Monday, January 24, 2011

Monkey and Stallion: Journal Notes #23

Notes from my December 2004 Zhan Zhuang Training Journal. I train with The School of Cultivation and Practice which practices Wujifa zhan zhuang. (My current reflections are added in italics.)

* Watched private video footage of Chen Bo-Xiang filmed in China in May 2004. This private instructional session taught in explicit detail the internal mechanics of the pelvis. Watching this video showed clearly how all movement originates in the pelvis (the dan-tian) and the operation of the kua.
(Though I didn't note this, I remember that what I saw struck me as being totally different from what I previously understood as "moving from the center". It was not the mechanics but rather something about the "quality" of the movement that was different.)
* Again I realize that this practice cannot be learned by reading books or watching videos. It must be taught and learned and transmitted in person.

* Watching this video also validated for me the authenticity or value of what Rick had learned and was sharing.
(One issue I struggled with was how much to trust what I was learning. Are these crazy exercises really gonna do it? Is "stand and relax" really going to take me where I want to go? Does this person really have the quality of internal strength? How would I recognize "internal strength" if I felt it? How would I distinguish the feeling of internal strength from the feeling of muscular solidity if I don't even know the feeling of it myself? How would I know if someone who claims to have internal strength actually does have it or not? What's real and what's trickery?

For some reason, something clicked as I watched that video and I decided, yep, this guy is the real deal. Also, since then, other visitors and better known masters have said the same.)
* Grasping only the core fundamentals and with no other training in any technique, one is able to wield considerable power.

* Question: In my standing, I cycle between sinking and rising up. So I asked myself how to stay sunk and the answer came to me to "concentrate". When I did, then I felt my feet swelling. Is this OK to practice this way? What is the swelling sensation?
Answer: Feeling swelling is a side effect of sinking. Don't concentrate so much. Balance. If you put 100% attention on concentrating on sinking, then you have no attention left to be aware of what else is going on in your body.

* Question: But if I don't concentrate, my "monkey mind" wanders around.
Answer: So give it something to do like watching the body or counting breaths. Control the monkey to ride the stallion. (The stallion is your intention.)

* When doing the head rotation exercise, keep the body still (from the shoulders on down) to feel the fascial stretch from the top of the head to the pelvis.
(This looks like the standard and usual head or neck rotation exercise from gym class but the difference is in the purpose and intention. As usually performed, the intention is to stretch and limber the muscles of the neck. However, here, the intention is to feel...

When I do this now, I feel like an entire sheet of something under my skin is being stretched and pulled as I circle. I notice this most clearly on my head - face, sides and back - and into my neck. The feeling diminishes as I get into my shoulders but then picks up again further down my truck and then diminishes again around the pelvis and then picks up again down the sides of the legs.

And when I first started this exercise, I literally couldn't feel any of this. Time and practice.)

* Every posture comes from stance, is a variation of stance. It all goes back to stance. If a "Tai-chi-er" is not doing stance, then it's just bullshit.

* 50% above. 50% below. 50% right. 50% left. Where are you to do this? In the center.

* Question: What's the right way to do Yan Gao-fei's warm-up exercises?
  • Level 1: Just focus on stretching the tendon.
  • Level 2: Stretch and sink with the structure.
  • Level 3: Ever so slightly, experiment with posture changes beginning in the arm to feel the tendon stretch, extending further up the arm. Continue over months of practice to develop the feeling. Feel how the stretch extends to the pelvis.
* When doing Yan Gao-fei's warm ups, try to feel the stretch going all the way down the back to the pelvis. Work on feeling the connection. Move or change posture slightly one piece at a time, ever so slightly.
(A note on these exercises, there are four wrist twisting or chi-na type stretches which involve one hand torquing the other as well as a single wrist rotation and elbow rotation exercises. The mechanical movement is pretty standard. The devil is in the details! As of this writing, I can feel a stretch from my wrist up to my shoulder. It might be nice to post a separate video on this.)
* Personal note: I continue working regularly on relaxing my pelvic floor.

* Had an experience in stance one day of the body oozing down and spreading out yet top pulled up out of ooze. That was weird.

* While practicing side-to-side, my knee was hurting. Noticed I was twisting the thigh but not my calf so I think I was torquing the knee. I then tried twisting from the foot up (the whole leg) and the pain went away.

* The side-to-side feeling feels now like a squeezing, compressing like feeling, like a fist closing.

* One exercise to try to help develop the "dropping" or "letting go" feeling... While in stance, imagine there is a stool with a water balloon on it underneath your butt. Drop fast to break the water balloon with your butt. (Of course there is no stool so your legs have to catch you. The idea is to practice the feeling of really letting go.)
(I remember practicing this a lot at home using a bar stool which is about the right height for me. A problem I had was although I could mechanically let the legs go and drop, I was still holding up top which is what I also needed to let go and drop. Only after lots and lots of frustration and questioning and practice did I find the feeling of dropping from the top.

I think this may have been amongst the earliest attempts to develop the feeling which culminated in what I wrote about in Sink the Chi: How to Sit Down While Standing.)
Further reading:
Introductory article explaining this "Journal Notes" series: Zhan Zhuang Training Journal
Previous article in this series: What is the Fulcrum: Journal Notes #22
Next article in this series: The Zhan Zhuang Recipe: Journal Notes #24

Make sure to visit and the Wujifa blog.
And stop by The School of Cultivation and Practice.

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