I wasn't always a fan of Gong Li Quan. At first, it was exciting to practice a sequence other than Lian Bu Quan, the first in our Shaolin curriculum. Later, I grew to dislike it as the techniques were repetitive and felt disjointed. My teenage self was more interested in flowy and “cool” looking movements. Now, I appreciate the benefits and lessons that Gong Li Quan provides. I like repetition, routine, and straightforward techniques. If you don’t train Lian Bu Quan and Gong Li Quan, forget about the next sequences. Without a foundation, a house will fall.
Gong Li Quan (功力拳) means “Power Training Sequence,” thus most of the techniques challenge the practitioner to understand and demonstrate power generation.
Rehearsal for Grandmaster Li Mao-Ching's birthday celebration
This list came about as I was helping students prepare to test. However, they can apply to other sequences and styles, including training Taijiquan for health. Got any tips? Please share!
Tip #1 Alignment and Body Structure
If our structure is off, the mechanics will be off. We potentially generate inefficient movements and risk developing injuries. When doing a self-check, start from the bottom - foot alignment, hip alignment, chest & spine, arms, and hands. Take into account any limitations (such as injuries) and do the best you can.
The more we condition our bodies, the closer we can get to having proper alignment and structure. It starts with joint flexibility.
Video 1: Tip #1
Tip #2 Coordination and Timing of Movements
Tip #1 checks your position at each point. Tip #2 is about the in-between, going from point A to point B. Can you feel the connection from the ground to your foot, legs, hips, torso, arms, and hands? Does each section of your body move in a fluid motion? If not, try to locate the point or points of disconnect. Where there’s a break, that means the next section of the body should move slightly sooner, or perhaps something is slightly off alignment/target. Try to use the entire body to generate power.
Tip #3 Symmetry Power
The intention of our motions begin from the center and as we twist our hips and torso, our body is set up to extend one limb and contract another. You may have heard your instructor say, “chamber your hand.” When we fully chamber to the waist, we’re able to generate more power due to the hand traveling a longer distance (long-range power). In application situations, we rarely fully chamber but we can still generate short-range power by understanding the concept. Another chamber position is at the hand's opposite shoulder (e.g. left hand at right hand's shoulder).
Symmetry power also applies to the legs and using the upper and lower body together. For example, pulling with the fist while kicking. Or pulling back a kick while striking with the fist or elbow.
Tip #4 Sense of Enemy
Now we start to involve more of the mind, or Yi (意). Having sense of enemy is putting intention into our techniques. We have to understand the application, strike the correct target, stay focused, and follow through. On the Yin side, it’s self-awareness of our own exposed areas and applying intention when neutralizing.
Even if the first 3 tips aren’t polished, adding sense of enemy can make a big difference in how you move.
Video 2: Tips #2, 3, 4
Tip #5 Breathing
Breathing is a strategy which will depend on what you coordinate it with. In the video, we coordinate the breath with the movements, inhaling on the block and exhaling on the strike. Some movements, particularly those in White Crane and Taijiquan, are patterns which can be used for either offense or defense. Experimenting with different strategies will help you better understand each technique.
Generally, we inhale through the nose and exhale through either the nose or mouth. If we coordinate breath with sound, we have both options for exhaling.
Tip #6 Sounds
Different sounds can be made for different techniques. We’ll start with two. With “hen,” exhale through the nose for more contained power. With “ha,” exhale through the mouth for more manifested power. Try to use abdominal breathing and generate the sound come from your center, not the throat.
Sometimes I find myself making sounds without intending to. This usually happens when I’m focused on deep exhales to generate more intention and power. This also allows me to expel more carbon dioxide and inhale more deeply and lead more oxygen to my tired muscles.
Video 3: Tips #5 & 6
Tip #7 Soft-Hard Power
Traditionally, Long Fist applies hard power, where there is tension throughout the movement. We’ve added soft-hard power, where we stay relaxed until the last moment and tense just before the strike. Try to coordinate soft-hard power with your breathing. Inhale and stay relaxed, then exhale and tense at the last moment.
Training hard and soft-hard power have different benefits and the type of power used will depend on the technique and target. Soft-hard power is more penetrating than hard power and can also allow you to conserve more energy - something we need to get through this sequence.
Tip #8 Build and Lead Qi
Building and leading Qi are deeper topics that require a solid understanding of Qigong before attempting any practices. Consult trusted resources and work with a knowledgeable teacher. Some concepts for your research are: “dantian conditioning,” “embryonic breathing,” “two gates breathing,” “four gates breathing,” “martial grand circulation.”
Video 4: Tips #7 & 8