Monday, December 30, 2013

Wujifa Mini Breathing Squats: Journal Notes #116

Notes from my October and November 2013 Zhan Zhuang Training Journal. I train with The School of Cultivation and Practice which practices Wujifa zhan zhuang.

* Question: I've been practicing the combined mini-squats with theraband stretching. I can feel the bottom fill and the top fill and stretch but I'm having a problem connecting the top and bottom.
Instructor: What are you focusing on?

Me: The problem. (notice the way I phrased my "question").

Instructor: Focus on what you can do and grow that.

Me: I can feel the bottom and top.

Instructor: Now focus on coordinating the bottom and top. Focus on coordinating the top with the squat. For you now, you've got to remove structural artifacts causing deviation. Lock and point the elbows down. Turn the palms down while maintaining a slight stretch in the theraband. Now breath.

Instructor: How does that look?

Comment from school brother: "It looks like how Shi-li should look when it's done correctly."

Me: I can definitely feel the breath driving the stretch of the theraband. The stretch is not being driven by arm or shoulder muscle movement.

* I need to focus on details but if I focus on details I can miss the key driver. It's tricky to figure out where to focus.

* Simple warm-up exercises can also reveal great depth when done properly over time. The Wujifa neck and hip circle warm-up exercises are designed to help you notice and feel fascial stretch and connection.

* Regarding our Wujifa neck circle warm-up exercises... The reason for maintaining the nose forward while circling the head is to notice where fascial adhesions or muscle tensions attempt to pull your nose away from its forward position. When done correctly, you should feel the fascial stretch work its way around your head, neck, and upper torso as you rotate your head. Work to remove deviations and eliminate variables in movement.

* Regarding our Wujifa hip circles warm-up exercises... This needs to be done in the same precise, controlled manner as the neck circles. If your hip circles look like a hoola-hoop movement, then you are doing the exercise with breaks and this makes it more difficult to feel fascial stretch.

* When circling the hips around one (weighted) foot, the stretch goes through the center of the weighted foot, not across to the other foot. The stretch goes through the body from the dan-tian to ming-men. In the beginning it is difficult to feel this stretch going through the body. In the beginning it is best to identify and resolve structural deviations.

deviations from roundness

* Question: In Tai-chi they say, "Rooted in the legs and directed by the waist." To me, the waist (a.k.a dan-tian area) is the spine L1-L5 which is the driver of the movement. Right?
Answer: Movement driven by the spine is not internal movement. (Here he demonstrates a side-to-side movement.) Look at the front in relation to the back. (The abdomen moves a lot in relation to the spine which hardly turns at all.) The abdomen is the driver, not the spine. The spine only turns a little relative to and because of the more powerful abdominal movement. This is not to say that the waist doesn't move, because it does. Because your focus is misdirected, it is better to say that the spine is not useful for you to consider as a driver in the manner you are considering it now.

* Remember, if you try to see movement done in "X" paradigm through the perspective of "Z" paradigm, then you'll never see "X" paradigm movement. You've got to throw out your "Z" paradigm frame of reference.

* More about mini-squats practice. In the beginning, simply coordinate breathing with movement. From standing, breathe out and squat a little. Breathe in and rise up a little. Practice breathing deeply into the lower abdomen and pelvic floor. Feel the intra-abdominal pressure pushing out the lower belly (especially the point just above the pubic bone) and pushing down the relaxed pelvic floor muscles. Notice abdominal breathing in and out. Spine doesn't move much.

* The Wujifa mini- breathing squats train horizontal kua movement and the Wujifa side-to-side exercise trains vertical kua movement. Once you can independently demonstrate horizontal kua movement and vertical kua movement, then you have the two directions and can begin combining.

* We practiced a little strength-testing - pushing to test ground path. I'm using/engaging too much muscle. Why? So I don't "lose". What I learned is that I should only practice to the limits of what I can do correctly. If I exceed my correct limits by falling back on bad habits and tricks, then I'm impeding my own progress.

* While practicing mini- breathing squats, I notice that if I let the pelvic floor extend down and the lower abdomen fill out, then not so much pressure goes up. If I expand the lower end maybe half way and hold that there, then more pressure goes up to the chest and shoulders. This is the first time I've felt this so obviously.

* Remember to use the breath as a means to develop intra-abdominal pressure to help you feel lower into the abdomen. Breathing is a method. A goal for you now is to use breath and pressure to help you develop your feeling in your kua.

Further reading:
Introductory article explaining this "Journal Notes" series: Zhan Zhuang Training Journal
Previous article in this series: Questions About Dan-Tian Rotation: Journal Notes #115
Next article in this series: Trying vs. Trying Too Hard: Journal Notes #117

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Questions About Dan-Tian Rotation: Journal Notes #115

Notes from my September 2013 Zhan Zhuang Training Journal. I train with The School of Cultivation and Practice which practices Wujifa zhan zhuang.

* Question: Does the saying, "rooted in the feet, directed by the waist, expressed in the fingers" mean that the pelvis should be "locked-in" with the legs and the main horizontal movement is attained by rotating the lower thoracic and sacral vertebrae - that is the area below the rib cage and above the pelvis? How does dan-tian movement show up here?
Answer: Instructor demonstration: Notice that there is very little skeletal movement. The movement is driven from the abdomen in front. So, no, dan-tian movement is not driven by muscularly rotating the spine in back.
* Practice:
Get into a kind of usual zhan zhuang stance position. Now stick your butt out. This means to really arch your back. Let your belly hang out in front. Really lift your butt up in the air. Feel your femur heads roll forward. Your knees may point a little toward each other or feel a little "pigeon toed". This gives you a "kua in" feeling in the front along your inguinal crease.

Then, keeping the front relaxed and "kua in", release the arch, relax the back and allow the lower back to settle and drop. If done properly, you will feel an even greater feeling of "kua in".

The trouble is that most people are too tight and while they can let their bellies hang out, and make the arch, and stick the butt out, they can't maintain the "kua in" when they release the arch. If this is where you're stuck, then this is where you have to work.

A typical mistake to get the arch out of the back is to tighten the abdominal muscles which pulls up the front of the pelvis and forces the back to drop. But this pits one muscle force (the front) against another (the back). Doing this will prevent you from ever getting any dan-tian rotation! You've got to maintain the "kua in" feeling in front with a relaxed back!

You do not get dan-tian rotation by tensing the abdominals! Focus on keeping the abdominals relaxed while also relaxing the spinae group. This will allow the pelvis to rotate on the femur heads. This is really tricky and can take years to figure out. While this in itself is not dan-tian rotation, it is a critical pre-requisite. If you don't fulfill the pre-requisites, how can you graduate to upper-level coursework?

* If you can't get this basic movement with relaxation and get the resulting openness in your zhan zhuang practice, then your zhan zhuang is too rigid.

* It's now been two months since I've returned from China. For the four weeks that I was in China I opened to new food, new friends, new experiences. I relaxed and let go. I felt so much more alive even though I know I did not intentionally change my fundamental soma-psychological patterns. When I returned, my intention was to continue to grow and nurture the opening feeling that I was feeling.

* Question: You know how we say that there is no separation between stance practice and daily life, well, over the last four weeks (since I've returned from China), I've been working on being more expressive of my sexuality as opposed to continuing repressing this "part" of myself due to my moral and religious beliefs around being a "good" man. What I'm noticing is that I can feel more deeply into my pelvis during zhan zhuang stance practice. How can I know if this change in my daily life is actually creating a change in my internal gong fu practice or if I'm somehow imagining the relation?
Instructor: Show me what you are doing.

Me: I demonstrate my zhan zhuang stance.

Instructor: That's better. I notice that you are still holding just above the pubic bone; that little bit of muscle. Try this. Visualize and feel your genitals expanding downward with each in-breath but don't contract with each out-breath; maintain allowing a relaxed expansion.

Me: I try this exercise.

Instructor: What do you notice?

Me: I can feel like more abdominal pressure going down from my abdomen into the tops of my legs.

Instructor (asking my school brothers): What are you guys noticing?

Comments: He's sinking more. There's more connection through his pelvis/dan-tian.

Me: At that point, I got very self conscious and embarrassed and stopped practicing. When I tried to get back to that kinesthetic, I could not do it. I will practice this at home.
* My note: I practiced this particular method for the next two weeks and between this and other changes in my personal life, I noticed my zhan zhuang stance practice becoming more inspired. I was waking up early and feeling excited about practicing again. I was developing more of a different kind or quality (?) of feeling in my pelvis. And then something happened and I could literally feel myself "shutting down" or "withdrawing" from continuing developing these deeper feelings... again.

* My note: What is different or unique this time is that I am able to observe my going through this opening and closing process whereas previously "I" was the opening or closing. It's like before I was too close(?) to the kinesthetic so I could not distinguish "myself" from "my kinesthetics". I think my four week vacation in China gave me a break in ways I had not anticipated. I don't know. Something shifted. I don't understand. Nonetheless, this is a valuable insight.

Further reading:
Introductory article explaining this "Journal Notes" series: Zhan Zhuang Training Journal
Previous article in this series: Going Places and Coming Home: Journal Notes #114
Next article in this series: Wujifa Mini Breathing Squats: Journal Notes #116

Monday, November 11, 2013

A More Functional Understanding of Qi and Qi Gong

One of the problems with translating qi as "energy" and qigong as "energy work" is the ambiguity of the term "energy".

Without mentioning that the Chinese word for "energy" is not qi, by pigeon-holing qi to mean "energy", reduces this multi-flavored, multi-purpose concept from the Chinese language to a term that pretty much bears no functional value in our western culture.

In its ambiguity, qi as "energy" is ripe to be interpretted to fit a wide variety of beliefs; qi as cosmic energy, qi as bio-chemical energy, qi as, well, whatever you like.

In the "internal" martial arts, the term "qi flowing" and "qi not flowing" has a very specific meaning. These phrases, according to my understanding, are a short-hand, abbreviated way of noting a particular kinesthetic feeling.

Just as many of the martial arts have both an external and internal component to training, and some of these internal components are considered qigong, does one switch from the very practical training of self-defense techniques to a mystical, woo-woo, feel the cosmic energy with the hope that this further improves one art? Sadly, this happens.

From my experience, instead of focusing on deepening a practical mind-body connectedness, the typical teaching of qigong ironically tends to do just the opposite! So what is a practical way to look at qigong?

Let's take a look at the December 2011 issue of Acupuncture Today (Vol. 12, Issue 12) which has a wonderful article by Joseph Davis titled, Demystifying Qi Gong.

What I like about this article is that A) it is written from a more clinical, holistic, perspective of Traditional Chinese Medicine, and B) it explains that qigong practices are meant to be simple, functional, grounded, exercises to help "me" discover and connect with "my body" here and now.

Here are a few excerpts which resonate with me and with the perspective I promote in this blog.
So what is the essence of Qi Gong for TCM practitioners? It is a method of fostering basic awareness of body and breath, coordinated with simple movements, with the aim of cultivating smooth flow of qi to promote health.

Foremost, it is vital to explain that qi isn't some magical force that emerges once we've purified the body, silenced the mind, and harmonized the emotions. Qi Gong begins with connecting with how your body, breath, and mind feel, exactly in this moment.

For our purposes, we are just trying to connect with the quality of feeling awareness...

With just a little bit of attention, we begin to see that these sensations, feelings, and thoughts occur in a spectrum - from the very dense sensation of embodiment in gravity (down/earth/yin), to the rarified realm of ideas (up/sky/yang), and the subtler nuance of breath and emotions that happens between these two poles. And here's the real transmission - it is this whole collection of experiences that is actually our qi. This recognition is the portal to real Qi Gong, and it certainly does not require some Qi Gong "master" to point out. Yin, Yang, and qi are experiences that we all have, all day long.

Instead of introducing our patients and students to qi as something distant and mysterious, we start right where we are. As I noted above, I find the phrase feeling-awareness, or aliveness are often better to use than something from a different language. What we are looking to get our patients and students to recognize is this basic subjective sense of being alive, which is the most immediate and concrete thing in the universe. Without trying to define or capture it too tightly in thought, we can then begin working with it in the context of simple movements, coordinated with the breath.

What I learn from this article is that qi, as it is used in qigong exercises, is a kind of short-hand abbreviated term denoting a combination of feelings/sensations of embodiment, ideas, and emotions. Qi is a shorthand way of noting my overall "aliveness".

What I've learned from my Wujifa practice is that the feeling of "aliveness" while always available, is often blocked by my various physical and emotional holding patterns. Achieving deeper and more amplified feelings of "aliveness" can sometimes take some work. And sometimes feeling more "aliveness" and connection than I typically or normally experience, can be overwhelming both in terms of the sheer experience and in terms of the implications to living life from that more "alive" space.

Even though I had long thought that I was fully in my body (afterall, I've been practicing Tai-chi for many, many years), I was both disturbed and intrigued when I discovered that I had developed elaborate techniques to avoid being fully embodied!

And so while I've elaborated one of the key points of this article, go check out the rest of it - the author makes a few other points in which you may be interested.

Further reading from my blog:

Demystifying Qi Seminar Video (October 18, 2012)
Chinese Martial Arts Without The Qi (August 2011)
Internal Gong Fu Paradigms (November 2010)
Feel Your Chi Between Your Hands? (June 2010)

Another book worth reading:
Qigong Fever: Body, Science and Utopia in China

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Wujifa Now on Wikipedia

On November 6, 2013, a Wujifa page was launched on Wikipedia: On November 24, 2013, this page was deleted.

In the spirit of sharing what I've learned, here is a brief recounting of the short life of the Wujifa page on Wikipedia.

On November 10, 2013, an entry was made calling for the Wujifa page to be deleted. After a period of back-and-forth "discussion" between the "deleters" and the "keepers", on November 24, the Wujifa page was deleted by Wikipedia.

Prior to this experience, I had made certain "moral high ground" assumptions about Wikipedia. Now having gone through this process, I've learned about the dark side of Wikipedia. And as it turns out, there is a fair amount of online documentation about the "dark side" of the Wiki world.

Here are a couple things I learned that may help temper your understanding of Wikipedia if you didn't already know this:
  • Using the argument that a page is or is not "notable" is a notable problem with Wikipedia.
  • The "standards" are not applied uniformly.
The Wujifa page was deleted on the argument that there was no "significant coverage in reliable independent sources." (Apparently, this is a boilerplate excuse to delete a page.)

One of the deleters explained "reliable independent sources" this way:
Examples of sources that might support notability: a chapter in a notable book on martial arts, a series of articles in significant martial arts magazines or journals, a journal article about the subject, newspaper or magazine articles in significant publications. I would even go so far as to include discussion of the subject by notable persons in published interviews.
There are numerous examples of Wiki pages created and edited by "insider" experts (not no-nothing independent sources) and pages with and without "reliable independent sources". I leave you to find these on your own.

The Wiki user who initiated the call to delete, has an "Editors Barnstar". What is this?
Your recent cleanups, edits, and deletions on the list of martial arts page show significant dedication and discipline. Thank you very much for your hard work and contribution to Wikipedia. For these merits, I would like to award you this Editor's Barnstar. Xiliquiern 03:14, 29 September 2006 (UTC)
So it seems that in the Wiki world, one can earn "points" for getting pages deleted. I did not know that creating a page on Wiki entered that page into a competition for points. Is the competition stacked in favor of the user with the most points? I don't know. This was my first time in the ring.

And so while Wujifa was short-lived on Wikipedia this time, I am confident that as more practitioners become aware of the elegance of its simplicity to develop the "internal" kinesthetic skillsets, then Wujifa will also become known through the traditional journalistic "reliable independent sources".

Monday, October 21, 2013

Going Places and Coming Home: Journal Notes #114

Notes from my July and August 2013 Zhan Zhuang Training Journal. I train with The School of Cultivation and Practice which practices Wujifa zhan zhuang. (Note: These journal notes combine both July and August because I was traveling in China for four weeks, from June 20 to July 18.)

* One of my Wujifa school brothers, Dan, is in town and attended the July 28 class. Dan is working on his PhD. in BioEnergetic Analysis. Our instructor asks Dan to work with me.

We stand face to face. I'm in zhan zhuang. He's coaching. He places his fingertips on my kua and adjusts me just a little off where I was. He then instructs me to feel the muscles under his fingers.

Standing and looking eye to eye gets too intense for me and I look away and back and close my eyes and "go inside". With each of these re-locations of my attention, he says, "It's OK. You can go there. You can go there too." After a bit of this running around, I break and I am fully present and in my body in a way that is different from my customary way of going "inside". To this he responds, "I like when the real Mike shows up."

I say that I feel like quitting. The feeling is overwhelming. And he says he gets that feeling too but just keeps going. "Just notice that you feel like quitting and keep going."

We must have gone through about forty minutes of this kind of cycling between connecting eye to eye, feeling it's too intense to be that present with someone, looking away, looking "inside", wanting to quit, being reminded to focus on the muscles under his fingers...

I got two big A-ha insights out of this training session: 1) I refined my understanding of all the "places" I "go" to avoid being fully present, and 2) I have been fooling myself about my feeling of having my awareness "inside"; this too is a dis-associated place. I learned that truly being present in my body is an "ON/OFF" proposition. Either I'm in there and present or I'm not. It's a unique feeling.

Here's a very rough sketch of how I might graphically depict this experience. My drawing is really bad. I hope you get the idea.

disconnected vs connected person

* The practice of Wujifa involves looking for connections. However, most people have to untangle themselves and become deeply aware of their parts first and get the parts to move freely in order to feel into the parts. After this, then feel connection between the parts.

* It is difficult to see a problem in somebody else who has the same problem that I have. The benefit of watching someone who has the same problem that I have is that I can see how I appear and then know what is being seen in me. Obviously I can't identify this other person. My instructor has to point this out to me.

* When punching, don't lead with the fist. Lead with the kinesthetic stretch. Go for feeling the stretch. This will also help focus on feeling the connection to the ground.

* Each Wujifa exercise has a primary focus, a specific movement to train a specific feeling. Do the exercises as prescribed to find the feeling.

* Taking the external path inward is OK but if you get stuck at any point along the way and if you think that that point is what generates power, then you've fallen into a trap. The goal is to use the abdomen movement as the driver in a connected, coordinated manner with the rest of the body.

* If you are focused on getting a feeling of power or force and your method doesn't include the abdomen, then you're missing the internal. People tend to focus on the stuff that is external relative to the abdomen and mistake the power generated there as being internal. Sure, the more internal you go, the more power you can generate. Generating power externally (again, relative to the abdomen) is a lot easier and more comfortable but it is still external, relatively speaking.

* We practiced a few assessment exercises:
  • Anterior/posterior pelvic tilt.
  • Rotating the shoulders laterally while keeping the hips relaxed and still.
  • Rotating the hips laterally while keeping the shoulders relaxed and still.
  • A cross body stretch to feel the fascial stretch criss-cross the back.
  • A cross twist step to feel elongation criss-crossing the back.
  • Tippy bird and variations. If any of these feel easy, you're doing them wrong.

Further reading:
Introductory article explaining this "Journal Notes" series: Zhan Zhuang Training Journal
Previous article in this series: My Training Roller Coaster: Journal Notes #113
Next article in this series: Questions About Dan-Tian Rotation: Journal Notes #115

Sunday, September 1, 2013

My Training Rollercoaster: Journal Notes #113

Notes from my June 2013 Zhan Zhuang Training Journal. I train with The School of Cultivation and Practice which practices Wujifa zhan zhuang.

* Instructor's comment when I entered class: I haven't seen you this shut down in a long time. What's going on?
Me: I'm tired.
Instructor: People can be tired and still have more sparkle than you have today.

* Question: I was practicing getting the feeling of intra-abdominal pressure extending into my kua and while I can feel my intra-abdominal pressure in my abdomen, I can't feel it consistently extend into my legs.  What am I doing wrong? (The following is a summary of  what I remember.)
Answer: How often and how long are you practicing? 

Me: Maybe 10 minutes here and there throughout the day. I can't seem to tolerate much more than this. It just gets too intense for me. It's like I get burned out from focusing so much to get that feeling.

Instructor: So the reason you're not making progress is because you're not practicing enough. A reason why you may feel like it's intense and you're burning out is because you built up such a strong unconscious resistance to deeper feeling in your pelvis. When you consciously work on feeling, then you fight with your unconscious resistance against feeling. Inner struggle can be very tiring. So, let's see what you're doing.

Me: (I demonstrate.)

Instructor: You still haven't resolved or changed your deeper, underlying muscular patterning. Your weight doesn't drop cleanly through the right foot. Your right calf muscle is too tense - more tense than the left. Your right kneecap points outward and you're tensing your inner thigh muscle to pull it forward into alignment rather than relaxing the lower back and allowing the greater trochanter to naturally roll forward.
It's ironic that you wrote a book on the pelvis and yet you are still holding so much tension there.

Me: That's right. And I was honest about stating that I'm still struggling with this area. Geez! The same problems from years ago! Sounds like nothing's changed! I'm such a shitty student.

Instructor: Actually, you've become a master at micro-holding. You hold a little here, a little there. When you get one area free, then you tense somewhere else. You're doing everything you can to not let go and see where it leads.

Consider your practice over the last several years. It's like a roller-coaster in an amusement park. Sometimes you're really inspired and train well and make a lot of progress. This is like the roller-coaster being pulled up the first hill to develop momentum. Then you go down that first hill, around some curves and you're thrilled at the results. And then you realize these results, that is, what you let go of in class or when training, has ramifications in your daily life and you're afraid to follow through. And like the roller-coaster as it goes over smaller and smaller hills, you slowly lose momentum until the ride stops and you stop training. However, instead of getting back on the roller-coaster again, you walk away, literally or figuratively. You go wander around the amusement park, look at the other rides, do some people-watching, scrape gum off your shoe, tell other people about the roller-coaster and when you do think about getting in line for the roller-coaster again, because you remember how scary the adult roller-coaster was, you get in line for the kiddie roller-coaster - you train, but not with the focused determination to make changes wherever and however these manifest in your life.

You've got great potential. You have made great progress. But who's in charge of you? The what-you-want or the sub-conscious, under-the-radar fears that block you from what you want?

* When I look at or analyze another practitioner's stance and say, "It looks good to me." this is because I can only see as far as I can see.

* I'm getting stuck in a tense-relax loop. I alternate between my habitual level of tension and my habitual level of relaxation.

* Question: Why does zhan zhuang practice feel boring to me now?
Answer: This could mean that you don't want to see the depth. You're only seeing superficially and you've seen this level many times already. There is nothing new there for you. If you acknowledge that you can only see superficially, this means that you are superficial despite what you may think about yourself.
(Note: I'm a little behind on posting my journal notes because I was traveling in China for four weeks, from June 20 to July 18.)

Further reading:
Introductory article explaining this "Journal Notes" series: Zhan Zhuang Training Journal
Previous article in this series: Experimenting or Avoiding Feeling: Journal Notes #112
Next article in this series: Going Places and Coming Home: Journal Notes #114

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Experimenting or Avoiding Feeling: Journal Notes #112

Notes from my May 2013 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 I always turn a feeling into mechanics? I can get "the feeling" in class and think I practice it at home but somehow it transitions back into being mechanical because when I return to class and demonstrate what I've been practicing, then I'm told that I'm doing it too mechanistically; I've lost the feeling.
Answer: Armors are subconscious.
  1. In class, I take you through certain routines to get you to the emotional state where you feel safe and comfortable to open to your own feeling. There's certain music that anchors you to or helps you get in touch with feeling. There are certain methods of coaching and adjustments that get past your conscious defenses and bring more of your awareness into your body. How these elements are combined kind of depends on where you are in any given class. All these together help you find "the feeling".
  2. You also are wedded to your life habits, doing what you are expected to do. When some people have a heart attack or other traumatic life event where they fully realize their mortality, some of these folks lose the fear that kept them in their habits and then they feel free to live outside of the box of expectations they were in. I hope you can get out of that box before a traumatic life event.
  3. You're afraid to feel because to do so would fundamentally alter your data structured world.

* Question: Aren't you  being contradictory when you teach, "practice how I tell you to practice" and then turn around and say, "think for yourself and experiment."?
Answer:  First, you must build a baseline. Demonstrate the experiment. The problem is that people only practice for one hour and then do something else. There's no persistent focus. For example, I taught you how to practice with stretching the theraband. What did you do? You went home and "experimented" with using a stick. Your experiment was not to test the difference in fascial stretch felt between using theraband or using a stick. You simply jumped to using a stick because doing so engaged more muscle which is easier for you to feel.

However, what you did was not an experiment. You simply fell into an established pattern: AVOIDING EXPLORING DEEPER LEVELS OF FEELING! Not following an experiment designed to elicit feeling is a pattern of avoidance.

If an experiment is designed to open up something in you, and your pattern is to avoid feeling, then you won't do the experiment as designed but will avoid doing what you were told to do and will try doing anything else that fits your pattern and thereby doesn't elicit the targeted feeling.

It's O.K. to experiment as long as the focus of the experiment is maintained. I'm showing you the experiments I did that got results for me. If you run the same experiments, you should get the same results. If you deviate without first being able to demonstrate the results of the original experiment, then what you are doing is not an experiment. You have to understand the baseline.

* Question to me: Why aren't you maintaining your private practice journal? (Different from this summarized version of class notes.)
My answer: I did this for a while and then quit when I started touching on life stuff during stance. It's easy to practice when daily life is easy. It's difficult to practice when daily life is difficult. This is where I fall short and then complain that I don't "get it". It's almost like when I'm on the verge of change, then people, or "life" throw stuff at me to prevent  me from changing. My kung-fu is weak.

* Question: How can I discover my subconscious  resistance to feeling?  How can I discover my armors?
Answer: Experiment.

My response: But I don't want to because then I'd be responsible for my own progress.

Instructor: Exactly! And this is why so few people "get it". People generally want to mindlessly follow along. People who want to go further eventually encounter their armors and, like you, tend to get stuck there. You've got to experiment with your resistances, your armors. Notice your response.

* Here's an example of how to experiment eliciting different feelings. Remember, the mini-squatting exercise you learned last month? Do that now. (From stance position, arch your back which helps maintain kua-in, breathe out and squat down 3 inches, breathe in and rise up. Keep the angle of the pelvic tilt constant throughout.) Breathe deep into your pelvic floor. What do you notice?
Me: I can feel like the intra-abdominal pressure extending down a little into the top of my thighs.

Instructor: Sometimes you hit it (breathe deep and full enough) and sometimes you miss it (too shallow). Now experiment with tucking under and do the exercise. What do you notice? What's the difference?

Me: Tucking under pops out the kua. I can't feel the same feeling in the lower abdomen and tops of my thighs.

Instructor: Now go back to arched back and do a few mini-squats again. Now experiment with lifting up from the chest and do the exercise. What do you notice? What's the difference?

Me: It's like I'm trying to force a feeling of connection up the front but there's no that feeling in the lower abdomen and kua

Instructor: So one method gave you the feeling and two other methods blocked that feeling.

Further reading:
Introductory article explaining this "Journal Notes" series: Zhan Zhuang Training Journal
Previous article in this series: Too Tense for the Next Level: Journal Notes #111

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Too Tense for the Next Level: Journal Notes #111

Notes from my April 2013 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.) 

* Once again, I've demonstrated my ability to make a feeling into something mechanical. Despite my practice over the last two weeks, somehow I've transformed that alive feeling in stance into a mechanistic set of rules. What is amazing to me is that I didn't even notice the process of this happening. I thought I was practicing the feeling that I learned and I thought I was improving.

* In class we had a long discussion about forearm alignment in zhan zhuang and how tension in the shoulder affects this alignment. Here are the key points I remembered.
  • Holding my hand in front of me with my elbow at my side, with palm up, the radius is the outer forearm bone and the ulna is the inner forearm bone. With palm down, these two bones cross each other. At a mid-way point, between palm up and palm down, that is, when the palm faces inward, the radius is roughly over the ulna.

  • Getting the forearms stacked one on top the other at mid-point is the neutral position. I can only know twist and spiral to the degree that I know neutral. Once I can feel-understand the neutral position, then my feeling-understanding of moving away from neutral, that is, twisting in either direction, will be amplified. If I am locked-in at the elbow or shoulder, then the neutral and the twist will be corrupted.

  • If I'm locked in the elbow, then forearms turn in one fashion. If unlocked at the elbow, then the forearms turn in a different fashion. If the shoulder locks the upper arm in one location, then the movement in the forearms bones has a limited range of motion. If the shoulder unlocks, allowing the upper arm to rotate slightly, this allows increased range of motion in the elbow where the radius and ulna attach which has the effect of allowing increased range of motion for the forearms. Event though we're talking millimeters in these adjustments, the effect is dramatic.

  • The purpose in working the forearm, upper arm, and shoulder alignment is to 1. discover and release any tensions that may be limiting the range of motion, and 2. to achieve optimal alignment for the transmission of intention and force from the hand through the shoulder.

* The problem with older folks (like me) trying to learn this level of gong-fu is that decades of life habits have established the length or shortness of muscles and tendons. This is what an older practitioner is fighting against to achieve improved posture. The somatic, physiologic resistance is "built in".

* When I observe myself in the mirror, my posture and alignment looks good to me. And I am reminded that this is so because I can only see as far as I can see.

* In class, I was demonstrating posterior-anterior pelvic tilts (tuck-untuck) and my instructor asked me if I could feel the stretch from my back into my pelvic floor. Could I feel the "pull" at my anus? Well, "no". We then talked about how I get stuck in a tense-relax loop. It's like I'm stuck in a loop of feeling a superficial level of relax and I'm not jumping out of that superficial, "known" level of relax to a more relaxed level of relax that's a deeper level of relax than the loop I'm in.

* I made a comment in class that stance practice has gotten really boring for me. I'd rather do anything else than stand! To which my instructor responded, "This could mean that you don't want to see the depth. You're only seeing superficially." This made me think that maybe I am superficial.

* In class, I learned an exercise that coordinated breathing with doing a mini-squat (2-3 inches movement only). Standing with alignment as if in stance, then arch the back as a beginning method to feel kua-in. (Tucking results in the kua popping out.) Squat down slightly on exhale and rise up slightly on inhale and try to feel how the intra-abdominal pressure extends into the kua on the inhale. I couldn't really do this as it turns out because of the remaining tension in my pelvic area. My upper thighs (at the kua) feel like concrete in comparison to my instructor's. The top of my femurs, the greater trochanters, need to rotate even further forward which means the back needs to loosen even more. (If I can un-arch my back and maintain kua in, then that's a good indicator of another level of relax. Both straightening the lower back and tucking can cause the kua to pop out if the back is not relaxed enough.) In addition to learning how much more I need to relax, I also realized that a certain level of "drop" or "sinking the weight" can be achieved with a certain amount of relax but this amount of relax is not enough to get the kua-in position that is needed. And to achieve that also comes with more dropping the weight.

* In doing a little "push hands", I learned that my brace has gotten really strong but that I'm using all muscle and not the internal strength, "relaxed while maintaining groundpath" feeling I'm looking for.

Further reading:
Introductory article explaining this "Journal Notes" series: Zhan Zhuang Training Journal
Previous article in this series: Feeling in My Eyes: Journal Notes #110
Next article in this series: - Experimenting or Avoiding Feeling: Journal Notes #112

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Feeling in My Eyes: Journal Notes #110

Notes from my March 2013 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.) There are no journal notes for February due to a combination of a class cancellation and my not attending due to working on my first book.

* Let me lead by saying that at the beginning of March I engaged an area of life I had long denied engaging. When I first decided to "go for it", I argued myself out of it. Interestingly, one conversation changed my mind and suddenly it was OK and I simply approached that area with curiosity and just like that, something noticeably shifted in my practice.

* I discovered through doing a squatting exercise (moving the torso up and down like a piston) that I still have tightness in my hips. The hip joint should be free so the pelvis can move freely up and down while maintaining the posterior of the pelvis on a vertical plane. In my case, I reach a point where the pelvis locks with the femur and tilts which then effectively transforms the lower back into the hip joint. A method to remedy this is to do mini-squats with a focus on keeping the pelvis vertical and gain control over the points where currently getting stuck.

* Really isolate the hip. Don't lift with the chest or back. Push the knees forward or backward. Exhale on down and inhale on up. The head will naturally rotate on a point under the ears according to the movement of the pelvis. Tucking means the abdominal muscles are contracting. If you tense the back to counter a tense front (to keep the torso straight), then you're locking and this kills the ability to feel into this area.

correct vs problematic hip movement

* Referring to pelvic movement, looking for a specific movement creates fascial stretch. If you can't get that movement, then you can't get that stretch.

* Question: Regarding the mini-squatting exercise, where I visualize myself as a piston and pelvis moves up and down pivoting on the hip joint...
Answer: Stop! Using a mechanistic model will help you understand points of structure but it will not help you understand connection. You are not a piston. Connective tissues don't function as rigidly as a machine.

* Hold a wooden dowel out in front of you with one hand and close your eyes. How long is the dowel? What sensory points are used to get a feel for its length? With a second person tapping the dowel further and closer to your hand, how do you determine if the tapping is further or closer? Next, the second person extends arm, palm facing  near end of dowel. Close eyes, touch dowel to your leg then try to touch other person's hand with end of dowel.
Are you able to do this? (Got close - touched the forearm, not the hand.)
What was the data you used to determine this? (Feeling, sensory).
What was the point of doing this exercise? (To use feeling data to figure out a goal.)
The principle is to use what you have and apply to your purpose without being distracted to get in the ballpark and refine from there.

* Think about building a house. Do you have a hammer? If not, then get a hammer. When you have a hammer can you build a house? No. You only have a hammer. Just because you have one tool doesn't mean you have the tools to build a house. With a hammer, you could build a boat dock. The same applies to other tools that are used to create structure. Let's say you get all the tools and build a structure, a house. Is this a home? No. A home is where life is. A home functions differently than a house. A structure is not a home until life is lived in it.

* Methods are like tools. They help you build and refine your structure. Through structure you add feeling, connection, and how your connective system responds to your intention. Feeling muscle stretch with structure is a first step. It's OK to feel muscle stretch because fascial stretch is kind of like this.

* Of course, fascia stretches with muscle but if your focus is on the muscle then you are only noticing a small section of fascial stretch.

* People hold onto too many tools (methods) and need to discern which tool to use and when as well as when to set the tool down.

* If you are now living in your home and you want to make an omelet, do you use your hammer? If your purpose is to enjoy cooking and eating breakfast, then the methods used to build structure are not useful. You need a new method. Understanding your purpose at the time helps you understand which methods to apply at that time.

* Consider the bigger frame but work in a small area.

* How do you assemble a jigsaw puzzle? First, look at the picture. Then from the jumble of pieces, look for recognizable pieces; corners and edges. You don't need the whole picture to assemble the edges, to construct the framework. After you got the frame, then you can divide or categorize pieces according to an area, for example, sky, water, shoreline, trees. Later you may realize you confused some sky and water pieces. As you refine your discernment, the differences between the similarities become more apparent. This discernment develops over time from working on solving that area of the puzzle.

* If you follow the principle, eventually you will connect all the pieces.

* Use structure to make structure clearer; to allow feeling through structure. Clear the blockages to feel the stretch. After you get the feeling of stretch, then you can play with structure. You can see modern architecture that diverges from normal, typical structures and yet are structurally sound.

* Do you see how scientific principles apply to developing internal connectedness? (Yes.)
Do you apply them in your practice? (No.)
Does this give you any ideas of what to apply? (Yes.)

* Compare the feeling in your eyes when you do the piston exercise (eyes are lifeless) to when you feel the stretch (eyes are open and alive).

* To achieve ease is not easy. You have to work hard to achieve ease.

* I tend to shut down (divorce myself from feeling) when I encounter emotional hurt and pain instead of staying alive and present and arguing and crying or whatever the body's response is in that situation. This is an area of the jigsaw puzzle I don't like to work on.

* From an electronics point of view, think of the signal to noise ratio. When the muscles are either too limp or too tense, this represents the noise (the unwanted or useless information) that is drowning out the signal (the useful information), the feeling of fascial stretch. You engage different circuits (methods) to reduce the noise and amplify the signal.

* I discovered my process at this point. I begin with structure (piston mini-squatting exercise), and then coordinate with breathing and pushing feet down and extending upward. I recognized where thinking kicks in. The feeling in my eyes changes. It's a subtle distinction yet, obvious. I discovered that I can use the feeling in my eyes as a bio-feedback device. I can use the feeling of body fullness as a bio-feedback device.

* What is different this time is that I "got it" with only verbal coaching; no manual adjustment! And I felt the difference and how I created the difference. Very exciting!

* I tend to rush to the method. How do I recognize where disassociated thinking kicks in? There's a different sensation when I'm feeling full in the movement vs when I'm trying to dissect and analyze what is happening. The feeling is there before the words form. It's pre-thought.

* I focus on defending against things I can't feel. This doesn't mean I don't want to feel. When I simply "do" and then run into a blockage and if I defend that blockage, then I'm protecting from something. For example, if I cry in stance, this is simply a reaction. It is what it is. It doesn't mean the emotion is associated with a cause or event. There's no need to search for a reason. It's OK to simply experience the emotion and let it pass.

* I discovered for myself an answer to a question I had asked long ago which was, "Can I practice feeling connection while doing other exercises?" The answer then was "No" but I didn't understand. One night while practicing, I had a "a-ha" moment and I understood why. The way I now understand it is that the process to develop feeling and connection requires attention to something very subtle that cannot be noticed when the intention and attention is on doing something else. So if I want to lift weights, then just lift weights. If I want to punch the heavy bag, then just punch the heavy bag. When I want to practice feeling connection, then practice that.

Further reading:
Introductory article explaining this "Journal Notes" series: Zhan Zhuang Training Journal
Previous article in this series: Submitting to the Experience: Journal Notes #109

Next article in this series: - Too Tense for the Next Level: Journal Notes #111

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Internal Martial Arts Lineages and Psychosomatic Genealogy

Internal martial art lineages are much more than styles, names and photos on a family tree. Although many people engage in polarized debates about these elements of lineages, this level of discourse completely misses the most fundamental component of lineages; the psychosomatic genealogy.

Of course, internal martial art styles, names and photos are the mainstay of historians and biographers. These elements also provide teachers with fodder to persuade would-be students to join their school. However, this level of martial art genealogy is not worth much past this point.

I've always enjoyed "people watching" whether I'm at a shopping mall, airport, college campus, family gatherings, or wherever. What is especially fascinating is noticing resemblances between fathers and sons, and mothers and daughters. And then sometimes there are resemblances where there is no known relation. These can be fascinating curiosities waiting to be revealed!

Seeing three generations; grandparents, parents, and children, provides another dimension into how various traits are combined, "passed down" and "picked up" by the third generation. Some traits like height or facial structure may be passed down. Some traits like psychosomatic characteristics are picked up via conscious or unconscious mimicry. In the martial arts, a teacher's psychosomatic traits are both passed down and picked up by the student.

By way of example, let's consider one very obvious element in the student-becomes-teacher cycle; hunching in the shoulders and the head jutting forward. This complex is one example of violating a basic principle: Relax! And in the relax, find homeostatic balance.

If a teacher is not aware that he hunches and carries his head forward and does not work on resolving the life-habits or tensions that result in hunching and head jutting forward, then this element of body work will likely never become conscious to the teacher and so it will remain "invisible". Similarly, if this aspect of structure was naturally correct and never needed to consciously be addressed, then too, it will remain "invisible". Never having addressed this structural issue in himself, he is less likely to notice or address this in his students. And this "trait" (not "seeing" hunch/head forward) is passed on.

Most students of the internal martial arts are already adults with their emotional-muscular traumas and psychosomatic patterns firmly in place. I speak from experience! If the student "naturally" has a hunch and head forward posture and the teacher doesn't correct it (for reasons mentioned above), then conscious and unconscious mimicking of the teacher will reinforce this trait in the student. And this "trait" is picked up.

IMA Psychosomatic genealogy example

This is but one very gross example of the typically unrecognized or dark side of lineages. When students mimic their teachers, they are likely not aware themselves of what they mis-mimicked or missed altogether. And through practice, this bad habit grows deeper and deeper roots. Later, if this student teaches, then he will teach what he thinks he remembers mimicking not even aware of what he got, got wrong or didn't get at all. This is the level where dilution and corruption of the internal art is unconsciously introduced. How many generations of student-becomes-teacher does it take to dilute and corrupt the original internal art? One generation.

Now, let's look at how this genealogical example played out in the early days of Tai-chi Chuan in the United States. A handful of practitioners who came from Taiwan became instrumental in modeling the physical "look" of Tai-chi Chuan for generations of American students. When we consider in what context and how these practitioners were taught, their level of development, the cultural and language barriers encountered in the U.S., and the orientation and virginal naivete of their American students, this milieau presents a fascinating study in psychosomatic genealogy; noticing what got modeled, mimicked and passed on in the name of Tai-chi Chuan.

We are extremely lucky to have videos of two of the earliest practitioners responsible for modeling Tai-chi Chuan in the U.S. Seeing these practitioners together is hugely instructive if you can see what you are looking at! In this first video is Zheng Man-qing (郑曼青). Watch a few minutes. Notice the slight hunch and head forward in his posture.

Cheng Man-Ch'ing Tai Chi Form

Now watch a few minutes of this video of  William Chen Chih-Cheng (陳至誠) who was one of Zheng Man-qing's students. William was 30 years young when this video was made in 1975. Again, pay particular attention to the pronounced hunch and head forward in his posture.

Tai-chi Grandmaster William Chen discusses Tai-chi and Demonstrates his Form

We've all heard the phrase,  "What you don't know can hurt you." This is also true in learning the internal martial arts. When I was a "child" learning Tai-chi Chuan in the 1980s, I had a naive faith that the physicality that William modeled was what I should embody. I didn't know any different and I learned my lessons well.

When I view these videos now with fresh eyes after clearing out much of those embodied patterns, I now see practitioners who are hunched, whose torsos are rigid and stiff, who have tension across the shoulders, whose hips are stiff and don''t have a lot of root or whole-body connection. I did not see this when I began my first Tai-chi class.

Viewing these old movies from the point of view of "people watching" shines a light on a usually hidden aspect of internal martial art lineages; the psychosomatic genealogy. And just as an art can be diluted and corrupted in one generation, so too can the art be re-invigorated in one generation when there is a singular focus to return to the principles and figure out how to embody the principles.

As a footnote, I am not singling out this teacher-student pair as being a better or worse example of what can occur between any other teacher-student pair. I chose these videos because, A) I knew about these practitioners, B) Their videos are easy to access. C) They are performing the same training routine. D) It is easy to see the trait in question. I did look for other teacher-student pairs of videos (that I knew of) but could not find a duo performing a similar training routine. If you know of another pair of videos you'd like me to post, please let me know.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Submitting to the Experience: Journal Notes #109

Notes from my December 2012 and January 2013 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.)

December 2012
* It occurred to me in the two weeks since Victor's visit in November (Journal Notes #108) that Victor's approach to developing internal strength seems more "mechanical", not concerned with integrating the emotional aspect, whereas the Wujifa approach involves both physical and emotional. I brought this up in class and the way I would summarize our conversation is that Victor follows more of a traditional Chinese teaching style. And while it's not his style to talk about his personal life in a class setting, one of his close training partners observed that he made a lot of progress developing internal connectedness after going through a difficult situation in his personal life.

* Tim Ferris has a new book out called, The Four Hour Chef. We listened to a reading of a list of questions that we should ask in class that were gleaned from or inspired by this book. While it was pretty boring listening to a huge list of questions, it was also interesting in that the kinds of questions revealed a particular perspective or way to approach training.

* December was a rough, tumultuous month for me. I'm struggling with trying to understand how my one instructor developed internal connectedness while still maintaining what I am now seeing as points where he is emotionally stuck in his life. Whereas I believed I had to let go ALL my physical-emotional holding patterns, I'm wondering now if this is not entirely accurate. Maybe I'm fixated on my resistances and surrounding fears and so I'm not noticing-feeling the areas where I have relaxed and let go; where I can feel! Maybe the mind-body only needs to let go to the degree which allows feeling into those areas? I'm curious, confused and angry over this discovery. Is this really true or not?  What if I accepted where I'm stuck, stop fixating on the fear and simply work with where I am now? I've done a lot of work. Do I have to be 100% free of holding patterns to feel 1% connected?  Maybe not. I don't know. Maybe, fixating on where I'm stuck is keeping me stuck. Can I let go of this?

January 2013
* We had a long discussion about defining co-dependency and how behavior patterns in relationships show up as emotional-muscular patterns in stance practice; rigidity, flaccidity and unwillingness to look at and work on what others can plainly see.

* My school brother, Mr. L. brought a side photo of himself from a Rolfing session. While his ear to ankle line was fairly straight and perpendicular to the floor, how this was achieved was with many twists and compressions through his body. This was not initially obvious until we analyzed the position of each part of the body; head, torso, shoulder, and pelvis. Seeing how each part was tilted forward or backward and how tension pulled this part into alignment with another revealed just how much tension there still was to let go of. The alignment was not achieved from homeostatic relax but was held in place with tension.

* We talked about my upcoming book which looks at the pelvis as an arch bridge, the sacrum as the keystone, and the difference between bracing and arch. In an arch bridge, no matter where the downward force is applied, the force is transmitted to the abutments, the feet. With a brace, there is strength only in line with the brace.

* Question: If tension determines the limits to which I am able to relax, then can stretching, like in yoga or physical therapy, increase the extent to which I can allow relax?
Answer: No, because stretching stretches the healthy belly of the muscle and does not necessarily result in relaxing the full length of the muscle. A tense muscle doesn't necessarily mean that the entire length of the muscle is tense. Areas can get bunched. Stretching may hyper-stretch that part of the muscle that can stretch while the injured or tense part remains stuck. It's better to work to the functional movement desired and the muscle will naturally respond as it can.

* A stance practice for me. Take three breaths and with each exhale say, "It's Ohhhhh Kaaaa-eeeee. (O.K. - acceptance)" Continue until I feel the "in-body" feeling. When I did this in class, I get a soft, relaxed, present, feeling. Feeling without words to describe what I don't know. Not knowing and accepting. Feeling. Experiencing. Submitting to the experience as I did in class today without thinking, analyzing, critiquing is a huge change for me! Being soft and relaxed in the lower belly makes it easier to notice.

* I'm noticing that there's a difference between: Belly tight. Belly relaxing tightness. Belly relaxed-soft. The latter two look the same externally but internally the feeling is completely different. Belly-tight is the "six pack abs" look. It's kind of like tense muscles can relax but they can't be soft and in finding softness, muscles can be strong without being tense.

Further reading:
Introductory article explaining this "Journal Notes" series: Zhan Zhuang Training Journal
Previous article in this series: Habits, Patterns, Blockages: Journal  Notes #108
Next article in this series: - Feeling in My Eyes: Journal Notes #110

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Levels of Feeling for Internal Martial Arts

A typical mistake in internal martial arts training is not realizing that there are many "levels" of feeling beyond which one is currently able to feel. The transition from one level to another can range from the imperceptible to the dramatic. Experiencing a new level of feeling that is not your “normal” level of feeling does not guarantee that you will remain at that new level. The gong-fu is to make that new level “normal”. Welcome to the process.

My Wujifa instructor used to tell a story he called, "Now I know what the Qi is." It's a great analogy of where and how practitioners get stuck. The essence of the story involves a student who upon experiencing a level of feeling not previously experienced exclaims, “Now I know what the qi is!” to which the teacher replies, “Go practice more.” Repeatedly the student returns with ever deepening levels of feeling exclaiming, “Now I know what the qi is!” and each time the teacher replies, “Go practice more.”

While the story seems simple enough, it expresses a very fundamental training directive: relax, feel, notice, repeat… It’s easy to get stuck where you think that’s all there is. This is particularly true, as I discovered, when there is a conditioned degree of disassociation from feeling. The initial surge of feeling can be a shock to the system and create the illusion that I am feeling all there is to feel. “Now I know what the qi is!” And what is amazing is that this "initial" surge and shock to the system can occur repeatedly throughout the integration process as internal kinesthetic experiences that were previously beyond my ability to feel are either suddenly or eventually grasped and capable of being developed.

Let’s look at another story, another analogy that goes into a little more detail of the process. Picture yourself arriving at the bank of a gently flowing stream. The stream is a few meters wide and upstream from you are a tangle of rocks, logs and branches and clumps of leaves of various sizes obstructing the free flow of the current.

To get an initial experience of feeling the stream's current I may "test the water" by dipping my fingers into the stream. If I never felt water before, this could be an amazing feeling even if I were on the side of the stream that did not have much or any current at all due the the upstream blockages! If the feeling is disturbing, jarring, or surprising for whatever reason, I will probably quickly pull my hand out of the water. If I find the feeling of water to be enjoyable, I may move my fingers and play with the water. (In the beginning, there are too many variables to predict how I will react. Over time, these variables are identified.)

As I get comfortable with the feeling of water, I may practice wading barefooted across the stream. Because I never waded in a stream before, I continually lose my balance as I slip on the moss covered rocks or lose my footing on the uneven, soft, sandy bottom. If my intention is to maintain control, to follow the rule to wade across the river (and my own rule about not falling and getting wet - to me, wading does not include falling), then I might not really notice nuances of how the stream is flowing. It could take some time to get comfortable at this level. My intention can both focus and limit what I am aware of.

As I get comfortable wading in the stream, I may begin to notice the flow or lack of flow. I may begin to notice obstructions. Maybe I don't recognize what I see as being obstructions until someone else points this out to me. It all seems, well, just "normal". At this point I can begin working on removing these obstructions. So I work diligently at this for years and in the process I learn about the nature of blockages, how blockages affect the flow, how the current adjusts to the blockages, how the surrounding landscape is altered by these blockages, and I make a great many discoveries regarding nuances of how the current shifts and changes with each blockage being removed. I start to get “a feel” for the flow of the stream.

After I remove a number of blockages, I may notice the stream is flowing differently than before. I also have a level of comfort with wading in the stream. My footing is more sure. I'm more stable. I have a better understanding. Now it is easier for me to simply enter the stream and feel the flow of the stream. I am beginning to discern where there is flow and where there is not. I am developing connection.

And when I "master" this level of stream, then I am ready to move onto a different stream or larger stream where I repeat the process.

After working through several streams, I start to get a feel for the process and when it comes time to "test the water" of a new level, I have some familiarity of how I react to a new feeling based on my history.

Guiding a less advanced practitioner (who either has no experience with internal feeling or does not feel the more advanced levels) to feel beyond his/her normal levels of feeling will likely be "eye opening" if not an overwhelming experience. From the perspective of the advanced practitioner, the less advanced practitioner's experiencing a new level of feeling may appear to be like that student is "dipping fingers" but to the practitioner experiencing this new feeling, the feeling may feel like total immersion! Feeling at a level outside one's comfort level may result in a pulling back, or withdrawal... and maybe not. The reaction is wholly individual. The point to keep in mind is that experiencing any level of "Now I know what the Qi is!" or feeling at all or feeling of connection is but a level of development. The point is to keep working at it. There is even more.

With proper guidance and practice, the invisible becomes subtle. With proper guidance and more practice, the subtle becomes obvious.

Happy training everyone!

log jam on Goodell Creek

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Secrets of the Pelvis for Martial Arts - New Book

My first book is now available both in paperback and as a Kindle e-book at "Secrets of the Pelvis for Martial Arts: A Practical Guide for Improving Your Wujifa, Taiji, Xingyi, Bagua and Everyday Life".

The e-book came out first in March 2013. In response to requests for a paper copy, I then released a paperback version in December 2013. With the paper version I also enhanced the quality of the cover design for both books based on the original e-book design.

Since you can read the description and customer reviews at Amazon, here's a little about how this book came to be.

My two most popular blog posts have been Rounding the Crotch (圆裆) for Tai Chi and Zhan Zhuang and Relaxing the Pelvic Floor for Tai Chi and Zhan Zhuang. Due to this popularity and relationship of content, my Wujifa instructor suggested I combine these into a single e-book. That was back in February 2011. At that time, I just didn't feel like I had the level of skill and understanding to write what I would consider a quality book, a product that I would be proud of. Also, I just couldn't get my head around the whole e-book concept. I guess was pretty "old-school" then. But I'm learning...

Two years later... The actual research and writing took only the first few months of 2013. In the process of combining these two blog posts, and wanting to write a real book, I kept adding and adding and editing and re-arranging until one of those "a-ha" Zen moments hit and the current structure revealed itself. I knew then that this was the book! After that it was all about filling in gaps, doing translations, imposing on the generosity of friends and family to read almost-final drafts, and then more editing from their suggestions. The cover design was inspired by content I discovered in my research. A Photoshop expert helped me get it "just so". (She also helped me again with the enhanced version for the paper book.)

I put more work into this book than I put into my blog posts. So if you enjoy this blog, you're sure to be ecstatic over this book! There's a ton more information in Secrets of the Pelvis for Martial Arts that does not appear anywhere else in the blog! I'm really excited about this publication because I think it can be a real contribution to martial arts practitioners in general and internal martial arts practitioners in particular. Enjoy! Be sure to let me know what you think! Either comment here, or leave a review at Amazon or email me.

A January 2015 addendum...
It's now been almost two years since the e-book was released and just over year since the paperback was released. Even though the reviews on Amazon are overwhelmingly favorable, I appreciate the constructive critiques which I summarize as:
  • This book is just a collection of links (and links can go bad).
  • Although the topic is well-researched, it reads as if it were released prematurely.
To the first point, my original vision for this work was an interactive e-book. At that writing, I did not foresee a demand for a printed book. My bad.

To the second point, I am certainly taking these critiques under advisement for my next work and for an updated second edition of Secrets of the Pelvis.

A May 2020 addendum
I reviewed all links and made corrections in the e-book version. You can see these updates at: Secrets of the Pelvis for Martial Arts - Link Updates.