The Six Branches of Yoga & Understanding Their Duties

  • Hatha Yoga or Yoga of Postures
    Hatha Yoga is perhaps the path of Yoga you are most familiar with since this is the most popular branch of Yoga in the West. This branch of Yoga uses physical poses or Asana, Breathing Techniques or Pranayama, and Meditation to achieve better health, as well as spirituality. There are many styles within this path – Iyengar, Integral, Astanga, Kripalu, and Jiva Mukti to name a few.If what you want is a peaceful mind and a healthy body to go along with it, Hatha Yoga may just be the path for you.
  • Bhakti Yoga or Yoga of Devotion
    Bhakti Yoga is the path most followed in India. This is the path of the heart and devotion. Yogis who practice this branch sees the “One” or the Divine in everyone and everything. Bhakti Yoga teaches a person to have devotion to the “One” or to Brahma by developing a person’s love and acceptance for all things.
  • Raja Yoga or Yoga of Self-Control
    Raja means “royal”. This path is considered to be the King of Yoga and this may be due to the fact that most of its practitioners are members of religious and spiritual orders. Raja Yoga is based on the teachings of the Eight Limbs of Yoga found in the Yoga sutras. A Raja Yogi sees the self as central, and as such, respect to oneself and for all creation are vital to this path. They achieve self-respect by first learning to be masters of themselves.If you wish to learn discipline, then Raja Yoga would perfectly suit that need.
  • Jnana Yoga or Yoga of the Mind                                                                                                                                   Jnana Yoga is the path of Yoga that basically deals with the mind, and as such, it focuses on man’s intelligence. Jnana Yogis consider wisdom and intellect as important and they aim to unify the two to surpass limitations. Since they wish to gain knowledge, they are open to other philosophies and religion for they believe that an open and rational mind is crucial in knowing the spirit.
  • Karma Yoga or Yoga of Service                                                                                                                                         Karma Yoga is the path of service for in this path, it is believed that your present situation is based on your past actions. So by doing selfless service now, you are choosing a future that is free from negativity and selfishness. Karma Yogis change their attitude towards the good and in the process, change their souls, which leads to a change in their destiny.
  • Tantra Yoga or Yoga of Rituals                                                                                                                               Perhaps the most misunderstood of all the paths, Tantra Yoga is about using rituals to experience what is sacred. Although sex is a part of it, sex is not the whole of it since this path aims to find what is sacred in everything we do. Tantra Yogis must possess certain qualities like purity, humility, devotion, dedication to his Guru, cosmic love, and truthfulness among other things.
    • There are still a lot of misconceptions about Yoga, for instance, Yoga being a religion. Yoga is not a religion. It is more of a set of techniques for us to find spirituality. In fact, Yoga is being practiced by a lot of people from different religions like Christians, Jewish, Buddhists, and Muslims.Another misconception is that Yoga is an exercise, a way for us to keep fit. It is partly true, but if you think that Yoga is just that then you are greatly mistaken. Yoga develops the body since a weak one is a hindrance to spiritual growth. It does not simply focus on the physical but on the mental and spiritual aspects as well.

    * Master Phoenix Le Grand, PhD. M.A.

What is Chi and Where does it Come From?

What is Chi or Qi and where does it come from? Many Martial Arts instructors will tell you that the power of your techniques is derived from controlling your Chi. Ask your Sensei to explain what Chi really is and how to use it. For the most part, many instructors don’t understand it themselves.

Chi is energy on the brink of becoming matter, and matter at the point of becoming energy. It is vital energy, the life force. When chi gathers, life is formed, when it dies, so the body dies. The Chinese character for Chi is gas (or energy) setting atop the character for rice. Hence, the energy that is food.

But where does Chi come from? To completely understand the answer to this question, we must look to Eastern Philosophy. It is difficult to explain Chi or it’s actions to one who is not open to accepting the Eastern mindset. There are many different types of chi, and all must be understood to understand the whole. I have listed the different types of Chi below with a brief layman’s explanation of each.

  • Yuan Chi – The original or “Before Heaven” chi, this is the chi that is immediately inherited at the time of conception. Nothing you do can change this type of chi.
  • Gu Chi – This is “After Heaven” chi and is derived from food. It is the chi of the spleen.
  • Kong Chi – This also is “After Heaven” chi but it is derived from air and is the chi of the Lung.
  • Zong Chi (Chi of the chest) – The gathering of both the Gu Chi and the Kong Chi.
  • Zheng Chi – This is “normal” chi, it is the product of the Zong Chi being catalyzed by the Yuan Chi.
  • Ying Chi – The nutritive Zheng Chi that nourishes the organs and tissue.
  • Wei Chi – The defensive Zheng Chi that circulates on the surface of the body and protects it from external factors.
  • Zangfu Zhi Chi – This is the Zheng Chi that flows through the organs.
  • Jing Luo Zhi Chi – This is the Zheng Chi that flows through the meridians.

As you can see, the question “What is Chi, and where does it come from?” is much more complicated than it appears. As martial artist, we need to understand all of the different types of chi. You cannot develop one type of chi without effecting another. The focus for the majority of martial artists is the Wei or defensive chi. This is what protects us from an attacker’s blow or allows us to smash through boards and bricks with our bare hand.

To develop Wei Chi, we must not only concentrate on meditation but also on our diet and exercise. Wei Chi is a type of Zheng Chi, Zheng Chi originates from Gu (Food) and Kong (Air) Chi. If one has a poor diet or does not participate in a regular exercise program the Zong Chi will suffer disharmonies thus inhibiting the development of the Wei Chi. Disharmonies include deficient chi; the process of aging and illness, sinking chi; leads to organ prolapse, stagnant chi; bruising, and rebellious chi; chi flowing in the wrong direction. An example of rebellious stomach chi would be hiccups or vomiting.

Chi flows from the chest, down the front of the arms to the fingers. It then travels up the back of the arms to the head. The chi then travels down the back to the feet and back up the front of the body to the chest. This flowing chi is the Jing Luo Zhi Chi. It travels through the meridians of the body that can be best described as electrical channels. There are 12 main channels; 8 extraordinary channels; 12 transverse luo; 12 tendinomuscle channels; 12 divergent channels; and 16 longitudinal luo. The transverse and longitudinal luo and the tendinomuscle and divergent channels are merely “connections” between the main and extraordinary channels. There are points along these channels that are chi vortexes which we know as “the pressure points” used in Atemi Waza. These points are the exact same points used in acupuncture and acupressure.

Chi is one of the 3 treasures that are the essential components of life. Chi – energy, Jing – essence, and Shen – spirit. When the three treasures are in harmony the individual is radiant, physically fit, and mentally sharp. Just as developing one aspect of chi affects another, so does it affect the other two of the three treasures. One should find a balance of the three treasures through meditation, exercise, and living well in general. Any disruption of the three treasures leads to an imbalance of the whole. This imbalance can be manifested as physical or psychological abnormalities.

Causes of disharmony can be internal or external. Internal disharmonies are called the “seven emotions”. They include Joy, Anger, Sadness, Grief, Pensiveness, Fear, and Fright.

Joy – According to Eastern philosophy is a state of over excitement or agitation and leads to problems with heart fire.

Anger – Anger includes resentment, irritability, and frustration. It affects the liver resulting in stagnation of the liver chi. The liver energy rises to the head causing headaches, dizziness and in the long run high blood pressure. It will eventually cause problems with the stomach and spleen.

Sadness and Grief – Unresolved sadness and grief that becomes chronic creates a disharmony in the lungs making the lung chi weak and interferes with the function of circulating the chi. Normal expression of sadness and grief is sobbing that originates in the lungs with deep breathes and expulsion of air with each sob.

Pensiveness – is the result of to much thinking. The organ most affected is the spleen. Pensiveness causes a deficiency in spleen chi that causes fatigue, lethargy and the inability to concentrate.

Fear and Fright – Affect the kidney when it becomes chronic. Kidney chi lessens and leads to a decrease in kidney yin.

External causes of disharmony include the “six pernicious influences” or “six outside evils”. These “influences” or “evils” include; wind, fire, cold, dryness, dampness, and summer heat. A brief explanation of each is provided.

Wind – This is a yang pathogenic influence. Wind disharmonies are characterized by a sudden onset such as the common cold. As the wind disharmony takes hold, the symptoms turn to heat as yin transforms to yang to show fever, sore throat, dry mouth and thick yellow phlegm. Internal liver wind is very serious and can lead to conditions such as epilepsy and stroke. Wind is related to spring according to the five elements theory. This suggests that an individual is more susceptible to external wind disharmonies in the spring.

Fire – This also is a yang pathogenic influence. Fire leads to a large group of heat type symptoms: fever, inflammation, red eyes, hot skin eruptions, and an aversion to heat. It has a drying effect on the body fluids causing dry skin, constipation, and scanty urine. Extreme cases of fire disharmony include: hyperactivity, mental agitation, delirium, and mania where the heat disturbs the shen.

Cold – This is a yin pathogenic influence. Sudden onset leaves the individual feeling chilly and headachy with an aversion to cold, general body aches and no sweating. If not dealt with, cold can affect the lungs, stomach and spleen. This leads to abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Cold can also affect the liver channel especially in the genital area causing pain and discomfort.

Dryness – This is a yang pathogenic influence. Dryness follows the same symptoms as fire but with more emphasis on drying up the body fluids. This influence can lead to cracked dry skin, dry lips, nose, and a dry cough. Dryness is associated with the fall.

Dampness – This is a yin pathogenic influence. When dampness invades, it leads to sluggishness, tired and heavy limbs, and a general lethargy. Bodily discharges are sticky and the tongue will have a sticky coat. The spleen is especially susceptible to dampness. This will inhibit the transportation and transformation functions leading to abdominal distension and diarrhea. Dampness can also affect the joints leading to stiffness, aching, and swelling. These symptoms are predominate in the morning. Dampness is associated with late summer.

Summer Heat – A yang pathogenic influence that follows fire. It is associated with the height of summer. Summer heat depletes the chi and bodily fluids leading to exhaustion and dehydration.

As you can see, the question “What is chi and where does it come from?” cannot be answered in a few sentences. To truly understand chi and how to develop it to improve your health and martial arts performance takes an in-depth study and knowledge base. Your studies must be accompanied by meditation and exercise. Once you have discovered chi and developed it you will understand not only the martial applications but also the healing applications. There cannot be one without the other. Keep in mind the five excellences during your search for the answer to this question:

Knowledge through study

Compassion through healing

Strength of spirit through martial arts

Wisdom through meditation

Refinement through the arts

*Sensei Bruce Geary, Master Phoenix Le Grand, Sensei Jonathan “Trails” Fields & Sempai Luis Beltran

10 Ways to Become a Forms Champion

* This is a great article I came across years ago. Absorb…

There are many factors that officials look for when judging forms. Following are 10 tips that should help you excel the next time you step in the ring.

  1. Basics
    Regardless of you rank, your basics need to be sharp. As a beginner, your basics might consist of a front kick and some simple punches. As an advanced competitor, your basics might include spinning kicks, jumping kicks or multiple-hand combinations.
  2. Stances
    Stances are like the foundation of house. If they’re weak, you’ll have weak foundation or a poorly built house. If they’re strong, you’ll have a strong foundation or a strong, sturdy home. Keep your stances as low as they should be. Be sure that your weight distribution and foot alignment are accurate. Your posture is also very important before and after your presentation.
  3. Power
    A form is a self-defense scenario against imaginary opponents. Therefore, your movements better be effective. Strong kicks, punches and blocks are essential. It’s better to have a strong low kick rather than a weak high kick. Don’t give up power for flash.
  4. Balance
    Stumbling during a forms routine is a major error. Don’t think it’s impossible to lose your balance, especially if you’re throwing advanced techniques. Therefore, demonstrate good balance and show that you are in control during the entire routine.
  5. Speed
    Some basic, traditional forms do not require much speed from strike to strike. However, even in a simple form, show great speed in a single kick or a single punch. In the more advanced forms, showing a quick combination of movements is important. Try not to make your entire routine a blur, though. Stop for a couple of seconds after each combo to let the judges appreciate your solid stances, incredible balance and perfect basics. Don’t emphasize speed exclusively.
  6. Intensity and Presence
    Remember, when you are performing a form, you are fighting imaginary opponents. Therefore, you should not have a blank look on your face or a smile. Be intense. Use your facial expressions to let the judges visualize what you are really doing. Be vocal and use your internal chi (energy) to deliver more power through your kiai (spirit yell).
  7. Focus and Concentration
    You must focus if you want your techniques to be accurate. Usually, when a person’s eyes start to wander, he is unsure of his next move. Don’t lose your concentration, whether you didn’t practice enough or because someone starts playing loud music in the ring next to you.
  8. Flexibility
    If your flexibility is good, you will be able to perform harder, fancier kicks or gymnastic moves. I don’t think there is anything more exciting than watching someone throw a kick straight up with good execution and power. If you’re a traditionalist, good flexibility will allow you to move with greater ease.
  9. Difficulty of Movements
    The more difficult your moves are, the higher you’ll score. However, many people put difficult moves in their routines before they are ready to throw them flawlessly. Wait until you can nail them every time.
  10. Have a Good Backup
    Make sure you know the rules regarding ties. Some tournaments may require a different routine. Even if they don’t require a different form, have a solid backup. If you can go out and do a different form just as well as the first, you are showing how multi-dimensional you are.

Muscle Conditioning for the Martial Artist

Power is a combination of strength and explosiveness. It is created by releasing maximum muscular force at maximum speed. To increase power, you must increase both speed and strength. By exerting strength with speed, you take advantage of both the force generated by the muscles and the momentum created through the speed.

Power can be described in three ways:

Explosive power – Explosive power is the ability to exert maximum force in one or a series of dynamic acts. Example: Breaking a board with a punch.

Static power – Static power is the maximum force a person can exert for a short period. Example: Bench press.

Dynamic Power – Dynamic power is the ability to exert muscular force repeatedly or continuously over time. Example: Heavy bag workout.


Power is derived from muscular ability. The human body contains over 400 muscles that can be broken in two classes: smooth and striated. Smooth muscles are those that perform the involuntary functions of the body like circulation and digestion. Striated muscles are those that can be voluntarily contracted, such as the muscle groups in the arms and legs. These muscles are the source of power.

Slow and fast twitch muscle fibers

Striated muscles are made up of two types of fibers: slow twitch and fast twitch. Slow twitch fibers are designed for activity that must be sustained over a long time like distance running. They have a high capacity for aerobic energy production and can remain active for a long time while producing relatively small amounts of lactic acid. This is important because lactic acid build-up in the muscle tissue causes the muscle to fatigue and eventually renders it unable to continue working. Low levels of lactic acid mean more capacity for work. People who have a high percentage of slow twitch fibers excel at endurance activities.

Conversely, people with a high percentage of fast twitch fibers excel in explosive strength activities. Fast twitch fibers have a great capacity for anaerobic energy production, which allows them to produce intense power and speed of contraction. This intensive work also causes them to accumulate large amounts of lactic acid and fatigue quickly. (For a definition of aerobic and anaerobic, see “Chapter 9: Endurance”)

Based on this, the answer to developing power seems obvious – increase the percentage of fast twitch muscle fibers in your body. Unfortunately, this is not possible. The ratio of fast and slow twitch muscle fibers is determined early in life and cannot be markedly changed. Studies have shown that distance runners have high percentages of slow twitch fibers and sprinters have high percentages of fast twitch fibers. Yet it has been concluded that the activity in which they participate is not responsible for this phenomenon. Instead, it is believed that distance runners take up endurance sports because they naturally excel in this area. In the same respect, others are naturally fast and gravitate toward the speed and power oriented sports in which they excel.

Although you cannot change the ratio of muscle fibers, you can improve what you have. In the average person, slow and fast twitch muscle fibers are generally intermingled, with a higher percentage of fast twitch fibers present. Through training, you can improve the metabolic efficiency of either type of muscle fiber. By training for explosive strength you stress the fast twitch muscle fibers repeatedly, causing them to become stimulated and teaching them to work more efficiently.

Muscle movement

Besides understanding the types of muscles you have, you must have an understanding of how your muscles work. There are two basic ways that force is generated and controlled. The contraction of a muscle is determined by the types of muscle fibers recruited and the firing rate of the neurons within the muscle.

First, let’s look at how your body decides which types of muscle fibers to use. The voluntary contraction of a muscle begins with the recruitment of the smallest units of slow twitch muscles. These motor units (muscle fiber groups) have the lowest response threshold, create the least amount of tension and are the most resistant to fatigue. As muscle tension increases, more motor units are recruited from the larger fast twitch fibers. As tension continues to rise, fewer motor units need to be activated because the large fast twitch units contain more plentiful and more powerful muscle fibers. But because these large fibers are the ones that generate peak tension in the muscle, they fatigue quickly and require more recovery time.

As a practical illustration, compare the difference in muscle fatigue you feel when walking and when sprinting. If you walk one mile or sprint one mile, you are using the same basic muscle groups over the same distance. But few people can sprint even half the distance they can walk before their legs simply refuse to go any farther. Walking requires less tension in the muscles and therefore relies on the low threshold, low tension motor units. Sprinting, on the other hand, requires maximum muscle tension for every stride. The muscle fibers’ ability to produce maximum tension repeatedly over long periods of time is poor and the legs tire quickly.

Besides the amount and type of muscle fibers recruited, muscle tension and speed of contraction is determined by the rate at which the skeletomotor neurons stimulate the muscle fibers. The more frequently the neurons fire, the more tension that is produced in the muscle. At peak tension, the neuron fires so rapidly that the muscle fiber is unable to relax from one stimulation to the next. The result is the generation of maximum force.


Power consists of both speed and strength. Since speed is very important to martial artists, we will focus on improving strength in this section and cover speed in more depth in the next chapter.

Isometric or Isotonic

Strength can be increased by repeatedly stressing the target muscle groups over time. There are three common ways of creating the required stress: isotonic, isometric and isokinetic exercise. Isokinetic exercise requires specific exercise machines, so this section will examine the more practical methods of isometric and isotonic exercise. Normal muscle movement is isotonic. One muscle lengthens while the other contracts in complementary pairs. A good example of isotonic movement is weight training. As you lift the weight and then return it to its original position, your muscles lengthen and contract alternately through the full range of motion.

To understand isometric exercise, imagine you try to lift the same weight and it does not move. No matter how hard you work it remains in the same place. The muscular response you experience when applying force against an immovable object such as this is an isometric contraction. One muscle lengthens and the opposing muscle is prevented from contracting because the stationary weight prevents the muscles from moving through their full range of motion. Building tension in the muscle while preventing it from shortening was once thought to bring dramatic gains in strength. Studies of isometric exercise have since proven it to be an effective, but not miraculous, way of improving strength gradually.

One drawback of isometric exercise is that the muscle is strengthened only in the exact position of the isometric contraction. If you push against the floor with your elbow bent at a ninety degree angle, your arm muscles are strengthened in that position, but you have to repeat the push at eighty degrees, seventy degrees and every other position between. Doing simple push-ups, an isotonic exercise, can be much more efficient because you work the entire range of motion, and strengthen the corresponding muscles, in a single action.

Increased strength

The key to effective and consistent strength gains is to apply the proper amount of stress in the correct way at the proper frequency. Let’s take a closer look at the three key components:
Proper amount of stress:

Too much stress can easily cause time-loss injuries, injuries that require you to take time off from your exercise program to recover. Taking time off means you have to start over where you left off, or more likely, at a lower level than when you were injured. To prevent overuse and stress injuries, work at your own pace. Don’t try to get in shape quickly by doing 200 sit-ups on your first day. Start with a comfortable number of each exercise.

To determine a good number of repetitions, work through as many repetitions as you can until you feel minor discomfort in your muscles. Do a few more repetitions and stop there. Stay with this number until you can complete it without difficulty and then add a few more repetitions. The last ten to twenty percent of the repetitions should always be fairly difficult to complete.

Example: If you can do thirty sit-ups comfortably, set thirty-five as your starting point. After a few sessions, thirty five will become comfortable and you can add more repetitions. As you get into higher repetitions, you may begin to advance more slowly than you did at first. This is normal. Stay at your current number of repetitions as long as you need to.


* Master Phoenix Le Grand, PhD M.A.