Understanding of human body

Leosh Horky


The main principles of function of a man from the point of view of Yiquan and other methods of bodywork


The author of this article is a representative of Yiquan Academy in Czech Republic.




The martial arts came into being from a need to increase chances of a victory in a fight or chances of survival in self-defense. With time it turned up, that most of the fighting styles have also other effects, for example health cultivation, condition-improvement, self-cognition, character building or fun-filling-up of the leisure time.


Each student should perceive, why he pays attention to martial arts and what he is expecting from that. Accordingly he should compose his own training. For example, if he

really wants to be really good at fighting, half an hour of solo training a day and two-persons training once a week will not be enough. On the other hand a student, who looks at training as a way to get rid of stress and some method of mental hygiene, will absolutely manage with this amount of training.


It is clear, that if we want to do martial arts, it is necessary to take knowledge of practical aspects of combat. Otherwise we wouldn't be able to title our practice as martial arts. In fact, it depends on our motivation, how deeply we would concentrate on fighting. We will also have to keep on our mind our abilities - individual (health, emotional state) and also financial and social circumstances. Most of us simply cannot afford to come to work or to a business meeting with bruises from the sparring.


We should keep on our mind one very important aspect of martial arts, no matter, which style we are practicing and how much we are concentrating on combat training. This is health and personal development. To practice martial arts in a way which damages our health would be very short-sighted. We also feel the need of self-development (or at least to keep status quo or not to degenerate), so we wouldn't be very pleased with a practice, which wouldn't bring us any effect.


If we look at the martial arts in a slightly schematic way, we could see, that it is a process of cultivating skills in the field of self-use, using apparatus, and interaction with other human beings.


By self-use we understand the improvement of body-use, improvement of key-skills (for example coordination, strength etc.) and improvement of psychological qualities. We take human being in his wholeness - not just the physical part.


By using apparatus we understand work with weapons.


Interaction with other human beings means usage of effective combat methods (including principles and techniques) or healing methods (which is an integral part of many

martial art traditions).


In our article we concentrate on the first part which is self-use. This theme is important and useful for everyone, because everyone needs to do various activities in the most efficient way. We look at this subject from the yiquan point of view - which is a Chinese martial art. We will also mention similar experiences of practitioners of rolfing, Feldenkrais method or Alexander technique. This is the reason why you shall find relatively a big amount of quotation in this text.




Wang Xiangzhai and Yiquan


Wang Xiangzhai (1885 - 1963) was a well-known Chinese master and a teacher of martial arts. Because of his poor health he started training in xingyiquan with famous master Guo Yunshen. Thanks to practice he not only became much more fit, but also got a lot of practical martial experience. He traveled all over China to practice with the best masters, e.g. in Shaolin temple he studied xinyiba. He was also practicing with the masters of white crane, other masters of xingyiquan and many others. Basing on these experiences he founded yiquan, also known as dachengquan.


"Yiquan" - "Yi" means mind or intent and "quan" means boxing. Focus is put on developing one‘s natural movement and fighting abilities through a system of training methods which are stressing work on improving perception of one's body, its movement and force. The main point is work of one‘s mind and its harmonious unity with body.


Moshe Feldenkrais and his method


Moshe Feldenkrais was born in 1904 in Ukraine and died in 1984. At age of fourteen he left for Palestine and lived for 10 years in Tel Aviv working and studying at the same time. During a football match he injured his knee so badly it was swollen for a few months. In 1928 he moved to Paris where he studied physics, mathematics and engineering, and then became a research assistant to the nuclear chemist Fréderic Joliot-Curie. Here he met Jigoro Kano (the judo founder) and became one of the first Europeans who got the black belt. During the 2nd war he fled to Britain. As Steve Shafarman writes: "At that time he got interested in human evolution and started to explore the ways of children movement. He was inspired by the observations of children who were in his wife's Yony Rubenstein surgery. After a bus-crash he re-aggravated an old knee injury and the doctors told him that he had to

have an operation otherwise he would never be able to walk. There were no modern arthroscopy techniques and the best doctors in England could promise only 50 percent of guarantee that the operation would be successful. Feldenrais regarded operation with a such prognosis irresponsible. In an effort to find a better solution he started to study everything what he could get about health and curing - anatomy, physiology, movement-therapy, psychotherapy and spiritual practicing, yoga, acupuncture and hypnotism. Feldenkrais started walking again, he refused the operation and even started to practice judo." (V????domí léčí, page 9)


Feldenkrais method also known as Awareness through movement is based on improving of self-image, which leads up to better body-work and the quality of movement, but also personal development.


Steven Shafarman, Feldenkraise ????s student, in his book „Consciousness is healing“ adds to this topic: "Each of us behaves in conformity with our own imagination about us. This self-image rises and changes according to our learning. The complete self-image should consist of awareness of each joint and all surfaces of a body. Most people consider their body as separates parts, which are moving independently of each other: feet, legs, arms, hands, head and in the middle of all is back which keeps all sections together."


Dr. Ida Rolf and her method


Dr. Ida P. Rolf was born in 1896 in New York and died in 1979. She graduated during the 1st war, which gave her a great opportunity. As her secretary writes in her book „Rolfing a realita t????la“ (page 6) : "At that time lots of men were fighting and there was a big lack ofqualified workers in many fields, so lots of women got the unique opportunity. She got a job in the Rockefeller's institute (today Rockefeller's university) in New York City and she could continue her studies while she was working. She got doctor‘s degree in biochemistry in the faculty of medicine and surgery of Colombian University and continued working in Rockefeller's institute, where she finally got the honor of remarkable member." Dr. Rolf studied yoga, osteopathy and homeopathy.


Rolfing (Structural integration) systematizes and balances the body in terms of the field of attraction. This is achieved by the systematical manipulation (realized during 10 lessons, one hour which), which lightens and shakes up fascias. According to Ida Rolf - "fascia is the organ of body-control". („Rolfing a realita t????la“, page 98).


F. M. Alexander and his technique


Frederic Matthias Alexander was born in 1869 in Tasmania and died in 1955 in London. During his late teens he became an actor, but unfortunately he often lost his voice during performance.


Robert Macdonald and Caro Ness describe the circumstances of creation of Alexander technique: "When Alexander started to hoarse and loose his voice, he was visiting well-known doctors, but without any effect. Before a very important performance his doctor recommended him voice-rest for 2 weeks before the performance. Alexander followed this advise, his voice was in a normal state at the beginning, but during the performance he started to hoarse and finally he completely lost his voice. Alexander speculated that he must have been doing something on stage in act of reciting which caused his vocal problems. Using mirrors, he began to study the way he was using muscles while speaking, observing muscular tension. He found that he habitually pulled his head back and down and shortened neck before speaking, moreover he was breathing through his mouth. It took several years before he got rid of that habit and learned how to speak more freely. Not only did his vocal problems disappear, but his overall health improved as well. („Tajemství Alexanderovy techniky“, page 14).


Alexander method is based on right alignment of body, which leads to natural posture, open breathing and linked movements. During its implementation simple movements are used, usually with the helping touch of a certificated practitioner.




In this part of our article we are going to pay attention to some of basic principles relevant to body-work, which we could very easily observe and use in practice. Classical Yiquan has several basic training methods. They are:


  • Static postures (zhan zhuang),

  • Stepping (moca bu),

  • Slow movement (shi li),

  • Fast movement (fa li),

  • Two-persons exercise (tui shou a san shou).


With those methods yiquan leads its practitioner through the main possibilities of human movement and position.


Among the static positions there are lying, sitting and standing postures. Static positions in standing we further divide into positions, when weight is evenly distributed on both feet and positions, where weight is more on one leg.


The Stepping we start from forward and backward, and later different variations and directions are practiced.


Slow movements contain coordinated movements in the basic directions, eg. forward, backward, left, right, up, down and following trajectory of circle or curve. By fast movements we mean explosive release of power.


Two-persons exercises are based on solo exercises and they are concentrating on the development of combat skills. Some of the movements and postures, like crawling, swimming, kneeling etc. are not commonly used in yiquan, but it is possible to apply the principles of yiquan on them.


For Yiquan-practitioners the static positions are not anything separated from stepping or movement. We can consider the static position as a movement stopped at one point. We can also take the movement as a series of infinite amount of static positions, which are following each other. If we are able to perceive each of the training methods of yiquan in this way, it is easier to understand, that there are certain basic principles, which are common. If yiquan shall be an effective martial art and also health-bringing exercise, it is necessary that the principles will fully respect the human physiology and the principles shall not be separated from the daily life.


According to us there is a basic trinity of those principles. They are: the body structure, relaxation-tension and unity of mind and body. In the next lines we are going to explore each principle on its own. By this - we of course are not saying, that next to those three basic principles there are not any other principles, or that they are less important.


1. The body-structure


We all exist and move on the Earth within the field of attraction. Our body is under the permanent force which pulls us down. If our body has the right structure, which is appropriate to our position, we don't perceive the field of attraction as a competitor. On the contrary - it is our helper. As the purpose of this article is not to give the detailed analysis of all various postures of a body, we would like to concentrate only on the standing posture. One of the first method yiquan students learn is zhan zhuang or static position in standing. The basic instruction says, it is necessary to stand with the feeling the top of the head is lifting upwards, with the pelvis as we would like to sit down, the knees slightly bend. Notice now the posture of head, spine and pelvis. The founder of yiquan, Wang Xiangzhai wrote: "Be naturally relaxed, with head straight, eyes watching straight, body in proper position, as if it is lighting something in top of your head." („Central pivot of the way of fist“, page 20).


As we can see, the feeling that the top of the head is lifting upwards is emphasized. This point is important not just for yiquan, but also for other Chinese martial arts. Wolfe Lowenthal writes in his book about Cheng Man Ching, the master of taijiquan: "The basic principle of taiji is relaxation. The next most important principles are three treasures. If you follow those three treasures, there is no need to worry whether you are practicing in the right way. The first treasure directs us to the point of top of head, the place, where little children have their soft spot. Imagine, my professor (it means Cheng Man Ching) kept saying, that you are suspended on a spring which goes to a center of your head. He was also using other imagination - the head is stressed against the roof. He even once said, you can be practicing 30 years, but if you won't be paying your attention to „hanging-up-your-head", your effort

will give no effect." ( Nic vám netajím, page 62)


There is direct relation between whole body and the position of head. If this position is wrong, the body becomes imbalanced and looses its right structure. A very interesting point of view is given by Ida P. Rolf: "A man, who keeps leaning his head to the side, has problems with blood circulation in half of his head. What is caused by that? If he keeps head in this position because of for example an accident in his childhood, it has a certain influence on his consciousness. One half of his head is better nourished than the other." (Rolfing and realita t????la, page 106).


Alexander technique also pays a lot of attention to head posture. As Macdonald and Ness write: "Alexander found a very important regularity of human physiology. He learned, that to keep the right tension of nape muscles and the head-position in the relation to the rest of body is the very first presumption to purposeful body-use in movement.“ (Tajemství Alexanderovy techniky, page 16). And they continue: "Your head is a very sensitive organ and your body-balance shall protect you from hitting your head. The fear of fall is a part of basic survival mechanism, which protects a man from the fall. If your head is not in the right position, your senses are alerted and your muscles get stressed to protect you. And this repeats again and again....in mutual circle. You are in a great danger of falling down, if you put lots of energy to keep from that, as you stress much more your muscles.“ (Tajemství Alexanderovy techniky, page 41).


If we keep the feeling, that we are hanged out on the top of our head, or we can also imagine we are holding something up on top of head, our chin automatically tucks slightly in, and we can breathe more freely.


Kim Davies mentions in his book "P??íručka – záda, klouby a vše ostatní, co vás bolí" some of the basic points of body-posture. He writes about "head-posture": "Keep your head straight and in one line with a spinal column. Your chin has to be as if on the same level as a floor and neck should be relaxed. " (page 18).


We've just described the basic requirements of the head-posture. But in which position shall be your backbone? Let‘s imagine for a while, that we really are hanged up on the top of head. The spine is hanging from that and is weighted by pelvis. So we perceive our spine as slightly stretched and extended. Please notice now, that the extension of spine gives us the effect of upward pulling and at the same time the effect of dropping the weight down. So now, we've described the feeling which appears with the right alignment of body. It is not a description of the real state, as our spine cannot be absolutely straight in reality. If you want to use some of those experience in practice, we recommend not to try any experiments on your own, but practice under a qualified supervision. The spine is very sensitive and easy to harm.


Mentioning the standing posture we also have to deal with the feet-position. Basically we can say, that the feet-weight is evenly distributed on the sole of foot, the toes shall be like they were catching the ground and the knees are slightly bent (they are never fully straightened), knees and feet are facing the same direction and the weight of the whole body goes down to the soles and continues toward the ground. Practicing these instructions also needs a qualified supervision.


The rules of the right posture are summed up by Moshe Feldenkrais: ".....Each posture is right if it follows the rule - the bones antagonize the gravity, so it relaxes the muscles, which could be used for a movement. The body and its nervous system are developing together under the influence of gravity. The bone, without any expenditure of energy, protects body against the gravity. If the muscles should do this instead of the bone, they would be wasting the energy and moreover they couldn't work fully on movement." („Feldenkraisova metoda“, page 81)


Obviously the muscles should work on the right posture of the body. As we know, in this process of standing there are phasic muscles and tonic muscles (see „Gymnastika pro kondiční a zdravotní účely“, page 15). It is important to keep the body posture by not using superfluous tension of muscles, or not using the muscles, which shouldn't be involved in this process.


2. Relaxation and tension


First of all we would like to define "relaxation". There is a common sentence in Yiquan: "relaxed but not loose, tense but not stiff." By the word "relaxation" we mean live, flexible and springy relaxation, and not slackness without any power. Actually, this process is about getting rid of over-tension. An absolute relaxation would cause our falling on the floor. As Hans-Dieter Kempf very pertinently notes: "The muscles, ligaments and tendons activity allows the straight standing. The most important muscle groups (extensors) are: stretchers - gastrocnemius for stabilizing ankle joint, front femoral ankle joint, nates muscles for stabilizing hip joint and back and abdominal musculature for stabilizing spine." („Záda – zbavte se bolestí nav??dy“, page 36)


It is clear, that if our body-structure is in a bad condition, we must compensate it by higher usage of muscular work, or involving muscles, which could be normally relaxed. We would put uselessly a lot of effort to that. According to us we cannot simply divide the body-structure and the right relaxation. Moshe Feldenkrais once wrote: "We are not aware of the muscle-work, which antagonizes the gravity. We are aware of that just if we interrupt its work or if we higher its activity on purpose." (Feldenkraisova metoda, page 83). It means, that if we have the right body-structure and at the same time are right-relaxed, we don't feel any tense or struggle. It means, we don't feel any pain.


Over tension always brings problems with itself. The authors Finando and Finando in their book "Fundované doteky" point out: "A chronic contraction of muscles has a certain influence on other aspects - for example circulation of blood, lymph drain or innervations. We could say, that the muscle-condition is related to our health condition." (page 15). And "Healthy musculature is soft, supple, and elastic when you press, you can easily find its structures. The healthy muscles are painless after a touch." (page 32).


Relaxing of an excessive muscle tense and putting them back to a natural position together with the right body posture is one of the reasons why the practice of yiquan in the right way is very beneficial to your health. Wang Xiangzhai summarized some of his experience in these words: " Natural means beneficial for body, improving its functioning. In case of anemia level of hemoglobin will increase. In case of hypertension blood pressure will decrease." (“Central pivot of the way of fist”, page 20).


The practice of Yiquan teaches us how to cultivate the right relaxation (and of course the right tension at the same time) together with an adequate body structure in the static positions and movement. It also pays attention to changes between tension and relaxation. But this would be topic for another article. As some of us have difficulties in achieving the right relaxation, there are different types of supplementary exercises, some basing more on awareness and visualization, some other using swinging movements etc.


3. The unity of mind and body


As we could see, in reality - we cannot separate the body structure from the right relaxation. As well - we cannot set apart the unity of mind and body. This is the essence not only for Yiquan but also for many other methods. For most people it is obvious that our mind-state and our emotions have influence on the body posture. That is why we can guess in what mood the other person is just from the sight - how he is standing, sitting, moving. Less evident is a fact, that body posture has influence on how we feel - on our psyche.


The more we succeed in keeping the unity of mind and body, the more we feel our life is full. We think, that this is the main reason why many sports and martial arts are so popular, as the practice brings this feeling.


Each good school of Yiquan accentuates the mind activity and wants the student to know what exactly he is supposed to do. Very important is also to cultivate our ability of awareness, some people call it vigilance. The same principle is also used in other effective methods: "A mindless training has often a negative consequence as it strengthens bad habits and strains the muscles. Mindless repetition of anything - playing on the playground or the piano, lowers our awareness." (Steven Shafarman: „V????domí léčí, page 27).


The relation of mind and body, its unity or duality has an effect on relaxation and tension.


As a matter of interest we are entering the Hans-Dieter Kempf ????s view: "The tension and relaxation - they are 2 life-poles. The human-organism viability is underlaid by equable changing the balance of both poles. The disorder of highly differentiable balance has a bad influence on the organism. This can often cause the disorder and detriments of the health condition - for example headache, convulsionary tense, disposition to other infection, the heart-throbbing and tachycardia, disposition to spasm, stomach ache, the pain in nape, shoulders, back etc.


During relaxation we find the connection between spirit and body. Our body and muscles relaxation is not possible if we are at the same time under a high mental pressure. On the contrary, stiff and convulsionary tensioned musculature doesn't let the mental relaxation. This connection between mental and physical relaxation gives us the chance to influence one of the poles, if we on purpose affect the other pole by the relaxation procedures." („Záda-zbavte se bolestí nav??dy“, page 36).




Though we have already mentioned we cannot look at the body structure, relaxation and unity of body and mind separately, we would like to demure to some cases, when one of those basic principles is missing.


Tim Cartmell describes very well the state, if one of the first principles is missing: "Good skeletal alignment held with tension may be stable in static poses but will lack mobility, flexibility, sensitivity and any force generated will be seriously inhibited. Relaxationwithout proper alignment may allow for some degree of sensitivity and the ability to change, but the posture will be weak and little power can be generated (one cannot take full advantage of gravity and the Earth)." (“Effortless combat throws”, page 26)


If there is lack of unity of mind and body, it means, we are not aware, we are vacant, we aren't able to react promptly, we lack the ability to adapt according to a situation, so we take a risk of injury or an accident. We can overlook some very important signals, which our body is sending out (for example pain, hunger, the feeling of discomfort). Moreover we can loose our touch with our emotions and get into many troubles.


It is very important not to forget, that the three basic principles mentioned here are not describing the optimal function of a human organism in its every detail. We also shouldn't forget, that we are the parts of many various relations - space, time, social. Peter Schwind in his book about rolfing marks very precisely: "Our structure and our postural habits are never neutral, we are not existing outside of the world and its objects and subjects. We cannot separate our postural habits and the ways we interact with the others." („Zdravá záda“, page 157).




Eric Franklin writes: "Even though human organism is much more complicated than any machine, most of us better understand our car than our body." („Jak se zbavit nap????tí“, page 51).


Unfortunately, I cannot oppose, but only say that he is right. We hope, that by this article we help to awake your inquiring spirit and you might set out on the trip to explore yourself and your organism.




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