Combat Application

Combat Application is a Manifestation of Jing


During my Kung Fu class last night we were talking about the 4 modes of preparation. Obviously we talked about Chi, Jing and Shen in this connection. One of the students is studying Chinese Medicine at a school here in Switzerland and told me that the “three treasures” (Chi, Jing and Shen) referred to the Vital Energy, the Pre-Natal Energy and the Mind, and these are the three components which make up the person and are the basis of all Chinese Medicine.

I explained that Jing may have many meanings and can also be used to mean “essence” and in that respect could refer to the pre-natal chi. However, in our training (and referring to the 4 modes of preparation) Jing refers to the physical body. The student had difficulty to accept this as his teachers in the school for Chinese Medicine had claimed something different. When I mentioned to him “if Jing is used to mean pre-natal energy, then the physical body is being neglected”, he had to stop and think.

Could you please shed some light on this for me?

— Sifu Andrew Bernett, Shaolin Wahnam Switzerland


Yours is a very interesting question, and what you have told the student is correct.

What his traditional Chinese medicine teacher said is also correct. The apparent contradiction is due to the innate setback of translation as well as the limitation of words. Nevertheless, your answer is more exact, whereas his teacher's answer is limited to specific situations. This will become clear after my explanation below.

Some brief background information about knowledge, scholarship and the Chinese language is useful here. Although much fantastic knowledge about man and the universe was discovered in China in the past, such knowledge was kept secret. Scholars who might have access to such knowledge formed a very rare minority of the Chinese population. The vast majority was illiterate. The Chinese language was (and still is, though to a much lesser extent in modern Chinese) very concise, and Chinese authors normally did not explain what intended readers already knew. Moreover, linguistic and cultural differences between Chinese and English often make translated texts lose their fine meanings.

At first I too had difficulty understanding what “jing” was, despite my knowledge of Chinese and my practical experience relating to “jing”, “qi” (“chi”) and “shen”. Take these two common tenets, for example, which we put into practice in our kungfu training. “Internally, train jing, qi and shen”, and “The Crane form trains jing”. There is also a pertinent Chinese proverbs which says, “if you wish to excel in your art, you need your master to indicate jing to you”.

My education in English has been a great help, and my training in Zen has enabled me to see the meanings of “jing” as well as the confusion many people have. Incidentally this shows my great respect for Western education and culture, in case some people may mistakenly think that I belittle anything Western since I have arduously explained and promoted Eastern philosophy and wisdom.

“Jing” refers to “tiny, minute bits of substance”, whereas “qi” refers to energy, and “shen” to spirit. “Tiny, minute bits of substance” is a literal translation from Chinese. Had I not studied English literature I would not have understood this as “the finest essence of matter”, and had I not studied Western science I would not have understood this as “sub-atomic particles”. Western science also enables me to make sense of the frequent statements in chi kung classics that “qi is transformed into jing, and jing is transformed into qi”— something that I suspect many Chinese chi kung masters themselves may not understand the meaning beyond the words.

Hence, when we use the terms “jing”, “qi” and “shen” with reference to human beings, “jing” refers to the sub-atomic particles that make up the physical body, “qi” refers to the vital energy that works the body, and “shen” the spirit, mind, soul or consciousness that controls the energy and the physical body. When we say, ”internally, we train jing, qi and shen”, we mean we enhance the sub-atomic particles that makes up the physical body, enhance the energy, and enhance the spirit.

Someone may argue that when he trains weights to develop muscular strength, he is also training sub-atomic particles or “jing”. Similarly one can also argue logically that a table is a chair, or a stone is God. But that is not the normal way the terms “jing”, “table” and “God” are used. Language is a communication tool; we use it for our practical benefits — be it in kungfu or describing a beautiful sunset — not for confusing ourselves.

Then, how do we train “jing”, in contrast to using external methods like lifting weights, striking sandbags and hard conditioning? An excellent example is zhang zhuang, like “Golden Bridge” where we “consolidate” "qi" to "jing", and generate tremendous internal force.

Many people sometimes forget that as Chinese and English use different vocabulary and imagery, it is often not possible to have a direct translation from one language into the other. In limited context, “jing” is translated as sperms. The underlying principles are the same. It refers to the sub-atomic particles that, in this case, make up spermatozoa. In other cases, it may make up a person's arm or other parts of his physical body.

"Pre-natal energy” is not “jing”, although the term is sometimes loosely used as such. The pre-natal energy of a person is the energy he has before he is born into the world. It is mainly derived from the energy of his father's sperm, and the energy of his mother's ovum. It is also derived from the energy of the place and time of conception, as well as the energy he gets from his mother while still in her womb. After he is born, the pre-natal energy is stored in the kidneys.

In other contexts the same Chinese character “jing” carrying the same concept may be better understood when translated differently into English. For example, when we practice the Crane forms in Shaolin Kungfu, we emphasize developing “jing”, or “the finest essence of matter”. Here, this “finest essence of matter” refers not to “spermatozoa” or internal force (such as developed by the Tiger forms), but to desirable qualities like elegance, tranquility and good balance.

In the proverb “If you wish to excel in your art, you need your master to indicate jing to you”, “jing” or “the finest essence of matter” here refers not to sub-atomic particles, spermatozoa, internal force, or elegance, but to the fine points of his teaching that the master transmits to you demonstratively or from heart to heart. Some examples include the angle you should place your feet, the subtle way you should regulate your breaths, the manner you can exert or conserve force, and the subtle method you can sense your opponent's movements and intentions.

I do not know how your student questioned your explanation. If he asked questions politely to clear doubt or learn more, it should be encouraged. But if he questioned the validity of your explanation or the authority of your teaching, tell him firmly that in our school students learn without questioning (in this sense). If he cannot accept our policy, he can leave.

You were very kind to explain the four modes of preparation, and probably related how this principle could be beneficially applied in daily life — invaluable lessons not taught in most other schools. If a student does not appreciate this and tries to be smarter than his teacher, he does not deserve to be in our school.

The above is taken from Question 1 of February 2004 Part 1 of the Selection of Questions and Answers.


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