Finding The Center

By GM Sam Chin & Ashe Higgs

Grandmaster Sam F Chin touches fingertip to fingertip with one of the students in the room. The student moves his hand up and down, side to side, while Grandmaster Chin’s own hand moves through the air in perfect unison, like a reflection on the other side of a mirror.

“You see, no matter how you move, you can’t get away. If I can maintain the circle to center it makes me more sticky because I’m always propelling force 90 degrees direct to the point. Practically you could say I’m meeting your force.”

Grandmaster Chin’s words hang in the air of his Los Angeles hotel room as we try to digest their meaning. Half a dozen students from around the western United States have gathered here to listen to the Grandmaster speak about some of the philosophy and concepts behind his family’s martial art of I Liq Chuan (mental/physical martial art, 意力拳). The topic being discussed is using awareness to “find the center”, a vital concept in the art he’s spent the better part of the last 20 years traveling the world to share.

This meeting is something that Grandmaster Chin often refers to as “being like a ring in the nose of a bull,” or “catching the tip of a spear.” Comparing the opponent’s force to a spear, he explains, once the tip is under your control, you can neutralize or redirect it away from yourself as you need.

“If you talk about the center, bones have a center, joints have a center, this room has a center. The whole universe has a center. The important thing is what is the useful center to you?”, he continues, warming to his topic. “Within every point of contact [with an opponent] you must find circle to center, center to center and center with cross.”

Circle to center, center to center and center with cross are technical terms describing three qualities of what Grandmaster Chin calls “engagement”. Learning to observe the point of contact to find these three qualities is practiced in the most fundamental of I Liq Chuan’s partner exercises, spinning hands. Similar to the rou shou (soft hands, 柔手) of Ba Gua Zhang, students repeatedly wind their arms around each other. With the attention on themselves first, the principles of correct alignment and relaxation, learned in the jibengong (fundamental exercises, 基本功) are reinforced under pressure, and then slowly the attention is expanded to include the point of contact with the opponent (partner) to observe the changes of solid and empty.

Looking for gaps at the point of contact, every student learns to engage with the opponent in such a way that they begin to create a spherical force that has the qualities of both offense and defense.

“Before you can strike me, you must first pass this point, but how are you going to pass when I’m always meeting you there?”, laughs the ever-smiling Grandmaster Chin.

As the evening progresses, the discussion returns many times to the importance of affecting the opponent’s mass. While being able to manifest circle to center creates stickiness and defense energy, it’s only one side of the triangle of engagement. In order to refine one’s control over an opponent to affect the stability of their stance, you must manifest the quality of center to center. Japanese arts like Judo and Aikido refer to this as kuzushi; or ‘breaking the opponent’s balance’.

Grandmaster Chin continues, “Every object [joints, mass, point of contact, et. al.] has a center, so you link all the centers. Only then you can have the network, so you can control.”

Center to center has the quality of making the opponent feel like a piece of furniture. By creating slightly odd joint angles or “bunching” their soft tissue, you can effectively “lock” an opponent’s structure making it nearly impossible for them to relax without opening themselves to direct attack. This involuntary stiffness leaves the opponent’s balance much easier to control, rendering them much less of a threat.

Grandmaster Chin looks around the room taking us all in. “Of these three; circle to center, center to center, center with cross, which is more important?”

“No doubt”, I say, “you must get circle to center first, but practically speaking, your priority should be on center with cross. Only controlling the hands is circle to center, but what’s the point of controlling [the hands] without the purpose? If the opponent pulls his hands too far away, I run for it (i.e. attack)! Why should I still chase after the circle to center?”

As the old Chinese boxing axiom goes, “Don’t chase the hands, chase the shadow behind the hands.”

As Grandmaster Chin discusses circle with cross, he begins by saying, “If it’s a circle it has a center, if it has a center it has a cross, two axes that divides the circle into four equal arcs.”

He goes on to explain that while this might seem obvious, the redundancy is deliberate. Like the repetition of a mantra, it hammers home a critical concept by bringing it to the direct attention of the student.

Circle with cross can be said to have two main points. The first point is knowing which arc, or quarter, of the circle you’re propelling at any given moment, and second, being aware of which half of the circle you’re on.

He explains to us “In order for all four arcs to share the same center, you must be aware of when you are passing the horizontal or vertical line.”

Because the circular movement, the point of contact, the feet and the centers of mass all share a relationship, if you miss one center, you can miss them all, meaning your application will require more effort at best, or have no effect at all in many cases. This relationship is something Grandmaster Chin refers to as “tallying the crosses.”

Finally, the Grandmaster explains, the awareness of which half of the circle you’re on. “It’s like playing soccer. If we’re on my half of the 50 yard line, I’m defending and you’re attacking. If I’m on your side of the 50 yard line, you are defending and I am in attacking position. I have the space that I can attack because I pass the half line of your defense. If I haven’t passed your half line, or your diameter line, then there is still something in the way blocking me.”

So we can better understand he has a student hold his hands up, forming a diamond with the thumb and index finger. Placing his finger below the uppermost tip of the diamond, he says, “if you are on the other side, how can I attack you until I pass the highest point? There’s no way. I don’t have the spacing.” The concept is similar to “line of sight”, from the point of contact to the opponents mass.

As it gets late in the evening we all begin to feel the need for dinner, so Grandmaster Chin begins to wrap up the night’s talk. Although most of us have heard him discuss engagement, and finding the center before, the repetition and depth of tonight’s discussion are welcome. For the long term students, the three qualities of engagement; circle to center, center to center and center with cross, are becoming more clear.

Wherever the opponent touches you, you try to meet them there directly, join the centers to control and find the cross to maintain the center and see the full and empty for attack and defense.

Finally Grandmaster Chin closes with an admonition. There’s no other way to recognize these qualities other than through awareness.

“Of course in the beginning it’s so hard. You pay attention to the right hand you forget the left. You pay attention to the left hand you forget the right. You pay attention to the hands you forget the legs. You have to keep reminding yourself to keep paying attention to yourself. You can’t forget yourself to pay attention to observe others. The self in this case is not the ego self, but the simple self, like the breathing. That’s why in all arts they talk [in some way] about yi (awareness, 意), qi (energy, 氣 ), li (power, 力), because attention is to know. Attention is number one.”

Awakening and Harmonizing – The Art of Sam Chin

Zhong Xin Dao I Liq Chuan founder Sam FS Chin, QI Magazine Jan 1999

Zhong Xin Dao I Liq Chuan founder Sam FS Chin, QI Magazine Jan 1999

Since childhood, Sam Chin (Chin Fan-Siong) trained Kung Fu traditionally with his father, the founder of I Liq Ch’uan. He has won championships in T’ai Chi push-hands and kick-boxing tournaments, and is the Chief instructor of the system in U.S.A. Prior to his arrival in U.S. seven years ago Sam had taught for 16 years in Malaysia and Australia. He currently holds classes in Kent,NY at Chuang Yen Monastery and in New York City.

(Note: This article was originally published in January of 1999 and some of the information above is out of date. Master Sam F.S. Chin is currently holds the position of 1st Lineage Holder and Successor of the Art, he also no longer holds classes at Chuang Yen Monastery.)

QM: What is the meaning of I Liq Chuan?

SC: I Liq Chuan literally translates as Mental-Physical Martial art. ‘I’ is mind, ‘Liq’ is strength, and ‘Chuan’ is fist so we can say ‘Mental-Physial Martial Art’.

QM: How and where did this art originate?

SC: My Father, Chin Lik Keong, learned the skill from one of the masters in Malaysia, called Lee Kam Chow. At the time it was called Hsing I-Pa Kua (Xingyi-Bagua), but some people called it Feng Yang Chuan or Liew Mun Pai (nomadic clan). It originated from Wudang mountain. It was a hidden martial art skill used by these nomads to protect themselves on the open roads and was not open to the public, only passed down secretly. The higher levels of skill were kept for the family members. When my father decided to trace back the history of the name to discover its origins, he found the training methods didn’t really look like Hsing-I (Xingyi) or Pakua (Bagua), or even Tai Chi Chuan, yet the contained the principles of all three. My father continued his research and expanded on what he had studied. He eventually concluded that what he had learned was an art of self recognition and self-realization, of both the mental and physical. So, feeling uncomfortable with naming the art under any one of the three internal styles he renamed it I Liq Chuan. In 1976 he formed the I Liq Chuan Association in Malaysia.

Master Sam Chin demonstrates a Tai Chi combat posture

Grand master Sam FS Chin in Qi MagaQM: What are the principles of I Liq Chuan?

SC: I Liq Chuan is based on Tai Chi and Zen principles. So you can say it has it’s roots in Taoism and Buddhism. It is based on non-assertion, non-resistance, and an understanding of yin and yang. The training is being mindful, which means neutral, formless and in the present, to become fully aware. Action and reaction are based on mental habitual reflex, which is the mental expressions accumulated through past experience. In this case you are not in the moment and not with the condition as it is (Tao). When you are in the moment you can flow. Flowing is to be with the conditions, not backing off, or resisting, just sensing and merging.

From flowing you can observe the condition as it is, and then merge, to be as one, harmonizing with the environment and the opponent. When you harmonize then you can take control. Mindfulness is the cause, and awareness is the effect of being mindful. We need to understand the learning process, which is merely to recognize and realize; it is not to accumulate or imitate as that is just building another habit. From Zen we need to empty ourselves so that the nature of all things can reveal itself to us.

“Every move is based on the conditions, with no fixed moves. Inner feel is cultivated first. ”

Students train through a process. First they train to understand muscular movement, body structure and alignment. Then they train to incorporate Chi (Qi) energy, and the mental process. I Liq Chuan is an internal art. Its aim is to understand the inner feel and to express that inner feel outward. Relaxation is an essential component of the art. It contains the process of looseness, softness, elasticity and fa jing (issuing power). The energy released is from relaxation out, from zero to 100%.

QM: How does the training progress?

SC: The first process is the unification of the mental and physical. The second process is to unify with the opponent and the environment. Actually, in the beginning I Liq Chuan had no forms. It was a formless art. All the system contained was specialized sticky hands practice and Chi Kung (Qi Gong). The applications we learned from the sticky hands practice and the practice to gain feel. The system has expanded and now has two training forms, the 21 Form and the Butterfly Form. The forms are merely tools to recognize the principles, which are based on Tai Chi (harmonizing and recognizing the balance of yin and yang) and Zen (being mindful and being in the present moment). The objective is to actualize these principles to recognize and harmonize with the nature as it is. The second form, the Butterfly Form, has more fajin and is more aggressive.

IMG_1948From the form, the student is taught to become formless. Every move is based on the conditions, with no fixed moves. Inner feel is cultivated first. You cannot attain the combative skill from just practicing forms. This is only possible through the two person practice of spinning hand / sticky hand drills.

In training, to unify the mental-physical, we need to understand the nature of the mental and physical, how they affect each other and how to unify and coordinate them. Through the exercises we need to recognize the six principles which are relaxation; body alignment; center of gravity force; dynamic center of mass; internal and external circle (or force field of spheres of defense and offense), and the spinning force of coordination.

QM: Can you Elaborate on some of the terms?

SC: The dynamic center point of mass (located on the sternum) is that point to which we direct energy to achieve control of the opponent, where you make contact with the opponent, and by exerting a certain force, you can control his whole body. The force field of spheres is for offense and defense. It is the feeling of producing a roundness as in Tai Chi Chuan, or what they call ‘Peng Jin’ an expanding of the inner force. In I Liq Chuan the fundamental requirement is to be able to produce roundness, defending all round. If this roundness is attained then the movement can be properly born. From understanding the force field of offense and defense you must be bale to produce a three dimensional force, which comprises the horizontal, frontal and saggital. If you can produce the three dimensional force as a whole you can change with the change. you can call this primordial spinning force.

IMG_1918From understanding and applying this force you will be more centered which means having your own spheres, the upper body peng, the lower body peng, back peng, the sides peng, all round peng. Only when the three dimensions are produced can the proper the proper movement be born, i.e. open, close, retreat or advance. Every action itself contains the three dimensions. With this kind of feel then you can flow and change without any kind of resistance. If the opponent cannot produce three-dimension force, he cannot change with the change and will be overcome because he is either resisting or collapsing.

The spinning force of co-ordination is the spinning force that acts as our scanner. We scan and recollect the six aforementioned points to be centered, and keep extending these points to unify; at the same time, we are trying to clear mental and physical blockages and achieve the ‘mindful state’. Above all the practitioner must learn to break away from habit, to understand that the movement is not from the habitual relax and one should be conscious of the movement itself at all times.

QM: What does the practice of spinning hands entail?

SC: Spinning hands is the training awareness and harmonizing yourself with the opponent. From spinning hands we try to recognize that our movement is not based on habit but rather on the conditions. Spinning hands develops three sections; the wrist, elbows and shoulders. First we have to flow, which is to recognize and be with the opponent. Secondly we need to develop fending, which is to produces the feeling of roundness, which is a force-field of defense and offense that the opponent will not be able to penetrate. When you have flow and fend, the you can lead the opponent. When you lead him, you can control him; for when he begins to follow your movements, he belongs to you. So the progression is flow, fend, lead and control. When you can control the opponent then you can do whatever the conditions require.

The training of spinning hands develops projection force, absorption force and splitting force. First is understanding the force from your feet up to the hands, to the opponent and down to the opponent’s feet. This is called the projection force. The second process is to lead the force from the opponent’s feet back down into your feet. This is the process of absorbing the opponent’s energy into you. The third is the split. At higher levels we can split our energy, while maintaining unity, at any point of the body we want. We can pick any place as the ground to exert power. Splitting is with more of the explosive power because the range is closer.

“When you confront an opponent you might find it hard to move his body using strength alone, but the mind has no weight and no volume.”

QM: What would you say are the combat strengths of the system and how long does it take to aquire these?

SC: I Liq Chuan develops the ability of redirecting and off-balancing. At higher levels of training there are strikes to the meridian points. Though there are some closed fist punches, mainly we use open palm strikes, qin na as well as elbow, knee and shoulder strikes. The most important aspect is controlling the opponent as soon as contact is made. Unlike many martial arts systems we do not concentrate on developing techniques for dealing with specific situations. Instead, we develop physical sensitivity and sensorial mental awareness so when an I Liq Chuan practitioner makes contact with any part of the opponent’s body he can feel what technique is about to be used and where the the opponent’s weight and center of gravity are extending. This skill is eventually developed to sense with absence of touch through awareness.

GM Sam Chin &
GM Sam Chin & son

When you confront an opponent you might find it hard to move his body using strength alone, but the mind has no weight and no volume, and it leads the body. So in I Liq Chuan, we learn to lead the opponent’s mind. When this is mastered, a woman or even a small child can easily overcome a big man by leading his mind, then his own mind leads his body. It normally takes about five years under my guidance to acquire a high standard and maybe three years to acquire good self-defense capability, providing the students apply what they have been taught in the class and practice regularly.

QM: Is there anything further you would like to say?

SC: The purpose of the training is not spinning hands or the form; it should apply to everything in daily life. Spinning hands and the form are merely a tool for developing mindfulness. It’s not like when you come to class to train and you wear a uniform and when you leave you take it off. When you train you train you learn to be mindful even at your job or when you eat, talk, walk, etc. Then more of life opens up to you as your perception of the causes and effects of the present has increased. The most important goal for a student learning I Liq Chuan is to attain total awareness and be themselves. Hopefully, my students will develop so that they can share with others.

QM: Master Chin, thank you.

The Matrix of I Liq Chuan

GM Sam Chin demonstrates a joint lock (qin na) on I Liq Chuan student Rob Hoffman

GM Sam Chin demonstrates a joint lock (qin na) on I Liq Chuan student Rob Hoffman
heavanlycoveringpalmPart One: The Power of Peng
“Look! no matter what you do! you can’t touch me!” Master Sam Chin laughed. Continuing, he said “You’re so close, but why can’t you land?”

I had tried many times to move or strike him, but had no success. Kicks, strikes, entering in – they were all useless. After repeated failed attempts, I gave up. Laughing and panting for air, I asked, “What am I missing?” According to Sifu, I was missing an important piece of my foundation . In short. I could
not enter his “spheres ” – that is to say. I could not penetrate Master Chin’s defensive energy. Since that first encounter I have come to learn that what Master Chin called “the spheres” is closely connected to an energy named peng-jing (掤勁 ). Literally translated, peng means “ward-off” and jing means applied energy. Although peng-jing can also refer to a particular technique, it more accurately refers to the basic energy of dynamic balance.

Dynamic balance is essential to good kung fu; it is the gateway into the secrets of the internal martial arts. Peng-jing is an essential energy, but it is in fact only one part of the fifth principle that forms the I Liq Chuan system. I Liq Chuan (意力拳) means “mind-force-fist.” The art of I Liq Chuan is arranged into specific levels. Each step leads the student to higher levels of mental-physical coordination. The fifth principle is called “The Force Field of Offense and Defense.” The overall art of I Liq Chuan is based on six physical points, three mental factors and a unique quality called “the feel” The concepts described in this article reveal inner aspects of the nature of mind, body and the application energies of the internal martial arts, and will prepare the student for more advanced work .

sifu-daveOne man defeating many. A strike that no one sees delivered unbelievably fast. What appears to be a tiny push sends an attacker tens of feet away. Small motions that are so internal, you can’t understand
why you’re off balance and on the edges of your feet. In front of such a person, all your techniques seem useless. What’s going on?

According to Master Sam Chin, one of the main requirements for high-level kung fu is what he calls the “Merging of the Spheres.” This article will describe the preliminary physical and mental levels of
merging the spheres. Merging the spheres is a very refined expression of an internal energy commonly known as peng-jing. Merging the spheres with peng-jing will result in strong-rooted movements which naturally enhance internal energy, mental alertness and martial art. Not only that, but if you train well – then, as Master Sam Chin says, you can “even transcend technique itself.”

Merging the spheres is a process, not a technique in and of itself. This process is as much mental as it is physical, and it depends heavily on the situation at hand.

In essence, merging the spheres means constantly maintaining the proper alignment between a point of contact and your physical-energetic root. By properly aligning the body and mind in this way, a practitioner is able to move, change and respond to a multitude of forces with relative ease.

The method of properly aligning your body requires you to interconnect each and every part of your body. The connecting process is called merging the spheres. Once a student is properly harmonized with the spheres (the internal structure ), their mindfulness can direct the body to respond in whatever
way is necessary based on the conditions at hand.

Specifically, the image is that every part of your body has the quality of a sphere. Merging the spheres, then, is the process of feeling that each and every sphere of the body is connected to every other sphere.

Spheres are a good model for how our body should be able to receive force. Although our body cannot actually become a sphere, by employing the proper mental-physical connections, we can simulate the strength and dynamics of a sphere. On this point, a student may look into the taiji classics for inspiration, as a careful study of those writings clearly reveals the importance of emulating the sphere.
Creating and maintaining the sphere-like structure is the key to accessing the higher levels of the internal arts .

sifu_dave_wristPOWERS OF THE SPHERE
A sphere can compress, rotate, uplift or press down. Furthermore, no matter what action is being ta ken, the center of the sphere is always well protected. Although merging the spheres is a physical “feel”, there are mental aspects to it as well. Merging the spheres must be done in every moment of your life. This means that you are always seeking balance and harmony. If you can do that, then you can touch the higher levels . That is to say when your mind and body become aware enough to merge ” the spheres” at all times, then you stand at the gateway to internal skill.

The taiji classics mention that internal practitioners should manifest an energy called peng-jing. The relationship between peng-jing and “merging the spheres” is one of process and effect. Merging the spheres is the process that generates the effect known as peng-jing.

Many students believe that peng-jing refers to a particular technique. In fact, while peng can be translated as “ward-off” and refers to a move commonly found in many taiji forms, peng-jing refers more-so to an application energy – a state of mind and quality of your body feel. Peng-jing is not just a technique, it should permeate all your movements.

matrix_of_iliqchuan-3IMPROVING YOUR PENG
Unfortunately, because many students are not taught about the difference mentioned above, their defensive energy is not complete. One’s practice can be improved by considering Master Chin’s teaching on the “merging of the spheres.” The differences between peng-jing and merging the spheres will be discussed more fully later on, but for now it is enough to say this: Peng-jing is the end result of a process. The process is called merging the spheres. Merging the spheres means that mindfulness, qi and proper structure interact on every level of the body-mind. Such an interaction will generate a three dimensional energy force within the body. The three dimensional force is physical, but it is regulated by the mind . With correct interaction of body and mindfulness you will achieve a dynamic state of balance. This balance is what is required to express the higher levels of internal skill. The process of learning and maintaining the peng energy is called merging the spheres.

The process of merging the spheres has both a physical and a mental component. The physical component relates to how you hold your body posture. Proper posture is critical to allow for maximal flow of qi and intention . Stiff tension, as well as flaccid softness, are impediments to the proper flow of qi. Dynamic tension-relaxation is the rule.

The mental aspect of peng relates to your psycho-emotional state of mind. If you are tense, or obsessed with “winning,” then you will never reach the higher levels . Relax into the nature of your body-mind and there you will find all you need. In the end, peng-jing – or any other worthwhile endeavor – is about self-realization and harmonizing with the nature of things. The martial aspect of the process is only one piece of the puzzle.

Part Two: Merging The Spheres
According to Master Chin, the first step in merging the spheres is creating peng-jing. Pronounced ” pung-jing”, this energy is often translated as ward-off. But the term “wardoff” is misleading. More accurately, peng implies a dynamic relationship between you, your center of mass and whatever force is acting on you at the time. Master Chin teaches that if your peng is true, then you can handle even multiple forces with relative ease. This thought is supported by the taiji classics.

According to the taiji classics, a practitioner should be able to handle forces “from the eight directions .” In order to be able to do just that, the qi, mind and force must exist in harmony at all places and at all times. Very few masters teach how to achieve such profound internal s kiII. Master Chin, on the other hand, is one teacher who throws open the doors of secrecy. As Master Chin often says, “If you work, I’ll teach.”

To properly employ peng-jing you must properly manage points of contact. Wherever you receive a force is called a ” point of contact.” A point of contact might be a grab a kick or even a look. Whatever, your internal energy must respond. The way you respond is to align the point of contact to the root of your structure. Then, you employ your mindfulness to respond in whatever way is necessary. Visualizations are often useful to help imagine how the body can correctly line up with a point of contact. I Liq Chuan has specific visualizations that help access the power of peng. The visualizations also clarify the nature of a point of contact. In regards to visualization, some arts recommend that peng be thought of as a circle or hoop. Although circular energy is part of peng-jing, it is not the complete thing. ” Being circular is not peng,” explains Master Chin. ” In fact, circularity is only part of it. Real peng is spherical and can manage force from all directions.”

We have now established that peng- jing is more about the way you change with change than with any particular posture. Furthermore, it is also clear that peng- jing must employ spherical rather than a circular type energy projection. Finally, we have established that in order for your skill to be great, the peng energy must be dynamic and capable of handling even multiple forces from different directions . If such integration is achieved, then peng energy will be full and can be used under any circumstance,
including self-defense.

In fighting, peng-jing is about maintaining your structure and not letting forces control the center of your mass.

Part Three: Physical and Mental Aspects of Peng-jing
Master Sam Chin applies “Grab and Hook”With the difference between circular and spherical types of internal energy now clear, it is important to learn how to bring that understanding into your body-mind. To do this, Master Chin recommends that you imagine that every part of your body is capable of expressing the spherical type force.

In all cases, one should feel that the point of contact is spherical. If that can be done, then no matter what the other person does, you can remain poised and balanced. This is easy to say with words, but the skill requires true dedication.

“Every part of the body is capable of expressing a spherical energy/, says Master Sam Chin. The energy of this sphere can be solid or light, hard or soft, receptive or warding off. The energy manifested will change as the moment demands .

sifu_rob2.jpgPeng-jing is achieved when you can maintain the fullness of the spheres at all times and on all parts of your body. Changing as the moment requires, projecting here and repelling there, the dynamic interchange of the spheres is what is known as peng-jing. Peng-jing is the basic defensive energy. “Because peng-jing is the foundational skill in the martial arts, peng is the gateway to everything else,” says Master Chin. The way of expressing peng is to harmonize the many sphere-like points of contact of the body-mind, and merge them into one.

In closing, the process of merging the spheres is feeling the fullness of the “one-ness of the sphere.” The process leading to that oneness is the foundation from which all movement correctly arises. The I Liq Chuan system organizes physical and mental activity in a step-by-step progression. Organized in this way, the student can ultimately achieve unity of body, mind and spirit. With that harmony in hand, one can reap the fullest benefits of the martial, medical and spiritual aspects of this art. This article has revealed some of the essential teachings which, if experimented with, can help lead the practitioner to the higher levels of martial skill.

This article can be downloaded as it originally appeared in Kung fu /Tai Chi magazine as a PDF below. matrix_of_iliqchuan (1)