Qin-Na, the Chinese Sister Art to Kyushojitsu

Qin Na, or Chinese grappling, is not considered a complete art in and of itself, but rather an aspect of many traditional martial arts. Found most famously in ying jow pai or "eagle claw kung fu" it is also part of various crane styles (he quan, particularly zong he quan and shi he quan) tanglang quan (mantis) and my personal favorite gou quan (dog boxing). Shaolin san shi er shou or "32 catches" make up the fundamental techniques of qin na, with eagle claw having as many as 108.

Qin Na is not grappling in the MMA or wrestling sense, it is extreme close-quarters combat based upon seizing, subduing, or breaking the adversary. Many of the techniques are practiced from a starting position wherein the uke (receiver of technique- one who stuff is done to) has grabbed nage (executor or technique- one who does stuff) in some way. While this would be a perfect opportunity to apply chin na to the opponent, it is not a terribly common occurrence in street fights. It should be understood that this is only a means of setting up the technique for teaching purposes. In the real world, you would more likely apply chin na after dodging and seizing a limb, or once a fight has gone into "clinch" to use the sporting term. Chokes, bear hugs or waist grabs may happen sometimes, particularly in domestic abuse and rape attempts, so I do tend to deal with those more in women's self defense.

The techniques of chin na come in a variety of "flavors" if you will. I borrowed the following list off wikipedia because it included the (hopefully correct) Chinese terms, but I am adding my own descriptions. {note; after writing this I dusted off my copy of "Comprehensive Applications of Shaolin Chin Na" by Dr.Yang Jwing-Ming to show and discuss with my partner and found this same list in there}

fen jin/zhua jin- These are techniques which seize (zhua) or divide (fen) body tissues, primarily muscle and tendon. An eagle talon pinch and shake targeted at the love handles is a relatively safe technique you can use at home to practice zhua jin and see what it is about. First, make sure you have a partner willing and ready to let you try it. Prepare by bending your fingers sharply down and in, like making a tight C shape, then spread the digits apart just until you feel the bones in your hand shift into position (you should know it when you feel it). Next, using three fingers and the thumb (all but the pinkie) take hold of the"meaty" portion of your partner's waist, just above the hip bones (the area commonly known as the "love handles") and squeeze, hard, rolling your fingers toward your palm (like an eagle closing it's talons) while rotating your hands in a counter-clockwise motion (toward uke's back) and shaking like a dog tearing at an old rag. Make sure you do not have long nails before attempting this. The target is not just the skin but the musculature underneath. Done correctly it may cause the legs to buckle and should cause a good bit of pain, but should also subside rather quickly when released. A more serious and combat-oriented examples would be attacking H-2, L-5 or LI-12&13 around the bicep using the same "eagle claw" technique described above. Even a physically weaker person can temporarily disable the arm in this way and, with enough force, severe damage is possible. These points are often used in combinations to lock the arm.

cuo gu- these are techniques to displace, dislocate, and break bones and joints. The back of the elbow is a common target for this. Used in combinations with wrist techniques the effect is synergistic. By bending the hand of the uke into a "goose neck" and twisting the elbow joint will expose itself one way or the other, depending on how you apply the technique. Keeping the pressure on the wrist while applying pressure to the elbow simultaneously results in a crippling joint lock which can easily be transformed into outright destruction of the limb. Remember to think in "small circles" rotating the hand around the wrist, not the whole arm, thus you should draw the arm out and expose the elbow. Working the wrist and elbow in opposing directions of rotation can also help.

bi qi- any technique which interrupts or restricts breathing. While chokes are the obvious example, a bear hug or attack to the diaphragm would technically qualify. The "full nelson" is such an example. These are more dangerous knock-out techniques which, if not carefully monitored, could result in unintended death. As such, these are rarely discussed or practiced in conventional dojos. I believe I have mentioned the "scissors" or "crab claw" type choke before. It is a bi qi which also incorporates fen jin and dian xue. The thumbs press into the arteries at stomach 9 (the dian xue element) the fingers dig into the sternocleidomastoid and trapezius (fen jin, also, if your hands are big enough, you can hit points on the gall bladder meridian as well) and the bones of the thumb clamp into the trachea (bi qi). Both hands are held in an extended C shape, almost mimicking a crab claw, and the thumbs are criss-crossed at the base. As the hands dig into the neck, the wrists rotate slightly outward. Yes, I have actually used this in real life. Yes, it does leave you open to getting hit, but they also stop hitting pretty quickly. It also helps if you take them to the ground and grind your knees into their arms while choking from your center (lower dan tien) rather than with arms extended.

dian xue- These are techniques which target "pressure points" or, more specifically, those which correspond to major blood vessels located close enough to the surface as to be vulnerable to attack. Strikes to these points will often result in a knock out due to sudden drop in blood pressure. Chin na, however, refers to grappling and seizing. By squeezing these points in the arms and legs you can restrict blood flow and cause the limb to go limp or lose power. This can be handy when trying to apply a complex lock to an overpowering opponent. This is the secret of some arm locks which would have you bend the arm at the elbow by inserting your forearm into it. By applying pressure to the blood vessels there you can compound superior leverage (owing to your hopefully correct stance and positioning) with dian xue to weaken the forearm, thus ensuring your ability to maintain pressure and control at the wrist. Dian xue also targets nerve clusters (sometimes erroneously called "chi points" thus supporting the fallacy that arts like kyusho, dim mak, and chin na do not work because they are based on mystical thinking) which can cause disruptive electrical signals to be sent to the brain and body. Such is the case with the choke described above when the fingertips attack the points at the back of the neck. The brachial plexus, radial and ulnar nerves are also common dian xue targets.

rou dao- These are described as techniques which are "safe" for practice. Whether in a formal setting this means holding back force to protect uke, any technique which is not forbidden for safety concerns, or those which do not directly attack vital points, I cannot say. I can, however, attest to the existence of certain points which do not correspond to the traditional acupuncture points yet are very effective at controlling the opponent. One which I teach to beginners and children who may be tempted to abuse more dangerous techniques is actually between two points on the conception vessel (dividing the front of the body going up the center) -23 and 24 Ren to be specific- located at the tip of the submental triangle at the mandibular symphysis, or under the chin, right at the front. By pressing in and up, almost with a "come hither" type motion, the entire body is easily controlled. Striking this point with significant force at the prescribed angle will often result in a concussive knock out, but to use the hand or arm results only in profound influence over the uke's balance. This is a key point in many throws and take downs that involve a "clothesline" type of technique. Twisting the forearm in a small circle to activate this point while turning the body at the waist makes bringing them down much easier than turning or throwing alone would. So, learning to use this point in a most gentle way is quite safe, yet it can be exploited with "harder" techniques to cause significant damage. This, to me, seems a good example of rou dao.


So, one thing that I like to do, though I know many will take issue with it, is try and condense a mass of information into more digestible bits for quicker assimilation, allowing the student to get a grasp of the fundamentals without having to learn each and every specific technique. This has been done in other martial arts as well. A prime example is the way the Filipino martial art of Kali, which contained many advanced techniques, weapons, and esoteric concepts (including alternative medicine and spiritual elements) was condensed down into Eskrima and Arnis where specific techniques are taught in terms of angles of attack/approach and weapons become analogous to each other- a sword, a stick or a hand all being dealt with in much the same manner. Such teaching methodology allows for much more efficient transmission of knowledge, in my opinion. Some may think it smacks in the face of tradition, but, in a fight, the person you are applying a technique to does not care what it is called or what grand master invented it while watching a hummingbird fight a bumblebee or whatever. As long as it works and it saves your life, then that means you can live to learn about it another day and tell the stories to your grand kids while you teach them in the traditional manner should you feel so inclined...

Please, do go out and learn this stuff properly, when you can, from a qualified instructor. Learn in the traditional manner, with respect to the traditions, and do as your master says without showboating or rushing anything. Understand that I am presenting an over-simplified version just to familiarize readers with the concepts and theories underlying the techniques. If you try and apply it without knowing the specifics of how to do so, or what the results will be, that's on you. On the same note, however, if someone threatens your life and you try something, not knowing for sure what it will do, and it happens to work, you may have lucked out, but knowing this at least improved your odds slightly, and that is why I write this. Traditionalists can disagree all they want, I am not at war with them, even though they may take issue with me.

Right then, now that we understand each other... Chin Na, like everything else, has certain patterns. Whether you know the specific locations of the points, or the anatomical features behind them, you can still find and exploit them (though, I remind you, doing so without this knowledge may result in unexpectedly severe injury, even death, so, again, I encourage sincere study before attempting anything). Here we go;

When attacking a joint, look to the points and creases. Anything that only bends up and down, like a knuckle, elbow, or knee, can be thought of as a "box" joint. The corners of a box can be crushed most effectively by striking them in an X pattern, and the box can be collapsed by driving down through the crease where two flaps meet. Wrists, shoulders and hips are all "circle" joints but even these have limits. Think in 3-D here. A clock's hands can go around and around all day on a vertical plane, but move them horizontally and they easily snap. The trick with circle joints is to hyper-extend them and force them in an unnatural direction. Body positioning is of utmost importance here, because you must trap the opponent or move quickly when you have the advantage before they can compensate for your movement as will be natural to them when the body is threatened. Again, getting into the creases will often reveal hidden nerve and blood points.

When attacking muscles, again, look for the creases. When you flex a muscle, lines form. The target points are often between those lines, or on the tips. The peak of the bicep is one, the tendons which connect it at the ends are two more. You do not have to be an acupuncturist to see these are vulnerable points, and you don't have to know what organs are affected by that meridian to inflict pain. This is all valuable knowledge, but irrelevant when it comes to protecting your life by taking someone down. Simply "divide the muscle" by driving your bony fingertips or knuckles into them and separating the fibers, like ripping up coconut husk.

The muscles which control the lungs are protected by the ribs, so you have to penetrate the ribs in some way to get to them. The suprasternal notch (they little key hole where your collar bones meet) is the most direct rout, and, lo and behold, it is one of those crevices revealed by the anatomy. Pressing into this hole will affect the breathing. Striking the ribs hard enough for the force to penetrate will do the same, particularly if you hit the floating ribs, or strike any of them in such a way that causes the connective cartilage to give a bit. The nerves which affect the breathing vicariously would be discovered accidentally by following the other tactics.

Use small circles. There are so many ways in which this simple concept applies. When bending a "box" joint, folding it in toward its "crease" as if making a small circle around it will control it MUCH better than using a wide motion. The same applies to "circle" joints. You can swing your arms like a windmill, but driving the shoulder in a tight circle will cause pain and dislocation. Likewise, when seizing a point around muscle or bone, moving your digits in small circles will apply variable pressure to the point, thus preventing the body from coping with it as easily as it would with constant pressure. Also, this makes it more likely you will hit the point at the correct angle at some point in your rotation. Using the correct angle, then making even smaller circles while applying it will make an even bigger difference, but you can refine the technique once you discover the point.

"A neck is a neck" someone once said. Any part of the anatomy which resembles a neck can be attacked like the neck. The same methods for an effective choke to the throat can be applied to the wrist. The "full nelson" hold applied to the neck via the head is exactly the same as the "goose neck" applied to the wrist via the hand. Choking the "love handles" uses the same basic motion as the scissor choke described above. Even the back of the knee conceals blood vessels and nerves which can be attacked with a "choke" as does the inner elbow. Using the thumb to penetrate into these channels while using the fingers for leverage is simple chin na. If you can find crevices in the musculature, tendons, or bones in which to place the fingers, that is even better chin na.

It can be difficult, if not impossible, to recall all the anatomical details in a serious self-defense situation. You cannot rely on fine motor skills to attack highly specific points in highly specific ways. You are not going to be thinking about the medical science behind how and why it works, nor the results of using it. Your first and only priority is to get out alive, not the safety of your assailant. Do not go too far, but do not hold back either. Neutralize, then get away. Even with formal training, it will avail you naught if your mind is reeling to recall so many details under pressure. These simple principles, along with practical training, will make it much easier for you to apply chin na techniques when you need them without too much hesitation. Toying with it unsupervised may be dangerous, but doing nothing when your life is threatened is dangerous too. Do not rely on simple words and theory. You can practice on yourself, or with a willing partner, and your own risk, or with a master who will have you sign a safety waver. Martial arts is about hurting people, so there is always risk. Better to take a controlled risk, however, than to find yourself helpless in a high risk situation. Chin Na works, and it can give a physically inferior person a remarkable advantage over much more physically capable assailants. It is not much good in a group assault, I will go on and say that. However, when it comes to one-on-one, particularly in close quarters, the kinds of situations where devious people try to take advantage of your trust, chin na can really turn the tables.

Training techniques

There are many methods of training for qin na which can be done rather easily at home. The most important things to train are grip strength, precision, and reaction speed. 

Getting a grip trainer (handle with a spring commonly found in exercise equipment sections) is a good idea because it's something you can do while sitting at a desk, watching TV, riding the bus, etc. It can also help reduce stress while building your grips strength. Once you can do it fairly easily the traditional way, try squeezing it with just your fingertips.

Clay pots filled with sand or gravel were are traditional "hojo undo" (Japanese "supporting training") tools called "nigiri game" in Japanese. You can also use large plastic drink bottles filled with water. Just grip the tops using only your finger tips and hold them for as long as possible with arms fully extended. You can also practice moving exercises with them. 

A simple brick can be used to build strength and reaction speed. Assume a "horse stance" position and hold the brick horizontally (palm down) in one hand at arms length using only your finger tips. Hold your other hand in the standard practice position at your hip, palm up, fist closed. Drop, don't toss, the brick allowing it to free fall toward the ground. In one swift motion shoot the resting hand outward and catch the brick with your palm facing DOWN using only your fingers again. At the same time draw the previously extended hand to the resting position at your hip. Repeat as many times as you can. For an added challenge, you can begin spinning and flipping the brick to catch it at different angles.

Tennis ball trainer; Take an ordinary tennis ball. Poke a hole in the top. Tie something to the end of a strong piece of cordage (I used a monkey fist knot around a marble, but a 1/2 inch wooden dowel or any number of other things would do) and stick it into the ball. The idea is to have something that "catches" on the inside so the ball stays on the string. Find a clear space and use an i bolt or other mounting tool to attach the free end to the ceiling. shorten the string so that the ball hangs about eye or chest level. Strike at the ball using various fingertip and single knuckle techniques to get it moving. Dodge the ball as it come swinging back at you. Practice dynamic footwork and angling. Use your claw techniques to catch and squeeze the ball. This is a great way to get your taijitsu (Japanese for "body technique") coordinated with your empty hand techniques. It is also good for precision, focus, and reaction speed.

Got hedges to trim? Do it the kung fu way! Targeting and snatching individual leaves, one at a time, is an excellent way to build up precision and speed. Once you have stripped all the leaves from the branch, grasp the stick with three fingers (thumb, forefinger, and second finger) then snap it off with a quick flick of the wrist. Bring in some spiral motion from the hips as well for larger, stronger branches. It sounds silly, but I really and truly have pruned my hedges and trees this way.

Use chopsticks! No, I am not telling you to catch flies like Miyagi San. Using chopstick in your everyday life (not just as a novelty at Asian restaurants, which is kind of mildly racist) is a good way to train your hands and fingers. You will also find them to be incredibly practical. You can cook with them, they are easy to clean, and there are many ways of using them besides just the "shovel" technique most Westerners seem to use if they even bother trying to use them. I eat spaghetti, whole roasted chicken, salads, pretty much everything with my chopsticks. They are, in my opinion, the absolute best tool to use when cooking bacon. When you learn to pinch, stir, entwine, cut, spear, select, and scoop with chopsticks you will have taught your hands to move in extremely refined ways without any thought or effort. Remove the chopstick from your hand and do the same movements with more force and you will find yourself using spiraling, jabbing, turning and squeezing techniques needed for qin na and kyushojitsu.

Learn tui na! There is a school of massage called tui na which is kind of like the healing version on qin na. In the East it includes things like acupressure, chiropractic adjustment and herbalism. In the west it is mostly taught as a supplemental method for massage therapists, who's license does not cover bone setting, so that part is typically left out. In any case, practicing massage is a good way to develop a good grip. Learning to manipulate the points to heal also makes it easier to find and correctly approach when attacking them for self defense. Even if you don't learn bone setting, you will develop a keen "feel" for the arrangement of bones and joints through massage, giving you a better sense of how to unseat them in cuo gu techniques.

The egg test;

Fragile as egg shells are, they have an amazing ability to withstand compressive force. Before starting, remove any rings you may be wearing. Place a raw egg in your palm horizontally. Wrap your fingers around and squeeze. Don't press in with your fingertips, rather use a "handlebar" grip with all your fingers pressing evenly against the surface of the egg. My junior high (back when that was a thing) science teacher said it was "impossible" to crush an egg in this way. In reality, it is just very difficult. It requires a grip in excess of 90psi to make the egg "pop" and shoot its contents in all directions, so be sure to do this outside! If it just cracks and goes "smush" in your hand, you used uneven pressure by hyperflexing a knuckle or something. Once you can pass this test, you can most likely apply effective qin na!

About the Author Rae Heskett

Born intersex, assigned "male" at birth, but her femininity was obvious as she developed. Ergo, Rae is both "intersex" and "transgender" in that her gender does not match that assigned at birth. She identifies as "hijra" or "kathoey" -words from Hindi and Thai languages respectively for "third gender" people. Rae is an author, holistic healer, and martial artist. She teaches and provides services professionally.

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