Monday, May 7, 2012

Zhan Zhuang and Quality Control: Journal Notes #90

Notes from my May 2011 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.)

* Question: How do you stay motivated to continue practicing zhan zhuang? Doesn't it get boring after a while?
Answer: If you're avoiding something in daily life, this shows up in stance. Your patterns in daily life, show up in stance practice. You can work out daily life issues in zhan zhuang practice.

* You can't just come to class and learn how to wave your hands around. You're not doing gongfu until you put your own mind into it. Learning something is not the same as practicing. And practicing what you were taught is not the same as practicing what you learn with intention.

* Most people can easily state their "I don't likes" or "I don't wants" (what they want to get away from) but have trouble coming up with stating their "I likes" and "I wants" (what they want to move toward) which is putting a stake in the ground and stating what they stand for.
 (My "toward" and "away" attitudes show up in zhan zhuang stance practice in statements such as, "I want to feel more connection." and "I'm frustrated that it's taking me so long.")

* My instructor spent a good deal of time breaking down each individual movement of the first Chen Silk Reeling form; a kind of feeling analysis of the fascial stretch movement. This kind of "inch by inch" movement description was so completely awesome to witness. I've never seen this level of detailed explanation at any silk reeling seminar or anywhere online.
(The notes from this lesson are too extensive to include here. I may post these in a separate article.)

* I had another break-through "A-ha" moment today. I was able to distinguish the difference between resisting vs. not being able to move due to being so bound up. Recognizing this distinction in myself is another good step. "I'm not resisting. I'm just too bound up to move and feel."
(Often my instructor adjusts my posture or insists my body should move a certain way and I'd forcefully state, "I can't. My body doesn't move that way!" And then after a few more minutes of work, my body is then moving or hitting that posture.
Now, after having recognized this in myself and subsequently encountering this initial "knee-jerk" attitude of resistance again and again, I'm now more inclined to acknowledge that I could do something but I'm too bound up to do it now and accept the help I need. Which is not to say that I still don't have areas where I resist because I do. I'm more aware of it now.)

* I need to practice stance more on the edge of discomfort on one leg. Hold side-to-side on one side. Relax the lower belly. Relax the lower back. Relax the outside of the thighs. Shift slightly forward and back and get a good sense of the back opening and widening.

* Question: How do you know if your zhan zhuang practice is "stuck in a rut"? How do you get out of it?
Answer: A "rut" may not be a bad thing. What you are mentally defining as a "rut" may in fact be the body processing gains made and preparing for the next big change. Sometimes there may be small changes happening that you are not noticing so in fact, there's no "rut" at all. To "get out a rut" simply change the focus of your practice.

* Question: What's the goal in behind the saying that "Relaxed is not limp"?
Answer: The point of relaxing is not about relaxing the muscles though this is a by-product. The point is to stretch the fascial sheet. Consider the analogy of a bed sheet as being your fascial sheet. If you pinch up a section, this represents tight muscles. How can you open and stretch that pinched up section? Relax the muscles to feel something else besides relaxed muscles.

(Unlike some Tai-chi styles where "relax" and "yield" are synonymous with collapsing and becoming like a wet noodle, here, you see, relax has a different purpose.)

* Question: What's a functional approach to relaxing?
Answer: The muscles that are chronically tight went numb to your feeling them years ago and so of course you won't feel them today. So, focus on what you can feel and as you get to the finer details, then you can hone in on where you can't feel.
Let's say you can feel around an area but not into that area. The "in that area" is what's numb. Where the feeling gets fuzzy is a clue pointing to where the tightness is. Notice where you can feel. Collect the data. What does the data point to? Where can't you feel? That's the area you  need to work on relaxing. This is a very functional approach to relaxing.

Question: What's the meaning of "There is no end to feeling?"
Answer: It means, don't stop feeling "X". Feel deeper But feel where deeper? Follow the 80/20 rule. Which area gives you the biggest result with the least depth? Feel there. Feeling deeper for the sake of feeling deeper leads to diminishing returns. This brings up the question, "How do you know?" Sometimes a small adjustment results in a big change. Look for where you can get the biggest payoff for your practice. Read books by William Deming on Quality Control. Apply the principles of quality control to your zhan zhuang practice.

* Peter Drucker once said, "What gets measured, gets managed." This is a HUGE part of internal gong-fu. Also, Deming said "You can expect what you inspect." So, get clear on what you are measuring. This is true for any physical art be it yoga, gymnastics, track and field, etc...but you've got to take this to the next level when applying it to an internal gong-fu practice like Wujifa.

* Question: What's a good way for me to begin teaching Wujifa zhan zhuang?
Answer: For beginners, first look at getting the skeletal structure in the right position. There are too many muscles and layers for a beginner to focus on muscles. Focus on bone position, on skeletal structure. This will address muscles "under the radar". You are where you are...

* Question: What's wrong with calling this practice a discipline?
Answer: People get results with discipline and so they think that discipline is the Way. People put too much focus on wanting to satisfy the external rules of discipline and not enough focus on trusting themselves.They feed the discipline monster and let the play wither. Feed the play feeling.
(I still tend to keep the discipline and the play separate from each other though occasionally I bring the two together. I tend to resist the play because I still don't trust that I'm "playing" the "right way" to get the results I want. When I hit it in class though, I can feel the shift and the difference in the results obtained from discipline and play.)

* I was doing a little point-to-point push hands with my instructor and he discovered that I can hit proper alignment when I don't try to get into proper alignment. What's interesting is that I found that I can keep peng/alignment when I wiggle around. In the wiggling I found peng/alignment and delivered a good connected push. So I can do it. I just haven't named that feeling for myself yet to know for myself how to go straight to that feeling.

* These are always good questions: What do you practice for? What do you want?

* Without intention guiding us, we become addicts. Action based on impulse vs action based on intention. See the movie "Fearless". Notice three stages the main character goes through: 1. Action based on impulse, 2. Reconsideration  3. Action based on intention.

* You've got to learn on your own how to isolate the feeling of muscle activating vs. the feeling of fascial stretch. Only you can develop your mind process. When you notice your own kinesthetic data and processing then you are approaching doing real gong-fu.

* Periodically, remember to go back and notice what's happening in your feet. Where in your foot is your weight falling? Your foot is your bio-feedback tool. Go through a few gross external motor movements. Bend knees forward and back. Swivel your hips. Lift an arm to the side. How does each of these affect the weight in your feet? Then go through a few more subtle, more internal movements like sit back and down. How does this affect the weight in your feet?

* Question: How can theraband be used to develop the feeling of fascial connection?
Answer: Begin with using the lightest theraband that presents the minimal tension so you use the minimal amount of muscle. Keep it really, really light. The goal is to help notice the feeling of fascial stretch. Eventually you will drop the theraband and focus on the feeling. The feeling you're looking for is like stretching the theraband but very slight. Practice and move teaches you.

(In fact, it took me almost a year of trying this and continually being told I was using too much muscle before being given a little, light rubberband to use. Even with a small rubberband, I wanted to muscle this as well - so ingrained is the habit of using muscle instead of feeling for and using fascial stretch! Again, you are where you are...
That said, I got closer to what I was suppose to be feeling when I finally got a level of rubberband tension that was suitable for my level, meaning where the rubberband tension was so minimal that barely any muscle needed to be used. More on this practice later.
Please keep this in mind as you watch this Wujifa video. Working with even a light theraband is a higher level practice if you haven't done this before.)
Wujifa Basics: Connection Stretching and Refinement

Further reading:
Introductory article explaining this "Journal Notes" series: Zhan Zhuang Training Journal
Previous article in this series: Setting Your Intention: Journal Notes #89
Next article in this series: - Zhan Zhuang Craftsmen: Journal Notes #91

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

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