Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Tai Chi Memories: Bob Klein and the Long Island School of Tai Chi Chuan

The Long Island School of Tai Chi Chuan formed my first experience in learning Tai Chi Chuan as a martial art. I was a formal student of Bob Klein's from the fall of 1984 to the summer of 1988 when I moved away for my first trip to China.

In the fall of 1984, during my sophomore year at college,SUNY Stony Brook, 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. (For the back-story see my article: My First Tai Chi: Sophia Delza Wu Style.)

When I called inquiring about classes, I was invited to an upcoming school party. And so... my first experience with this school was participating in a "Taoist Forest Wine Ceremony".

The "Taoist Forest Wine Ceremony" involved all adults in attendance, which was maybe about 30 people that day. We sat in a large circle on the lawn outside the school, each with a glass of wine. We took turns going around the circle saying something we were thankful for. This was followed by a hearty "Ho!" and everyone taking a sip of wine. This continued until all the glasses and bottles were empty and everyone was overflowing with thankfulness! And as I learned later, this was a fair introduction to the temperament of the school: easy-going and prone to laughter.

Kungfu Magazine.com has an e-zine article, a kind of mini- Tai chi autobiography by Bob Klein titled: Animal Fighting and Animal Chi-Gung. I suggest you read this so you gain an insight into the influences on Bob's approach to Tai Chi Chuan. Bob's primary Tai Chi teacher was Grandmaster William C.C. Chen.

When I started classes, Bob gave me a booklet he wrote titled, "May I Have Your Attention, Please". (Does anyone still have a copy of this?) Then his first major book came out, Movements of Magic: The Spirit of Tai-Chi Chuan (1984). He began filming his first videos during the time I was there. His "Zookineses" was there is spirit but was not yet named nor codified.

Once each summer, Bob would bring out a six foot boa constrictor or two to push-hands class and we'd practice "pushing hands" with the boa, feeling the fine, wave-like muscular movements of this big snake.

Feel how human muscular movement is coarser than the snake's. How can you apply the strength and power of the snake's movements in push hands?

I remember during these sessions that we'd also practice snake staring. Getting nose to nose, eye to eye with a boa is an amazing experience even if it was "tame" and used to human contact!

One experience I vividly remember during one of these sessions was asking Bob, "Am I seeing a deeper wisdom in the snake or is the snake reflecting my own deeper wisdom back to me?" The answer he gave was, "You'll have to figure that out yourself." Working with large snakes in this way is an experience that has stuck with me.

Bob used to encourage us to watch and imitate animal movements. I spent a lot of time in the woods behind my dormitory practicing forms and observing the small animals. I even made a few trips to the Bronx Zoo. Most interesting was observing monkeys playing with momentum as they'd swing from branch to branch, up and down, and around and around. My girlfriend at that time had cats which I enjoyed observing and learning from. I would then try to bring the movement qualities of these different animals into my form, push-hands and sparring.

Bob wasn't one for teaching or drilling individual mechanical techniques or applications like I remember from Judo class or Chin-na seminars at the Tai Chi Farm. Rather, I remember the focus was on learning a way to move and blend and flow.

Regarding sparring, as Bob says, he learned fighting from William and then flavored that with animal movement. I wish I could find an old clip of William sparring to be able to compare apples to apples.

Bob tended to keep the temperament of sparring classes light-hearted, more game-like than competitive or war-like. Occasionally tempers flared but we worked through it. Sparring was like an extension of free-style push-hands but with boxing gloves. In sparring, like push hands, he emphasized looking for gaps and openings, appearing and disappearing, striking where the opponent wasn't paying attention; avoiding or brushing aside incoming punches and kicks while simultaneously delivering a punch or kick.

Here are a couple clips of William C.C. Chen instructing push hands. I learned these exact same exercises and body movements in Bob's classes.

I remember Bob teaching us these exact same push hands lessons of yielding.

Now, this first clip is from Bob's video, Chinese Kickboxing, 1987, which is now a two DVD set. Bob is instructing Joe and Rick. I was operating the camera. Notice the same push hands principles at work in these sparring exercises. A walk down memory lane for me...

This following clip was filmed after I left the school. However, this clip shows (in slow motion) what our beginning sparring classes looked like. Taken from his DVD Internal Energy in the Martial Arts.

We were a great bunch of steady, long-term students all of whom I really enjoyed! Here's a photo of our "core group" in 1988. We all played forms, push-hands and sparring together. Where are they now?

Long Island School of Tai Chi Chuan core group in 1988
(author's personal photo)

Many of us also participated in various activities outside of school as well. We attended the summer Tai-chi Farm festivals in up-state New York. We went in to William's school for a T.T. Liang workshop. We did fire walks and multiple sweat lodges with Bill Elwell (Native American Indian Sacred Purification Sweat Lodge Ceremony) in some very scenic settings.

By the time I left the school I had learned the 60 movement Yang form as pictured in the 1983 book: William C.C. Chen's Tai Chi Chuan. I also learned fixed step push-hands forms, fixed step free-style push-hands, free style sparring and a Tai Chi sword form. In addition, I learned spear, staff, monkey, and mantis forms from a relative of William's whom Bob invited out from New York City on Saturday afternoons.

Toward the end of my time on Long Island, I spent some time hanging out with Ralph and Frank outside of class. On occasion, we'd polish off a half bottle of Tequila and spend hours practicing push hands which at times got really fast. Sometimes we'd stop and laugh in amazement at how our bodies responded before the mind had time to process what was happening, "Wow! Did you see that?" I was pretty impressed with the skills I had developed!

Later after leaving the school, I encountered players from many schools including other Tai-chi styles, Xing-yi, Ba-gua, Yi-Chuan and also my now longtime teacher and friend, Rick, who I've watched develop the Wujifa system. Through meeting and practicing with other people from other disciplines, I slowly came to realize that I had more to learn about internal strength and internal connectedness.

Getting back to the "Taoist Forest Wine Ceremony".... I am thankful for the unique experiences and all I learned from Bob and my classmates at the Long Island School of Tai Chi Chuan, particularly, I'm thankful I learned how to tap into an element that has imbued my Tai Chi with a qualitative smoothness and flow that I notice is lacking in many other Tai Chi players.

Snakes, cats, and monkeys...

Monday, July 25, 2011

Appreciation and Thankfulness: Journal Notes #49

Notes from my August 2007 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: How do I develop "peng"?
Answer: Relax. If you try to express peng too early, then you will not be doing it internally but rather, externally. As you relax more, peng will naturally develop as the body opens.

* Question: It still takes me a while to get "set up" to sink and push up. How am I doing?
Answer: Hitting ground and peng in stance must become second nature, not something you work into. Get this as second nature first, then you can start the 24-7 practice.

* Question: Lots of people talk about opening the Bubbling Well point. I've never felt this. How can I get this feeling?
Answer: Stand, pull up toes and balls of feet. Balance on heels. Then relax down and feel. This opens the K-1 Bubbling Well using the relax principle.

* Question: What's the difference between relaxing and relaxing in formal zhan zhuang practice?
Answer: Formal stance practice engages the whole body. If you're sitting either at work, in a car, or watching TV and you're noticing tension and relaxing, you're probably only focusing on here and there, and not on the whole body and how the whole body responds to relaxing one area.

* Question: What's wrong with "Qi" and "Energy work"?
Answer: People get hung up on "Qi" and "Energy work". Focus on practicing body alignment and connection. People want the 440 volt copper lines when they don't even have the power to pass voltage through a wet cotton thread.

* Question: You've mentioned "24-7 practice". What is this?
Answer: 24-7 means practicing 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, not just the 2-3 hours a day practice. It is not about relaxing a localized spot or area. Rather, 24-7 focuses on further developing the connections and moving through everyday life with connectedness. But you need to get the feeling first.
(I remember this discussion. Even though I may periodically throughout the day "check-in" with my structure or be mindful of practicing sink and push-up while standing at the kitchen sink etc., this is not the same as 24-7 practice.)

* Question: I went to an "integrated medicine" doctor and his analysis showed that I'm Yang energy depleted; Kidneys and Heart are weak. How to build Yang energy?
Answer: Stance is the king of Qi gongs. Relaxing and opening the back benefits the kidneys. Relaxing and opening and dropping the chest benefits the heart. Other exercises: Eight Pieces of Brocade. Swing arms side to side to slap kidneys. Squats (opens back).

* Question: How do I develop connecting with the other person in push hands?
Answer: You must connect within yourself first. Then simply extend the same feeling.

(In my first few years of push hands, I thought I was connecting with the other person because I could sense and feel where the push was coming from and yield to or disappear from where the incoming push was going. And I got to where I could do this very well, very quickly with another player on my level.

As I played with more advanced players, I could still sense where the push was coming from but I could not longer yield to or escape the push. Similarly, I somehow "lost" the ability to push these more advanced players, not because they yielded but because they were simply grounding my push. They had better internal connectedness than I had.)

* Question: How do you know how your practice is going?
Answer: Hang out with, go see, compare your skill to...

* Question: How can 1,2,3,4 be a practice of depth?
Answer: 1,2,3,4 is the method. However, the method has many layers and levels. For example, feet parallel for a beginner means how the feet look to the beginner. A next level might also consider how the weight is distributed on the feet. Is the weight distributed parallel? A next level might also consider how the "energy" is moving through the foot. Are the feet parallel energetically?

(Regarding "feet parallel", I've now experienced each of these layers. I've seen how my feet can be physically aligned on parallel lines but somehow "internally" they can be un-parallel and adjusted to be truly parallel. Quite amazing!)

* Question: You always say "Let go", "Relax". I don't feel like I'm doing this very well. How do I "Let go"?
Answer: Your legs are weak. You need to develop more leg strength.
(And how do you develop leg strength? By letting go and relaxing as best you can and feeling the burn in your quadracep muscles. I've learned that "letting go" is not a one time event but rather a slow, evolving process of changing the entire body.

A little relax leads to a little drop which leads to a little increased leg strength which allows a little more relax which allows a little more drop which leads to a little more increased leg strength, which allows...)
* Focus on growing the apple tree and you'll get apples. (Don't focus on how to make an apple.)
  • Alignment = tree
  • Connection = sap
  • Peng = apple

(An interesting side note. One of my school brothers is learning some nice stuff. When he focuses on punching, he doesn't notice where he's breaking the feeling of connection. When he takes focus off of punching and notices and feels the connection, then the power of his punch increases. It's quite amazing to witness! When he shifts focus to the tree and sap, then he gets a better apple.)

* Saying, "Isn't that interesting" is the internal practice of keeping focused.

(I think this note came from a discussion about what to do during stance when the "monkey mind" starts reminding me of this and that. Recognize the thought with a dismissive "Isn't that interesting." and refocus on the body.)

* Question: What should I practice? There are so many exercises. There's so much to learn.
Answer: Follow through on original intention. Stick to one simple principle. Don't bounce around like the pinball ball.

* (Read the below group of notes about thankfulness and appreciation as notes from one discussion.)

* Question: When I do stance I can feel like a forcing down. Is that relax or force?
Answer: Appreciate. Allow. Trust the process. Nurture. Trust instead of forcing the process.
* Two different frames of the same experience:
  • I get this nice stretch on this side but can't get the same on this other side. Hmm... I wonder how I can get this same feeling on this other side...
  • Argh! I can't get this feeling! This is so frustrating!
* Thankfulness. Focus on the relaxation you do have and not on the tension spots or frustration at what you don't have.

* Be thankful when nothing happens. Something doesn't have to happen.

* An appreciative tone of voice creates a feeling of nurturing and trust.

* The more you appreciate them, the more they will appreciate for you. (In reference to noticing and appreciating tensions and pains in the body.) Never ignore and don't feed the "it hurts".

(A big part of my mechanistic problem-solving, trouble-shooting lifestyle was finding the problem and then fixing it. If I couldn't find it or fix it, I'd get frustrated. I certainly never appreciated nor was thankful for problems nor approached problems as learning opportunities! This find-n-fix approach didn't work well for me when I applied it in my zhan zhuang practice. The above notes are a portion of a longer-term project to change my approach. I think this is one example of what people say that practicing zhan zhuang can change your life.)

* Many teachers make the mistake of teaching where they are at when they should teach where the student is at. Beginners need very practical advice. An advanced answer is not wrong but it will be misinterpreted by the beginner. Sometimes it's better to tell a "lie" that is true to the level of understanding of the student. Then, when the student can grasp the more advanced answer, then tell the truth.

(From my experience, beginners reading books written by masters about their master-level experience just messes up the beginner. While a master can read and understand a book by another master, the beginner doesn't even know what s/he is reading nor is aware that the novice level of understanding will completely distort and misinterpret the master-level practice.)

For example, the practice of small circulation may be a master level exercise but I don't think this is a functional exercise for the beginner who doesn't even have a rudimentary level of relax and open and feeling of kinesthetic connectedness.)

* After you feel the fascial connection, then you can start bending the rules/methods which have grounded you to this point.

(I think this is an example of lies and truth. In truth, you don't have to maintain your structure (as in the Wujifa 1,2,3,4 ; 1,2,3,4) to maintain connection and peng. I've seen my instructor contort his body into some pretty messed up positions and he still maintains connection and cannot be pushed. However, telling this truth to a beginner will not help his/her development. So it's better to "lie", to say what is true at the level of understanding of the student because this will best serve the student where s/he is at that time.)

Further reading:
Introductory article explaining this "Journal Notes" series: Zhan Zhuang Training Journal
Previous article in this series: No Shortcuts: Journal Notes #48
Next article in this series: You Can't Force Relax: Journal Notes #50

Monday, July 18, 2011

No Shortcuts: Journal Notes #48

Notes from my July 2007 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'm frustrated that this is taking so long. Is there a way to speed up the process?
Answer: Don't force it. Allow yourself to shift and grow. Don't try to rush your development. Don't look for shortcuts. There aren't any. Stick with the basics. Stand and relax and notice.

* Why can't I just get a single "big shift" to get "the feeling" and be done with it?
Answer: Small adjustments in the body have big results. Think of two laser pointers differing by only a fraction of an inch at the source are miles apart at some distant point. Small shifts now can result in big changes later.

(The old saying, "Rome wasn't built in a day." applies here. I had at least a couple issues going on then: 1. I was looking for a special feeling, "the feeling" which blinded me to 2. I wasn't able to notice the incremental results that the many small adjustments were having on my body over time.

Were I able to relax even my attachment to the idea of needing to get "the feeling", and simply notice the day-to-day kinesthetic changes, I might have progressed a little quicker and I probably would have never asked these questions.

This is another example of how questions can reveal where someone is in their training and development.)

* Question: I've noticed a wide variety of kinesthetic sensations over the years and you say these are mere road signs. Are any of these useful for anything or should I just ignore them all?
Answer: The useful sensations will help you notice where tensions are. (Tension = stuck point.)

(The "road sign" analogy helped me get a functional perspective on the various "Qi feelings" so I will repeat it here.

Early in my practice I learned that feeling kinesthetic feelings of tingling or warmth when doing the Tai chi form or various Qi gong exercises were an indication of having a high level practice and so were a goal to achieve in and of itself. (Achieving this fed my ego. I felt special.)

When I got into the School of Cultivation and Practice, I learned that these kinesthetic feelings are not the destination but are merely road signs that I am on the journey. (I didn't feel so special anymore).

The road sign analogy is driving from Chicago to Disneyland. When you see the sign, "Disneyland 1000 miles", you don't stop and say you've reached your destination. When you see the sign, "Disneyland 500 miles", you don't stop and say you've reached your destination. When you see the sign, "Disneyland 10 miles", you don't stop and say you've reached your destination. The road signs are not the destination.

The various and changing "Qi feelings" are like these various and changing road signs. Just as the destination is not the road sign, so too, the destination is not "Qi feelings". The destination is Disneyland; the feeling of connectedness. "Qi feelings" are indications the body is opening and relaxing.

Opening and relaxing are the pre-requisite or pre-condition kinesthetics . "Qi feelings" are signposts indicating the internal environment is slowly changing. With diligent practice over time, opening and relaxing yields the opportunity for the discovery of feelings of connectedness. Discovering and strengthening these connections (with specific exercises) then develops into the kinesthetic quality known as internal strength. Finally, one's level of internal strength then depends on how deeply and how far one goes with this process.

Well, such is my understanding of the process at this point in my practice.)

* I've learned that the deeper I can feel into my own body, the deeper I can perceive into another person's body.
(The more I grow in being able to relax and feel, the more the martial application of relax and feel makes sense to me. For example, when I walk on the street, I can see some people who carry tension high in their shoulders. It is obvious to me that this person is not "sunk", rooted, grounded. And should an altercation ensue, I would probably have the better chance of unbalancing, uprooting that person. And if I can see this with my level of skill, imagine what grand masters can see!)

* Question: Isn't "noticing" the same thing as "being aware"? Isn't this just semantics?
Answer: Noticing means to be aware without judging. Some people tend to judge what they will be aware of. This is a good thing to be aware of and that is not. So be aware of this and ignore that. Also, "awareness" has become a loaded word. Simply notice what is there.

* Question: What is "sitting stance"? Is this something different from zhan zhuang?
Answer: In sitting stance, follow the same principles as zhan zhuang; sink your weight, push down with your feet and push up your head.

* If you shoot at the target but keep missing, you can make quicker progress if you shoot off target and come back rather than continually recalibrating.
(Sometimes in Wujifa class I get too serious; trying too hard. In these times, I'm instructed to do something silly and seemingly meaningless like shake all over or dance or make funny faces, and then go back to stance. This kind of pattern interrupt is like shooting off target. Then when I go back to practice, it's easier to hit the target; kind of like clicking the reset button.)

* I continue to have two different emotional feelings about practicing zhan zhuang:
  • I have to practice. I better practice.
  • I want to practice. I love to practice.

* Question: Talking about the Wujifa Relax, Structure, Balance triangle, aren't balance and relax kind of the same thing; when I'm balanced then I can relax and when I relax then I'm balanced?
Answer: Balance is a true-er form of relax. For example, in many people the thumb pulls up because it's too tense on the top side and too limp on the bottom side. In this case, it can be too difficult to find balance by simply saying, "Relax the top." so it's better to add tension on the limp side to pull the tight side. This is the balance of forces. With this method over time, the tight side will relax some and the limp side will tone up some. Now the two sides are more balanced but still some tension is involved. Now find balance where both sides relax equally in balance.

* Most people get stuck in one identity and lose flexibility. Putting on an identity opens doors to discovery.

* Question: What do you mean by "the trap"?
Answer: The trap is not being open to possibilities. So be open to possibilities.

Further reading:
Introductory article explaining this "Journal Notes" series: Zhan Zhuang Training Journal
Previous article in this series: Levels of Noticing: Journal Notes #47
Next article in this series: Appreciation and Thankfulness: Journal Notes #49

Monday, July 11, 2011

Levels of Noticing: Journal Notes #47

Notes from my May and June 2007 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: Why do the adjustments (to my zhan zhuang stance) that I receive week after week in class feel the same to me? Is nothing changing?
Answer: You're only able to notice at the level you can notice. Notice deeper then you'll notice the adjustments are not the same.

(What I was noticing was the external form of the adjustments. Because I couldn't notice nor track the more subtle kinesthetic changes occurring in my own body week to week, all I noticed was the external method. In fact, the adjustments worked with my body as it was at that time and so each adjustment was never truly the same.

I have learned that I can continue to receive the "same" adjustment over years of practice and as a result, develop a recognizable level of internal skill. The "same" adjustment continues to guide me to deeper and deeper levels of noticing and refinement.

Practice the ordinary until it becomes extra-ordinary. Practice the ordinary some more until it becomes extraordinary. What appears extraordinary to others is ordinary to me.

For example, in a recent Wujifa class, I received an adjustment and was told, "Ah, there's connection. How's that feel?" Well, I've had this kind of experience before and to me, the Holy Grail of internal strength, the feeling of whole body connectedness, feels like, well, nothing special. Quite ordinary.

Even though my body can now produce a recognizable level of connectedness, and I can somehow unconsciously do this, I'm currently having a difficult time conceptually identifying this "special" feeling in myself.

As I reflect on what I'm writing here, I see I'm still working through thinking that the feeling of connectedness should feel like "A" and I'm looking for "A" when I train but the feeling is really "B" and because "B" doesn't feel "special" to me, I mis-train. So here is another level of meaning of "Practice the ordinary." Noticing another level of ego getting in the way.)

* Question: How can I feel up and down my back in silk reeling?
Answer: Demonstration. Drop into legs and stretch the spine.

* Question: Is there a switch-over point in getting "the feeling"? Like, one day I don't have "the feeling" and then the next day, I have "the feeling"?
Answer: No. Developing the feeling is a smooth transition.

* (The following is a short conversation that occurred in a Wujifa class which carries a lot of information... depending on your level of noticing...)

Dan: (Demonstrating stance) I feel stuck here (pointing to a spot on his shoulder). How do I un-stick that?

Me: Wow! How did you come up with that kind of question? How can you feel so you recognize a feeling of stuck-ness? How does stuck feel?

Dan: I notice where I relax, then notice where I'm not relaxing.

Rick: A different perspective that Dan hadn't considered is feeling how the entire scapula moves and how the lack of noticing that contributed to the only thing he did notice.

(OK. So here is why this short conversation is so important to me:
  • This represents typical Wujifa class conversations between the different levels of students - different in the levels at which they notice or don't notice their own internal kinesthetics.
  • This conversation clearly shows where I was in my practice. Dan's question was internally, kinesthetically based whereas my questions were more external, method based questions.
  • As time passed and my practice and questions shifted to be more kinesthetically based, I became more able to notice where other people were in their practice by the questions they asked. I've seen remarkable changes in Wujifa practitioners' bodies and in the corresponding types of questions they ask.
  • This old lesson is contributing to my practice today: Where am I relaxed? Where am I not relaxed, stuck? What is the "bigger picture" that I'm not noticing that is contributing to the only thing I can notice?
  • The more advanced the practitioner, the more that s/he can notice in the less practiced student.)

* If you're not honest with yourself, you'll never find the way out.
(This little sentence can easily be read "philosophically" and dismissed. However, reading it functionally, I think it becomes a companion to the saying, "You are where you are and that's where you start.")

Further reading:
Introductory article explaining this "Journal Notes" series: Zhan Zhuang Training Journal
Previous article in this series: Shifts Happen: Journal Notes #46
Next article in this series: No Shortcuts: Journal Notes #48

Friday, July 8, 2011

Tai-Chi Memories: My Meeting with Gabriel Chin

In the mid-1990's, after I returned to Michigan from my first trip to China, and before I began training with The School of Cultivation and Practice, I periodically joined Gabriel Chin's group and also practiced push-hands with a couple of his students.

On one occasion, after a practice session, Gabriel invited a few of us students, Bruce, another fellow whose name I don't remember now, and myself, to his home. While there Gabriel answered our questions about Tai-chi, Qi and Qigong.

The most memorable experience of this visit was when he demonstrated the difference between limp, muscle and Qi.

He held out his hand and said, "Squeeze my hand. This is limp." I squeezed and his hand compressed in mine. He then said, "Squeeze my hand. This is strength." I squeezed and his hand felt hard, not compressing, but more like a firm hand-shake. He then said, "Squeeze my hand. This is Qi." I squeezed but could not. It felt like his hand had filled with something. It appeared relaxed but was not limp. It was solid but not hard. It was more like a gel balloon where the harder I squeezed, the less I could squeeze.

Each of us took our turns squeezing his "three hands" and needless to say, we were awed and inspired to ask more questions. At this writing, I can't remember what those questions or answers were but the memory of his openness to sharing and teaching has stuck with me.

I've not yet been able to do what he demonstrated to us that day. I am where I am and that's OK. Maybe one day that quality will show up as a by-product of my practice.

* * * * * * * *

If you'd like to learn more about Gabriel Chin, check out the following resources:

Nei Jia Quan: Internal Martial Arts Teachers of Tai Ji Quan, Xing Yi Quan, and Ba Gua Zhang [Paperback], Jess O'Brien (Editor) 2004. See Chapter 2, "Gabriel Chin".

Gabriel Chin T'ai Chi DVD
Gabriel Ching Chin, who for decades held open-air T'ai Chi sessions on the University of Michigan campus, died Monday, March 28, 2005 at age of 84. Chin led the sessions at the Cube in front of the U-M Administration Building several times a week in all kinds of weather, canceling only for rainstorms. This class is free in the absolute sense anyone can join in, he said in 1994. There's no charge, no roll call and no uniform. He also was a poet, singer, a fine cook and an interpreter of Chinese.

Gabriel Chin Tai Chi DVD cover

See a clip of Gabriel Chin's Tai-chi form and stories.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Shifts Happen: Journal Notes #46

Notes from my April 2007 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: Are there levels to learning Zhan Zhuang Qi Gong and if so, what are they?
Answer: Developing internal strength through zhan zhuang is very simple, just stand and relax, but many people can't work at this high a level.
  • Highest level: Stand and relax.
  • Next level: Stand, notice where you are holding, and relax.
  • Next level: Stand, follow rules (1,2,3,4; 1,2,3,4), notice where you're holding, and relax.
  • Next level: Stand, follow rules (1,2,3,4; 1,2,3,4), teacher points out where you're holding, you notice what teacher points out to you, and relax.

(When I first started Wujifa Zhan Zhuang, I certainly did "advance" through each level. However, even though my practice now is more at a "higher" level, when I'm at Wujifa class, then I welcome practicing at the "lowest" level. So these levels are not necessarily something to advance through and never revisit but rather are something to advance through and then go back and revisit and refine... of course, at a different level...)

* Question: How should I use, "Where the mind goes, the Qi follows."?
Answer: If you focus on the shoulder, the Qi will get stuck in the shoulder. If you focus on dropping the elbow, this will open the shoulder.

* Question: How can I develop a feeling of the connection through my back?
Answer: Practice the head-dropping exercise. For this, you need to isolate the hip joint - do not rotate on the hip joint. Roll from the top vertebra etc and only go as far as your tension allows you to go. The point is to feel the fascial stretch. It is not a competition to see how far you can go. Let the head hang. Then slowly roll back up.

(This is trickier than it looks and you might do it wrong if you try it just from this explanation. The first "trick" is to not move the hips. When I first tried this, I couldn't feel into my hips enough to know when I was or wasn't moving them. My teacher had to point this out. Once I stabilized my hips, I actually bent over a lot less. This left me feeling like I wasn't doing anything which is another "trick" - doing the actual exercise and not the exercise to satisfy the ego.

Another "trick" is feeling the connectedness of the stretch. It took me a long time to notice the connectedness feeling EVEN WHEN my instructor said he could see me doing it! Remember, relax is not limp! It's not go limp and stretch. There's another quality involved.

I think this is another great example of how a seemingly simple exercise can actually be part of and lead to a high level practice.)
feel stretch through back

* This month, I attended my first John Wingert (Mr. 20/20) seminar called, "Reformat Your Hard Drive - Live Your Vision Weekend", April 21-22, 2007 at his home in western Pennsylvania. I attended with Rick and Dan from the Wujifa school.

(These are my "data" notes that I later wrote in my training journal for this month. Sadly, I did not save my original notes. While the overall effect was a "shift", I did not record the feeling experience of that weekend. The beauty and application of this kind of experience to zhan zhuang training for me is in its eliciting a "shift", getting me "unstuck", kind of like Rolfing for "the mind" which creates openings and opportunities to notice where I couldn't notice before.)
  • This seminar focused on patterning. Noticing and changing patterning.
  • Everyone has their own unconscious patterning; their way of doing things. The way you perceive the world generates stories. Stories generate problems. Problems entice you to create solutions. So you wind up finding solutions to problems created by stories but you never get to changing the underlying patterning.
  • Patterning leads to Stories which leads to Problems which leads to Solutions. People tend to get stuck in the Problem-Solution loop.
(A note about stories from another perspective. Stories create a sense of continuity and hence, a sense of emotional safety. New experiences either fit or don't fit the story. If a new experience does not fit the story, we tend to reject the experience to maintain the story (and the sense of safety) rather than modify the story to incorporate the new experience.)
  • Focus on the process. The content is irrelevant.
  • If what you are doing is not giving you the desired results, then do anything else.
  • There's very little difference between real and imagined memory. Use your personal history (your story) as a resource instead of as a limitation. The only thing that happened is I made a set of perceptions about an event and those perceptions were formed by earlier perceptions, which were formed by earlier perceptions, etc... So pick any event that occurred, look at the "raw" event, strip away the perceptions around that event, and imagine new perceptions. Create a new story, a new personal history. Be open to more choices. Made up memories can change just as easily as arbitrarily assigned perceptions.
  • Shifts happen.

* Question: At the John Wingert Seminar, he mentioned I would benefit from being in contrary or ambiguous situations. What are these?
Answer: Things that you don't want to do and may be afraid to do. Put yourself "out there". Declare a different identity. Wear a button with words on it. Do silk reeling in the park where everyone can see you. Basically, step out of your routine, out of your rut, out of your comfort/confinement zone. Do something contrary or ambiguous for what you consider "normal" or "acceptable" for your story.

Further reading:
Introductory article explaining this "Journal Notes" series: Zhan Zhuang Training Journal
Previous article in this series: Getting Up and Down: Journal Notes #45
Next article in this series: Levels of Noticing: Journal Notes #47