8 Points of Root—A new perspective
If you have ever trained Chinese Martial Arts, then you are familiar with Stance training—Horse Stance, Forward stance, Nail Stance, Crane Stance, Empty Stance, Dragon Stance, Snake Stance—to name a few. To gracefully accomplish these while using them to express power requires Root.
Let's go beyond Theory. Try This...
To see from your own experience, pick a move in a form where you stand on one leg, carefully (have something to stabilize you if you need) attempt the posture for 1 sec, 5 seconds, 10 seconds.
- Were you balanced or did you wobble?
- Were you standing with ease or did it take effort to maintain balance?
- Did you feel powerful and dynamic or uncertain and hurried?
Your answers are determined by a variety of factors that reflect the skill known as Root, or 根 Gēn. If you want to be more stable, balanced, dynamic, light, and powerful in your stances—you need develop your Rooting power.
To do so with ease and grace is an impressive feat of power that can appear to be reserved for masters only. For the beginner, it can feel like a stunt. There are times when standing on two legs is feat of balance. These feats of vertical mobility all require contact with the ground —but how to use them for centered fluid dynamic balance often requires a lesson in how the foot works in the footwork. And like all things Gong Fu, success requires time, energy, effort, and attention to details.
Mastery—a Quest and an Adventure
While it may seem far away, Mastery is really about the attitude that inspires your training. If you approach your training with curiosity rather than certainty, you can enter a pathway of discovery that leads to transcending current patterns. (For my Energy Fitness students, this means being Centered A.E.Q. 5 and adding energy to train in the Dynamic range of A.E.Q. 6-10!)
It is better to curiously explore and seek to discover, rather than trying to hurriedly “get it”. So each time you train, rather than “get it”, “discover it”. By opening your mind from Center and extending your curiosity into the unknown, training and life become a Quest and an Adventure! One that is independent of “success” or “failure”.
It is from the Unknown and Unseen that discoveries are born
For the civilian martial artist, this is the great value of Chinese Martial Arts—we add responsibility, dedication, accountability, sacrifice of time and comfort, perseverance, and Zi Xin 自信 (belief in one-self) to the profound list of benefits.
I have been exploring this topic for as long as I have been training Chinese Martial Arts. Recently my exploration has paid off in terms of clarity of technique and development of usable power. Like everything in my life, my success is a feat of Gong Fu and Energy Fitness.
Gong Fu is the is the investment of time, energy, effort and attention to detail that a martial artist invests in the cultivation of skill. Energy Fitness is what fuels me on a perennial exploration of skill across the ravages of time and distraction, beyond the certainties of current limits, with the inspired intent of evolving until I can transcend the current pattern.
Let's explore what you can gain through training.
Root—our Connections to the Earth
Root is the conversation we have with the earth through our activation of the points in our feet and use of ground reactive force—Extend down to go up, extend up to go down. Yang and yin. ☯️
This is a topic of depth and complexity, but for this entry, I will be focusing on the 8 points of Root in the feet as it is illustrated in the drawing below. While I am specifically describing some of the techniques we use in our lineage of Shen Shing Menpai Gong Fu and Wu Chan Taiji, I hope that this information is relatable to other styles and lineages as well. I am curious to hear perspectives and experiences from students and masters of other styles.
At the most basic level, “Root” refers to our connection to the earth. It is more than simply standing. You must stand with clarity, focus, awareness, and purpose. As a technique in our forms, Root refers to the constellation of skills involved in managing the centered and balanced movement of your center of gravity in relationship to the earth’s core.
As a martial technique, Root refers to management of your center of gravity in relation to the earth’s core AND your opponents' center of gravity and their relationship to the earth’s core. Root is also essential in the expression of Fa Jin 發勁, the issuing of explosive power.
Below is my hand drawn sketch of the root points in the feet. We focus and extend our awareness to and through these 4 points in a sequence that activates the the muscles, tendons, fascia, and meridians of the feet, legs, and hips.
In our lineage, to build Root we begin by extending our awareness to and through the 8 points in the feet:
#4—K1 – the bubbling well
While the sequence of activation and utilization varies, ALL the footwork involves an ongoing concurrent conversation between all 8 points (and the 10 Yi Da). When we train, we train at a speed that makes it possible for us to to keep this intention while moving throughout our forms—especially when we step, shift, stand on one leg, two legs, kick, strike, defend—in other words, all the time.
We do this until we can do it naturally, efficiently, and without effort. This is the skill that forms the root, the foundation for Bū Fā 法发 – stance power.
To use root, we set up using the following sequence:
(Also see video above)
- Crown up, chin in, tongue on the roof of the mouth
- Relax the shoulders and arms
- Soften the chest muscles around the Fèi Mén 肺门 – lung doors
- Activate the obliques to “knit the ribs”
- Activate the transverse abdominal muscles and gently bring belly toward the spine, pelvic floor engaged (Pubococcygeous muscle)
- Keeping the back straight, lower the hips and bend slightly at the knees (do not extend the knees beyond the toes and do not lock them out)
- Sink down through the 8 points of foot (see above and video) and lower your hips while flexing at the knees
- Extend or push down through the 8 points like you are starting to stand up, rise up, straightening the legs slightly
- Park and stabilize the hips
- Lift the ribs up off the hips
- extend the crown up and the tailbone down, setting the Heaven-Earth Center-pole – Tian-Di Zhuàng 天地桩
Now explore standing on one leg with these details engaged. Observe any changes in your ability to stand. Go into a move from your forms and add-in the details above.
To emit the Qi, It is essential for the hips to rely on the xia pan – the legs and feet of the xia pan – steady as a mountain.
from Shen Shing Men, Wu Chan Gong Fa Practice Requirements and Gongfa Poem / Shifu Wang Tian-Min
As you adapt and move, you must train to mind the 8 points of Root. Every movement relies on the articulation of these 8 points. This is especially important as you separate the dynamics of Root from the physics of weight. You will need to learn how to have a fully Rooted foot that is empty of weight and a fully weighted foot that is fully Rooted while not falling in the trap of being double-weighted.
"Eddie, use your feet!"
Early on in my training with Shifu Wang Tian Min, Shifu would say to me “Eddie, use your feet.” I suspected Shifu meant something more than walking or standing, but what Shifu actually meant by telling me to “use my feet” became an intentional power only recently.
Recently my wife, Inetta, who is a skilled massage therapist, yogini, and a brilliant student of Pilates, instructed me to use the focus points in the drawing you'd see above. She explained the purpose of engaging each point, which I list in the illustration. These combined with cross-training Gong Fu, Bagua, Qi Gong, and Taiji with Shifu Wang, together with the activation and extension of Yi have recently unlocked the mystery of the passage above and Shifu’s directive to “use the feet" and extend Yi 意, to access root (Gēn) 根, and use Bū Fā 法发 to emit Fà Jīn 发精.
I wish you well, I hope you enjoy the exploration and that it’s helpful. Let me know in the comments!
- Shifu Ed Durso
“The [energy] is rooted in the foot, bursts out in the legs, is controlled by the waist, and functions through the fingers. From the feet to the legs, legs to the waist, all should be moved as a unit.
By moving as a unit, one can advance or retreat with precise timing and the most advantageous position..”
The Theory of Tai Chi Chuan by Chang San-Feng pg as quoted in Master Jou Tsung Hwa’s classic, “The Tao of Tai Chi,” pg. 177