Notes from my June 2015 Zhan Zhuang Training Journal. I train with The School of Cultivation and Practice which practices Wujifa.
Note: Continuing from last month, my severe bi-lateral Achilles tendonosis left me limping on both legs. After a month of physical therapy with no obvious improvement, the therapist suggested I continue the exercises on my own at home. Throughout June I focused on following the physical therapy regimen and did not practice any Wujifa exercises.
Today we went to a local push-hands meet-up. Before I talk about this, let me preface with little back-story.
I had learned the typical American-style push-hands more than thirty years ago and this got engrained very deeply into my body. When I began practicing Wujifa, I was discouraged from pushing hands in class with my school brothers because I reflexively used my originally-learned push-hands way of moving which interfered with the new kinesthetic I was learning. (Wujifa classes are free-flowing according to students' questions and are not structured like other MA classes with forms class, push-hands class, sparring class, etc.) Touching-hands in class was mostly limited to "strength testing"; applying a push in a static stance posture to discover breaks in the path to ground. Part of my touching-hands training over the years was to train out of my system the way I embodied American-style push-hands so many years ago.
So when I was told we were going to a push-hands meet-up, I had a bit of performance anxiety. I had not touched hands with anyone outside of class for over 15 years. I was coached to do my best and to remember the tips and pointers from the last class. Personally, my intention was to keep my back elongated, take the push into my legs, not revert to limp-noodle yin-yang arm games, and focus on going straight into my opponent's center.
At the meet-up, about a dozen guys showed up representing an assortment of local Yang and Wu style teachers and their students. To me, everyone felt physically strong. I could not discern who was using connection or who was bracing and to what degree. I got pushed around some which surprised me. Also I noticed that my opponents got sweaty and sometimes out of breath after a 12 minute rotation whereas I did not. By the end of the three hour meet-up, my quads were fatigued from grounding pushes into my legs (not playing yin-yang hands and getting out of the way of a push).
At a school debrief afterwards, one school-brother who had decided to observe rather than participate, offered some excellent observations. I was told that none of the other players had connection and that they all used bracing with very little to no hip/kua movement. And, I was told that I was the most tense person there and was using too much muscle! Wow! This latter observation was especially a surprise to me!
In class, we exchanged ideas about the cause of my Achilles tendonosis. One idea, based on many previous class experiences, is that I carry a chronic, low-level of anxiety throughout my body, particularly in my lower back. Maybe this is now showing-up in my ankles? Another idea is that I'm plain and simple getting old and parts are wearing out. I can accept the anxiety theory but I'm not happy about having trouble walking.
I agree that I've long had a fair amount of anxiety with my daily life stuff. In the week after class, a new thought occurred to me; could my practice also be a source of anxiety? I've long wanted to develop the kinesthetic quality known as connected-movement. And I've long felt simultaneously hopeful that I was now on the right path and frustrated that "getting it" was not as straightforward as it seemed. Particularly troubling have been suggestions to let go of certain habituated patterns that I adamantly want to hold onto which left me wondering if I would ever "get it" at all. It's as if my wanting to "get it" and my not "getting it" became a source of conflict and anxiety for me.
And then something strange happened. I found myself letting go of the wanting to "get it". In that moment, I felt relaxed. In that moment, I didn't care if I ever got it or not. In that moment, it simply did not matter. After a week of sitting with this attitude (and not practicing) I noticed that this feeling of not wanting is different from previous feelings of browbeating myself about not practicing.
Now, I don't know what to do with this. I don't feel like walking away and yet the passion to "get it" is gone. How can I not care about practice and continue practice? This does not compute...
Introductory article explaining this "Journal Notes" series: Zhan Zhuang Training Journal
Previous article in this series: Tension Blocks Connection: Journal Notes #133
Make sure to visit Wujifa.com and the Wujifa blog.
And stop by The School of Cultivation and Practice.