edited by John Brown
First published on January 8, 2007
at the Premier Hunyuan Taiji International Symposium
There is one demand which has been emphasized by masters of taijiquan and all martial arts, down through the ages up to the present day. It is said that “One who practices without Gong will spend his life in futility”.
People practice taijiquan with different motives. One goal is for health, another is for attainment of Gong. However, to even understand the true nature of “Gong” can be a challenge, for those who seek to attain it. How many seekers have been led astray in the name of this very Gong? How many have spent their life’s energy in this pursuit? How many can truly claim to have achieved it?
Nevertheless, the pursuit of Gong must not be abandoned, because its reality is verified by those who embody and demonstrate this lofty ideal. Those who have witnessed the amazing ability of grandmaster can attest to that. And yet, the attainment of Gong is beyond the grasp of most, most difficult to come by, for anyone save those who would make the ultimate commitment to master this elusive challenge.
The author spent several decades under the tutelage of two of Grandmaster Chen Fake’s disciples, Hong Junsheng and . In this writing, he will share some of his experiences with those who might have similar interest in this subject. The views expressed here should be construed as those of the author alone, based on his personal taiji training experience. They do not necessarily represent the theories and views of his masters.
What is Gong?
In the context of cultivation of martial skill in taijiquan, we can speak of Gong as attainment of great, almost “supernatural” energy. In practice, it can be recognized as the special power in push hands. One who has Gong has the ability to easily impose one’s will on the opponent.
We can identify three prominent manifestations of this Gong in taijiquan. One is called “Fa”, to issue power or energy. When the skilled proponent issues, he can “throw out” and send his opponent airborne with both feet lifted off the ground. The recipient of this energy usually does not suffer serious physical injury. Traditionally, push hands of taijiquan primarily employs this type of Gong. But in various situations, the timing and direction of this “issue” may be quite varied.
In my years of study with Hong Junsheng, I witnessed numerous examples, in which he used this type of Gong. Whenever defending against challengers, he would always effortlessly “issue” his opponent far away from him.
A second manifestation of this Gong in taijiquan is called “Hua”. Hua is the skill to neutralize the oncoming forces or energy. All masters of higher caliber taijiquan possess this type of ability. Grandmaster Chen Fake’s disciple Tian Xiuchen was famous for his use of this method. In the Beijing of his time, there was a saying “The Hua (neutralization) of Tian Xiuchen and the Da (Hitting) of Feng Zhiqiang”.
A third manifestation of Gong is “Da”, to . To in taijiquan is to gather the energy to one single point. With this ability, the proponent has power to penetrate the defense of even the strongest opponents. This ability is commonly used in free sparring, such as the typical “cut hand” level fighting of taijiquan. My master, is recognized for his command of this skill.
The above three manifestations, Fa, Hua and Da, are all rooted in the same energy, Gong. In a way, they are related more to the personal style of the master than the ability of the master.
The next area of consideration should be, how can we engage in the best practices, for the cultivation of gong? What areas of focus might lead to attainment of higher skills, as exemplified by these great masters?
Where Does Gong Reside?
It may seem capricious to ask, “Where does the Gong reside?” But we must answer this question, if we are to achieve success from our practice. If we can identify and locate the physical basis for Gong, then we can proceed to engage effective methods for cultivating Gong. To be more precise, if we can determine the various physical requirements which must be developed, then we have a direction to take in the cultivation of Gong.
As we know, “li” force resides in muscles; “jin” power permeates tendons and sinews; “fa” method issues from alignment of the skeletal structure. We also know that “qi” travels between the skin and the muscles. In light of our central topic here, we understand “Gong” to be located in skills requiring proper usage of the bone joints. Therefore, if Gong is to be discovered and realized, then training must develop those skills. The training must lead to physical structure and movement which applies the joints in the most effective manner.
How to Cultivate the Gong?
First of all, one needs to work on the joints. Different joints require different training, and some deserve more attention than others. For example, the wrist and ankle joints should only be warmed up. They should not be given special emphasis, in training for martial arts. No special power should be expected to come out of them. They are flexible joints, not power joints. They are the type of joints that must be “locked” temporarily when the transmission of power is to take place. In contrast, the “kua” is the joint which is given great emphasis in our training, vital for the development of higher skills, and deserving our attention for continuous training. This joint is centrally located and it is a “power transmission” joint.
Secondly, there must be specified methods for training the joints. The joints must be stretched, in such a manner as to not exactly be “physically” stretched. They must be worked on with a stretching intent, an experience of “expansion”. As long as one does not feel the joints are being compressed or elongated, it will be adequate. Also, the joints must be rotated. For example, we may express orientations such as: the shoulder must move downwards; the knees must point upwards; and the kua must move in all directions.
How does this correspond to training?
In the Hunyuan system, the cultivation of Hunyuan Qi applies the method of cultivation of the “Gong” that we refer to in this article. The many aspects of Hunyuan training help with the attainment of “Gong”.
Zhanzhuang is a fundamental exercise for all Hunyuan practitioners. It fosters the intent to stretch open the joints with subtle movements of the body in a relaxed state. In the zhanzhuang exercise, the practitioner may not appear to move. However, he/she is constantly engaging internal effort (often not visible to external observers) to stretch every single joint of the body. The objective for this activity (along with its intent) is to re-establish the body in its pre-heaven wuji state. The wuji state is recognized as the optimum state of the joints, which allows maximum level of Gong to be attained within the structure of the body.
Silk Reeling methods comprise another important element of practice in the Hunyuan system. These exercises prepare the practitioner for the attainment of the Hunyuan Qi (Gong), and with diligence may accelerate progress toward actualization of that objective. The practices activate stretching of the joints. All eighteen joints of the body are exercised in both positive and negative directions. The postures and movements also have direct marital applications. The application value of Silk Reeling provides a dimension beyond the objectives of Zhanzhuang, so that combining the two aspects of practice offers greater overall benefits.
Routines in the Hunyuan system may be viewed as different combinations of Silk Reeling movements. They are designed with Qi flow and martial applications in mind. In that sense, we might consider them to represent advanced exercises for the training of the joints. Traditionally there were only two core routines in the Chen Style Taijiquan system. Grandmaster has drawn upon his vast experience, with many decades of experience as a leading martial artist in Taijiquan. This has enabled him to design a wide variety of routines better suited for the attainment of Hunyuan Qi for his students. Some of these new routines are: the 24-form, the 38-form, the 48-form, etc.
Other forms of training include weapons (mainly sword, broadsword, staff and spear in the Hunyuan system) and push hands. All of these routines employ the same principles grounded in Zhanzhuang and Silk Reeling. Therefore, we can evaluate all these components in the context of one primary objective: the attainment of Qi.
The attainment of Gong
We could say that the path for cultivation of Gong is found in the crevices between bones. We can view the process for development of Gong as being dependent upon developing ability for correct usage of activities of the joints. But the attainment of Gong is not easy.
People use their joints throughout their lives, yet they may never gain awareness of the correct usage, for better health or martial skills. For example, most people will have a great deal of difficulty, even to flare the nostrils without moving muscles on the face. Ability to differentiate separate motor skills, to isolate specific joint movements or muscle groups, or other unique coordination challenges to performance of taiji tasks —- all these challenges must be overcome to reach higher levels of skill.
Most people practice with limited capabilities of self observation.Their training may result in development of muscles, ligaments and other types of normal power. Yet these activities for stretching the joints, with merely mechanical movement and rotations, will not give the learner any feedback which would be useful for development of skills of taijiquan. Such practice will not cultivate the unique requirements for Gong in taiji practice.
We must conclude that the challenge is to derive the most effective methods for correct training. One must persist in working on the joints. With joints which move in an effortless, coordinated manner, always sensitive to the required adjustments, the skilled practitioner will demonstrate ability to transmit 100% of the power at all angles, without being overcome by the weight of incoming power. The transmission of power will be fluid in two directions. One direction will absorb the opponent’s power and transmit it through one’s own body to the ground. This transmission has to be so pure that no residue power is left on the transmitter’s body. Otherwise, there could be self inflicted fatigue or injury. The other direction is the transmission of one’s own power to the opponent’s body. This transmission has to be so accurate and precise that the full impact of power must be injected into the opponent’s body, without drain or loss of any power, due to any friction from the transmitter’s own body.
The quality of activity of the joints will be like the function of “CV joints” of automobiles. The joints will be capable of at exactly the correct angles for neutralization and redirection of any incoming force. From the point of view of the “CV joint”, power transmission does not depend on power or force. It depends on the manipulation of the two sides of the joint by adjusting to the need in angles and spatial variations of the two sides of the joint.
We identify this vital target for approaching Gong. Long time practice must utilize the best methods for training. Training for development of skills, for effective employment of the joints, must be prerequisite for attainment of Gong.
In this article, we have engaged in a cursory review of “Gong”, with an introductory consideration of basic issues, such as, “What is Gong?” “Where is Gong?”, “How to Practice Gong?”, and “How to Obtain Gong?”
Gong, as the outcome of taijiquan practice, is a complex topic. In this article, we have approached this topic with a simple and direct method. This is not to say that “Gong” is such a simple skill that it really is such and resides in such places. We offer this introduction in the spirit of providing some background information, general guidelines, and perhaps stimulating further investigation of this important topic. All the better, if this can serve as some inspiration for those who might pursue attainment of true Gong.