Taiji ball qigong is a mixture of internal gong (nei gong, 內功) and external gong (wai gong, 外功). The internal gong includes the development of the feeling between the physical body and qi and also learning how to use the mind to lead the qi efficiently.
Feeling is a language that allows your mind and body to communicate. If you are able to develop a high level of sensitivity, your alertness and awareness will be higher than others. Naturally, your mind will also be able to sense the problem of physical body’s tightness and qi’s stagnation. This implies the mind will be able to manipulate the qi’s circulation effectively. From this, you can see that your mind is the key of the entire practice.
In qigong practice, the mind is just like a general who is in charge of the strategies and actions. It is also through this mind and sensitive feeling that your mind is able to regulate the body (i.e., battlefield), the breathing (i.e., strategy), and lead the qi (i.e., soldiers) effectively and efficiently.
Once you have all of these important internal elements, you can then manifest them into external actions. When the action is manifested, it is the coordination and harmonization of the external (wai gong) and internal (nei gong). Effective manifestation requires coordinating and harmonizing the external (wai gong) and internal (nei gong) into an action.
Taiji Ball Qigong Training Contents and Procedures (太極球氣功練習之內含與程序)
Before you begin practicing taiji ball qigong, you should have some clear ideas about the practice, for example, how to choose a good taiji ball, what are the contents of taiji ball qigong, and what are the correct practicing procedures.
Choosing Tai Chi Balls
1. Different Material for Internal and External Martial Artists
The material used for making the ball should be natural. The best material for the ball is either wood or jade. A plastic bowling ball should not be used because it is too heavy for any beginner and not qi conductive. Also, a basketball is not a good choice because it is made from rubber. Basically, wooden balls are lighter and the qi led by the mind can penetrate through more easily. Wooden balls are commonly used by internal martial artists who consider qi development to be more important than that of physical strength.
However, to external martial artists, the physical conditioning is considered more important than qi’s development. Therefore, the balls made by rock are often used Actually, the best material for physical conditioning is jade due to its copper content. Unfortunately, jade is too expensive for most martial arts practitioners. Naturally, if a rock taiji ball is used, though a practitioner is able to build up a strong physical body, the development of qi will be difficult because it is more difficult for qi to penetrate through a ball made from rock. In addition, due to the resulting physical tension, it is more difficult to circulate or lead qi.
For a beginner, a wooden ball made with a single solid piece of wood is highly recommended. The material can be redwood or oak. Those balls constructed by gluing a couple pieces together are not as good as those made from a single piece since the glue will create a barrier for qi’s circulation. Though a taiji ball made from a single piece of wood is more expensive, it is worth it because you can use for your entire life.
2. Tai Chi Ball Sizes
The sizes of balls are varied. They can be the same size as a ping-pong ball. These kinds of taiji balls are commonly used in Chinese medical society to improve the qi’s circulation in the hands, especially for healing arthritis in the hand. Normally, two balls are used at the same time. Through circling and rolling the balls, the qi at hands can be developed and then circulated.
The biggest ball ever documented is approximately one meter in diameter. The ball is very heavy and hanging from the ceiling. This kind of large ball is very rarely seen today. It was used in Wudang Mountain (武當山).
For a beginner, we highly recommend a wooden ball, 10-12 inches in diameter with the weight of 4-8 pounds. There are some wooden balls that are hollow at the center available in the market. They are very light and suitable for beginners to use to learn the pattern, but for long-term goals of the training, they are not as good as a solid wooden ball.
Training Rules for Tai Chi Ball
1. Light to heavy.
The first rule is to prevent injury. Injuries are commonly caused by training with balls that are too heavy and by practicing with them too long.
2. Few to many.
When you practice the routine patterns, begin with only a few repetitions. Only if you feel comfortable the next day should you increase the number of repetitions. You must proceed gradually since your body cannot be conditioned in one day. You must proceed slowly and gradually so the body can be conditioned gradually and safely.
3. Simple to difficult.
You should begin with the simple patterns. Generally speaking, the simple routine patterns are the ones that can condition the body most effectively. Only when the physical foundation is established and feeling of control has been increased should you try more difficult challenges.
4. Mind-qi-body coordination and harmonization.
If you wish to train both internal gong and external gong in taiji ball qigong, you must learn how to establish a fluent and smooth communication between your mind, qi, and body. Without this coordination, the effectiveness of the training will be shallow. You must practice until you reach the stage of “regulating of no regulating” (wu tian er tiao, 無調而調). Only then can your mind, qi, and body be in harmony.
Three Steps of Practice for Tai Chi Ball
1. Internal–Conditioning Qi Body (Without the Ball)
In this first step of practice, there is no physical ball. Place your hands, palms facing each other, about 10 inches apart. You may immediately feel a qi ball being constructed between the palms. This round qi field is established from the center of the palms, laogong cavity, and fingers. If you cannot feel this qi ball, do not worry. Your feeling will become more sensitive as you train. You might like to try this experiment: ask a partner to form the qi ball between his/her palms. Then, move your hand down at the center from top to the bottom. Most people can feel the qi established between the palms this way.
The purposes of this no-ball practice for a beginner are:
- to establish a communication between the mind and the qi. If you have a physical ball, your arms will tense and the qi will be stagnant. In this case, it will be harder for any beginner to feel the qi.
- to become familiar with the training routines or patterns. Without a physical ball, the practice can last longer and this allows you to learn and familiarize yourself with the patterns.
The most important part of taiji ball qigong practice is the conditioning of the torso. If you have a heavy ball in your hands, your torso will tense and this will prevent you from moving your vertebra from section to section.
When you have a physical ball in your hands, you will pay more attention to the ball and the moving patterns of the arms instead of the torso and chest. Without the correct spine and chest movements, all taiji ball qigong conditioning will stay at the surface level.
2. External–Conditioning Physical Body (With Ball)
Once you have established the feeling of correct spine and chest movements, the mind, qi and body communication, as well as familiarization of the routines, then you can step into the practice with a ball in your hands. As mentioned earlier, you should begin with a light ball, and then gradually increase the weight of the ball. You want to condition from as deep as to the bone marrow, bones, and ligaments to as shallow as the tendons, muscles, and skin. In order to keep qi in good circulation, the physical body cannot be too tense. If you proceed gradually and slowly, you will see the progress of your physical body in a few months.
The most beneficial product of this practice is a strengthening of your immune system. This is due to the expansion of the guardian qi (wei qi, 衛氣) generated from practice. Another amazing benefit of this practice is the improvement of the bone density. Remember, our bones are constructed of piezoelectric material. That means if there is pressure applied to the bone, there is electricity circulating in the bone. Through this circulation, the bones can be conditioned.
3. Unification of Internal and External (Without Ball)
After you have conditioned your physical body and qi body, you will enter the third stage of the taiji ball qigong practice. In this stage, there is no ball necessary. Both the qi body and physical body have been conditioned. Now you need to learn how to lead the qi to the bone marrow to nourish the marrow and establish stronger marrow qi (sui qi, 髓氣).
Marrow is the factory of blood production. When the marrow is healthy, the immune system will be enhanced and the body’s qi and nutrients will be transported efficiently and smoothly. This is also the basis of the secret of longevity as understood in Chinese Marrow Washing Qigong practice. The most amazing part of this stage of practice is when you relax the muscles and tendons, you can reach a very high level of qi circulation.
In addition, you are learning how to lead the qi to the muscles and to the skin to enhance the guardian qi (wei qi, 衛氣). Through this enhancement, the immune system can again be boosted to an even higher level. However, to a martial artist, the main purpose of this training is not just for the immune system; it is also for jin (勁) (martial power) manifestation. If the qi can be led efficiently and effectively by the mind to the muscles and tendons required for a fight, the power manifested can be very high, which allows you to optimally manipulate your abilities.