Monday, August 15, 2011

Follow the Feeling: Journal Notes #52

Notes from my February 2008 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.)

* Note: In one class this month after adjustments, I noticed a very different kind of feeling through the soles of my feet, ankles and up through my legs when the arch was either collapsed or pulled up. I have no words to describe this feeling so how can I say I had "x" feeling? It's as if I want to force a feeling into a word and if a word does not exist to describe it, then it's almost like the feeling doesn't exist.
(The way I see it, a problematic aspect of "internal" work is the lack of a concise language that describes the various kinesthetic feelings or phases one progresses through from beginner to master.

A word like "feeling" is so vague and ambiguous that a beginner and master and everyone in-between can use the same word and be talking about completely different kinesthetic experiences.

The only way to really know the skill level of someone who talks-the-talk is to touch hands with them for a few seconds.)

* Note: Two of our sensory systems function in a very limited bandwidth of the entire energy spectrum. Hearing (auditory) is limited to the 20 Hz to 20,000 Hz range. Seeing (visual) is limited to the spectrum of "visible" light, about 380 mm/s (violet color) to 750 mm/s (red color). Oddly, the sensory system of touch/feeling (kinesthetic) has no defined frequency range.

* Note: Allow each sensory facility to be used for its function. Don't try to force a sensory function to be used in a way it was not designed for. If you haven't developed your kinesthetic to the same level as visual and auditory, you may try to use your strength instead of developing your weakness. Think of feeling your internal kinesthetics as a new playground to explore.

* "Listen" to your body. It's wisdom is superior to any thought you may think. Learn its "language". Feel.

* Question: Have you met any of the teachers featured in the book "Nei Jia Quan: Internal Martial Arts Teachers of Tai Ji Quan, Xing Yi Quan, and Ba Gua Zhang" (2004)?
Answer: Not directly but possibly their students. Mike Sigman helped popularized a functional understanding of what internal strength means. Many of these teachers may be riding on his coat-tails. You should visit any of his remaining web sites and old email strings (from the 1990s). You'll see he was saying all this then.

* Note: In my early Tai chi days, I recall Tai chi teachers saying, "Move as if moving through water." But if I have chronic tensions I have not let go of and I am not relaxed, then imagining alone will not yield the desired result.
(Imagining doesn't make the chronic muscular tension go away. If anything, developing an imaginary 'sense' of moving through a viscous fluid further embedded my tensions because I layered another pattern over an existing pattern. I got stuck on imagining how I was moving and didn't feel how I was actually moving.

It wasn't until I took a more functional approach to letting go of chronic muscular tensions (through Rolfing and stance) that I began to notice on rare occasions a feeling that could be described as like moving through water.

I think different masters have different ways to try to describe the quality of the feeling.

I learned it's better to focus on doing seemingly unrelated yet functional exercises which ultimately result in that movement quality "naturally" showing up rather than pretending that movement quality.)

* Note: You can however use imagination as an isolated "medicine" to introduce the feeling of intention. For example, with your arms relaxed and hanging at your side, "Imagine your fingers are extending down without muscularly extending the fingers." The purpose is not to extend the fingers but to stretch the tightness out of the arm.

* Mind-body is all about where you set the dividing line. For example:
Mike's brain - Spinal column - nerves - finger - skin - table - Dan's skin - finger - nerves - spinal column - brain. When Mike's mind has a thought to tap the table and Dan feels the tap through his finger on the same table, where does Mike's mind and body end and Dan's body and mind begin?

* Note: Attention is noticing. Intention is expanding. Need to balance these two in stance. An imbalance leads to "stance dance".
(I have heard: Stance practice should be 50% noticing, 50% peng.)

* Question: You say, "The method is not the truth. Once you get the feeling, get rid of the method." So when I ask, "What is the feeling?" that question is self limiting because my practice today opens opportunities to feel more and deeper tomorrow. So there is no single be-all-and-end-all goal, no single, "the feeling". Rather, the saying should be more like, "Once you begin feeling, follow that feeling." Is this thought process on the right track?
Answer: Yes. You finally got it! Big breakthrough!

(When I read this old note now and the excitement I penned, I remember how much and how long I was struggling with trying to understand "The method is not the truth" phrase. This re-phrasing made so much more sense to me and was the key to my understanding what this phrase was pointing to.

I think the main thing I got stuck on was that I just couldn't understand how various exercises were "methods" and what methods had to do with feeling and what feeling had to do with developing internal strength. It was all very confusing for a very long time.

Thankfully, I have greater clarity now; more clear on the process and more clear on what my current "road blocks" are to further development and why I maintain these road blocks.)

* (Read these together)
Old Question: Isn't "the feeling" another word for "global awareness"?
Old Answer: No.
New Question: Isn't "the feeling" another word for "global awareness"?
New Answer: Yes.
(Even though the words of the question were the same, my teacher knew that my original understanding of "global awareness" was an intellectualization and not an attempt to describe a functional kinesthetic feeling and so answering "Yes" at that time would have led me in the wrong direction.

This is a good example demonstrating how knowing where your students are and speaking to where they are provides more valuable guidance rather than simply speaking the truth as you know it where you are as a teacher.)

* Question: Are all stances the same?
Answer: Yes, all stances will help you stand.

* Question: Are internal and external stances the same?
Answer: They look the same but are done differently.

(As I understand it, the difference is in how the mind is engaged, for what purpose and what is or is not happening under the skin.)

* Question: Is there an evolution to stance practice?
Answer: Yes, get the basic relax first in zhan zhuang. Then move into combat stances.

* Question: Some famous teachers (I've seen on the internet videos) mention changing stance every five minutes. Why? This doesn't seem to give you enough time to get into it.
Answer: These teachers may be catering to Americans.

(At the time I asked this question, I actually thought the "famous teacher" knew something better or more than my "not famous teacher". Looking back I understand this answer so much clearer now.

The American tendency toward action as I know it, is a stumbling block in this practice. If you want to make money teaching stance, then to get paying students, you have to keep them entertained. What better entertainment than changing positions every five minutes!

If you want to make real progress, you're better to only stand in Wujifa Zhan Zhuang for extended periods of time. The more illogical and boring the better!)

* Note on mystical, functional, mechanical:
  • Mystical - Places responsibility outside of self.
  • Functional - Looks for similarities, unifying principles.
  • Mechanical - Loses sight of the whole picture. Sees only the details.

* Note: Shoulders are tougher than elbows. Kuas are tougher than knees. "Tougher" means difficult to feel into, difficult to change established habitual patterns.
(Yes indeed. Shoulders and kua are difficult to feel into and to change!)

Further reading:
Introductory article explaining this "Journal Notes" series: Zhan Zhuang Training Journal
Previous article in this series: Noticing To Help You Notice: Journal Notes #51
Next article in this series: Contradictions: Journal Notes #53

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

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