An important process for any serious martial artist to go through is the Yi Jing Jing training which can be translated as meaning the ‘muscle and tendon changing classical process’. This is a step by step process which a practitioner puts their body through in order to convert the nature of the muscles, tendons, collaterals and meridians in order to improve health, develop elasticity and improve core power for martial arts training. The time scales required for this process can vary from person to person but within classical guidelines it can vary from between 90 to 300 days.
Legend has it that Bodhidharma wrote the Yi Jin Jing after arriving at Shaolin temple although the true origins of any Chinese text are difficult to ascertain since myth and actuality are often running hand in hand when history is being written. Whatever the truth, it would appear that the Yi Jin Jing training manual was very important within the early days of Shaolin and then later the Daoists also absorbed into their training, writing their own commentaries on the text as well. The text takes the form of a series of short verses outlining a process which a practitioner should go through in order to convert the tendon collaterals of the body and, by virtue of their close connection to the meridian system, the meridian pathways as well. In modern times their have been various sets of fixed Qi Gong exercises developed which are called the Yi Jin Jing. One such set is a state sponsored set of 12 exercises which are now spreading throughout the west very rapidly; this is not the Yi Jin Jing. This is just a watered down set of movements which are loosely based upon the teachings from within the classical text. The Yi Jin Jing training involves stretching, breathing, massaging and beating the body every day for a period of time along with guided intention in order to change the body as required. Its training is hard, long winded and beyond the practical abilities of many modern martial artists simply because of the amount of time involved in going through this process. Trying to juggle Yi Jin Jing with running a household and family can be difficult.
The basic 90 day version of this process begins with gently stretching the body and patting it all over with specific hand shapes. The mind travels to the area of the body which is being struck and the tendons and muscles in this area begin to soften and lengthen. On the three month retreat this year I have a group of 12 or so students who are going through this process and they have all been surprised by the strength of this stage of the training alone. Their postures have adjusted greatly as their muscles are no longer pulling unevenly on their skeleton, they have gained energy (after an initial detoxifying tiredness!) and some have also dropped a fair amount of body weight.
The second stage of the training involves more directed beating of the body in pairs onto engaged muscle sets to improve their power and elasticity. Massage is applied to the core of the body to help centralise power and the acquired Qi is directed towards the insertion points of the major muscles groups. It is at this stage that the impact is upped a little and now this part of the training takes 90 minutes each day before breakfast.
The third stage is the first time that objects are added to the beating process. It is important that the previous two stages have successfully been passed in order for this stage to be moved on to safely. Otherwise you run the risk of developing extreme stagnation or even a broken rib. Bamboo rods are used to strike the body as these penetrate deeper and begin to connect the soft tissues together. This forms a kind of mesh underneath the muscles of the body. It feels much like a kind of muscular wet suit which expands and contracts as you breathe and move. Directed breathing exercises are added along with controlled muscular contraction in order to power up the muscles and connect them together. It is common to not sleep very well at this stage in the practice as the night time can involve increased energy levels. Deep massage and metal balls which are rolled between the ribs and across the abdomen are added to the mix and now some entire days are spent working on the Yi Jin Jing process in order to stabilise the foundation stages ready for further progression.
The final stage involves some very intense prolonged stretches which can be quite uncomfortable. The beating is upped but shortened into acute bursts and the breathing exercises become longer. It is only at this stage that the meridians are fully incorporated into the exercises and various movements are used to increase the elasticity of the body’s joints. This is the final stage of the Yi Jin Jing according to the 90 day process I use and I am hoping that at least a few of the students who I have started the process with this year will reach this level. It will depend upon many factors, some within their control and some not within their control. Body’s take different amounts of time to change and the 90 days are a general guideline only; past experience and state of the body when starting the process also play a large part in the chance of success.
It is also interesting to note just how much of the Yi Jin Jing is incorporated into classical martial arts practice and sequences. Modern Wushu does not have the Yi Jin Jing as part of its training and so these forms are inadequate for taking a person through the various physical change steps required for successful Yi Jin Jing attainment. Many of the older sequences twist, stretch and lengthen the body along with use of controlled breathing in order to begin the process and I have seen through this retreat just how much faster those with extensive martial arts experience have progressed compared to those who have little prior experience. My partner Roni for example has never focused upon Yi Jin Jing until this summer and she has sped through the process very quickly. Her body has changed considerably and her power has increased much faster than I expected. I put this down to the fact that she has trained full time in Gong Fu for the last 6 years. Having nothing in her life to focus upon but her own practice for this period of time has given her the foundation required for this kind of training. I believe that those who have also trained seriously in a classical manner will also have touched upon the Yi Jin Jing to some extent and it is an important area of study and understanding for those seriously wanting to understand the deeper aspects of martial arts.
In short the basic functions of Yi Jin Jing as I learnt them are:
- Adjust the posture of the body and bring stronger body/Shen connection
- Stretching out the tndon collaterals and opening the meridians
- Powering up metabolism and increasing the stability of the Jing
- Connecting the soft tissues together to increase power and elasticity
- Centralising the power of the body to increase internal core control
- Providing a strong basis for the Xi Sui Jing training
The Xi Sui Jing is the ‘marrow and brain cleaning classical training’. This is the next stage in the process of internal development inherent within classical martial arts training. This is the more advanced process of converting the physicial and energetic properties of the body’s bone marrow in order to raise Shen and open the third eye. Not many practitioners ever achieve this stage of the training as it requires 300 solid days of training, usually amounting to around 4.5 hours a day at the minimum. Practicalities alone prevent this from being attainable by most people. It is my plan to lead a serious group of students (who have already completed the Yi Jin Jing) through the Xi Sui Jing over the course of a year long retreat in the future. Sigh, so much to do…