Exponents claim to be able to use their qi to cure illnesses, prolong life and even to damage opponents; all of which serves to make qigong a field of study very attractive to a wide range of people. it also makes the art open to exploitation and misrepresentation.

While I have always found the stories very interesting and even as a young and impressionable teenager had sat cross-legged with one hand over my ear in imitation of an exercise I had found in a book, on the whole I have remained sceptical about the superhuman powers promised to the qigong exponent.

In the majority of the systems of Chinese martial arts that I have studied, however, qigong in one form or another has played a part, and so over the years I have learnt quite a wide range of such methods.

In Cheng Man Ching taijiquan, as taught in Malaysia and Singapore, there exists a set of exercises for developing nei gong or internal strength, that many exponents believe to be absolutely vital to the development of effective martial skills. This particular form of qigong is, to the best of my knowledge, not found among the teachings of Cheng's students either in Taiwan or America other than Chen Zi Chen, who as a youth helped Cheng with his internal strength training. Indeed Song Zi Jian, one of Cheng's disciples in Taiwan described in one of his books how Cheng went to Malaya in 1958 and taught a set of qigong exercises he had not taught before. Another version of this story tells how Chen Zi Chen taught Yue Shu Ting in return for a large sum of money.

This type of qigong, sometimes also known as Iron Shirt qigong, is not practised solely for its martial benefits as it is regarded as being something of a panacaea as well as being good for improving male sexual performance!

While some teachers like to train their students to visualise the movement of qi around the body, often accompanied by specific breathing patterns, the majority of instructors I have trained with stress relaxing the mind and allowing the qi to flow naturally.

As Master Koh Ah Tee is fond of saying, "Taijiquan is a form of qigongquan so if your form is correct and your body and mind are relaxed then the qi will flow naturally."

He also notes that those teachers of taiji who spend a great deal of time explaining where the qi is to go and what you should visualise often have little else to teach and are just trying to spin out the learning process. This I have found generally to be true.

In the realm of traditional Chinese medicine, practitioners identify a number of feelings associated with qi such as tingling numbness, heat, swelling, and so on. Exponents of qigong are also told to be aware of these phenomena, but not to become fixated on them, for if aimed for as a goal they tend to become less rather than more accessible.

From the time that I first embarked on the study of taijiquan I had always been rather sceptical of this whole area of study and it is only with the passing of years that I have noted the appearance of some of the phenomena associated with qi development in my own training.

It was while I was living in China that I had my first concrete experience of one of the manifestations of this inner energy which is claimed to be the very stuff of life.

It was a Friday evening and myself and my two companions, one English, one American, had decided to go to a restaurant close to where we lived. In Beijing at that time there was a distinct shortage of eating places and that coupled with the fact that they were open for only very restricted hours (usually 5-7 in the evenings) meant that you had to be prepared to grab any space you could find so sharing a table was common.

This particular summer's evening we had arrived early, just after five and so found a table quite easily. The restaurant was located at one corner of a large hotel complex which had been built by the Russians in the 1950's. Although the roofs featured upswept tiling and dragons in Chinese fashion, the grey cinder block walls and large spacy interior were of an architectural style which might be termed Soviet proletarian. The inside of the restaurant was vast with a ceiling that was more than twenty feet high.

After we had ordered from a disinterested waitress we sat sipping flat beer from plastic beakers. As we did so the place began to fill up and it was not long before we were joined at our table by three young men dressed in the uniform of the People's Liberation Army. They nodded to us and, as our food came and we started eating, kept darting shy glances in our direction. Eventually they summoned up enough courage to prompt them to elect one of their number to strike up a conversation with us.

It turned out that they were bandsmen and as members of an elite PLA band had even toured America. They then asked us what we were doing in China and so the conversation continued. Upon finding out that I was interested in Chinese martial arts one of the trio exclaimed that Xiao Hong, with this he pointed at one of his companions, had gong fu. My ears perked up. I had already seen members of the armed police unit which served as a gate guard to the hotel complex where we lived, practising martial arts before their early morning parades. What they practised seemed to be a combination of changquan and chin-na. Maybe this musician-soldier would be able to show me some more.

But this was not to be, for the nature of his gong fu proved to be very different. It turned out that Xiao Hong was able to emit a kind of energy from his hands which was capable of curing headaches. This is known in Chinese as waiqi (outside qi) and much research has been conducted into the skills of the masters who are able to do this.

Xiao Hong said that he ahd been able to do this ever since he was a child and in response to my question, no he had never undergone any kind of qigong training. this was all very well but none of us had a headache so it would be difficult to directly experience his skill.

Seeing my look of skepticism, the soldier who had originally told us of his friend's talent said: " Look put out your arm and feel." He grabbed my American friend's arm and with some more urging Xiao Hong was persuaded to run his open hand along it, palm down and about six inches above Doug's limb. I looked at Doug's face quizzically. He looked astonished.

"It's like electricity," he said, "I can definitely feel it!"

I put out my own arm and Xioa Hong made the same gesture. it was as Doug had said; like having a mild electrical charge run up and down your arm. At the same time all the hairs on my arm stoodd up.

Not wanting to be left out the English woman with us allowed the soldier to do the same to her but she felt absolutely nothing at all. Xiao Hong tried again but still no reaction.

Two out of three successes was obviously good enough for Xiao Hong's two companions who beamed at him in congratulation and then insisted that we all toast each other in warm, soapy-tasting beer.

I have often thought back on this incident and wondered why both Doug and I plainly felt something while Denise didn't. It is true that both of us were training in martial arts at the time so maybe we were somehow more sensitive to the body's energies or maybe we just wanted to believe in it more. I don't know.

Since that time other qigong teachers have sought to demonstrate the same emission of energy on me but I can truthfully say none of them with as startling an effect as that PLA musician in a downtown Beijing restaurant.

In the People's Republic of China qigong has been the focus of much research particularly as regards its healing benefits. Many new forms of qigong have been created or as their founders often claim, "rediscovered" from ancient manuscripts. Some of these types of qigong have reportedly been responsible for the cure of patients suffering from such serious ailments as cancer, heart disease and paralysis.

As a consequence of this there tend to be qigong fads. Usually their course runs something like this: a doctor or health worker "discovers" an ancient text and after practising the exercises contained therein tries them out on his or her patients. Cures follow and then a famous personality, perhaps a pop singer or a movie star is cured of some serious illness by this new, "old" method. The art becomes more popular and the founder starts an association. He or she then travels to teach Chinese communities outside China and an international association is founded. The art is taught free to the public and thousands flock to study it.

Of course like all fads it eventually wears off, numbers dwindle, the pop or movie star dies and then along comes another form of qigong and the whole process starts all over again. This might sound overly cynical but it is a relatively easy matter to look at the histories of some types of qigong that have become popular over the last few years and see if this is their story!

For as many years as he has been teaching taijiquan Master Lim has also been studying and teaching various types of qigong. he is a firm believer in the therapeutic benefits of such training and so whenever he has the opportunity he seeks out teachers in order to learn as much as possible.

One of the types of qigong he has learnt and teaches is the so-called Ziran qigong (natural qigong) which is usually called in English, spontaneous qigong. Exponents of this style stand in a natural position, concentrating on their breathing until their body starts to move of its own accord. this is often manifested as a general shaking of the body but then the practitioner might start performing movements representative of one of the animals of the Five Animal Play sytem. The Five Animal Play is a qigong exercise that is supposed to have originated over a thousand years ago, having been invented by the "father of Chinese medicine", Hua To. the exercise involves the performance of specific actions associated with the monkey, the bear, the deer, the crane and the tiger. Exponents of spontaneous qigong, however, follow no set pattern but just move sometimes in imitation of these animals. Their movements, however, are not restricted to imitating animals; some may dance, reel drunkenly or even perform martial arts routines.

Master Lim taught this art to a small group of students after his regular taijiquan class had finished. So it was that one exceptionally hot evening after two hours of taiji which had left me sweaty and exhausted, I watched from the porch area of his house come training hall as four of his students unrolled a huge piece of carpet and covered the concreted courtyard where training took place. The climate of Malaysia is wonderful for martial artists as there is no need to train indoors. The only thing that can prevent training is rain and to cover that contingency Master Lim had installed an awning which could be pulled out to cover the training area.

Most of the taiji students had gone home leaving five people, four men and one woman, to practise qigong. Master Lim sat on a plastic garden chair on the porch and watched the carpet laying. When it was finished the students spread out and stood, feet apart, facing in our direction. It was a still, close night, heavy with the sound of cicadas which seemed to chirp in a kind of throbbing rhythm.

The students had their arms down by their sides and their eyes were closed. Abruptly Master Lim stood up and walked around from one to another adjusting their stances by placing his hand on a shoulder, an arm, a waist, a leg, or just simply shaking them. Apparently satisfied he stepped to one side, looked them over carefully one more time and then returned to his seat.

Slowly at first but then picking up speed, one by one they began to shake. After several minutes of this two of the male students sat down cross-legged on the ground, while others began to move around. Now they were all moving in different directions so it was hard to concentrate on them all at once. I decided instead to focus for a while on one of the seated students. By now he was rocking from side to side, the motions becoming stronger and stronger, until, with a shout, he threw his body to one side and rolled over and over. Master Lim was up and beside him very quickly and as he rolled to the edge of the carpet he gently rolled him back.

My attention shifted to one of the standing men who had started to make little mewing noises; gradually they increased in volume until they were a kind of growling roar. At the same time he shifted into a long, low stance and began to wave his arms, hands held in claws, through the air.

Master Lim who had come to stand at my side leaving the prostrate students under the supervision of his assistant instructor, pointed to the growling man and said, "Tiger, he is performing the movements of the tiger." He went on to explain that in this kind of qigong the body regulated and healed its own energy system. Imbalances were automatically corrected and the manifestation of a particular animal represented the kind of energy needed by the exponent.

Now there was more action going on with another of the men standing on one leg and making the "hock, hock" noises of a crane. It made me think of the karate kid and I had to stifle a giggle. I turned it into a question. "Master Lim have these students trained in Tiger or Crane boxing?" They did look remarkably like they were performing movements from these styles. "No, never," came his definite answer. The average Chinese, however, is exposed to the movements of Chinese martial arts through the medium of film and television so such martially correct movements without formal training should not be made the focus of too much emphasis.

But now something more remarkable was happening as the only woman in the group began what could only be described as ballet-dancing: jumping, twirling, and skipping across the carpet and in between the animal men and the rolling bodies. The sight was made even more bizarre by the fact that for most of the time she had her eyes closed. Her movement was so startlingly un-Chinese, being totally free-form and uninhibited that I looked at Master Lim to try to guage his reaction. His face was impassive; this was obviously something he had seen before.

Master Lim's assistant, known affectionately by the students as "Old Yang" was rushing here and there on the carpet attempting to protect all of his charges at the same time.

Then, as if a switch had been pressed, the woman came to a stop, still up on her toes but now her body swayed fro side to side.

The two men who were sitting and occasionally rolling continued in their own world but the remaining two, the tiger and the crane seemed somehow to be drawn to the would-be ballerina. They shuffled towards her like zombies from "The Return of the Living Dead". Then they started to touch her. To understand how shocking this was you have to realise that Chinese men and women, even those who are married, seldom touch in public, so for two men who were presumably not related to this woman, to be pawing her in the most public fashion was an arresting sight.

Master Lim obviously felt that it required explanation, "In their trance their bodies' qi systems have detected an imbalance in her qi system and so they're giving her extra qi." As a defence I wasn't sure that it would stand up in court but I nodded as if in dawning comprehension.

The fondling, for such it became, continued for several minutes with the crane and the tiger occasionally emitting grunts, presumably in conjunction with the release of qi, while the imbalanced ballet dancer gave little kittenish purrs from time to time.

Then all of the characters on the carpet seemed to wind down and Master Lim and Old Yang led them, one by one back to their starting places where they stood as they had at the beginning, gently shaking to some internal rhythm which became slower and slower until they appeared to come out of their trances and, exhausted, stood rubbing their hands and faces. The practice was over.

Now, as I have said before, I am sceptical about the benefits of such training particularly since, as many of my teachers have pointed out, they have no direct relevance to progress in the martial arts which has always been my main area of interest. What it seemed to me with my jaded and cynical eye was that the woman was moving in an unrepressed and fully natural way without the inhibitions that everyday life in her culture placed her under. Her qi helpers on the other hand were getting cheap thrills, doing in their "trance" state what they could not have done otherwise except in a place where the girls were paid for!

Master Lim, of course, differs in his opinion, feeling that spontaneous qigong not only corrects imbalances in the body's energy sytems but also aids in the process of relaxation which is so important to the taiji exponent.

One of my students stayed with Master Lim for several months and during that time, as well as training in taiji, he also learnt and practised ziran qigong. When he returned to England he continued his practise for a while, discontinuing it when he found that it was doing little to improve his taiji skills.

The teaching and testing of neigong is an integral part of the taiji teacher's practise in Malaysia and I have always taken every opportunity to extend my knowledge and understanding of this aspect of the art. So it was that when a cousin of my wife's told me that he was learning neigong I jumped at the chance to be introduced to his teacher.

The class took place in a town about an hour's drive away from where I was living and one Saturday evening just as darkness was falling my brother-in-law and I set off. The road to Kluang is narrow and winding and for most of the journey it cuts through a mixture of jungle and palm-oil plantations. As it quickly becomes completely dark and the road was comparatively empty it seemed almost as if we were on another, deserted planet.

Eventually just as the air-conditioned atmosphere in the car was getting too cold we crested a hill and there, spread out before us, was Kluang. I knew from daytime visits that surrounded on three sides by sharply-rising rocky hills covered with jungle vegetation, the town is similar to many other places in Malaysia. Rows of shophouses interspersed with the odd four or five storey building, all crowded around the main street area, with housing estates clustered around the outskirts.

None of this was obvious in the darkness as all that could be seen were twinkling lights, some brightly coloured, lending a festive air to the sight.

Following the instructions we had previously been given we stopped at one of the four storey buildings on the main street. It was the right place for, sure enough, Feng's cousin Ah Bing was waiting outside with several other people.

We were introduced to the group which mostly consisted of Ah Bing's classmates. They seemed to be all middle-aged and looked like school teachers, which in fact most of them were.

With lots of polite gesturing and hanging back from the doorway we were ushered into the stairwell and up three flights of dusty, bare concrete stairs until we came to a doorway which bore the sign in Chinese "Kluang Qigong Research Association". The metal grille that covered the open door was pulled to one side and we entered a long empty room, as devoid of decoration as the stairway had been.

In the centre of the room was a small man, barely five foot, who seemed to have one paralysed arm. As we came in he was performing bagua circle walking, his disabled arm held tightly across his abdomen with the other extended into the middle of the circle.

Seeing us he stopped and came over where he was introduced to us by Ah Bing as Master Kang. It seemed that most of his students had been waiting for us downsatirs for there were only a couple of other people standing in "post" stances at the far end of the room. They were soon called over and after the initial ice-breaking was over it was time for demonstrations.

Two of the schoolteachers were called out and after taking off their glasses they began to take it in turns to enthusiastically hit each other on the chest, the arms, the stomach and even the side of the neck.

Next Master Kang asked if I would like to have a go and the larger of the two educators smiled myopically at me as his teacher insisted that i could hit him anywhere on his abdomen with any kind of strike. "Any kind of strike?" I queried. The master nodded. I decided that the man was fair game so I gently placed my loosely-clenched fist on his solar-plexus and simultaneously sinking and contracting my muscles delivered a taiji punch. This kind of punch directs all its force inwards, as little energy is lost at the initial contact because it is so soft. Very difficult to apply in a fighting situation, as a demonstration "trick" it is quite impressive. As the fist travels such a small distance and the effects are often spectacular, with the "victim" either flying backwards or sinking to his knees, vomiting or any combination of the above.

In this case my target's qigong training must have stood him in good stead for he neither fell over nor threw up. He did, however, turn a nice shade of green and surreptitiously kneaded the spot where I had hit him. Master Kang, meanwhile became quite agitated. "No, no you can hit him any way you like but not like that!" So saying he pushed target number one away and beckoned over another of his students.

Master Kang looked up at me as if to say where did you learn to do that; he should have known as during the introductions he had been told that I had been studying the Chinese martial arts for some years.

This time to make sure that I delivered the "correct" kind of blow he mimed a number of punches, chops and open-handed techniques, indicating that any of these were permissable.

So for the next three or four minutes I chopped, punched and hacked at the chosen student. In the end I had to stop because my wrist and hand were beginning to hurt. Throughout all this my punchbag stood relaxed and showed no visible signs of discomfort. It was impressive.

I asked Master Kang about the nature of their training and he replied that they practised qigong breathing methods for about three months before they were able to withstand blows. I asked him whether they did any kind of conditioning such as beating the body and he replied with a definite no. Furthermore at the end of three months each student had to take an examination before he could progress to the next level of training. This consisted of allowing senior students to strike freely at their abdomen. "All of our training is natural and relaxed. Just look," so saying Master Kang walked over to where one of his students stood, back to the teacher, talking to two other men. Without warning Master Kang struck him forcefully in the centre of his back. The student turned, not fast and with no trace of surprise or astonishment and smiled at the master and myself. "See, no preparation!" I was even more impressed.

The demonstrations over we retired to a local coffee shop for a supper of noodles and strong, black Malaysian coffee. As we talked I learnt more about Master Kang's background. He taught qigong and baguazhang both of which he had learnt from his father - in fact he told me his teachings were based on the Kang family's secret art. This all seemed a little far-fetched to me as he was a native of Fujian Province, not an area renowned for its baguazhang.

Later on I was to find out that most local teachers believed him to be self-taught from books. If that was the case then his qigong certainly was impressive for the results could not be doubted. As to his bagua, well from the little I saw it tended towards the average. But, as we left Kluang, I felt that it had been an interesting evening and that his students, with their relaxed approach both mental and physical, had certainly achieved tangible results through their qigong study.

All of the "big three" internal arts, taiji, bagua and xingyi, have their own qigong exercises, many of which involve holding static postures for varying periods of time.

When I first started learning xingyiquan in China my teacher insisted that I should master the standing post exercises before I could go on to learn anything else.

My teacher was a service attendant in the Friendship Hotel. Teacher An, as I called him, was in his early thirties and although he was probably about five foot six he carried himself very straight which made him look taller.

I had been introduced to him after I put the word around that I was looking for teachers. A colleague who lived in the block that Teacher An worked in, told me that he taught wushu.

It turned out that he had practised both shaolin boxing and xingyiquan since he was a child. He had studied under a well-known master of Hebei style xingyi. Teacher An was willing to teach me. It was agreed that we would meet three nights a week outside the block where he worked and that he would teach me there while he was still on duty.

This particular block was in a section of the compound that housed not only foreign teachers but also tourists.

An's workplace formed one side of a square of buildings a well-kept garden in the centre bordered by pathways. At right angles from his block was the main dining room for this section and since my training time coincided with dinner time there was a constant stream of tourists, mainly Japanese, passing by.

This would have been of no consequence were it not for the fact that Teacher An insisted that I practise on the path in sight of the window of his office. This office was on the ground floor but you had to actually climb several steps up to it, so that he could look out to see whether I was practising but I could not see in.

Wishing to train properly in the hope that he would teach me more I forced myself to continue training. In the first few weeks this meant doing one of the three basic standing-post exercises. The first two are executed with the feet together, knees touching and bent at an angle of about 45 degrees, while the back is held erect and the hands placed in front of the body. For the first minute or so you feel no great discomfort but after that your thighs start to burn and in the early days your whole body starts to shake. At first you are tempted to cheat by straightening the legs just a little but then you find out that this only makes the pain worse when you return to the original position. With experience you learn that the slightest move of the body results in a subtle shift in weight from one leg to the other and this provides some measure of relief. Perhaps the most effective manner, however, of coping with the pain is to actually use your mind to explore the pain, to really fel it - this somehow seems to make it more tolerable until it subsides to a dull ache.

The purpose of this training is not only to strengthen the body but also the mind. Indeed dachengquan uses as its primary exercise, standing post training, and exponents of this style are well-known for their fighting ability.

Teacher An started me off practising holding each stance for five minutes at a time with my target being to hold each one for fifteen minutes. So it was for the month or so that it took me to achieve this goal, my lessons with him consisted of me standing in the middle of the well-lit pathway, sweating copiously; while hordes of Japanese tourists trooped past me, smiling bowing and grunting, "Chinese taiji, Chineses taiji." Teacher An, meanwhile stayed in his office.

The stance training, however provided a solid foundation when I moved on to practise other aspects of the art for it lent a stability and power to my postures that they would not otherwise have had.

The qigong practice associated with baguazhang is not static but rather in line with much of the other training emphasised in the art, is practised while walking in circles. While the actual historical origins of bagua are unclear, it is generally considered that the first exponent to openly teach the art was Dong Hai Chuan who lived during the Qing Dynasty. Kang Ge Wu, a senior lecturer at the Beijing Physical Education Institute, focussed on bagua as the topic of his Master's degree thesis and he concluded that the circle walking was most probably based on the meditative walking of Daoist priests.

Whatever the historical origins of the art, the first circling form learnt by the novice is usually designed to strengthen the body and develop postures that are strong in all directions. That this process is usually explained in Chinese as the development of different types of qi should not make it seem mysterious or mystical.

A number of my classmates had been sent to learn bagua qigong by doctors of traditional Chinese medicine.

One little girl aged jut eight who had experienced breathing difficulties since birth came along for therapeutic reasons. She attended every morning class throughout the year without fail. Even the coldest of winter mornings when the temperature was sometimes as low as -12 degrees celcius, saw her wrapped up like a little round, woollen ball, stepping through the eight differnet moves of the internal strength form.

This form, however, provides more than just therapeutic benefits. One of my classmates who had been training for about a year and who in that time had only learnt and practised the first move of the neigong form, got in a dispute in a cinema over who had tickets for what seat. The argument swiftly grew heated until his antagonist took up an aggressive shaolin-type fighting stance. My classmate panicked as the only thing he knew was the downward-pressing double-handed first move and circle walking. But there was little time to worry for his opponent had thrown a kick. With no other option he stepped around the kick and pressed down in the only move he knew with the result that the erstwhile kicker was thrown to the floor. After picking himself up he decided that he would give up, leaving the disputed seats to my classmate.

This story seems apocryphal in nature containing as it does all the elements of a myriad of such legendary gong fu stories: the student who had only learnt one move but who has practised it patiently without knowing either how or whether it works; as well as the situation where he has no choice but to fall back on his art with results far beyond what he expected.

A similar story is told of Sun Lu Tang, one of the twentieth century baguazhang greats, but whoever it happened to, or if it happened at all, it is a signpost in the form of myth which points us towards important training methods and their benefits.

After I had been training with the Gaos for about two years and had won the gold medal in the Tianjin competition I found myself in a position to really get to the heart of baguazhang. This was because, as a result of the media coverage of my "victory", I was able to repeatedly mention and give credit to Master Gao Zi Ying as being the man who made it all possible. While this was unoubtedly true and the correct thing for me to do it also resulted in the Gao family acquiring a great deal of "face". Thus when I returned to Beijing they were extremely happy to see me and very eager to teach me more. One day I took the bull by the horns and asked Master Gao what was the best way to learn how to use baguazhang for fighting. he smiled at me and took up a stance similar to the xingyi san ti basic stance with sixty percent of his weight on the back leg and forty percent on the front. Next he raised his arms in the tree-embracing posture of standing post exercises with both palms facing in as if he were embracing the trunk of a large tree. "When you can stand like this for one hour, you will be able to use ba gua as a fighting art," he said. That was it right from the horse's mouth. To this day I have found that every teacher of authentic, traditional Chinese martial arts stresses the fundamental importance of standing qigong - the so-called standing post exercises.

From Master Liang He Qing I learnt the traditional taiji qigong of the Yang family. It was in the home of one of his senior students that the fine-tuning took place. Each movement combined stretching, breathing and visualisations so that mind, body and internal energy were all exercised in coordination.

At one corner of the ample concreted courtyard stood a lamp post which in the evening, when we normally trained, was lit and attracted swarms of flying insect life. The whole area was enclosed by a six foot wall over which peeped the distinctive leaves of next door's banana tree.

At the front of the house, next to where we trained was a lawn area surrounded with a variety of different palm trees. this was overlooked by the large french windows of the Malay-style wood-panelled living room. All in all a very pleasant place to train the body's energy system. "The place you practise qigong in, or indeed any martial art," Master Liang explained, "is very important. If possible return to the same place every day. that way you will build up your own positive energy field amd you will benefit from the good qi there. similarly when you have finished practising do not leave the area straight away. Instead after you have consciously sunk the qi to the dantian, you can walk around the training area and take in some of the good qi that your exercise has generated."

As we spaced ourselves out facing Master Liang he instructed us that before we started we should relax our minds so that we felt happy and comfortable. "Qi flows easiest when the mind is relaxed. First of all let your eyes gaze out as far as they can; in fact imagine that you can see all the way to the far, distant horizon. Then slowly let your eyes focus back in until you are looking at a spot about an arm's length in front of you. This is in fact the distance an opponent would be away from you if we were doing martial arts. But for now just relax and let your attention move in to the upper dantian ( midway and slightly above the eyebrows and known in some spiritual disciplines as the third eye) and then down through the central dantian and into the lower dantian. To help you do this swallow some saliva and with your imagination follow it as it sinks all the way down to the dantian."

We followed his advice each sunk in our own internal world as we proceeded to slowly and gently move through the qigong routine. There was no doubt that when you were finished you felt energised and for that alone it was worth doing.

Whilst earlier on in my martial arts career I had not seen much point in training qigong, preferring instead to concentrate on what I felt were the real fighting aspects of the arts, as I got more experienced and older I began to see the value of such gentle, restorative training methods. As a way to develop greater and more profound relaxation qigong is valuable; it also plays a vital role in increasing and enhancing the exponent's ting jing.

It is important, however, that you have the guidance of a teacher when practising these exercises for there are often very detailed requirements. When I first learnt the taiji neigong exercises from Wu Chiang Hsing he told me that when he learnt from his teacher all the students were naked so that the teacher could check each aspect of their physical practice. He pointed out with a smile that this was when they were all male students and the sessions took place in his teacher's house in secret. At the time I was learning it there were two girls in the group of disciples training with Master Wu. What an interesting thought!

Perhaps the most profound form of qigong training and one which every teacher I know wholeheartedly recommends is seated meditation, what the Chinese simply refer to as quiet sitting. I am not going to say any more about this other than any student who wants to reach the highest levels of their chosen martial art must at some time sit down and confront the demons within. You might even find that this is, has been, or becomes the whole purpose of your training!

 

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