected pathways that run through the fascia and connective tissue). This ball is the center of the bodies weight, the dantien. As this ball rotates it transmits force in a centrifugal fashion. This force travels throughout the body and, depending upon the way in which the fascia is connected at that time, is able to transmit in an outward fashion. Without the freedom to move in a connected fashion, the force will be unable to travel correctly; ie. if there are tensions that hinder that connection.

                                        Force has somewhere to go, without disrupting 

This is very different from the previous model of 'falling' into the subject which is to receive force. This model of the dantien as the pivotal point allows force to be either transmitted or received via a rotational motion as opposed to a backwards or forwards rotation directly. It is instead a product of all parts moving at once in response to the centripetal or centrifugal motion of the center. As you can see, any tensions would hinder the force from traveling in this motion and get 'caught up' in a sense, and therefore would send the direction of force in that forward or backward direction which is detrimental to the bodies center of balance. This is illustrated in the following video...

                                       Force is disrupting balance because of tension, 
                                                    theres nowhere for it to go within the body. Therefore
                                                    it propels the entire body backward.

To understand this motion intellectually is very different from understanding this kinesthetically. It can take many years to 'develop' the dantien area. The practice of zhan zhuang i have found to be the most vital in all of my training. I have been fortunate to have learned many great things from various teachers that i have had. Putting everything together and searching for that middle ground, carefully considering what people have told me and questioning all of them equally. To follow anyone blindly, accepting what they say is not necessarily learning. Until we can see what others are saying by listening without judgment we will be susceptible to error. I see judgment as different from listening. Instead, by learning what it is that the other is meaning and their intentions, we can then understand. Even this post must be questioned. Do not accept what i say as being the ultimate truth, cause truth can not be put into words.

*The only exception to this is in quantum physics where the behavior of particles is probabilistic  rather than determinant. 


  1. This is a very good post. Well thought out and insightful.

  2. Thanks, i added some footnotes to the videos. Hopefully no one interprets this as simply spinning the body, or center.

  3. This is Rick from

    Nice Trevor... although it is possible to do more than one thing in a connected way. The truth at one level can seem very different at another level...

    I think this post will get people thinking more about different levels... and what level they are playing at...

    I love the GIF's very nice... you are an artist!

  4. Great article. Could you comment on how this relates to breathing?

  5. Breathing is natural. And the fascial connection is essential to all parts moving as one. Fascial connection is best discovered, in my experience, through deep practice in Zhang Zhuan.