Cheng Hsin

Learn about the Cheng Hsin newsletter

The Cheng Hsin Newsletter is a free email newletter written four times a year by Peter Ralston, the Founder of Cheng Hsin.

It contains messages from Peter, news of upcoming workshops, new books and dvds, and the readers’ favorite section, Questions and Answers, where readers like yourself ask him questions and hear his response. It is also the only way to join us and be put on our mailing list, so that you are informed of what’s new, deposit dates for discounts, and upcoming events.

You can sign up to receive the newletter here. Here are a few samples of the Questions and Answers from past newsletters.

You can find downloadable versions of all the old newsletters in the Cheng Hsin Newsletter Archives.

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Rob Talbot
Auckland, New Zealand
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Hi Peter,

I respect your reluctance to discuss chi in relation to your work as you have demonstrated an ability to teach, explain, and experience Cheng Hsin without reference to it. However, I wonder if an opportunity or three isn’t being missed on account of it.

The appeal of Cheng Hsin to internal martial artists is self-evident. Understandably such people have, and presumably retain, an interest in chi since it is what largely defines “internal”. The relationship (if any) of Cheng Hsin to chi is therefore of utmost interest to the internalists who must be a large proportion of your students.

Is Cheng Hsin equivalent to the understanding and skills of the old (and not so old) tai chi masters? Which part of Cheng Hsin is “fa jin” (issuing power) and is your sinking anything to do with “sinking the chi”? I was strongly attracted to Cheng Hsin because I intuited that you had the answers I was seeking but which tai chi literature (classics and modern) simply has not the language (or will?) to provide. Unfortunately, the parallels I had hoped to find didn’t reveal themselves in your books.

I am now attending Cheng Hsin classes and slowly getting the hang of some techniques. I have a feeling that you would reach more people (and make them very happy too) if you found a way to elucidate your insights in conjunction with your knowledge of chi. I take it for granted that you accept the existence of chi and that tai chi’s reputation for being a “supreme ultimate” martial art (in China, at least) is not entirely without truth. Is there any congruency between Cheng Hsin and tai chi? Since you seem to align Cheng Hsin with internal martial arts, would it not be further validated as such if you referred to, perhaps the internal arts most distinguishing feature, chi? I would love to know your thoughts on this.

Regards, Rob Talbot

Rob,

The only opportunity missed is commercial. Ideas like “ch’i power” sell. But clearly I am more concerned with what is true rather than what sells (perhaps I need to lighten up on that a bit).

Strangely enough, according to Cheng Man Ching (great t’ai chi master of the last century) the name internal — which has become accepted to refer to martial arts that emphasize mind over matter, use of energy, and such was coined in relation to those arts which originated in China, having a Taoist foundation. Arts from the Buddhist tradition which originated outside of China were called external arts. Funny how such words evolve, isn’t’ it? It is not unlike the word and idea of ch’i.

Both ch’i, as used in T’ai Chi, and ki as used in Aikido, are Asian concepts referring to a phenomenon of the body-mind. Unfortunately, just like the notions of yin and yang, they are so badly misunderstood in the West, that these ideas are held very simplistically. You may have gleaned from my work that I am not a fan of believing in things blindly.

When we take on an idea that there is a mysterious and unseen energy circulating through the body that we can tap for power, we are using the mind to create a change of state and action in the body. There is nothing wrong with this and usually has good results.

But is there really ch’i coursing through the body and making magical things happen? I doubt it. You see, when we learn that the Chinese and Japanese use the words ch’i and ki commonly in the language, and that they are combined with other words (characters) to refer to everyday distinctions — much like we speak of vitality, or being down, or being excited, or lively, etc. and we don’t think of these things as mysterious — our outlook on ch’i might change.

By the way ch’i, as in energy, is different from chi, as in t’ai chi.

Is it really important whether or not there is a subtle energy in the body that has yet to be scientifically discovered? What’s important is how we relate to this matter, and what results we can produce. A placebo can cure a patient’s ills simply because he’s changed his state of mind. Is the placebo real? Not as a physiological medicine, but certainly it is as a possible cure.

What’s needed is the shift in the patient’s mind. Unfortunately, if we know it’s only a sugar pill, it won’t work, even if we are told all we have to do is think it will. This is similar to the matter of ch’i.

People have a hard time being responsible for their own conscious growth and development. Believing in something magical is far more appealing. Once we accept the idea that ch’i exists and that we can use it, we can then embark on a program of training to do so. If someone said that “ch’i doesn’t exist but if you think it does it will have all the wonderful effects you want,” would you train it?

We shortchange ourselves when we have to believe in some dogma before we’re empowered to make certain changes.

When you look into what you experience that you refer to as ch’i (besides the belief), don’t you find that it is really some feeling-sensation that you create through focusing your mind in a certain way?

There is no additional idea needed. This is why I speak of feeling-attention or feeling-awareness. It not only makes the practice more real and honest, but puts us in a much more conscious and responsible position in the matter. What can be accomplished with such training? Quite a lot really. And it is still open.

The workings of mind and consciousness, the physiology of the body, and the possibilities of this world are truly mysterious enough, actually more mysterious than any beliefs in mystery. Grounding ourselves in real questioning and experiential investigations is more powerful than believing in fanciful ideas.

I really can’t speak with authority about the t’ai chi masters of old. I imagine there are parallels. When it comes to “fa-jin,” what t’ai chi people do with that is different from what we do.

We use intrinsic strength. As far as sinking the ch’i, see my work in Zen Body-Being on grounding.

In my work if there is a parting of the ways from the traditions it is always only because the truth dictates otherwise. I have no quarrel with traditions, I’ve learned a lot from them. My commitment, however, is to the truth, and direct experience, not to beliefs.

Yes, I find the work of t’ai chi aligned with Cheng Hsin in many ways, so is Aikido, Zen, and some others. Those are all worthwhile and valuable studies. It’s true, if I catered to the “internal” world, or any other world for that matter, they would be more comfortable with Cheng Hsin and more likely to practice it. Certainly if I sold T’ai Chi or Aikido instead of Cheng Hsin it would be more popular and accepted. I would likely be more well known. But here we are back at that truth thing again.

Hope that answers your questions.

Peter

P.S. It occurs to me that what you are looking for with the idea and practice of ch’i — and a lot more — is available in Cheng Hsin, we simply don’t use that belief system. For example, see my response to Charlie Conklin below.

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Charlie Conklin
London, England
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Hi Peter,

I’d like to get clarification about a distinction I’m just beginning to notice with regards to effortless power. A few weeks ago Stevie Kent and I were practicing push uproots, and we discovered that with a simple addition to what we were doing, they suddenly became much, much easier. The difference was to outreach as soon as we touched the person being pushed, and begin the push from there, rather than waiting until stepping. Simple, but it made a profound difference.

I’ve been playing with this in the weeks since, and working at feeling my way through the entire process. It feels to me like what is happening when it works well is the following: At contact, I outreach the other person and feel down into their feet, which gives me a good sense of their balance. I then join whatever they have going on (most often they are either moving slightly away, i.e. avoiding the touch a bit, or leaning in, i.e. bracing up against the anticipated push). When I feel the join, I begin to gently move the feeling of “us”. As soon as I can feel that their balance has very slightly moved outside of their feet, I begin to step, and just gently let my movement and connection with them “help” them to continue to accelerate the imbalance which already exists. And voila, they are gone, with very little effort.

I remember you talking once about doing a push uproot demonstration with raw eggs taped to the palm of your hands, where you would uproot people touching them with the eggs, obviously without breaking them. I never understood how this was possible, using effortless power through proper body alignment and structure. It now seems possible to me, via the above mechanism, feeling their balance, subtly moving it, and then gently accelerating their imbalance ’til they are thrown.

So it seems to me there is a distinction to be made here in understanding effortless power. What is described above is essentially perceptual, it is primarily about feeling the other person, and using that to join them into a position of weakness. But it seems to have absolutely nothing to do with compression.

On the other hand, your accounts of what behemoth (NY postal bag) taught you, about hitting behemoth with muscle and behemoth just laughing at you, learning to move under the ground, waterdrop, stages of effortless punching, etc., seem to be more about structural integrity, alignment, and compression. This seems almost a different domain from what I’ve described above. Still to do with being effortlessly effective, but in very different ways.

Is this a helpful way to hold this, or is it likely to lead me astray? Is this a distinction you make? Any comments and guidance appreciated.

Regards,

Charlie Conklin

Charlie,

How many times have you heard me say outreach right away? Or “don’t even ‘think’ until you’ve touched (outreached) your partner”? You are beginning to understand why. It’s not just a whim, or an extra mystical thing to toss in so that you can say you are doing “internal” martial arts. There is a reason for it, and without outreaching many skills just cannot be accomplished. Read again the chapters in Zen Body-Being on Feeling-Awareness and on Perception and Relationship. I know these subjects can seem abstract and perhaps hard to apply, but with your recent work they should make more practical sense to you now.

However, you are making a mistake. What you describe is fine, and useful. Managing another’s balance or off balance is an essential component to skillful martial work, especially in throwing. But as you suspect, it is not compression and it is not the basis for effortless power. Yet don’t make the mistake of now assuming that outreaching and joining are not aspects of effortless power, because they are. And in a broader sense skillfully using them to off balance your opponent is a central aspect of effortless martial interaction. Yet off balance isn’t compression. Although in Cheng Hsin we use compression even to achieve the off balancing.

Uprooting someone with eggs was something I did in the old days for demonstration purposes. This showed that it wasn’t the use of strength, or a high level of pressure, or a sudden motion that moved my partner. I would always use the biggest guy I could find, usually weighing around 250 pounds. We always had several men stand behind him to catch him when I uprooted him on stage, because for some reason he would always fall down after being uprooted (something we learned from past experience). Since he was always so large his catchers usually were drawn down with him, adding humor to the show (no one got hurt). But it wasn’t the off balance (or merely the off balance) that moved him. It was the compression. This is a matter of finding a precise alignment which can’t be accomplished without outreaching! and using intrinsic strength. You can uproot people effortlessly without using any loss of balance at all.

So it sounds like you’ve achieved a valuable breakthrough in your work, keep it up. You simply have more to get. This should be seen as an exciting prospect, since you’ve gotten what you discovered and you have even more to discover! Next time I see you, remind me to show you the difference.

Keep up the good work.

Peter

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Mike Thomas
Notts, England
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Hi Peter,

I’ve been working with some friends over here on introducing as many of the Cheng Hsin principles as I can, and although they’re both fairly open people the question of belief keeps coming up. Chief amongst these: ‘But do you really believe effortless power exists as a phenomenon?’

Now, I believe it, because I’ve had experiences of it. But did I already have the ‘will to believe’ or was I just open to experiencing something new and unknown? And have you got to believe before you can realize the Cheng Hsin principles?

So, I think my question to you is really ‘What is the place of belief within Cheng Hsin?’ Have you got to believe in the principles to have them work for you?

Looking forward to seeing you again at the Wales camp this year.

Cheers

Mike

Mike,

As a matter of fact, I suggest that people DON’T believe in Cheng Hsin. Believing or dis-believing are not what we are about. Belief is an intellectual matter, it is thinking that something is true. Cheng Hsin is about experientially discovering what is actually true. The principles are either true or effective or they aren’t. Effortless power is whatever it is. You and your friends must discover for yourselves what is the case. You do not need to believe in anything.

If you’ve had some experience on the receiving end of what I call effortless power, you can tell that there is something going on and it may seem easy enough and effective enough, but from that experience you still don’t know how it is done, or what the experience is like on the other side. So you will conjecture about how to accomplish it and go down various roads on your way to discovery.

The thing is to be open to the possibility that there is a way to achieve results with less effort than normal, and perhaps no effort at all. Then you set out to realize this possibility. No belief is necessary. Just the idea that it may be possible. I of course help this process by offering what I have experienced and understand. You don’t need to believe me, simply take into account what I say, and consider whether you assess that I am lying or not. If you don’t think I’m lying or mistaken, then what am I pointing to? Getting there may not be easy, and that’s where most people run into problems. They want it to be an easy answer already accessible to their minds and bodies, something they can apply immediately. This is not the case with effortless power. The power is effortless, learning to find and use it takes work. It requires changing both mind and body. Without the possibility that it could be found, however, you would never search.

You need to experience the principles to have them work for you. Belief only gets in the way.

Good luck with your investigations,

Peter

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Michele Mistler
Port Elizabeth, South Africa
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Dear Mr. Ralston,

I heard a lot about you from Christiane Heuze, read your books and sincerely hope to be able — one day–to attend your workshops but South Africa is far away from Texas! I also hope that you will find some time to read and answer my mail.

I have started applying your body-feeling-awareness (from your book “Zen Body-Being”) in the Qigong classes I teach and we all felt VERY heavy and had great difficulty to move afterwards. I had to really “extract” myself from the ground I was standing on.

It seemed that my brain also got affected and was sitting somewhere in my feet and I got stuck in a kind of meditative state.

My question, of course, is this OK?

Thank you very much for your time.

Warm regards,

Michele

Michele,

Yes, this is OK. You are probably more advanced at controlling your energy — or what I call feeling-attention — than most, and so you made noticeable shifts in your state of mind.

When you are trying to re-align the body-mind to be consistent with certain principles in this case, grounding it is best if they feel most real. This means they should include the normal attributes you’d associate with such a thing. In the case of grounding, that would be heaviness, perhaps difficulty in moving, a sense of being closer to or into the ground, and such.

Your experience sounds good to me, but because of what you write I suspect you’re not used to that kind of state, and perhaps in your other practices you have focused more on “lighter” energies. Not to worry, you are creating it all, and so when you have become thoroughly grounded, not only will it become more comfortable for you, you will come to realize the power involved and you will also be able to make shifts so that you are freed up and no longer feel stuck or sluggish. But I wouldn’t try to do that too soon, since then you are likely to miss a solid grounding development.

Hope this helps,

Peter

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Charlie Conklin
London, England
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Peter,

I’ve been thinking about emotions, investigating things like what are they, how do they arise, what is their utility and what constitutes a proper relationship with regards to them. My thinking on this is such that I can’t yet ask a clear question on it at the moment. However, in thinking about these things, something did arise, concerning Lending Being, where I think I can formulate a clear question.

I’m not sure I really understand very well what “Lending Being” is, but nonetheless I’ve been using your hints about it to good effect in training.

From a previous newsletter Q&A, you said: “In simple, Lending Being is providing “life” to something, giving it its existence and presence. Since, for us, what we identify as “being” is the same as what we identify as “self,” our energies and commitment are devoted to being a self. But if we provide “life” or “beingness” to something not immediately recognized as self, or to something that’s recognized as not-self, then we have “lent” beingness to this thing, or action, or principle.”

Trying to apply this, I’ve found for instance that me “Lending Being” to yielding practice, or to a particular distinction in play (say Game B while following, leading, balanced vs. managing off-balance, etc.), makes it much more real to me. In particular, it makes the distinction real in the sense that it changes from being something “I should be practicing,” to something which can be the most important thing, THE highest priority. This is in contrast to the situation I often find myself in, where I may be training yielding or another principle, but somehow “winning” (in some sense) seems to take over, and the principle is sacrificed. So if I give enough “life” to the principle, it seems to become the most important thing of the moment.

In investigating emotions, one of the things which has puzzled me is that they seem so compelling and powerful, and yet may be completely based in fantasy, very far away from the truth of the matter. And often a fantasy can seem to be very real. For myself at least, if I’m honest about it, I’d say that my life is mostly (perhaps entirely!) directed by fantasies of some sort, and emotional effects arising from those, which motivate me to act in certain ways and move my life in directions dictated by those effects.

It occurred to me, that in a strange way, this is somewhat as if I was Lending Being to my fantasies and emotional responses! For instance, if I take a compelling fantasy, or something with emotional “charge” to it, and I do what is necessary to “Complete” it, it essentially disappears, i.e. it is seen as just another thought or idea, nothing more. On the other hand, if I “give it life,” it becomes real and compelling, emotive and effect producing.

So my initial question, is this a somewhat reasonable way of holding this, that we often “Lend Being”, or give life to these things which are not real, and thus find ourselves powerfully at the effect of them?

Secondly, in your description of “Lending Being” (Newsletter), and “Giving Being” (Internal Dialogue Anthology), you talk about the importance of letting things be exactly as they are “I am not simply moving the sword with my own ego and self-mind, but allowing the sword to tell me what and how it needs to be moved, and so it seems like I must give it the power of movement but I must also “get out of the way,” so to speak, so that the weapon can perform its function freely.”

“We begin “giving being” by fully experiencing others exactly the way they are, including their context and exactly what they’re doing, and only what they’re doing, in each moment.”

Thinking about it this way, it seems that there is perhaps something very different between giving life to the sword, and giving life to a fantasy. Along the lines of how much or how little the “life” is aligned with the underlying truth of what is happening. So this leads to the next question. When I “Lend Being” or life to my practice of “walking on pylons”, I often use imagery from the film “Golden Child”, because the protagonist finds himself in a space where he must walk on top of tall wooden poles (some of which move), where a misstep would be fatal. This helps my grounding a lot, thus it seems there is some alignment with the truth (in this case structural integrity through aligning with gravity). Yet it is very deeply a fantasy! An unreal imagining, which I am giving an artificial sense of reality.

How is it that we can take an untruth, a fantasy, yet which when given life, helps to align to some truth? And the deeper question, if this is possible (which obviously it is), what factors or distinctions account for the difference in a fantasy or imagining which aligns us with some truth, as opposed to those which take us away from truth?

Thanks,

Charlie

Charlie,

A well thought out and clearly presented consideration. As I said before, I am not inclined to go down the road of further distinctions in Lending Being. What you’ve worked out for yourself sounds just fine.

Your final question, however, is provocative. One thing we want to do right off is be clear that something can be true and yet not “factual,” just as something can be truly “experienced” that isn’t objective. When you have a fantasy, you say that it is a fantasy because you are conscious that it isn’t true. It isn’t something that is actually happening, it’s something you imagine is happening. Your body-mind reacts to whatever is perceived. If you perceive a fantasy that you like, it might put a smile on your face, in other words, change your state. Yet you also perceive it as a fantasy and so the smile is fleeting and that state is countered with whatever you consider to be the real condition.

On the other hand, when you “perceive” a principle taking place, which is to say if your body-mind is aligned with the principle or acting in concert with the principle and so manifesting the principle — or if you like, Lending Being to the principle it is not a fantasy. This is something actually being created and experienced. When we use imagery to steer our conceptual-perceptive senses toward aligning to some principle, it will have an effect on the body-mind. But only insofar as you can convince yourself that it is real. If you hold that you are merely fantasizing about the pylons, then your nervous system will not align convincingly with the principle of grounding. Yet if you convince your brain stem your more autonomic brain functions that you are really standing on pylons, then it will take the matter seriously and make subtle physical and psychic adjustments to deeply align with the principle.

The imagery is only a tool to get to a real experience. Knowing this helps you convince your brain of the reality of the image, since you know you aren’t really standing on pylons or whatever, but you are trying to alter your physical and perceptive state to thoroughly align with a principle that really does exist.

So the difference here is that on the one hand you may fantasize to entertain yourself and produce various effects that you like or dislike, but this is simply altering your state of mind by being at the effect of mental images. On the other hand, when training yourself to experience and align with a principle, you are transforming your body-mind and so how you experience and interact with reality.

As the ancient Tibetan monks used to say “you become what you meditate,” so watch what it is you apply yourself to, and meditate the truth.

Peter

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Marc Daoust
Sherwood, Oregon
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Hello Mr. Ralston,

I read all your Cheng Hsin books. I really love the new Zen body book, great work! I have been practicing a lot the body-being principles for the last couple years. I got great results, my feeling-attention grew significantly.

I also train and fight MMA, I try to feel and use the principles as much as I can in all my training and also in daily life. One problem that I experience is when the intensity goes up my awareness of the body-being goes down!!! For example during sparring with someone who is very wild or aggressive, I tend to tense up, lose my center and grounding. Also during bag work or pad work when I try to go faster or hit harder the same thing happens. Do you have any advice for that problem?

Also, I’m confused about effortless power and the compression thing. Let’s take a punch for example; does the compression happen before and then rebound back up to punch? Or is it at the impact that the body is compressed between the ground and the target? Or both? I’m really sorry if I’m way off on that one, I’m just trying to understand how it works.

One last question about effortless power: Do you still need a lot of cardio/conditioning or is it completely effortless and you could just go on and on fighting? Please don’t think I’m being a smart ass or anything.

Thank you for your patience,

Sincerely,

Marc Daoust

Marc,

I’m glad you can make use of the books. The problem you experience when your state of mind shifts during combat is common. There is a lot occupying your attention at these times and your focus goes to accomplishing results. The same is true when you work on the bag. You need to make a connection in your mind between your body-being effectiveness and your ability to produce results within the interaction and it has to be an automatic brain connection that you trust, otherwise your mind will override it in favor of your old reactive habits.

The other problem of course arises from emotional reactions, such as fear, that you have during combat. This will not only distract you but also push you in the direction of tension and reactivity. Neither of these will help, and will pull you out of your body-being. As you become more confident in your ability to handle what’s happening, you should be able to calm down some. But ability and calmness work together. Develop more of the calm mind aspect of the body-being so that you can more clearly see what’s going on in every moment of the fight. Through your ability to dispassionately observe the opponent’s actions, you can remain present and sensitive to what’s happening and interact appropriately. Which in turn will provide you with more confidence in your ability.

About compression, it is not a function of any rebound, it is simply compression a relaxed body, aligned to the target that is compressed into the ground on contact. Even with effortless power, however, movement is still required. The more relaxed you are, the easier and more effortless the movement, but if you are fighting, especially for any length of time, the demands on you can require a great deal of movement, and so good breathing and conditioning are always needed. On the other hand, the more relaxed and calm you are, and the more effortless power you can use, the longer you can go without tiring. Remember, the use of intrinsic strength is not a magic wand, and it does not take place without your conscious and active participation. The effortlessness refers to creating a result, like moving another person. It doesn’t mean you don’t have to use energy to move yourself. It does go a long way toward making both easier though.

Back in the old center I used to regularly box for three hours at a time. I would play with younger and more athletic men than myself, but they could never keep up. After a while they would be so exhausted, I would switch to another partner, playing with fresh people one after another. I communicated to them that the reason I can go so long and they could not was three-fold: they were afraid or nervous and so this would create tension and restrict their breathing, and because they used too much strength, they tired very easily. In contrast, I was not afraid, could relax and breathe more freely, and I worked to use effortless power, so I lasted much longer.

How’s that?

Peter