Saturday, January 4, 2014

You Are Where You Are and That's Where You Start

One of the Wujifa sayings is, "You are where you are and that's where you start." Although I've heard and repeated this for many years, it was only recently that I got some insight into the world of meaning neatly wrapped up in this succinct little phrase which can be interpreted as an observation, an admonition, and as a training directive.

When I first encountered this phrase I considered it a meaningless double-speak along the lines of “The grass is green and the sky is blue.” Of course I start from where I am. How could I start anywhere else?

Over time, I heard my school brothers discuss their observations of people who clearly only know the muscular paradigm but who want to perform “whole body” movement in the fascial paradigm. These people will imitate fascial movement based on their current muscular capabilities and fool themselves with the belief that they are doing "whole body" fascial movement correctly. I slowly began to understand that this phrase has something to do with recognizing and honoring the level I am at and practicing at that level.

Let’s look at one analogy. Let’s say I want to be a master potter but I have not yet developed the ability to distinguish the various textures of various clays, how different clays respond to different types of water, at different temperatures and humidity levels. And let’s say I just got my $25.99 Starter Pottery Kit and Instruction Manual and I throw and fire my first vase. An honest recognition of where I am might be, “Wow! I just made my first vase!” A disassociated recognition of where I am might be, “Wow! It's easy to be a potter!”

The truth is that I can only feel sensations or sense feelings in my body at the level at which I am currently physically-emotionally capable and I can only perform an exercise at the level at which my body is currently physically capable of demonstrating.

So how can I really know where I am on the internal martial arts ladder of "internal" skillsets? From my experience, I could not know this until after I made some progress. The longer I practice, the more clear it becomes where I am. In the beginning, I had no idea where I was and it was only in hindsight that I saw where I was and therefore, where I needed to start.

As an admonition, another way to interpret this phrase might be, "Don't try to practice ahead of where you are." or "Don't think you are capable of doing something that you actually are not capable of doing." Discerning what and how to practice given your current capabilities is of utmost importance. When I feel proud about my practice, or when I think I look good in the mirror when doing an exercise, that's when I am working ahead of my body. When I alternate between feeling confused or anxious or "this is dumb" or I struggle with doing the simple exercise I've been assigned, in these moments I know that this is where I am and this is where I need to start.

I do struggle with the tension between wanting to get ahead of myself, of wanting to disassociate from where I am and on the other hand, recognizing, "Yeah but, really I can't even do x." And it's in this recognition that I pull myself back to an integrated, realistic, functional practice.

As a training directive,"You are where you are and that's where you start." admonishes me to continue to refine the feeling skills that I am currently capable of accessing regardless of how I judge my current capabilities. By continuing to refine even seemingly irrelevant abilities, over time, the tools developed and understanding achieved will become a valuable asset. Practice is preparation.

When you try practicing ahead of where you are, you'll not only perform the target movement wrong but you'll also build in bad habits that will later have to be undone which will extend your horizon of achieving that which you are practicing to achieve.

Finally, "You are where you are and that's where you start." is also a kind of koan or riddle. How can you start anywhere else than where you are? The answer is, "You can't." Whatever you practice or believe you are practicing, you, as-you-are, are there. You are where you are and that's where you start.

Happy practicing everyone!

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