Monday, August 10, 2020

Mastering Internal Gongfu: Are You Ready? Body Structure-Character

The title of this series is: Mastering Internal Gongfu: Are you Ready? When I was asked this question twenty years ago, I responded with an emphatic “Yes!” As the years went by and I discovered the amount of work involved in mastering this art, I slowly came to realize that, no, I was not ready. Sure, I was willing to give it a try but I was not appropriately prepared to acquire new skills.

This realization then shined a light on the question asked by many internal gongfu practitioners, “Why does it take so long to get it?” To this, the typical response is, “If getting it were that easy, then everyone would be a master.” Well, we need a better answer than that! This series of posts is an attempt to provide a more thoughtful response to this question.

In the previous article in this series, I explored a mental process known as Cognitive Bias and how this can be a detriment to learning internal gongfu even though it can be a benefit in everyday life. In this post, I explore how my body structure-character influences my training.


Body-Mind or Structure-Character?
When I started this journey in the mid-1980s the term “body-mind” was still a relatively new concept but one that was already associated with some martial arts. Thirty years later, there are now many articles and books as well as certificate and degree programs pertaining to somatic-psychology and associated therapies.

My understanding these days is that everyone has a naturally occurring body-mind connection and this connection is expressed as a unique structure-character. The following five illustrations exemplify the variability of body structure-character.


(Special thanks to Dr. Anodea Judith for her permission to use these images which appear in her book, Eastern Body, Western Mind 1996, 2010.)


In terms of an internal gongfu practice, I use my invisible body-mind pathway to intentionally make changes to my visible structure-character. Let's look at this in a little more detail.

Application to Internal Gongfu Training
Due to this variation in practitioners’ structure-character, there is no “one size fits all” when it comes to teaching and training. For example, instructing each of the above five practitioners to “relax” or “open” or "belly breathe", will result in five different interpretations and five different expressions based on the pattern of the body structure-character.

In my case, even though I understood the instruction (from my frame of reference; cognitive bias), my body responded according to the parameters of its structure-character; not able to exactly reproduce the instruction my teacher was demonstrating. It was as if my body structure-character was misinterpreting and erroneously expressing the instruction.

I've also noticed that it is difficult for me to feel into areas that are tense and/or limp. I experience these tense/limp areas as being numb; I can feel around a particular area but not into that area. Practicing various exercises or qigongs has helped me develop feeling into these numb areas. I've noticed that as I develop more feeling into my body, this has resulted in unexpected character changes.

Curiously, this is not a one-way street. I have also experienced how changes in character can improve the ability to feel into previously numb areas which also changes physical structure. To the extent that each can contribute to changing the other, each can also contribute to blocking a change in the other.

For example, I used to think that progress meant only changing my structure and that my character had nothing to do with it. (I had even compartmentalized my own body!) The net result of my “change this compartment but don’t change that compartment” was an internal tug-of-war; a lot of effort and very little progress.

Later, when I allowed for even the remotest possibility that maybe little changes to my character might help my training, this shift in attitude allowed me to begin playing with aspects of my character. Slowly I began to notice how my structure responded.

Looking at the above illustrations, you might be able to see how each has different work to do to develop a more balanced, centered, relaxed, open, and connected structure-character. The challenges that each of us face in practice will be as unique as the body structure-character that we bring to our practice.

In Closing
I don’t know if there is an adult body structure-character that is predisposed to “getting it” or not, but from my observations each of the practitioners (illustrations) represented above, through developing a sensitivity to kinesthetic feeling, can transform into yet another body structure-character representing those who “got it”; a more balanced, centered, relaxed, open, and connected structure-character.

When I had compartmentalized my body and denied the existence of a connection between structure and character, this hindered my practice. As I began to discover and develop the connection between structure and character, this supported my practice.

Developing the ability to notice the subtlety of the connection between structure and character was very difficult for me. But as I later discovered, having a sensitivity to this level of connection is not only helpful for making progress in this art, it is also a kind of signpost of making progress in this art.

This series will continue with each article filling in one of the puzzle pieces until the entire puzzle is complete. We’ll wrap up by considering how this puzzle can be interpreted in an Internal Gongfu Progress Matrix and finally we’ll look at the role of the Source and Level of Instruction.

Previous post in this series: Mastering Internal Gongfu: Are You Ready? Cognitive Bias

Monday, August 3, 2020

Mastering Internal Gongfu: Are You Ready? Cognitive Bias

The title of this series is: Mastering Internal Gongfu: Are you Ready? When I was asked this question twenty years ago, I responded with an emphatic “Yes!” As the years went by and I discovered the amount of work involved in mastering this art, I slowly came to realize that, no, I was not ready. Sure, I was willing to give it a try but I was not appropriately prepared to acquire new skills.

This realization then shined a light on the question asked by many internal gongfu practitioners, “Why does it take so long to get it?” To this, the typical response is, “If getting it were that easy, then everyone would be a master.” Well, we need a better answer than that! This series of posts is an attempt to provide a more thoughtful response to this question.

In the previous article in this series, I explored how my day-to-day patterns of movement or "Activity Patterns" could either support or hinder my formal training. In this post, I explore the mental process elicited when facing an uncertainty (an unfamiliar problem) and how this mental process helps or hinders my training.



What is Cognitive Bias?
Simply stated, cognitive bias is the mental process of using a previous experience rather than rational thinking to solve a new and unfamiliar problem. (If you’d like to read the articles I used to arrive at this summation, see the “Further Reading” section at the end of this post.) Moving on, how does this mental process show up in daily life?

First, when I’m faced with uncertainty, that is, when I’m trying to solve a new and unfamiliar problem, if I’m not reasoning my way through the problem in the present moment, then I’m most likely referencing a previous experience; I’m using a cognitive bias.

Second, I have the ability to detect whether I’m present and reasoning or whether I’m using past experiences to help figure out a present problem. How do I do that? Reasoning is slow and effortful and cognitive bias is fast and relatively effortless; intuitive.

The earliest identified cognitive biases are: Representativeness, Anchoring, and Confirmation.
    • Representativeness - “the likelihood of an event is evaluated by the degree to which it is representative of the major characteristics of the process or population from which it originated.” (1972) 
    • Anchoring Bias - “Anchoring occurs not only when the starting point is given to the subject, but also when the subject bases his estimate on the result of some incomplete computation.” (1974)
    • Confirmation Bias - “seeking or interpreting evidence in ways that are partial to existing beliefs, expectations, or a hypothesis in hand” (1998)

      Application to Internal Gongfu
      Cognitive bias can reference any of a variety of previous experiences. For this article I've chosen to limit this previous experience to the context of martial arts, specifically, my previous martial art experience. Here are my interpretations of how each of these cognitive biases, these types of deviations from reasoning showed up later in my Wujifa zhan zhuang practice.

      Anchoring Bias
      My starting point in my internal gongfu journey was learning a dancer’s interpretation of Tai-chi Chuan for one year and then learning the Zheng Manqing/William C.C. Chen/Bob Klein interpretation of Tai-chi Chuan for four years. This five year “starting point” experience formed my anchor bias.

      Confirmation Bias
      My initial five-year experience became not only an anchoring bias but this experience also established my beliefs and expectations through which I would interpret all future experiences. I “intuitively” interpreted all my new zhan zhuang experiences according to my existing beliefs and expectations.

      Representativeness
      When I began practicing zhan zhuang, I evaluated the likelihood of my success in this practice according to how I perceived zhan zhuang as being a representative of the major characteristics of my previous forms and push hands experiences.

      How Does Cognitive Bias Inhibit Progress?
      While this mental process is obviously beneficial in many situations, when it comes to learning internal gongfu, it can be detrimental. For example, the “it” that I want to “get” bears no similarity to any known phenomenon. The words used to describe “it” by those who have achieved “it” are misinterpreted by those who do not have “it”. Using previous experience to try to “figure it out” is a losing proposition.

      Cognitive bias distracts my attention from experiencing the present moment as it is. By filtering my present kinesthetic experience through one or more previous experiences, I am unable to fully engage with my practice in the present moment. Cognitive bias inhibits me exploring this new experience, with all its uncertainty, as being completely different and unique unto itself.

      What is the uncertainty? It is questions like these: What is the movement principle? How did he do that? What do I have to practice to develop that? How do I know if I’m making progress or not? Cognitive bias seeks to remove uncertainty and provide an answer to these questions even if the answer is wrong or misleading.

      In Closing
      Cognitive bias is part of our human condition; it’s how we’re “wired” for survival, for energetic efficiency. To the extent that my cognitive biases show up in daily life, my cognitive biases can also show up in learning internal gongfu.

      In hindsight, I unwittingly applied all three of these cognitive biases (and more) in an attempt to understand an experience outside of my previous range of experiences. These cognitive biases did not help my practice but instead, they hindered my practice

      These biases were so deeply embedded and their influence so subtle that I simply could not recognize how they were influencing my practice in that present moment. Now with some temporal distance from those days, the issue becomes obvious.

      I am thus inclined to think of Cognitive Bias as the modern psychological equivalent of the poetic and proverbial full cup, the carved block, the marked slate. To empty the cup and approach each new training experience as unique unto itself means to become aware of my cognitive biases and then to make an effort to mitigate this bias in my training. Obviously the best case is to have no previous experience; no cognitive bias, an empty cup.

      This series will continue with each article filling in one of the puzzle pieces until the entire puzzle is complete. We’ll wrap up by considering how this puzzle can be interpreted in an Internal Gongfu Progress Matrix and finally we’ll look at the role of the Source and Level of Instruction.


      Further Reading

      Subjective Probability: A Judgment of Representativeness
      Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky
      Cognitive Psychology 3, 430-454 (1972)

      Judgment under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases
      Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman
      Science, New Series, Vol. 185, No. 4157 (Sep. 27, 1974), pp. 1124- 1131

      Confirmation Bias: a ubiquitous phenomenon in many guises
      Raymond S. Nickerson
      Review of General Psychology, 2 (1998), pp. 175–220.

      Maps of Bounded Rationality: Psychology for Behavioral Economics
      Daniel Kahneman
      The American Economic Review, Vol 93, No. 5, (December 2003), pp. 1449-1475

      Kahneman and Tversky and the Origin of Behavioral Economics
      Floris Heukelom
      Tinbergen Institute Discussion Paper, TI 2007-003/1, (Sept 2006)

      From Mindless to Mindful Practice — Cognitive Bias and Clinical Decision Making
      Pat Croskerry, M.D., PhD.
      New England Journal of Medicine, 368;26, (June 27, 2013)

      A Neural Network Framework for Cognitive Bias
      Johan E. Korteling, Anne-Marie Brouwer and Alexander Toet
      Frontiers in Psychology, Volume 9, Article 1561, (September 2018)


      Previous post in this series:Mastering Internal Gongfu: Are You Ready? Activity Patterns

      Next post in this series:  Mastering Internal Gongfu: Are You Ready? Body Structure-Character

      Monday, July 27, 2020

      Mastering Internal Gongfu: Are You Ready? Activity Patterns

      The title of this series is: Mastering Internal Gongfu: Are you Ready? When I was asked this question twenty years ago, I responded with an emphatic “Yes!” As the years went by and I discovered the amount of work involved in mastering this art, I slowly came to realize that, no, I was not ready. Sure, I was willing to give it a try but I was not appropriately prepared to learn.

      This realization then shined a light on the question asked by many internal gongfu practitioners, “Why does it take so long to get it?” To this, the typical response is, “If getting it were that easy, then everyone would be a master.” Well, we need a better answer than that! This series of posts is an attempt to provide a more thoughtful response to this question.

      In the Introduction to this series, I explored the meaning of preparation versus readiness from the context of an internal gongfu practice. I also explored two different views of my practice; a compartmentalized view versus an interrelated component view (depicted as a puzzle). In this post, I begin filling in the puzzle pieces by first exploring my daily patterns of activity.



      Reviewing for a moment, in my compartmentalized way of looking at my life (as illustrated in the Introduction), I divided my life by activity types: family, career, internal gongfu practice, etc. I had never even remotely considered that the way my body moved or didn’t move during or between these various activities would have any influence or impact on my formal training; my practice.

      As I pondered how I might be “training” my body when I was not formally training, I began thinking in terms of daily patterns of movement (activity patterns) that I used across the various compartmentalized types of activities. I started by looking at a typical 24-hour day. To facilitate calculations, I disregarded the eight-hour block of time devoted to sleep and only considered the predominant activity of the remaining sixteen hours of waking experience. Here is how my typical week looks:


      Hours Training Hours Other Percentages
      1 hour per day 15 hours sitting (Monday through Friday):
      eating meals, commuting, driving, working at my desk job, visiting friends/family, watching TV, writing projects, etc.
      Almost 94% of my day is reinforcing a single physical pattern (sitting) and 6% of my day is training internal gong-fu
      1 hour per day 15 hours various activities (Saturday and Sunday): standing, reaching, squatting, kneeling, sitting, climbing, lifting, carrying, twisting, looking up, down, all around, walking, etc., Almost 94% of my day is not reinforcing a single physical pattern and 6% of my day is training internal gong-fu


      When I looked at a typical week this way, I realized that the majority of my day (and week!) is spent sitting! I was spending 15 hours a day, five days a week effectively training tight hips, slouched shoulders, etc, and only one hour a day formally training the principles of internal gongfu. My entire day was training the exact opposite of my formal training! And then once a week I’d go to Wujifa class and expect to make progress. In hindsight, this expectation strikes me as delusional!

      Granted, the adjustments gained during Wujifa class gave me absolutely valuable guidance. However, attending class and practicing was like taking one step forward and then the rest of my week was like taking two steps backward! At the time, I was totally unaware of this due to the way I had compartmentalized my life.

      I have now come to the conclusion that:
      1. Daily activity patterns that contradict the principles of practice are not congruent with practice and therefore hinder my training.
      2. Daily activity patterns that do not contradict the principles of practice are congruent with practice and therefore support my training.
      Imagine if I could spend 15 hours a day or 94% of my day engaged in activities that reinforced and supported the principle I train in my formal practice. Imagine if I could spend only one hour or 6% of my day doing just the opposite. (Would that even be possible?) I now believe that until the day when I can have more activity that does not hinder practice and more activity that supports practice, and preferably, have time throughout the day to formally practice, then my progress will be mediocre at best.

      In Closing
      This component of Activity Patterns is probably the clearest example of the influence of daily life on practice. However, for me to see this I needed to shift my perspective out of a compartmentalized view of my life. After I was able to make this shift, then this pattern was easily identified and I was able to understand how my activity pattern supported or hindered my practice. Noticing this pattern also presents me with an opportunity to change it.

      This series will continue with each article filling in one of the puzzle pieces until the entire puzzle is complete. We’ll wrap up by considering how this puzzle can be interpreted in an Internal Gongfu Progress Matrix and finally we’ll look at the role of the Source and Level of Instruction.


      Previous post in this series: Mastering Internal Gongfu: Are You Ready? Introduction

      Next post in this series: Mastering Internal Gongfu: Are You Ready? Cognitive Bias

      Monday, July 20, 2020

      Mastering Internal Gongfu: Are You Ready? Introduction

      The title of this series is: Mastering Internal Gongfu: Are you Ready? When I was asked this question twenty years ago, I responded with an emphatic “Yes!” As the years went by and I discovered the amount of work involved in mastering this art, I slowly came to realize that, no, I was not ready. Sure, I was willing to give it a try but I was not appropriately prepared to acquire new skills.

      This realization then shined a light on the question asked by many internal gongfu practitioners, “Why does it take so long to get it?” To this, the typical response is, “If getting it were that easy, then everyone would be a master.” Well, we need a better answer than that! This series of posts is an attempt to provide a more thoughtful response to this question.

      Preparedness vs Readiness
      The title of this series asks, Are you ready? To be ready means to be in condition for or to be completely prepared for something. For example, I prepare for vacation by selecting a location, scheduling travel, packing clothes, etc. On the first day of vacation, I’m ready to go. That is to say, I’m not ready unless I am prepared. These concepts are also applicable to an internal gongfu practice. Simply showing up to class or seminar does not necessarily mean I am prepared or conditioned and hence ready.

      In the context of internal gongfu, some people are ready and some are not. Those who are ready will exhibit the proverbial empty cup, the uncarved block, the cognitive and kinesthetic tabula rasa. These people are either naturally this way or have achieved this state through the effort of conditioning, preparing. They are cognitively and kinesthetically ready to fill the cup anew, carve the block anew, write on the slate anew.

      For those who are not ready, the time-consuming work of preparation and conditioning to become ready involves unlearning misunderstood concepts, correcting misperceptions, and changing incongruous kinesthetic habits. For these practitioners, training is a practice of emptying the proverbial cup, uncarving the block, or erasing the slate.

      Unfortunately, this preparatory effort gives the false impression that “getting it” is hard to learn. Actually, learning it is easy. As I've seen with others, “getting it” can be achieved with a few years of dedicated practice given a functional combination of:
      • a practitioner who is ready or needs minimal preparation and guidance,
      • a system that uses a mutually understandable paradigm and instructional methods, and
      • a teacher who embodies the movement principle and is able to impart the principle.
        I now think of preparing and conditioning as the first phase of training (emptying the cup of old wine) and then when I am ready, I can begin the second phase of training (filling the cup with new wine).

        How I used to view my practice
        Let’s begin with a point we probably all share in common; our various activities of daily life. Let me introduce how I used to perceive my daily life and how my internal gongfu training fit into this picture.

        For the past thirty years of training, I considered my internal gongfu practices as one of several compartmentalized activities that filled my life. Each activity required its own skill set. Each activity was isolated from and not influenced by any other. The image below provides a depiction of this compartmentalization.


        Even after I began experiencing how changes brought about in Wujifa class were showing up in my other activities, I continued holding onto my habitual way of compartmentalizing my life. It never occurred to me that internal gongfu practice was not just another isolated activity like my other activities.

        A New Model
        While reflecting on the question, “Why am I taking so long to get it?” I had the insight that the internal gongfu curriculum (the various training methods e.g., zhan zhuang) is either supported by or hindered by a variety of components that are outside of this formal training curriculum.

        Although I had been aware of these various components for years under their various guises and pseudonyms, I never really understood how they influenced my training and progress. As I sat with this insight, these various disparate components slowly formed a cohesive set.

        I also knew from experience that these so-called “components” are so interconnected and so intertwined and in such complex and seemingly unfathomable ways that to call them components is actually a misnomer. The beauty of being able to distill the whole into parts is that the resultant model provides an opportunity to discover how each so-called component directly influences my practice and progress.

        The model that best illustrates this concept is a jigsaw puzzle as depicted below.


        Whereas the previous model of “My Life” included various activities that also included my practice, in this model, my practice is at the center of my life and the surrounding puzzle pieces are the various components of my life that both influence my practice and are influenced by my practice. These surrounding components will be introduced one at a time in forthcoming posts.

        Take a moment and consider how you would graphically represent your life and your practice. Would your practice look more like the first model where it is one of a variety of unrelated, compartmentalized activities or would it look more like the second model of interrelated components where each component influences each other? And what are these components for you?

        In Closing
        In this series of ten posts over the next ten weeks (July to September 2020), I will explore an insight into the preparing or conditioning phase of training.

        If you’ve been practicing awhile and wonder why it’s taking so long to get it, then maybe my insights can help explain why it's taking so long as well as provide ideas to alter the path you are on.

        And if you’re just starting and want to understand why it can take so long and get some ideas into how to shorten that time, then maybe my insights can help here too.

        This series will continue with each article filling in one of the puzzle pieces until the entire puzzle is complete. We’ll wrap up by considering how this puzzle can be interpreted in an Internal Gongfu Progress Matrix and finally we’ll look at the role of the Source and Level of Instruction.

        Friday, May 15, 2020

        Secrets of the Pelvis for Martial Arts - Link Updates

        As of May 15, 2020, all links on the Kindle version have been reviewed and where possible, the links have been updated.

        Secrets of the Pelvis for Martial Arts: A Practical Guide for Improving Your Wujifa, Taiji, Xingyi, Bagua and Everyday Life was originally published as a Kindle e-book in March of 2013. In response to requests from countries where Kindle was not available, I then released a paperback version in December 2013.

        I periodically review and update the broken links. However, to maintain consistency of the paperback version, I only update the links in the Kindle book. If you have the paperback version, here is a pdf of the current list of updated links:

        Secrets of the Pelvis for Martial Arts - Link Updates