Internal Martial Arts

Mark Raugas maintains a practice of Bagua Zhang, Xingyi Quan, and Taiji Quan as taught in North American Yin Cheng Gong Fa (YCGF) and Kashima-shinden Jiki Shinkage-ryu kenjutsu as taught at the Hobyokan. He lives and trains in Seattle, Washington.

Bagua, Xingyi, & Taiji

Bāguà Zhǎng (八卦掌) is known for its smooth and fluid nature, giving practitioners the ability to change spontaneously in response to an opponent's actions. Elements of the curriculum include the Mother Palms (Ba Mu Zhang) and Big Palms (Ba Da Zhang) of Cheng Ting Hua, Circular Bagua of Yin Fu, and Linear Bagua of Liu Dekuan.

Xíng Yì Quán (形意拳) is known for its stability, giving practitioners an ability to express sudden and explosive power. Elements of its curriculum include San Ti Shi, 5 Elemental Fists, 12 Animal Forms, 10 Step Elemental Linking Form, and the Mixed Skills Form of Hebei Xingyi Quan.

Tàijí Quán (太極拳) is known for its relaxed character, giving practitioners the ability to off-balance an opponent at first touch by borrowing their force. Wu Style Taiji Quan is known for its focus on combative effectiveness. Elements of its curriculum include the 37 posture Wu Taiji Quan form of Wang Peisheng, Fixed Step Push Hands, Free Step Push Hands, Da Lu, and Neigong.

Partial Lineage Diagram of martial arts taught within Yin Cheng Gong Fa.
Dotted lines indicate summarizing several generations.

YCGF preserves an extensive weapons practice centered around the sabre (one and two-handed dao), straight sword (jian), and spear (qiang). This includes basic drills, solo forms, and partner practices drawn from Bagua, Xingyi, Taiji and Tongbei.

Tong Bei Dao

Ba Gua Chun Yang Jian (八卦純陽剣) or "Bagua Pure Yang Sword" is a straight sword (jian) form likely arranged in the 19th century by Liu Dekuan. Chung (純) can be read as "pure" or "completely" or "entirely" and Chun Yang (純陽) is a reference to Lü Dongbin (呂洞賓) who is revered as one of the members of the group known as the Eight Immortals, and is commonly depicted wearing a sword. Lü Dongbin's literary name is Chunyang Zi (純陽子) or "Master Pure Yang", which is what the form's name derives from -- pure, complete, entirely transformed.

Shíbā Jie or "Eighteen Interceptions" is an extended Bagua practice performed with the one-handed willow leaf saber. It was a favorite practice of Ma Gui, student of Yin Fu, and is a deep and rewarding practice performed while walking in a circle that helps improve a person's baguazhang. It contains many interesting tactics for use against the spear.

Tian Gang Dao of "Thirty Six Star Saber" is a practice of the long sabre (miao dao) passed down within Baiyuan Tongbeiquan. It has 36 techniques taught in 13 sections and dates from the mid 18th century. YCGF's Tongbeiquan lineage includes Li Shusen (1902-1975), who trained with Li Zhendong (1882-1977). This Tian Gang Dao form is the form taught by Li Zhendong, who taught members of the Chinese 29th Army sword skills during the Sino-Japanese War.

Wuxing Jian & Dao or "Five Element" sword and saber are simple, direct, and effective methods of using the straight sword and saber within the context of Xingyi Quan. In Xingyi, a much heavier jian can be used than in Taiji, where subtletly and fluidity are prioritized over power.

Taiji Spear practice is an excellent way to develop stability, posture, and power. The experience of relaxing and maintaining internal integration of the mind and body when moving an eight pound wooden spear is something that has to be felt to be understood. Understanding how to relax and remain smooth, yet focused, while manipulating such loads is at times a daunting task, but the repetitive nature of the practice calms the mind even as the body fatigues. Internal martial arts carry their own specific body method governing how you respond to force, how you organize your body, and how you issue force of your own. You need to make sure internal ideas are expressed correctly in your practice. The spear is an excellent vehicle for doing so.

Koryu Kenjutsu

Kashima-shinden Jikishinkage-ryu (鹿島神傳直心影流) is one of the most powerful forms of Japanese swordsmanship. It places emphasis on posture, breathing, focusing the mind and spirit (kiai), and developing a powerful cutting ability. It has a very austere character, with kata that are very strenuous to perform and develop a hard form of internal power. Jikishinkage Ryu regards itself as the "true" Shinkage-ryu. Its fourth headmaster, Ogasawara Genshinsai Minamoto no Nagaharu (小笠原源信斎源長冶, 1574–1644), spent 30 years in Beijing in the early 17th century, practicing Chinese martial arts, including the large and heavy kwan dao. Its 14th headmaster, Sakakibara Kenkichi (榊原鍵吉, 1830–1894), was bodyguard to the Shogun and keeper of Edo castle. Jiki contains a profound training regimen focused around the development of kiai (気合), which can be regarded as the active complement of aiki (合気).

Jikishinkage-ryu: Habiki

In Jikishinkage-ryu, the foundational practices of suburi (cutting drills) and unpo (walking practice) allow practitioners to begin to learn the foundational practice of Hōjō no Kata (法定之形) or "Four Seasons" kata. Hōjō is an extremely intense practice that develops posture, distance, timing, spirit, and power in a swordsman, and provides the proper foundation for learning the strategy and tactics of the system. The practice of Hojo was said by Yamaoka Tesshu to be as valid a meditative practice as zazen. Another famous practitioner of Jiki and student of Sakakibara was Sokaku Takeda, reviver of Daitō-ryu Aiki-jujutsu and teacher of the founder of Aikidō, Ueshiba Morihei.

Aiki Inyo Ho (合氣陰陽法) is a named taken from a neo-Confucian school, and refers to this development of the body and spirit, leveraging Taoist principles. I believe it is an apt summary of the practices of Jikishinkage-ryu, as Jikishinkage-ryu incorporates five element theory and the theory of yin and yang in its practice. In that regard, I find Jikishinkage-ryu to be a form of internal training that moves from hard to soft, similar in some ways to Xingyi Quan.

Once the body and spirit are developed sufficiently, the strategy and tactics of the art are taught as part of To No Kata, typically performed with fukuro shinai to allow for full power practice within combative range. These kata are practiced with spring kiai. Gekken can be introduced at this time, as well as henka waza that explore each kata fully. At higher levels of practice, a very aggressive set of kata with the small sword (kodachi) are taught, using summer kiai. Timing, distance, power, and balance are stressed, and the notion of kuzushi or off-balancing. Eventually, students are introduced to formalized paired practice with metal swords (habiki), using autumn kiai, that further develops internal principles in the practitioner and introduces key strategies of the art.

The distinction between the Jiki lines of Shinkage-ryu and the Yagyu lines is clear, but they are likely driven by the same essence. The word "jiki" means "correct" or "true". The emphasis on kiai and dominant spirit in Jiki are an outward (omote) manifestation of some of the essences of Shinkage-ryu. Because Shinkage-ryu grows out of a deep study of and critique of Shinto-ryu by its founder (Kamiizumi Ise No Kami), it is said to contain the gokui or essence of Shinto-ryu in its foundational kata (empi no tachi). This kata is a core part of Yagyu Shinkage-ryu -- it was the first set taught by Kamiizumi to his students, and other kata were developed later to explain and elaborate on its principles. Empi is curiously absent in Jiki's formalism, but key elements of it can be found distributed throughout Jikishinkage-ryu, if you look hard enough. At the same time, Jikishinkage-ryu has far fewer techniques than other systems of kenjutsu. A valid question is whether it has been pared down too much over time. Up until the late 19th century, however, Jikishinkage-ryu was a sogo-bujutsu, and included in addition to tachi and kodachi the practice of bo, naginata, yari, and yawara (grappling) in its curriculum. A focus on shinai sparring by its 14th headmaster, Sakakibara, led to eventual loss of those additional practices. However, it is interesting to note that once experience is gained in Hojo and To no Kata, those same forms can be practiced with odachi, bo, and naginata without great modification. Additionally, the kodachi kata teach stability and kuzushi from tsuba zerai, and introduces ideas related to work at close quarters with edged weapons to the practitioner.

Because of the prior emphasis on shiai, and the condensing of Jikishinkage-ryu's curriculum, it is of great benefit to explore applications of To no Kata in free practice. By the late 20th century, the main line of the art did not practice shiai openly, so we as contemporary practitioners are left to explore applications of the kata largely based on direct experience in both kata and free practice and intuition driven from the practice or study of related arts.