Softly prepare to strike hard!
More literally this phrase can be translated as: “Softly gather qi, solidly strike.”
There are two primary ways this phrase can be interpreted in martial arts. The first pertains to training, while the second refers to a combat situation.
In training it is advisable to nurture your body. Abusing your body in the pursuit of greater flexibility, resilience or power can lead to training injuries that will haunt your later years, set your learning back in the short term, and may render you handicapped if faced with a self defense situation on the way back from training. This seems like common sense, yet there are countless numbers of people who engage in damaging practices while supposedly bettering their bodies and their art. Training softly to gather your energy will build your capabilities while also nurturing your body. Don’t worry – there is a lot of work and sweat involved in “softly gathering qi.”
In addition to engaging in non-destructive body cultivation techniques, the softly gathering energy perspective teaches a connected sense of the body’s structure and movement. Too often in the tensed frenzy of running through techniques, we neglect to listen thoroughly to our bodies. When we slow down and relax it offers the potential for somatic introspection. This is also true for all styles that are typically performed quickly and “with power” – the so-called “external” or “hard” styles. Once we learn the lessons of our bodies as they move through the forms of our systems, we are then able to truly release the power of the movements when we speed up into application speed.
This leads us to the second area of interpretation for the phrase under consideration in this post – combat. “Softly gather qi, solidly strike” can also serve as a reminder not to telegraph either movements or intention. Fighters read intention and can sometimes read a few steps of intention into the future, like a chess player predicting his opponents series of moves. Attacking your opponent when he is preparing for an attack is an excellent strategy which requires the reading of his intention. Strikes delivered during your opponent’s preparation are safer to launch and have a greater effect than when he is in purely defensive mode. Softly gathering your qi is a method of masking your intentions. Internally this means masking your intention and the subtle reorganization of your body for your next movement. Externally this means that your movements should be initiated without any windup. When your movements are obscure, and you have softly gathered your qi, you deliver a solid attack.
Another good article Andrew! I learned how to gather my qi softly through the practice of Tai Chi. Even though I spend many years of training in the external arts, I never understood how to build up qi in a not noticeable way.