Martial Tai Chi™

Martial Training Association

De-mystifying the Mysterious

FA JIN (Releasing Power)

Bruce Lee once said that the difference between a Karate punch and a Gongfu (Kung Fu) punch was that a Karate punch is like being hit with a crowbar, while a Gongfu punch is like being hit by a metal ball on the end of a chain.

This describes how the right amount of relaxation can speed up a punch and make its impact more explosive. The striking arm can also recoil back to a guard position more quickly and is therefore less likely to be grabbed by the defender.

Another consideration is that for a Karate punch the whole body is rigid, which has the effect of making the Karateka fairly easy to topple, rather like a statue. The Gongfu practitioner should have a softer, more adaptable and rooted posture, more like a Willow tree than a mighty Oak. A final point is that by eliminating any unnecessary use of muscular force, the Gongfu fighter also expends less energy thus minimising fatigue.

So how does a Taijiquan fighter access and release this explosive power? If we are to believe practitioners of most of the descendant styles of Taiji (Yang style and its derivatives), we should not release power during practise. From my own training and teaching experience, I firmly believe this to be nonsense. Training at full combat speed and training your body how to brace against impact is essential training for any martial artist.

"Emphasis on slow movements alone leads to slow strikes which an opponent can counter easily. Emphasis on fast moves only makes it difficult to feel the path of your energy and makes it easy to strike along a longer path than necessary. Being fast refers to the speed generated through familiarity of the energy path. It is a speed without loss of quality" - From "Training for Sparring" by Chen Zhaokui

"I am a firm believer in heavy bag and percussion training. I do not like my fighters to train on a bag that weighs less than 80 pounds. The bag should have a firmness consistent with that of softened rock. In other words, whatever the filling, the bag must be quite dense. A fighter must condition his hands, feet, elbows and knees to the shock of impact. Otherwise, all other preparations for combat become useless. When properly conditioned, a fighter has no apprehension about unloading a full-power strike on the opponent. Poor conditioning leads to a fear of injury." - From "Kuoshu Winning Secrets; Power Training" by Mike Patterson

"No one ever became a champion Olympic sprinter just by practising walking" - Bruce Lee

fa jin illustration

The following illustrations will attempt to show levels of relative muscular tension during a fa jin strike.

The white portions of the body show only peng or background tension, such as that required to stand up. The power (jin) is generated by firing successive muscle groups, starting with the rear foot and pushing up from the braced rear heel through each muscle in turn, adding acceleration through each successive muscle or group of muscles. The red areas show the body parts where the momentum is currently being accelerated and the orange through to yellow sections show the body settling back to a lower level of tension such as that necessary to brace against the impact. The fighter should not rise up as her power pushes through her body, rather she should sink lower and compress to brace the strike. The whole process should happen in a fraction of a second. Notice how the whole body returns to its background peng levels once the power has been released so that the fighter may return to a state whereby she is equally ready to move any portion of her body.

I never describe what we do as "internal arts" or "internal power" because such language is so divisive (see "We Are Not Internal" here). This divisiveness is a direct result of the fact that the term has come to mean so many different things to so many people - most of which having nothing whatsoever to do with martial arts. But if I were to offer a practical application of the term "internal" it would be in solitary reference to a fajin strike. Fajin type strikes seemingly require very little space in which to generate power and this is because of the way that the muscles of the body are sequentially engaged from the heel to the hand. So instead of the distance travelled to generate momentum being seen outside of the body, as in the case of a very chambered punch shooting out from the hip or shoulder, the distance travelled as the strike accumulates momentum occurs inside the body. The distance travelled, for example for a cross-lateral strike such as a cross-punch, is from the rear heel, up through the rear leg, through the torso and down the arm into the hand. The hand does not have to pull back away from its target first because muscular softness allows the whole body to crack like a whip along the described path through the body.

I think that many people are now becoming interested in the ways that Chinese martial arts generate power and while some are happy to couch such matters in esoteric terms, those of a more practical persuasion will talk of muscle chains and wave-power. All we have to do now is admit to each other that we are discussing the same thing, but I think that while so many practitioners of Chinese arts in the West prefer explanations to remain nebulous and nonsensical, this coming together of minds is unlikely to happen in the near future.

taiji concepts
Martial Tai Chi™