Hsing-I's Three Levels of Internal Development
by Jim Dees

I would like to provide a basic analysis and explanation of the levels of development that the body goes through when studying Hsing- I Chuan. While Hsing-I will be the focus of this article, the fundamentals hold true for any internal martial art. I use Hsing-I as this is my primary martial art.

The study of internal martial arts in really a systematic program to change your body from the inside out. Imagine that the peak of a mountain is the goal of your internal transformation. There could be many paths to reach this peak depending on a variety of factors. Ones body type, personality, preferences, availability of qualified Master, your willingness to learn and the Master's generosity in teaching all come into play in ones training. Depending on the situation, one could follow different paths to reach the peak of this mountain. One path could take you along the Tai Chi trail, the Pa Kua trail, the Hsing-I trail etc.. I have tried to follow the Hsing-I trail on my path up the mountain of internal development. It is a fascinating trail with peaks and valleys. Like the other paths up the mountain, it is easy to fall off the trail and tumble to the bottom, or to take the wrong fork that leads away from the peak and not even know it. As I have been taught, any path that fails to focus on structure and alignment of the body will never lead the student to the peak. This path is a very narrow one with no short cuts. However, the view is magnificent.

Hsing-I Chuan has three very broad levels of development. This is based on Taoist theory of internal development. Here we can see how the body changes. After a brief explanation of this, I will explain how Hsing-I Chuan trains these levels on its path up the mountain.

Hsing-I three levels of kung fu

Jing to Chi Chi to Shen Shen to Wuji
Ming Jin (obvious force) An Jin (hidden force) Hua Jin (mysterious force)
Bone Muscle/ligaments Bone marrow
Hand Elbow Body

The above table very simplistically illustrates the three levels of internal development. The first level is jing to chi. Here the student learns the basic form and san ti. Here jing is nurtured and the meridians begin to open. The jing is transformed to chi. The force issued by the student here is very obvious. Due to the nature of the movements of the five fists, even a beginning student can have some combative ability without any internal progress. Here we all begin by practicing an internal martial art the external way. Unfortunately, most people never are lucky enough to pass this level. The bone hardens a bit here. The teacher will have the student lead his movements with the hand at this level of training. In this way, one will begin to open the meridians to strengthen the body internally. Here the student will feel chi in his hands and start to improve in health.

The second level is Chi to Shen. Here the student continues to work on the basic form and san ti for meditation. In my case, I also began to study philosophy to help calm the mind. Shen refers to spirit. It is here that when one issues force it is hidden. That is to say, the student can generate a great deal of power with small movements. Your opponent or witnesses will see you move a bit, but not understand how you were able to generate such force. He may begin to learn to use chi combatively. The chi is now saturating the muscles and ligaments. It is sunk in the tan tien. The chi now acts to protect the body from strikes as well. The teacher now has the student focus on the elbow movements when practicing the form. This helps unify the body and further massages the organs for health as well as to improve circulation.

The last level is Shen to Wuji. Wuji referring to emptiness. This is the highest level. Here the force issued is mysterious. Neither your opponent nor a witness would be able to tell how you issued such force. Your movement is so small it is almost imperceptible. Your opponent strikes you and is finished at the same time. The chi is now in the bone marrow. The teacher focuses your form training on the torso. Meditation in san ti is a pleasure. Your upper body feels empty when you move as the chi has sunk. When you move, there is a feeling of lightness, yet the body is internally well connected and rooted. At this point, the body's circulation is very strong and stable. The mind is very calm.

Each of the internal arts has its own systematic training program. For example, the Chen family has a ten step program that is a very specific method of training the body and mind. However, few can complete the third level. While the number of levels or steps may vary from system to system, the human body and mind remain the same. The path still follows the same trail to the peak of the internal mountain. But a slight variation can cause one to venture down the wrong fork and lead one away from the peak. This is more often the case than not. I would suggest that the most direct route to the peak is to stick with the basics and avoid that which is not necessary. Over the years, various Masters have devised extra forms and sets that were required to help certain people along their path, but may be a diversion to you. Stay focused on internal development through proper structure and alignment of the body. This will lead to open meridians, which lead to a calm mind. Any detour will hinder your progress and may in fact lead you away from the mountain.

As students of the internal martial arts we should always examine our training methods and check our course. The student who pursues internal development walks a very fine path in his training. If you look down you may bump your head on a branch. If you do not pay attention to your steps you may fall off the cliff. For these reasons, follow your path slowly and deliberately. Watch the structure and alignment of your body. There are no short cuts. There is no hurry as this is a life long pursuit. Best of luck to you all in your training.

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