Monday, September 26, 2011

Opening to Learn More: Journal Notes #58

Notes from my August 2008 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: After that amazing July 6 class, I went on vacation. I felt a joy in the silent tranquility of the woods that I can't remember ever experiencing before. Then when I returned home, I felt home to be very barren and distant. Why did I feel such an extraordinary difference this time?
Answer: Your openness allowed you to soak in the experience. You anchored yourself to the feeling in the woods and compared that to the feeling at home in the suburbs. When you're open, you notice. Use this same openness in noticing in your body. Soak it up.

* Question: I thought I had attained "the feeling" in the preceding July 6 Wujifa class and thought I had "something". So during a family get-together in early August, I pushed with my brother, a big construction-type guy, thinking I could demonstrate my new found "magic" but I couldn't push him. Why not?
Answer: Show me how he was standing.

Me: Like this. Back leg at 45 degree angle, body leaning slightly forward.

Answer: That's why. He was bracing. The brace is the strongest structure. Pushing into a brace is not the way to verify your internal connectedness.

Me: But I noticed my legs loading...

Answer: Show me what you did. OK. That's good but you are using contraction in your arms and not eccentric expansion.

Note: Then Rick adjusted my stance and arms and pushed and I easily withstood the push without feeling effort in arms.

Me: Wow! Very cool and... Argh! So frustrating!

Answer: Feeling frustrated is closing to opportunity. Stay open.

* Question: What do you mean "closing to opportunities"? How do I recognize opportunities in zhan zhuang stance practice?
Answer: A lot of analytical, data-type guys like yourself, work in the past. Data comes from what is passed. So to balance that, develop a sense of future. Anchor life events in the future and experience them arriving and passing. Practice completing the following phrase ten minutes/day: I'm looking forward to ______ . It's not important what you write, but that you write to develop those neural pathways, a sense of possibilities in the future.

* Question: Is this why I'm not making quicker progress? I'm not seeing opportunities to develop?
Answer: Opportunities are only in the future. Your approach has been to compare new experiences to past feelings, to match the present to the past, to force new experiences into an old box. This strategy/method works with a "teacher" who spoon feeds "students" but this method does not breed independence and self responsibility.

It is difficult to recognize opportunities and make discoveries without taking responsibility for your own growth. Are you noticing to put a new experience in a box to show the teacher? Are you noticing for an opportunity to discover to move out of the box to become your own teacher?

* Question: Why might someone avoid practicing zhan zhuang?
Answer: There are a couple reasons: The body may need to rest. Give it a rest when needed. Honor the body. And then there's the more common reasons of avoidance, fear, laziness, lack of focus.

* Question: Why don't you do regular Ta chi style push-hands?
Answer: Typical push hands forms have their place. However, paradoxically, they also keep you stuck at a certain level. You can't develop the internals from the way push hands is typically taught with large external movements.

* Question: So... can you develop internal connectedness from push hands and if so, how?
Answer: Reduce all movement to the smallest possible point of contact and play there. The "movement" then becomes about applying intention pressure on the point of contact or off the point of contact. We call this "point, off-point". It looks like two people standing still in an initial push-hands posture. There is no externally observable movement. The play occurs inside the body with micro-adjustments to pressure involving noticing and resolving breaks and sticky points in yourself to develop a better connection to ground and extending your feeling to notice and exploit breaks in "the other person".

* Question: So, are there ways to train point and off-point?
Answer: There are two roads in Wujifa push-hands:
  1. Teach and learn all possible points.
  2. Play with relaxed awareness.

* Question: With side-to-side, does the leg push or pull?
Answer: How many ways can you discover opening and closing the kua? Yes, both and neither. Stop trying to muscle it.

* Question: You guys have talked about teaching before. How do you approach teaching?
Answer: Distinguish between beginners and advanced and the kind of adjustments to suggest. For example, in a class of 10 or so, it's enough to stick with adjusting 1,2,3,4 ; 1,2,3,4. Give simple adjustments that give a sensation that awaken the person to their kinesthetics. Help the student discover for him/herself.

If you teach the data and you don't know the feeling, then students won't get the feeling. This is common.

If you teach the feeling and don't ground it kinesthetically, then students equate this with being spiritual, lofty, mystical. This too is common.

You need to teach both. Keep the feeling grounded. Many teachers don't have both and can't teach both.

Further reading:
Introductory article explaining this "Journal Notes" series: Zhan Zhuang Training Journal
Previous article in this series: Stance Is Life and Life Is Stance: Journal Notes #57
Next article in this series: Feels Like Nothing: Journal Notes #59

Saturday, September 24, 2011

A Functional Understanding of Ti-Yong for Martial Arts and Wujifa

If you don’t understand how your martial arts or Wujifa practice is functionally represented in the Ti-Yong (体用) structure, then you may have what we would call a mindless, monkey-see, monkey-do practice.

If you go to class week after week without knowing the relation between Ti-Yong and what you are learning, then don't be surprised if you ‘wake up’ one day and realize you went through the motions for five or ten years and didn’t achieve your original objective! I should know! I've been there! And someone you know may also be in this same boat!

And so, the goal of this article is to show you how to gain control of your own practice and gain deeper insights through the functional application of the Ti-Yong structure.

Specifically, we will look at the art of Wujifa through Ti-Yong to not only give you more clarity about Wujifa but to also give you an example of how you can apply this structure to your own practice.

But we can’t accomplish this goal if you simply read this article and say, “Oh, how interesting.” and move on. No! This material is meant to be chewed on and thought through. Keep these questions in mind as you read:
  1. What are the elements of my martial arts practice?
  2. How do these elements fit in the Ti-Yong structure?
Before continuing, take a moment and make a mental note of your answers to question 1 above. Got a few? Good. Don't worry about question 2 yet, we'll get to it.

Ti-Yong: A Little Background

Before we go any further, what exactly is Ti-Yong? A literal translation of Ti (体) is “body; form; style; system” and Yong (用) is translated as “use”. When talking about Ti and Yong together, the interpretation for Ti becomes “Essence or Substance”, and Yong gets interpreted as “Function or Practical Use”.

chopsticks on bowl on table example of functional objects and relationshipAnd so, functionally speaking, Ti-Yong is a structure that can be used to discover the Essence and Function or Substance and Use of something.

If you've read other articles about Ti-Yong, then you know that no one else explains how to apply this ancient Chinese structure to your martial arts practice! And if you've never heard of Ti-Yong before, I've provided a sample reading list at the end of this article if you want some superfluous data.

Let's be clear that Ti - Yong (tǐ ; 体 - yòng 用) is not the same as Yin - Yang (yīn ; 阴 – yáng ; 阳). Whereas Yin-Yang describes paired “oppositional” elements, Ti-Yong may describe for example the essence of Yin and how Yin functions or the essence of Yang and how Yang functions.
While the primary purpose of the use of ti-yong is in making distinctions, such distinctions are always made within the framework of an overall unity, and are not oppositional or disjunctive in character. ... Another way of putting this is to say that the ti and yong aspects of anything must by definition, be mutually contained, or "interpenetrated." (Tiyong, Interpenetration and Sincerity in the Great Learning and Doctrine of the Mean. Charles Muller. 1999)
In my understanding, “interpenetrate” means to mutually penetrate, where each element is either comprised of or composes the other and when seen together, you get a deeper understanding of the whole. Such a deeper understanding is not attained when exclusively examining oppositional pairs of elements from a Yin-Yang perspective.

Many people tend to view their practice through a Yin-Yang view. What does this mean? For example, consider the few elements you identified from question #1 above. If you see these as distinct and you cannot readily identify how these elements interpenetrate each other, then you might be trapped in a Yin-Yang perspective.

How do you begin to see your practice through a Ti-Yong view? Well, that's what we're going to discuss here; how various and apparently “distinct” elements can be placed in the Ti-Yong structure to clarify their functional interpenetration.

Once you grasp how Ti-Yong (体用) structure can be functionally applied, then you have a very effective tool to evaluate and monitor whether your martial arts training is in-sync with your personal goals or not.

Ti-Yong Applied to Wujifa

The following chart shows you one way Wujifa elements can be applied in Ti-Yong structure. In addition to gaining greater clarity on Wujifa, you also begin to see from this example where and how elements of your practice fit in a functional Ti-Yong structure.

The Four Most Common Wujifa Elements
Ti ; 体Yong ; 用Personal Functional Application
原 则
(yuán zé)
规 则
(guī zé)
Principles can give rise to rules. A collection of rules “can” point to principles. (Not all rules will point you to principles but a principle will always point you to functional rules.)
目 的
(mù dì)
(shí jiàn)
The purpose determines the practice. The collection of exercises and methods aims to help you understand the practice.
(zhēn lǐ)
办 法
(bàn fǎ)
A functional method is a personally tailored exercise. The correct practice of the method can help reveal the essence that lies beyond the method. The truth is an “a-ha” moment. Something can be true at one level but not true at the next level.
感 觉
(gǎn jué)
训 练
(xùn liàn)
An exercise with a purpose employed to evoke a particular kinesthetic feeling or experience.

As you look at the chart above you see I've organized it by "layers"; Feeling-Exercise, Truth-Method, etc. In reality, each “layer” is also interpenetrated by any other “layer”. As you dig deeper into your own understanding, you begin to see how Principle and Purpose show up in Method and Exercise and vice-versa. The entire system functionally interpenetrates.

But for ease of explanation and to get you started, we will discuss each “layer” separately. Let's begin with the bottom “layer".

Ti-Yong: Feeling and Exercises

Beginners in Wujifa typically start with standard warm-up exercises. These exercises may look like commonly seen physical education exercises however in Wujifa, the exercises are performed to elicit a particular functional kinesthetic experience or feeling; a feeling of connectedness.

For example, the common “hip swivel” exercise when done as the Wujifa Hip Swivel exercise is done a particular way with the intention of noticing the feeling of connectedness from head to toe through fascial linking or what we call fascial stretch. The instructor looks for and points out breaks in that connection.

What are kinesthetic "breaks"?

Each individual has his/her own unique patterning of chronic muscular tension, muscular flaccidity, injury, scar tissue, etc. A “break” is a point or area of the body where one of these conditions prevents or disrupts the sense of connectedness. Some practitioners talk about “sticky points”. These begin as “breaks” that the practitioner is made aware of either through self-discovery or through the instructor pointing them out and the practitioner is working on resolving but does not yet feel a clear connection through.

As they continue practicing the same simple exercise, over time they become more conscious of the feeling of their patterns and their breaks and sticky points at deeper and finer levels.

Ti-Yong: Method and Truth

There are many different Wujifa exercises people can do. Even though beginners may each do the same exercises, for example, the Wujifa Hip Swivel exercise, any two bodies will not do the same exercise exactly the same way. The instructor will suggest ways for the practitioner to improve his/her performance of the exercise, hence, the exercise will become that individual’s personal method.

How are methods used?

Now, there are different ways that methods can be applied or used. A method can be used for discovering the feeling, or a method can be used for supporting and developing the feeling.

Some practitioners think that the feeling of connectedness will somehow spontaneously appear if they practice the method diligently enough and long enough. These people tend to “mindlessly” go through the motions of the method and don’t actively engage the method. As we talked about before, they turn the practice into the mindless monkey practice.

Other practitioners convince themselves that they are stuck. They will say, “What do I do next?” or “What should I do now?” These can be valid questions and the response may lead to further progress. However, sometimes their underlying or implied message is, “I don't really want to take ownership of my own training. Just tell me what to do.”

And even other practitioners encounter the intended feeling and then discard the feeling and fall back on and seek continued refuge in the method. This is not at all uncommon for people who may experience a new level of feeling for the first time which can sometimes feel uncomfortable, strange or different which they assume means “wrong” without getting verification.

Experiencing new levels of feeling can be intense and may threaten or in some way disrupt the practitioner’s usual level of feeling, which in fact may be more a level of lack-of-feeling. The challenge for the Wujifa teacher in this situation is to figure out how bring the practitioner back to the feeling in a way that allows integration of this kinesthetic feeling at a new level.

Because the new feeling has not become part of the repertoire of the daily kinesthetic experience, the newly discovered feeling tends to sporadically appear and disappear. The practitioner therefore can use the method to continually rediscover and help build-in the feeling. As the practitioner matures and grows in the practice, he/she learns how to use the method to help support and develop the feeling even further.

Through perseverance and practice, slowly the new feeling(s) gets built in. At some point, the practitioner will evoke or discover the feeling(s) on his/her own without the immediate assistance of a teacher. This “a-ha” moment reveals a deeper understanding of how one is able to find that feeling. This feeling-understanding becomes the Truth part of the Method-Truth "layer" in the chart above. The practitioner now has a deeper experiential and functional understanding of, “The method is not the truth. Once you get the feeling, get rid of the method.”
"Success always makes obsolete the very behavior that achieved it. It always creates new realities." Peter Drucker
Once you "get it" and begin to nurture and grow the feeling, then in a reversal of the pattern of development so far, the feeling actually contributes to refining the method used to nurturing and growing itself.

As the essence of the feeling develops, this suggests or elicits a deeper practical application of a method to discover something deeper in the feeling, something more like the essence of feeling. Once you “get” the essence of feeling, you then leave that method and then your own personal deeper method may arise.

Advanced practitioners use the feeling to refine the feeling. If we break this down, the feeling refines the practitioner for the purpose of eliminating the method as a "separate" entity so there is only feeling refining feeling. A common Wujifa feeling that is refined is that of fascial connections and movement.

At this phase, the practitioner then develops a clearer understanding of what is involved in a practice and the purpose of their practice.

Ti-Yong: Purpose and Practice

In the beginning, the purpose determines the practice. With the guidance of an instructor, the collection of exercises and methods is your practice. As your understanding grows, your purpose changes and so does your practice.

A common question at Wujifa class is, “What is your purpose?” When asking this question to newcomers to Wujifa, the response is usually a dead silence. Sometimes re-asking the question as, “What do you want?” will then elicit a response such as, “I want to develop internal strength.”

I think there are a few reasons why “Purpose” is so hard to identify for so many people. For example, they’ve always been told what to do and rarely decide for themselves what to do. Another common reason is the fear of making mistakes or being wrong. In other cases, they feel a need to defend years of doing something differently and knowing they need to make a change deep inside. Sometimes people think they need a big, glorious purpose rather than having a more do-able purpose that is functional in the moment. These are just a few examples.

The question is not asking, “What is your overall purpose in life?” rather it is a way of asking, Why are you here in Wujifa class? What do you want to learn? What’s your reason for coming here, for training? What’s your purpose here and now?

Here’s a functional example of purpose and practice intertwining. Your purpose is to stand in zhan zhuang for 30 minutes. In your practice journal you record the results of your practice. When the results of your practice align with the intention of your purpose, then you know that your practice is on target.

Taking the same situation where your purpose is to stand in zhan zhuang for 30 minutes however, during your practice of standing 30 minutes you also practice getting the “burn” in your thighs. Is your practice in alignment with your purpose? No. Has your purpose changed? Yes. Now your purpose may be to feel the burn in your thighs for 15 minutes during a 30 minute stance practice session and you practice to achieve that purpose.

Defining or establishing a purpose helps you monitor if your practice is fulfilling your purpose. Now you are in the driver’s seat. You're not paying someone to take you on a carousel ride.

Ti-Yong: Principles and Rules

Principles can give rise to and point to “functional rules". By "functional rules" we mean rules that are well grounded in the principle of that method. We can say that a collection of functional rules can point to a principle. We need to remember that un-functional rules will not necessarily point to a principle. A good way of confirming the functionality of the rule you are using is to verify or test if it points to a principle.

An easy way to understand the functional relation between principles and rules could be borrowed from a concept in the martial arts regarding a collection of movements and forms. Some people may think of forms as simply a collection of various movements. Others may think of a form as a collection of techniques/applications. In Wujifa we look at forms as a function of intention and connection, dancing in harmony with the spirit of Ti-Yong.

You can spend years or decades learning various styles and forms and techniques and maybe even picking up a few black belts along the way. For some of these people, the rules become, "In this style we do things this way". However, underlying all these forms, techniques and applications are fundamental principles of movement and body mechanics. Some more advanced practitioners understand this.

When it comes to developing internal connectedness, the underlying principle is moving with a form of relaxed strength and being grounded. However, telling a beginner to do this may be far beyond his/her ability and so the beginner is given structurally based rules to follow, for example, stand in the Zhan Zhuang Alignment as explained at the Wujifa blog.

Following these rules of structure over time will help the beginner notice the feeling of fascial pathways. Why? Because they arose from the principles of Wujifa Zhan Zhuang and point to the development of the principle of connection. The structure of the body in 1,2,3,4;1,2,3,4 when relaxed but not limp reveals the feeling of fascial stretch which the practitioner develops and links to help connect the body as a whole. At the point of developing full body connection, rules or methods like 1,2,3,4 can start to be bent to the extent of the skill of the practitioner, for example when pushing hands, as long as full body connection is maintained.


By looking at Wujifa through the eyes of the Ti-Yong structure as well as considering your own practice in this regard, hopefully you now have greater clarity into the whole Wujifa program as well as greater clarity into your own martial arts practice.

Here are some points to remember:

Once you experience the Ti (体) essence, you don't need to continue relying on a particular Yong (用) function that helped you notice the Ti (体).

Yong can be thought of as a necessary evil to help understand Ti. Think of Yong as a medicine that helps you get past an illness but if taken incorrectly can become a poison.

In reality, it’s better to not abuse Yong (用) and be very careful with its purpose. It’s too easy to develop a reliance or dependence on Yong as a medicine without seeking the underlying Ti (体).

Develop the Ti (体) that you experienced and it will continue to show up and begin to interpenetrate all your Yong (用).

Once you get the feeling, once you “get a feel for it”, then the methods that led you to that feeling are no longer needed. New and deeper truths and your own personal methods may be discovered.

As you develop a deeper understanding of your practice through a functional application of Ti-Yong, then you can begin to make real progress! I think this is what is meant by “taking ownership” or “taking responsibility” or “making it your own”. You evolve from a monkey-see, monkey-do, technical copy-cat into an artist.

You can take your practice to another level now. Learn and understand how your practice fits into a functional Ti-Yong (体用) structure. Stop feeding the mindless monkey!

Other Reading

Some of this stuff is pretty superficial and some gets pretty heady. None of it explains Ti-Yong in the functional way I presented it here for martial arts. This brief list should give you an idea of the range of what others write about Ti-Yong.

Tiyong, Interpenetration and Sincerity in the Great Learning and Doctrine of the Mean
by Charles Muller. Paper Delivered at the 1999 Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Religion, Boston

Essence-Function and Interpenetration: Early Chinese Origins and Manifestations
by A. Charles Muller, Bulletin of Toyo Gakuen University, vol. 7 (1999). This is the second in a series of articles on the role of the concepts of essence-function t'i-yung (體用) and interpenetration t'ung-ta (通達) in traditional East Asian religious and philosophical thought.

On The Metaphysical Significance of Ti (body-embodiment) in Chinese Philosophy: Benti (origin-substance) and Ti-Yong (substance and function) by Chung-ying Cheng, Journal of Chinese Philosophy, vol. 29, no2, pp. 145-161 2002.

Boundaries of the Ti Body by Deborah Sommer, Asia Major 3rd series, 21.1 (2008): 293-324. Special issue published as a festschrift for Nathan Sivin.

Martial Vocabulary: Yong and Ti by Plum Staff at KaiMen - Plum Publications

Ti and Yong 體用 by Bernard Kwan at Be Not Defeated By the Rain

The Essence and Applications of Taijiquan, book by Yang Cheng fu. Translated by Louis Swaim.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Stance Is Life and Life Is Stance: Journal Notes #57

Notes from my July 2008 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.)

* In today's July 6 Wujifa class, a beautiful sunny afternoon on the school's front porch, I hung around after the other students had left and I got some private stance instruction. After many subtle structural adjustments and coaching by my instructor, I experienced the most amazing feeling I've ever experienced in stance practice! It wasn't about weight sinking into my legs. It wasn't about feeling more kinesthetic connectedness. It was a completely different feeling. A very intense feeling! I don't know what to call it. Maybe it was Qi flowing but I call it a feeling of "presence". With each little adjustment the feeling increased. I was repeatedly saying, "I don't know how much presence I can tolerate!" With coaching, I stayed with it, awed and overwhelmed by the experience. Feels like my birthday into feeling.

* Question: After that amazing experience a couple weeks ago, I've really been enjoying standing for the sake of standing. An hour passes like mere minutes. I don't have any questions, mechanical, data or otherwise. After that experience, I don't even know what questions I should be asking. Where do I go with this?
Answer: Go stand. Focus attention on a far away point. Find a leaf on a tree then keep your awareness on feeling. The error is to put attention on an issue. Attention can draw in awareness. Keep a global awareness. Notice where you're holding, contracting, and not relaxing, then relax.

* Question: How do I replicate that feeling? How do I get it again?
Answer: There is no single "it" to "get". Consider the growth of a mustard seed. You don't look at the seed each week and say, "This is what a mustard seed is." You don't compartmentalize to that point in time and say, "This is what a mustard seed is." Once the seed starts growing, and you continue nurturing its growth, it is constantly changing.

Me: OK but that was so amazing, how do I make myself get that again?

Answer: It's not about forcing yourself. Don't label what you notice. Don't force a feeling into a concept.

Me: So what? Just let that pass as a really cool experience? Then what?

Answer: In stance, look for opening and in opening find connections. Instead of saying, "How do I replicate a previous feeling?", it's better to say, "How can I notice new areas and levels of feeling?" It's about staying focused and enjoying the confusion that comes with not labeling feelings and with not trying to go back to what you labeled.

Me: But if I had "it" and lost "it" that's bad. Shouldn't I always have "it" once I got "it"?

Answer: Getting the feeling and losing it is better than getting it and never losing it. In the latter case, if you ever lost it, you wouldn't know how to get it back. If you go through a cycle of your instructor helping you get it, then you lose it, and again, getting and losing, then you slowly learn how to get it on your own.

Me: But if I'm going to teach, shouldn't I really have it?

Answer: Those who struggle to get it make better teachers than those who get it naturally. The naturals don't know how to explain how to get it since it came so easy to them.

Me: So what's the best way to think about these kinds of experiences?

Answer: Whatever shows up during stance practice is a gift; the results of your watering the root, of nurturing life. It's the spirit of you showing up.

* Question: What's the difference between Connecting vs. Awareness?
Answer: You can be aware of your surroundings but you want to connect with your surroundings as well.

* Question: I'm still confused, how does noticing and feeling lead to internal strength?
Answer: Internal strength is the result of a particular application of intention. Focus noticing and feeling on finding and developing connection and expansion.

* Question: What's the relation between stance practice and everyday life and how does dead post stance figure into this?
Answer: Stance practice is where you take time to notice how deadened or alive you are and where you can take time to work on becoming more alive. If you are a dead post in some other area of your life, meaning where you are not fully present, where you are not being you, where you subjugate yourself to someone else, where you lead their idea of how you should live by adopting their values or foregoing your desires, where you live by rules instead of principles, then your stance is not fully alive either, your stance will have areas of numbness, flaccidity, or rigidity. You cannot compartmentalize your life. Stance is life. Life is stance.

(This is the darnedest thing to become aware of! As my Wujifa instructor points out areas of my musculature that are numb, flaccid or rigid, I begin to notice and distinguish these different muscular qualities which were previously invisible to me. Similarly, in my everyday life there are associated patterns of numbness and flaccidity and rigidity which contribute to forming who "I" am and which are equally invisible to me because those patterns are "me".

For me, making changes to enliven that numbness, strengthen that flaccidity, and relax that rigidity is comparatively easy when it comes to working on my musculature. However, it is more difficult for me (means I'm afraid) to work on changing similar patterns in my everyday life. I want to make changes and progress in stance AND yet hold onto and not change my everyday patterns. Resisting changing an everyday life pattern shows up as a pattern of resisting change and progress in stance practice. Attitudes from everyday life show up in stance training.
Attitudes that are exhibited in stance training point to patterns in everyday life.)

* Question: What's the relation between hips and ankles?
Answer: Lack of flexibility in the hips can be traced to a lack of flexibility in the ankles. Do these three exercises to help open the ankles and stretch the calves.
  1. Stand with balls of feet on a block of wood and heels on ground. Bend the knees.
  2. Lay flat on back, legs perpendicular to the ground, straight up in air, then either wrap a strap over the balls of the feet and pull down or have someone push down on the balls of your feet.
  3. Do the standard runner's stretch where you "push" on a wall.

* Question: How do I know if I have tension in my jaw?
Answer: To release tension in jaw, hold a wine cork between your teeth for 15 minutes. If this becomes intolerable after a minute or two, then you may have chronic tension in your jaw muscles.

Further reading:
Introductory article explaining this "Journal Notes" series: Zhan Zhuang Training Journal
Previous article in this series: Teaching Internal Strength: Journal Notes #56
Next article in this series: Opening to Learn More: Journal Notes #58

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Survey of Tai Chi Chuan in the United States

You are invited to complete the online survey: Survey Measuring the Spread of Tai Chi in the United States. Your participation in this landmark survey should take less than 5-10 minutes to complete. This survey was opened on July 10, 2011 and will end on Dec 29, 2011. (Link to survey removed after survey period.)

This survey was designed by Mr. Jie Zhang as part of his Ph.D. research at the Beijing Sport University (北京体育大学). His major area of focus is Chinese Traditional Martial Arts: Theory and Practice.

I met Mr. Zhang this past summer at the University of Michigan where he is a scholar in residence. During his one year stay in the U.S., he is visiting martial arts schools and classes across the country interviewing masters, teachers and students.

If he receives over 1,000 unique survey responses from students and teachers in the USA, he may submit a summary article of the survey results to T'ai Chi Magazine for possible publication. Could be very interesting! (T'ai Chi Magazine discontinued publishing after the death of its founder, publisher, and editor Marvin Smalheiser in October of 2016.)

Be part of this project! Time is limited!

And... Let's help him spread the word to all the U.S. Tai Chi teachers and students! Share this survey link with friends through Twitter, email, Facebook, your website.

Take this Tai Chi survey now: Survey Measuring the Spread of Tai Chi in the United States. Be sure to click the "Submit - Finish Survey" button at the bottom of the survey when you finish. (Link to survey removed after survey period.)

Monday, September 12, 2011

Teaching Internal Strength: Journal Notes #56

Notes from my June 2008 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.)

* The trick to teaching a functional connectedness is to get the student to feel, to embody, to be wholly present feeling in the body. To this end, Wujifa is inspired by bio-energetic exercises that recalibrate the focus of attention out of the head and into the body.

* The mistake many "soft" martial arts instructors teach is that the internal styles don't use muscle. Of course you use muscle or you couldn't stand or move. The point however is one of focus. Don't focus on the mechanical muscle movement of forms, techniques or applications. Don't focus on the feeling of a properly executed technique or application. Rather, focus on the feeling of your own kinesthetic connectedness while remaining present in your body. Don't fractionate, disassociate, split-off, space-out or go mystical.

* Some teachers teach the method of alternating tightening and relaxing the muscles to develop a sense of kinesthetic feeling. The problem with this method is that people get stuck in feeling tension and can't make the shift to feeling when relaxed.
(Wujifa training focuses of feeling connectedness when relaxed. For me, this has been difficult but the result is immediate without the transitional trap.)

* Teachers tend to teach the path they took, the way they learned. However, the path a person takes and subsequently teaches is not the right path for everyone. There is no one-size-fits-all path or training method. A teacher must be free and clear of tensions enough to be able to see each student's structure and then teach according to what the student presents. The way each student's body unwinds and the individual methods employed to aid that unwinding becomes that student's path and the teaching method for that individual student.
(From my experience, the Wujifa method of teaching reaches a level of personal involvement I have not experienced with other internal martial arts teachers. It's as if perceiving and responding to a student's unique physical and attitudinal patterns is the level at which functional suggestions can arise for individually tailored methods of training.

I think that many teachers haven't done enough work on themselves to really free their bodies of chronic tensional patterns and so they can't see the deeper tensional patterns in their students to be able to help their students notice to relax their tensional patterns.

While teachers who "learn one, do one, teach one" may be able to transmit gross muscle movements, I don't think that teachers who rely on this method are capable of helping students relax and develop feeling connectedness at deeper muscular levels.

I think this provides another perspective on the old question: How do you find a good internal strength teacher?)

* The only secret is what the student hasn't yet noticed in his/her own body. A teacher can only point out what the student isn't noticing. And so, a teacher has no secrets to reveal but is more a revealer of secrets.

* You may understand this intellectually but you don't "get it" until you feel it in your body.

* Focus on building the foundation (stance) and the rest of the building builds itself.

* The lessons seem contradictory to the thinking mind. After you feel it, then the contradictions resolve themselves in clarity and you realize that the contradiction was the best way to describe the feeling.

* People collect books to show others what they know. Those that know can read and see if the author knows what s/he professes knowing. The unknowing student reads with the hope of learning something... which they won't. The feeling cannot be learned by reading about it.

* Question: What does Chen Xiao-wang mean when he says, "When one part moves, all parts move."?
Answer: Another way to think about this is, when one part doesn't move, then some other part isn't moving either. You've got to get your body open and free of tensions to experience the feeling he describes.

* Did some bio-exercises in class today. One exercise had me laying on my back over a specially padded stool and stretching my arms over my head. I felt the front of chest opening and after that let go some, I felt the muscles on the inside, anterior of my spine stretching. I did this and some other exercises and seemed to be doing fine but then I "hit a wall". I just wouldn't allow myself to relax and open more. I think it's good that I'm noticing more at a feeling level. I'm not self-identifying with the tension, the rigidity even though that rigidity still took control of "me" in the end. I believe this is part of the process of opening, of letting go. Appreciate this. I want the joyful feeling of opening and I'm also afraid to completely let go of the rigidity me.

(For me, feeling comfortable and relaxing and feeling fear and holding on repeats over and over as each layer is peeled away; using the onion skin analogy. It's a personal process and many personality variables come into play.

If this really is a process and everyone on "the path" is engaging this process, then I think even accomplished internal masters must have their sticky points but because they are comparatively more relaxed and open than their students, their students don't notice where and what these are unless the teacher is open and honest about what she/he is working on.)

* Question: How does my side-to-side look?
Answer: You've still using "medicine" from an earlier time. You're focusing on stretching and opening the back. Your back is open enough now so stop using that medicine. Now, focus on the kua. You're learning to get the feeling of stretch on closing. Don't lean. Keep the top light, delicate, feel deeply into the kua. Feel the belly and leg come together. Focus on that feeling. Also, you still tend to stick the head forward. And when you pull the head back, the shoulders pull forward. Move the head and shoulders back in one move.

* Question: I've been enjoying standing the last two weeks. I've been feeling a vibrating in my torso various times, for example, as I fall asleep, upon waking, and occasionally throughout the day. How do I extend that vibrating into my arms and legs?
Answer: Notice that your question comes from a very different place than all your previous questions. You've made great progress in opening in the last few months.

Me: Yeah, I can feel but it took me so long.

Answer: Everyone is different. It's just how your body is unwinding. Like a knotted up wad of string. You work a long time on one knot and then suddenly the whole bunch of knots come undone.

Vibrating is good. This is the fruit. The Chinese would say the Qi is sinking into the dan tian. The body is coming alive.

Me: So is this what is meant by "vibrant health"?
Answer: All bodies vibrate. People usually don't feel it because of all their armoring.

Me: So how do I nurture this vibrating feeling?

Answer: Notice and be congruent with your bigger schema.

Further reading:
Introductory article explaining this "Journal Notes" series: Zhan Zhuang Training Journal
Previous article in this series: Backlash: Journal Notes #55
Next article in this series: Stance Is Life and Life Is Stance: Journal Notes #57

Monday, September 5, 2011

Backlash: Journal Notes #55

Notes from my May 2008 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: Sometimes when practicing zhan zhuang, I get muscle spasms in my lower back. Why is this happening? How can I prevent this from happening?
Answer: You recently had a breakthrough. You shifted from living a rigid, analytical, rule-based life to living with more feeling and connection. But there is an internal battle between the new, free and feeling Mike versus the analytical, live rigidly by rules Mike. You're experiencing a whiplash effect between relaxing and letting and wanting to hold on. If you attach to a rule (an exercise) to fix the problem, this only re-enforces the old habit. Stay with the feeling.

(So much of my blog focuses on developing kinesthetic feeling because my primary "mode of operation" was and largely continues to be living life from what the data says rather than living life from feeling kinesthetically.

In spite of having had moments of overwhelming kinesthetic feeling which point the way, I continue to hold on to and not let go of my more deeply held habits and patterns.

There is no difference between muscular patterning and behavioral patterning. Each is a representation of the other. The development of deeper relaxation and connection requires feeling and letting go of muscular-behavorial patterns. I know this as data and I'm still afraid to do this.)

* Note: One of the "Baba Roshi" stories... The monk who got so upset that he wasn't getting enlightened when all his fellow monks were so he went to a brothel and in the act experienced enlightenment. Point being, he let go of the rules and lived fully in the moment.

* Question: What is a functional understanding of karma?
Answer: Karma is what happened yesterday. Yesterday is your past life.Today is a new day to create a new life, new karma, or resolve yesterday's karma. The coolest thing about stance is feeling connecting in the present moment.

* Question: Regarding Ego, how do I know if my quiet noticing is a quieting of the Ego or noticing from that space outside my Ego?
Answer: Don't be concerned with analytical distinctions of ego vs. non-ego. Ego is one of those ambiguous terms like Qi. It doesn't matter if it's ego or something else that is being still, the point is to experience stillness. Go to the feeling. Calm down...

* Question: I'm working on relaxing my feet. Is my weight dropping through my feet correctly?
Answer: Relax is not limp. You don't want a limp foot. We wear shoes not made for feet. Gravity and the lack of proper exercise results in the arch "falling". Using arch supports is a crutch. It's better to work on re-developing the arch. For example, exercise moving the ball of the foot toward the heel to get an arch with the correct intention.

* Question: What can I do to get more flexible and maintain connection?
Answer: For internal strength, you don't need a lot of flexibility. Being hyper-flexible can work against you. It's best to have a proper level of flexibility in the ankles and hips. Stretch your calves and hamstrings. Open the lower back. Being able to do a proper squat is all the flexibility you need.

* Question: What can I do to add value to the group?
Answer: Experiment, explore, share, write, post.

* Note: Force is a method used to create a feeling. Focus on the feeling, not the method/force used to create the feeling.

* Note: Invite an experience and be open to it. Standing develops intention. Relaxing helps opening. Don't get stuck on one-itis; "This is the one."

* Note: Don't rush it and it will happen faster.

* Note: Three paradoxes of internal strength:
  • Connected gives the appearance of locked - but connected is not locked.
  • Relaxed gives the appearance of limp - but relax is not limp.
  • Ease gives the appearance of easy - but ease is not easy.

* Question: What's the feeling of the chest dropping?
Answer: Take a big breath and raise the chest and then exhale and drop the chest. Get the feeling of the chest rising and dropping. Don't make the mistake of getting attached to the breath. Breathing is a method to get a feeling.

* Question: How would I transition from doing the "side-to-side" exercise to punching?
Answer: It's a process that takes a couple years after you have a good feeling of stance.
1. Feel the kua open and close and feel the back open (months).
2. Notice the feeling of twisting in the arms (at your side) under the skin (months).
3. Slowly (months) go with the twisting feeling.
4. Slowly (months) raise the arms to punching position.
5. Increase the speed of shifting, of opening and closing the kua (months).
6. Coordinate shifting with punching (months).

(My school brother is making real nice progress developing a connected punch. A real inspiration! However, without watching how someone goes through this process, or having gone through it yourself, then you will likely not understand these words. What should be clear is that developing a connected punch takes time and effort.)

* Question: What about push hands drills?
Answer: What is commonly taught as "push-hands" is all technique based.

When you distill out the principle of push-hands you find you only need to train:
1. Point (match each other) and
2. Off point (mismatch each other).

(From my years of practicing "push-hands", I would liken this experience to a K-12 level education. I have not seen anyone else practice "point off-point" push-hands which I would liken to a Ph.D. level education.

In point off-point push-hands, which begins similar to push-hands with both players in contact with each other, neither person makes what are normally considered to be "observable movements". All the action is inside as each training partner helps identify tense areas in the other through applying an appropriate level of pressure to help the other make subtle postural adjustments, to relax tense areas which improves internal connectedness to ground.

From this perspective, what is popularly known as "push-hands" may be considered a gross external practice.)

* Question: I can feel the burn in one leg but not the other. How come?
Answer: Your weight is not dropping because you're holding in the torso. Relax. Get the feeling of the side of the torso lengthening.

* Note: The training for internal strength can be summed up in one word. Relax. However, you need someone to notice what you cannot notice in yourself. You need a good training partner. This is what a teacher really does. Helps you notice so you can develop your own ability to notice.
(The Wujifa exercises provide a template or pattern against which the teacher compares your patterned movement. In pointing out how you can improve doing the exercise, you also notice and become more aware of your own patterns.

From my experience, one pattern that gets built in through traditional K-12 and college coursework is to put responsibility on the teacher to teach me. But to develop the ability to notice, feel and make progress developing internal strength requires almost an opposite approach. This lesson can take a while to learn in itself.)

* Question: How about using mirrors for practice.
Answer: It's OK to stand before a mirror initially for the visual cue. Then practice with eyes closed. Then practice with eyes open without mirror. Closed eyes practice helps develop the looking inside to help focus attention inside not distracted by external visual stimuli. This too is a method. Once you get the feeling, then practice with eyes open.

(I've found that when I practice with my eyes closed it's easier to "drift off" into La-La Land. Keeping the eyes open and having that visual stimuli helps keep me present.)

* Question: Sometimes in stance my arms feel like floating. Is it OK to go with the feeling?
Answer: In stance, don't zone out to La-La Land. If your arms are down and feel like floating up, don't do it. Rather, raise them with purpose and intention. But be careful with this. Sometimes raising the arms is a way to cheat, a way to pull the weight out of the legs into the chest. Be aware of what's going on in your body when you feel the "urge" to raise your arms.

* Note: A couple notes on stance practice in class today.
  • Started very rigid. Too much trying to stand. Too much following the rules. Rick helped me lighten up by giggling, poking, laughing which helped me shift. Just stand. Don't "do stance". You learned the rules, now forget the rules. Relax. Enjoy.
  • Wow! Feel heavy below, light above. Waves of pleasure, bliss. Waves of sadness and crying. Felt more completely in my own body than ever before.
(From what I've read and seen online, people don't talk emotions that may come up during stance practice. I find this odd since I've seen in others and experienced myself emotional responses in the process of relaxing and letting go. I've even heard other high-level masters speak privately of emotional reactions during stance practice.

The purpose of stance is to feel and relax and build connection.
The purpose is not to evoke emotional reactions. Sometimes there may be spontaneous emotional reactions like laughing or crying or fright or calm during workouts. These and other reactions are simply part of the process.)

Further reading:
Introductory article explaining this "Journal Notes" series: Zhan Zhuang Training Journal
Previous article in this series: Don't Do Stance, Just Stand: Journal Notes #54
Next article in this series: Teaching Internal Strength: Journal Notes #56