What is the ultimate martial art technique? Is it joint locking? Pressure-point strikes? Is it the perfection of an aerial kick that smashes a record-breaking number of boards?
Probably not. Most martial arts authorities agree that any technique which doesn't require physical contact with a target can be a highly rated martial art technique. In Chinese martial arts one of the most difficult and revered is called kong jing (empty force), and it directly relates to chi (internal power) development.
Empty force describes the ability of the xin-i (mind - and intention - boxing) practitioner to expel chi energy without making physical contact with a target. This can only be accomplished with a background of training in meditation, chi concentration, and with a knowledge of how to unite the body into a single, powerful unit.
Many past martial artists unknowingly developed empty force and became famous for their superior fighting prowess. For instance, Yang Pan-hou, who died in 1881, was the son of tai chi chuan's founder, Yang Lu-chan. He once used empty force to counterattack an opponent who tried to attack him from the rear. Yang simply arched his back and set his opponent flying backward without even touching him.
Another famous Chinese martial artist who had access to empty force was Kuo Yun-shen. He taught hsing-i to Wang Xiang-zai, who in turn made martial art history with his da cheng quan (also known as i quan). Kuo could throw would-be assailants backward by snapping his shoulder in their direction, long before any physical contact was made. Not to be left out, China's other famous internal system, pa kua, had a renowned expert who also possessed empty force - Tung Hai-chuan. His empty force palm technique was the equivalent of no-hands judo.
Morihei Uyeshiba, the founder of aikido, has many accounts written about him which describe his ability to throw people without touching them. However, the first person to actually teach empty force as an important segment of a martial art system was Peng-Si Yu (1902-1983), a Shanghai medical doctor and the best-known student of Wang Xiang-zai. Yu was the only disciple of Wang to develop empty force and became famous throughout China for his martial arts expertise. Before coming to the U.S. in 1980, Yu received his Western medical degree in Germany before World War II, and was a medical professor at the University of Shanghai. He taught serious martial art students at his home in Shanghai in his spare time.
Yu took Wang Xiang-zai's da cheng quan system one step further by adding Tibetan Buddhist meditation practices that eventually brought students' chi down below the navel. Here, the body's chi channels could be opened completely. While the chi channels don't need to be completely open to use empty force, the person with open chi has far greater power and control, and will recover sooner than the person who has little chi control.
In 1981, Yu and his wife, Min OuYang, came to the U.S. to do research at the Stanford Research Institute in Palo Alto, California. In 1983, he died at the age of 81, leaving his wife to carry on his xing-i teachings.
Min, Yu's wife of 60 years, is well qualified to teach his system. She has devoted her entire life to martial arts training. As a young woman, she practiced shaolin and tai chi chuan martial arts. After marrying Yu, she learned from him and became his teaching assistant. In his later years, she did most of the actual teaching while he supervised.
Empty Force Elements
Most people who have seen martial arts movies picture empty force as the ability to break or move inanimate objects simply by looking at them. But this isn't so. True empty force is the ability to use chi to affect another person's chi, and therefore his physical well-being, without touching him.
Three elements are important in developing empty force: the mind (sum), intention (i), and internal energy (chi).
Sum and i go hand-in-hand. However, each need special conditioning before they can successfully operate together. To improve concentration, the mind must be clear and calm when practicing, and meditation is one way to develop a calm, clear mind.
Intention is the will to accomplish a goal, whether it's self-defense, healing or any other objective. Special internal exercises develop intention by using the eyes as a vehicle to focus on a target. As Min explains, "If you have to injure someone for self-defense, you must look at them with mean eyes."
Internal energy - chi - is literally defined in Chinese as air. Yu further qualified it as the amount of oxygen available to body cells, carried throughout the body by blood in the circulatory system. Although some people think chi is increased by certain forced breathing patterns, Yu's followers don't believe this. Forced or concentrated breathing stops the downward progress of chi. It doesn't advance it. On the other hand, calm meditation with natural, quiet breathing relaxes the mind and body enough to allow the chi, over time, to flow smoothly and evenly as it progresses down to a location three fingers below the tan tien (navel). Although it looks like a kung fu fighting move, this is one of the standing meditation postures in empty-force training. It's reserved for people whose chi has completely opened.
Opening the Chi Channels
When most people begin their internal energy development, their chi (breathing vibration point) is located high in their chests. But as they practice xing-i meditation for about one hour daily, their chi often moves down below the solar plexus. After two years, if their meditation is calm and if they exercise proper posture, it may move into the navel itself. When the chi finally reaches the navel, the body's chi channels are ready to open completely. At that point, with the help of an expert, the channels can be pushed open.
Before their chi is completely open, some people think they can lower their chi into the tan tien by pushing with their own concentration and intention. However, this is momentary and does not mean their chi is really into the navel area or that their chi will stay down permanently. It can easily move back up. When the chi has actually been pushed through beyond the tan tien, it will never go back up. The chi channels are opened forever.
How Empty Force Works
Empty force has no shape or color. As with radiation, it is a force that can easily penetrate another person's body. For instance, if your chi isn't developed enough to withstand an alien chi, you can suffer ill effects.
If the average person walked into Min's class and demanded a sample of empty force, he would be refused - not because empty force is a secret, but because without training and chi development that person could be seriously injured. If Min only used enough of her own chi for him to feel the effects, he might have a headache, become dizzy, turn pale, or lose consciousness. Any less and her chi would merely pass through his body unfelt. Yet in a fight, the result could be tremendous. For these reasons, only students who have developed their own chi strength can experience the empty force.
Intention plays an important role in empty force, too. If the person using empty force does not pinpoint the target, the chi will simply pass through these people or objects. But if the intention is to bounce it off a wall and into a target, the wall becomes a resistance that sends the chi back from its intended target. To further illustrate, if Min focused her empty force chi on one student, and another person walked between them, that person would feel nothing, since Min's mind and intention were focused on her original student.
Empty force is most often used well before actual contact is made. The student rushes forward and is stopped in his tracks, as if a wall had dropped between the student and Min. From there, she controls the student's every move.
Because the student's own chi developed, he handles her force by bouncing (jumping) like an inflated ball or by smoothly rolling back into a balanced position. By using his back, the student maintains his body as a single coordinated unit that returns to its original position, ready to receive more chi. From a fighting perspective, the student whose chi is open has an advantage. He uses his training and chi development to resist pushes and blows by bouncing back into a fighting position, unlike the average person who loses his balance, falls, and may be injured by the fall alone. If the student resists empty force - for example, by trying to jump from it - he can become sick or internally injured.
Due to the student's own chi development, his chi radiates from his body as if it were a ball surrounding him. As Min exudes her strong chi as empty force, it contacts the student's chi. It bounces him back, but doesn't penetrate his body. The person who has not controlled and developed his chi has internal development too weak to resist her concentrated chi and will either not react to a small amount of empty force, or can be injured by a larger amount.
How to Develop Empty Force
Min uses several methods to help her students develop chi and empty force. The most important is daily meditation. Unlike most meditation, which is spiritual training to calm the practitioner's mind, xing-i meditation relaxes both mind and body to move the chi down.
The basic meditation (zhan zhang) is a standing posture with the palms turned down and the knees bent. It's uncomfortable and tiring at first, but after the student learns to relax and enjoy quiet meditation, zhan zhang becomes comfortable. In fact, many advanced students don't want to stop, even after standing for an hour. Again, zhan zhang's purpose is to help lower the chi.
Leg push-ups (dang tui) are designed to bring the chi out of the body, starting with the hands. The student performs slow knee bends with his hands outstretched. His chi gradually develops to the point where it flows out of his arms and hands and extends as far as his intention sends it.
Another exercise for developing empty force is the eagle form (ying xing). As the student extends his arms and hands (like an eagle's wings), he extends the chi out of his body. Then he brings his chi back by pulling his arms in, as an eagle would while capturing his prey. In developing empty force, this exercise teaches the student to repel people with his empty force and pull them forward with his chi.
Other exercises are introduced at each level of training. The highest stage is reserved for those whose chi channels have opened. And yet, empty force is more than fighting. Currently in China, many chi kung research centers study empty force as a healing power. In fact, some hospitals have been established which only use chi to heal patients. The results? Many diseases have been successfully treated.
In these specialized hospitals, doctors project chi to patients form a short distance away. This is called wai chi Interestingly enough, some of the more prominent chi kung doctors in China were students of Yu and Min.