From author Jonathan Bluestein’s groundbreaking book, Research of Martial Arts:
“… Dragon Body: The Internalists train the ability to constantly apply three-dimensional coiling and spiraling movements. Moving the entire body in this fashion is nicknamed “Dragon Body” in Chinese by some practitioners, because it is an imitation of how the folklore Chinese dragons move around (be aware that “Dragon Body” often has other movement analogies associated with it – this is just one of them which I personally favour). This movement type was adopted for two practical reasons. Firstly, attacks tend to be one or two dimensional, making them susceptible to three-dimensional counters. Secondly, an opponent who has not specifically trained to respond to this kind of motion will not possess the muscular coordination and sensitivity to deal with that movement pattern, which is inherently very complex and sophisticated. The Dragon Body is there to ensure the opponent has a hard time to react to changing pressures. The benefits of this mechanism for defensive purposes were explored earlier in this chapter (see “Yielding, Sticking, Leading…”). It can be useful for attack as well as defense. A three-dimensional strike will inevitably divert a one/two dimensional punch or block when the two collide, considering “all other things are equal” between the opponents, and that the practitioner applying this mechanism is of sufficient skill for using it properly in combat.
While existent to a great degree in Xing Yi Quan, Taiji Quan, and other Internally-oriented arts, the art which is most famous for utilizing this elaborate concept is Bagua Zhang. This specific martial art is based on the philosophy of constant change (as it is heavily borrows from the Daoist Yi Jing), for which a “Dragon’s Body” is best suited, for it moves on three axis that change constantly. Bagua also tends to go the furthest in training and fighting as wringing motions are concerned, developing a very flexible, “dragon-like” movement capacity with the muscles and ligaments that surround the spine. Taking it even further, some Internalists (usually Bagua and Chen Taiji adepts) also seek to heighten their coordinative skills to the point where they can also move their chest, abdomen and hips in three different directions in any given point in time.
The notion of Dragon Body takes us back to the ‘Powerball analogy’. Seeking “to become as a gyroscope”, any proficient Internalist should possess the ability to move on three axis at any given time. Bagua adept Andrew Nugent-Head argues61 that the biomechanical advantage posed from training dragon-body methods stems from the unified support of the many muscles that coil together, which he compares to a cork-like structure. He follows by saying that “…whenever I’m touching you, I’m changing the touch constantly – whether you see it or not… So you’re constantly resisting the wrong spot, because you resisting where I was, but I have already changed…”. This is yet another way to look at the same analogies I have proposed thus far.
Dragon Body is a fighting strategy, which consequently dictates methods of training and tactics, and affects the way one’s structure is formed over years of practice. Externalists often use other approaches to change in the midst of combat. In martial arts such as Kenpo Karate (American Kenpo) or Uechi-ryu, there exists the concept of switching between the linear and circular. “…Where a linear technique ends, a circular technique begins…” and vice-versa. This might sometimes prove to be more surprising to the opponent, but abruptly cuts the flow from one movement to the other. Advantages and disadvantages exist for both these two approaches.
Western Boxers are Externalists who are well-known for using Dragon Body mechanics. Boxers tend to use these mechanics as part of bobbing, weaving and leaning tactics, for punch-evasion and confusing the opponent. Their movement is free-flowing, and three-dimensional. However, they do not use this principle like the Internalists, since they do not employ this type of movement in conjunction with other Internalist methods or traits. Most notably, boxers will bend and flex their spines at various odd angles. This works within the context of the competitive sport of boxing, as boxers care less of possible long-term effects of such spinal movements, and do not have to worry as much about an opponent taking advantage of these actions, since boxers don’t grapple. Boxers like Mike Tyson have turned the usage of this mechanism into a true art-form, showing how it can be used to effortlessly evade countless punches.
There is another, more “internal” manifestation of the Dragon Body – the wringing, twisting, coiling and spiraling of the tendons and fasciae. Such manifestation can usually be felt with touch, but not seen throughout most of the body (except for several key points), since the bodily adjustments to make it happen are very small. It is achieved by a combination of correct alignment, together with proper use of the Yi and breath to set up the insides of the body in a way that would cause the tendons and fasciae to contribute to one’s tensegrity structure.
First and foremost, these internal actions are essential for the stability of one’s structure, as they allow a better transference of force from the ground and to the ground. Many Internalist teachers are known for “magic tricks”, such as standing on one leg whilst having many people trying to push them backwards, unsuccessfully. These abilities are nothing special – only the product of correct training over a long period of time. A combination of relaxation and the internal manifestation of the Dragon Body spirals is what enables those teachers to do what they do.
Secondly, the internal Dragon Body is fundamental for creating so called ‘power-potential’, which, combined with smart application of our innate muscular stretch-reflexes, is of tremendous help in generating a lot of power with relatively minimal effort. I will explore this function later in more depth…..”