Monday, January 31, 2011

The Zhan Zhuang Recipe: Journal Notes #24

Notes from my January 2005 Zhan Zhuang Training Journal. I train with The School of Cultivation and Practice which practices Wujifa zhan zhuang. (My current reflections are added in italics.)

* Question: I used to feel sinking down and head rising up as two movements and would get confused as to where the split point occurred. Now it feels like I'm a gooey blob trying to pick it up from the center. Is this the "sink the chi and raise the shen" feeling?
Answer: If you make a human form out of Silly Putty and stand it up, eventually it will compress down under gravity because there is no harder structure inside it. (If you don't know what Silly Putty is, you can see a circa 1970's Silly Putty TV commercial.) The oozing down feeling are the muscles relaxing and hanging on the structure, your skeleton, and the rising up feeling is the feeling opposite; the skeleton remaining erect as the muscles release and relax. Both feelings arise together as a result of relaxing. As you've experienced, you don't have to try to create either feeling, just relax.

* Question: I felt what I want to call "the chi drop" but I haven't gotten that feeling again. What am I doing wrong?
Answer: Feeling the "chi drop" is a milestone feeling. That's OK. Now you know the feeling. Keep practicing and it will present itself again.

(Note: Wujifa does not operate in the "Chi paradigm". Because of my history with Tai-chi and "Chi paradigm" stuff, I tended at that time to try to frame my experiences using the terminology I was most familiar with.)

* Question: Is the side-to-side closing feeling like a squeezing feeling? (I demonstrate.)
Answer: You're doing it wrong. It's more like a folding. It's not so much compressing from the top. It's more just moving across and folding in.

* Question: Can relaxing the pelvic floor muscles allow other muscles to relax and change the body structure?
Answer: You already answered your own question. You've already felt that to be true.

* Above all, find fun and enjoyment in your practice. If it becomes a chore, a duty, an obligation, a discipline, well, then you've got another problem.

* While doing stance in class, I thought I was sinking OK. After receiving a quick series of adjustments to my right leg and hip, suddenly my right thigh swelled with pressure. We both knew, "there it goes". I need to find this feeling in my own practice.

* Question: I don't understand the relation between stance and side-to-side exercises and the development of internal strength.
Answer: It will come to you. Keep practicing.

* You don't need to stand low. The problem with adjusting people is that they ratchet themselves lower and lower because they don't want to relax what they need to relax to get the feeling in a higher stance.

* When told to "drop the chest", many people will hunch and the shoulders will roll forward. This is the wrong structure. It is the muscular tension held in the upper chest that must release, relax, drop. The shoulders should remain in their position and not move when dropping the chest. One stance practice is to hold the arms out to the sides, elbows down, palms up. Also, make sure to maintain a line from ear to ankle perpendicular to the floor. Don't pull the shoulders back (don't pinch the shoulder blades together), rather, relax, extend, open. Relax, extend, open.

shoulder muscles to stretch
* One way to help stretch tight upper chest muscles is to enlist the help of a couple trusted school brothers or sisters. Lie on your back on the floor. Have one person straddle your body facing you and firmly holding your shoulders down. Have another person behind the top of your head put a hand on the center of your chest and firmly and s-l-o-w-l-y press down and toward your feet. Most people carry a lot of tension in the chest and will feel a real stretch.
chest muscles to stretch
(If you try these chest and shoulder exercises, make sure you are in a safe, supportive environment. Notice and honor any resistance. There is something to be learned where we resist letting go.)

* The "Grandma's Spice Cake" story. Grandma made spice cake but never used a recipe. If eggs were cheaper, she'd use more eggs. If milk was cheap, she'd use more milk. If the weather was hot and humid, she'd use less water. Regardless of how much or little of whichever ingredient she used, it always tasted the same. One day, the grand-kids, now adults, wanted to know how to make grandma's spice cake so they noted her ingredients and measured her amounts. When the kids tried making grandma's spice cake from that recipe, it did not taste like grandma's spice cake. So they asked her, "Grandma, what are we doing wrong?" She said the problem is that you're following a recipe. "But if we don't follow the recipe then how do we know how to do it?" She said, "You develop a feel for it."

Practicing zhan zhuang is like making grandma's spice cake. The teacher knows by feel from years of practice what to do; on this student, adjust here, on that student, adjust there. Each student tries to "get it" from following the recipe. The trouble (if you're looking for a one-size-fits-all approach) is that everyone is different. Each person gets a different "recipe". There is no single recipe and applying a single recipe to all students will not work equally well for all.

The "recipe" is the proverbial "finger pointing at the moon". It is not the moon itself. So, follow the recipe but don't follow the recipe. Yes, the same basic ingredients are mixed in the same basic fashion but make adjustments according to the individual at that time to get the desired result.

* Exercise to help open the inguinal crease. (What I will describe is kind of like a face-down deep ma-bu.) Depending on level of flexibility... Get on knees and elbows with knees at hip level and elbows at about nipple level. Place hands on opposite elbows. Feet perpendicular to the floor. Head hangs down. Back straight. If it helps, lay a flat, straight piece of wood on the back from pelvis to head and ensure that the back stays in contact with this. Spread the knees out as far as possible until you feel a stretch. Push the butt back without physically moving/shifting back. Feel the stretch from head to tailbone. Once you get the proper alignment in this posture then you can begin two exercises:
  1. Side to side - slightly shift the pelvis left to right with the intention of pulling the knee toward your head on the side shifting into. Ensure the shoulders stay level.
  2. Rotate the pelvis - tuck under and untuck up
After doing a few reps (literally, I could barely tolerate three cycles), then lay on your side and be aware of the pelvis and the breath. Notice the effect of breathing on the pelvis.
(I include this exercise here for informational purposes only as another example of one of the wide range of exercises we practice to help open and relax the body. If you try to do this on your own from only reading this description, you will likely do it wrong and not get any benefit. You really need someone who can get you "set up" correctly, read how your body is responding, and coach you according to your specific kinesthetic response. Many exercises are tailored to specific individual situations. How I am stuck is likely not how you are stuck.)

* The adjustments I receive to my stance in class seem to be getting smaller and smaller, finer and finer. When and as I practice on my own, I need to stop moving around so much and really be still and make only one tiny adjustment and wait to feel the result.
(I think I'm referring to what we dubbed, "stance dance". This occurs when in the course of stance, I'm continuously checking my structure, 1,2,3,4 - 1,2,3,4 and as I finish the last "4" then I notice the first "1" is wrong and I go through another series of adjustments and again and again and never stand still, hence, the term, "stance dance". - - If you're not familiar with 1,2,3,4 - 1,2,3,4 then see the Zhan Zhuang Alignment article at the Wujifa site.)

Interestingly, the stance dance topic came up in class yesterday, albeit, at a much more subtle or finer level of noticing and feeling than discussed in this entry six years ago.)
* Today I did the step-stool exercise. Wow! That was tough! But how great it feels afterward! So much more open! Amazing!
(Another specific exercise used to help open the body and I think, better left not described.)
Further reading:
Introductory article explaining this "Journal Notes" series: Zhan Zhuang Training Journal
Previous article in this series: Monkey and Stallion: Journal Notes #23
Next article in this series: More Pelvic Work: Journal Notes #25

Thursday, January 27, 2011

My First Tai Chi: Sophia Delza Wu Style

The very first Tai chi style I learned was Sophia Delza's Wu style. A big "Thank You" to Rick at Cook Ding's Kitchen for posting Taijiquan Pioneer: Sophia Delza which brought to mind how I started on the Tai chi road...

I first learned of Tai chi from reading The Massage Book by George Downing which I picked up in 1982. I remember this well because this had something to do with a girlfriend. (That's another story...)

When I started college in the Fall of 1983, I saw a Tai chi class offered as a one credit course through the Religious Studies Department. The instructor was Prof. Neville, one of the department's professors and one of Sophia Delza's students. So I excitedly signed up for this!

The class met twice a week on Tuesday and Thursday from about 3:30 - 5:00 p.m. in the dance studio which I really enjoyed; a nice place and time to unwind. The entire form was taught in the Fall semester. I remember:
  • The emphasis was on learning the form, learning "coordination points" and appreciating the elegance of the gestures.
  • The length of the form left me feeling relaxed and energized. (I never realized a similar feeling with any of the "short forms" I later learned.)
  • We had to write a paper on how our experience with Tai-chi helped us better understand Chinese philosophical cosmology.... or something like that.
  • There was the concept that you should finish the form where you started. If you don't, then your ego is either too big or too small (taking too large or too small of steps). Balance.
In that Fall class, one my classmates was a student of Karate. In talking with him, he demonstrated how a lot of Tai chi moves were similar to karate and so to him Tai chi was one kind of kung-fu. This piqued my curiosity in Tai chi as a martial art.

Still being new to the area and not knowing what else was around, I signed up for the "advanced" Tai chi class the following Winter semester. This class focused on postural fine-tuning but never got into any martial aspects. While I enjoyed the "space" and feel of the class, I became disappointed with the focus. I also took my first and only Judo class that Winter term.

As I settled into college life and the area, I started looking for nearby martial art schools. In those days, SUNY Stony Brook was literally in the middle of nowhere in the middle of Long Island, NY. Sure, I checked out dojos in New York City, Brooklyn and Queens, but to a cash-strapped college student, the class rates and schedules and the nearly two-hour train, subway, bus, walking commute and fares each way made this option prohibitive for long-term study. I looked for something more affordable and closer.

And no, I never considered transferring to another university just to be closer to one of those dojos.

Sometime during the following Fall term of 1984, I saw a flyer in the student Union for the Long Island School of Tai Chi Chuan which advertised Tai chi as a martial art. I checked it out. The rates were less than half of what the dojos in the city were charging and it was a close 10 minute drive and the lineage looked reputable; Cheng Man-ching, William C.C. Chen. I attended a free introductory class and it all looked good to me. And so I switched from practicing Sophia Delza's Wu style Tai chi to learning Yang style Tai chi.

Of course, there are lots of stories from my time with the Long Island School of Tai Chi Chuan. Maybe in another post.

Finally, regarding my blogger Bio, because this Wu style was not martially-oriented, I chose to not include this in my "About me" and opted to say I began my "martial journey" with Judo. (If I wanted to continue past the yellow belt in Judo, I would've had to attend the instructor's dojo in Queens. So I "switched out" of Judo to Tai chi.)

And that's how I got started in Tai chi...

For further reading:
T'Ai Chi Ch'Uan (Wu Style : Body and Mind in Harmony : Integration of Meaning and Method) by Sophia Delza (1986). Introduction by Prof. Robert C. Neville.

The T'Ai-Chi Ch'Uan Experience: Reflections and Perceptions on Body-Mind Harmony by Sophia Delza (1996). Edited by Prof. Robert C. Neville.

Guide to the Sophia Delza Papers, 1908-1996 at the New York Public Library

The Sofia Delza Obituary from 1996.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Guang Ping Tai Chi: Push Hands Forms

This is the forth and final part of a four part series presenting what I learned while briefly studying with Master Gary Torres from January to September 2000. Gary learned from Peter Kwok, the founder of Peter Kwok's Kung Fu Academy in the Guang Ping Yang Tai Chi lineage. Gary is the head of the Phoenix Dragon Kung Fu Academy.

In popular Tai chi, push hands training takes many different forms. When I studied with Gary Torres who taught from the Guang Ping Yang system, I learned not only push hands sets but also the martial aspects of these forms.

* There are many forms and techniques. Like many branches, all emanate from the same trunk. Don't just look at a form or technique and say "Wow! I never saw that before!" and be amazed. Rather, look for the underlying principle. All forms and techniques are based on principle. When you understand the principle, meaning, when you can manifest the principle and not just intellectually explain it, then the multiple forms and the 10,000 techniques will readily come out. It's like doing math. You might know that 2 + 2 = 4 but if you don't understand the principle, then you can't do 1 + 3.

(I think this above note is from outside of Gary's class but is in the Gary notebook. It's a good note, so I included it here.)
* Tai chi as a martial art is based on Yin-Yang; soft and hard. The defender should feel (to the attacker) like what is in an empty bucket; nothing. On attack, the attack should feel like a pipe wrench hitting concrete; hard. Nothing and extreme hardness, this is how tai-chi works.

* "Uprooting" simply means getting the opponent to out of their "root", to lose balance in any direction with either pushing or pulling.

* For every Chin-na application there is a reversal. Must learn both because you must know how to get out of a Chin-na put on you.

nine directions of attack* There are only nine ways to attack and be attacked (another system says 13). This is the system of "nines". When you know these, then you learn which move best defends against each "mode" of attack. Tai-chi developed moves to not get hit by each one of these nine attacks and simultaneously attack the attacker. Learn the tai chi form with the end in mind.

* From defensive position, attacks will only come in nine ways, from your:
nine directions of defense

* Push hands
push hands force directionIncoming force can be directed up or down. Most push hands exercises only teach taking force to the left or right. This is too limiting. In truth, the incoming force can be directed in any of the 360 degrees.

* Four Patterns of Push Hands (推 手; tuī shǒu) :
1. Single or Simple Push Hands (单 推 手 ; dān tuī shǒu)
2. Paired or Double Push Hands (双 推 手 ; shuāng tuī shǒu)
2A. Little Pull Fixed Step (小 _ 定 步 ; xiǎo lu dìng bù)
2B. Little Pull Moving Step ( 小 _ _ 步 ; xiǎo lu huo bù)
* Four combinations of Single Push Hands. Each has a different feel. Learn these four feelings. Each has an advantage and disadvantage on defense. Play differently:
  • Left arm with left foot forward
  • Left arm with right foot forward
  • Right arm with left foot forward
  • Right arm with right foot forward

(These push hands exercises were repeated, reviewed, practiced and refined in almost every class according to my notes. Pay attention and practice these forms in relation to the nine gates. I understand better now how these push hands forms train fundamental fighting skills that are used in the fighting form and conversely, how the fighting form is based on these basic push hands forms. Unfortunately, my earliest push hands experience in the Cheng Man-ching system did not include Xiao-lu and Da-lu.)
* The details of the combat form may say step here and here. Consider these as guidelines. Each body type must adjust to itself.

* The combat form teaches body position. But each individual must grasp the principle of what is correct position for their body size. Tall and short will position themselves differently in relation to their partner to get maximum power.

For example, moving in with a shoulder strike, position yourself so 60% in back leg and 40% in front leg at point of contact. Then shift 10% to 50/50 to unbalance your opponent - the minimum energy needed for maximum effect.

(I am rather tall. I was impressed with Gary's awareness to speak to different strategies based on body size.)
* And with that, I began to learn the Guang Ping Yang Tai Chi Fighting Form; Loose Hand Two Man Combat Form (San Shou Dui Da).

Although I never completed the fighting form, I later saw two of Gary's students who not only completed learning the fighting form but also practiced "speeding it up" to the point where it started to look like a well choreographed kung-fu movie! Completely awesome!

In my opinion, the fighting form is suppose to train you for full-speed, full-contact fighting. So I am dismayed when I see, for example, YouTube videos of Tai chi fighting forms that only show the first level of accomplishment; having learned the basic mechanical moves. At that level, the "fighting form" looks more like a traditional dance set than fighting - the players seem to be missing the martial intention. I think a fighting form curriculum might be:
  1. Learn the basic mechanical moves.
  2. Speed it up, amp it up.
  3. Drop back to a slower speed and be spontaneous; mix up the set.
  4. Speed it up.
  5. Now film a video for YouTube or get a supporting role in the next Tai chi Master movie!
I hope you've enjoyed this series as much as I've enjoyed looking back at all the wonderful education and training I received! Happy training!

See also:
Gary Torres: Journal Notes #10
Guang Ping Yang Tai Chi: Martial Stances
Guang Ping Yang Tai Chi: Basic Training
Guang Ping Yang Tai Chi: Martial Intent

Monday, January 24, 2011

Monkey and Stallion: Journal Notes #23

Notes from my December 2004 Zhan Zhuang Training Journal. I train with The School of Cultivation and Practice which practices Wujifa zhan zhuang. (My current reflections are added in italics.)

* Watched private video footage of Chen Bo-Xiang filmed in China in May 2004. This private instructional session taught in explicit detail the internal mechanics of the pelvis. Watching this video showed clearly how all movement originates in the pelvis (the dan-tian) and the operation of the kua.
(Though I didn't note this, I remember that what I saw struck me as being totally different from what I previously understood as "moving from the center". It was not the mechanics but rather something about the "quality" of the movement that was different.)
* Again I realize that this practice cannot be learned by reading books or watching videos. It must be taught and learned and transmitted in person.

* Watching this video also validated for me the authenticity or value of what Rick had learned and was sharing.
(One issue I struggled with was how much to trust what I was learning. Are these crazy exercises really gonna do it? Is "stand and relax" really going to take me where I want to go? Does this person really have the quality of internal strength? How would I recognize "internal strength" if I felt it? How would I distinguish the feeling of internal strength from the feeling of muscular solidity if I don't even know the feeling of it myself? How would I know if someone who claims to have internal strength actually does have it or not? What's real and what's trickery?

For some reason, something clicked as I watched that video and I decided, yep, this guy is the real deal. Also, since then, other visitors and better known masters have said the same.)
* Grasping only the core fundamentals and with no other training in any technique, one is able to wield considerable power.

* Question: In my standing, I cycle between sinking and rising up. So I asked myself how to stay sunk and the answer came to me to "concentrate". When I did, then I felt my feet swelling. Is this OK to practice this way? What is the swelling sensation?
Answer: Feeling swelling is a side effect of sinking. Don't concentrate so much. Balance. If you put 100% attention on concentrating on sinking, then you have no attention left to be aware of what else is going on in your body.

* Question: But if I don't concentrate, my "monkey mind" wanders around.
Answer: So give it something to do like watching the body or counting breaths. Control the monkey to ride the stallion. (The stallion is your intention.)

* When doing the head rotation exercise, keep the body still (from the shoulders on down) to feel the fascial stretch from the top of the head to the pelvis.
(This looks like the standard and usual head or neck rotation exercise from gym class but the difference is in the purpose and intention. As usually performed, the intention is to stretch and limber the muscles of the neck. However, here, the intention is to feel...

When I do this now, I feel like an entire sheet of something under my skin is being stretched and pulled as I circle. I notice this most clearly on my head - face, sides and back - and into my neck. The feeling diminishes as I get into my shoulders but then picks up again further down my truck and then diminishes again around the pelvis and then picks up again down the sides of the legs.

And when I first started this exercise, I literally couldn't feel any of this. Time and practice.)
* Every posture comes from stance, is a variation of stance. It all goes back to stance. If a "Tai-chi-er" is not doing stance, then it's just bullshit.

* 50% above. 50% below. 50% right. 50% left. Where are you to do this? In the center.

* Question: What's the right way to do Yan Gao-fei's warm-up exercises?
  • Level 1: Just focus on stretching the tendon.
  • Level 2: Stretch and sink with the structure.
  • Level 3: Ever so slightly, experiment with posture changes beginning in the arm to feel the tendon stretch, extending further up the arm. Continue over months of practice to develop the feeling. Feel how the stretch extends to the pelvis.
* When doing Yan Gao-fei's warm ups, try to feel the stretch going all the way down the back to the pelvis. Work on feeling the connection. Move or change posture slightly one piece at a time, ever so slightly.

(A note on these exercises, there are four wrist twisting or chi-na type stretches which involve one hand torquing the other as well as a single wrist rotation and elbow rotation exercises. The mechanical movement is pretty standard. The devil is in the details! As of this writing, I can feel a stretch from my wrist up to my shoulder. It might be nice to post a separate video on this.)
* Personal note: I continue working regularly on relaxing my pelvic floor.

* Had an experience in stance one day of the body oozing down and spreading out yet top pulled up out of ooze. That was weird.

* While practicing side-to-side, my knee was hurting. Noticed I was twisting the thigh but not my calf so I think I was torquing the knee. I then tried twisting from the foot up (the whole leg) and the pain went away.

* The side-to-side feeling feels now like a squeezing, compressing like feeling, like a fist closing.

* One exercise to try to help develop the "dropping" or "letting go" feeling... While in stance, imagine there is a stool with a water balloon on it underneath your butt. Drop fast to break the water balloon with your butt. (Of course there is no stool so your legs have to catch you. The idea is to practice the feeling of really letting go.)
(I remember practicing this a lot at home using a bar stool which is about the right height for me. A problem I had was although I could mechanically let the legs go and drop, I was still holding up top which is what I also needed to let go and drop. Only after lots and lots of frustration and questioning and practice did I find the feeling of dropping from the top.

I think this may have been amongst the earliest attempts to develop the feeling which culminated in what I wrote about in Sink the Chi: How to Sit Down While Standing.)
Further reading:
Introductory article explaining this "Journal Notes" series: Zhan Zhuang Training Journal
Previous article in this series: What is the Fulcrum: Journal Notes #22
Next article in this series: The Zhan Zhuang Recipe: Journal Notes #24

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Bushman Spirituality - It's About the Feeling

In the book, The Bushman Way of Tracking God: The Original Spirituality of the Kalahari People (pub date: 2010), author, Bradford Keeney, Ph.D. explains that feeling, not thinking is the path of spirituality.

For those coming from more of a cerebral orientation to spirituality (as I am), this is an interesting and fun read. Below are some quotes I found most interesting and pertinent; re-enforcing the central themes of this blog from another perspective.

* * * * * * *

... the original form of spirituality that predates all major religions by thousands of years. (iv)

There in the Kalahari Desert of Namibia and Botswana, a small number of Bushman elders hold our most ancient wisdom. (x)

Most highly literate spiritual teachers argue that abstract philosophies and theologies represent an evolution of spirituality over the "primitives" who danced around a fire rather than sitting to read and discuss a book. The Bushmen have a different story. They believe that language, ideas, theories, and abstract thinking too easily deceive. With language games, we are led away from how our heart can be fully awakened to bridge with eternal wisdom and guidance. (xi)

The original way to tracking God,what may be called original spirituality, is surprisingly found through embracing wild laughter, syncopated rhythm, and ecstatic love. In other words, we find enlightenment through bringing forth absurd talk, spirited music and heartfelt embrace. (xii)

Their invitation is for us to stop spending so much time sitting still in any meditative, classroom, boardroom stupor, and to be less attached to professed cognitive insights, explanations, and understandings. Original spirituality invites us to engage in more heartfelt caring, sharing and daring encounters with one another. (xiii)

Words, the Bushmen say, are only useful for teasing one another. In teasing, we are less likely to get stuck in any particular belief, attitude, or form of knowing. (2)

Something is not quite right about the people who come out here and ask us a lot questions. They think words will make them understand. They miss out on having the experiences that are beyond understanding. (3) not allow a word to set up an illusory (and potentially arrogant) knowing of something that goes past the limit of our mind's ability to understand. (5)

Set your compass to aim for your emotions rather than your thoughts. (7)

You have to be softened and ripened to receive seiki. (13) [See Ikuko Osumi]

Softness has to do with your heart being open, free of barriers from a doubting mind. To much thinking, evaluation, conscious monitoring, comparing, performance anxiety, intellectual gamesmanship, and the like cover the heart with armor - the heavy metal protection of thoughts woven together as a kind of insulating fabric. (13-14)

[referring to tai chi] You aren't suppose to learn the movement. You are supposed to have the movement teach you. (14)

Your body has been waiting for your mind to get out of the way. Your mind has been waiting for your body to take charge.... You have been waiting to grant yourself permission to wed and release all parts of yourself. (21)

Trust your body's movement to teach you how to know what is important about words and understanding. It knows, and its knowing can't be easily written down. (22)

It ain't about the knowin'... It's about the feelin'. (27)

It has nothing to do with book knowing; this is a library of feelings.(39)

Thinking, as we habitually know it, is not necessary.(39)

When Bushmen say they own something it means not only that they own the feeling for it but also that the feeling has transmitted its essence, its complex nexus of relationships, into their very being. (40)

Your language-focused mind is an idiot; only spirit has wisdom.(45)

Black Elk once said that truth comes in two pure forms: through tears and through laughter. Both involve movement and can lead to convulsions. Both are medicines.(53)

...the futility and absurdity of teaching with words... (53)

"Tell your people that they must learn to wake up their feelings. Their heart must arise from its sleep...." (58)

Words get you stuck unless you play with them and move them around.(59)

The Bushmen feel its truth, ... It's not about a theology of words. (62)

Your mind has just been in the way of feeling it.(63)

I know you are capable of feeling all this because you are wired the same way as the Bushmen. You are a Bushman. The problem is that you have forgotten who you are and what you are meant to be.(65)

* * * * * * *

And it goes on and on for 280 pages. Lots of great stuff. I love his writing style. There were even a few places where I burst out in convulsive Ha Ha Ha laughter. And though the book gets progressively more mystical (and hilariously funny), which is beyond me, I still got a lot out of the more functional aspects and exercises.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Guang Ping Yang Tai Chi: Martial Intent

This is the third of a four part series presenting what I learned while briefly studying with Master Gary Torres from January to September 2000. Gary learned from Peter Kwok, the founder of Peter Kwok's Kung Fu Academy in the Guang Ping Yang Tai Chi lineage. Gary is the head of the Phoenix Dragon Kung Fu Academy.

One of the basic intentions missing in popular Tai chi forms is the aspect of its martial origins. When I studied with Gary Torres who taught from the Guang Ping Yang system, I learned more about practical martial aspects of Tai chi than I did in my previous Yang Tai chi training.

Here we go. (My current comments are in italics.)

* Learn anatomy. Learn how different injuries occur. Learn how far the body can "stretch" and in which direction before breaking. Learn how far is too far.

* Learn and understand neuro-muscular response so you can use it to your advantage.

* Demonstration: To break the collarbone, slide straight down the side of the face and strike with the back of the hand/knuckles.

* Demonstration: Shoulders only dislocate downward and forward or downward and backward. The bone structure prohibits upward dislocation.

* Demonstration: Strike the head or the neck?

head supported on blocksHead is supported on several separate pillars, stilts. If you knock out one block, then everything above comes tumbling down. Aim to strike the neck.

* Demonstration: Structure of the rib cage and propensity to and type of damage.

force applied to ribcageFrom the front, with application of pressure, breath is forced out because ribs are flexible in this direction. However, a strong enough impulse on the sternum breaks all ribs free of sternum.
From the side, ribs are not flexible and are susceptible to breaking from strike to side.

* Must be able to see the application in the form.

* In a "tall vs. short" fight...
strategy for size mismatchStrategy is different for each. Short is under tall's center of gravity already and easily has upward force.

Tall being on top has optimal downward force to push or pull (pull down from grabbing behind neck).

Remember, uprooting means getting the opponent out of their root - to cause to lose balance.

* Examine force vectors. Same force, same angle can yield different result. Learn where there is no support (or as the Chinese say, "find the open gate").

* The intent of Tai-chi is martial application - performing defensive and offensive movements on an imaginary opponent. If Tai-chi is performed without this intent, then you are not doing Tai-chi.

* Point striking. The body will react or follow certain patterns when struck in certain points. Energy moves in a prescribed way. The actual acupuncture point is no bigger than this dot * . The farther you get from the point, the more force is needed to activate it. This is true only up to a size of a U.S. nickel (about 2 cm) around the point.

* Some points are for killing and some are for knock-outs. Need to know which to use in today's litigious society.

force vectors* There are two sleeper points above the eyes straight up from the pupils near the top of the forehead. Strike down and in.

* The key to Tai-chi defense is "Get the F*** out of the way!" There's no blocking. If you don't move, you get hit. Simple.

* Train the extremes. You will probably never encounter the extreme in a real situation and so will be adequately prepared.

* In Rollback, the force is primarily a down force applied with the forward elbow while the back hand controls the attacking hand back and past the body. In real-life, the speed of Rollback is a sudden, quick, drop, driving the attacker face first into the ground. The sudden-ness of the pull-drop causes the opponent's body to lurch forward and the head to whiplash backward which exposes and opens the throat for attack. The forward "down force" arm can then slide up the opponent's forearm and strike the instantaneously exposed throat. This is the true nature of Tai-chi. This is why you learn anatomy, learn how the body responds to force vectors and how to use this to your advantage.

* If you want to learn how to injure or kill someone, it is much easier, quicker and cheaper to buy a gun and practice target shooting than it is to learn the Chinese martial arts especially arts such as Tai-chi, Ba-gua and Xing-yi. You come to learn the internal arts for another purpose - the purpose of enlightenment.

See also:
Gary Torres: Journal Notes #10
Guang Ping Yang Tai Chi: Martial Stances
Guang Ping Yang Tai Chi: Basic Training

Monday, January 17, 2011

What is the Fulcrum: Journal Notes #22

Notes from my November 2004 Zhan Zhuang Training Journal. I train with The School of Cultivation and Practice which practices Wujifa zhan zhuang. (My current reflections are added in italics.)

* Question: In the XXX exercises, the body shakes and vibrates. What is this and what does this have to do with standing , tai-chi and internal strength?
Answer: When the wind blows, the mountain does not move, the young tree shakes, and the grass bends. Shaking or vibrating is the energy moving in the body and is an indication of how free the body is of blockages and of where the blockages are. It can also help "clear the pipes".

* Question: It seems the the vibrating is triggered by certain postures and breathing techniques. Is this something that I can do at home or is it best to do only under supervision?
Answer: If you have a safe and supporting environment at home, then it would be OK, otherwise, no.

* Remember too that Chen Xiaowang says: No shaking means either chi flowing or no chi flowing. Shaking means some chi blocked, some chi flowing.

* Question: Can I feel the bottom of your feet? (Why do I ask? Because when I palpate the bottom of my feet, they are hard. So I wonder if someone who can demonstrate a level of internal strength has soft feet (song in the feet).
Answer: Yes, the bottom of his feet feel like pressing on a thick gel with no end, no hard-ness.

* One exercise to help loosen tension in the feet is to stand on golf balls. This can be quite painful. A more lenient alternative is to stand on Yamuna Foot Savers (looks like a plastic tennis ball cut in half).

* Question: What does having soft feet, relaxed bottom of feet have to do with stance?
Answer: When your feet relax, you can sink into the ground better.

* Class note from Nov 21, 2004. I stood for almost two hours in class and made some progress under the wise and guiding hands patiently adjusting my posture, providing reminders and "follow this direction".

* Be a scientist. Ask questions. Explore. Be an Edison or an Einstein. Experiment. Try. Get results. Verify.
(Again, a very difficult concept for me to grasp in this context. I long learned that I go to a teacher to be spoon fed some knowledge. The lesson I kept missing here is how do I learn to learn from what my body, my practice reveals?)

* The teacher knows where you are based on the kinds of questions you ask. Your questions reveal your current level of experience and what you're working on.
(So true! I see this over and over, in every class with each person's questions. It's quite amazing what a question reveals! And not only the literal words of the question but also the tone of voice, the energy or lack thereof in the delivery, the physical structure of the person while asking, etc.... a question reveals a LOT!)

* People make up all kinds of reasons to not do something. Know what your reasons are.

* There are different levels of watching nature. Approach nature as a teacher.

* There are different purposes in stance though to the untrained eye, these differences will not be detected. Different purposes may be:
  1. To feel the weight sink into the thighs. To feel the thighs burn.
  2. To feel the bottom is heavy and the top is light.
  3. To feel the fascial connection through the entire body.
* Question: What's the difference between Yin-Yang and Wuji?
Answer: Yin-yang is mechanistic thinking. Wuji is the fulcrum upon which yin-yang rest and play. It is best to be the fulcrum. Maintain Wuji in everything then no matter if someone sends you Yin or Yang energy, you can maintain the central equilibrium.

(I had a very difficult time grasping this concept coming from a very Yin-Yang Tai-chi school of thought . However, over the years, I'm slowly coming to see how this looks in practice.)
* You tend to notice muscular tension in the body when you put something in the path of the tension. Said another way, you tend to NOT notice muscular tension in the body UNTIL you put something in the path of the tension.
* You can apply this principle to the mouth and jaw. People also tend to carry a huge amount of tension in the jaw area, specifically, in the temporomandibular joint area. One exercise is to put something between the top and bottom front teeth that keeps the mouth as wide open as possible without your effort. The long side of a wine cork works nicely for most people. Soon you notice the jaw muscles (that are used to close the mouth) becoming sore. The tense muscles are stretching.

(When I first did this, I could only tolerate it a few seconds. Over time, with repeated practice, I worked up to minutes. Much later... I occasionally do this for about 20 minutes during stance practice. After 20 minutes it starts to get annoying, so maybe I'm hitting another level... )

Further reading:
Introductory article explaining this "Journal Notes" series: Zhan Zhuang Training Journal
Previous article in this series: Living Puzzle Anxiety: Journal Notes #21
Next article in this series: Monkey and Stallion: Journal Notes #23

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Guang Ping Yang Tai Chi: Basic Training

This is the second of a four part series presenting what I learned while briefly studying with Master Gary Torres from January to September 2000. Gary learned from Peter Kwok, the founder of Peter Kwok's Kung Fu Academy in the Guang Ping Yang Tai Chi lineage. Gary is the head of the Phoenix Dragon Kung Fu Academy.

A basic element of Tai chi training in the Yang style is its martial aspect. When I studied with Gary Torres who taught from the Guang Ping Yang system, I learned a lot about the basic martial aspects of Tai chi training.
Here we go. (My current comments are in italics.)

* Limits of elasticity as a function of speed demonstration. Gary held a yardstick in the air like a pool cue and points it at a tissue that is hanging from between my thumb and forefinger. He slowly uses the stick to push the tissue. The tissue is soft, yielding, relaxed and moves with the stick. But when he pushes the stick so quickly so that it shoots across the room, it tears a hole through the tissue. The tissue became hard, rigid, unyielding and broke, tore. As the speed of the attack increased, the tissue (body) reached a point where it could not yield and stay whole.

A similar demonstration can be done on a long human hair hanging from you head. Push or brush it slowly with your finger and it is soft and yielding. But snap the hand quickly through it and it tears out from the head.

* The internal martial arts teach you to relax. Why? One reason is because this increases the body's limit of elasticity. The more and deeper the muscles and the mind behind the muscles can relax, the more likely the body will remain whole in an attack and the greater the speed of attack the body can withstand without injury.

* Need to learn all three; Xing-yi, Ba-gua, Tai-chi. Each teaches you something about the other. The common thread is that they are all internal styles.
  • Xing-yi chuan ( 形 意 拳 ; xíng yì quán). Teaches fist work. This is elementary school level.
  • Ba-gua chuan ( 八 卦 ; bā guà quán). Teaches foot work. This is high school level.
  • Tai-chi chuan ( 太 极 拳 ; tài jí quán). teaches waist work. This is university level.
*There are three types of energy in the body:
  1. Li - muscular energy. I can feel this when, for example, I lift a heavy object. Only I can feel Li. No one else can feel my Li.
  2. Qi - "life energy". It is the energy we get from food, water, air. It is the energy produced through metabolism. No one else can feel my qi. Only I can feel my qi.
  3. Jing - stored qi expressed with breath and intent. I cannot feel my own jing. Only others can feel my jing. Groundpath + jing = extreme hardness.
* Question: How to train Jing?
Answer: Stand in any stance with arm outstretch and "locked" with palm touching the punching bag so that no muscular body movement will be able to move the bag. Now, move the bag with only your breath. Take a breath in, then begin to slowly exhale and then suddenly, quickly expel a burst of air (and only air, do not move) with intent in direction of the bag to move the bag. The air-burst doesn't need to be a great volume. Focus on the sudden "violent" exhalation from the diaphragm.

Train only this everyday for fifteen minutes until the bag moves. Then train until the bag moves an inch, then train until it moves a foot then train until it swings to the rafters. At this point, your speed of attack has now exceeded the limits of elasticity of the body. Most bodies will simply break under this attack just like the yardstick and tissue example.

On the other side of the coin, you need to train sensitivity to this kind of attack. Since this kind of attack is not muscular (which is comparatively very slow), but rather is directed by intent, you need to become sensitive to intent. Not just this intent, but all intent. Does the person standing there intend to harm me or just call me bad names? So as you go about your normal daily business, include developing a sense or feel of others' intent.

He then demonstrated an impulse without breath which felt short, hard, surfaces, and with breath which felt deeper, went through. Need to know what level of impulse is safe for demonstrating and which is deadly. There is no in-between.

* Tai-chi trains sensitivity at all levels. Start with training physical sensitivity. As the physical sensitivity develops so too does sensitivity to intention, for example: A) feeling where the opponent wants to go (and getting out of the way), and B) feeling if you even have an opponent.

As the sensitivity becomes more "etheral" this starts opening you up to seeing people's energy patterns. Ultimately, each one of us is walking around naked, exposed to whomever has the sensitivity to see. Developing sensitivity also develops your ability to injure and heal people.

Regarding sensitivity training exercises...

* The telephone book exercise. Open a telephone book somewhere in the middle. Place a hair on one page. Cover the hair by placing another page on top of it. Touch the page covering the hair with your fingers. Feel where the hair is. Add a second page covering the hair. And repeat. Develop a sensitivity of touch. Can you cover a hair with the entire phone book and be able to locate the hair?

* The pole exercise. Let one end of pole rest in crook of arm/wrist. As walk around its center, change hand and arm postures. Don't let the pole drop.

pole walking exercise

* The Ten Point Checklist. Consider these "the rules". Each one is a leg of the principle for power; each depends on the other. If any single one of these is missing, then the integrity of the whole is compromised. If any rule is broken, then that point is the vulnerable point:
  1. Head held upright
  2. Tongue on roof of mouth
  3. Ears listen inward
  4. Eyes focus outward
  5. Back straight
  6. Chest relaxed
  7. Move from center (tan tian)
  8. Elbows down
  9. Pelvis sunk - not tipped forward or backward
  10. Knees over toes.
* If I can entice you to break a rule, then I will exploit that to my advantage. For example, if I can get you to lean forward, then I can easily do pull back. Or, if you arch your back and tilt the head, then you'll lose your power in your arms. Or, if your pelvis tilts, this unbalances you.

* Order or Hierarchy of Attack. (A slap/tap means to slap aside the opponent's attacking hand and then hit. A slap is a 'bu' and a hit is a 'bam'.):
  1. Speed
  2. Speed and trickery
  3. One slap/tap
  4. One slap and trickery
  5. Two slaps/taps
  6. Two slaps and trickery
  7. Three slaps/taps
* The old masters would practice and look/listen for your training rhythm: Bu-bam. Bu-bu-bam. Bu-bam-bu-bam. Bu-bu-bu-bam.

* Focus on rhythm. Don't worry about strength. That will happen naturally. It will evolve out of proper alignment and speed.

See also:
Gary Torres: Journal Notes #10
Guang Ping Yang Tai Chi: Martial Stances

Monday, January 10, 2011

Living Puzzle Anxiety: Journal Notes #21

Notes from my August, September & October 2004 Zhan Zhuang Training Journal. I train with The School of Cultivation and Practice which practices Wujifa zhan zhuang. (My current reflections are added in italics.)

There are so few notes for each month that I decided to combine these three months into one post. And there seems to be a common thread, maybe a phase I was going through.

* A lot of people who get into this (standing practice) get "depressed" or discouraged and quit because they start discovering all the problems with their structure; tensions, emotional pains, etc. But it's like driving a car. If your car isn't performing at its best, say, because a tire is low on air, do you get discouraged at its poor performance and stop driving it? Of course not. You start to look for the problem so you can resolve it and get the performance level up again. In doing stance work, it's the same thing. You're just standing, feeling, being aware and the problems are presented to you. You don't even have to look for them, but you do have to figure out how to resolve them. So it becomes a game, a crossword puzzle, a jigsaw puzzle.

*A demonstration of how to work on the puzzle:

1. Start with opening the lower back. People in general tend to draw and hold their lower back and butt inwards and upwards and the muscles are chronically tight which make the feet and knees point outward. Part of "sung" is to relax and release this tension. So, just like the old drawings, when you relax the lower back, it feels like untwisting, or like a spiraling down the legs and then the knees and feet naturally point straight.

Recommendation: Practice exercises to get the lower back and butt to relax and open.

2. Side to Side. The key here is to develop the inguinal crease as far around the hip as possible. When you start, you may only get an inch or two. Keep practicing.

3. One arm silk reeling. Maintain the inguinal crease from side-to-side as you add in arm movement.

4. Practice the toe dragging exercise to start feeling the inguinal crease with leg movement. (For example, with weight on the left foot push right toe out to about two-o-clock. Use the closing of the kua to drag the toe circularly from two- to twelve-o-clock and then back to the left foot. Repeat.)

(One note of caution, if you practice these exercises from only this description, then you will likely be doing it wrong. I've both seen and have had many hands-on adjustments to "do it right" and I still do it wrong. Words cannot convey the structure and feeling unique to your body.)
And that's it. Do this for two to three years. Continue stance. These are a few of the basic methods to develop internal power.

* Personal note from August 19, 2004. There are many feelings and the following may just be part of the road. While standing one night last week, during which I feel that I'm continually moving, relaxing, dropping, I got to a point where I felt that I hit a floor, a platform and couldn't relax any further. That night I was awakened repeatedly by nightmares of being chased and attacked.

(Sometimes, when my body "shifts", I will have dreams that are a little different than the ordinary strangeness of dream-land. I chalk this up to bio-chemicals being released from chronically tense muscles making their way to my brain. Yes, during my college days, I dabbled in the "self help" dream analysis which turned out to be like a dog chasing its tail - didn't lead me anywhere.)

* Since my youth, I've been interested in learning how things work. And once I have a plausible understanding, then I move on to the next. As a result, I've become a "Jack of all trades and master of none", bouncing from this to that and never settling on one which I would master, one which I would commit my life to developing. I never felt that I had a singular goal in life and I envy those who do. I've spent a lifetime waiting for a divine revelation, an epiphany of what I should do and I completely missed the point that (in this country, this time, this place), I'm free to choose... and then be responsible for that choice.
(I initially approached this project of developing internal strength the same way; if I could gather enough data and understand from the data the "how" of how it works, then that would be good enough. Done. Next. But a wise man said to me, "If you can't demonstrate it, then you really don't know how it works." True. And so, I'm still working on figuring out how it works.)

* Take responsibility for your own development. Experiment. Notice the results you get. Repeat
(This is a tough one for me, a guy who grew up laying responsibility on God and later on fate, luck, astrological signs, birth order, tea leaves, etc. I still struggle with this in the form of putting responsibility "out there" on someone else's training methods. I'm still very much a work in progress - to making the leap to... or taking baby steps toward...)

* Question: What is the difference between the energetic charge developed in the XXX exercise(s) and say, enjoying a day with friends or swimming in a lake, etc.?
Answer: Many enjoyable activities can and will charge areas in you where it is comfortable to do so. The XXX exercise(s) will charge an undercharged area in you which will feel uncomfortable as the charge increases.

Question: Is internal strength more a function of structure or energetic charge?
Answer: Structure, primarily, but charge helps the muscles set up the right structure.

Question: A pattern in my life is to quit just as I'm getting good at something, just when I figure it out. How do I change this?
Answer: Some people don't want to succeed because then they would be held accountable, responsible, so it's easier to say, "I tried but couldn't do it." In some people, changing (getting good) creates a great deal of anxiety.
(Recognizing one of my patterns and then having a curiosity about how to change it was a breakthrough for me. The longer I play this game, the more patterns are exposed. Staying "stuck" in the old pattern is comfortable even if it is uncomfortable. But there is no growth in not changing. I'm still not comfortable with the pattern of not getting stuck in a pattern... which ties back in to the responsibility theme.)

* Before a battle, all soldiers are afraid. It is only after the battle that those can be identified as brave.

* It's OK to feel whatever feelings come up. We've all been through it. Don't be so hard on yourself. Lighten up.

* Continue to be mindful of connections but don't be so serious about it. Have a happier approach. Smile. This might help alleviate some of the anxiety.

* In class today (October 24), I stood for 80 minutes! I never stood so long before. Now I know that I can do it. It seems so much easier and quicker in class than when standing alone at home.

Question to me: What is your purpose in doing this? My answer: To change my structure. To discover what I'm capable of in this arena.

Further reading:
Introductory article explaining this "Journal Notes" series: Zhan Zhuang Training Journal
Previous article in this series: Chen Xiaowang Seminar 2004: Journal Notes #20
Next article in this series: What is the Fulcrum: Journal Notes #22

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Guang Ping Yang Tai Chi: Martial Stances

This is the first of a four part series presenting what I learned while briefly studying with Master Gary Torres from January to September 2000. Gary learned from Peter Kwok, the founder of Peter Kwok's Kung Fu Academy in the Guang Ping Yang Tai Chi lineage. Gary is the head of the Phoenix Dragon Kung Fu Academy.

Learning Tai Chi as a martial art requires developing a solid foundation in stance work. When I studied with Gary Torres who taught from the Guang Ping Yang system, I learned more about stances ( 步 法 ; bù fǎ ) than I did in my previous Yang Tai chi training.

Here we go. (My current comments are in italics.)

* Primacy of stance. Structure determines function. 10,000 techniques are useless without the proper foundation. All applications are built on different stances.
(I think this is where I realized the shortcoming of my original Tai chi training in the Cheng Man-ching Yang Tai chi system which taught forms without teaching stances; like building a house without first building the foundation.)

* Stance must become your nature. Not your second nature, but your nature.
(I didn't have a clue what this meant at that time. I think I'm getting a better sense of this now. Practicing stance is slowly transforming my body. The effect of stance work is becoming my natural body. Maybe this is the same as saying, whatever you do a lot of, is what you become.)

* Purpose of stance is to train the body. It is not to build strong legs, however, this is a peripheral benefit.

* Do the stances to: learn the "rules", learn where a "rule" is broken, learn if you opponent is following the "rule", learn where the opponent is vulnerable to attack.

* Stances are the foundation. Stances are "the rules". EVERY move comes out of a stance.

* The correct stance and posture is "the rule". When you see your opponent following the rule, you know you have ABC options. When you see your opponent breaking a rule, you know you have XYZ options. For example,
  • If opponent is not standing straight, then you have 'X' option.
  • If opponent's back foot is not at a 45 degree angle, then you have 'Y' option.
  • If opponent's attacking elbow is up, then you have 'Z' option.
*Question: Why is the rear foot at 45 degrees? See for yourself. Face a wall. Put right foot on the wall about waist high. Left foot heel and toe on perpendicular line to wall (or parallel with raised leg). Push wall with right foot. Some strength, not much side-to-side stability. Next, turn left foot parallel with wall (or perpendicular to raised leg). Push wall with right foot. No strength, better side-to-side stability. Next, turn left foot 45 degree angle to wall. Push again. Much stronger, much more stable. A 45 degree rear foot provides optimal power and stability.

* Here are the eight basic stances and how to do them correctly. Each person's physical structure determines their stance, or said another way, the stance is unique to each person. Find your correct stance.

* Tiger Stance ( 虎 步 ; hǔ bù )
Begin with feet parallel about 1 & 1/2 shoulder width apart. Heels on line. Turn right foot out 45 degrees. Drop down into right foot so that the ischeal tuberosity (sitting bone - bottom of pelvis) touches and is directly over the right heel. Slide left foot straight out to side and keep knee locked. Keep left heel and toe on ground and in same position with toe facing forward. Heels on same line.
Back is straight up and down. No leaning, no curving.
Hips are turned to the tiger - toward the long, straight leg.
Keep arms off legs.
Bent knee must be in line with toe, not torqued in or out.
Note how far apart the feet are. This is your maximum. Never let your feet get further apart than this. The Tiger Stance is first because this determines the maximum distance the feet can be apart from each other.

If the body wants to lean and cannot be straight up and down, or the heel raises and you balance on your toe, then the problem may be tension in the ankle. If another person pushes down on the bent knee, to hold you from falling backward and this allows the back to straighten, and if the person lets go and you fall, then exercise to loosen the ankle.

* Horse Stance ( 马 步 ; mǎ bù )
From Tiger, keeping feet in same position, rise up and shift to center. Turn right foot in on heel so again both feet are parallel. Sit down so knees are parallel in line with toes. Back straight and vertical. This is your maximum Horse Stance.

* "L" Stance or Half Horse Stance
From Horse, turn right foot out 90 degrees.

* Bow and Arrow Stance ( 龚 剑 ; gōng jiàn bù )
From "L" stance, turn left toe in 45 degrees. Straighten and lock the left knee. Right knee pushes forward on line parallel with toe. Hips and shoulders turn in direction of front toe. Back straight and vertical.

* Lotus Stance
From Bow and Arrow, turn front (right) foot out 90 degree (toes facing three-o-clock). Back heel will lift off floor. Lean forward onto front foot. Pick back foot off ground. Back straight and vertical.

This ends this series of stances.

Other stances include and each begin with heels together, toes rotated out 45 degree off center line.

* Rooster Stance ( 獨 立 ; dú lì )
Shift to left leg. Pick up right foot. Bring knee straight up as high as it will go. Toe points down. Rotate femur/knee so femur covers groin and right toes over left toes.

* Empty Stance and Short Empty Stance ( 虛 步 ; xū bù )
Pick up right foot. Move right toe to be in front of left instep and then straight forward. Right toe points to ground and only toe touches ground. From Empty Stance, move right toe to touch ground immediately in from of the left instep. This is the Short Empty Stance.

* Tai-chi Stance
This is the same as the Empty stance (standing on left foot) but the heel touches the ground and toes are pulled up. Right leg is straight.

* * * *

(After this training, I began watching other tai chi players to see if in their form they were transitioning between stances or just moving their feet around like I had learned to do. It's very interesting what you see when you can see.

For a while I did go back and re-learn my form with the perspective of stance. I'd ask myself, "Which stance is this posture?" and rather than transition between "postures" as I'd always done, I practiced transitioning between stances. The form became about a series of stances.

I also noticed how many different postures are based on any given stance.
Doing this, I found that knowing and playing from stances, rather than "postures", developed a certain intentionality in the placement of my feet and legs in relation to what was going on "up above". This completely changed my experience of my form.)

See also:
Gary Torres: Journal Notes #10
Guang Ping Yang Tai Chi: Basic Training

Monday, January 3, 2011

Chen Xiaowang Seminar 2004: Journal Notes #20

Notes from the July 23-28, 2004 Chen Xiaowang seminar held at Petoskey, Michigan, USA. The seminar covered Six word qi-gong, Silk reeling, the entire Lao-Jia form and introduction to push-hands. This seminar was organized by The School of Cultivation and Practice. (My current reflections are added in italics.)

author's photo Chen Xiaowang adjusting my posture(I remember my friend taking this picture at the end of the seminar. Master Chen made some postural adjustments. My right leg was on fire! I was yelling at my friend who was laughing to hurry up and snap the picture before my leg gave out. Master Chen was laughing too. We calmed down and he took this picture. What a great memory!)

I wrote these notes during the lunch and dinner breaks. Here we go:

* One principle, three movements, ten thousand techniques/forms

* One movement principle: move from the center. When the tan-tien moves, then everything moves.

* Three movements:
  1. Forward-backward
  2. Turn left - turn right
  3. Change direction
* You can learn ten thousand forms/techniques but if you don't move according to "One principle, Three movements", then it is useless.

* All silk reeling movements are the basis for and are in the Tai-chi form.

* Stance is the foundation for silk reeling which is the foundation for the form.

* Semantics. "Chi is flowing" means open, full, not broken, connected.

* Posture is the most important. Bad posture is like a car with a flat tire. 95% of people have bad posture that must be corrected.

* Expand. He adjusted everyone for larger, longer, fuller, open, postures. (Everyone was doing the postures too contracted.)
(I remember Master Chen's corrections to my posture resulted in a different, more open or "one-ness" kind of connected feeling and a heavier-ness feeling in my legs. I learned that "bad posture" can also mean being too contracted, 'chi not flowing', not connected and not sunk enough.)

*Keep stance high and steps small. Get clear first. Get structure, correct posture, chi flowing first. This is good. If you work low with bad posture, broken, chi not flowing, this is bad practice.

* Stance - listen behind. This helps sink the chi. (While in stance, he snapped his fingers behind me at about belt level).

(I've used this method sporadically over the years, for example, using a small, ticking alarm clock sitting on the desk behind me. Using this also helped "pull me back in" when my mind started to wander.)
* Learning sequence:
  1. Learn movements/postures.
  2. Learn chi flowing.
  3. Learn application.
*Question: What does it means when the legs shake during stance?
Answer: No shake means chi blocked or chi flowing. Shaking means some chi blocked, some chi flowing.

* Every move can be done fast or slow, with or without fa-jing. Most important, go slow first and learn movement principle, get chi flowing, then fast or slow doesn't matter.

* Much later, when learning fa-jing, only do it when you have enough energy - are not tired. Every or any move can be done with fa-jing. Every move can be done fast or slow. Most important is movement principle. Go slow first to learn movement principle then get chi flowing. Once chi is flowing (connected), then slow or fast is all the same.

* Push-hands is two people doing Tai-chi together; practicing the movement principle with another person.

* Three Languages:
  1. Spoken, aural words. These are the most misleading.
  2. Demonstration. What you are able to see, you will see.
  3. Touch/feeling. You get the feeling when someone more experienced can align your structure for a particular feeling.

(I understand the truth in this more now than I ever did when wrote this.
Those who can talk-the-talk can fool those who cannot walk-the-walk.
You can only see in others to the level you are able to manifest in yourself.)

* I noticed that Master Chen doesn't talk or explain when he demonstrates the form. He's completely into the form. So.... keep explaining and doing separate.

* I noticed one of Master Chen's warm-ups looks like an advanced side-to-side exercise. For example, from the left leg turn the right hip back so hips are angled horizontally to line of feet, then shift on this angle to right foot. After in right leg, turn left hip back and shift into left leg, and repeat.
(We reviewed this exercise in a recent Wujifa class and I learned a lot more regarding how to do this exercise internally vs. externally and where people make mistakes. If I recall correctly, Master Chen did not "teach" this exercise in this seminar, rather, he performed a "silent demonstration".)
If you get an opportunity to attend a Chen Xiaowang seminar, it is well worth it. Although I could not "see" what he was doing internally, his teachings shaped my views on Taiji and internal martial arts. The more I learn, the more I understand what he shared.

See also: Chen Xiaowang World Taijiquan Association

Further reading:
Introductory article explaining this "Journal Notes" series: Zhan Zhuang Training Journal
Previous article in this series: Practical Non-Attachment: Journal Notes #19
Next article in this series: Living Puzzle Anxiety: Journal Notes #21