Yang Fukui: Song Kua

Understanding the kua is essential to internal gongfu. It’s what connects the legs to the torso physically and energetically.

I devoted a chapter to it in Taijiquan: Through the Western Gate:

 The pivotal point for the nine-channeled pearl is the hip area, known as the kua. It is more than the ball-and-socket hip joint, taking in the whole area, centering at the inguinal crease. It includes the relationship between the thigh and the torso.

            The kua includes some of the strongest muscles in the body. It is the area that we use when we are serious about lifting something. We fold at the inguinal crease to activate a unified effort from leg, back, abdominal and buttock muscles. A skier prior to the jump sinks deeply into the kua to get maximum power when he launches from the platform.

            The kua is much more than just strong muscles. Its influence is felt throughout the body and on many systems. It is also the primary valve that controls the volume of qi in the body. When that valve is opened, the whole body is filled with qi. When it is restricted, there is a major kink in the hose.

For years I have described the way that I access the power of the kua as

1. Set the ball of the foot (of the weight-bearing leg).

2. Set the knee.

3. Release the kua.

Well, recently I realized that using the word “release” can be misleading. It’s not what I actually do, even though it may look that way from the outside. It may be helpful to a beginner whose hip muscles are permanently stiff and tight, but once you have progressed past that point a clearer distinction is needed. Releasing implies a letting go or relaxing, but does not offer any instruction about the support that the kua must give. Students who were diligently “releasing” did not have root, power, or stability in the two-thirds of the form that is primarily yin.

So how do we get the appropriate connection through the kua that enables us to maintain the tensegrity of the body-mind throughout the whole form?

The kua is like a car’s transmission. I have to shift the transmission into gear to use the power of the engine to turn the wheels. Releasing the kua is like putting the transmission in neutral= no power/root. It kinks the hose.

How do you get your kua “in gear”? Well, once you establish your foundation in the weight-bearing leg by doing steps 1 and 2, you want to engage your kua. You settle into it like settling into a bar stool. You relax a little until you feel the support of the hip, then you turn left, right, or bow forward with the hip as your pivot.

Rest your elbow on a table and hold your arm straight up. Make a fist. Now rotate your fist in any direction. Like the kua, the wrist joint transfers the power from the arm to the fist. (It’s easier to observe in the wrist since there are fewer moving parts.)

The steps would look like this now:

1. Set the ball of the foot (of the weight-bearing leg).

2. Set the knee.

3. Engage the kua.

4. Fill. (That is, once you have engaged the kua, you can then load up the weight-bearing leg and use your kua to move through your various postures with tensegrity, root, and power.)

It takes practice to trust your kua, since most of us have spent most of our lives oblivious to it. Start now. The effects can be felt immediately.