Friday, April 13, 2018

The Problem with Horse Stance

It occurred to me that of all the Asian martial arts practitioners that demonstrate and teach horse stance, none to my knowledge actually begin by first sitting on a horse and then proceed to explain how to replicate the feeling of sitting on a horse while not sitting on a horse, that is, while standing. In fact, many of those who demonstrate horse stance give me the impression that the person never rode a horse much less even sat on a horse!

My point is that there is a chasm of difference between the horse stance of someone replicating the feeling of riding a horse and the horse stance of someone who has never ridden a horse. When the latter presumes to mimic the experience of the former, the result is a gross mischaracterization.

So then, what is the primary experience of sitting on a horse? First and foremost is dynamic sitting! So if horse stance is intended to mimic sitting on a horse, then the primary intention of horse stance must be to practice the experience of sitting on a horse. While this seems obvious, many other purposes are frequently attributed to horse stance, the most common being developing leg strength. Ironically, this kind of leg strength is not needed when riding a horse - where this idea came from is anybody's guess.

The central question is, "How can I mimic the feeling of riding a horse while standing?"

And the answer is, get on a horse! Really! If you really want to sense the horse stance feeling, then you simply must get on a horse. There is no substitute! And I don't mean the ten minute horse ride around the corral or the basic riding lessons or the touristy trail ride. I've done all these and what I'm about to suggest is completely different.

You need to find a therapeutic riding center that teaches Centered Riding where someone else controls the horse, where you are coached on your posture and how your body is interacting with the horse, where you are coached to let go and relax with structure, where you are coached to focus on the feeling, where you learn how subtle changes in your body are reflected in the horse's behavior, where you learn to notice and play with these subtle changes in a kind of self-instructive, horse-human bio-feedback loop. The lessons learned from this manner of horse riding then become the basis of how to practice horse stance.


I am speaking here from my own limited experiences following the Centered Riding approach to horseback riding. You see, my mother owned and worked with horses for years on her small family farm. She practiced Centered Riding and shared this method and her insights with me. (Yes, I finally listened to my mother.)

For all you horse stance people, if you haven't done so yet, go get on a horse. Get some lessons in Centered Riding. Discover how this experience transforms your understanding of horse stance! And depending on where you are in your training, the Centered Riding experience may even become part of your internal gongfu practice.

Happy practicing, everyone!

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Discovering the Wujifa Crossroads Blues

Here's a story of my musical life before I got into Chinese martial arts and how these two seemingly unrelated worlds are in fact connected.

At a very young age I began playing piano. Then somewhere around fifth grade I shifted to saxophone. Both were based on reading music. In junior high school I bought my first electric guitar and taught myself the notes following the same score-based method. After establishing this connection, I bought sheet music with guitar tabs and discovered the resultant sound didn't match the sound of the song on the record that I enjoyed. I then shifted to playing by ear; trying to replicate the song on the record as precisely as possible just based on what I heard.

Unable to understand nor reproduce the guitar parts, I switched to bass guitar which is relatively easier. I was able to copy most of my favorite '60s - '70s rock tunes pretty well. I then got into playing bass guitar in various "cover" bands; bands that played, or covered other well-known artists.

After years of this, I thought I was pretty good and wanting to expand my skillset, I investigated a group of improvisational jazz bass players. I quickly learned that I was not in their league and feeling a bit hurt (I'm not as good as I thought) and not knowing where the gap was nor how to bridge it, I hung up the bass guitar and started learning and practicing Tai-chi Chuan.

And then a few years ago I decided I wanted to get back into guitar after a thirty year hiatus. I wanted to learn how to play blues guitar but this time to really learn what I didn't learn the first time out. I stumbled into Griff Hamlin and his Blues Guitar Unleashed course which has been wonderful for me. Over the last couple years of receiving his daily email which includes tips, hints and examples and reading his blog, I've noticed how similar his message is to the message I was learning in Wujifa.

And here is the lesson at the crossroad, the Wujifa saying, "How you do anything is how you do everything."

The same copy-refine mindset or the way I originally approached music was the same mindset or way I initially approached my Chinese martial arts practice; copy, refine.

Reflecting on those early years, just as I never learned the principle of how music worked - how to make music, not just copy music - I never learned the principle of Chinese martial arts movement - how to move from the principle, not just copy the choreography.

I now see parallels between bar bands, cover bands, tribute bands and many Chinese martial arts practitioners who appear to follow the copy-refine approach where the so-called "more highly skilled" are merely a more refined copy than those with a less-refined copy.

The way I see things now is that martial arts fans, students, teachers and judges who were raised up through the copy-refine system and who never crossed over to explore, learn, or develop in a principle-based system, like Wujifa, are ill-disposed to recognize principle-based movement. Conversely, those who develop principle-based movement are better positioned to recognize those who are following a copy-refine approach.

And I'm standing at the crossroads...What I've learned of feeling principle-based movement in Wujifa has opened me to interpret the lessons of how to play blues guitar in a way I could not have with my former mechanical copy-refine mindset.

"How you do anything is how you do everything." until you do something different and then everything changes...

Here's an old video. It's just fun to hear this again with new ears...

Happy practicing everyone!