THE PATH TO EMPTINESS
Before I had begun meeting with internal martial arts masters to film interviews for my YouTube channel, I considered myself to be quite well informed about the various methods these masters were practicing. I had been practicing martial arts for some time and had acquired my fair share of knowledge over the years. However, as it turned out, I was very wrong about my assumptions. It would be fair to say that I was clueless. After realizing my lack of knowledge, I began learning directly from some of the teachers I had previously interviewed, acquiring in-depth insight and understanding into what they describe as “The six levels of the internal arts.”
I have always tried to keep an open mind when it comes to learning Kung fu, however, trying to digest information of this caliber is a challenge. The method I’m being exposed to is far beyond anything I have previously encountered. Yap boh Heong has often referred to these teachings as the “Ph.D. level of martial arts” and I have to agree with his statement. The path to emptiness serves as a template, offering the practitioner an indication of their progression. A way to gauge precisely how far they have climbed up the internal ladder. For the lack of better words, you can call this “the spectrum of energy.”
Before I proceed, I would first like to mention that my description of the six levels is not comprehensive. I cannot describe something I have yet not attained or understand. However, I’m very fortunate to have the unique opportunity of spending time with several masters who are walking this path. The countless hours of conversation with these people have provided me a unique opportunity to formulate this article and share some of this rare knowledge publically.
Level one. Li 力
The first run of the ladder refers to a person’s physical strength. You must have some degree of physical strength to practice martial arts. This strength can be developed in various ways and acts as the foundation for your development. It is not uncommon for practitioners to spend the first few years of their training working solely on the development of strength before moving onto the next stage. For most, they will spend a lifetime at this level, unaware that there are potentially higher levels to explore.
Level two – Jin 勁
The second stage is referred to as Jin 勁. I feel that the most straightforward way to describe Jin is that it is a specific type of force that is transmitted through the connective tissues of the body. Unlike muscular strength that is generated by the contraction of muscles, Jin is precisely the opposite. Jin is created from the release of tension, akin to a bow and arrow. The energy is first stored in the body and then released into the opponent. The power is generated from release, not contraction. There are various ways to Fa-Jin 發勁 (issue force) in the internal arts. However, it’s fair to say that they are all dependant on one’s ability to Song 放鬆. If one is not able to Song, then the Jin can not be released. When discussing Fa-Jin with Liang De Hua he will often tell me “Keep training until you’re full. Your entire body should be full of emptiness.”
Level three – Yi 意
The third level of internals is Yi 意, which refers to a particular condition of the mind and would be best described as intention. This quality of the mind is developed through specific mental development training and exercises. Yi can be used to direct Jin and at later stages mobilize the Qi throughout the body. It is written in the classics “use mind intention (Yi) not strength (Li) 用意不用力.”
Level four – Qi 氣
Attempting to write a description of the term Qi 氣 used in the internal arts is controversial, as there are many schools of thought on this subject. The internal practitioners I respect have often explained to me that Qi is a form of energy that can be generated, stored, and mobilized inside the body through specific training methods. Having been exposed to some of these methods, I can relate to their descriptions of this elusive word. It’s important to note that the term Qi used in the internal arts is different from the Qi described in TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine.) Adam Mizner made it clear during the filming of his interview that “The Qi running through your meridians cannot be used to knock someone over. It is a specific kind of Qi and there is a specific way to accumulate it in Taijiquan.”
Level five – Shen 神
There are several definitions of the term Shen 神. The definition that resonates with me the most describes the fifth level of internals as consciousness. An excellent example of this would be, when someone walks into a room, you can instantly sense if they’re not to be messed with. In some cases, you may feel that they have an intimidating demeanor. Others may appear friendly and approachable. I believe that these interactions are occurring at the level of Shen. Because consciousness is not matter, it is formless and can expand infinitely into space. It is understandable why it can affect the area around you.
Level six – Kong 空虛
When it comes to the final stage of internals, I have no clue what to write or say on the subject of Kong 空虛 (emptiness) It is far beyond my comprehension, and any attempt at writing a description would be nothing more than an insult to the founders.
Note: It’s important to note that each of the six levels is dependant on the previous one. Meaning that a practitioner can not use Jin if he doesn’t have basic Li. He can not progress to Yi until he has comprehended Jin. He can not begin to work with Qi if he doesn’t understand Yi and so forth. The path to emptiness is progressive.
However, there are some exceptions to these rules. In some instances, multiple levels can be trained simultaneously, providing that the practitioner has an understanding of all levels involved. For example, a practitioner who is at the fourth stage can use Yi to mobilize the Qi and create Jin. Once you’re aware of this exception, it would be an error to compare practitioners and assume that they are at the same level. A practitioner may be much higher up the ladder than you had initially perceived. You may have watched them Fa-Jin 發勁 their opponent, however, that was only the effect and not the cause.
As I mentioned at the start of this article, my descriptions of the six levels are not comprehensive. I’m confident that my understanding of these terms will continue to develop and change as I delve deeper into the practice.
“Once you have reached the peak of the mountain, there is always a taller mountain for you to climb.”