Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Zhan Zhuang Connections 101

Internal strength is the Ph.D. of the martial arts. In American colleges, the introductory course for any major is the "101" (one-oh-one) course. Similarly, Zhan Zhuang Connections 101, is a good introductory course on developing internal strength.

When Chen Xiao-wang says, "When one part moves, all parts move." I believe he is describing how connectedness feels to him. At a recent Wujifa class, I complained that I still don't feel that kind of connectedness. My elder school brother was quick to point out that at a mechanical level, I already am connected. His ensuing teaching is the inspiration for this article.

To begin, here is a light-hearted, secular rendition of the old spiritual "Dem Bones".

And who knew that Herman Munster from the 1960's TV show, "The Munsters" was teaching Zhan Zhuang Connections 101! Now, back to the topic...

Stand double-weighted. Shift into your left side and lift your right knee. What happened to your right foot? Did it rise off the ground? It did? Oh. So your foot and knee are connected. How about that? Can you feel that connection?

And then we proceeded to go into detail addressing the feet. I've been playing with this and have added my embellishments as parentheticals noting what I've done that has helped me notice and feel.

Can you feel your toes? All your toes? Individually? (You may need to wiggle your toes to notice you can feel them, or you may have the intention to wiggle your toes and feel internal movement without your toes externally moving.)

Can you feel the balls of your feet; how your weight is distributed on each joint? (You may need to roll your foot from side-to-side to notice you can feel them, or you may have the intention to roll your foot and feel internal movement without externally moving.)

Can you feel the connection between your toes and the balls of your feet? (You may need to move to notice you can feel the connection or you may have the intention to move and feel internal movement without externally moving.)

Can you feel the arch of your feet? (You may need to make it rise and shorten and drop and lengthen to notice you can feel it or you may have the intention to move and feel internal movement without externally moving.)

Can you feel the connection between the arch, the balls of your feet and your toes as you raise and lower your arch?

Can you feel your heel; the weight in your heel?

Etc. Etc. Etc. Use this method the rest of the way up the legs. Or since the feet and legs are similar to hands and arms, apply this method starting in the fingers and work your way up the arms.

Tips: Don't force a feeling. Simply feel and notice. If you notice numbness, that is, an area where you can't feel, that's OK. Really, it's OK. This is a great insight! Questions to ask yourself are, "Is this the most numb area? Is there an area that is less numb? Is there an area that you can feel really well? Now you've noticed three different feelings in different areas of your body. Excellent progress!

A problem I encounter with this method is that my concentration wanes when I get to the ankle (and elbow when beginning in the fingers) and my mind wanders off, which I notice, and then I resume where I left off. I'm probably "over-thinking" each part as is my habit.

Remember, this is Ph.D. level stuff and developing a mechanical feeling of connectedness is a fine place to start. And if you ever feel disheartened about not "getting it", remember that you are trying to achieve what only a handful of people through all human history have ever achieved!

Why do some continue making progress and others get stuck? If you think that there is an "it" to get, then you may give up because you either haven't yet gotten "it" or you think you will never get "it". But if you set a goal to maintain a time and space in daily life for discovering and learning in Zhan Zhuang, then you have a better chance of "getting it". Recalibrate your goal from "getting it" to "learning and discovering".

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Zhan Zhuang Foot Alignment

A Zhan Zhuang foot alignment maxim says, "the feet should be parallel". However, feet that appear to be parallel may not truly be parallel due to a difference in underlying muscle flaccidity or tension. Getting the feet aligned properly is the first step in aligning the rest of the structure.

At Wujifa class a few weeks ago, I had a question about my stance and as often happens while demonstrating my stance, several other problem areas I had not noticed were pointed out and corrected. In this class, special attention was given to my right foot.

On my left foot, my weight was dropping straight down through the center of the ankle and the underlying muscles created a straight, horizontally aligned foot. However, in my right foot, I was falling off the ankle toward the center line and the underlying muscles created an outward horizontal curve to the foot. Despite the heel to toe lines being parallel, the directional "energy" of the feet was not parallel.

Following this observation, my school brothers worked on aligning my right foot including inserting a wine cork sized object under the arch. My weight then sunk more cleanly down through my right ankle and the underlying muscles created a straighter, horizontally aligned right foot. The feet were now more truly parallel than before.

And how did this change feel through the rest of my structure? Although I can sense that something changed, I still don't have the words to describe qualitatively how the change feels. Did I feel more or less grounded? More or less connected? More or less relaxed and balanced? What exactly? I'm still grappling with connecting static word meanings to continuously changing kinesthetic feelings.

In addition to posting my experience with foot alignment, I also wanted to show visually how foot alignment affects overall body alignment. Lacking a home-made video, I searched the internet for information about Zhan Zhuang foot alignment but in vain. The best I could find was orthotics infomercials. (Note: I am neither endorsing nor not endorsing this product.)

Notice that the heel to toe line does not change with changes in ankle movement. (The presentation ends and the Orthaheel ad begins at time 3:04)

The following video shows how ankle movement affects musculature in the hip. (The Orthaheel ad begins at time 1:11)

A different perspective of foot and knee alignment from the angle we typically see in our Wujifa classwork, that is, looking at the feet and knees front-on.

While the orthotics infomercials talk about relieving pain, from a zhan zhuang alignment perspective we would consider how proper foot alignment can contribute to a relaxed and balanced structure.

After my class experience and after viewing these videos, I now have a better understanding of what to look for and what makes good zhan zhuang foot alignment and I hope you do too.