Monday, August 13, 2012

Holding To Routines: Journal Notes #104

Notes from my July 2012 Zhan Zhuang Training Journal. I train with The School of Cultivation and Practice which practices Wujifa zhan zhuang. (My current reflections are added in italics.)

* Question: Why do you teach with questions?
Answer: Because the "question and answer" format shows how students' brains work as they develop. It shows where your focus is. It shows your intention.

* Question: Can you check my stance to see if I'm doing correctly what I learned in last class?
Answer: Show me. (Reminder of what I was shown):
  1. Arch your lower back to give you the "kua in" feeling. This is a faux "kua in" because you did not attain "kua in" with relax.
  2. Relax the lower belly just above the pubic bone and feel the kua move in deeper.
  3. Now relax the lower back and butt muscles, let the femur heads roll forward. Slide the knees forward with maybe bow slightly forward on the hip joint.
  4. Check the belly again. Is it still relaxed? Is the kua still in?
  5. Drop the chest.
The key is that the hips should always remain over the ankles. Your tendency is to roll back off-line as you roll your hips so you need to shift forward to keep the femur heads over the ankles.

* Question: As I walk around during the day, I feel like I'm letting go of the lower back as I step out. I feel this more with the right side and not so much with the left side. I used to call this feeling "pain" and avoid it but now I've slowly gotten comfortable with this feeling and now I'm calling it "stretch". What I used to avoid and hold against feeling, I am now aiming for. So the question I'm working with when I practice is, How can I get this feeling of stretch in stance because I've only felt it when walking?
Answer: Show me what you're doing. (I get into stance and demonstrate.) You're tucking. You're using tension in front to feel the stretch in back.

Me: I don't feel that I'm tucking. I only notice feeling a strong stretch in back.

Instructor: As you're standing with the stretch in the lower back feeling, use your fingers and push in just above the pubic bone. It should be soft even when you feel a relaxed stretch through the back. And the pubic bone should not rise when the lower back goes down.

If you simply let your flesh hang, this will give you a truer stretch than using tension.

Here's a guidepost: If the pubic bone rises when you relax the back, then you are tucking. That said, the pubic bone may move a fraction due to where the hinge point of the hip is between front and back.

Me: Darn! I thought I was making some progress re-framing the feeling from "don't let go, holding and painful" to "letting go, stretch".

Instructor: If you were just beginning, I'd say this is good but you're not a beginner. Can you notice without preconceived ideas? Your resulting data will be skewed when you approach a feeling with preconceived ideas. When you label a feeling, it's like you're putting it in a box; first, the "pain box", and now the "stretch box". What's next? What are you going to label it after "stretch"?

Instead of labeling feelings, how about simply feel? Simply notice what is there. Notice what you are doing and notice the result you get.
* Practice note: I went home and practiced stance in front of a mirror and recreated this feeling of stretch in the lower back. With my clothes on, I could not see what I was told. After undressing, I could easily see in the mirror how the front muscles are tightening. Not so much the surface abdominals as the muscles deeper inside the pelvis. When I jamb my fingers into the front sides of the pelvic crests, I can feel these muscles engage.

* Question: How do I find stillness in stance (referring to last month's class where you guys felt and noticed my back muscles twitching and not relaxed)?
Answer: What do you mean by stillness? There are stages of stillness developing. Beginners either move excessively or they are stiff like a dead post. Asking a student to relax, whatever form it takes, is a form of stillness for them. Calming the mind is a form of stillness.

* Question: Is it possible to practice point-to-point alone? For example, can I push against a wall or the top part of a door where the bottom is against the door stop (so there is a little play in the top part)?
Answer: Do not use a wall because there is no push back. The door has push back but you'll do it wrong. You could use a small tree because it is alive and connected to the ground but you've got to play real light like just barely touching.

* Question: Is point-to-point a necessary method for everyone to train?
Answer: It depends on your purpose. Point-to-point can be used to help discover where tension is in the body. It can be used to help refine connections. The problem arises when using it as a method to practice beyond your current capabilities.

* In the July 29 class, we learned a few new perturbation exercises with the wobble discs and theraband. These are adjunctive exercises which are not recommended until you can perform the basics and you've had your performance of the basics validated. If you cheat in the basics or do them wrong, then you will cheat in these adjunctive exercises or do them wrong as well.

* Question: What about the warm-up exercises like the Wujifa Hip Swivels? Are these adjunctive exercises too?
Answer: Yes. But you need something to do for warm-ups. Even though these appear simple, without a qualified Wujifa instructor, it is easy to do these wrong too.

* Comparing my performance of these new adjunctive exercises on the wobble discs to a school brother's, I tend to try to control my balance instead of allowing the perturbation to run through my body as he does.

* If you are trying to control, then you're going to work hard and be too slow - it takes time to implement a control plan. This occurs at the milli-second level. When you feel connection and you aim to maintain connection under perturbation, then where there are breaks or spaces, then you will automatically be able to connect. This occurs at the nano-second level.

* Remember, the micro-level is what shows up in the body. The macro-level is what shows up in daily life. From the micro, you can see the macro and vice versa. This kind of perturbation can show that if you are stuck in a routine, you may be disconnected from the flow. However, if you are connected to the flow, you may be able to vary your routine according to conditions.

* Do all your core and adjunctive exercises with weight in quads. Most people think their legs are getting stronger when they don't feel the weight in their legs but in reality, they are cheating and not progressing in relaxing to allow more and more weight to drop into their legs. Relaxing and dropping, and getting the burning feeling in your legs is not a one time goal but rather, is an ongoing process.

* Note: I went back for my sixth set of three Rolfing sessions during this month. Focused on really working the ankles. The last session "cured" my problem with the right foot arch collapsing as I step onto that foot. The arch doesn't collapse as it used to.

* I went for an Active Release Technique massage therapy session which seems like a blend of Physical Therapy manipulations and Swedish massage. (In my experience with Physical Therapy, the therapist does not do massage.) The therapist worked on the tight muscles in my hips and pelvis. He recommended particular stretches to target these muscles.

* My daily practice journal for July shows I'm standing 10-20 minutes every other day with some 30-40 minute sessions. I've been working on and noticing more distinction between the feeling of "kua in" and "kua out".

Further reading:
Introductory article explaining this "Journal Notes" series: Zhan Zhuang Training Journal
Previous article in this series: Learning From Myself: Journal Notes #103
Next article in this series: - Working the Lower Back: Journal Notes #105

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Martial Arts and the Olympics

During this 2012 Olympic season, I learned about a side of the ancient Greek Olympics that might make some of today's martial arts fighters think twice before entering that kind of Olympic competition.

VFW Magazine Aug 2012 coverThe August 2012 edition of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) magazine has an amazing article by Katherine Dawson titled: 'Victory or Death': Ancient Olympic Sports.

As I read this well referenced article, I was surprised by how violent some of the ancient Olympic games were especially when looking through the lens of today's Olympic sporting events!

Katherine writes, "Unlike the modern jock of today, ancient athletes had to harden their bodies for the brutality of potentially life-threatening contests... Some events reached a point where states found it necessary to immunize athletes from laws against committing homicide when opponents were accidentally killed." (pg 20)

According to this article, some of the ancient "games" could be mortal contests where contestants exercised and developed their military combat skills on the field of sport.

Contrast this with the current popular understanding of the Olympics as promoted at the official website of the Olympics which alludes to the ancient games as being a peaceful event associated with religious festivals and which "aimed to show the physical qualities and evolution of the performances accomplished by young people..."

Clearly there has been a shift in purpose over the centuries as well as what seems to be a whitewashing of that portion of Olympic history!

And yet, the summer Olympics do retain events that are both remnants of former combat arts as well as events of modern martial arts: archery, boxing, fencing, javelin throw, Judo, shooting, Taekwondo, and wrestling.

Here's the link to 'Victory or Death': Ancient Olympic Sports. See pages pages 18-24.

And here are the references cited in this article:
Ancient Olympics: A History by Nigel Spivey. Oxford University Press. 2012
Combat Sports in the Ancient World: Competition, Violence and Culture by Michael Poliakoff. Yale University. 1987
Sport and Society in Ancient Greece by Mark Golden. Cambridge University Press. 1998
The Olympic Games: The First Thousand Years by H.W. Pleket.. Chatto & Windrus Ltd. 1976
Sport and Spectacle in the Ancient World by Donald Kyle. Wiley Blackwell. 2007
The Naked Olympics: The True Story of the Ancient Games by Tony Perrottet. Random House. 2004
The Ancient Olympic Games by Judith Swaddling. University of Texas Press. 2008
Athletics of the Ancient World by E. Norman Gardiner. Dover Publications. 2002
Sport in the Ancient World from A to Z by Mark Golden. Routledge. 2004
More Than Just a Game: The Military Nature of Greek Athletic Contests by Nancy Reed. Ares Publishers. 1998
Greek Athletes and Athletics by H.A. Harris. Greenwood Press. 1979

Monday, August 6, 2012

Learning From Myself: Journal Notes #103

Notes from my June 2012 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 journal entry of June 19 says: I haven't practiced zhan zhuang since April 3rd. I've only been doing some of the Wujifa adjunctive exercises and my Tai-chi form. However, I think I've hit a turning point with this intestinal problem recently. My body seems to be transitioning back to what was normal for me.

* My daily practice log shows 10-20 minutes zhan zhuang practice every other or every third day through June. Sometimes in the morning. Sometimes in the evening. Nothing consistent. Previously, I was trying to keep a practice log at the recommendation of my instructor but I didn't really have my heart into it. Something has changed recently. Now I want to write something in my personal practice log every day.

* Even though I went to Wujifa class as usual throughout June, I was not really interested in attending nor did I take any notes.

* I spent some time reviewing some of my old blog postings. I am amazed at what I've written! Re-reading my older postings has given me some insights. I feel like I've got a clearer understanding of what I want and need to do.
(Learning from myself in this way is new territory for me...)

* Questions that came up for me during one of my mini- practice sessions this month:
  1. How can I shift my spirit? How can I get into a new "space" and not slip back into the mood I was in for the past few months?
  2. How can I change my view to see the process instead of the points in the process; how to develop a process view instead of a thing view?

* When practicing the rubber band exercise one day, I noticed a kind of fullness feeling on the inhale which extends into my arms and then which recedes on the exhale.

* I went for a massage therapy session. When I asked the therapist to tell me what he was noticing and feeling, he said noticed that my spinus erectus is not abnormally tight but the underlying muscles are tight. As he worked my hips and thighs, he noticed that my psoas is tight which he says is likely pulling on L1-L2 which is accounts for the tightness of the underlying muscles of my spine: tightening against the tension of the psoas. He also noted the quads in my left leg are "bunched" near the top of the leg.
(From his reporting, I got a much clearer understanding of the kinetic chain. The issue it seems is not just that one muscle is tight, or that an emotional trauma may tense one or a group of muscles, though, this may be true. What I understand now is that the tension of one muscle can cause another muscle to tense in reaction, and another, etc.. in a chain-like fashion. This kind of pattern of chronic tension can lead to fascial adhesions which "glues" these muscle fibers in place reducing the plasticity or "sung" of the body.)

Further reading:
Introductory article explaining this "Journal Notes" series: Zhan Zhuang Training Journal
Previous article in this series: Not Practicing: Journal Notes #102
Next article in this series: - Holding To Routines: Journal Notes #104