All energy is created by holding poles in opposition.

“Dangerous” Andrew Hahn (“The Kirtan Rabbi”) demonstrates San Ti Shi by a stream in Sedona

If you want your internal arts practice to move to a higher level, start with that idea. Everything opens up after that.

I had been studying xingyiquan with Master Yang Fukui about a year and was stumbling my way through a very different approach than I had encountered in decades of taijiquan. Both are internal Chinese martial arts, but very different in so many ways. I had been doing a standing meditation posture called San Ti Shi pretty regularly, but to less than spectacular effect. San Ti Shi is the foundation of all xingyi practice, and I could tell I wasn’t getting as much out of it as I could. San Ti Shi is sometimes translated as “Trinity Pile” standing or “Three Bodies” standing. (See photo at right.) Traditionally, you stood in San Ti for hours at a time as it worked its magic. I was getting something, but not magic.

I wanted the magic. So one day I asked Master Yang to check out what I was doing. He said,

“Form OK. But qi is not fighting. Qi must fight.”

Whaaaaaa? “Qi must fight?” This was outa left field. I had always done standing meditation to produce calm and relaxation, not to churn things up. It took a bit to wrap my brain around this idea. But once I applied it to my practice, the effect was immediate and powerful. Things started to click. In the Taiji Classics it is said, “The qi must be excited and excitable.” That always seemed strange to me. After all, don’t a lot of us do taijiquan to calm down and relax? Where does this “excitement” fit in?

It’s a different kind of excitement than most of us know. When we are angry, afraid, or nervous we are excited. That is, the enturbulated qi agitates the nervous system, endocrine glands, and triggers familiar biological responses that correspond to that energy. We become the disturbed energy and act it out. Repeated patterns over time create unhealthy conditions in body and mind.

Some people practice taiji just to experience relief from all that negativity. We find those moments of coherence that allow us to let go for a moment and sometimes even change some underlying conditions. Form practice provides blessed relief from the noise of a nervous system in conflict. We find oases of peace and wholeness. In those moments we can shed some of the unhealthy patterns and begin to notice that they are not us.

Once you reclaim this pervading sense of coherence on a regular basis, you can then generate energy by holding poles in opposition. You can actually do it at any time, but if you still identify with the enturbulated qi it is hard to differentiate. The closer you get to being a neutral pole, the cleaner the energy you generate. How do you become this neutral pole? You get as coherent as possible. You can then feel the difference between you and the energy of your field. This takes time and effort, of course. Gongfu.

What does it mean to “hold poles in opposition”? Here’s a way to feel it in your body:

1. Hold the ends of a short stick between your hands. Push your hands toward each other with all your strength for five seconds. (Like an isometric exercise.) Relax and drop your hands to your sides. Let go of the experience.

2. Hold the stick in the same position as before and recreate the feeling of pushing together, but without actually contracting your muscles. Do that for five seconds. Relax your arms to your sides. Let go of the experience.

3. Put the stick down and hold your hands in the same position. Remember the feeling of pushing, but keep your hands relaxed. Use your intention to activate everything but the physical contractions. Notice that there are layers of activation and that the intention precedes the execution.

4. Hold the palms opposite each other. Feel the energy being generated between your hands (it may appear as heat, vibration, pulsing, sense of “fullness”, or the skin may turn red). Notice that the energy is not you. It is something that you are generating.

In this exercise your hands become opposing poles because you make it so. You oppose them in your mind. You are the neutral point of generation that creates the circumstances for this to occur.

Let’s look again at Andrew’s San Ti Shi to illustrate how to make this work in a martial posture.

Here are some possible oppositions that make this posture crackle:

1. Meet the earth through the balls of the feet (Bubbling Well points) v. Meet the heavens through the crown of the head (Baihui).

2. Reach forward with the index finger of your left hand v. Press down with the palm of the right hand.

3. Right elbow back and down v. left elbow forward and down.

4. Dantien down v. Shoulders up. (Remember that this is intention, not muscular contraction. Don’t shrug your shoulders. The muscles are relaxed, but the intention is to reach up.)

There are many other polarities that can be created by your conscious intention. Begin with a simple pair and gradually add more to your practice.

It’ll take your game to a new level.