View Full Version : the decline of body-conditioning basics in the CMAs

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Thomas Campbell
02-28-2012, 05:32 PM
Having occasion in recent days to reconsider the current state of traditional Chinese martial arts (CMAs) with respect to the basic methods of conditioning and training body skill and connection, I'm struck by the possibility that there may be more commonality with the situation of aikido than previously thought--in terms of the loss of training theory and physical training methods foundational to the effectiveness of the martial art, the training foundation for the high levels of internal power, connection and skill attributed to the founders and "famous name" practitioners of different CMAs. The jibengong or basic training methods of different Chinese arts often show strong resemblance even though the physical movements of techniques of the arts appear quite different from each other. A CMA veteran with many decades of training under high-level Chinese teachers recently described what jibengong is, including a description of one basic exercise that is seen in otherwise very different Chinese arts (the "iron broom"):

Jinbengong should not be confused with jibendongzuo - the latter are the basic movements of a system. The jibengong are the foundation exercises that concentrate on specific aspects of strength, balance, fine motor control, generation and expression of force, and optimal angulation of weight or force bearing joints.

Sometimes the two meet - basic exercises employ basic stances. Sometimes they do not - some of the exercises involve strengthening small muscle groups held statically or dynamically. One exercise that I will describe as an example is the iron broom - one should stand on one leg (leg straight, knee locked), the other leg is held out parallel to the ground. Hands are at the hips or by the side of the chest, elbows pulled back, chest lifted, shoulders pulled back towards the spine and down towards the hips (rhomboids, latissimus dorsi major movers here). You should try to feel as if you are retracting your extended thigh into your hip - without moving your hip. The top of the head pushes up, the bottom of the spine is pulled down, the area below the navel is pulled in towards the spine. This is the starting position. Without moving anything else, contract your illiopsoas to raise your leg one inch, then lower one inch - slowly, with control (count of 3 up, 3 down). Repeat and work up to 100 repetitions on each leg.

That is the basic, beginners level version of the exercise.

The above is from a discussion at http://rumsoakedfist.org/viewtopic.php?f=3&t=15775&start=75&st=0&sk=t&sd=a

True jibengong will also involve work with breath and intent. The ultimate aim is to use jibengong as bodywork to develop a martially-conditioned body that supports the techniques of the specific martial art and responds smoothly and naturally to the fluid, changing conditions of a fight--whether with weapons or emptyhand.

Jibengong is not simply basic physical conditioning. The exercises aim to develop naturally sound alignments, fine motor control and internal connection--which are elements in more of the higher-level Chinese arts than just the three most commonly promoted as "internal" (i.e., taijiquan, baguazhang and xingyiquan).

The proper teaching of jibengong is rare and in many cases lost from the public teaching of CMAs--because the teachers themselves never learned it. If available, it seems to be taught largely "behind closed doors." The analogy with, say, the shiko exercise as taught in the dojo of the late Sagawa Yukiyoshi does not seem far-fetched. Now, not all jibengong is aimed specifically at internal power, but true jibengong was the foundation for the internal power and skills of the legends of Chinese internal martial arts. And you can bet that they learned through hard work and hands-on coaching from their teachers providing the entry into their own unique evolution as highly-skilled and powerful fighters.

So it is encouraging for someone immersed in the Chinese internal martial arts, as I've been, to see the discussion and insights emerging from the conversations and new trends in training in Aikido that have been reflected on Aikiweb in recent years, and the training opportunities that have emerged as a result. Aikido's example shows that reflection and re-evolution in the Chinese arts is possible. Jun's work here at Aikiweb has made real change in aikido possible, and helped inspire similar discussions and refocus on nearly-lost foundational training in the Chinese arts as well. I'd like to thank him for his patience and perseverance in making Aikiweb available to all of us.

Cheers, Jun.

Rabih Shanshiry
02-29-2012, 12:56 PM
Great post Tom. I was not familiar with the distinction between jibengong and jibendongzuo, although it makes perfect sense. Thanks!

03-10-2012, 06:36 PM
Hi Tom

Did you post this over at RSF? :) I read a bit of that thread but since it appears most people just dont get it i never bothered reading on or commenting.

Great post Tom!