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Cultivating Jing

by John Chang

Cultivating jing requires relaxation, slow practice, and a good teacher. Relaxation is crucial to creating jing. A tense body spends most of its energy fighting itself. When not relaxed, muscles naturally fight one another in order to create balance and control. For example, a hard, tense punch will firmly flex both biceps and triceps. If the biceps alone flex, the arm would fold up; if the triceps alone flex, the arm would extend straight. When throwing a punch with maximum muscular strength, most of the biceps’ strength is being used to counteract the triceps, and most of the triceps’ strength is being used to counteract the biceps. The result is that the majority of the strength is wasted on the arm fighting itself, expending a lot more energy than necessary.

Worse yet, a tense body breaks the connection between the earth and the opponent, eliminating the basis for jing. A tense body with opposite muscles fighting one another cannot be controlled precisely enough to create the crucial connection between the earth and the fist. A tense body cannot even feel when it has achieved the proper alignment. Even if the body could create a connection between the earth and the fist, a tense body cannot quickly expand the connection to deliver the strike without breaking the connection.

An overly relaxed strike does just as poor a job of creating jing as an overly tense strike. Muscles must hold the bones and joints in place to align the body precisely as a solid connection between the earth and the opponent. If the muscles are too relaxed, the joints fold, breaking the connection.

When considering the role of relaxation in creating jing, consider the difference between a stick, a rope, and a snake. A tense punch is like poking at the opponent with a rigid stick, but with little mass behind the stick. Even worse, an overly relaxed punch is like throwing the end of a rope at the opponent. A relaxed punch held in alignment by the subtle and precise use of muscles is like a snake’s strike.

To demonstrate the importance of relaxation to my students, I like to hold an egg in my hand as I extend my arm and ask a student to try lifting my arm with all of his strength. Using jing I am able to prevent the student from lifting my arm. Because my arm is completely relaxed the entire time, I never break the egg.

Slow practice is just as important to cultivating jing as relaxation. When first learning to incorporate jing into a particular strike, the student must consider countless subtle details concerning joints, the angles of arms and legs, and the parts of the body directly connecting to the earth. Other considerations include the part of the body delivering the strike, the timing of the body’s expansion, and whether expansion comes from the uncoiling of the body or other joint movements. Muscles must remain relaxed and yet in constant control of the body’s alignment throughout the body’s expansion into the strike. So many details must be considered throughout the strike that it is impossible to keep conscious tabs on these countless subtleties while moving quickly.

Slow practice makes seemingly abstract Kung Fu principles truly practical at faster speeds. While practicing slowly, the Kung Fu student should take his time to keep in mind all of the many principles he has learned, making sure the body reflects these principles at all times throughout the execution of a technique. The body and its joints and limbs should be twisted, coiled, uncoiled, folded, and expanded in the right places at the right times throughout the technique being practiced. After practicing many times slowly, the student will be able to execute the same technique quickly without sacrificing these key Kung Fu principles.

Slow practice is also vitally important to the learning process. By breaking down each movement individually, experimenting with different joint movements and body positions, the student can spend a lifetime continually learning and improving.

Once the many details that go into producing jing begin to come more naturally to the student of Kung Fu, the speed of practice may be increased. When the speed is fast enough and the student’s slower practice sessions have trained the student’s mind to perform the strike precisely enough, the result is jing. Once a student has produced jing, he can tangibly feel it and recognize the feeling when he recreates the right movements again later. The next stage in the student’s training then becomes a matter of consistently recreating the feeling of jing.

The student can spend a lifetime continuing to develop skills in jing. After over 25 years of studying jing, I feel like I have only begun to really understand jing in the last couple of years. Anyone can continue developing jing by introducing ever-greater challenges. Once a student can consistently recreate jing, the student should be challenged to create jing while practicing footwork. Footwork challenges the student to quickly ground himself before creating the proper connection from the earth to the striking limb. The student can challenge himself to learn how to put jing into a wider variety of strikes. Each strike requires a different body alignment to produce jing, requiring the student to relearn how to produce jing for each kind of strike. Developing jing is not a one-time event, but truly takes a lifetime.

Because jing requires a lifetime to learn, jing cannot be attained without a good teacher. It is nearly impossible to figure out all of the subtle positions and movements necessary to produce significant jing. A good teacher must have inherited centuries of knowledge passed down by his Kung Fu lineage. A single person simply cannot recreate the cumulative knowledge to which so many past masters spent a lifetime contributing. I feel very fortunate to have received excellent instruction from Grandmaster Wei Hsiao Tang, Shifu Vincent Chen, and Shifu Zuo Xian Fu.

Assuming the teacher has knowledge of jing, the teacher must also have both a willingness and an ability to teach. For better or worse, many teachers in the Kung Fu world withhold information from their students. Many withhold all knowledge of jing, reserving this knowledge only for their most senior students. Some never share their knowledge of jing with any of their students.

The student’s ultimate teacher must be practice. A good teacher can only show the way. A good teacher will help a student find the first feeling of jing in a strike, and find the visible flaws in the student’s practice. Since jing is better felt than seen, it is up to the student to practice until he is able to recreate the feeling of jing consistently and instantly. It is also up to the student to explore his own movements and positions to continually improve his ability to produce jing. Once the student has moved beyond what is visible to the teacher, he must rely on practice to search out improvements and develop ever-greater skills.

© Copyright 2005 John Chang. All rights reserved.