Powerful strategies for optimzing your body and mind
I believe that practicing martial arts or going through your life without practicing Qigong is like driving a car and never topping up the air in the tyres. The air is our Qi, it gets us places. Take the air out of the tyre and the car will go nowhere, take the air out of our bodies and we die. It is as simple as that. On a basic level Qi is breath, it flows where the blood flows, but on a deeper level it is the energy matrix of the body and when we do Shaolin Training we optimize it on daily basis to get the most out of ourselves.
This is what the Shaolin Temple mean when they emphasise the importance of internal and external. The external is the kung fu, the things we can see, the internal is what is going on inside of us, and to optimize our energy we mix internal and external together.
Shaolin Steel Jacket
A good example of this is Shaolin Steel Jacket. In order for me to be able to do this, I have to have good stamina but I also I need to practice Qigong. It is the Qi that protects my body. I direct my Qi to my ribs or my back and I deflect the pain away so it acts like a mirror, when a person kicks me, their power is deflected and turned back on themselves so it hurts them instead of me. That is the amazing power of Qi.
The Competitive Edge
The majority of people use Qi to unblock the channels and optimize the efficiency of the body. In China, top-level businessmen and women practice Qigong so that they can focus and have full energy for the day ahead. They believe it gives them a competitive edge. Martial artists use it to make their bodies into weapons or simply to give them a stronger and longer martial art's life.
The balance of yin and yang
When I first went to the Shaolin Temple to begin my training, I was fourteen years old and 90% of my training was kung fu – external - training and only 10% was Qigong – internal - training. To be honest, I used to find internal training boring and I wasn’t convinced that there was such a thing as Qi. But I wanted to learn Shaolin Steel Jacket and in order to do this I had no choice. It was only when I saw the effectiveness of the Qigong movements that I became interested in Qi.
As I get older I don't need to practice 90% kung fu, and if I did I would quickly burn myself out. The reason boxers and footballers usually retire in their thirties is not only because their stamina is not as strong but also because their body feels weaker, and this is one of the ways in which martial arts differs from sport. As martial artists, our thirties are the time when we have the maturity and experience to go deeper into the internal techniques. We change the yin and yang of our training so that we may do 60% kung fu and 40% Qi Gong but as I get older this may become as much as 90% Qi Gong and 10% kung fu.
The key to staying young isn't to work out until our endorphins make us happy but to be clever and learn how to balance our external training with our internal training.
How far can you go?
If we have a car, every now and again we check the air pressure, especially if we are about to go on a long journey. We need to do the same thing with our body. What is it telling you? How much can you do today? How much can you push yourself?
This is something, which is difficult for a martial artist to judge because we know we have to push ourselves to improve. Martial arts are about taking us beyond our limits. The training challenges us and this is one of the reasons why we love martial arts so much. It takes us away from the smallness of our self and connects us with a tradition that is thousands of years old and it also gives us unity with our fellow martial artists. There is something exhilarating about our body being able to do something that we never thought possible.
But no matter what martial arts you do, or even if you don’t do martial arts, if you want to sustain your martial art's life then you need to do internal training. If it's not part of your tradition then take it from another tradition.
The history of the Shaolin Temple was built on monks going out to different provinces and taking the good things then bringing them back and finely tuning them. It's important that we don't stay stuck but we keep evolving. Remember the lesson of impermanence. Nothing is fixed and solid. Just as our bodies are impermanent and constantly changing so should our training change and adapt to where our bodies are right now in the present moment.
Less is more
My advice is at the end of your martial art's or workout session, finish with some Qigong. In the beginning, you may – like I did – feel bored. But if this happens remind yourself that Qigong has been around for thousands of years. If it were rubbish then it wouldn't be practiced anymore. It is a time-tested technique of putting energy back into your body but it yields nothing to an impatient bored mind. The practice needs to have quality so it's best to start off with doing less, just five minutes a day.
The Eight Treasures Qigong
The Eight Treasures Qigong is possibly the most popular Qi Gong form in China. I teach it in my book Instant Health and also my DVD The Way Of Qigong. It consists of eight sections so it's easy to break them down. Take one section from The Eight Treasures Qi Gong and practice this movement, and then build up a little bit more each day until you are working through a whole form. Try to get into a daily routine. We don't think about brushing our teeth because it's a habit. Try to make a habit of doing Qigong.
It's important to have patience. Our minds are like puppies, we know when we bring a puppy into the house it's naughty and we have to train it. This is the same with our mind. We have to give it direction and leadership and soon our body will start to enjoy the increase in energy and we will want to do Qigong.
Shaolin Qigong comes from a Ch'an or Zen tradition so we don't think about where the energy is going. The important aspect of this is to have a no thinking beginner's type mind. Practice with a heart and mind placed firmly on the practice and from this your own experience will grow. You will become aware of energy naturally; your body will direct you. Don't complicate things. The secret to a successful Qigong practice is to make sure your breathing is one with your movement. Don’t add anything more. Keep it simple.
The Shaolin Energy Massage
Just as top-level Olympic athletes have regular massages, we also finish our Qigong practice with a self-massage. And we use The Instant Health Massage Brush to do this. I use a metal one because I practice Shaolin Steel Jacket but The Instant Health Massage Brush that my students use is made from bamboo and consists of 108 bamboo rods. It is designed for a person seeking health, and for martial artists it is also the first step to body conditioning.
Not only does it relieve tight muscles but it also assists in unblocking the acupuncture channels, and helps the body to detox through the stimulation of the lymphatic system. This is a natural battery charger for the body. We do this massage when we have finished our Qi Gong training and it takes about five or ten minutes.
The future of exercise
The future of exercise is changing, just as yoga has become more mainstream, I believe Qigong will follow. New research is proving its effectiveness and I hope to see not only martial artists use it but boxers and athletes and runners and footballers.
Life is about energy. When we love something or feel passionate about something then we have a lot of energy. Our love for martial arts gives us the mental energy to keep training. The Qi in our bodies gives us the physical energy to keep training.
I like to think that even when I'm in my sixties I'll still be kicking and punching bags and running up mountains. I'll still be discovering more and more about martial arts because martial arts is like the ocean, it's never ending and I am a beginner who is always learning. It is only through the Qi that I can continue to do this.
Go for it!
If I explain to you the taste of an apple, it's not the same as you actually taking a bite from an apple. It's the same with Qigong. I believe it will help you to run faster or punch quicker and it will give you more energy not only for your martial art's training but your day-to-day life. But I ask you not to take my word for it but go and try it out for yourself.