Style: Supplemental Exercises

The Supplemental Exercises from the Earth Dragon Canon Method of Mindfulness Practice. These exercises come from traditional and non-traditional methods of internal martial art practice. They are designed to improve your tai chi, pa kua, or hsing yi practice.

Internal Power Set

The Diagram for Qi Featured Image

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.

On 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.

I developed this set from a line in a Taijiquan classic text that says:

“Power is generated by the feet, transferred through the legs, directed by the waist, and transmitted through the arms to the hands.”

Internal Power Set Exercises

Perform these exercises in this order.

  1. Arm Circles
  2. Butterfly
  3. The Turtle
  4. Back Kick
  5. Push Up
  6. The Bellows
  7. Bridge
  8. Hurdlers Stretch
  9. Forward Bend
  10. Floor Twist
  11. Frog
  12. Foot Circles
  13. Hip Lift
  14. Crunches
  15. Horse Posture

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The River Steps

The River Steps Featured Image

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.

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Horse Posture

Horse Posture Featured Image

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.

Preparation for Horse Posture.
Preparation for Horse Posture.

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Crunches

Crunches featured image.

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.

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Foot Circles

Foot Circles Featured Image

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.

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The Frog

The Frog featured image.

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.

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Floor Twist

Floor Twist featured image.

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.

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Forward Bend

Forward Bend featured image.

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.

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Bridge

The Bridge Featured Image

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.

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The Bellows

The Bellows featured image.

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.

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Push Ups

Push Up featured image.

No exercise engages the scapula, quite like the push up. For strengthening the arms, shoulders, and body core, nothing beats this traditional exercise. The push up also engages the serratus anterior muscle along your rib cage, the same muscle targeted in traditional standing postures with extended arms.

Lie flat on your stomach with your head and nose touching the floor. Place your hands next to your shoulder blades, with your thumbs touching your shoulders.

Front view of Push Up preparation posture.

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Back Kick

Back Kick featured image.

Sitting disassociates the connection between the legs and the torso. The Back Kick is a powerful reminder that our legs need the torso to function well.

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The Turtle

Featured image for The Turtle posture

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. The Turtle is a supplemental exercise for your taijiquan practice. It focuses on the feet and reminds you that the body generates internal power from the ground up.

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Butterfly

Butterfly Posture featured image.

There are some crazy exercises to open the hips and regain flexibility in the pelvic girdle. Some of them involve a partner pushing or pulling legs to ever wider angles. Those just seem painful to me, and I should know, because I have tried some of them in the past.

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Arm Circles

Arm Circles Featured Image

Most people sit more than they should. The result is that the shoulders give up on their normal function and allow the large muscles along the back and hips to take over. You recognize this as a slouch. In mindfulness martial art practice, it means the root of the arms is not functioning. Without restoring that root, your hands are useless. This exercise works on strengthening the muscles of the upper back and reengaging the shoulder. Arm Circles help to strengthen and improve the shoulder range of motion.

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Finger Exercise

Finger Exercise featured image.

You use your hands all day, yet pay little attention to what they are doing. Studies that map parts of the human body to brain function draw pictures of the body that represent the relative size of each body part to brain function. These pictures show the hands huge compared to the rest of the body, with one hand being larger than the other.

Bringing your hands into your conscious awareness is the point of this exercise.

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Deep Breathing

Deep Breathing featured image.

Until you can breathe deeply and slowly, it will be impossible for you to coordinate the internal and external harmonies required for mindfulness martial art practice.

A good way to start breath practice is in the Bear Posture. Instead of holding your hands out to your sides, put the left hand on your lower abdomen and the right hand on your chest.

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Lying Bear Posture

Lying Bear Posture Featured Image

I designed this posture to let the stress of the day go, and I refer to it often. My grandfather was the first to introduce me to this posture. His doctor recommended it to ease his back pain. I found it many books promising pain relief since then. The idea is to release the tension in your lower back.

Find a chair, bed, foot stool, anything that is about the height of your knees and wide enough for your legs to lie on. In this example, I use a chair.

Lie on your back, with your arms extended at your sides, and put your feet onto the chair. Slide your bottom next to the chair so that you form two 90-degree angles: one from your knees to your thighs, and the second from your thighs to your hips and back.

The relaxing and addictive Bear Posture.
The relaxing and addictive Bear Posture.

When you assume this posture, there may be a large arch in your lower back. The psoas major muscle could form this by contracting to manage some disfunction in your posture. Ideally, you would remain on the floor until your back flattens, but this is a relaxing posture, and it is not doing anything to strengthen your shoulders, hips, legs, or lower back. Try not to stay in the Bear for more than 15 minutes at a time. Trust me.

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Trinity Posture

Trinity Posture or San Ti Shi Right Style

San Ti Shi, or the Three Body Posture, combines the lessons of Wuji Standing Meditation and Universal Post and integrates martial intent. In this posture, we divide the body into three sections that are further divided into three more sections. The primary division is the head, the hands, and the feet. We divide the head section into the head, the spine, and the waist. The hand section is divided into the hands, the elbows, and the shoulders. And finally, we divide the feet section into the feet, the knees, and the hips.

In the diagram, notice how each of the primary sections is linked through the shoulders and hips.

Anatomy of the Trinity Posture

Diagram of the Three Body Posture
The Three Body Posture

All martial arts have a Trinity Posture. The basics are always the same: one leg back with more weight on it and the front leg ready to move into another position. One hand back and on-guard from incoming attacks while the other stretches forward to feel out the opponent.

Teachers of the Xingyiquan martial art often ask their students to stand in Trinity Posture for hours before they practice any movements. Some schools don’t even discuss the form. The teachers just let you stand around until you figure it out.

If you have been practicing the Wuji Posture, Holding the Moon Posture, and Universal Post with the supplemental exercises, you are light years ahead of most students.

Since proper breathing is essential to Trinity Posture practice, study the Deep Breathing lesson with your Trinity Posture practice. Proper breathing is long, silent, and deep.

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Universal Post Standing Posture

The Yin Yang Posture

The Universal Post or Yin Yang Standing Posture introduces the idea of movement into your standing practice. By shifting the weight onto one leg and letting the other leg hang empty in space, you are training the body how it will feel to move without moving. This idea of stillness and motion coexisting relates to the Yin and Yang theory. The Universal Post lets you practice this coexistence without moving. Later, you will practice this coexistence while moving.

Yin and Yang in the Universal Post Standing Mediation

Remember, the concept of Yin and Yang is as ancient as Chinese philosophy. The origin story said there was a primordial chaos (Wuji) out of which an egg was born. When the egg split, the heavy yolk sank to become the Earth (Yin), while the light egg white rose to become the Heavens (Yang).

Two lines represent Yin and Yang. Yang is a solid line that represents brightness, lightness, masculinity, and the tendency to move upwards. Yin is a broken line that represents darkness, heaviness, femininity, and the tendency to move downwards.

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Holding The Moon Posture

Holding the Moon Featured Image

Holding the Moon is a traditional posture for most Chinese internal martial arts. If you practice Holding the Moon before you are aware of your shoulder and hip alignment, however, you can reinforce bad posture. Therefore, a good way to learn the posture is lying on the floor.

Holdign the Moon Posture done on the floor

Lie down on the floor with your feet hip width apart, your arms extended to your sides, and your toes pointing to the ceiling. Pull your feet up by bending your knees until your feet are flat on the floor. Raise your arms up from the sides, bending them at the elbows, until your shoulders start to rise off the floor. Gravity should pull the elbows and hands down so it looks like you are holding a large ball on your chest. Hold this position for up to five minutes.

Holding the Moon Posture while on the floor.
Holding the Moon Posture done on the floor.

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Wuji Posture

Wuji Posture Featured Image

Stand up, put your hands at your sides and examine yourself. Is one toe pointing out or one shoulder higher than the other? Does one palm face the front and the other face your side? Your standing posture reflects the disfunction years of inattentiveness has caused. It is time to pay attention to your standing posture, know how your body is functioning today, and take responsibility to create a new milestone for yourself and your ability to stand on your own two feet.

Functional Wuji Posture

The best way I have found to assume a functional Wuji Posture is to stand with my heels together and feet pointing out so that there is a 90-degree angle between them. Once you have this position, turn on your little toes, causing the heels to separate from each other and come to rest under your hips. You should have your feet under your hips; they should be hip width apart. The big toe of each foot should point forward or slightly in.

Spacing the feet in Wuji Posture
Spacing the feet in Wuji Posture.

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