Monday, January 30, 2012

From Method to Feeling: Journal Notes #76

Notes from my March 2010 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. I can feel different parts of my body but I can't feel how they are connected. How do I feel the parts connected?
Answer: Your questions may conceal the answer... but maybe not the answer you're expecting. Notice the tonality in your question. The "emotional place" you are asking from may be preventing you from noticing the answer. Notice the tonality behind your question and how it frames the question. Don't accept the frame of the question. Maybe you can change a word or two in the question and change the pacing of the question. Your questions, Mike, are usually based on mechanical and compartmentalized thinking. Changing a word, for example, from "parts" to "connections" will reframe the question positing a functional answer.

* Question: What's the difference between tension, pressure, peng? Aren't these different words for the same feeling?
Answer: Tension = contraction.
Peng = pressure = expansion = eccentric movement with intention.

("Peng, and synonyms for "peng" can be understood differently depending on your level as well as misunderstood and hence, not practiced correctly if more fundamental structural tensions are not first resolved.

* Question: So what's the feeling of peng?
Answer: At an advanced level, the peng feeling feels empty but saying this to a beginner does not help guide the beginner to developing peng. Beginners must begin by developing feeling and a good place to start is developing a feel for proper zhan zhuang structure and later developing the feel of fascial stretch.

* Some students strive to repeat their teacher's path thinking this will take them to the level their teacher achieved. Their mistake in doing this is that they don't discover their own path and learning. Everyone has a different path. What is written in books and taught by teachers should be considered to be guide posts and road signs which cannot be exactly duplicated.
(I learned this lesson again at a recent Wujifa class. Basically, when I receiving an incoming force, a push and I unconsciously lock my shoulder in response thus blocking the force from going through, there is no way on earth any book or video would be able to identify this for me.

For example, a guide post or road sign is being able to relax and maintain structure under force. When it comes to my learning, I have to figure out how to resolve my bad habits and develop more functional habits.)

* There is a story about WWII pilots who survived after being shot down in the South Pacific islands. The local islanders would see the pilots talk into their radios and then split a coconut and hold coconut halves to their ears while speaking into a banana. In the same way, many people mimic the external appearances of the "internal arts" without understanding the internal technology.

* Question (after a zhan zhuang class): Why did you want me break my stance to wiggle around?
Answer: Wiggling is a medicine for you. You tend to be very methodical. You put everything in place and then you lock yourself into a particular posture. This approach is useful for beginners but you're not a beginner anymore. Wiggling is useful for you at this next level. Get yourself into place then wiggle and allow the posture to fall into place. Look for the feeling of what happened after wiggling, for example, you may notice, "Oh, that is less tight." or "Oh, this is looser." Those are functional, feeling-based roadsigns for you.

* Question: How do I get to that place (like Mr. D.) who feels his practice? I've been focusing recently on feeling the parts I can feel, like individual pieces. Recall the story of the pear. I am trying to construct a pear when what I want to do is taste the pear.
(The pear story goes like this... How would you describe a pear to someone who has never seen, felt, tasted, or smelled a pear before? If that person summed the pieces of your description, would s/he create the pear you described?)
Instructor: How do you describe a pear? Saying it is apple-like + sweeter + grainy does not equal a pear. You cannot add up individual descriptions and get a pear.

Eat rice. What is the flavor of rice after 5 chews? After 20 chews? After 60 chews? After chewing 3 minutes? After chewing 5 minutes? The more you chew rice, the more subtle are changes in flavor.

So in your practice ask yourself: What does connection feel like to you? The more you "chew on" the feeling, the more the feeling changes "flavor".

* Question to me: What is your feeling about stance practice?
My answer: Incredibly boring. Not enjoyable at all. In fact, I'm envious of those who say they enjoy zhan zhuang and look forward to zhan zhuang practice and find some pleasure in the feeling of their practice. I'm obviously still missing something. I'd like to get to the point where I can feel and stance practice becomes enjoyable.

(Interesting I would write this because I have had some truly amazing feeling experiences of connectedness and presence while practicing zhan zhuang. The question is, why do I stop? Why, when I have these breakthrough experiences and I see the path clearly before me, why do I say, "That's amazing!" and then look for something else, some other problem to resolve, etc.. ? Why do I choose what I do?)

* For me, transitioning from a method-based practice to a feeling-based practice is like going through a tunnel. It can be really boring and it can be intensely emotional.

* Question to me: What do you find interesting or intriguing about zhan zhuang stance practice?
My answer: The possibility of a fulfillment of a long-ago fantasy to have a kind of kung-fu strength without being muscularly bulky.

(What really keeps me going these days is seeing amazing advancement in my school brothers. Seeing where they were even a few months or weeks ago and where they are now really inspires me to rededicate my effort in a new way.)

Further reading:
Introductory article explaining this "Journal Notes" series: Zhan Zhuang Training Journal
Previous article in this series: Sitting Back and Down: Journal Notes #75
Next article in this series: - Toward a Feeling-Based Understanding: Journal Notes #77

Monday, January 23, 2012

Sitting Back and Down: Journal Notes #75

Notes from my February 2010 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 find balance between Balance and Relax (on the first Wujifa triangle)?
Answer: Look to structure.

*  The actions of each of the three points on the first Wujifa triangle:
  • Relax - the allowing of 1,2,3,4 - 1,2,3,4
  • Balance - the noticing of 1,2,3,4 - 1,2,3,4
  • Structure - the rules of 1,2,3,4 - 1,2,3,4

* Question: How can I develop my intention?
Answer: Questions help to refine intention and purpose.

* Question: How can I self-validate internal strength development?
Answer: Use feeling.
Me: How?
Instructor: Look at Balance, Structure, Relax. There's a certain feeling to each. Three points define a plane. What is this feeling pointing to? The finger pointing at the moon.

structure balance relax

* Regarding sit-back-and-down,

sit back and down

If you go backward only, then you'll lose balance and fall down or tense up to keep "balance"/from falling over (so not truly balanced). Knees forward only will pop out the kua and the tendency is to lean back because the hips are not relaxed and open.

Back and down and knees forward keeps balance and gets a stretch in the thigh when relaxed.

Back is not really back but it's the intention of back. Actually, mostly down. Intention is 45 degree back and down.
sit down while standing

Back and knees forward creates a stretch in the leg/thigh and loads the weight into the thigh.  Practice lower in the beginning and get the feel and to develop inner thigh muscles.

stretch in legs

* Note: The following drawing has no accompanying notes. I assume a long discussion got summarized into this drawing. Here's my understanding of what this drawing seems to be summarizing...

Referencing the P.I.D. loop model, feeling presence, being in the moment, connected, ease under load, are the various words for the target I'm shooting for. After having experienced this in class a few times with my instructor fine tuning my zhan zhuang structure, I was trying to find that "sweet spot" on my own through intention or through shutting off my mind chatter. A "stilled mind" was another effect I noticed when I experienced those "presence" feelings during zhan zhuang. And so I cycled between the use of and effects of two methods in my attempt to experience that which neither method could actually elicit for me. And yet, the more I refine the method, the closer I get to "the goal".

trance dance

* Who are you beneath the rules you live by?

Further reading:
Introductory article explaining this "Journal Notes" series: Zhan Zhuang Training Journal
Previous article in this series: Where Is Your Focus?: Journal Notes #74
Next article in this series: - From Method to Feeling: Journal Notes #76

Monday, January 16, 2012

Where Is Your Focus?: Journal Notes #74

Notes from my January 2010 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: What's the difference between Victor's method (practicing horse stance) and Wujifa?
Answer: He uses the knee more as a hip joint to help people make progress in stance. In Wujifa, we practice in a higher stance as it's easier for beginners and at an advanced level, requires people to understand how to use the hip joint correctly and not the knees. Neither way is good nor bad. They're just different approaches.

People using the knee as a hip joint is a common place where people get stuck because the hip and lower back do not have enough mobility.

(Here my question is referring to a previous class which you can listen to excerpts at: Victor Chao Internal Martial Arts Training: Journal Notes # 73.)

* Question: So should I be practicing yoga to loosen my hips?
Answer: Not necessarily. Most yoga people stretch around their armor. Also being flexible or hyper mobile is not necessarily functional either. Stretched and flaccid is also a form of armor.

(I found this analogy to be helpful. Think of a meter long length of chain. If you hold both ends and twist in opposite directions, notice the effect. Now "freeze" a few links in a couple different spots, for example, about 1/3 of the way in from each end. Then again hold the chain at both ends and twist. Notice the "frozen" section does not move. If you don't "unfreeze" your sticky spot, you'll likely force the moveable part to stretch even more to compensate for the "frozen" part.)

* Question: More recently when you adjust my stance it feels like I'm not using any muscle when I'm being pushed on. Is this what they mean by using Qi?
Answer: Of course you have to use muscle, however, the question is, "Where is your focus?" Is your focus on the contracting side or on the expanding side? Focus on expanding. Even if a stance position or movement appears contracting, it can still be expanding.

(I might add that part of the effect of the adjustment is a resetting of my focus on the expanding-ness feeling of the structural adjustment. Adjustments may have a greater effect than simply moving a body part in space.)

* Question: How should I think about yin-yang and fulcrum?
Answer: Yin-yang is a frame. The fulcrum is a frame.

(From my understanding, a "frame" is a kind of point of view or perspective, a way to understand, a what to focus on. For example, it's like seeing the world through yellow glasses or through blue glasses.)

* Question: I notice in stance recently that I my abdomen vibrates or "buzzes", like there is a feeling of a continuous inhaling. What's next?
Answer: It's OK to stay with that for a while. Continue to make adjustments in your kua. Kua in, chest out, no hunching.

Notice the feeling of the adjustment and how the adjustment changes or enhances the original feeling. (Instructor adjusts my stance.) How does that feel?

Me: Now my legs are vibrating stronger than the abdominal vibration. I lost the feeling of the abdomen vibrating. My sensitivity/awareness couldn't distinguish the two. Abdomen drowned out by legs.

* Note: I've progressed to where I can get into feeling and then yet, still make mechanical adjustments and keep my focus on feeling.

* Question: How much inhale/expanding whole body feeling should I practice? It feels like I can turn this feeling off and go dead post or I can ramp it up to as much as I can. Where to play?
Answer: Not at 100%. Play at about 50%.

(This is not referring to breathing but to intention that gave me a feeling like... )

* Note: In one class stance training session, I reached a point where my T-shirt was soaked and dripping on the floor and I had no attention left to stay present. I was starting to drift out. We can have some pretty intense zhan zhuang training sessions.
(As I wrote in my Why My Peng-Jing Is Still Weak, I can "step up" my game when training in class but I don't push myself to the same level when I train alone at home. From class, I learn what it means to really train zhan zhuang and I learn at what level I'm capable of training zhan zhuang and yet... )

* Question: Why teach with questions?
Answer: Questions reveal where you are in your training. The Question and Answer approach is a method to tailor training to you. Having to formulate questions about your practice also helps you develop a particular mindset. You begin to think in questions; become inquisitive. Having formed a question, the answer may come to you when you least expect it. This is the doorway to teaching yourself; how you can teach you.

* Question: Are some questions better than others?
Answer: The data/thinking questions are not related to personal feeling. These give you knowledge but don't help with experience. Mechanical questions about feeling are a step in the right direction. Aim for feeling questions about feeling.

* Question: What are blind spots related to zhan zhuang practice?
Answer: Blind spots are the areas in ourselves where we get stuck but can't see this in ourselves. You're holding patterns are too close to you - have become part of who you are. Hence why school brothers who are ahead of us are so important to help guide and point out what we can't see in ourselves.

* The movie, "The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi" has a line like: "Even with my eyes wide open I can't see a thing".

* Note: I discovered that I've given myself a "frozen shoulder" most likely from my habit of sitting at work, propping my left elbow on my desk and propping my head on my left hand. I see this as an awful turn of events, a setback and my instructor sees this as an opportunity for me to learn something about my body as I work to "unfreeze" it.

Further reading:
Introductory article explaining this "Journal Notes" series: Zhan Zhuang Training Journal
Previous article in this series: Victor Chao Internal Martial Arts Training: Journal Notes #73
Next article in this series: - Sitting Back and Down: Journal Notes #75

Sunday, January 15, 2012

How Long Does It Take To Develop Peng-Jing?

When people talk about developing Peng-Jing they often say it takes "a long time", or "many years". Sorry, there is no such thing as "instant" peng-jing. So what exactly is involved in developing peng-jing that takes "a long time" or "many years"?

This article is a follow-up to my article Why My Peng-Jing Is Still Weak where I finished with the question, "How long will it take for me to develop stronger peng-jin?"

The short answer to these questions is: It depends... but it won't happen instantly.

It is easy to find lists or discussions about the qualities of peng-jing, for example, Clear's Tai Chi has a short list of Qualities Necessary for Peng Jing. I would suggest that these qualities are like the branches of a tree. These qualities naturally show up through training that is focused on the trunk of the tree (using this metaphor). From my experience, intellectually knowing the branches did not help me develop the trunk.

Story time...

Somewhere back in 1996-2000 I was invited to a training session with Rick Taracks and Victor Chao. I remember watching them stand facing each other, in a beginning push-hands pose, and then each shared comments about where they could feel the other was holding tension or was stuck or where there was not a clear path to ground and how the micro-postural adjustment either made the groundpath stronger or weaker.

When it came to my turn to "push" with each of these guys, I couldn't even understand intellectually what they were noticing in my body. This is how "dead post" I was at that time.

Victor showed me a training method of standing and pushing on a door which for me elicited and continued the effect in my legs that I experienced "pushing" with him.

I drove home feeling I had a good workout, parked my car, stepped out, and my leg collapsed underneath me. It took several seconds of propping myself up on the car waiting for my legs to get under me. I hobbled into the house, not sore, more like, I was re-learning how to walk.

This was the first time I was shown the door to developing peng-jing and I didn't even know it!

Over the past nine years of training Wujifa Zhan Zhuang, I've been shown that same door many times! In Wujifa zhan zhuang class, my instructor would make a series of postural adjustments to my zhan zhuang alignment and the end result would be my legs collapsing under me and him enthusiastically exclaiming, "There, you had it!"

So how long does it take to develop peng-jin?" From a guy who has a little peng-jing and has felt a lot in a few others, and knows more than he can demonstrate, here's my short list of how long it takes to develop peng-jing.

Developing peng-jing takes as long as it takes for you to:
  1. Clear out muscular tensions and holding patterns. This means working on rudimentary structural issues in zhan zhuang that result in more relax and more leg strength. How quickly this happens depends on how aggressive you are in facing and working through your issues and how quickly your body naturally responds.
  2. Understand what's involved in this practice. Once you begin developing some relax on top and some leg strength on the bottom, and some presence, then "the path" begins to emerge for you. You learn how to train and what you must train. You may grasp this after your first lesson or it may take longer to figure it out.
  3. Commit with all your heart, and summon all your will power to train hard on your own. Finding an equally committed training partner is a bonus. It is relatively easy for a high-level teacher to show you "the door". It's another matter altogether to figure out on your own how to find that door on your own and walk through it on your own.
Hence, this is why very few people develop real peng-jing and for those that do, it takes a "long time" or "many years". But how many years is "many years"? It can be as few as three years with a qualified instructor or it can take as long as you continue resisting doing the serious work you need to do to really develop peng-jing.

That, in a nutshell, is how long it takes to develop peng-jing.

Why My Peng-Jing Is Still Weak

Why is my peng-jing still weak after all these years of learning and training zhan zhuang? Here's a list of ways I've self-sabotaged and derailed my progress in peng-jing.

Before I expose my short list of excuses and truths, here's an excerpt from my article, What Internal Strength Means to Me .... just so we're on the same page.
"What sign post are you looking for to confirm that you are NOW on the correct path?"
  1. To be able to "sink the weight" into my legs. To be able to distinguish the feeling of carrying my weight in legs vs in my shoulders or upper torso.
  2. To be able to take an incoming push and run that through my structure and fascia system to ground and at the same time be relaxed and able to move around while maintaining that connection.
  3. To be able to express a large amount of power or force in a minimal distance - the zero-inch punch. I think many people think of this as "fa-jing".
"What measurement or accomplishment would be sufficient for YOU to declare that you have developed at least some internal power?"

The short answer is: When I can feel a clearly identifiable feeling of connection throughout my entire body with a feeling of ease under load, and attain this feeling on my own without set-up adjustments from my instructor, and have my entry-level whole-body connectedness validated by a real master outside the school. This would be a sufficient measurement for me to declare I have developed at least some internal power.
* * *

Now, on to my excuses and truths regarding why my peng-jing is still weak.
  1. My legs are still too weak. I really can't learn any more physically until my legs get stronger. This involves figuring out on my own how to get more "kua in" and relax of the muscles I normally use and developing the muscles I don't normally use.
  2. I practice going to discomfort or long slow torment which is not the same as going to suffering.
  3. I get to the suffer point and then back off. However, eating bitter = enjoying suffering = developing and refining internal connection = peng-jing.
  4. I'm not self-disciplined enough. I don't train hard enough. I don't stick to principle. I try to incorporate other stuff to avoid what I really need to do.
  5. I still train with a beginners training habit (nibble a little bitter here, a little there) but after 20 years, I should be where I can't wait to dig into eating bitter!
  6. I don't train with a beginners mind. I'm still carrying the baggage of "teach me". However, I've entered the Ph.D. realm where I need to do my own research on and in myself. I haven't fully transitioned yet.
  7. I have focused on making knowledge-progress over making physical-progress. I'm out of balance.
  8. I don't practice zhan zhuang consistently and intensely. Sure I'll go at it good for a while but then I back off. This kind of on-and-off cycle has defined my zhan zhuang practice over the years.
* * *
Granted, I do have some peng-jing but not as much as I could have if I consistently train to suffering. What does "train to suffering" mean to me? For now it means:
  1. Figuring out how to elicit and continuously get to feeling the coin size burning in the middle of my quads when I stand in a medium height zhan zhuang (not a low ma-bu).
  2. Figuring out how to quickly get to the point where I feel afraid my legs are on the verge of collapsing underneath me and then push myself until they physically collapse. And then get up and do it again.
  3. And do #1 and #2 above by myself without my sifu, a "personal coach" or a marine drill sergeant in my face.

What will it take to get my physical-level in balance with my knowledge-level so I actually become what I know and think about?

I'm told the suffering we're talking about here might only last a couple weeks and then the body and mind adapt. Most people use the avoidance of suffering as an excuse because they don't want to change. I think I've been in this camp...

How long will it take for me to develop stronger peng-jin? Hmmm....

Writing this article is one of those cathartic experiences...

And be sure to read my follow up article: How Long Does It Take To Develop Peng-Jing?

Monday, January 9, 2012

Victor Chao Internal Martial Arts Training: Journal Notes #73

Notes from my December 2009 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.)

* Practice the ordinary to become extra-ordinary. It is the normal "a-ha" moments that change everything which then becomes your new ordinary.

* Question: If I'm training zhan zhuang on my own and I'm following "the feeling", how can I know if I'm going in the right direction, that is, if I'm on the right path?
Answer: You can teach yourself when you find your calibration points. But a teacher must show you first.

(For example, if you miss the target feeling and make a course correction to return to the target feeling of "fascial connection" but don't know the feeling of fascial connection and you correct too late or too soon, then you never get to the target feeling.

This is another reason why it is so important to get verification of your training progress.)
finding your self-calibration points

* On a separate note, the below are my notes from
the December 20th Wujifa class at which a guest instructor, Victor Chao, taught. These questions are a sample of those the group of us asked him.
I've found it instructive to hear how other teachers teach. Sometimes hearing the same concept phrased differently from a different teacher will trigger an "A-ha" moment. However, the trap I've fallen into is assuming the guest or seminar teacher taught me something that my regular teacher wasn't teaching. When I go back, I often find the teaching was there; I just didn't "get it" or had become deaf to hearing it.

* Question: What's your suggestion on doing horse stance?
Answer: Stand with knees out with intention of pushing knees back. Carry the weight in the inside of the legs, not the outside. The butt and lower back should be soft. This can be achieved with 6-12 months of serious work. Don't slouch. It's gonna hurt. Qi sinking will hurt. Muscle hurt. Not joint hurt. Kua has to open. Feels like a sucking in feeling. Must loosen hamstrings.

(Victor then gave each of us a hamstring stretch. The result was we each saw God that day.)

* Question: What's the dan-tian?
Answer: The "dan-tian is the engine, the driver. This area has to get unstuck first before you can do anything. If this area is stuck, then you can't feel what you need to for your movements to come from the dan-tian.

* Question: How long should we practice every day?
Answer: The quantity of time spent practicing is not as important as the quality and intensity of the time spent practicing. For example, when you start horse stance, you may only be able to stand 1-3 minutes. That's OK. Find your ground point (suffering) and go there. If you don't go to suffering, you'll never get it.

* It takes years and years of beating the bushes trying to find the door and there's no guarantee you'll ever find it but once you get the feeling, you can't get rid of it. After that, the only difference is how much you're willing to train to develop that strength.

For a lot more goodies, listen to an impromptu audio recording as Victor Chao talks about internal martial arts training. Thank you to Rick for making this recording and for making this available!

And here's the Vimeo link: Victor Chao talks about internal martial arts training

Further reading:
Introductory article explaining this "Journal Notes" series: Zhan Zhuang Training Journal
Previous article in this series: The Middle Path: Journal Notes #72
Next article in this series: - Where Is Your Focus: Journal Notes #74

Monday, January 2, 2012

The Middle Path: Journal Notes #72

Notes from my November 2009 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.)

* Notice the difference between holding and relax. Notice holding. Notice relaxing. Notice between. What is between holding and relaxing? Between is the area to play in. There are no words to describe the feeling in that "between" area. "Fascial stretch" is the way Wujifa describes the feeling.
(I confess, my knowledge of fascia was stuck at high school biology. The more I relax and feel and the more I learn about fascia, the more I understand why "fascial stretch" is a good way to describe the feeling of whole body connectedness.)
it is like this and not like this

* Question: When I practice the Wujifa side-to-side exercise, do I push off from the weighted leg or pull myself over from the unweighted leg?
Answer: When practicing side to side, pushing off from the weighted leg is necessary for beginners. Later, after you can move with correct alignment, then notice when you feel the kua open and close. The open kua, which would be on the side of the unweighted leg, feels like a taut, stretched rubber band pulling you back to the other side. This is the level of relax you must achieve to notice this feeling and to yield to this feeling. The open kua is the setup for fa-jing.

(The more I see my instructor and school brother demonstrate this kind of whole-body movement, the more I see what his description is describing.

Even though I've been practicing relax for a while, I am inspired when I get a deeper insight into the meaning and feeling of relax - "Oh, that's what relax means!" The more I relax, the more clear I get on what is a muscularly forced, faux fa-jing and what is the real stuff.

If my instructor's description doesn't strike you as, "That's one way to describe what I feel.", then please DO NOT try to imagine the taut rubber band feeling as a method to help you develop fa-jing because doing so would take you down the wrong path!!

You are where you are and that's where you start. What level of
relax-feel-sensitivity do you have now? That's where you are. If you really want to do fa-jing correctly, it's better to be honest with yourself and admit "I don't have that level of feeling-sensitivity yet." than to fool yourself by imagining what that feeling "must" feel like.

There's a HUGE difference between DESCRIBING what you feel and IMAGINING you are feeling what someone else describes!)

* Note: We had a long discussion about my approach to training zhan zhuang. These are some of the key points:
  • My pattern is mechanistic. I look at, and for, individual parts.
  • I look for methods to add to my collection of methods.
  • My method is to connect the dots; to discover common elements to understand the whole.
  • My pattern is also to identify a specific problem that needs fixing. This works in the external mechanical world but does not work in the internal kinesthetic world. A more functional approach is to notice connections. Notice relax.
(Despite all the college philosophy classes I took and all the self-help analysis I've done, none of that contributed a whit to a functional, boots-on-the-ground "know yourself" that became exposed through practicing Wujifa zhan zhuang. The "know yourself" that became important to me in zhan zhuang training was knowing how I approached training and how my approach influences the results I get and in turn, the amount of progress I do or do not make.)

* Question: During the past two weeks, I'm noticing how relaxing and widening the shoulders results in feeling the fingers extending. Am I on the right track?
Answer: Yes and no. Extend your index finger. What do you feel?
Me: Top of forearm.
Rick: Extend your baby finger. What do you feel?
Me: Bottom of forearm.
Rick: Extend your middle finger. What do you feel?
Me: Through the middle of my forearm.
Rick: Practice extending the middle finger. Build the intention in the middle path. If you practice "out" as a method, then you must learn "in" as a method. When you choose "middle", then you have both "out" and "in" available.

(The perspective of the below drawings is from your eyes looking down your right arm to your right palm. The two smaller circles in Fig 1. and Fig 2. represent your two forearm bones: ulna and radius. Fig 3. departs from anatomical accuracy.)

*Question: So what's wrong with practicing outside and inside? This seems really practical.
Answer: If you practice feeling the outside and inside path, this sets up a polarity (yin-yang). When you practice polarity and you want to jump to the next level (wuji), then how do you do that? Many people jump to being "not present" because they don't know how to unify or bridge the polarity. They mistake the "not-present" sensation as being enlightened, as being in Wuji.

Practice the middle path. Be present. Feel something! Feel anything! Feel! When you practice feeling the middle, you connect with unity. Begin with unity. Unity includes polarity. Build, deepen, expand your presence.

When you think of polarity, think of a teeter-totter, a board balanced on a fulcrum. You can load up both sides of a teeter-totter and it can break. So it's better to be the fulcrum on which the teeter-totter rests. Stay with the principle and apply methods/medicines as needed.

* Question: Sometimes I feel like I'm doing zhan zhuang all wrong. How do I do it correctly?
Answer: It's not about doing zhan zhuang right or wrong. You're still getting stuck on the method. "The method is not the truth. Once you get the feeling, get rid of the method." It's about discovering the feeling of connectedness when you are standing in zhan zhuang. To discover feeling, there is no right or wrong way, only your way.

* Question: What's the relation between Tai-chi and Yi-chuan?
Answer: Wang Xiang-zhai, the founder of Yi-chuan taught principles. When he died, his students taught methods. So in one generation, the art has been degraded. The same has happened in Tai-chi where there have been generations of degradation.

*Question: What should I look for in a zhan zhuang teacher?
Answer: You must ask: Do the teachings point to the "A-ha!" of the principle and then show the method/medicine to help explain the principle?

A good teacher should not just teach a collection of methods. The method is only a "feeling-pointer". Feelings are not data!!!

People eventually find their own methods. The mistake is to teach feeling as data: We do "X" to feel "Y". Don't get stuck on individual data-feelings and miss the unifying connectedness feeling.

* Question: I notice my shoulder muscles are hard even when I lay on the floor when all these muscles should be soft and relaxed.
Answer: Notice your intention is focusing on a problem again. Focus your intention on your goal. Focus on the muscle relaxing, extending, softening.

* The weight distribution in the foot is determined or influenced by the twist in the calf, the amount of bend in the knee and the rotation of the foot. A lot of fascia and muscles play into the position of the foot on the floor.
(Indeed, getting the feet really parallel is much more complicated than it initially appears. Feet parallel doesn't mean shoes parallel. It means the entire structure of each foot is straight with no deviations and each foot is parallel to the other. Getting the feet truly parallel can take quite a bit of work.)

Further reading:
Introductory article explaining this "Journal Notes" series: Zhan Zhuang Training Journal
Previous article in this series: Building Internal Community: Journal Notes #71
Next article in this series: - Victor Chao Internal Martial Arts Training: Journal Notes #73