Thursday, April 14, 2016

Wujifa and Iron Shirt: Journal Notes #143

Notes from my March 2016 Zhan Zhuang Training Journal. I train with The School of Cultivation and Practice which practices Wujifa.

(Note: There are as many interpretations of iron shirt as there are methods to train iron shirt. My understanding is that iron shirt does not make you Superman where bullets bounce off and pointy metal objects cannot penetrate. My understanding is that iron shirt can make you impervious to the effects of punches. Some systems train to numb the body to pain, others train to harden the body against pain. The internal Wujifa way is to relax with structure to allow the impact energy a clear path to ground. It all comes back to effective zhan zhuang training.)

* Feeling leads to understanding. Understanding without feeling is data. What do you find interesting; data? or feeling, empathy, connection? It's easy for me to say "that's interesting" when I encounter a new conceptual factoid but not have the same response when encountering a new or different feeling. Isn't that interesting?

* Tell you the truth... often an hour of class will pass wherein we get into some very deep emotional-muscular work and the "a-ha" moments are streaming in at a subconscious, kinesthetic feeling level that to stop the flow and organize a thought to write it down is both an interruption to the body-learning in progress and somehow an abomination to the purity of the interaction. When a kind of natural conclusion is reached where I can write, I don't know what to write! Really! It's a real struggle! When it comes to this whole feeling thing and the multiplicity of topics and subtopics and sub-subtopics and how each interacts and reacts and influences the other up a level and down a level and across and back and, and, and... I don't know what to write about. And what I do ultimately write about is but a mere shadow, a phantom of the lived experience. Here's an example...

* Following up on February topic, we had a long talk about connecting with people. The conversation wended its way into revealing that I'm interested in connecting with some people and not others, or the "not others" in particular situations. For example, I'm not interested in connecting with the bedraggled panhandler on the street that I pass by every day but if I'm serving food in a soup kitchen and I see that same bedraggle soul, then I am interested in connecting with him. Why would I be willing to connect in one situation and not the other? Judgment. The point is that this illustrates how my internal categorization (yin-yang) system is still intact and I am not operating from a principle of connection. As long as I continue to put people and situations in conceptual "boxes", this too shows up in my kinesthetics and my ability to feel my body kinesthetically. Connection is connection. There is no such reality as "conceptual boxes" and "kinesthetic unity". A break is a break. A numb area is a numb area. You're either connected or your not.

* If you don't feel and are not immersed in it, then you can't understand it. Reading someone else experience, collecting and analyzing data about the experience will not lead you to the experience. In fact, the latter path only creates roadblocks to the actual experience. Data, expectations, judgment are barriers that will eventually have to be addressed.

* If you got rid of "I have to", would you do "I choose to"?

OK. Now here's where we get to the iron shirt stuff...

* In today's class I watched my 300+ pound instructor punching (barehanded) my 180 pound school brother in the chest, that is, on his pectoral muscle, and he stood there, relaxed with structure, and didn't even flinch from the punches! (Video is on the Facebook Wujifa Practitioners Training Logs.) Next, I was invited to punch him in a similar way. I started light, being afraid to hurt him but was repeatedly encouraged to punch harder until I was truly giving him the strongest Wujifa punch I could muster. Each time, the same result. He just stood there, unflinching, relaxed. He did comment that he was surprised how hard a skinny geek like me could punch.

* Truth be told, he's been practicing receiving punches like this for a while. What I noticed is that his body was not hard. It was soft, relaxed and yet he did not move at all; he maintained structure and absorbed the punch impact. He then asked me to punch him each time as he incrementally hardened his body. This was a huge, dramatic demonstration of how soft can mimic hard but hard cannot mimic soft! Sure, I've been to workshops and I've seen demonstrations of "punch the master" but I've never known anyone personally who I've worked with and watched move from a grossly tense and twisted body to one that was relaxed with structure. What he demonstrated today was not possible when he first started. He's made amazing progress!

* This kind of punching exercise is really good at bringing into awareness the quality of my punch when giving a punch and the quality of relaxation with structure when receiving a punch.
  • On the giving side... Is my punch disconnected? (It probably is.) Where? At the shoulder? Does it have the feel of anger? or love? This will undoubtedly sound bizarre but in fact, I notice a me-body transmits emotional content. The more angry-tense, the more superficial the punch. The softer the emotion, the more solid the punch. It takes some time but it is possible to calibrate the emotional content to the power of the punch. If you've never experienced this and you think this is crazy-talk, I understand.
  • On the receiving side... If the recipient's body is too hard, it could get broken. If it's too limp (no structure to transmit the energy), it could get hurt. Most likely, in both cases, the structure will "break" somewhere and the receiver will fall back from the punch because there is not a path to ground. Also, being punched (as a training method) helps to notice anger and tightness, and thus where the breaks are. By learning how to relax and receive a punch without experiencing pain serves as a calibrator to the amount of tension and anger released.

* When I get punched, I still tense. I can relax some when my tension is noticed for me. For example, when told to relax my pelvic floor and legs, the net effect is that this relaxed my upper body and helped me to ground the punch. Another time, I was focusing on relaxing through my pectorals and pelvic floor, but I was getting knocked over. I was told that I was tensing my back muscles to brace against the punch. I didn't notice this. Why not? It's part of my unconscious compensatory pattern. Consciously relax here. Unconsciously shift the tension there.

* When I think about all that I've read and seen about Iron Shirt training, somehow, I've never seen relaxing with structure and Iron Shirt mentioned together. And yet, if one objective of iron shirt is to  become impervious to punches... there are many methods.

* You are not an onion!  I mentioned how I'm working on the next layer of tension and was immediately called to the mat for it. People who use the onion analogy are making excuses to hold onto tension. They feel comfortable to let go a little in one area but in effect they drive the tension deeper into their body because their self-identity is tied to the tension and they are not willing to completely let go of whatever is the root of the tension. Tension is tension! There is no such thing as "layers of tension". The onion analogy is simply another example of compartmentalizing, of divisiveness, of yin-yang thinking. It's a strategy to maintain control. You are not an onion! You are a human!

* We began another class with an hour of massage to relax the pelvic floor. Upon standing after this session, I was disoriented and unbalanced. I went through the same readjustment pattern that I went through during the massage session, namely: Scared, Discomfort, Tensed, Relax. (See? This is a perfect example of what I mentioned above "Tell you the truth...")

* This month I also returned to my Rolfer for another four sessions of Rolfing work.

Further reading:
Introductory article explaining this "Journal Notes" series: Zhan Zhuang Training Journal
Previous article in this series: Huge Breakthrough! Part Two: Journal Notes #142

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

Sunday, April 3, 2016

How You Stand is How You Move

I had an interesting insight at the last Wujifa class I attended and I'd like to share this as a quick little post.

One of the new guys was engaging our instructor in a conversation about a problem he was experiencing during stance practice. Somehow the conversation turned to mentioning his Tai-chi Chuan practice and he said something like, "You've never seen my form." and I chimed in, saying "Well, I know how your form will look just by looking at how you're standing."

Of course, he couldn't believe his ears. And rightly so. How could I possibly know? Here's how....

When I see him standing in zhan zhuang, I see shoulders rolled slightly forward due to contraction in the chest. The chronic contraction in the chest (besides restricting his breathing) keeps the chest "relaxed". When he raises his arms (to hold the ball), I see an increase tension in the chest (to keep the chest down) to counter the raising of the arms which is performed with an elevated amount of contraction in the back to counter the tension in the chest. You get the idea? Movement is pretty segmented and there is a lot of tension and counter tension.

So by observing his holding patterns, that is, how he was holding himself in stance, I deduced that he most likely would move with the same characteristic physical pattern that he demonstrates when standing and raising his arms for zhan zhuang.

What I was saying was not that I could know what choreographed routine he did just by looking at him, but rather I knew the quality of its execution would be performed with the same bodily holding patterns as demonstrated in stance.

So, how can you apply this to your practice?

Your body doing any martial art form is equivalently your body standing still and vice-versa. The holding patterns don't miraculously dissolve or disappear when you start moving, if anything they become more hidden from you because you're focusing on some aspect or other of your form or whatever.

One way to discover these patterns is to not move at all (some form of stance practice) or to do simple repetitive movements that are designed to bring attention to and help release a targeted holding pattern.

Rest assured that anyone who has relaxed more than you is able to see your body's holding patterning simply by looking at you standing there. You don't need to demonstrate your form to show what you can do. It's not the what that matters, it's the how.