Kung Fu Training: Sum Chien – The Heart of Shaolin, Part 7: Training the Senses, Expanding Awareness

January 7, 2018 Nam Yang Kung Fu Retreat

Practising the Sum Chien face and body posture prepares us to switch into the right emotional state should we need to fight. Female Martial Arts Instructor Emily McCarten at Nam Yang Thai Retreat.

This is one of the most powerful yet least understood aspects of Sum Chien training.  I was fortunate that it happened to be something on which Master Tan was particularly focussed.  

When we practise we open our eyes, ears and nose as far as possible and place the tip of our tongue on a specific point.  This accentuates most of our senses.  The need to have our bodies, particularly our joints, positioned so precisely leads to hugely expanded body awareness and a greatly heightened ability to feel where each little part of the body is, what it is doing and whether it is transmitting strength correctly.  I am quite sure that this develops and expands the parts of the brain which deal with information gathering.

The first and most obvious benefit of heightening our senses is that we don’t get taken by surprise and have time to react intelligently.  The most dangerous attack is always the one that you did not see coming!  There is, however, a more interesting dimension to this.  In his teaching, Master Tan places great emphasis on the fact that accomplished masters develop a very strong ‘sixth sense’.  

The secret to developing this, he says, lies in the way that you train your first five senses and the way to train these senses is through correct performance of Sum Chien.

Training of the eyes through Sum Chien is a complex topic which could no doubt fill a book on its own. We train to expand our field of vision considerably so that we are seeing in an arc of at least one hundred and eighty degrees. We also train to defocus our vision so that we pick up the slightest movement very quickly and see colours more vividly at the expense of picking out detail. In the later stages of the training, we are able to project chi through our eyes with surprising intensity. Actually many people have an innate ability to do this, at least to some extent, hence the feeling of hairs standing up on the back of your neck when someone is looking at you and expressions like ’looking daggers’ at someone. To truly develop the ability, though, takes a lot of hard work.