Integral Chuan: A Practice and Philosophy

This article is by Jacob Godwin:

I have studied several martial arts in my life. I have a black belt in Kenpo Karate, I have studied Judo, a bit of Aikido and a couple of others. I came to the internal styles about seven years ago when I began my master’s degree in acupuncture and Oriental medicine. We were required to study ‘mind-body’ arts such as Taijiquan, Baguazhang and a few qigong methods. I was immediately impressed with both Taijiquan and Baguazhang. I learned Taiji from several teachers, the most important of whom were Dr. Ma Dong-xin and Master Li Jun-feng both at AOMA. Dr. Ma is the director of herbal studies at AOMA and one of my most important teachers of Oriental medicine. Master Li is, of course, Jet Li’s coach. He coached him while he was five-time champion. I also learned Baguazhang from Master Li.

I have had many wonderful teachers in my life but two stand out as true Masters to me. The first was my first Judo teacher, Kawakami Sensei in the big city of West Yellowstone, Montana. And the second is Master Ha Cheung-Fong (known in America as Fong Ha). Fong Ha came into my path at a most auspicious time for me. I had learned so many forms, techniques, theories and perspectives from many qualified and great teachers but was missing the essence of my training. I ‘knew’ the essence of martial arts in my head but was not experiencing it through the practice of the forms. Even having my master’s in acupuncture and Oriental medicine didn’t seem to help. The problem wasn’t that I knew to little, but that I knew too much. Many of my colleagues were in this same place. I was tired of wanting the secrets or to meet the master who would be able to transform my gongfu to something sublime. I had really given up. Daoism teaches that the more you try for it the further away it gets…I should have known better!

This is precisely when Master Ha showed up teaching his Integral Chuan. I did some research on Master Ha and saw that his methods are not focused on forms, really without any ‘rules’, and are generally in keeping with the Daoist principles of non-coerciveness. I was intrigued. So many times, though, people say these things and claim to be so ‘Daoist’ or profound and end up being just another jack-ass. I was utterly blown away with Master Ha. His wisdom is too deep for me to counter and his practice too obvious for me to critique. I am an ‘open-minded skeptic’ and don’t just gulp down whatever’s being served. I don’t care how special you or the other people around you think you are I want to know for myself. Master Ha more than satisfied my little mind.

The philosophy of Master Ha’s method is one of wuwei or non-coerciveness. Some people translate this as non-doing, but that is not accurate. Wuwei is not just sitting on your butt. It is simply an attitude of non-interference. To follow the flow of Qi or the Dao is better than to try to enforce your own wants and needs on the world. I love these quotes from the Huainanzi (trans. by Thomas Cleary in the ’Book of Leadership & Strategy):

“What is valued in the Dao is its formlessness. Be formless, and you cannot be repressed or oppressed; you cannot be measured or figured out.”

“Anything that has form can be overcome; anything that takes shape can be countered. This is why sages conceal their forms in nothingness and let their minds soar in the void” “When opponents go into action before you do, then you see their form. When they are excited but you are calm, then you neutralize their strength.”

Sunzi (the Art of War):

“Be extremely subtle, even to the point of formlessness. Be extremely mysterious, even to the point of soundlessness. Thereby you can be the director of the opponent’s fate.” “Therefore when you induce others to construct a formation while you yourself are formless, then you are concentrated while the opponent is divided. When you are concentrated into one while the opponent is divided into ten, you are attacking at a concentration of ten to one, so you outnumber the opponent.”

Yiquan, in keeping with this sentiment, is simply standing in one of 10 different postures following your own feeling. If you are tense and tired, you stop. We also practice movements but they are simple and not fixed. The movements serve as a way of testing the power accumulated in stillness. We stand in stillness to understand the root of movement:

“calm is the master of excitement”

Laozi 26.

We use the well-known internal art Taijiquan to practice stillness in movement. The brilliance of Integral Chuan is that Master Ha is one of very few people in the world with so many years experience with so many profound masters of both Taijiquan and Yiquan. He has masterfully blended the essence of these two and all martial arts into an amazing practice.

We learn to listen rather than to do. When you learn a form or Kata, you are speaking not listening. You are learning how to move in certain ways. You are also training balance, endurance, etc. These set forms are good to ‘sharpen the sword’ or to hone your body and to learn different ways of dealing with certain circumstances. However, ‘sharpening the sword’ is not ‘using the sword’. In a fight, if you have a bunch of preconceived ideas of any sort, you’re a goner. Therefore, most practitioners of Yiquan for martial purposes have usually already thoroughly studied other more obviously martial arts. Fong Ha, of course, combines his Yiquan skills with a deep knowledge of Taijiquan. Yiquan can stand on its own as a martial practice but most martial artists understand the value of variety and importance of training different styles. We don’t train to respond to ‘a punch’ in Integral Chuan, we train to respond to ‘this punch’, meaning the punch happening in that moment. As Fong Ha puts it:

“A mind that is free and at peace will recognize immediately either a kindness or an aggression, correctly interpreting and responding appropriately at once to any touch, whether that touch is physical, mental, or spiritual. In this sense our practice is a martial art; our goal is to increase our sensitivity to and awareness of outside forces that affect us physically, mentally or spiritually. The cultivation of Qi enhances our alertness, agility, and sensitivity.”

The idea behind Yiquan is to train the Yi (?). Yi in Chinese can mean ideation, intent, mind, and thought. It is often diametrically opposed by the more emotional mind called xin (?) in Chinese which is the same as the Heart. In Oriental medicine we often translate xin as Heart-Mind. In chapter eight of the ‘Spiritual Pivot’ (Lingshu ??) which is the second book of the ‘Bible of acupuncture and Oriental medicine’, the Yellow Emperor’s Internal Classic (Huang Di Nei Jing ????), we learn that Yi is intent but not yet what we call will or will power. Yi is not even quite thought. Yi is described as follows: “when the heart applies itself, we speak of Yi”.

So, Yi is the pure open awareness of consciousness before any fixation or definition—the focus of awareness without fixation. What we mean by intent in Yiquan is the first motivation of our awareness before it is fixed upon something. Once we have seized upon some phenomenon with our minds and give it a name and a place in the overall field of our experience, we ‘know’ that phenomenon. The intent in Yiquan is before this stage of the mental/spiritual process. In many styles you use visualization to get some outcome. If you are at the stage of thought at which you are trying to do something, this is not Yi. These practices are really no different than other daily activities as far as the use of the mind is concerned. These processes are known in Oriental medicine as si or zhi. Yiquan doesn’t use visualization this way. We leave the mind open and free. It is this Yi that we train in Yiquan.

The second word in Yiquan means fist (quan ?) and is used to indicate a martial art as in Taijiquan which is Taiji ‘fist’. So, we have ‘Intent Fist’ as a literal translation. This is why we stand and practice stillness. We want to train the focus of our awareness to the here and now. We don’t want to use visualization or any contrived methods to force our Yi (remember, Yi is before will-power and even thought), rather we want to be still and let our naturally powerful Yi catch up to us and fill us. As your practice progresses, you are filled more and more and can begin ‘playing’ or ‘testing’ the force created by this ‘filling’ of Yi.

Taijiquan is the unfolding of these same principles in movement. The 108 Yang style form provides a structure within which the power cultivated in the standing practice of Yiquan can be exercised. Master Ha focuses on the ‘feeling’ of Taiji practice over the strict form. In the end we have a man who’s spent over 50 years of his life studying the most powerful internal arts from the worlds best teachers and combined the wisdom and skill gained into a brilliant system of practice—Integral Chuan.