The very fabric of Tao arts is weaved from nei gong threads that intertwine to create the internal structures and external forms of qi gong, tai chi and bagua. The exact same nei gong threads can be weaved in very different ways to generate radically different arts and training results.
However, the nei gong system itself is split into two categories, which yields eight yang and eight yin methods. That is to say each nei gong component naturally develops either the yang or yin qi of the body and, as a whole, every thread contributes to an intimate and delicately balanced lattice.
So being that nei gong is divided into half yang and half yin, one might reason that, at least from a superficial perspective, yang nei gong threads would dominate bagua, while yin nei gong threads would dominate tai chi. But anyone who has experiential knowledge of tai chi and bagua understands that nothing could be further from the truth! To understand conceptually how the differences of these arts are implemented, we must go slowly through the layers of learning and applying nei gong.
To start, each nei gong component is either yang or yin in nature; that is to say, when you have initially gained control of any particular thread, it will produce a predominantly yang or yin quality and energy, depending on its intrinsic value. Two examples of yin nei gong are the Dissolving processes (both Inner and Outer Dissolving) and opening-and-closing (or pulsing) techniques; whereas, basic lengthening of the soft tissues of the body and spiralling energy currents are examples of yang nei gong. All things considered, when any nei gong technique is learned, chances are you will initially execute it in a yang fashion simply because you are trying to make something happen. Although, after some time, effort and practice, you can sink into any nei gong thread and realise its inherent nature—through direct perception—whether yang or yin. Arriving at this stage constitutes the first stabilisation for developing experiential knowledge of nei gong science and an absolute minimum requirement to go deeper inside and further down the line in Tao arts training.
Over the years, I’ve noticed the contorted, prune faces when I introduce the concept of dissolving more times than I can count. This response reflects the mental strain students exert to “will” the process into being—literally trying to push tension out of their bodies! However, after some dedicated practice, these same students come to the realisation that this tactic actually increases tension instead of depleting it, and they back off from their initial strategy of applying force of will. This makes them much more pleasant to look at! More importantly, those who continue to develop their skill, eventually arrive at the next aha moment, sink into the process that bit more and discover the yin energy that makes Dissolving practice fruitful.
Once this grounding or foothold is established with any of the various nei gong—that is understanding of both their function and nature, and a certain degree of control can be maintained from some level of embodiment—only then can you weave relevant nei gong threads into a single fabric through whichever qi gong set or elemental energy you practice. This stage of development is followed by the process of adjusting weaves to the specific requirements of either tai chi, bagua or both, where your skill must once again come up a notch. As we’ve discussed in-depth in previous issues, unifying nei gong in tai chi and bagua is far more difficult than in simpler qi gong forms. Clearly, the training hierarchy necessitates copious practice and sustained effort, and if you try to shortcut any part of the progression, whichever techniques you attempt will collapse your energetic framework like a house of cards. A weak foundation simply cannot support the heavy load of advanced nei gong methods.