The Etymology of the Chinese Concept ‘凌空勁’
(Ling Kong Jin) or ‘Directed Boundaried Power’!
Translator’s Note: The so-called ‘Empty Force’ has become something of a misrepresented fetish in the West. Even within its native China – particularly when viewed in the context of that nation’s rapid modernisation and drive toward the ‘scientific’ - this can be a sensitive subject. My point in this article is to succinctly demonstrate that the Western interpretation of the Chinese concept of ‘凌空勁’ is at best misconstrued, and at worst deliberately misinterpreted. The name of ‘Empty Force’ is incorrect and misleading and appears to be imbued in the West with alien concepts akin to the ‘Holy Spirit’ or some other type of ‘disembodied’ Western notion. It has nothing to do with any such ethereal interpretations. Indeed, even a very basic assessment of the Chinese ideograms associated with this (Chinese) concept demonstrate that this cannot be a correct or even an associated interpretation! Strictly speaking, the concept of ‘凌空勁’ should more properly be translated as ‘Directed, Boundaried Power’ (such as that concerted power produced by the emission of water through a high-pressured hose) - with the concept of ‘Emptiness’ removed altogether (as it is the inclusion of this concept which opens this notion to all kinds of speculative misinterpretation). The type of strength developed through this technique is the product of the correct (and effective) use of ‘space’ which exists between clearly defined boundaries – and not necessarily the ‘space’ itself – and herein lies the crux of the misunderstanding in the West. Even within China, due to the traditional attitude of ‘secrecy’ that existed for thousands of years, this concept is often misunderstood, and can lead to various types of exploitation. The reality is that this concept is logical and relatively easy to comprehend when ALL the facts are considered properly and in the correct logical context. This is why ‘凌空勁’, as a concept, conforms with all scientific thinking and does not contradict logical or rational thought in any way!
This term is usually rendered into English as ‘Empty Force’ - but why would only two English words be considered sufficient to suitably describe ‘three’ Chinese ideograms - given that each of these ideograms is carefully chosen to provide a very definite (descriptive) explanation? It is as if the English translation ‘Empty Force’ serves as a ‘fetishization’ of a foreign (and unfamiliar) martial arts term – chosen to emphasis only those elements of immediate (and often controversial) interest. My task is to clarify the original meaning of each of these ideograms – and then explore how these three meanings might fit-together to create a genuine (and comprehensive) over-arching meaning.
1) 凌 (ling2) - standard definition = ‘ice’
a) Left-hand particle = ‘冫’ (bing1) - which is a contraction of ‘冰’ (bing1) [and similar ideograms] all alluding to the concept of presence of ‘ice’ and the ‘accumulation’ of ice (indeed, ‘冰’ depicts the ‘freezing’ of a once free-flowing body of water). Standing, walking and otherwise ‘traversing’ any distance becomes extremely difficult if the footing is not carefully positioned, controlled and placed. Without a precise placement of the foot – the practitioner will slip and fall-down.
b) Right-hand particle is ‘夌’ (ling2). The top element of this particle is ‘圥’ (lu4) which can refer to a ‘mushroom’ or a person ‘leap-frogging’ over an object. This element is comprised of:
i) Upper section = ‘土’ (tu3) meaning ‘ground’, or ‘earth’.
ii) Lower section = ‘夂’ (zhi3) meaning ‘to attack from behind’ - ‘to attack from an unexpected (or unusual) direction’.
When all these meanings are combined together within the context of advanced (internal) martial arts - the ideogram 凌 (ling2) suggests the concept of maintaining of a firm footing whilst stood upon unsteady (or uneven) ground – when initiating a surprise attack from an unexpected (or unpredictable) direction.
2) 空 (kong1) - standard definition = ‘empty’
a) Top particle = ‘穴’ (xue4) meaning a confined space (with definite boundaries on all side) such as that contained by the interior of a cave or tent – accessed through a door-flap.
i) Upper section = ‘宀’ (mian2) meaning a type of deep house with walls on all four sides, a roof, a main hall, and back rooms – and by implication – the interior space so contained.
ii) Lower section = ‘八’ (ba1) meaning the number ‘eight’ (8) and ‘numerous’.
b) Bottom particle = ‘工’ (gong1) meaning ‘labour’ or ‘self-cultivation’.
When all these meanings are combined together within the context of advanced (internal) martial arts - the ideogram 空 (kong1) suggests the disciplined use of martial ‘emptiness’ as defined by the discipline demanded by pre-existing (and channelling) limitations. This is NOT the potentially boundless ‘emptiness’ that exists between two distinct objects (such as mountain tops) - but the finite and limited ‘emptiness’ as found within a cave, house or other similar (boundaried) interior.
3) 勁 (jin4) - standard definition = ‘strength’, ‘energy’ and ‘vigour’
a) Left-hand particle = ‘巠‘ (jing1) meaning the power associated with running water – particularly a stream flowing underground.
i) Upper section = ‘一’ (yi1) meaning ‘one’ (1) or ‘unified’.
ii) Middle section = ‘巛’ (shun4) meaning ‘a body of flowing water’.
iii) Lower section = ‘工’ (gong1) meaning ‘labour’ or ‘self-cultivation’.
When all these meanings are combined together within the context of advanced (internal) martial arts - the ideogram 勁 (jin4) suggests the cultivation of a natural power – such as that produced by a) free-flowing water either on the horizontal or vertical plane (such as sedate rivers and thunderous waterfalls), and b) the type of natural power produced by water that is flowing through a narrow enclosure or channel (under tremendous pressure) before re-emerging into the open.
This analysis suggests that the concept of ‘凌空勁’ (Ling Kong Jin) should translate as something along the following lines:
‘A well-placed footing on uncertain (or continuously ‘changeable’ ground), whereby the channelling of energy through a limited space produces immense and unlimited power.’
Another way of interpreting this concept is as follows:
‘A footwork that is continuously changing (and never limited to a single position) – produces an immense (and limitless) power with the minimum of effort.’
A rootless ‘root’ is required (as if standing on ice) so that fluid movement and static immovability merge into one another. As emptiness has been realised within the mind, body and environment, a natural boundary (or ‘channel’) is realised as existing within the interior of the bones so that dropping bodyweight flows like water into the ground – whilst the rebounding force rises into the physical environment through the body of the practitioner – like flood waters rising over all barriers and washing everything away! Therefore, the Chinese term ‘凌空勁’ (Ling Kong Jin) should be better translated not as ‘Empty Force’, but rather as ‘Directed Boundaried Power’ - as it is the ‘pressure’ of the water which generates the ‘power’ - and not the ‘weight’ of the water that generates the ‘force’.
©opyright: Adrian Chan-Wyles (ShiDaDao) 2022.