History & Philosophy
Zi Ran Men Philosophy
Our philosophy for martial training is to develop a frame of mind that seeks to avoid confrontation, minimise stress and develop strategies for dealing with everyday life.
This philosophy is built upon the so-called three foundations:
Although the ‘Tao’ concept stems from ancient Chinese philosophy, it has been adopted by many great minds. As a great ideology and theory, it has been widely used and guided many different areas of study and culture, both east and west. Covering every conceivable area of human thought and action, Taoist philosophy provides guidance, through understanding the many different paths that constitute a way of life. Many of these paths seek to balance the needs of the individual with the demands of society, providing valuable advice on finding success and happiness in a changing world.
Many of the martial arts arose as a combination of spiritual practices, health practices and self defence techniques. The culture of Ziranmen is guided by Taoist philosophy and synchronized with Traditional Chinese Medicine, it is a practical application that reflects the use of these two as one.
Life and spiritual developments
Carrying body and spirit and embracing the one, can you avoid separation?
Attending fully and becoming supple, can you be as a newborn babe? Washing and cleansing the primal vision, can you be without stain? Giving birth and nourishing, bearing yet not possessing, working yet not taking credit, leading yet not dominating, this is the primal virtue. Lao Zi
In Chinese, the word ‘life’ contains two characters, the first one is ‘Xing’ - the psychology, personal characteristics, spiritual aspect or the soul; the second word is ‘Ming’ - the life that we inherit from our parents, formed by the harmonious Qi of Heaven and Earth.
A basic way of understanding the natural conception of Xing and Ming - Spirit and Life, is to simply see ‘Ming’ as ‘room’ and ‘Xing’ as ‘you’ who live in the ‘room’. We cannot just develop our spirit without looking after the ‘room’ where the soul lives. If there is no ‘body’ then the spiritual life will have no place to live. On the other hand, if the spirit is wasting away, then what is the meaning of keeping this material body?
As we integrate the two principles of Xing and Ming in our lives, we can see that it is similar to our health. Our health comprises both physical and mental health, the loss of one will leave us incomplete. The main philosophy behind Ziranmen training is that it is first necessary for practitioners to gain an understanding of how mental or emotional stress (mind) is linked to the functions of physical well-being (Body) and vice versa. We strongly emphasize that to maintain our health and happiness levels, one should cultivate ones spirit through activities such as theosophical understanding or study, meditation or other personal development, as well as physical training to cleanse and release the body’s tensions, creating internal and external space and thus enabling one to reinforce Jing, Qi and Shen, the three treasures of our lives.
The path we follow to achieve our life’s journey is: strengthening body or Jing(essence) to convert into Qi(energy), cultivating Qi to convert into Shen (Spirit), enhancing the Spirit to transform into Xu (the great void, nothingness), and the final journey is uniting ‘Tian Di Ren 天地人’ (Heaven, Earth and Man) into one and returning to the Tao, the infinite. This is the inner alchemy (Neidan).
Ziran (Chinese: 自然; pinyin: ziran) is a key concept in Taoism that literally means 'It is so by virtue of its self', 'naturally; natural spontaneously'. In Taoist thought, they tend to believe that the myriad things exist because of the qualities that they possess, not because a being(creator) created them to fulfil a purpose or goal. The only thing that a being can be when it exists in accordance with ziran, is ultimately natural and unaffected by artificial influences. Thus Lao Zi describes this as “the human being follows the earth. Earth follows heaven. Heaven follows the Tao. Tao follows what is natural”.
According to the Taoist views of natural law, Ziranmen follows this principle as its own training guideline:
There is no beginning or end in movement,
There is no beginning or end in stillness,
Change is instant,
Movement within stillness.
Both true and false, real and empty,
All actions are spontaneous,
Action without action.
The universe is in a state of perpetual movement and change - nothing remains the same. Within this constant change, there are patterns and cycles, which we can learn to observe and anticipate. This understanding makes it easier for us to harmonize with our environment and plan our actions. On a martial level we can use this theory to help plan our training strategy, for example, when you started your training, your flexibility, coordination, strength and the connection between your mind and body may have felt lacking, but after a few sessions, you started to be aware of change and improvement. Through long-term commitment, as time passes, we can finally reach the state of spontaneity. Therefore Grandmaster Wan Lai Shen always said, “the patterns in nature started with un-nature but then gradually changed into nature, this process also occurs in martial arts training. One who has his or her belief and passion, courage and perseverance, that one will be successful and reach the goal”.
This understanding of constant change can also be applied to fighting, if you feel your opponent is clearly stronger (yang), you can use evasive maneuvers (yin) to decrease (avoid) his force. If you can create an opportunity where he is unbalanced or in a weak position (yin), you have created a strong position (yang) to attack from. The key is in understanding the situation and adjusting yourself accordingly. To act in this way is to be naturally spontaneous, so that “defense is within attack, attack within defense, action without action.
One & Zero Philosophy 一 0 哲学
Along with the Yin Yang theory and Taoist philosophy, the most important philosophy behind Ziran Qigong is called Yi & Lin (One and Zero) philosophy. ‘Yi’ in Chinese means ‘one’, the shape of the character is ‘-’; ‘Lin’ means zero, it’s written like a circle ‘0’. Importantly, zero in this context means many, unlimited. If you bend ‘-’ and make the two ends meet, it will form a circle ‘0’. Imagine if you continued to draw a straight line on the earth, the line will meet at the point where you started, so there is ‘one’ within ‘zero’, they are interchangeable. ‘Lin 0’ represents ‘Wu无’, nothingness, the energy of inactivity, but full of Qi(energy) it can be changed into any shape, direction or power. When you expand ‘Lin 0’ it can reach out through six dimensions and never stop, it can be as big as the universe or when it’s restrained, it would not fill your hand and can be as small as a dot. When it needs to appear, it can come from nowhere, but it can disappear with no notice. It’s because of its ‘nothingness’ that it has the potential for everything to be created and grow from it, including Yin and Yang, penetration and contraction, softness and hardness, all in the one characteristic.
‘Lin 0’ is the Qi, the nature. In the action of the mind ‘Lin 0’ represents ‘Wu Wei’; effortless, spontaneous response, the infinite nature of the Spirit. In a physical application, ‘Lin 0’ is reflected as six faceted forces, each force opposing the other, creating a center of nothingness which forms the unity of the movements. In fighting applications, when you attack, ‘Lin 0’ represents the internal force and infinity. Grand Master Wan always said, “Out hands with softness, up on body like iron”. When your in a defense position, you should transform your body like the shape of a dot, let your opponent not find you; like a bondable ball so that every part of your body is the defense weapon; like a circle that has no beginning or end, no clues of action”.
‘Yi 1’ is the unity, integrating the energy of movement, it represents ‘You有’ which is being and action, and is another manifestation of 'Wu 无' the nothingness. From a macrocosmic view that there are movements, shapes, different forms, different styles of Martial arts, Qigong, and life, it’s an external activity, nourishment, feelings and emotions, it’s all about an individuals appearance and characteristics. Appearance in action, ‘Yi 1’ represents attack and force, the unity that we practice in the forms.
Grand Master Wan Lai Sheng stated in his book “Wu Shu Hui Zhong“ (a compilation of martial arts) that “Zi Ra Men Kung Fu is an internal martial art based on the principle that You有(‘being’ or ‘action’) stems from Wu无( ‘nothingness’ or ‘emptiness’ or ‘infinity’). He states that there should be no mind or tension during practice, no concern for matter, with all action arising spontaneously out of nothingness. Qi is the root, the foundation for movement; and spontaneous natural action is the way that follows, the manifestation of Dao.”
2. Traditional Chinese Medicine
Dating back some 3000 years, Traditional Chinese Medicine is largely based on the Philosophical concept that the human body is a small universe with a set of complete and sophisticated interconnected systems, and that those systems usually work in balance to maintain the healthy function of the human body. This is unlike the Western anatomical model, which divides the physical body into parts. TCM has a unique model of the body, notably concerned with the acupuncture and meridian system. There are 649 acupuncture points in our body that have been recognized in China and 20 meridians include the ‘twelve regular meridians’, with each meridian corresponding to each organ, nourishing it and extending to an extremity. Meridians are divided into Yin and Yang groups. Each Yang meridian is paired with a specific Yin meridian; there are 6 Yang and 6 Yin meridians in the body.
TCM belief that the flow of Qi governs the functions of the body, thus illness is caused by blocked, stagnant or erratic Qi flow, health is maintained and enhanced by regulating and harmonizing Qi. They view that the balance of Yin and Yang is considered with respect to Jing, qi, Shen, other bodily fluids, the Wu Xing, emotion, memory, thoughts and the soul. Diet, acupuncture, herbs, massage, Martial arts and Qi Gong practice can rebalance the body’s Qi. As your understanding of Qi increases, you can unify the spirit (Shen), body (Jing) and energy (Qi) to increase your wellbeing, strength and fighting skill.
Grand Master Wan Lai Sheng states that through the practice of Zi Ran Men one can enhance Qi (energy), Shen (spirit) and Yi (mind), developing body awareness and sensitivity. Through training the mind and body as one unit, the Yi becomes nourished and the body becomes strengthened. Enhancing Qi in turn reinforces the Jin (the original essence). When Yi, Qi and Jin are in harmony, one’s movements will become nimble and agile. This benefits the practitioner’s physical well-being, harmonizing internal and external power (Nei Wai Jin内外劲 ) by bringing the body and mind into harmony. The result is that one will enjoy a naturally happy, long and healthy life.
3. Martial Theory
The main aspects of martial theory in our school are derived from the teachings of the Grand Master Wan Lai Sheng. There are three components to the study of Zi Ran Men martial arts.
A strong physical foundation is essential for martial arts. Practicing specific forms increases your strength, flexibility, coordination and mobility. Repetition of your forms allows you to closely observe the workings of the mind and body. As your knowledge and experience builds, you can concentrate on their integration.
Learning to defend yourself requires that you choose and practice several of your favourite techniques. Techniques include strategies for engagement and avoidance- defence and attack. Conditioning the body is also required to develop speed, power, endurance, coordination, reflexes and sensitivity.
Forms and techniques are stepping-stones to the higher levels of martial arts. At the highest levels, your entire being (mind, body, spirit and energy) is integrated. Your actions take place without thought, from the aspect of 'no mind' or 'big mind'. This is also sometimes known as 'spontaneous correct action'. As you have no preconceived notion of form and no deliberate plan of attack or defence, your movements are swift and unpredictable, your mind is free from thought and hesitation and your power manifests effortlessly.
'Form is form, form is not form,
Movement is movement, movement is not movement,
Mind is mind, mind is not mind'
Martial Virtue 武德
Wu De is the Chinese martial arts code of appropriate social interaction. Ethics and etiquette is ingrained not only in the culture of China but also pervades throughout the philosophy that holds the society together. There are five points in Wu De: Respect, Humility, Trust, Virtue, and Honor.
Respect (Zun Jing; 尊敬)
The term respect means to acknowledge the feelings and interests of another in a relationship and treating the other at a standard that rules out selfish behavior. Respect is derived not by behavior but by one's attitude. Respect is appreciated as demonstrating a sense of worth or value of a person, a personal quality or ability. In martial arts, respect is the cornerstone of all the teachings of martial arts. In regards to Wu De, respect begins with the individual and manifests outward meaning that those who respect themselves as well as others will, in turn, be respected. Respect must be earned as well as displayed. This is why we bow and why we use titles.
Humility (Qian Xu; 谦逊)
The term humility is the quality or characteristic of a person that is unpretentious and modest. Humility comes with controlling one's pride and ego. Pride and ego are the killers of good martial arts and good character. When we allow our own pride and ego to infiltrate our rational judgment we start to make decisions based on self-pride and not solid facts. When your ego and pride take over you will become satisfied with yourself and stop thinking deeply. Try daily to display humility in everything you do. Train for yourself and not the title or color around your waist. Keep your cup of tea empty allowing yourself toyourself to always learn.
"The taller the bamboo grows, the lower it bows." - Chinese Proverb
Trust (Xin Yong: 信用)
Who do you trust? Do people trust you? Trust is the belief that a person is of good character and will seek to fulfill promises, policies, ethical codes, and the law. In martial arts, we make a promise to ourselves, the school, and the teacher. When starting a school or job there are underlying trusts that both parties expect to have in place such as safety, compensation, and knowing what is in each other's best interest. In martial arts it is a breach of trust to ask for more knowledge from the instructor. Excessive questioning suggests that the student knows the material well enough to advance. Advancing is at the discretion of the instructor, not the student.
Understand that sometimes routine instruction is for your own good as it allows you to become proficient at the art. Trust the path you take is the right one. At times instruction may seem to contradict itself. Know that perceived contradiction is one-dimensional. The instruction you receive is designed to help you navigate the correct concepts of the art.
Honor (Rong Yu; 榮譽)
Martial art has many strong connections to honor. We honor our art, ourselves, and our ancestors by showing loyalty and having the will to train while simultaneously maintaining wisdom about our training. To give loyalty is to honor the art through belief in the practices and wisdom of the people that have lived and died in perfecting the art so that it could be passed on to future generations. We should honor the people who came before us not because they were all superior but rather as Sir Isaac Newton said: "If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants."
Virtue (Dao De; 道德)
The idea of virtue in Chinese thought pertains to the notion of character. Framework for this concept is given through the four classical virtues of; temperance, prudence, courage, and justice. Temperance is moderation. When we engage in any activity we should approach it with moderation in order to maintain rationality and balance in every facet of our world. Martial arts will enrich our life, not necessarily consume it. One of the goals in martial arts is to take the knowledge and self-discovery from the training hall and apply its principles to daily life. Prudence is the act of having sound judgment over all one's affairs in life. In life it is prudent to look at situations that manifest and show wisdom and insight by drawing on facts, knowledge, and experience. It is ideal to be mindful and weigh the outcome of any action. Courage is the ability to act when confronted by fear. Fear can be physical and mental. The former entails being frightened by the environment, a person, or a thing. The latter concerns mainly a fear of failure. With martial arts one can move through life with courage by accepting its challenges and not being tied down by fear.
The notion of Justice has been debated for over 2500 years. Meridian Gate Kung Fu Center asks that the individual applies justice by reviewing the facts, the research,and then taking the course of action that he/she knows within their heart as correct. Justice combines all virtues and components of Wu De into one application. To apply Wu De in our everyday life is being just. As martial artists we should hold ourselves to a very high standard of character.
Zi Ran Men Training Method
Grand Master Wan Lai Sheng stated in his book “Wu Shu Hui Zhong“ (“a compilation of martial arts”) that “Zi Ra Men Kung Fu is an internal martial art that is based on the ‘eight-method’ of stretching and ‘ghost head’ hands training. It main principle is that You有(‘being’ or ‘action’) stems from Wu无( ‘nothingness’ or ‘emptiness’ or ‘infinity’). There should be no mind or tension during practice, no concern for matter, with all action being formless in nature. Qi is the root, the foundation for the growth; and spontaneous natural action is the principle that follows.” Zi Ran Men training has two major components. The first is internal training, known as Ziran Qi Gong, the second component is external physical training. Zi Ran Men cannot only enhance Qi (energy), Shen(spirit) and Yi (mind), but will also reinforce body awareness and sensitivity. Through training the mind and body as one unit, the Yi becomes nourished and the body becomes strengthened. Enhancing Qi in turn reinforces the Jin (the original essence / soul). When Yi, Qi and Jin are in harmony, when you can successfully apply these theories, you will have freedom of movement. Your attacks and defence will become nimble and agile. Therefore we say that when you are facing your opponent you are calm and almost playful, like a child or a curious animal. Such a state may sound peculiar for someone preparing to fight, however the free state of mind and body means that, once attacked, your response is unencumbered, fast and spontaneous and of a manner that provides your opponent with no means of escape. This aim is captured by the saying ‘Dodging like the wind, moving like a sword from the scabbard 闪如清风，躲如抽鞘’. More importantly it benefits the practitioner’s physical well-being, harmonizing internal and external power (Nei Wai Jin内外劲 ). By bringing the body and mind into harmony, one will enjoy a natural happy, long and healthy life. Zi Ran Men training can be divided into three components : Physical Training, Combat Techniques and Conditioning. These three components combine for one purpose, which is to enhance the health of body and mind.
Qi Gong as foundation training
1) Taoist 1008 Drills Qigong 道家千八钻（Tao Jian Qian Ba Zuan） This method focuses on uniting internal and external energy (Qi) to create what is termed ‘the ultimate unity force’. The aim is to open and strengthen the three major chi fields – three Dan Tian so that the Qi is able to flow more smoothly around the body. The three Dan Tian are Lower Dan Tian for the transformation one’s Jing to Qi, Middle Dan Tian for the convert one’s Qi into Shen, top Dan Tian for the transformation one’s Shen into Xu(Nothingness, infinity). Taoists believe that man is a microcosm for the universe. The body ties directly into five elements, the five organs correlate with the five elements, the five directions and the seasons. There is no end or beginning of the life, all things are in transformation, in the great circle. The movement of our body’s Qi is in arising, descending, releasing and absorbing. Basic on this conception Taoist 1008 drill Qigong' (Qian Ba Zuan) was created and passing down by our greatest Master Half Immortal Liu ( 刘神仙) to stretch the tendons, open all of meridians to stimulate and harmonise the flow of Blood and Qi in all directions, transferred one’s body into a moving sphere in which no only just in physical but in qi and shen. This then lightening the body. Students will practise floating the Qi in all directions whilst maintaining a centred and strong foundation.
2) Shaolin Eight Movement Qigong 少林八式 (Shao Lin Ba Shi) Shaolin eight-movement qigong legend was formed and passing down by the founder of Chan (Zen) Buddhism Bodhi dharma. Through its eight different powerful movements, Shaoli bar shi work with strengthen of internal organs, external muscles, tendons and bones, harmonizing Yin Yang two Qi, its called 养内壮外,内外合一（ nourishing the internal to strength the external, and harmonizing both in one). This enhances the great internal power, as your training progressing. Shaolin Ba Shi can improve the functions of the cardiovascular, respiratory and digestive systems, improve the mood, and lessen anxiety and depression.
3) Ba Fa Dang 八法档 Eight Method stretching and strengthening exercises. The Ba Fa Dang is a series of static and dynamic postures and exercises that act to open up the hips and lower back and increase ankle and knee flexibility and strength.The ‘Eight’(Ba八) in Ba Fa Dang refers to four methods of stretching and opening up the lower back and legs, and the development of four types of power in the lower legs. The four stretches are static postures, which involve low stances with the hips open and sunk. The shape of these postures follows the shape of the Chinese symbol Ba. The ankles are held close together (or far apart), while the feet and knees point outward (or inward) from the body and the pelvis lifted. Such postures are isometric exercises that simultaneously build strength and flexibility in the leg muscles and tendons and open up the meridians. This practice helps to develop the catlike steel springs I talked about earlier by developing ‘four powers’ in the lower leg; the tip of the foot (pushing off the ball and toe), the middle of the foot (supporting through the arch and metatarsals) and the ankle and heel (particularly powerful dorsi-flexion and plantar flexion).
4) Ai Dang Bu, Nei Quan Shou 矮档步内圈手 The most basic circle walking step is the Ai Dang Bu. This step is performed in a low legged crouch with hips sunk and the pelvis raised, and with the lower back relaxed (also known as ‘sitting in the chair’). The feet tread forward and around the circle ‘like a drill’ meaning that there is emphasis on grounding the foot, toe to heel, with downward pressure placed progressively through the arch of the foot and through the ankle. In each step the tip of the leading toe must follow the line of the circle and the ankle joint must remain completely stable (no lateral movement) throughout the shifting of weight.A typical upper body drill to combine with the Ai Dang Bu is the Nei Quan Shou (矮档步内圈手). The inner circle is created by rotation of the arms, as if the hands are turning a large wheel that is held out from the chest and at right angles to the body. The ‘inside’ hand rises from the chest, past the mouth and curves upward and away from the body, turning into the ‘outside’ hand that pulls down and toward the abdomen (Dan Tian丹田) and chest. As one arm works the inside hand, the other hand works the outside hand, turning over and over a circle without end or beginning. The step and hand movements are combined such that the forward step is synchronised with the outward moving hand on the same side of the body. The intention is to combine the Yi, Qi and Li of the fist and foot, so that they gather as one, both working like a wheel to propel you body forward. The necessary focus of Yi during circle walking is characterised as, ‘Body like the curve of a bow, hands shooting like arrows and feet sinking like drills’.
Ai Dang Bu
'Lower Hip Step', disperses heart fire, opens the body's meridians and brightens the vision.
Zi Ran Men Stretching
Ba Fa Dang (八法裆) - Eight Method Stretching to open the hips, stretching tendon, muscle and ligament
Shaolin Ba Shi
'Eight Movement' Qigong to develop internal power.
Zou Luo Kuang
'Circle Walking'. Develops strength, balance, speed and 'lightness skill'.
When still, the stance resembles an ancient Chinese General holding a decree tablet. This is known as 'Bao Bei Shou'. When moving, the feet remain in the shape of the letter 'T' and the hands hold the form of 'Ghost Hands'.
The hands have the feeling of grabbing like a steel hook. Punches are unseen by the opponent, thrown like a knife. Block like iron, stick to
the enemy like glue. Thus, your opponent will be unable to avoid the attack.
Ziranmen training also contains a number of conditioning techniques in order to strengthen your muscles, bones and tendons, and make the body resiliant to attack. It should be stressed that this conditioning is not intended to cause any harm to your body. Hard force is never utilised during these exercises.
Mother and Son Ball
Here two iron balls are used, one 8kg and the other 10kg for conditioning the hands. You should train twice a day, gradually increasing you power, qi and repetitions. Do not use hard force. Here the practitioner would assume horse stance and practice lifting, catching, pushing, pointing, and drilling the balls with their fingers.
Tiger Mouth Stick
Using a piece of wood approximately 7 inches long and 3 to 4 inches wide with rounded ends, the practioner practices by grabbing with the stick both hands and twisting them against each other, in both directions.
Iron Hand Training
Fill a deep wok or pan with dried green beans, asssume horse stance and spear the hands into the beans up to the wrists. Repeat 36 times, twice a day, replacing the beans as they split. After a year, mix in 50% yellow beans and continue training. After another six months, add 50% sand, finally switching to 100% sand at the end of the second year. From here on, you can gradually mix iron pellets into the sand.
Brass Ring Training
Starting with two rings on each arm, the hands are held at the hips in an 'eagle claw' shape, palms up. The arms are alternately extended straight forward, with the palm facing away from you at the end of the outward movement. Add one ring per arm per month, up to a maximum of 32 rings. The rings themselves are 0.5kgs each and about 1.1 inches thick.
Eagle Claw Stance
Eagle claw standing meditation is practiced in order to train your qi. If you practice diligently, you should be able to reach your goal within 3 years. Everyday after stretching, stand with your arms outstretched at shoulder height, like a birds wings. Your eyes should be half closed and focused on the tip of your nose. Gently lock the teeth together, touch your tongue to the roof of your mouth and count your breaths. Gradually increase the duration of standing until you reach an hour. To finish, exhale and drop your arms to your sides. Slowly open your eyes.
The purpose of basket walking is to train your body in 'lightness skill'. This makes your body act and feel as if it is extremely light and agile. Using a bamboo basket weighing 4.5kg, you fill it with 100kg of peebles.Balance on the basket and start to walk around it, grabbing the rim with alternate hands as you step. Every 19 days, remove 1.5-2.5kg of pebbles until only 15kg of pebbles are left. At this stage, remove only one pebble per day until the basket is empty.
Zi Ran Men Application Practice
Avoid the attack like being blown by a gust of wind. Attack like drawing a sword from its scabbard. The body sinks like a crane, the palms strike like a biting snake. Movements are agile like a monkey, the head turns like a floating ghost.
The hands attack as softly as cotton and land with the force of steel. Hardness is within softness. Softness first, hardness follows.
Initially, students learn particular forms and follow certain rules. Through practice, these movements progress from awkward to natural. When this level is reached, you can fight successfully. The methods of Zi Ran Men combat follow the rules of nature - apply the techniques without thought, movements come from nothing.
Fighting the enemy
Avoid the attack. Retaliate when his force is spent, before he has time to regather. Move when the enemy moves, attack when he attacks. Exploit the situation, be light and nimble. Attack is within defence. Defence is within attack, both real and apparent.