In classical internal martial art practice, there are several Qigong sets designed to teach internal power. Mostly, these are stretching, massage, and breathing exercises designed to develop or transport Qi throughout the body.
In my personal journey, I discovered that there was not enough movement in those exercises to prevent my hip pain. From that pain, however, a pearl developed. My pain forced me to explore outside traditional internal martial art routines to improve my physical fitness. From that exploration, I developed the following Internal Power Set.
The supplemental exercises presented in the Earth component of the Earth Dragon Canon method gives you all tools you need for a lifetime of healthy practice. Taking advantage of these tools and using them regularly is a responsibility you must take seriously.
Baguazhang, taijiquan, xingyiquan, and even yiquan allows you to practice the most basic and beneficial of exercises; walking. The internal martial arts require a limited amount of space and have a limitless potential for variety. If you find that your practice is becoming stale, you can learn alternative forms, or change the ones you already know.
The American Heart Association recommends using a pedometer to count the steps you take in a day. From this measurement, you can determine how active or sedentary your lifestyle is. Armed with this information, you can develop a plan to improve your general health.
less than 5,000
5,000 – 7,500
7,500 – 10,000
10,000 or more
Activity Level based on Number of Steps
10,000 steps is a long way, about 5 miles, and it is unlikely that you can walk 5 miles of circles in a single baguazhang session, for example, or that you would keep that pace up for very long. At ten steps a circle you need 1000 circles, 500 clockwise and 500 counterclockwise to reach 10,000 steps.
I have walked 1000 circles on days when my spirit would not let me do anything else, but I have never walked 1000 circles in a single session.
You can perform all the exercises presented in the Earth Dragon Canon method every day. You simply do not have that much time. Here are some recommendations to help you make the most of your limited practice time.
Practice for one hour every day. After you have learned the Internal Power Set, you will complete it in about 20 minutes. For baguazhang practice a combination of circle walking or standing postures for the rest of the hour; with the emphasis on walking. For taijiquan practice, attempt to do the complete the form twice in the hour’s remainder, or once, at a very slow pace.
If you do not have an uninterrupted hour in your day, then practice the Internal Power Set early in the day and circle walk or perform taijiquan later in the day.
For baguazhang practice, walk at least three circles in each of the Standing Palms before you choose one of the eight animal postures to focus on for the remainder of your practice. Once a week, go crazy, and mix up a wide variety of changes and postures changing from one to another each time you change directions on the circle. Do not worry about proper form or function; have fun.
If you are traveling and do not have space to perform the circle walking practice, then practice the standing postures. Note that you do not want to put your face onto a hotel room floor, they are not clean. Therefore, you can skip the Internal Power Set for an hour of standing practice. Walk around your hotel room between standing sessions; do not sit down until you have completed your practice.
When you return home, practice the Internal Power Set immediately, it is a great way to recover from travel stiffness and reminds you to get back into your routine.
If you find yourself in front of the television, try practicing the standing postures during commercial breaks. Choose one posture for each commercial break and hold it until the break is over. I understand that this violates the meditation component I discussed in the Attention article, but it is better than lying around.
Try to spend at least 10 minutes in standing practice before you go to bed at night. It will clear your head and help with sleep.
If you can get outside to practice, then you should do so if the air is clean. Practicing in a park near a highway interchange is less healthy than practicing inside. If a neighbor or passerby asks what you are doing, recommend dappergenius.com.
The River Steps (a.k.a. Ladder Stepping) provides a method to study the transition of your weight between the insubstantial and substantial legs.
Stand in Wuji Posture. Keep your arms at your sides and bend the knees slightly. Maintain this height throughout the exercise.
Kick your left leg forward and land it on its heel. Unlike the diagonal stepping pattern used in Five Phases Stepping, step forward on a line parallel to the right foot.
Lower the toes of your foot as you let your weight fall onto it. As your weight falls onto the foot, your upper body leans forward slightly, keeping a straight line from the top of your head to the tailbone. The right knee extends straight as the left knee bends and receives the weight of the body. Keep the right heel on the floor.
When your weight is on the left foot, lift the heel of the right foot off the floor by bending the knee of the right leg. Then extend the right foot forward and place the heel on the floor.
Now, begin putting the weight down onto the right leg as the right knee bends and the left knee extends. Pay attention to both the yin to yang (substantial to insubstantial) and yang to yin (insubstantial to substantial) changes. Repeat this stepping pattern forward a number of paces before reversing and performing the River Steps backwards.
To go backwards, (let’s say you have stopped with the right leg forward) move the weight backward onto the left leg by bending the knee of the left leg and lifting the toe of the right foot. The right leg will straighten naturally as you do this.
Lift the right heel off the ground and slide the foot back to land on its toe. Be sure that the foot moves parallel to the left foot. Gradually lower the heel of the right foot as you put your weight back onto the right leg. The right knee will bend, and the left knee will straighten. Continue backwards the same number of steps you went forward.
You should extend the steps far enough that you feel a bit of stretch between your legs but do not overextend and become unbalanced.
Remember to time the steps with your breathing. Inhale as you extend and exhale as you contract.
The Monkey is associated with the Dui trigram. Dui is a marsh or lake, the single Yin line above the double Yang lines representing water lying on the earth. Dui represents the mouth in the body. In the martial arts it is the Embracing palm and the right side of the waist.
The Phoenix is associated with the Sun trigram. Sun represents the wind, the single Yin line below the double Yang line representing movement under heaven. Sun is associated with wood. It represents the limbs and lower back in the body, and the Windmill, or Hurricane Palm, in the martial arts.
The Bear is associated with the Gen trigram. Gen represents a Mountain, the two Yin lines below the single Yang line represent a mountain reaching into the clouds. Gen is bound and represents stillness. In the body it is the hands. In the martial arts, it is represented by the upper back and Behind the Body palm.
The Dragon is associated with the Zhen trigram. Zhen represents Thunder, the two Yin lines above the single Yang line represent clouds building for a storm. Zhen is arousing and represents the feet. In the martial arts, it represents the left side of the body and the Upholding palm.
The Sparrow Hawk is associated with the Li trigram. Li represents Fire, the single Yin line between the two Yang lines represents the radiance of a fire burning. Li is visualizing and represents the eyes on the outside of the body and the heart on the inside. In the martial arts, it is the Lying palm.
The Snake is associated with the Kan trigram. Kan represents water, the single Yang line between the two Yin lines represents a river running through a gorge. Inside the body, it is the kidneys and the ears on the outside. In the martial arts, it is the Flowing Palm.
The Qilin is associated with the Kun trigram. Kun represents the Earth and is the mother of the trigrams. Kun is pure Yin, represents the receptive and service. In the body it is the belly, and in the martial arts it is the Returning Palm.
The Lion is associated with the Qian trigram. Qian is spirit force, or Heaven, and the father of the trigrams. Qian is pure Yang and represents strength and creativity. In the body, it represents the head, and the Interlocking Palm in the martial arts.
Traditional internal martial art teaching includes a low and wide stance known as Ma Bu, or Horse Stance. This stance develops leg strength, or rootedness. In the Earth Dragon Canon method, we abandon wide and deep stances for proper alignment and function. This does not mean we can abandon leg strength.
We need a posture that can engage our leg muscles functionally without dedicating hours to just standing around. My version of the Horse Posture is like the Bear Posture, but against a wall and standing up.
Find a sturdy wall and stand with your heels, buttocks, back, and head against it.
Step out from the wall about two-foot-lengths.
Slide your back down the wall until your thighs are flat. There should be two 90-degree angles, one from the knees to the thighs, and the other from the thighs to your hips and back. Your feet are flat on the floor with the toes pointing straight ahead. Do not push back into the wall more than you need to keep you upright. Lay your hands on your thighs with the palms facing up and relax the shoulders.
I practice barefoot. You may want to wear some shoes with a good grip to prevent your feet from sliding.
Hold this position for up to three minutes or 45 breaths. It is a challenge. When finished, slide back up the wall and get your feet under you before you stand up. As tempting as it will be, do not run for the nearest chair to sit. Walk around for a few minutes, paying attention to how your legs feel now that you have reengaged the thighs.
The old masters were trying to encourage the same result with low and deep Ma Bu stances. Standing in any of the postures presented here for an extended time would reengage the leg muscles. This version of the Horse Posture is a shortcut that accomplishes the same thing.
The Standing Palm practice is a traditional internal martial art method to build strength in the torso. Here is another traditional exercise to strengthen your torso, and one of the most hated words in the English language, Crunches.
Lie on your back with your feet against a wall and your knees bent at ninety degrees. Put your hands under your head and take a deep breath.
Breathe out as you lift your shoulders and head off the floor. Keep your eyes focused on the ceiling; if you can see the wall your feet are against, then you have lifted too far off the floor. Hold the position for just one moment, then breathe in as you lie back down.
As you lift up, be sure that your elbows do not curl forward around your ears; keep them pulled back. Also, do not leverage your Crunch with your feet; all the work should be done by the muscles in the lower torso.
Liang Yi is the two poles of Yin and Yang. In Baguazhang, walking to the left (counterclockwise) is Yang, walking to the right (clockwise) is Yin. Sun Lu Tang associated the Single Palm Change to Liang Yi.
If you have been practicing the exercises in this book, you have learned the fundamentals to internal martial art practice. Along the way, you have supplemented the traditional training with the floor exercises that reinforced the traditional concepts. With this information in hand, you are ready to practice the classical Baguazhang forms described in Sun Lu Tang’s book. Sun Lu Tang named this Baguazhang practice method as Swimming Body Eight Trigrams Connected Palms. Swimming Body implies we perform the postures in a continuous manner, while Connected Palms means we link the postures with the changes in direction.
Do not think of the forms in this section as a routine that you must practice one after another, rather as characters of an alphabet that you can connect to create your own routines.
When I learned my left leg was one centimeter shorter than my right, the physical therapist recommended this exercise as one way to reengage the hip joint. In mindfulness martial arts, this exercise reminds us we generate power from the feet and transfer it to the torso, before expressing it in the hands.
Lie on your back in proper Wuji Posture alignment, but extend your arms to the sides with your palms facing down. Pull the left foot up so it is opposite the right knee. Keep the sole of the left foot flat on the floor.
Push down through the left foot so the left hip and side rise off the floor. This will cause you to twist to the right, but let your right shoulder and arm stop you from rolling over. Hold the position for one minute.
When you finish, straighten the left leg and repeat the exercise on the right side by placing the right foot next to the left knee.
Press against the floor to the lift the right hip, while the left side remains relaxed.
The key to doing this exercise correctly is keeping the knee of the bent leg pointing straight up, while relaxing the opposite side of the body.
Walking heel-to-toe seems natural enough, but that old enemy of sitting too much can really interfere with your ability to put one foot in front of the other. What usually happens, is that one foot kicks out to the side and lands slightly on one side of the foot or the other. You will recognize this when one shoe wears excessively on one side. There are many exercise programs that will improve your gait, and I encourage you to explore those.
Foot circles are a staple of many exercise programs. I do mine lying on the floor.
Lie down on your back with your feet hip width apart and your toes pointing to the ceiling. Raise the left leg up and bend it at the knee. Hold the leg in position with both hands. The position is like the Bear Posture, with one leg raised.
Turn the left foot in circles, first counterclockwise, and then clockwise. Do 30 repetitions in each direction.
When you have finished with the left foot, put the left leg down, and raise the right leg into the same position. Do 30 Foot Circles in each direction with the right foot before stopping.
The Frog is like the Butterfly, but on your back. The principle is the same; to open your hips without extreme stretching or pain.
Lie on your back in Wuji Posture, extending your arms to the sides. Raise the legs so the feet are about where your knees were. Push the soles of the feet together and let your knees open up like butterfly wings. Look at the ceiling and old for one to three minutes before straightening the legs.
Turning at the torso is not something we do every day. As your attention improves through your martial art practice, you will notice most people are as stiff as board in their torso area. Most of this is angst, some of it is disfunction. The internal martial arts require a supple torso. As you progress through baguazhang or taijiquan postures, you will notice a difference in your overall agility and balance as your torso loosens. The Floor Twist is your first step to softening the torso and is one of my favorite exercises. It has made a significant difference in my overall health.
Start by laying flat on our back with our knees raised. Remember to keep the Wuji Posture alignments, even though you are on the floor.
Lie on your right side with the right arm stretched straight out to the right with the palm facing up. Stretch your left arm out along your right with the palm down. Pull your knees up and straighten the lower legs.
Turn to your left, moving the left arm in a large arc over your head so it comes to rest on the floor with the palm facing up. Let your upper torso and head follow the movement of the hand. Prevent your knees from sliding or rising by using your right hand to catch and hold them in place.
This can be a significant stretch for most people, so go slowly. You can start with a smaller twist by sliding the left hand along the right arm as you turn your torso. Turn your torso and head until the left elbow touches the floor. As your torso softens, you can extend the stretch.
Hold the position for one minute before bringing the left arm back to its starting position, then roll over and repeat the entire exercise by starting on your left side and extending the right arm.
Remember to breathe deeply while you hold the posture. Relax into the position. Don’t force your arm to the floor. Let gravity assist you into the stretch. It is fine for the elbow and shoulder of your extended arm to not touch the floor. Some days the stretch will be easier on your left than your right side, other days the opposite will be true. This stretch can be addictive, don’t overdo it.
This one may make your hips pop; it is great after sitting too long, and essential before you start any physical activity. You can perform it simply by using a chair or bench to supplement the exercise, or you can extend the stretch by engaging the legs individually.
Start from a standing position with your feet spread apart as far as is comfortable. Ideally, they should just be beyond shoulder width.
Bend over and put your hands flat on the floor.
If this stretch is difficult for you, use a chair or bench to lean against instead. Hold the position for one minute.
If this stretch is easy for you, you can extend it by grabbing the ankles and pulling your head between your legs.
You can also engage each leg individually by wrapping your hands around an ankle and putting your chin against your knee.
This is one of my favorite stretches. Start on your hands and knees as in the Bridge, but put the left foot in front of the right knee, with the heel touching the knee.
Stand up with both feet on the same line and pressing through your fingers. Fully engage both legs, holding the knees straight. Most of your weight will be on the left foot. Hold the position for one to three minutes.
Extending and fully engaging the legs from the floor may not be possible for everyone. If you find this stretch too difficult, you can perform this stretch with your hands placed on a chair or stool instead.
Repeat with the right foot in front of the left knee.
Stand up with both feet on the same line and pressing through your fingers. Fully engage both legs, holding the knees straight. Most of your weight will be on the right foot. Hold the position for one to three minutes.
The Hurdlers Stretch engages the entire body in opening the hips and creating a foundation for your internal martial art practice.
The Bridge is from a classic pose in Yoga. As you perform the Bridge Posture, pay attention to the connection of the body from the wrist to the ankles. The Bridge both opens the chest and stretches the hamstrings.
Start on your hands and knees with the hands beneath the shoulders and the knees beneath the hips.
Curl your toes under and then push up through your hands until your feet are flat on the floor. Hold the position for one to three minutes.
Breathing in is Yin, breathing out is Yang. When performing internal martial art forms, we associate breathing in with defensive movements, while we associate breathing out with offensive movements.
In The Bellows, we coordinate breathing with movement while exercising the spine, shoulders, and hips.
Start on your hands and knees, with the hands directly under the shoulders, and the knees directly under the hips. Relax the back, while pushing the shoulders back (upwards) with the weight of the body.
Breathe in as you arch your back and roll your shoulders forward (down).
Breath out as you return to the original position. Perform 25 repetitions with deep long breaths acting as the engine to your bellows.
Breathing is the key to mindfulness practice when practicing the martial forms. Coordinating your breath with the movements is key. Practicing the bellows is one way to soften your torso while learning to coordinate your breath.