Archive for March, 2010

It’s easier than you think

March 29th, 2010 No comments

Just about every physical-sport-discipline direction I’ve gotten involves some kind of relaxation, letting go, or exhortation to some kind of natural absence of effort. “Relax”, “be soft”, “chill”, “let it drop”, “it’s easy”.

But the thing is, they’re right. It is easy. Once you get it.

Let me elaborate. Each time I’ve “found” something, my reaction has been “oh, is that it?” It feels easy to “get it”. It makes sense. It’s often surprisingly easy, so much so that I feel a temptation to believe it isn’t the right method. Where’s the stress and strain? Where’s the effort?

Do not doubt this: there is effort, but not where we expect it: it lies in the repetition of the simple act. It lies in seeking the extraneous, that which must be removed. The effort also lies in challenging our assumptions and doing the things that we don’t want to do …

… such as “let go”.

I’ve said to my students that Tai Chi is less about “making things happen” and more about “letting things happen”. We have so much baggage associated with making things happen. We want to be in control, we want to show the teacher that we’re making effort, and we want to balance the pleasure of success with the pain of effort, since success without effort just doesn’t feel right. Maybe we feel guilty about it. However, strangely enough, many of us want the success without effort — we want to be given the secret and find success right away. Without doing … what?

… without doing something we don’t want to do.

If you took someone who wanted the success that comes from natural, relaxed non-effort right away, theoretically you could tell them to relax, chill, and let it happen, and they would then achieve natural, non-doing, relaxed success right away. But they don’t, most of the time. Why not?

I think that if they want things right away, they want to be in control. They are afraid of delays that result from being patient. They are nervous and stressed. Impatient. Given that nature has its own pace, being impatient isn’t likely to invite natural results. So, paradoxically, the impatient person delays his own success, by attempting to control the pace of events, by attempting to make things happen.

Anyway, I’ll stick with the idea of “less making things happen, more letting things happen.”

Another Jedi mind trick

March 25th, 2010 No comments

In J.P. Lau’s Yiquan Beginner’s Guide, he mentions a technique to use when learning:

“…do not be conscious of meeting the requirements of the posture; assume you have mastered them.”

At first, I only applied this to standing practice. I found that it calms me down, it takes away any baggage about where I should be in my training and basically makes me less self-conscious. It lets me get down to business and do the exercise.

Then I applied it to squash. The same thing happened: basically, I thought “hm.” Some of the things that I had been told to do started to come, where I didn’t think too much about how I should be applying them, I just applied them. Oh, yeah, let’s try turning more to the side. Hm. It works. In effect, the feeling was somewhat like that of the beginner’s mind, where we just do things without thinking how we’re not supposed to do that because we’re not at that stage yet (I’m not talking about safety, just stages of progress).

We’re not meant to think “I am the great master, and all should bow before me”. No. It’s more like the feeling we get when doing something quite familiar, such as walking, brushing our teeth, or doing something at our work that we do well. It’s more than that, actually. The feeling I get when I apply this technique is that I have nothing to worry about, but there’s still polishing to do. Maybe that’s what mastery feels like: you have no worries about your performance, but you enjoy the process and enjoy improving. And you have no concerns about someone’s being better than you, since you believe there will always be someone better than you. And that doesn’t matter.

Maybe this ties in with the idea that mastery isn’t an end, but a state of mind? In karate, the idea of achieving black belt status has been corrupted to mean that the wearer has finished something and is now a master. However, to the old-schooler, a black belt is just the beginning. It’s the beginning of learning, maybe as if the karateka has cleansed himself of the fears that preclude learning, or they have merely finished a preliminary stage. I don’t know karate, but J.P. Lau’s idea of mastery helps my squash.

But here’s the caveat: I think this can only be applied after you’ve received some instruction or are in the process of receiving instruction. It’s for those who know what to do, but just haven’t done it. I wouldn’t recommend it for the raw beginner on the first day. Although … believing that you’ve already mastered something else outside this new venture, and this new venture is building on your existing life knowledge, then maybe the mastery idea can be applied at the beginning of a new venture. Next time I try something completely new, I’ll try that.

It is said that the new student should empty his cup, and not bring a lot of old knowledge and previous status to a new discipline, and this is true. But if we are truly masters of this particular Jedi mind trick, we would only use it to open the blockages to learning, not to solidify our previously-attained knowledge and hide behind it.

So that’s it: this technique is, above all, a learning technique.

Hey, try it when you get a chance. I have nothing to worry about, but there’s still polishing to do.

Categories: East meets West, Zen-like stuff 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:

Muscle mythbusting

March 16th, 2010 2 comments

“Don’t work out, don’t build muscles. It makes you tight and inflexible.”

I’m just watching a Cirque Du Soleil video now, and you can’t tell me that those performers aren’t flexible, and at the top of their physical game … and we’re not talking about muscles for vanity, we’re talking about muscles that are useful. If performance were my goal, muscle-wise, I’d use these guys as a model.

Also, we lose muscle mass as we age, so metaphorically speaking, we should place regular deposits in the muscle bank before the annual fees bankrupt us. Google sarcopenia. Is this loss due to age or disuse or a combination thereof? I don’t know, but it doesn’t really matter because I know I’m getting older, so if I don’t use my muscles, it’s a certainty I’ll lose muscle mass.

I only have myself to go on (since I don’t go around squeezing bodybuilders), but my muscles aren’t normally tight or hard — they’re soft. They’re flesh. They’re only tight if I tense them. The general public might think that muscles are hard because they see bodybuilders tensing them so they look hard. Since working out more, they don’t feel any different to me, they’re just bigger than they used to be. And due to the loss of some fat, they’re more visible around the edges.

Now there is probably an optimum state for muscle size, far short of the point where a bodybuilder’s muscles get so big they impede his movements, but there’s no chance I’ll get that way. I just don’t have the time, nor the inclination … nor the youth or body type, probably.

Here’s an article to get us started. There are plenty more out there. They seem to agree: proper nutrition and exercise are what we need.

Thoughts? Caprice?

Categories: fitness Tags:

Mind to no-mind

March 13th, 2010 No comments

After a month away from Sudoku, I thought I’d give it a try on Tuesday.

For some reason, my mind was clear, with no expectations of performance. Although I had my little Sudoku tricks and techniques, I thought I’d just dive into it. Interesting. There was no self-consciousness, no narrowing of focus to one particular technique, and most importantly, no stress. I scanned the puzzle, and as I saw each solution present itself through a recognition of a technique, I acted on it, then returned to non-prejudicial scanning, as it were. This was a departure from the previous method of thinking “now I will use this technique” and scanning the puzzle looking for places to apply the technique.

But of course, I had to learn the techniques first,  in order to apply them when opportunities presented themselves. It seems to be another example of “train with mind, execute with no-mind”.

(Of course, Tuesday’s Sudoku puzzles are the easy ones. Maybe I’ll try this on a Friday.)

Categories: philosophy, Zen-like stuff Tags:

A little clarity

March 11th, 2010 4 comments

From time to time, I’ll post something that could best fit under the topic “a little clarity”.

In my search for a book on information graphics, I’ve just stumbled across a book by Edward Tufte that tears apart bad Powerpoint presentations. At the most basic level, its recommendation seems to be that a good handout is better than a bad Powerpoint presentation. To verify that assertion, one Amazon reviewer took it upon himself to present a paper handout at a presentation, and make his show without Powerpoint. He was one of a number of presenters.

After the show, the audience was surveyed. It turned out that they preferred Powerpoint presentations (even the bad one) to his handout-only presentation.

Here’s my point: was the purpose of the show to entertain the audience during the presentation or to affect their performance in the office after the presentation? If the audience retained nothing of the Powerpoint shows, yet retained the information from the handout, then in my opinion, the handout was more successful …

… assuming that retention, not entertainment was the point of the whole thing.

The survey should not have asked which presentation was most liked, but it should have asked the respondents to recall as much as they could from each presentation.

So. We need to be more critical of information which is presented to us, and we shouldn’t automatically accept somebody else’s framing of a situation.

I understand that sometimes we need to take a new instruction on faith, but my main issue is with those who repeat those instructions without knowing the worth behind them. This is how misinformation (not disinformation) gets passed on by hasty teachers and instant experts.

As for big-mouth bloggers like me, I do my best to ensure that a technique works for me before I pass it on. There are a lot of things that I’ve been taught that I’d like to pass on, but I’m holding my peace until I can back them up.

Less, talk, more practice.

Categories: a little clarity Tags:

Signal to Noise

March 4th, 2010 3 comments

I just found a new metaphor. Finding them is a hobby of mine.

Signal-to-noise ratio is a technical term indicating the efficiency of a transmission of information. For example, let’s say you’re trying to talk to someone. Your speech is the signal, and the club noise is, well, the noise interfering with the clarity of the transmission of your message. If you’re in a noisy dance club, the signal-to-noise is low, but in a quiet room, it’s high. The goal is to have a high signal-to-noise ratio for the sake of clarity.

I was planning to tell my design students about signal-to-noise in the context of delivering a message graphically, when I stumbled upon an article in today’s Globe and Mail about running. With a berating of a poor Running Room salesperson on the subject of heel striking still clear in my mind, I made the connection:

When running, moving forward is the signal, and all other movement is the noise.

Bouncing up and down and from side to side would be the noise, then. I don’t expect that it’s a good idea to reduce it by tensing up and holding things in, but there should be a sweet spot — an optimal state.

That covers the spatial noise, but there’s also a kind of long-term temporal noise: noise that interferes with the signal over time, or your ability to run smoothly forward over the long term. (Am I stretching the metaphor?) That noise would be inefficient habits such as stretching forward with the leg to land on the heel, tensing body parts, running with a wide gait … that sort of thing. Given that the signal is to run forward, these habits interfere with that signal over time, so they constitute noise.

Now sometimes, noise adds color and texture, but then it’s not really noise, it’s part of the signal … like the overtones added to a smooth sine wave to turn it into the sound of a violin. So there.

What’s your signal? What’s the noise interfering with it? Can you reduce it?

Given the choice …

March 3rd, 2010 2 comments

… between spending an hour walking on the treadmill or skipping the chocolate cake, I’ve come to the realization that I’d rather skip the chocolate cake and get an hour of my life back.

(This philosophy found on a site describing Bruce Lee’s training regimen. I’m just crediting it, not endorsing it yet.)

... and here’s a bit about burning off calories. Interesting-looking body, though.

But wait! there’s more! Here’s the Picture Perfect Weight Loss Guide and the 300 Calorie Food Picture Gallery to give you a picture of the calories in food. There’s no shortage of this stuff. By the way, right now, I’m staving off the afternoon muffin craving. Let’s see if tea and a persimmon will do.

Categories: fitness, nutrition Tags:

Leadership lessons from a shirtless dancing guy

March 2nd, 2010 1 comment

This from Peter Kurpis, via Facebook:

Leadership lessons from a shirtless dancing guy.

Categories: Zen-like stuff Tags:

How to make something a habit?

March 2nd, 2010 No comments

Do it again. And keep it up. Duh. Here’s the scoop on Zenhabits.

I like the idea of “do it again, no matter how badly”, since it fits with “refine and repeat”. If we decide that we’ll only do something when we can do it well, how would we ever do it well if we’ve never done it before? Do it, then refine and repeat.

By the way, Steven R. Covey, in The Seven Habits of Effective People, defined a habit as “the intersection of knowledge, skill and desire”. That’s a fine definition, but he left out “repetition”.

Categories: repetition Tags: