John K. Fung could be out of central casting to play the role of a principal character in my novel, The Return Trip, which will be available early next year. The fictional character is recalled as a young Kungfu fighter who mellows as a popular writer and, eventually, becomes an influential holistic wellness guru. The character draws from traditional Chinese medicine and internal martial arts practice to help rescue my protagonist on a fraught journey across the American West.
While I missed the opportunity to meet Dr. Fung in person this summer in New Mexico, where he journeyed from his native Australia to lead workshops in Alamogordo and Santa Fe, he’s become a social media friend, and a ready source of information. I wrote about him previously when I visited Ray Abeyta at the Top of the Mountain in November 2016, when this blog was new. Ray is the master of the Sacramento-Chi School of Tai Chi in Alamogordo, and a student of Fung’s school of Imperial Yang Taiji.
In conversations with Dr. Fung, I’ve discovered that my search for a “Taiji Body” runs naturally through his school, which combines both Eastern martial arts and Western science. Dr. Fung, with decades practicing both martial arts and oral surgery in his native Sydney, offers a unique perspective on building power to fight, and to heal.
In his latest book, Recalibrating the Mind, Reconnecting the Body, Fung provides “A Practical User Manual for the Human Machine,” marrying the Asian martial and healing arts with prose and illustrations that are easily accessible to general readers. This is the third in Fung’s Tensiometrics series that describes his unique training method, applying the ancient Shaolin Tendon Changing Classic with contemporary medical and biomechanical sciences to strengthen the fascia, tendons and other connective tissue that provide the “structural integrity of the entire body.”
Fung recasts Buckminster Fuller’s model of tensegrity in architectural structure to describe the human body, noting that “your skeleton is suspended within a network of muscles, tendons, ligaments, fasciae and connective tissues acting as elastic cables.” Tensiometrics is a set of exercises and concepts that facilitate how the body moves and works together, developing a network of “iron wires” to deliver and manipulate power. “The Iron Wire Network behaves like high tensile springs, with the amount of elasticity or fluidity completely at your command,” he writes. “When the system is hardwired into your being, you will have total control at an intrinsic level, with very little conscious effort.”
To fully command your “iron wire network,” you first must work to reconnect with your real self, shen, the top of the shen-yi-qi line of action that informs the Imperial Yang style of taiji, Fung said. This requires meditation and mindful living to overcome the “monkey mind” of your jangled, jumbled thoughts, which cloud your vision and your actions. The second book in the Tensiometrics series, Yi: How Your Mind Can Supercharge Your Training, provides mindfulness exercises and forms to help sharpen the “Shen-Yi-Qi Body Command Chain.”
Dr. Fung’s research with original Chinese texts, such as the Shaolin Tendon Changing Classic, is especially useful to me, a Chinese linguist who learned many years ago to understand and speak the language, but never to read or write it. In explaining jin, which is translated as the power exerted by taiji players, he breaks down the character into its graphic parts:
- The horizontal line on the top left represents the surface of the ground.
- Below that, a symbol that represents the flow of water.
- Below that, a symbol that represents underground
- On the right, the character li, which means strength or force.
“Together, the word jin describes a hidden force like water flowing below the surface of the ground,” he writes. “It’s not an obvious force that you can see, but a power that is flowing, yet hidden.”
I’m reminded of the “Science of Elastic Force,” a system taught by another Australian, Mark Rasmus, who demonstrated the “spring power” of conditioned fascia and other connective tissue in a workshop for taiji enthusiasts in Frederick, Md., in 2013. Like Dr. Fung, Sifu Rasmus began his practice with wing chun, an external Kungfu that originated in the Shaolin Temple in China’s Henan Province, before he moved to taiji and other internal martial arts.
“Wing chun is a true martial art, for fighting,” Dr. Fung says, “but there are important internal principles, such as the Tendon Changing Classic. That was written by the monks at Shaolin, about strengthening connective tissues inside the body, for Kungfu. My wing chun teacher, Master Leung Wunzi, told me it was the most important lesson.”
While Rasmus ties the philosophical underpinning of his practice to mystical theories of Hermetics, Fung uses a strictly scientific standard as he seeks to reconcile the most advanced traditional Chinese internal practices with contemporary medical and biomechanical sciences. For him, there are no absolutes. “Science is not about declaring that one has found the truth; that’s religion,” Dr. Fung says. “Science is about looking for the truth and continuing to refine our studies.”
As he continues to refine his studies, Dr. Fung is focusing more on shen, the True Self that, unburdened by thoughts of past and future, can see clearly the way for the mind to move the body to action. “Your shen is right here,” Fung said, pointing to the spot between his eyes. “Unless you are reconnected with your shen, you do not know who you are, what your life means, what you truly want, or the path you should take. In the state of shen, suffering ceases, time ceases, delusion ceases, and you are free.”
Nirvana? Maybe not, but it certainly sounds like a good place to be. Excuse me while I get back to practice.