With internal training you frequently hear stuff like this about the dantian lower abdominal or inner belly area:
- move your dantian
- move from your dantian
- dantian rotation is the key
- etc. etc.
That's all well and good as far as it goes. It's almost a religious tenet, who could argue? So no argument from me, but instead I'll do some unpacking.
Recently one of my private students got onto the web discussion forum of a prominent American internal teacher. My student wanted to get that community's take on the 丹田彈抖功 (dantian object tossing exercise) that I have written about in my book Tanden Revolution and which I show in a couple of my clips, for example starting at 05:00 in this film:
The teacher running that forum, although not any kind of official representative of any formal system, seems to be a great admirer of Chen (Village) Tai Chi and routinely delivers severe verbal beatdowns to all other styles and teachers of anything purporting to be 'internal' other than his own stuff.
In the video clip above, I'm showing a minimal distance Tan Dou Gong object toss, with an object weighing a shade less than 1 pound. I can do much longer tosses with much heavier objects, but keep in mind that I am primarily a Zheng Manqing Tai Chi adept and we don't even have this exercise at all in my main Tai Chi style of ZMQ. However - crucially - I also have deep past training and exposure to Chen style, probably a lot more and a lot deeper than most people on that supposedly Chen-oriented forum. I'll get more into that as we go.
Anyway, my student wanted to ask them what they think about the gut toss thing (丹田彈抖功) in general. Their response was predictable in that the point of such chat rooms is not information exchange but reinforcement of dominance and conformity. That's natural maybe even some of my readers do that sometimes, from the opposite direction. So I don't mean to hammer on them as a cultural critique but I do want to make a few technical points.
Basically they said that the gut toss thing is totally irrelevant to any kind of significant internal training, that it's merely a stunt that does not 'prove' anything and that it doesn't exhibit dantian work in the first place.
Now, not to counter-attack anybody but just as information provision, I want to go over some of these points on a technical basis.
As for it being just a 'stunt' like a show-biz thing that implies fakery or empty spectacle, I covered that point extensively in my book Tanden Revolution which I guess nobody over there has bothered to read. If they had bothered, they'd know that I devoted many pages to making the distinction between the Tan Dou Gong work as 'stunt' vs. its value as self-diagnosis. If you train it for performance, then indeed it is a totally meaningless distraction, of no value whatsoever. No matter how much you train it, you will very likely fall short of the Guiness World Record toss of Chen Tai Chi Master Wang Zhanjun (video below), so why bother at all? That's would just be plain stupid, as I said very clearly in my book.
The people on that forum compared this toss stunt to the obviously irrelevant 'neck spear' bending stunts you see at every big Chinese Kung Fu tournament.
So my overall rejoinder to the 'empty stunt' accusation is three main things:
- I completely covered this 'stunt' angle of criticism in my book.
- If it is merely an empty stunt, why does a true master of Chen Tai Chi massively feature it (as in the clip above)? He also provides a combative application example, and a theoretical explanation, all in the clip - but I don't think the people on that forum can understand Chinese so it's all water off a duck's back.
- Clearly the people on that forum community have never actually tried this exercise themselves. If they had, then regardless of the visible result (ability or inability to accomplish the toss) they would immediately begin to feel the huge value of this work NOT as a stunt or performance but in self-diagnosis of your own inner/torso tension. To put it briefly, if you attempt this task with a big blast of muscle power and breath, you will jam yourself and accomplish nothing. That is the great teaching of this oddball activity.
But then the forum people went even further and asserted that this work (as in videos above) does not really use the dantian. It isn't dantian work at all! That's where it really got laughable, prompting me to write this post not to provoke those forum people who are happy in their own world, but in case the more general readership has got this wrong impression. That is both a ludicrous assertion on the face of it and it also reveals a much deeper wrong direction of many people in modern 'internal' training - an excessive, even obsessive love for anything physical and visible.
To assert that this Tandou Gong is 'not dantian work' is completely idiotic, at both the superficial and all deeper levels. On the surface, we have the video from Master Wang above. I'm sorry that this video is entirely in Chinese which I don't think anybody on that forum understands, but for those who know Chinese, you can count over 25 times where the term dantian is mentioned as the entire point and source of this work, in the interviews with Master Wang, in the announcer's overview of the event, in the explanatory diagrams for the action, even in the title of the clip itself - I don't know what more they can really do LMFAO! The problem here is just ignorance of Chinese language on the part of some or all forum members.
But leave that aside. After all, maybe Master Wang, even though he has proven his combat Tai Chi in umpteen full contact sanda matches is some kind of fufu pansy-ass faker and total SEO marketeering fraud. Very likely, isn't it? So they should contact him personally and tell him that (through an interpreter I guess). Good luck!
So let's assume we can't take a real master's words at face value. Let's look at it from an impersonal, analytic point of view. What is 'dantian movement' and what is its actual value?
A lot of people seem to think that the more visible and physically obvious your belly movement is, the more truly internally powerful you must be. People love anything PHYSICAL and VISUAL! So when they see a master who rotates his belly very obviously - especially side to side - they assume whoa back the fuck off that's the genuine article.
But is large-scope of physical and visible motion really the best indicator of internal quality? Or even functional quality? Here we can learn from boxing. If you've ever done serious boxing, you should know that the first and worst sign of a total newbie is overly large-scope of dodging. (Well, maybe the worst is not to dodge at all but anyway). So the newbie will make huge flinches away from a punch, opening up big gaps. Thus losing time and counter-punching opportunity and basically setting himself up to be destroyed. Not to mention wasting energy. Large scope of physical and visible motion is not always Proof of Skill. Sometimes just the opposite.
The correct way to slip is to stay as close as possible, opening up just the minimal gap needed to let the punch go past you while staying in the fight and simultaneously setting up your counter punch. Obviously boxing is not at all the same thing as private solo internal energy training, with the Tan Dou Gong or any other such method. But there is a suggestive analogy here. Would we admire a boxer who flinches far away from a punch, admire that more than we admire a Floyd Mayweather or other pro who slips massive punches fearlessly within less than 1 cm of gap?
(Strange to say, offensive powerhouse Mike Tyson also exhibited this subtle defensive ability to an extreme degree). All I'm saying is that visible extremes of movement mean nothing in the dantian training space, unless they serve some other larger purpose. If you love belly shaking and rolling merely for its own sake, then you're no better than a belly dancer (in fact you're probably doomed to being a lot worse than the average belly dancer if judged on this scale).
There is similar highly visible and physical stuff in the Pranayama (Nauli) of Ashtanga Yoga and other styles of yoga. So what? This is beautiful but has nothing do to with the serious work of internal energy cultivation. The value of the Tan Dou Gong (gut toss) sneaks up on you gradually. The value doesn't lie in whether or not you can toss the object, or, if you can toss it, then how much weight can you toss, and how far. I never asserted that those things were its value. Its value will creep up on you gradually. You won't perceive the training effect while you're actually practicing the Tan Dou Gong toss itself. But gradually, without your even realizing it, an effect of massive energy engagement and accumulation is happening to develop the energy component of your dantian - not the visible spectacle of athletic movement. And at some future time, probably when you're doing something else altogether, it will suddenly hit you - hey my abdomen is SUPER CHARGED now, what's going on ?!? Only then will you realize how powerful this work has been, sneaking up on you.
That energetic SUPER CHARGE you get from the Tan Dou Gong work, "offline" from actually performing the task, is the WHOLE AND ENTIRE POINT of it. Not the physical, athletic motion of it. Yes there is a physical 'gesture' correlated to the Tan Dou Gong work, but that is the least of it. You're really working with, and 'moving' the energetic counterpart of your dantian, not the physical component per se.
Anyway there's no point in my further flogging this horse. You cannot convince anybody or teach them anything. The point of discourse is dominance and fealty signaling, not education. I do understand that about humans.
But I want to make one final point, which is that those forum people are supposedly great admirers of Chen (Village) Style of Tai Chi. Well, I learned this Tan Dou Gong as part of my intensive training in Chen Tai Chi - about 45 years ago, long before Chen Style became a 'thing' in the West, and frankly long before probably 99% (or 100%) of the people on that forum ever even heard of Chen Tai Chi. And I wonder - how many on that forum can actually perform the full and correct Old Frame 1st Routine themselves? (Required to train 25x per day) Hmmm?
I actually had no plans to ever even bring up this Tan Dou Gong thing at all, except that last fall I received a rude email challenging me on it, so I thought fuck it if people want that then fine. Anyway, I presented the Tan Dou Gong work respectfully in that old-time spirit, to those who have ears for it. You others? Let it pass you by.
Finally, one more little plug here, that in my Seattle Summer Seminar event I will teach the most powerful dantian inner protocol of them all. Though few know it and fewer would believe it, the basic Xingyi technique of 'Crush' (崩拳) trains the true, energetic and internal dantian rotation and motion and intensification better than any neidan or neigong protocol known to man. But you have to be taught the key points of working it. So come on out if that's of any interest to you.