Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Feeling the Sides Drop

Sometime over the last couple weeks, while standing, I felt my "sides drop". Anatomically this could mean I felt my Obliques let go, stop holding, relax. I wasn't thinking about or imagining or visualizing doing this. It just happened! The result was a feeling of lengthening on both sides.

In a recent Wujifa class, while doing the secret leaf-raking training (well, ok, practicing side to side using the slight resistance of the rake to help me notice the feeling of connection), I received external validation of when I was holding or lengthening the sides. Nice!

What's interesting to me is that along with this side-drop feeling came the feeling of weight sliding down my quads and into and slightly through the knee which feels like the knees sliding forward.

I remember, maybe a year or more ago, observing (data) that the knees sliding forward is more about intention than actual physical sliding forward. Now, I feel the knees "sliding forward" and the feeling is completely different from what I "achieved" using imagination/intention.

One of the corrections I routinely received in class was to "drop" the elbows. As with the knees, I previously noted (data) that "drop the elbows" is about the imagined/visualized/intention of the elbows hanging. However, I never experienced a real kinesthetic feeling of the elbows dropping, that is, until now. This elbow-dropping-feeling just "naturally" showed up one day.

What is most exciting for me is that I can now distinguish two feelings: holding and relaxing.
Holding elbows up or dropping elbows.
Holding sides up or dropping sides.
Pulling knees back and up into the thigh or sliding down and forward.

I also notice that these component feelings suggest or point to a single whole body feeling, however, I'm not able to get my mind around the whole as easy as the components at this time.

So after a long period where "nothing" (that I could notice) was happening, then BOOM! a perceived "big jump".

I was reminded that plateaus are gestation periods where new neural pathways are being formed. Practicing and not noticing subtle shifts and growths is like planting a seed and watering and watering and watering, not seeing any growth, trusting that there is growth until one day, BOOM! noticing a sprout!

During the plateau time, I wasn't able to notice the level at which changes were occurring. What I notice surely points to the level of my noticing ability which too, is wonderful to notice!!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

When a Tree Grows: External ~ Internal

I planted a seedling in a field near my house.

The place where this tree grew had a steady breeze and sometimes a brisk wind.

The tree tends to lean a bit.

And then the old barn fell down changing the wind pattern.

As the tree grew, it encountered a low hanging limb from an old dead tree nearby. The young tree grew around that limb and developed a bit of a "hunch" about mid-way up the trunk.

Years later, that old, dead tree was cut down for firewood, leaving only the stump.

Many years later, after the barn and dead tree were gone, a tree guy looked at the now mature tree and analyzing the tree, said:

That lean looks like lean I've seen in other trees. There must have been a lot of shade here and the young tree was leaning toward the light.

That hunch looks like the hunch I've seen in other trees. Looks like something fell on it which someone later removed.

I enjoyed watching the tree grow, noticing... the process…

The tree guy approached the tree analytically, identifying data points, comparing…

When I started practicing Zhan Zhuang in the Wujifa system, I “naturally” compared this new system to systems I learned before: What’s the same? What’s different? What’s the data?

But I did not “naturally’ learn this way when I was young, when there was no previous experience to compare to. I either jumped in with curiosity and excitement or held back in fear.

After years of practicing, then I began learning.

I suppose I can compare external systems; systems based on a collection of forms and techniques like the tree guy did.

However, when I tried to compare my previous experiences in external, technique-based systems (including faux Tai-chi), with an internal feeling-based system, I learned that analysis leads to paralysis, not to progress.

I had to stop analyzing and start feeling kinesthetically. Then I had to stop analyzing "the feeling", because "the feeling" changes. Now, I may be ready to start learning the process.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Musings on Training and Competitions

This past weekend I had the opportunity to sit in the same room with a half dozen guys recounting their martial arts training. Frankly, I was impressed and even intimidated by the breadth and depth of martial arts training some of these guys had; black belts, sometimes in more than one style, competitions, and trophies.

However, when I considered what brought us all to this room, despite all our collective years of experience and belts and trophies (or lack of), none of us through our past training were taught or learned whole-body strength, the internal connections, or groundpath known as internal strength. Suddenly, I didn't feel so intimidated anymore. We all recognized a gap in our training and came together to learn to close that gap, to develop internal connection, to develop whole-body strength.

Later, I wondered about the state of "internal" martial arts training and competition these days, eg., taiji, bagua, xing-yi, aikido, wushu, push-hands. Are competition judges required to demonstrate a level of internal connection, of whole-body strength before becoming judges or not? Are competitors judged on the level of internal connection/whole-body strength they can demonstrate or not?

The "internal" arts are truly not that art unless performed with internal connection, with whole-body strength. If belts are awarded and trophies given for well executed forms and for competency in techniques (all performed without demonstrating internal connection/whole-body strength), doesn't this dilute the art, lower the bar, and mislead the practitioner?

As I learned, I thought I was doing Tai-ji Chuan but in fact, I was merely imitating Tai-ji Chuan by performing only the outward movements because my "Taiji" lacked internal connection/whole-body strength. I've also learned that those who develop internal connection/whole-body strength also develop an eye for seeing who has and doesn't have internal connection and to what level. A real teacher will not only tell you what you are doing wrong but will also guide you in how to develop your internal connectedness. We are all adorned with the Emperors New Clothes.
(The Emperors New Clothes by Danish author Hans Christian Andersen, tells the story of two swindlers who weaved clothes that were invisible to those who were either stupid or unfit for their office. The emperor hired them and the two set up their looms and pretended to weave. After some time, the emperor sent his honest minister to see how they were getting on. When the minister didn't see anything, he did not wanting to appear foolish or unfit for his position and so he exclaimed how wonderful it looked. The same experience befell another trusted official. When the emperor went for a look, he too didn't see anything and wondered if he was a fool and unfit to be emperor. He too went along with the ruse. Finally, the day came when he paraded his new clothes in front of the towns people. A child noticed and said he's not wearing any clothes. Finally, the whole town noticed that he was not wearing any clothes. And yet the emperor carried on as if he was wearing the most magnificent clothes.)

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Silk Reeling; Feeling and Intention

At my last Wujifa class, after stance, I was doing the closing circles (Chen, Xiao-wang style) as I had been doing for the past several years, rather mechanically. Then somehow I stumbled into really feeling the sensuousness of making circles; feeling the intentional moving of each arm-hand, pulling across, pushing down, pulling across, pushing up... I was told that this looked more like silk reeling than the mechanical moving I was doing just a moment earlier.

This comment piqued my curiosity. How could I apply this new found feeling that looked more like silk reeling to the actual silk reeling exercise I learned at Chen, Xiao-wang seminars years ago? What's the relation between the closing circles and silk reeling?

Here's the mechanics of how I'm working the feeling I discovered in stance into the silk reeling form:
Both hands positioned for the stance closing circles; right hand on top of left hand. Both hands moving across the upper abdomen Left to Right, then down the right side, then across the lower abdomen Right to Left, then up the left side, as I shift side-to-side.

Then I'll continue the left hand circling on the abdomen while the right hand slowly draws away from the body making larger and larger circles until I'm doing what looks like a hybrid of the Yang, Jwing-ming Tai-chi circle and the Chen Xiao-wang silk reeling form. I notice that this "method" helps me notice and maintain the connection and timing and feeling between the (right) "silk-reeling hand" with both the (left) hand circling on the abdomen and with the shifting side-to-side.

As I play with this hybrid Yang Jwing-ming Tai-chi circle and Chen, Xiao-wang silk reeling form, I'm noticing the CXW 1,2,3,4 positions don't exist as points or corners but rather as a single circle upon which points 1,2,3,4 may be identified but through which the arm-hand passes smoothly.

I was discussing my recent play and came away with the following:

In response to my concern that I may be bastardizing the forms or not understanding the distinct purpose of each, I heard that the pattern or form is not as important as the intention-feeling-connection you are working on.

If you look at the points, then you will get stuck. But if you look in the direction that the points are pointing to, then you discover even more.... now. (Recall the finger pointing at the moon.)

Again, what is your purpose? To collect data? To collect techniques? Or is your purpose to experience and understand the underlying feeling-intention of the art?