Archive for the ‘Yiquan’ Category

In praise of standing (again)

June 13th, 2011 1 comment

I’ve been off Zhan Zhuang (jam jong), or standing practice for a little while, being busy with school and work, but it’s time to get back into it. Returning to a practice after having been away usually gives me a new insight into it, though usually a small one. Sometimes I come back with some skill, effectively resetting the “beginner’s mind”, but usually I just return somewhat refreshed.

In the case of standing, I’ve had some time to think about what it has done for me in between standing sessions — you know, when I’m moving around like a normal person. At those times, I pay close attention to where my weight is, how I’m balanced, and I also notice little anomalies in my body sooner, leading me to avoid the habits that caused them. In general, standing has helped me get to know my body better, and not by learning anatomical vocabulary (useful though that may be for communicating about the body). No, standing has helped me find my balance, use my weight to act on things yet stay physically centered and find an optimal way of interacting with the forces of the real world.

Yes, stand in one spot for a while and see the world. An inner worlds, I guess. Stand long enough — properly — and you’ll begin to adjust your position and alignment until your weight is distributed by a greater and greater number of your muscles, tendons and bones. The more body parts that help out, the less work each one has to do. Now of course, there’s an optimization here: some parts are not involved. However … given that most standing postures involve the arms being held up, this allows you to engage body parts that would be limp if you didn’t have to hold your arms up.

So what? Well, I’ve found that not only is there a structural reason to involve a number of systems in standing, there’s an energetic reason too. Now I’m not going to get all “chi” on you, but I’ll just say that when I place a relaxed attention on part of my body, I get a pleasant tingle. When I can enlarge the area to which I’m attending, the tingle gets stronger. When the whole body is being attended to, the tingle is really something, and I feel like jumping up and running around the block. It’s quite something.

It’s hard, as I’ve written before, but I’m now remembering how good it felt when I did it regularly.

(Holy cow, was I ever off-center back then.)

Categories: chi (qi), Yiquan Tags:

Hand stand?

February 24th, 2011 No comments

I haven’t done Zhan Zhuang in a couple of months. As far as I can tell, these are the consequences I’ve noticed so far:

  • reduced body sensitivity
  • reduced level of energy
  • reduced ability to do Zhan Zhuang (well, that’s a no-brainer)

The first one became manifest in a small way at Mr. Rosenfeld’s Tai Chi workshop. During an exercise, he corrected my hands, saying that they were too tense and needed to be softened. It took me a few seconds to realize that I had forgotten the feedback mechanisms that I had developed (to some small extent) because of Zhan Zhuang. In other words, it was hard for me to tell whether my hands were soft or not. (This processing delay may explain the dumb look I gave Mr. Rosenfeld at the time.) I then attempted to implement the correction, but it felt very manual, deliberate and clunky. In contrast, a few months ago, if I had been given the correction at all, I probably would have recalled immediately what soft hands felt like and been able to return to that state by recalling the slightly tingling, open, “un-anchored” sensation of soft hands … as I’ve experienced it, anyway.

Guess I’ve got some work to do. More standing? More standing.

Categories: chi (qi), Tai Chi, Yiquan Tags:

Shake your booty

July 26th, 2010 No comments

When I run, I’m always concerned about form … not so that I can look good or please some God of running, but so I can feel relaxed, run efficiently, and above all, avoid injury. I evaluate my form by checking my bounce, the sounds made by my footfalls, but mostly by looking for tightness, imbalance or tension in my body.*  If I didn’t do Zhan Zhuang (standing practice), I would be less equipped to notice these feelings, because with Zhan Zhuang, you basically have nothing to do except notice those feelings. Well, that’s simplistic, but you get the idea.

While running, one of my challenges is to reduce the feeling of tension I get in the back side of my body as I run. I feel pretty good when I run, but there’s a lingering effect of tightness back there which I alleviate when I stretch afterward. But why do I have to stretch this out? It’s not the running itself that’s causing the problem, it’s how I’m running, what I’m doing when I run. Either I’m off-balance fore & aft, compensating for the imbalance, or just habitually tensing things back there for some reason … maybe I do that all day.

In cases like this, usually my answer is to change the form, relax the body part, or do a combination of both. The challenge with the relaxing is to still keep doing what you’re doing, whether it’s running or just standing up. If we relax too much, we may lose connection & structure, and create too much motion, leading to a need to compensate in ways that may create more tension … or we may injure ourselves due to eccentric loading that would come from too-loose form.

Well, the other day, I noticed something while running: my butt was jiggling.

It wasn’t much, and it might not have been visible. But with each step, I felt a tiny jiggle back there. So I thought I’d pay it some attention — nothing more, no change in form, just relax enough so I could sense the vibration there.. As I did that, I was able to relax it a bit more, and a strange thing happened: I felt a tiny increase in speed. It was if I had removed a restraint of some kind. I also felt smoother, and after the run, the muscles at the top of my glutes didn’t need as much stretching.

It’s all about cues. We all can use some kind of trigger or cue to do what needs to be done. In this case, for me, it was to pay attention or be aware of the softness of a body part. Whether it was fat or relaxed muscle, I don’t know, and it’s not important right now. I’ve discovered something that I’ll look into again.

Of course, I could only sense something this small because I had spent a lot of time looking inside while doing Zhan Zhuang and slow exercises. Also, I’ve made keeping a calm mind a priority. Without that, we can’t feel inside the little places. If I were a religious man, I’d say that that’s where God is …

… in the little places.

(* The sharp-eyed reader may recall that I’ve advocated the idea of “just running” in the past, where the runner attempts to run in a natural fashion without too much intervention. However, I currently believe that in many matters, we flow between two states: a training state and an execution state. In this case, when training the correct, natural form, we study, examine and correct to create good, natural habits, but when executing, we act according to current habits but occasionally act according to nature if we learn to “get out of its way”. The whole thing is a process of discovery. I’ll clarify my position on this in a future post.)

Categories: fitness, interdisciplinary, running, Yiquan Tags:

Action and reaction

May 2nd, 2010 No comments

We were at Ikea the other day, attempting to buy a storage unit. (They have those?) Once we found the correct aisle/bin combination in the warehouse (not so hard) we rolled our nice flat cart right up to the bin so I could drag the incredibly heavy box out of the bin and onto the cart. I crouched down, since the package was low, and placed my body sideways to the bin. With visions of lower back pain looming large, I remembered to to use my whole body to pull the box out. So I just aligned myself, engaged the right stuff, and slid the box out, mostly feeling the load taken by the bottom of my feet. It took some effort, but it was no big deal. Before all this Chinese stuff, I might have twisted myself, or did something to my lower back.

I believe that some Tai Chi practitioners misunderstand the internal martial arts. The arts aren’t practiced to inflict pain or encourage aggression — you could do “mixed martial arts” for that. No, the Chinese internal martial arts (CIMA to some) are way too slow and boring for most of those guys. CIMA conditions our bodies and calms our minds, but more to the point, it helps us develop a full-body strength, using the entire body not just to resist an opponent/partner’s force, but any force we encounter in daily life. It can be applied to lifting boxes at Ikea or snow shoveling as well as resisting a partner in a class.

It’s not magical, it’s just aligning yourself and being sensitive enough to know when you’re aligned by feeling it from the inside.

(As for the Ikea unit, we plucked the wrong one from the bin, so I had to put it back. The one we wanted was out of stock.)

Categories: East meets West, Tai Chi, Yiquan Tags:

To qi or not to qi?

March 20th, 2010 No comments

Our Yiquan class had just done our force-testing exercises, one of which involves raising one arm and lowering the other, palms down, while standing. One of the students approached me after the exercise and asked me to interpret what she felt during the exercise: a feeling as if she were gently pulling rubber with her hands.

I thought I’d give it a shot, at least until I could ask for a translation through Master Chau. Here’s my take on it:

Our body has a memory of things it has done. We’ve all pulled stretchy things at some point or another, so we have a memory of what that feels like. I believe that the student was connected enough, using the right degree of muscles and tendons in concert to  reproduce the feeling of pulling something stretchy. In fact, the visualization for this exercise is either to pull rubber bands or move in molasses. In other words, I believe she was doing the exercise well enough to get the sensation of connection.

Now … she had to leave, so there wasn’t time to determine if she was asking about qi (ch’i, or energy). Was she pulling energy from heaven and earth? Was she connected to the qi in the room and manipulating it? I don’t know, and it would have been irresponsible of me to say so, since I’d only be guessing. So I gave her the best explanation I could.

I won’t discount the existence of an energy flowing outside of our bodies, but I haven’t yet experienced the subtle sensations of that outside energy. I also am wary of interpreting internal signals passed through the fascia as a sensation of something outside. If I feel the air as I move my hands, I feel it at the skin, not in the fascia.

However, if I feel something inside my arms as I move, my current level of experience leads me to interpret it as connective signals through the fascia rather than pushing against flowing energy that’s outside my body. So are the internal signals actually qi? Well, I believe that qi, or just “energy” drives our bodily functions, and we sense that in many ways, such as heat, tingling and so on.

But do I believe that we can sense energy directly? I don’t think I can, yet. I can sense energy through my body from time to time, but I believe I’m experiencing physical sensations, since I’m experiencing them through my body. But since those sensations are driven by energy, I believe I’m sensing energy indirectly.

And that’s the best I can do right now. More practice? More practice.

Categories: East meets West, Yiquan, Zen-like stuff Tags:

Now that’s Yiquan!

February 10th, 2010 No comments

How’s that for a grabber headline?

I’ve just stumbled upon a great interview with Master Cheuk Fung, a Yiquan (yee-chwan) master who studied under the teacher of Master Chau, my Yiquan Sifu. It contains some of my favourite descriptions of the art that I’ve seen yet: practical and simple, just like Yiquan. Master Fung just makes so much sense to me. The interviewer comes off as a bit of a goof, but his questions help to illuminate the difference between our western-biased way of categorizing information and the art’s eastern-based reality.

Check it out under “articles”, just to the right of this post.

(For those just joining us, Yiquan is a martial art that doesn’t emphasize a specific set of forms or patterns, but instead teaches the martial artist to develop a full-body strength that can be applied to any martial art. Its interdisciplinary nature appeals to me, which is why I study it and include it in my blog. It also has great health benefits, so there.)

Categories: Yiquan Tags:

The best technique is no technique.

January 12th, 2010 2 comments

Another squash lesson, another blog post. This time Barb was trying to teach me how to swing the racquet properly so I wouldn’t hit anybody. Haven’t done that yet, so this is a preemptive stroke, as it were.

Once Barb got my swing in the ballpark (or in the court), she basically asked me to relax, use a delicate touch, do less, and just chill. I thought I was relaxed. Go figure. But she was right of course, and the swing improved to the point where I got some nice, relaxed swings out of the lesson. It seems that I get stressed out over doing things right, and that makes me tighten up. So some technique needs to be applied to correct that and bring me back to a natural state. Once in the natural state, everything flows, and no technique is required. Now I don’t have to put my racquet back to a specific position, I should just get it back to a position where it would do some good. And that’s different for each shot, high, low, volley, whatever.

Once reaching that state, the reaction seems to be “oh, is that all? That’s not so hard.” But I need to apply technique to bring me to the state of no technique.

I think this is very “Yiquan”. And very “Alexander” … right, Caprice?

(update: The characters represent “wu wei”, or “non-doing”: an important concept of Taoism.)

I got it! I got it! No … I lost it.

December 8th, 2009 No comments

Last week in Chau Sifu’s class we did some push hands. This means that in the way we do it, two people face each other, link hands at the wrists and basically make an eggbeater as you stand there. It looks pointless, but isn’t: you lead the partner with one hand, and follow with the other. By “follow”, I mean “stick”. It trains you to listen to your partner, and as a bonus, any discontinuity or lack of connection in your body becomes apparent. One hand feels weak, or you feel clumsy, or you feel like a disconnected bunch of bones.

This was how I felt with Wally, a nice young fellow. We noticed that my right arm was weak as I lost contact repeatedly, while my left arm felt strong and connected to Wally’s strong right arm. That side felt good. Wally then asked me to avoid moving my shoulders, but the let my body sway with the motion. For some reason, I hunkered down a little more and there it was. We were completely in sync, completely connected, and we felt not weak, not hard, but … thick. That’s the best word I can use. There was no danger of losing connection, and we felt unified. Strangely enough, I sensed that he was unified too.

And then I lost it. But this time the other side went weak. Go figure.

More practice? More practice.

Categories: Yiquan Tags:

Another description of Yiquan

December 7th, 2009 No comments

While surfing the web, I found this concise explanation of Yiquan (yee-chwan) at the Little Idea Wing Chun site:

“Yi Quan, also called for a short period of time “Da Cheng Quan” is a result of the founder’s intention to focus on the inner qualities that characterize good Kung-fu. It is therefore based heavily on illuminating underlying principles, and the training routines aim at giving the student experience and showing the “right path” to attain these qualities.”

Anything that illuminates underlying principles works for me. Thanks to Thor Legvold at Little Idea.

Categories: Yiquan Tags:

Virtual exercise?

September 23rd, 2009 No comments

As most of us know, imagining that you’re doing an activity (imaging) can help you improve your performance at that activity. Athletes have done this for years, but how about this: what if imaging a strength-training exercise can increase your strength almost as much as actually doing the exercise?

A study has shown that if you do the imaging under circumstances similar to those under which the real exercise would be performed (smelly gym and all), you’d get similar results to those you’d get if you actually performed the exercise.

“The percentage increase in weight lifted was 23.29% in the PETTLEP imagery group, 28.03% in the combination group, and 26.56% in the physical practice group. The traditional imagery group and control group increased by 13.75% and 5.12%, respectively.”

In other words, pumping iron increased strength by 26%, but imaging with this technique increased it by 24%. The PETTLEP imagers first pumped iron while being viedotaped, then did the imaging while sitting at the bicep curl machine and watching the tape, recalling as many bicep-curling sensations as they could. It seems that recalling the physical sensations was very important.

Here’s the study. “PETTLEP” is the name of the imaging technique.

This has terrific potential for rehabilitation, although someone who could not do the exercise (and thus could not be videotaped) would not perform as well.

By the way, this actually ties in somewhat with Yiquan’s imaging techniques as written in J.P. Lau’s Yiquan Beginner’s Guide. Interesting.

Categories: fitness, interdisciplinary, Yiquan Tags: