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


  1. Learning of martial arts is like a life time achievement for gaining fitness too.

  2. You must learn these moves from a martial arts person which can also motivate you to a great extent.