Monday, June 11, 2012

Discovering How to Fail in Zhan Zhuang: Journal Notes #95

Notes from my October 2011 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.)

* My default tendency is to feel connection by using muscular tension. However, this is a faux, or fake feeling of connection. Using tension to feel connection is not the kind of connection feeling we're looking for. The feeling of fascial connection can only be discovered and developed when your musculature relaxes to the point where you can begin to develop the sensitivity to feel your fascia.
(I've come to learn that at a very high, or abstracted level, it really is a simple process: stand and relax and feel your fascial connection. However, the devil is in the details.)

* Occasionally my instructor will press vigorously into points where I hold tension to help me get my tight muscles to let go and relax. This method can trigger my whole body quivering as well as emotional expressions of fright and confusion.
(I've found over the years that simply imagining I'm developing connection does not yield the result I can get by going through this temporary pain of having someone targeting and busting up those areas of "relaxed" muscle that feel to them like I've got wood, stone, steel cable, or manila rope embedded in what should otherwise be soft and pliable muscle tissue.

What is most amazing to me is that I can believe I feel relaxed in an area until my instructor "points out to me" some little area of muscle that is hard and painful to pressure.)

* I'm discovering yet another layer of understanding relax. I found this by realizing that there was more to relax than the way I had been defining it. I had defined relax based on relaxing my more 'external', more easily felt muscles. The limit of my ability to feel established the parameters of my definition of relax. I couldn't feel deeper into my own musculature. So I'm now discovering I need to relax those more 'internal', more difficult to feel muscles.
(Wow! I really like this: "The limit of my ability to feel established the parameters of my definition of relax." I think this is a really important insight into practicing Wujifa zhan zhuang! What I call "relax" is related to the level at which I am able to feel.)

* During stance practice in class, my classmates put their hands on my lower back as my instructor was adjusting my posture. My classmates commented that my lower back felt like a salmon swimming upstream; quivering, wiggling, not relaxed or still at all. I was shifting tension here and there. I simply could not relax and let go and stand in relaxed stillness. Apparently I've mastered the art of hiding from feeling and running from really relaxing! And I didn't even know I was doing this!!!
(This was a huge lesson for me! Even though I thought I felt relaxed in the area I was focusing on, it was only through validation that I learned that I'm not. Lesson learned: my scope of noticing is still far too narrow.

My standing "still" does not necessarily mean I'm relaxed. My standing relaxed does not necessarily mean I am still.)

* Question: How can I use squats to validate if I've got sufficient relaxation thought my hips and ankles?
Answer: Stand with your toes one shoe width from a wall. With your arms hanging at your side and keeping your nose to the wall, squat all the way to the floor. If you fall backward, this could be an indicator that you have tension you need to let go of.

* Here's how to do the "poor man's", external, cheater, scam, sham, fake fa-jing. The results of this method are not the same as internally produced fa-jing. Some refer to this method as the Jack Dempsey drop-step or fa-jing step:
  1. Stand with feet parallel.
  2. Raise heels off the ground by standing on your toes.
  3. Relax quickly and drop onto your heels. Feel the muscles, skin, and fat drop/shake/hang from the skeleton.
  4. Raise heels half as far as before. Repeat step #3.
  5. Keep feet flat on floor. Quickly "kick out" the knees forward and stop or "catch" yourself from dropping and find the same effect as in step #3.
  6. If you work on this and slowly incorporate it into your form, you will be able to fool people with your demonstration of fa-jing. By the same token, you also now know what to look for to discern who is doing fake, external fa-jing and who is doing more internally produced fa-jing with fascial connection.
(Note: With a qualified Wujifa instructor this method can also be used as a training method to help develop the feel of fascial connection. However, from my experience watching my school brother practice a modified form of this exercise and observing my instructor's observations and comments of his practice, I learned that there are many traps and pitfalls. It is easy to believe that you are doing this with full-body connection when in fact you may be holding here or there which blocks the connection through that area. A qualified instructor will be able to point out to you those areas where you are holding; where muscle tension is blocking connection.)

* I feel like I'm at a crossroads where I have now developed the skill and discernment where I can choose to either shut down to feeling, or open completely to feeling. I can see both roads and yet, I'm not fully committing to walking one or the other.

* I wonder if I'm that kind of student that just wants to nibble at the crust and not really dig into the whole pie.

* In class, we practiced a few different training methods while standing on inflatable wobble discs. What I learned from doing and from watching my school brothers doing these exercises is that balance on wobble discs can be achieved either through:
  1. using core muscles through hips with little motion in the ankles, or,
  2. using ankles because core muscles through hips are locked.
In my case, I discovered that I find the balance point and then lock into it and become statue-like. My core is unmoving and I adjust in my ankles to maintain a static "balance".

I need to relax my waist and hips and feel how balance is dynamically achieved through my core. I need to play, to look for ways to mess with my balance on the wobble disc. Find how to balance through my core. Notice which core stabilizers are firing. Feel. The more I fall off, the better. Stop trying to do it "right". Do it to notice and feel.

The opportunity to learn is on the edge of losing balance at finer and finer levels. If you are satisfied with how you have achieved balance, then you are not learning and growing.

There's a difference between finding balance (dynamically in each moment) and maintaining balance (statically locked in to a found balance at one point in time).

So with the wobble disc, wiggle, play with moving through the kua, be inventive, allow yourself to simply play and fail and discover. Allow the body to learn where the rule driven mind would disallow learning.
(I subsequently purchased a couple wobble discs and as my instructor suggested, I played with an attitude of not being so uptight about "doing it right". After a few months of daily practice, I can stand more "still" with more of a dynamic balance on the wobble discs and I can now feel some movement through my hips with less movement in my ankles.)

* From this simple wobble disc exercise I learned that I'm stuck on "doing it right". I'm afraid to allow myself to play on the edge where there is risk of failure. When I train, I don't allow myself to go to the point where I may fail. I judge myself and believe that problems and errors are wrong and bad. This belief system is inhibiting my progress. At this point in my training, I could learn from how I'm doing it wrong.

* Never control the body. Control leads to tension. It's better to relax and find balance in relax.

Further reading:
Introductory article explaining this "Journal Notes" series: Zhan Zhuang Training Journal
Previous article in this series: What I Never Understood: Journal Notes #94
Next article in this series: - Perturbation and Internal Martial Arts: Journal Notes #96

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