Solo Training: How to Build Iron Body & Internal Power without a Partner

One of the most common questions we get is:

“I don’t have a training partner, Can I build Internal Power?”

First, there are limitations to how much you can progress without a partner. Part of your regular training routine should be dedicated to finding additional training partners.

However, you should never let an absence of partners stop you from training.

Qigong exercises and forms are the two most common ways to train by yourself.

Unfortunately, far too many people simply perform the movements of their Tai Chi sets or their qigong and that simply isn’t enough.

The key to getting benefit from these types of practices is to know exactly what they are designed for, how they produce the benefits you’re looking for and be able to feel the energy flow or principle you are working on.

So, before you do a Tai Chi set you must first ask yourself which skill you are going to practice while you perform the set.

Is it alignment? Root? Peng? Silk Reeling? Iron Body?

Pick one and focus on just that skill. Make sure you are paying close enough attention that you can find and fix the errors you make during your set.

If you’re practicing Qigong it’s a little different. While the Tai Chi set can be used in many different ways for many different things, A Qigong exercise is usually designed as a very specific tool with a very specific goal.

So with Qigong exercises you must pick and choose which ones will be most beneficial to your goals.

The Qigong exercises in the Internal Iron Body DVD have been carefully selected to compliment each other and maximize your Internal Iron Body and power development.

These are all solo exercises you can train by yourself.

They are taught step by step so you’ll not just learn how to do them, you’ll learn the principles that make them work. So you can apply this understanding to all your Tai Chi.

Iron Body is NOT about getting hit

A lot of folks train Internal Iron Body so that they can take a hit.

This is wrong.

…and it’s missing the true purpose and value of Iron Body practices.

Don’t get me wrong, being able to take a powerful hit without injury is a great side effect.

But it’s not the purpose of training.

Remember, we have to assume the attackers are armed and can hit very hard. So not getting hit is still a top priority even with advanced Iron Body skills.

So, What’s the Point?

Internal Iron Body is about making your body stronger, more connected, healthier and more resilient from the inside out.

Your body is only as strong as the weakest link.

You can have the strongest arms in the world but if you pick up a large object incorrectly you’ll still throw your back out.

Internal Iron Body training is about making you healthy and vibrant and strong from the inside out.

…and filling in all those weak links.

It’s also about power.

When you hit someone, with almost any part of your body, you are now hitting with everything.

And when you issue (with fajing for example), you can issue much more power because your body has the integrity to do so without hurting yourself.

This is why all the internal arts contain iron body methods.

Learn these methods with our Internal Iron Body DVD that’s on sale until Thursday.

Hate mail from other Tai Chi teachers.

A little while ago I was cleaning out some of the old spam comments on our Tai Chi site and stumbled across this nice piece of criticism we received from an Internet Tai Chi Guru back in 2009.

This was right after we started talking very publicly about the Iron Body training in Tai Chi.

This letter is a great example of the more common myths and misconceptions about Iron Body training.

Sifu Clear,
Grandmaster Chen Xiaowang, whose family created tai chi, was asked one day if the Chen family practiced Iron Shirt. I was there. He replied, “Iron Shirt good for demonstration, not for fighting.”

If you read the book, American Shaolin, about the young American who studied for 2 years at the Shaolin Temple, you’ll find that the monks who do the miraculous feats of chi like breaking ice blocks with their heads or concrete with their hands are all crippled by the time they reach middle age. The guys who use their heads to break things have huge knots on their heads and talk in stutters.

You are leading students down the wrong path. Tai Chi depends on good body mechanics, not fantasy. You can’t fool physics, and the human body will be hurt by force. A silly slap on the chest with a forearm is far different from a blow from a motivated attacker.

If you or any of your students have attained real powers doing this, I encourage you to stand in front of an MMA fighter and let him hit you anywhere he wants — maybe the nose. Then let’s see how your chi dispersal myth protects you.

[Name removed to protect the misguided]

The most common misconception about Iron Body training is that there’s only one type.

The term Iron Shirt is most commonly associated with the external Iron Body methods used by Shaolin performers for demonstration. If that’s the type of Iron Body that Master Chen was referring to in his quote I absolutely agree with him.

..but the teacher who wrote this email seems to have missed that distinction. He goes on to describe examples of external iron body taken to horrible extremes.

I’ve met highly skilled Iron Body specialists who say that this is a mischaracterization and is not representative of external Iron Body done properly (much less internal Iron Body.)

After all, Tai Chi is an internal system and so by definition any Tai Chi Iron Body methods would have to be internal and not external.

Now this teacher goes on to say, “Tai Chi depends on good body mechanics, not fantasy.”

Well, one of the core body mechanics of Tai Chi that is emphasized quite heavily in Chen Style is Silk Reeling.

Silk Reeling is essentially a method for running spirals through the body. It’s no coincidence that this same spiralling as at the heart of many muscle tendon changing methods.

Many external/internal kung fu systems exploit this principle for its iron body effects by pushing it to extremes. It’s also a key component in the Kuntao Silat Iron Body method that we talked about a few days ago.

Tai Chi uses this principle in much more balanced ways. In Chen style it’s the most obvious. Yang and Wu style use it constantly, but it’s done very softly and subtly so that it’s typically invisible to the average person.

…but that’s just one principle and only one type of Iron.

As we discussed a few days ago, The Golden Bell method taught in the Tai Chi Iron Body DVDs is different altogether.

A massive part of Tai Chi education is understanding force and how to control it inside the body.

How to deliver a lot of power of course,

…but also how to take a serious hit and neutralize it, dissipate it or send it back to the person hitting you without taking any damage yourself.

I wouldn’t expect your run of the mill Tai Chi teacher to know this, but any of the prominent teachers out there should be able to rattle off a bunch of ways Tai Chi produces Internal Iron (and most can.)

In his last two paragraphs this guy falls victim to two very common misconception that are usually only present in folks who have not trained with many internal martial artists before.

That external stylists hit harder
That we don’t hit each other in training

We work with a lot of folks with many different backgrounds, internal and external.

There are plenty of external folks who hit hard, but the internal folks I’ve met are consistently more powerful. Their strikes penetrate much deeper and suck much more to receive.

How do I know this?

Because we do a whole lot of drills where you stand in front of someone and let them hit you wherever they want while you practice neutralizing, redirecting or dissipating the force of their strikes.

I understand why someone who’s only been to a couple bad Tai Chi schools — and looked no further — would have these misconceptions. But in today’s world a quick internet search will find a bunch of internal guys who train with contact and power.

…and of course anyone who’s taken the time to become a prominent teacher in the field will have met a bunch of folks who train this way over the years (and probably should have done a bunch of this themselves.)

Anyway, help us dispel these myths by practicing your Tai Chi Iron Body. Become an example of the results Tai Chi can deliver.

The Shortcut Myth (it’s not what you think)

“There are no shortcuts in Kung Fu.”

I bet you’ve heard this before. I know I have.

And I would almost agree.


What do you call the direct route when no one else knows it?

It’s not really a short cut. It’s just how you get there.

Like taking the freeway instead of the scenic route. You’re going 75 mph while everyone else is winding their way through the mountains at 30 mph. switchback after another…

up the mountain, down the mountain, then back up again. Over and over and over.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the scenic route… When I have time.

But if someone told me I had directions to the freeway and I ended up on some one lane road in the middle of nowhere, I’d be pissed.

There are no shortcuts in kung fu ONLY if you know everything already.

I know I’ve still got a few things to learn…

So I always keep an eye out for that freeway sign.

Even Sigung Clear is still learning. Now more than ever. He’s constantly looking for the next level of information. Filling in more pieces of the puzzle.

And always looking for better ways to teach the things he already knows, in the hopes that his students will one day catch up to him.

If you feel like you’ve been on the scenic route a little too long…

Try the freeway for a change.

It’s still hard work,

But you’ll get there a lot faster.

The Fa Kung Healing course is packed with information and skills that would normally take folks months or years to learn, but we can teach it in a 3 day workshop. (by video it will take a bit longer.)

That may sound like a shortcut but it’s really just high quality information taught in the most effective way we know how. (Sigung Clear has been teaching this method for 20 years after all.)

Tomorrow is the last day you can save $100 on this DVD package:

Take Care,
Ben Sterling

Push Hands VS Tai Chi Nei Kung

Tai Chi is unique in martial arts in that it builds energy.

Now I know what you’re thinking,

“but all the internal arts build energy.”

…and they do, sort of.

At least they do in training.

Take Xing Yi for example,

While training you spend a lot of time building energy with Qigong and Neikung aspects of the art.

…but then when you fight you expend a lot of energy.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In Xing Yi’s case this is a very powerful and highly effective strategy.

However, as you get older this expenditure of energy becomes a problem, and if you look at older Xing Yi & Yiquan masters you’ll typically see them cutting back on the ferociousness and refining the internal to minimize this energy expenditure.

Bagua can do this as well, though it tends more towards moving and changing energy when it fights more than expending it.

Tai Chi takes this further.

…because the primary purpose of Tai Chi is to be effective in advanced age.

So in Tai Chi the goal isn’t just to conserve energy.

The goal is to build energy.

Even when fighting, your alignments, internal principles, nei kung, etc. should all be correctly working for you to build energy. The same way they do in training.

Now here’s where most people get tripped up:

If you’re going to make this happen correctly under the extreme pressure of a life and death situation, then it absolutely must be happening in ALL your training practices.
Even in Push Hands.

A common problem in Tai Chi is that most types of push hands don’t do this automatically.

…and if you’re practicing push hands without the correct nei kung principles happening to build energy the entire time, then your body is learning bad habits that you will have to untrain later.

Clear’s Internal Push Hands is designed to make this happen automatically from day 1.

…any errors are highlighted by the method so you are forced to fix them right away.

And this forced error correction builds the essential foundation to make your other types of push hands, drills, sparring & forms correct.

Here’s Sigung Clear discussing this:

That clip is from the new Internal Push Hands Instructor Course.

The course is only on sale until tomorrow! So go check out the details now:

blog & homepage callout

The Secret of Advanced Dim Mak & Healing.

There is one skill you need.

It doesn’t matter if you’re after internal Dim Mak for self defense or trying to build advanced energy healing ability.

You must have this skill.

Without it you simply cannot get anywhere.

…but with this skill, everything is much much easier.

You’ll probably recognize this skill because we talk about it a lot and it forms a cornerstone of our training.

Here’s Sigung Clear talking about it in a video clip from the new Internal Push Hands Instructor Course available now:

The Push Hands Instructor course is only on sale for two more days.

Go check out the details here:

Tai Chi Internal Wave

Training the Tai Chi Internal wave begins with an external wave and then is refined inwards.

Not only is it very martially powerful, this training is a great health exercise as well (like most Tai Chi skills.)

In fact it’s an exercise that’s so important Sigung Clear practices it everyday.

Check out this clip on the wave:

This wave is one requirement of a Clear’s Internal Push Hands instructor and it’s one of many important skills taught in push hands instructor course. (Available Tomorrow!)

The “Understanding Energy” of Tai Chi (dong Jin 懂勁)

The Understanding Skill of Tai Chi is closely related to the Listening skill (ting jin.)

In many ways it’s the next step in training.

It’s not enough to feel what’s going on inside you and your opponent, you must also understand.

An important use of this skill is knowing where you opponent is going to attack.

In push hands, for example, if the opponent wants to issue effectively they must first feel inside you and find a good target. Once they find a good target they can issue and you’re done for.

This is where Understanding skill comes in.

When you can feel them looking inside you and feel them trying to acquire that target, you can disrupt what their doing. or better yet attack it.

Here’s a clip of Sigung Clear demonstrating some of this at the 2015 Clear’s Internal Push Hands Instructor workshop:

This skill is one of the requirements to become a Level 1 Clear’s Internal Push Hands Instructor and it’s one of many things you will learn in the push hands instructor course available this Thursday Feb 18

Why there’s so much bad Tai Chi & How to fix it.

Bad Tai Chi is a favorite topic of discussion among many Tai Chi folks.

Unfortunately the blame often falls on other students and their laziness, impatience, lack of dedication or misguided goals.

The truth is no one intentionally studies bad Tai Chi.

Whatever their motivation or goals may be, every single student is trying to learn something effective and useful.

There problem is many folks don’t know what to look for.

Skill and achievement in Tai Chi are often talked about in very nebulous ways.

It can be difficult to know the quality of what you’re studying if you don’t know exactly what skills you should be learning and what you should be able to do with them.

In theory certifications and titles would help but they rarely come with a clear definition of what it means to earn them and they often represent how long someone has been part of an organization more than what skills they have acquired.

The solution is simple.

No, we don’t need some grand Tai Chi governing body. We don’t even need to agree on what the standards for Tai Chi should be. Or what skills should be studied or what benchmarks you should use for progress.

All we have to do is start talking about it.

The more Tai Chi folks talk about the skills they are learning and the benchmarks they use to measure progress, the better off all Tai Chi will be.

This will create the expectation that if you study Tai Chi you should be acquiring a catalogue of skills and that you should be measuring and testing those skill to make sure you are progressing adequately.

There are far too many people who practice Tai Chi by rote, with only vague notions of what they want to get out of their practice.

The more we, as a community, can educate people on the idea that Tai Chi produces results,

…and that they should expect a clear road map from their teachers on how to get to those results and how to measure their progress along the way, the better off all Tai Chi will be.

Because when students expect results, teachers will have to deliver. Or be replaced by teachers who deliver.

When teachers teach well, they create skill students. Skilled students set the example of what Tai Chi can be and what new students should expect. and Tai Chi as a whole gets better.

Of course goals & standards will vary between teachers and systems. That’s ok. Not everyone studies for the same reasons.

Here is what it takes to become a Level 1 Clear’s Internal Push Hands Instructor:

If you have some previous Tai Chi experience you should be able to meet these requirements within a year. Possibly much less than that if you work hard.

All this and more are taught in the push hands Instructor course coming Thursday Feb 18.

…and that DVD package is an excellent way to prepare for the Clear’s Internal Push Hands Instructor Certification Workshop coming at the end of August.

Details on the workshop soon.

Tai Chi Error of Double Weightedness (The truth behind the myth)

Students and teachers training at the 2015 Clear’s Internal Push Hands Instructor Workshop

Don’t let this Tai Chi BS hold back your development.

Many of you have met long term Tai Chi practitioners who cannot use their art.

…and these aren’t just your “health only” Tai Chi hobbyists. Many folks who study seriously and have skilled teachers find that their hard work is not developing the level of skill and effectiveness they where looking for.

There can be many reasons for this.

…but there’s one problem that is outlined directly in the Tai Chi classics.

According to Wang Tsung Yueh’s text “Tai-Chi Chuan Ching” (18th Century)

“Many persons who have studied Tai-Chi for a number of years have not developed properly and continue to be subdued by others because they have not realized the error in double weightedness.”

Translated by Jou Tsung Hwa in his book “The Tao of Tai-Chi Chuan.”

Basically, If you make the double weighted error you cannot reach an intermediate level of skill in Tai Chi.

Unfortunately, the classics are cryptically vague in their language on what exactly “double weightedness” means and so there is a lot of BS out there on how to address this problem.

So first, let’s clear up some of the BS about “the error of double weighted:”

It has nothing to do with the pull of gravity.

Weighted in this context has to do with emphasis. It’s using the meaning of “attach value to” or “assign a handicap.” As in “not evenly distributed” or a “weighted statistic.”

It has nothing to do with your stance.

You can be double weighted while standing on one leg just as easily as when standing on two. It’s often easier to be double weighted when on one leg than when on two.

It has nothing to do with your opponent.

You can be double weighted when you’re all by yourself just as easily as when you’re pushing with an opponent. If you respond poorly to their force it can magnify the problems of the double weighted error, but this is merely a magnification of the symptom. Not the problem itself.

caption caption
Solving the error of double weightedness is a key part of overcoming larger opponents.

Now, to be fair, some of the above can crop up as symptoms of the double weighted error.

Symptoms can be useful in helping you know when the error is occuring.

…but do not mistake the symptom for the problem.

This is the most common error in the information out there about double weightedness.

Folks take a problem that can be a symptom of the error and mistake it for the error itself.

Unfortunately this won’t help you solve the problem. It only covers up one of many potential symptoms.

Without a full understanding of the double weighted error and all it’s symptoms, you can’t properly troubleshoot and solve the problem.

I’ll try to keep it as simple and practical as possible but the answer requires a bit of explanation.

One reason there’s so much misinformation out there is that this topic is difficult to understand and explain. Especially in a practical, down to earth way. (Of course, the teachers who deliberately hide information compound this problem.)

What does double weighted really mean?

In the Tai Chi classics the term “double weighted” pops up in this context:

“Many persons who have studied Tai-Chi for a number of years have not developed properly and continue to be subdued by others because they have not realized the error in double weightedness.”

The above translation of Wang Tsung Yueh’s text “Tai-Chi Chuan Ching” is from The Tao of Tai-Chi Chuan by Jou, Tsung Hwa.

Master Jou goes on to describe this to mean that Tai Chi practitioners fail to follow the basic principles of Tai Chi.

The key basic principle that is being violated here is described in “The theory of Tai-Chi Chuan” Attributed to Chang San-feng (est. 1279 -1386)

“One must distinguish substantial from insubstantiality. Where there is substantial, there must be insubstantiality. In all ways, one has to distinguish one from the other.”

…and you’ll find this idea crops up in various forms in many of the classic writings on Tai Chi.

You must differentiate between substantial & insubstantial.

…a failure to make this distinction is to make the error of double weightedness.

It’s interesting to note that the character often translated as “weighted” 重, is also associated with meanings like repetition, iteration, a layer, emphasis.

If we talk about a statistic or a test being weighted, we mean that it’s artificially skewed towards a specific result.

So to be doubly weighted is to over emphasize something or make an over commitment in some way.

A better translation within the context of Tai Chi Chuan is:

Students practicing Internal Push Hands at the 2015 Clear's Internal Push Hands Instructor Workshop
Students practicing Internal Push Hands at the 2015 Clear’s Internal Push Hands Instructor Workshop

“The error of paired repetition”
or “the error of double layers”
or, even better:

“the error of double emphasis.”

…and you do see some teachers talk about making the error of “double yang” or “double yin.”

Which is another way of talking about this idea.

But what the hell does all this mean in practical terms?!

It’s easy to throw these terms around and quote the classics all day without giving anyone something useful that they can take home & implement in their own practice.

..and unfortunately many teachers do this, whether it’s to hide their ignorance or to withhold information and knowledge from their students. I don’t know.

How to prevent the error of double weightedness.

Double Weighted Error is the Failure to Distinguish  Between substantial & Insubstantial
Double Weighted Error is the Failure to Distinguish Between substantial & Insubstantial

So, what does this mean in practical terms?

Think about your spine.

It’s made up of layers, and these layers alternate between somewhat solid and somewhat less solid.

These alternating layers of tissues are an example of a distinction between substantial and insubstantial.

If some of these vertebrae become fused together it causes problems.

Another example of this, is that to move you must both contract and relax muscles in the body. If you fail to relax the proper muscles or contract the wrong muscles, you can’t move properly or with full power.

…because you failed to create a distinction between substantial and insubstantial in your body.

Of course it’s not quite that simple.

Tai Chi is internal so we’re not just talking about the physical anatomy, we must also make sure we’re not double weighted in the energies and body states we use.

A basic way to do this is to sink the chi into the lower body so that it becomes heavy while the upper body becomes light.

You are now distinguishing between substantial in the lower body and insubstantial in the upper body.

This is a good start (for a day one beginner) but we need to go much further.

…because at this point you’ve essentially divided the body in half with a single distinction.

There are varying degrees of double weightedness
There are varying degrees of double weightedness

If you go up against someone who can separate heavy and light in the upper body and do it again in the lower body you will lose.

…because they are creating a much more refined distinction between heavy and light in their body than you are.

You are double weighted compared to them.

…of course they will be double weighted when compared to someone who can refine this even further.

Unfortunately, the above example does not paint a complete picture but it’s a good start.

At a more advanced level you can be all light or all heavy and still not be double weighted.

Our best 2 dimensional representation of the distinction between substantial and insubstantial while also distinguishing between the substantial qualities of insubstantiality and the insubstantial qualities of substantiality.
Our best 2 dimensional representation of the distinction between substantial and insubstantial while also distinguishing between the substantial qualities of insubstantiality and the insubstantial qualities of substantiality.

When you understand both the insubstantial and substantial aspects of lightness AND you distinguish between them then you can use lightness effectively.

If you don’t distinguish between the substantial and insubstantial aspects of lightness than you will find lightness to be very weak and your structure will collapse or you’ll be forced to retreat or run into other problems

Of course, light is just one of the many energies of Tai Chi.

There’s light, heavy, empty, full, open, closed, expanding, contracting, spiralling, magnetic, electric, and so on…

The classics say:

“In all ways, one has to distinguish one from the other.”

The key is the first part: “in ALL ways”

Any time you fail to make this distinction, in any way, you are committing the error of “double weightedness.”

As you can see this problem has a massive potential to crop up in all sorts of ways.

…and this distinction between substantial and insubstantial is an ongoing process that you can always refine and get better at.

How to spot double weighted errors and fix them.

Here’s the problem with fixing double weighted errors.

To fix errors you must be able to find them. In Tai Chi we typically do this by feel with the ‘Ting’ skill.

However, a symptom of the double weighted error is that it limits your ability to feel what’s going on inside yourself (and in someone else.)

…and so it’s a bit of a catch 22.

You must differentiate between substantial & insubstantial in order to perceive areas where you are failing to distinguish between substantial and insubstantial.

Excess tension is one example of this. The more tense you are the less you can feel (and the more you are double weighted.)

As you relax, you can feel more and more. However, there are often deep seated areas of habitual tension that are very difficult to find and deal with unless they are pointed out in some way.

So, here’s what you do:

1 Build Ting

Sensitivity drills are of the utmost importance. The more you work on building your Ting the better off you are. But this alone isn’t enough.

2 Look for Symptoms

Use the symptoms of double weightedness to spot and troubleshoot the error.

Some common symptoms include: an inability to instantly shift weight or intention, difficulty perceiving substantial and insubstantial, and excess tension is a common sign of the double weighted error. (though whether tension is the cause or the result of the double weightedness depends on the situation.)

IMPORTANT: Remember that the symptoms are NOT the problem and just because you’ve fixed a couple of the symptoms does not mean that the problem has been solved. So keep working.

3 Internal Push Hands

By far the most effective way to find and fix the error of double weightedness is doing internal push hands with a partner.

A partner will help you find errors you didn’t know you had and rapidly speed up your progress.

A key part of becoming a Clear’s Push Hands instructor is learning to distinguish substantial and insubstantial and learning how to find and prevent the double weighted error.

The Push Hands Instructor Training Course contains in depth training that will teach you to identify and fix the error of double weightedness and how to use the benefits of proper weighting including:

Become a Clear's Internal Push Hands Instructor
Become a Clear’s Internal Push Hands Instructor
  • internally manipulating your own internal energy
    • filling & emptying
    • expanding & condensing
    • targeting inside the body
  • advanced ting including…
    • capitalizing on someone else’s double weighted errors
    • feeling and following an opponent’s internal changes
    • internally hiding from an opponent so that they cannot feel inside you
  • neutralizing force
  • redirecting your opponent’s force back into them
  • higher level fa jin
  • much, much more

Details on the Push Hands Instructor Course are here:

Fixing The Double Weighted Error
Fixing The Double Weighted Error

Details on our DVD for Fixing The Double Weighted Error are here: