Training concepts for developing internal power.

Basic ideas for developing internal power through standing meditation or Zhang Zhuang:
Zhan Zhuang, or standing meditation, is the foundation of the internal power possessed and taught by Shifu Victor Chao. Zhang Zhuang translates as “standing like a post” but there is a lot going on internally. CXW, the great Tai Chi Master, said: “outside like a mountain, inside like a river.”

While standing in Shifu Chao’s method the posture is constantly scanned and corrected, it is the Bagua principle of constant alignment to change and it begins within one’s own body during standing meditation. Leg strength is developed, the joints can open and close with the breath and begin to link harmoniously. Later chi flow becomes something that you can control.

Six Harmonies Theory: The Science of Internal Power in Neijia Quan

The six harmonies are at the core of most Chinese internal martial arts. They comprise a training method of for aligning structure, intention, and energy together for maximum efficiency and power. When everything in the body works together towards one direction the different parts are in harmony. The six harmonies are made of three external and three internal harmonies. 

Using the Three External Harmonies in Zhang Zhang Practice

Shifu Chao’s method emphasizes training the three external harmonies or wai san he – 外三合. These are hands/wrists coordinate with feet/ankles, knees coordinate with elbows, hips coordinate with shoulders.

This training is strenuous and uncomfortable, especially at first. The legs need a few months to get strong enough to support everything on top with the new posture alignments. It doesn’t really get much easier even when your leg muscles start to develop, you can just hold it for longer and go lower/higher/wider with more power. It is bitter training but there are no shortcuts.

Peng jin and the three harmonies.

The goal of Zhang Zhaung and three harmonies training is the development of peng jin, ground force leveraged through the correct posture, and breathing method. When the postures start to adhere to the three external harmonies or wai san he you start to get power to push in simple directions. The more you develop the connections required for wai san he, the less you have to rely on the upper body strength to generate force. Soon you can start to uproot opponents in push-hands training.

Shifu Chao often mentions writings and sayings of the old masters to clarify these training concepts.

Threading Pearls

The analogy of threading pearls from the Tai Chi Classics is a helpful visualization tool for developing the three harmonies in your Zhang Zhuang practice. The string of pearls can metaphorically refer to joints connected along the ground path by tendons and fascia, or the spine with its vertebrae. It can also be a single pearl surrounding the body, which Shifu Chao calls the bubble. These visualizations are all simplified but they can point us in the right direction.

threading pearls internal power development concept
Figure A. Shows how the joints and skeletal structure can be aligned to leverage the ground force. Feeling the force from the ground to the top of the head is the easiest way to begin to feel and understand peng jin.

Figure B. This shows a top-heavy posture, to much reliance on upper body strength, and the breath is too high up in the chest.

Figure C. This shows a break in the posture, this can be caused by over-reliance on strong muscle group or bad posture from an injury. These types of issues can be annoyingly difficult to reverse and can really hold back your progress in developing internal power.


The Practice Methods:

Shifu Chao’s break down of important standing points for the lower body:

  1. Start from the ground up, nail the inside of your foot to the ground near the big toe, don’t put the weight on the outside of the foot or the heel. Later you will develop the connection to find the Yong Quan point.
  2. Next, learn to connect this weighted toe point with your knee, mostly the muscles around the knee, especially the muscle above the kneecap on the inside of the leg. The calf muscles should burn if you’re hitting this correctly.
  3. When you have that connection you can move on to the Kua. Shifu Chao teaches that the Kua begins halfway up the thigh on the inside of the leg.

The Root

The root is the most important others are built up on top of it. It needs to be stable. Arch the foot so that the body-weight is born by the Yong Quan point or at first the big toe. See the below video for correct alignment.

The Center

The kua starts halfway up the inside of the thigh and includes the hip sockets, the dan tien, ming men and sacrum as well as the muscles. You need to learn control of all of these areas to direct peng jin effectively. This area is why internal martial arts are difficult to master and why it’s easier for most people to get upper body muscular power.

The Top

We use both the chin and the crown point to lengthen the spine from the sacrum up. Shifu Chao often tells new students to think of an African lady that can support a basket on her head. Both the chin and the crown point can be used to pull the whole posture into alignment.

Try it out

Shifu Chao refers to these methods as the weightlifting of internal martial arts. Once you begin to understand peng jin, and later peng duan jin, Bagua Zhang, Yi Chuan, Xing Yi Chuan and Tai Chi Chuan will all start to look a lot different to you.

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