Monday, October 10, 2011

Internal vs External Martial Arts: Journal Notes #60

Notes from my October 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: I've heard you mention that a lot of Tai-chi is done externally. But Tai-chi is an internal martial art. So what do you mean by internal and external?
Answer: Practices such as Tai-chi, Bagua and Xing-yi are known as internal martial arts but in fact, these are most often learned and practiced the same as all other external martial arts.
Comparison of Internal (Wujifa) and External Practices
You form your own moldYou force yourself into someone else's mold
Change yourself from the insideChange yourself from the outside
Practice cannot be isolated to the level of physical activityPractice is isolated to the level of physical activity
Practice involves changing unexpected and unforeseen personality traitsPractice may develop expected personality traits like calm, confidence, assertiveness
Principle orientedTechnique oriented
Grounds and relaxes you over timeBurns you out over time
Techniques are demonstrated to point out possibilities of applying principlesTechniques are taught as an end in itself
Techniques are diffused by changing intention/positionTechnique "B" is used to counter technique "A"
Fascial and tendon strength orientedMuscular strength oriented
Speed and strength developed from being loose and pliable (relaxed) yet connectedSpeed and strength developed from muscular reflexes
You make your own discoveries. You own the discovery.You wear others' discoveries.
You own the periodic table. You learn to combine elements.You develop the results of others' combinations of the periodic table.
Instructors point out what you are not yet able to notice . You learn from yourself.Instructors teach you what they know. You learn from the teacher.

(I've learned that it's not the name that makes a practice "internal" or external" but rather HOW any practice is taught and developed.

I've also come to realize that a practice is only "Internal" when it can be identified with ALL items in the "Internal" column. If some items from both the "Internal" and "External" columns are identified, then the practice is in fact "External".

As I look at this now, this could be a topic to further expand and clarify.)

* Question: You have mentioned sitting zhan zhuang and lying zhan zhuang. How do I do these?
Answer: Follow the same principles as standing zhan zhuang
Lying and Sitting Zhan Zhuang

* Question: What does relaxing have to do with the feeling of lengthening?
Answer The typical body is held in contraction. Relaxing creates lengthening. However, forcing a feeling of elongation without relaxing is illusory and temporary. Relax!

(Three years later, although I've changed a lot, I notice at deeper levels that I still have the tendency to want to muscularly force the elongation feeling instead of simply relaxing, letting go and noticing the elongation feeling.)

* Question: When I do any of the squatting moves like "Snake Creeps Down" or "Golden Chicken", I notice that my torso doesn't stay so vertical like I see others. I bend over a lot to keep my balance. If I didn't do that, then I'd fall backwards on my butt. Can you see what's going on in my body?
Answer: To get low, to correctly perform "snake creeps down", you need flexibility in ankles and hips. You need to release holding patterns in hips, knees, and ankles. You may also be holding in front or back of shin/calf.

One practice is to sit against a wall with the balls of your feet on a thick phone book or block of wood and then drop and roll out your butt. Cross your arms over your knees.

Don't focus on going physically lower because you will cheat to satisfy your ego. The priority is on noticing holding patterns and letting go which, when done correctly, will initially feel like going lower internally even if there is no visible external movement. Look for small, incremental changes over time.

(And I should add to this note, begin by aligning yourself using the 1,2,3,4 - 1,2,3,4 points of Wujifa Zhan Zhuang alignment and only squat as far as you can while maintaining that structure. When you notice yourself starting to break structure, then that's where you need to work on letting go and relaxing. How do you figure out what and where you need to relax and let go? That's your internal gongfu.)

* Question: What's the relation between fascial stretch and Qi flow?
Answer A: Dixie cup and string. When there's no stretch, then there's no Qi flow. Need just the right amount of stretch.

(This analogy is referencing the elementary school science lesson where two paper cups are attached by a string and when the two cups are pulled to stretch the string just the right amount, then a person can speak into one cup and the other person can hear the voice in the other cup.)

Answer B: A little hose with lots of pressure can only spray so far. Getting more relax has the effect of creating a bigger hose. Initially, the energy doesn't fill the newly expanded hose but eventually it does. You won't notice energy flow soon after relaxing to a new level but as the energy increases to accommodate the larger hose size, then you notice energy flowing again. And repeat... Remember, noticing energy flow is a byproduct of practice. Focus on relaxing and enlarging the hose.
(One of my earlier stumbling blocks was in wanting to "feel the magic" and getting stuck on that. I had the idea that feeling energy flow was a one time "Off-On" proposition and that "cultivating Qi" was a way to turn "on" the feeling.

Now I think the whole cultivating Qi thing is not so much about turning on a feeling or responding to a lack, but rather, and more functionally, it's more about relaxing the antagonistic and chronic muscular tensions that block or restrict the free flow of energy that already exists as well as honing the intention.

Following the hose analogy, if my focus is to feel energy flow, then I'll be stuck at that small hose level when the point is to continuously relax to develop a bigger hose.)

Further reading:
Introductory article explaining this "Journal Notes" series: Zhan Zhuang Training Journal
Previous article in this series: Feels Like Nothing: Journal Notes #59
Next article in this series: Beyond the Monkey Mind: Journal Notes #61

1 comment:

  1. Dude... this article is just chock full of goodies. Really awesome exploration of the beauty of Wujifa, and some cool methods and Q+A. Thanks:)