The "six harmonies" are guidelines that
appear in a great many Gongfu styles, but as with so much
else, how they are interpreted may vary. They are often subdivided
into the san nei he (3 internal harmonies) and the san wai
he (3 external harmonies). Let's start with the internal harmonies:
(spirit) harmonises with Yi (intention). What is their actual
spirit doesn't refer to any kind of ethereal or divine spirit.
For martial arts purposes, spirit could perhaps be read as
martial spirit - the desire to be alive and stay alive. It
is the ferocity or courage with which one preserves oneself
or others. Xin is sometimes translated as "heart" or "emotional
mind". Bruce Lee once said "look for the emotional content",
Xin is "emotional content".
is sometimes translated as "intention" or "wisdom mind". It
refers to one's experience or knowledge base. A fighter might
have a strong spirit, but without good tactics, combat knowledge
and martial skills, she would not be able to fight very effectively.
spirit works alongside the intention, and also plays an initiating
or driving role. The intention can be thought to temper or
focus the spirit, so the fighter is controlled and intelligent,
rather than wild and clumsy.
showing his Xing Yi
YI (intention) harmonises
with Qi. Qi is a hard word to translate in terms recognisable
to Western anatomical thinking. "Physical energy" is probably
a useful translation here. As well as spirit and intention,
one needs to be sufficiently healthy and have adequate energy
levels to move and fight effectively. Your intention informs
your energy - it takes on a guiding role to ensures that you
do not over-exert yourself and burn out too quickly. But health
also plays a role in determining one's ability to think clearly
and make sound decisions, so the relationship is a mutual
with Li (strength). Effective and powerful physical movement
should be guided by all of the other factors listed above.
Li represents the final physical manifestation of Spirit,
Intention and Energy. Again, the relationship is harmonious.
A fighter's energy levels determine how much strength she
is able to exert and the better her physical strength, the
more power she is able to exert without expending too much
we get to the 3 external harmonies
Hips and Shoulders
harmonise. Upper body movements should never be disconnected
one's the lower body. The upper (above the waist) and lower
(below the waist) portions of the torso should move in harmony
with each other, so the hips and shoulders need to move in
conjunction with each other in order to maximise power. This
harmonious relationship can be expressed on various planes:
Horizontal turning movements involve the torso rotating horizontally
around the vertical axis of the spine. This method is used
extensively in Baguazhang and in the Yang and Zheng Manqing
"Vertical circle" movements such as those seen in Xingyi's
Piquan and Dragon forms and Chen style Taiji's "Double stamping
feet" involve compressing and expanding the upper and lower
torso down the front of the body around the horizontal axis
of the waist. Such movements undulate the spine in a Snake-like
(or Dragon-like) way.
"Sideways vertical" circular movements, such as those most
often seen throughout Chen style Taijiquan, involve a similarly
undulating spine action, but with the movement performed sideways.
In modern times, this movement method has been likened to
the rotation of the drum inside a washing machine.
all of these methods, momentum needs to flow freely between
the shoulders and hips. The torso needs to ripple or undulate
in order for power to travel unimpeded throughout the entire
body. The final position for a given movement will often involve
the shoulders being directly over the hips as this alignment
optimises the strength of the torso. The waist area needs
to be strong and flexible for power to be generated in this
way, so the waist should be fangsong (loose and relaxed).
Due to the versatility of the different movement types possible
employing the waist and hips, an image commonly used in Chen
style Taijiquan is that of "lower dantian rotation". Close
examination of one's abdominal muscles during sideways vertical
motions in particular, should reveal a muscular effect that
looks as if a ball is rolling clockwise or anti-clockwise
around one's navel.
the upper or lower half of the body initiates the movement
is not always the same. For horizontal coiling movements (such
as those often employed in Baguazhang), the shoulders will
turn and drive the hips causing the kua of the frontmost hip
to fold. When uncoiling, the kua will unfold first and the
uncoiling hips will drive the shoulders.
Knees and Elbows
The relationship between the elbows and knees is similar to
that of the hips and shoulders. At its simplest, elbows are
often kept in line with (directly over) one's knees in order
to optimise the strength of one's physical structure. The
elbows are also driven by the shoulders and the knees are
driven by the hips.
Feet and Hands harmonise.
There is a saying in Gongfu that "the foot and the fist arrive
together". This usually refers to a strike connecting with
its target as the fighter settles into her final stance. For
example, if she steps out into a Santi posture, the lead hand
will strike in unison with the lead foot stepping out and
bearing around 40% of her weight. When jump stepping, the
strike will occur as the back foot arrives and the fighter
settles her weight over her back leg. The feet and hands moving
in unison means that they are often held in vertical alignment
together. The effect can be somewhat like a marionette puppet,
with strings connecting the (say) right foot to the right
hand, and the right elbow to the right knee.
some styles, foot pivoting occurs when striking and again,
the rule is that the foot will arrive in its finished position
as the strike occurs. While a tiny (microsecond) delay between
turning the foot and striking may be permissable when delivering
a very soft (whipping) strike, the hand should never lead
the foot. Indeed, the biggest hurdle facing many beginners
is learning to stop letting their hands and feet lead the
way, dragging the body behind as an afterthought. All movements
should flow outwards from the fighter's centre to the hands
and feet. The hips and shoulders drive the knees and elbows,
which in turn, drive the hands and feet.
FROM THE CENTRE, OR UPWARDS FROM THE GROUND?
A bone of contention in martial arts is whether movements
should radiate outwards to the hands and feet from the lower
dantian (the area between the navel and the tops of the legs),
or undulate from the ground upwards; or whether power from
both sources should merge explosively at the point of striking.
is certainly physiologically true that movement starts from
the lower spine, so the lower dantian idea is true in scientific
terms. But the fighter's experience of how she feels herself
generate the power for a given strike might be different.
She may, for example, begin a technique by stepping to the
best tactical position from which to perform the technique.
The movement will be initiated from the lower dantian region,
very quickly down to her feet. When there, she will obtain
a root then strike.
requires the fighter to relax and sink downwards. She will
also be able to push off from her weight bearing leg to her
less-weighted leg to drive her movements. The push should
generally surge horizontally through her body rather than
vertically, so that she does not "uproot" herself. Her torso
(and specifically the hips) will drive the limbs into position
from the centre of the body out to the hands and feet, using
the pushing leg as something to push against for stability
some styles focus on keeping the soles of both feet rooted
to the ground at this stage, other styles allow one of the
feet to pivot to allow free hip rotation to occur. The pivoting
foot should still be "rooted" by gripping the ground. Many
styles prefer the foot to remain flat on the floor as it pivots
around the heel or the ball. Which approach is "best" remains
a contentious issue and is probably irrelevant, as adepts
of each method can usually demonstrate the pros and cons of
their particular approach.
a final word on the matter of
whether movements are generated from the centre or from the
ground, I would like to offer something from my personal experience.
I have found that the most powerful strikes combine the two
methods. Reeling silk style movements involving long axial
rotation of entire limbs (moving outwards from the lower torso)
are often at their most powerful when explosively combined
with uncoiling and / or undulating movements that surge upwards
from the ground into the fighter's fists.* The foot and the
fist arrive together, but whether they arrive on the exact
same microsecond (or whether the hand arrives almost imperceptibly
late) depends on how quickly the undulating wave is travelling.
see my article on fa
jin for a more detailed description.