Monday, January 2, 2012

The Middle Path: Journal Notes #72

Notes from my November 2009 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.)

* Notice the difference between holding and relax. Notice holding. Notice relaxing. Notice between. What is between holding and relaxing? Between is the area to play in. There are no words to describe the feeling in that "between" area. "Fascial stretch" is the way Wujifa describes the feeling.
(I confess, my knowledge of fascia was stuck at high school biology. The more I relax and feel and the more I learn about fascia, the more I understand why "fascial stretch" is a good way to describe the feeling of whole body connectedness.)

* Question: When I practice the Wujifa side-to-side exercise, do I push off from the weighted leg or pull myself over from the unweighted leg?
Answer: When practicing side to side, pushing off from the weighted leg is necessary for beginners. Later, after you can move with correct alignment, then notice when you feel the kua open and close. The open kua, which would be on the side of the unweighted leg, feels like a taut, stretched rubber band pulling you back to the other side. This is the level of relax you must achieve to notice this feeling and to yield to this feeling. The open kua is the setup for fa-jing.

(The more I see my instructor and school brother demonstrate this kind of whole-body movement, the more I see what his description is describing.

Even though I've been practicing relax for a while, I am inspired when I get a deeper insight into the meaning and feeling of relax - "Oh, that's what relax means!" The more I relax, the more clear I get on what is a muscularly forced, faux fa-jing and what is the real stuff.

If my instructor's description doesn't strike you as, "That's one way to describe what I feel.", then please DO NOT try to imagine the taut rubber band feeling as a method to help you develop fa-jing because doing so would take you down the wrong path!!

You are where you are and that's where you start. What level of
relax-feel-sensitivity do you have now? That's where you are. If you really want to do fa-jing correctly, it's better to be honest with yourself and admit "I don't have that level of feeling-sensitivity yet." than to fool yourself by imagining what that feeling "must" feel like.

There's a HUGE difference between DESCRIBING what you feel and IMAGINING you are feeling what someone else describes!)

* Note: We had a long discussion about my approach to training zhan zhuang. These are some of the key points:
  • My pattern is mechanistic. I look at, and for, individual parts.
  • I look for methods to add to my collection of methods.
  • My method is to connect the dots; to discover common elements to understand the whole.
  • My pattern is also to identify a specific problem that needs fixing. This works in the external mechanical world but does not work in the internal kinesthetic world. A more functional approach is to notice connections. Notice relax.
(Despite all the college philosophy classes I took and all the self-help analysis I've done, none of that contributed a whit to a functional, boots-on-the-ground "know yourself" that became exposed through practicing Wujifa zhan zhuang. The "know yourself" that became important to me in zhan zhuang training was knowing how I approached training and how my approach influences the results I get and in turn, the amount of progress I do or do not make.)

* Question: During the past two weeks, I'm noticing how relaxing and widening the shoulders results in feeling the fingers extending. Am I on the right track?
Answer: Yes and no. Extend your index finger. What do you feel?
Me: Top of forearm.
Rick: Extend your baby finger. What do you feel?
Me: Bottom of forearm.
Rick: Extend your middle finger. What do you feel?
Me: Through the middle of my forearm.
Rick: Practice extending the middle finger. Build the intention in the middle path. If you practice "out" as a method, then you must learn "in" as a method. When you choose "middle", then you have both "out" and "in" available.

(The perspective of the below drawings is from your eyes looking down your right arm to your right palm. The two smaller circles in Fig 1. and Fig 2. represent your two forearm bones: ulna and radius. Fig 3. departs from anatomical accuracy.)

*Question: So what's wrong with practicing outside and inside? This seems really practical.
Answer: If you practice feeling the outside and inside path, this sets up a polarity (yin-yang). When you practice polarity and you want to jump to the next level (wuji), then how do you do that? Many people jump to being "not present" because they don't know how to unify or bridge the polarity. They mistake the "not-present" sensation as being enlightened, as being in Wuji.

Practice the middle path. Be present. Feel something! Feel anything! Feel! When you practice feeling the middle, you connect with unity. Begin with unity. Unity includes polarity. Build, deepen, expand your presence.

When you think of polarity, think of a teeter-totter, a board balanced on a fulcrum. You can load up both sides of a teeter-totter and it can break. So it's better to be the fulcrum on which the teeter-totter rests. Stay with the principle and apply methods/medicines as needed.

* Question: Sometimes I feel like I'm doing zhan zhuang all wrong. How do I do it correctly?
Answer: It's not about doing zhan zhuang right or wrong. You're still getting stuck on the method. "The method is not the truth. Once you get the feeling, get rid of the method." It's about discovering the feeling of connectedness when you are standing in zhan zhuang. To discover feeling, there is no right or wrong way, only your way.

* Question: What's the relation between Tai-chi and Yi-chuan?
Answer: Wang Xiang-zhai, the founder of Yi-chuan taught principles. When he died, his students taught methods. So in one generation, the art has been degraded. The same has happened in Tai-chi where there have been generations of degradation.

*Question: What should I look for in a zhan zhuang teacher?
Answer: You must ask: Do the teachings point to the "A-ha!" of the principle and then show the method/medicine to help explain the principle?

A good teacher should not just teach a collection of methods. The method is only a "feeling-pointer". Feelings are not data!!!

People eventually find their own methods. The mistake is to teach feeling as data: We do "X" to feel "Y". Don't get stuck on individual data-feelings and miss the unifying connectedness feeling.

* Question: I notice my shoulder muscles are hard even when I lay on the floor when all these muscles should be soft and relaxed.
Answer: Notice your intention is focusing on a problem again. Focus your intention on your goal. Focus on the muscle relaxing, extending, softening.

* The weight distribution in the foot is determined or influenced by the twist in the calf, the amount of bend in the knee and the rotation of the foot. A lot of fascia and muscles play into the position of the foot on the floor.
(Indeed, getting the feet really parallel in Wujifa zhan zhuang alignment is much more complicated than it initially appears. Feet parallel doesn't mean shoes parallel. It means the entire structure of each foot is straight with no deviations and each foot is parallel to the other. Getting the feet truly parallel can take quite a bit of work.)

Further reading:
Introductory article explaining this "Journal Notes" series: Zhan Zhuang Training Journal
Previous article in this series: Building Internal Community: Journal Notes #71
Next article in this series: - Victor Chao Internal Martial Arts Training: Journal Notes #73

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

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