Saturday, December 12, 2015

Zhan Zhuang - The Hidden Essential of Tai Chi Training



Whether we practice Tai Chi for health or martial arts, the inclusion of Zhan Zhuang (Standing Meditation) at the beginning of our daily training session becomes essential if we are to gain many of the greatest benefits spoken of in the Tai Chi Classics and historical anecdotes.

For health, Zhan Zhuang training initiates the body’s internal healing, strengthening, unification and enhanced Chi flow which is then amplified by proper Tai Chi practice. In this case Zhan Zhuang becomes the Yin to Tai Chi’s Yang. While Tai Chi is often thought of in terms of stillness within movement, Zhan Zhuang may be considered as movement within stillness. Simply put, they are the perfect compliment to one another.

For martial arts, the intimate connection between Zhan Zhuang and Tai Chi is a matter of historical record. Ever wonder about the great accomplishments and stories of the famous martial artists of days gone by? Well, pretty much all their feats of martial prowess and/or radiant health would not have been possible without the inclusion of standing meditation to grow, balance and expand their internal power. That, along with training the form and application techniques 8-10 hours a day, made these famous masters appear almost super-human. 

In his work, ‘The Complete Book of Yiquan,’ Mr. CS Tang a native of Hong Kong, states that even Bruce Lee practiced Zhan Zhuang as part of the Yiquan training he received from the renown master Liang Zipeng. Lee was greatly impressed by among other things, Yiquan’s instantaneous explosive power gained through extensive standing meditation.

Many of the separate benefits of Zhan Zhuang and Tai Chi are quite well known. But how is it that Zhan Zhuang’s influences directly benefit, improve and eventually transform one’s Tai Chi practice?

One of the first elements that improves by daily Zhan Zhuang training that precedes our Tai Chi form practice is our sense of Zhong Ding (Central Equilibrium.) The ability to maintain continuous awareness of our Zhong Ding (which includes the 3 Dan Tiens) throughout the form cannot be overestimated. The Classics say, “...the mind stays with (in) the Dan Tien.”

An important part of the improvement of our Zhong Ding has to do with the opening of the Central Channel. The ability to feel a sense of ‘physical emptiness’ and later the flow of Chi in this area and indeed throughout the entire body leads not only to stronger internal power, but also far better and long-lasting health.

Another element of our Tai Chi form which is also greatly enhanced through Zhan Zhuang training is our sense of whole-body perception and unification; unified movement being one of the basic goals of our form practice. This idea is expressed in the Tai Chi Classics in the phrase, “...one part moves, all parts move.
It is well known that prior to Tai Chi’s opening movement, Chi Shr - Commencement, we stand with our feet parallel at hip or shoulder width with our arms hanging at our sides. In the olden days this posture (Wuji Zhan Zhuang) was maintained for an hour before beginning the form movements. In addition to this Wuji posture, Tai Chi practitioners of yesteryear also maintained the seminal Tai Chi postures of Peng, Lu, Ji, An and Dan Pien. (Single Whip) These postures were generally trained individually, and held for prolonged periods of between 30 min to 1 hr. (Usually one posture per day) The value of holding Tai Chi postures as described above, is truly astronomical in its ability to advance and elevate the quality and power of our overall form.

In addition to the above methods, a more gentle, gradual way to incorporate the Zhan Zhuang element into our Tai Chi form practice is to simply stop and hold the ‘end’ of each posture for between 1 and 3 breaths (or more) before proceeding to the next movement in the form. I highly recommend trying out this method. Because if you do one thing is sure; each posture that is maintained in the manner described will rapidly take on an entirely different - more relaxed, integrated  and ‘open’ feeling than ever before. 

The technique is simple:

Start your set as usual. When you reach the 'end' of a posture - pause - then exhale and inhale. Feel a 'sinking' from the base of skull and the secret spot in the brain (at the intersection of the eyes and ears) all the way under the feet on the exhale. When you inhale again, feel an overall expansion of the entire body from the low Dan Tien out to the extremities which propels you into the next movement. Also, during the suspension of movement feel the body making micro-adjustments in the posture itself. Once you’ve gone through the set or sequence you’ve been training, repeat it again in the way you normally practice and see what differences you feel.


Saturday, November 21, 2015

Piano Portrait




Aloha from Maui,
Music and martial arts are intimately related. Listening to (and especially playing) music can help our feeling for, and understanding of, the most sophisticated, complex and diverse timings and rhythms often present in live hand-to-hand combat...


Saturday, November 7, 2015

Training Upper Body Spiral Energy in Zhan Zhuang




Aloha, 
Here's a simple exercise to help develop Upper Body Spiral Energy while training Zhan Zhuang.

Inhale - draw tissue 'in & up.' (Scoop)
Exhale - relax tissue 'down & out.' (Release)
Telescope the joints inward (condense) and outward (expand) both vertically and horizontally along the lines of the bones.  --All Micro Movements--

After a dozen rounds or so, notice how lubricated and open your shoulder joints, elbows, wrists and hands are.



Sunday, November 1, 2015



THE SPEED OF TAIJIQUAN PRACTICE

Taijiquan can be practiced at a number of speeds, depending upon one’s purposes. Usually for health and vitality a fairly slower speed is optimum. By fairly slow I mean what we usually think of as ‘normal speed’ when we see people practice in a group, in a park, on TV or with their teacher, or even alone. 

Most people think that for Taijiquan to be practiced properly it should be ‘slow, smooth, even and continuous,’ and of course this is correct. This is the basic method and one that even advanced practitioners return to again and again. The reason for this has to do with how Taijiquan practice effects and changes the body. 

Like all methods of Qigong (Taiji is both a Qigong and Nei gong system) the physical motions of the forms create a beneficial elongation of the tissues (muscles, tendons and ligaments.) This has the effect of generating a life changing elasticity which manifests as a strength similar to that of an Olympic swimmer rather than of an Olympic weightlifter. 

Along with the tissues, the arteries and veins of the body are also effected in a similar manner. This increased flexibility goes a long way to improving overall circulation as well as staving off such conditions as hardening of the arteries and the like. In addition to the sinews, arteries and veins, the nervous system is also strongly effected, making the dedicated practitioner generally less reactive to stress. In addition, the opening and closing aspect of the Taiji movements eventually create a gentle massaging action on the internal organs which has the effect of purging toxins and bringing about an overall strengthening. (Recent scientific research from Hong Kong also states - in addition to all the above - ‘these movements also activate all 54 of the body’s hormones.’)

Besides the ‘normal’ speed mentioned above, there is another speed which is also most beneficial for improving health and is slightly faster than ‘normal.’ This speed can be likened to that of a ‘freely flowing river.’ For those seeking ‘radiant health,’ as well as for those desiring martial power, another necessary stage of training is ‘Extreme Slow practice’ where the long form takes a full hour to complete. Finally for dedicated martial artists there are the Fast Speed practices, designed to eventually generate continuous power as well as fluidity. Now let’s look at each of these in a bit more detail.

THE 4 MAJOR SPEEDS

NORMAL SPEED - (Fairly Slow) 
The actual speed of this varies somewhat depending on the teacher(s) we’ve learned from. On one level, what happens is this: doing something slowly, again and again, establishes better and better muscular control. This is similar to how a concert pianist learns and memorizes a piece of complicated music. Practicing the piece over and over establishes absolute muscular control on the physical level and inters this control into the subconscious. Once this has occurred, the pianist can easily play through the music with little if any conscious thought necessary. The same is true of the Taiji form. Seasoned practitioners often describe it as if the form ‘played itself.’ When this happens, our mind is free to remain in the all-important low Dan Tien as the Classics recommend.

FREELY FLOWING RIVER 
This speed is somewhat faster than ‘normal speed’ and even more continuous in the blending of the beginning and end points of each posture and transition. Eventually it becomes difficult to tell precisely where one movement stops and the next one begins. This can also be described as the ‘harmonizing’ of the Yang outgoing movements with the Yin incoming movements and is a most excellent speed to develop and maintain a robust and healthy circulation. The rolling-like feeling of the movements emulate a freely flowing river, rising, falling, turning, twisting, all the time moving effortlessly onward in each moment.

EXTREME SLOW PRACTICE
This is actually far more difficult than it may appear at first. A traditional long form might take a full hour to complete. This old-fashioned method of training allows us to root out even the most subtle glitches in our movements, refine our muscular control to very high levels, as well as greatly deepen our relaxation and whole body linkage and connectivity to the point where everything effortlessly comes and goes from the low Dan Tien. Also, extreme slow speed often provides a far greater opportunity to experience the sensations of energy moving to and from the low Dan Tien and throughout the entire body. 

FASTER AND FASTEST SPEEDS
‘Faster speed’ is often described as involving smooth, rapidly flowing movements combined with Fa Jin releases. Once this method is accomplished and we are comfortable with it, there is a still faster method which some have termed the ‘Flag-Waving’ method. This method utilizes the rebound from the Fa Jin issuing of each movement to generate the next movement and Fa Jin release. (Issue-rebound, issue- rebound, etc.) The final result is a fully applied solo Taiji fighting form with appropriate power in each movement as it might actually be used against a serious opponent. In appearance, the practitioner almost seems to ‘bounce’ from one small-frame movement to the next. An entire long form might take only about 10 minutes or so.

Finally, it is important to know that each speed we choose to practice at will generate a unique feeling. Each of these different feelings are correct for their particular speed. Some of these feelings are only slightly different from ‘normal speed’ practice, while others differ quite radically. But despite these differences, each method will be found to adhere to the essential, universal Taiji principles. 



Saturday, October 17, 2015

LETTING GO DURING ZHAN ZHUANG AND TAIJIQUAN MARTIAL PRACTICE



At a certain point in one’s training the ability to ‘let go’ becomes paramount. The idea of letting go functions on multiple levels - physical, mental and ‘psychic.’ So what does it actually mean to ‘let go?’ On the most basic physical level this refers to the ability to relax and release our muscles and sinews which creates a more ideal alignment of the bones. This is absolutely necessary for deep rooting, both in Zhan Zhuang and Taijiquan. 

Therefore, ‘letting go’ allows for the possibility of better integration and whole-body unification, the combination of which leads to improved ‘circulation’ of blood, fluids and vital energy, and this in turn leads to better overall health.

On Taijiquan’s martial side, the ability to ‘let go’ is a basic requirement for accepting, diverting and rooting the opponent’s force at contact. This speaks of the inherent ‘AN’ or sinking energy implicit in Taiji’s premiere movement - Liu or Rollback.

In order to truly ‘let go,’ the physical, emotional and mental aspects must function simultaneously and in concert. So, physically we learn to relax and release our muscles, tendons and ligaments. When the sinews (tendons & ligaments) become involved, this leads to the deepening of one’s root and the ability to ground a powerful incoming force.  In terms of meditation his means relaxing as much as possible and ‘trusting’ the Earth to hold us up. For martial arts this refers to the ability to let go of our Yang or outer frame and trust the integrity of our inner or Yin frame. This Yin frame is first experienced during Zhan Zhuang training and later in the Taijiquan form and finally during application. 

The emotional and mental aspects of ‘letting go’ are interlinked, meaning, emotions can trigger thought patterns and certain thought patterns can definitely trigger emotions. What we’re looking for in terms of the emotions is an evenness and balance, a non-reactive state rather than an absence of emotion per se. Instead we seek emotional neutrality, like when a placid lake appears like a mirror. While within this emotionally neutral state, it becomes possible to read a person’s or an opponent’s true emotional intention like an open book. 

For the mind, what we want at first is a gentle calmness and a slowing of thought, but eventually this becomes what has been termed ‘mind of no mind.’ This ‘mind of no mind’ is actually an optimal state for both the meditative aspect as well as the martial. For meditation we can perceive and become aware of things without the mind’s judgement. And in regards to Taiji martial arts, this ‘mind of no mind’ state is optimal for success in combat. When centered in this state we are able to act or react instantly at a speed that can actually be faster than the speed of thought.

In order to achieve this state our ‘letting go’ must also involve what some call the ‘psychic’ element. The psychic aspect actually encompasses and eventually governs all the other aspects. In terms of the meditative element, it begins with the willingness to accept ourselves exactly as we are, right where we are, with no judgements or preconceived notions. Heaven is above, the Earth below and we, man or woman are in between. For the martial element, we must go even further. Instead of fearing an opponent’s attack, we must instead learn to ‘welcome’ it. This is all a matter of tension, or in this case, the lack of it. Therefore the stronger the Yang energy of an attack, the more Yin we must initially become to deal with it. This method is grounded in the Taoist principle that states, “The Yang energy is finite, while the Yin energy is infinite.”


Now you might ask, how does all this become possible? The answer lies primarily in the transformation of the nerves and the human nervous system which generally results from extensive Zhan Zhuang training and also after a decade or more of dedicated Taijiquan practice. Once this is accomplished we no longer react to circumstances like average people do. Instead we find ourselves centered and alert - ready to deal with a situation without having our natural adrenal reaction get in the way. This is not only supremely useful in combat but also in our daily life.



Saturday, October 3, 2015

DEVELOPING SHORT THROW JIN


Aloha, here’s a simple exercise that helps develop Short Throw Jin. (The ability to hit with full power at a very short distance from the opponent.) Short Throw strikes are used to generate Penetration power. (Where the force goes deep into the opponent’s body and then explodes. They are also used for Tien Hsueh - Spot Hitting. (Attacking vital points to disrupt or shut down the opponent’s body.)



Sunday, September 20, 2015

ZHAN ZHUANG MASTERPOINTS


ZHAN ZHUANG MASTERPOINTS
The idea of Masterpoints comes from a time that predates most of the current incarnations of standing meditation. These powerful points were derived from Taoist philosophy and Chinese Medicine theory both of which are known to be several thousand years old. There is evidence in the form of ancient drawings and carvings of Zhan Zhuang postures on cave walls in China that have been dated at over 1000 years old. 

What are Masterpoints? It has been found through many generations of experience that certain locations on and within the body have a powerful influence on the human system. While many of these points effect internal organs and the like, others have the ability to control and release large swaths of muscle and sinew located around them or in their general proximity.

Many practitioners have contacted me recently wanting to know how to get their upper legs to fully relax during their Zhan Zhuang practice. Since this is something that most everyone deals with, especially in the first 1-3 years of training, I will discuss two Masterpoints, one to release the thighs in front and one to release the hamstrings in back.

ANTERIOR THIGH (QUADS) MASTERPOINT
The first point, Biguan, St-31 (See Diagram) is located at the intersection of two lines; a horizontal line at the level of the perineum and a vertical line moving downward from the superior iliac crest. In terms of Chinese Medicine theory we would say; directly below the anterior superior Iliac spine, level with the perineum or; inferior and medial to the great trochanter of the femur, between the sartorius and tensor fascialata muscles. Please note that although this location is found on the surface of the body, the actual point is approximately 1.5-3 inches below the surface, depending on one’s overall size. When properly activated, Biguan point will release the muscles on the front of the thigh all the way down to where they connect with the knee. These will include the ‘quads’ (the 3 vastus muscles and the rectus femoris) and the sartorius muscle. This point also influences the lower attachments of the psoas muscles as well. 

POSTERIOR THIGH (HAMSTRINGS) MASTERPOINT
The second point we’ll examine is Yinmen, Bl-37. (See Diagram) This point is located on the back of the thigh halfway between the center of the fold of the buttocks (where the buttocks meet the back of the thigh) and the center of the crease of the knee. This point is also said to be located on a line roughly halfway between Chengfu point Bl-36 (in the middle of the transverse gluteal fold) and Weizhong, Bl-40/54 located at the midpoint of the transverse crease of the popliteal fossa between the tendons of the biceps femoris and semitendinosus muscles. Yinmen point is found at a depth of about 1-2.5 inches, again depending on the size of your legs. 

WORKING WITH MASTERPOINTS
So now that we’ve located these two Masterpoints, the question then becomes; what do we do? At first it is often advantageous to use your finger or thumb to press deeply into the location, such that you feel a ‘sensation’ or even pain. When you get the right location and depth, a pain sensation or deep ache tell you that you’ve got the right spot, as well as help remind you of the precise location once you assume your Zhan Zhuang posture. Later, with enough practice, it will no longer be necessary to press but rather simply move your feeling-awareness to the point in question (at depth inside the body) and hold it there. Whichever method you choose, once you’ve firmly established the location, then begin to physically relax the Masterpoint itself and as you do, feel how this relaxation percolates out further and further until in front, you feel the whole thigh relax, while in back you would feel the hamstrings thoroughly let go. When done correctly these relaxations will also effect parts of the kua, knee, ankle and foot in front and the low back, buttocks, sacrum, knee, ankle and foot in back.

Try these two points a few times and see for yourself. Once learned, you will have developed a powerful new ‘shortcut’ into deeper relaxation within these particular regions as well as throughout the body in general. And since everything we gain in standing meditation, both for health and martial power comes through greater and greater relaxation, Masterpoints become an important and compelling component in our Zhan Zhuang relaxation toolbox. 


A detailed explanation of Zhan Zhuang Masterpoints can be found on the DVD, Inside Zhan Zhuang - Standing Meditation for Beginners and Seniors.




Saturday, August 15, 2015

CULTIVATING YIN QI



CULTIVATING YIN QI

Most of us have experienced some of the confirmatory signs of our Yang Qi, such as warmth in the Dan Tien or throughout the body, the feeling of warmth and/or fullness flooding our palms or feet during various Taiji movements. The feeling of rooted heaviness and unified solidity. The feelings of power or inner strength after a proper Fa Jin release. All these are aspects of what we can call ‘Yang (or active) Qi.’

And this is what most people are interested in, for martial power and the like. And this is natural because these are the things we first encounter as we follow through in our training, both with Zhan Zhuang and indeed in any of the internal arts.

But there is a whole other side to what we ordinarily call Qi. And that is the Yin aspect or ‘Yin Qi.’ Of course all this is based on Chinese Medicine theory and Taoist thought. 

After one has developed ‘frame,’ which includes root and the ability to both absorb and issue power in what we might call a highly ‘visible’ manner, it then becomes possible to begin the exploration of the Yin or ‘mysterious’ Qi. Why mysterious? Because in order to properly cultivate and later utilize Yin Qi, it first becomes necessary to let go of a number of cherished martial arts beliefs. Basically this means that ordinarily we will equate speed and ‘strength’ with power. But in the world of Yin Qi we must give up this notion because with the Yin Qi, basically the opposite is true. This means that with Yin Qi, when we feel ‘strong,’ we are in fact weak, and when we feel ‘weak’ or perhaps a better word is effortless, that’s when we’re actually very strong.

So, what is the value of this Yin Qi? Well, besides the obvious health application, for martial arts it goes something like this. It is said Master Wang Xiang Zhai used Taijiquan Yin Qi aspects for neutralizing and diverting, Bagua for footwork and Xingyi generation methods to issue power. So the usefulness of Yin Qi in internal martial arts has to do with its ability to stick and adhere and lead into emptiness. A most useful skill in setting up for or simultaneously returning devastating Yang Qi power.

The big difference when cultivating Yang Qi versus cultivating Yin Qi is that with the Yin Qi we must let go of all the normal feelings of strength and power and instead go for a most profound form of relaxation and focus, such that we may even let go of the shape of our outer form or structure almost entirely, and rely solely on our ‘internal frame’ which we have cultivated over the years, to support our outer structure and later also to deal with incoming power.

The two photos included show both the Yang and Yin Qi Taiji Cultivation postures. Note that the Yang posture is forward-weighted (bow stance) while the Yin Posture is back-weighted, as with Lu, or Rollback. In the Yang posture, the folding of the Kua and the twisting of the torso around the centerline cultivate Taiji’s famous spiral energies. (For those wishing to cultivate very strong Yang Qi it is highly recommended to also train in the Santi posture. Extensive Santi practice cultivates one of the most ‘solid’ forms of Yang Qi. Most effective for devastating penetration power. I believe one famous Xingyi master put it this way, “Where I hit, he breaks.”)

Now with the back-weighted Yin Qi cultivation posture, our focus and intention becomes very different. With the Yin posture we want to cultivate what we might call, the ‘empty vessel’ - open to receive (and release) Heaven energy from above and Earth energy from below. After a time one will begin to feel a subtle but tangible flow of a ‘soft,’ almost ethereal ‘substance’, descending from above and entering through the back hand and fingers, circulating throughout the body and smoothly exiting through the front palm and fingers. Later we may also feel this energy entering through Baihui point at the crown of the head and descending through the Central Channel into the ground through the Earth Point and the bottoms of our feet...

Try these for yourself, 5-15 minutes per posture and then switch sides for a total of between 20-60 minutes. Be sure to start with the Yang posture on each side.












Sunday, August 9, 2015

EXPLORING OUR CENTER



EXPLORING OUR CENTER

When we first begin our Zhan Zhuang training we are told to settle into the posture and find our ‘center’ and hold our attention there. But then what? And what is our ‘center’ anyway and what does it do? And finally what can we expect by maintaining our focus there?

Well, not only is our center or ‘centerpoint’ actually our physical center of gravity, it is also a primary part of our body’s physical power generation. But before we can really fathom the importance of our centerpoint, we must first locate it accurately. Our centerpoint is found on a line halfway between Baihui point, GV-20 at the top of the head and the Earth point located on the ground, equidistant between the feet directly below the Perineum, (Hui Yin CV-1.) For the mass of humanity this point generally lies at the level of the navel in the dead center of the body. If you can accurately have your feeling-awareness traverse the Central Channel from top to bottom and then back up halfway, then this is all you’ll need. But for those just starting out and those desire who added certainty,’ we can draw a line with our feeling (and seeing) awareness from the navel through the body to its ‘mirror’ point, Ming Men GV-4 on the back. (Actually on the spine.) Our centerpoint is located halfway between the two. Remember when practicing this technique we find our centerpoint from back to front, not the other way around. (See Inside Zhan Zhuang - Pg. 124)

Another way to say it is; our centerpoint is located halfway between top and bottom, halfway between left and right (sides of the torso) and halfway between front (navel) and back. (Ming Men on the spine.) The intersection of those three lines specifically determines our centerpoint.

Now you might ask, “What about the Low Dan Tien (elixir field), so important to Tai Chi and the other internal arts, shouldn’t that be our point of concentration? Paradoxically the answer is yes. The reason for this is because after a long period of concentration in the Low Dan Tien, (generally several years) eventually the Dan Tien will ‘open’ and this opening will create a sense of expansion so as to also include the area from the navel through the pubic bone, back through the Ming Men point and down through Hui Yin. (The confluence of Yin.) So at the beginning for Zhan Zhuang the Low Dan Tien is the preferred starting point of focus although it is interesting to note that in traditional Taoist meditation the navel and the area behind it is used as the primary focus starting point. 

In order to understand the importance of the Dan Tien we must realize that the human body is composed of more than just the physical tissue we can see and feel. In fact, there are a number of ‘energetic overlays,’ so to speak, which continually function both inside and also beyond the periphery of our body, 24/7. It’s just that we are generally not aware of them. But daily Zhan Zhuang training will slowly but surely change all that as it increases our perception and our ability to feel more deeply and subtly into our body in a holistic sense.

Of course if we examine the area of the Low Dan Tien in a purely physical manner we find muscles, Intestines, Bladder and other connective tissue. Clearly these elements by themselves are not capable or even designed to generate the kinds of energetic experiences many seasoned practitioners report. So what is it that we are actually working with when we one-pointedly focus in the Low Dan Tien? The answer lies in what some have termed the ‘energy-body.’ Think of the energy-body as a higher harmonic reflection of the physical body. While it is in fact a separate system, the energy-body is also co-joined with the physical body. (Here I speak of the energy-body in the singular sense although there is more than one, each operating at a successively higher harmonic and vibratory rate.)

We know from Chinese medicine that the Qi or vital energy travels constantly through the body, through the nervous system, along with the blood as Ying or nutritive Qi, through the organs, bones and glands and much more. In fact, every physical process throughout the body has its energetic counterpart. And this is the key to transitioning from experiencing purely physical feelings to what we might call ‘energetic feelings,’ that is, things functioning at a higher harmonic that we can subtly but definitely feel - only at a higher frequency or vibratory rate.

The idea of vibratory rates is of note. In terms of science, physicists are quite clear. Everything in our physical universe they assert, actually vibrates. And the speed at which things vibrate helps determine all the varying appearances, shapes and forms we see in our world. They have also proved that solidity itself (physicality) is actually an illusion, albeit a very powerful one. This has to do with our basic atom structures and the tremendous amount of space that exists between any nucleus and its various electrons. Building on these scientific realities, we can delve into the tangibility and purposes of the Low Dan Tien/Centerpoint or lower elixir field.

In order to better understand this let us examine the definition of the word ‘elixir.’ 

“Also called elixir of life. An alchemic preparation believed to be capable of prolonging life. A panacea; cure-all; sovereign remedy.” 

From these basic definitions one can see the nearly infinite potential and possibilities of this internal elixir that we are cultivating.

One function of our Low Dan Tien/Centerpoint is as a focal point to draw in, accumulate and store Qi. Usually the first sensation we feel as this is happening is some form of warmth or heat. And as our ability to focus one-pointedly increases, so does the degree of heat. Eventually the Low Dan Tien region will feel quite hot. One example of this is Master Wang Shu Jin. It is said that before their frigid early morning winter training sessions, the students would gather in front of Master Wang and warm their hands as if warming them in front of a blazing fire. When asked about this and his other extraordinary abilities, Master Wang always credited the Qi.

Once enough Qi is accumulated, we become more consciously aware of another important function of the Low Dan Tien/Centerpoint. And that is as a sort of ‘power distribution-station.’ (Here it should be noted that this activity is going on 24/7 in order for the body to function properly as long as we’re alive.)

It is said that when the Qi becomes abundant enough it will overflow the bounds of the Dan Tien and travel throughout the body. This influx of vital energy has tremendous healing effects on the entire human system.

Another important thing about the Low Dan Tien/Centerpoint is its ability to function as a cauldron or ‘cooking pot.’ As we hone our skill of exclusive concentration, we bring to bear more and more of our total consciousness and this in turn creates the effect of ‘cooking’ the Jing-Qi, which further purifies and refines it. This practice eventually leads to various alchemical experiences, many of which are thoroughly outlined in the Taoist tradition. (The 3 Treasures - Jing, Qi and Shen) The interesting thing about Zhan Zhuang practice is that whereas the Taoists follow specific methods and procedures to illicit various experiences, many of these same experiences will occur spontaneously over the years of daily Standing Meditation practice.

Lastly, we can think of our Centerpoint or Low Dan Tien as a doorway which allows us to explore a whole energetic realm or structures, including linkage between the Central and Left and Right ‘Qigong Channels,’ the 3 Dan Tiens, the 14 Acupuncture Channels, the ‘Psychic Channels’ (Yin and Yang Linking and Heel Channels) the ‘Belt‘ Channels, the ‘Thrusting Channel etc. all of which have the potential of strengthening and transforming our physical systems, thus promoting health and vitality into old age. 

One final note; in addition to the warmth in the Low Dan Tien described earlier, there can also be sensations of coolness, moving water, increased density, feelings of great ease and dimensional space within the Low Dan Tien/Centerpoint and then later throughout the entire body. All these experiences are a reflection of the Qi, but not the actual Qi itself. They provide our first definite links between the purely physical and the energetic, and act as confirmations that we are practicing correctly and that things are properly unfolding














Friday, June 26, 2015

THE UPPER DAN TIEN - CHANGING FOCUS



THE UPPER DAN TIEN - CHANGING FOCUS

After one has spent enough time training Zhan Zhuang, it becomes possible to lift one’s feeling-awareness point of focus from the Low Dan Tien to the Upper Dan Tien. The timing of this shift is often the result of the ‘opening’ of the low Dan Tien (at least to some degree) and its subsequent linkage or connection with the Middle and Upper Dan Tiens. This alchemical experience is first initiated within the Central Central and then creates a sense of expansion of awareness that goes far beyond the confines of the physical body. 

One element to the idea of Dan Tiens ‘opening’ is that of a sense of vastly expanded space, seemingly within the body and yet somehow also beyond it. As Master Wang Xiang Zhai has said, “When I stand, the earth is in my hands. The universe is in my mind.” Another element to all this is the fact of Shen (spirit, spirit of vitality) controlling and leading the Qi (vital energy) which in turn motivates the body. As the classics say, “...the mind leads the Qi and the Qi leads the body.” Therefore you have as an end result, the mind leading the body or - Shen (spirit) ruling our corporeal form. And the location where all this takes place - the Upper Dan Tien.





Friday, May 29, 2015

Jianwu - Vertical Circle Methods 1-2


JIANWU - VERTICAL CIRCLE METHODS 1-2


JIANWU VERTICAL CIRCLE METHODS 1-2

METHOD 1 - MAINTAINING THE INTEGRITY OF THE ‘BALL’
Method 1 starts with the ‘Holding-the Ball’ arm posture then traces a circle going up and out (away from the body) followed in an unbroken manner by going downward and inward (toward the body.) In this method it is paramount to maintain the relative integrity of the arm posture. To that end it is useful to focus and hold one’s feeling-awareness in the area of the wrist joint throughout the circling, especially at first. Later we become aware that the shoulders and shoulder blades are also tracing their own circles as is the elbow joint. Eventually the circling evolves to include the chest and abdomen as well as the muscles of the back and legs. At this point it is said to become more ‘Internal’ and the weight-shifts that are first trained in a clearly visible pattern become generated more and more through our intention and relaxation which motivate the muscles and trigger the feeling of (the backward) weight-shift dropping out into the bottoms of our feet.

BASIC TRAINING
Start from an approximately 50/50 weighted stance. Slightly shift your centerline forward and trace the ‘in and up’ portion of the circle while simultaneously drawing all the tissue  of the abdomen and chest (from the pubic bone to the Throat Notch) ‘up and in’ toward your centerline and then later, toward your Central Channel. As the arms, wrists and hands reach the vicinity of the collar bones on both sides, an instant before we start the outward part of the circle (‘up and out’) we release all the muscles of the back from the base of skull, down through the bottoms of the feet. The speed of this release can vary from ‘like a slow-moving elevator’ going down through the feet, to an instantaneous and sudden drop. Each will impel the arms through the upward and outward part of the circle accordingly. The slower speeds are used for health and to develop the basis of Vertical Circle internal power, while the faster speeds engender a rolling snap release often used in the martial aspects of the Jianwu.

MICRO & MACROCOSMIC ORBITS AND THE ROLE OF THE CENTRAL CHANNEL
Since some may equate elements of the lifting and dropping out of the tissue along with the concomitant, spring-like ‘bounce’ that motivates the arms in the upward and outward finish of the circle, with the direction of the flows of Taoist Micro and Macrocosmic meditation, some clarification may be useful.

Normally the Micro circulation begins in the low Dan Tien, goes down through Hui Yin point CV-1, up the 3 gates of the back, over the top of the head, then down the chest and abdomen and back to the low Dan Tien. Here it should be noted that this a relatively preliminary stage in Taoist meditation and as such, is fairly ‘external’ relative to the Central Channel deep within our core. The big secret with this type of circulation, at least it was for me, was that in order to fully manifest it in the moving meditation forms, it is necessary to motivate the tissue to move along with the energy flow. I remember many years ago witnessing William Chen demonstrate this on his own body. Once this ability is accomplished, one will naturally delve deeper and begin to draw the tissue and the energy into the Central Channel where it can be lifted (and condensed) and then dropped down and out as desired - multi-directional expansion. This allows for the development of Spherical or multi-sided power.

At the basic level of both Methods 1 and 2, we are asked to draw the Yin Tissue of the abdomen and chest, upward and inward (both vertically and horizontally from the pubic bone up to the Throat Notch) as our weight shifts slightly forward. From there we release the lifted tissue down our back through our feet. When done correctly, this ‘dropping out’ actually begins and leads our backward weight-shift and precipitates the spring-like ‘bounce’ that motivates the arms in the completion of their final up and out expansion portion of the circle. In terms of the more external Micro and Macrocosmic orbits this appears to be a contraflow (moving in the opposite direction of ‘normal.’) But when we include the Central Channel a whole new pattern of possibilities develops. 

Imagine the energy of the body as an ‘egg’ or sphere-like shape with a big rubber band all around it. When we tighten the rubber band (as we shift forward) the lion’s share of our energy and tissue moves inward and upward in the direction of the Central Channel. This is sometimes called whole-body-condensing or inward stretching from all directions. Then, as we release the rubber band and shift slightly to the rear, our energy and tissue drops down and out through the bottoms of our feet, triggering a simultaneous downward and upward ‘bounce’ or spring-like expansion up the back and out the hands. This is whole-body expansion or outward stretching in all directions. Here the idea of energy rising up our back and out our hands is similar to the flow of the Taoist Macrocosmic circulation. I say similar because the actual pathways we wish to manifest are through the Central Channel and center of the spinal column, through the center of the bones, and out the palms or fingertips.

Finally, if one wishes to add the element of breath to all this, it will be found that this method works perfectly with both the Natural and Reverse Breathing models. 

Eventually with enough hardwiring, all this up and down and in and out can be reduced to a simplicity: the spherical condensation and expansion to and from our centerpoint - our physical power center and center of gravity. This is very much like the ideal of Tai Chi Chuan where everything comes from and returns to the low Dan Tien, creating a multidimensional, spherical type movement and power. This method is most beneficial to our health as well as for the development of martial Jin.

METHOD 2 - RELEASING THE WRISTS
The Releasing Wrists method follows the exact same pattern as with the first method until just before the apex of the ‘up and out’ portion of the circle. As with Method 1, the speed of the downward release of our back and torso muscles at the critical moment just prior to the ‘up and out’ (with the accompanying weight-shift) will dictate not only the speed of the ‘up and out’ portion of the circle but also the speed of the release of the wrists and hands. Again the slower speeds are for health and training Vertical Circle power, while the more abrupt or sudden types of ‘dropout,’ generate various types of snap or Jin. With Method 2 it is also important to be aware of the various ‘independent’ circles generated by the shoulder-blades, shoulders, elbows, wrists and especially the hands which make tight circles of their own coming out of the wrist (circles.) Each of these ‘independent’ circles are comprised of varying circumferences or ‘Frequencies’ which need to be synchronized to begin and end at the same time. This creates the appearance of one unified upper-body movement. 

At this point it is important to take a closer look at the ‘hand’ circles. This concerns the middle and ending of the ‘up and out’ portion of the circle. As the forearms become roughly parallel with the elbow and begin to rise toward their finish, the wrist, and hand circles begin and move to their nadir; at which point the speed of our ‘dropout‘ will generate the speed of our palms rising and turning over. This hand motion should actually be like a reflection or echo of our dropout/release speed. Slow equals slow. Fast equals fast. 

THE STAGGERED ALIGNMENT METHOD - BLENDING INTO THE JIANWU
With this method, instead of maintaining the equality of both arms in their mirror positions (Holding the Ball posture) we allow the arm positions to mimic or reflect the front and rear foot placements. This means that in the slightly back-weighted bow-like stance often used in the Jianwu, the front arm (and leg) are more forward than the rear arm (and leg) although both arms are still aligned on the same horizontal plane. Now, with that in place, we simply utilize all the principals of Methods 1 or 2 as desired.

For further refinement, once both methodologies have become hardwired in the staggered alignment, it then becomes possible to emphasize or accent different portions of both arm circles such that the rear arm and hand may generate a tight, circular trapping motion or ‘heavy-hand’ defense, while the front arm simultaneously attacks with Peng Jin, for example. This then can be further refined by adding the forward and backward stepping combinations, after which it is ready to be added to the quiver of our Jianwu techniques.



Saturday, May 9, 2015

JIANWU Basic - FA JIN Prep



Aloha and greetings from Maui. Here is a detailed presentation of a basic Jianwu movement trained for health and martial arts. Normally this type of in-depth video is reserved for my private students. but due to the interest and desire of so many to advance from where they are to where they want to be, I have decided to make it public.

JIANWU Basic - Fa Jin Prep - Stages 1-6 







At last, a real in-depth look at this simple yet profound form of exercise. Packed with 2 hours of wall-to-wall instruction, the Inside Zhan Zhuang DVD Companion - Standing Meditation for Beginners and Seniors, clearly presents the basics and then delves deeply into the inner workings and techniques necessary to improve health and achieve power. Continued daily practice of Zhan Zhuang - Standing Meditation - has been found to relieve anxiety and depression, help regulate high blood pressure, reduce headaches, improve posture, vitality, memory, focus, circulation, digestion, spinal, back and internal organ problems as well as increase overall strength and balance. It also has the amazing ability to calm the mind and nervous system and support healthful longevity… Also contains a comprehensive Masterpoints Video Reference Guide and an extensive chapter menu for easy reference. Suitable for the novice and seasoned practitioner alike.



Friday, March 20, 2015

SHORT ESSAY ON NATURALNESS IN ZHAN ZHUANG - Pt. 1










PART 1
There has been much discussion on the subject of being ‘Natural’ during Zhan Zhuang Standing Meditation as well as developing and using ‘Natural Strength’ in application. What exactly does it mean to ‘be natural?’ In one sense this implies instinctive behavior. And what is instinct? On one level it is a subconscious, unconscious or automatic reaction. And where do our instincts come from? Though some are innate, built-in or inborn, others have been programmed experientially over time through repetitive and habitual conscious actions until they feel ‘natural,’ instinctive, hereditary or perhaps a more insightful word might be ‘connatural.’

This idea of connatural action comes into play in both our standing meditation practice and then again in martial or Fa Jing application. During our Zhan Zhuang sessions we are repeatedly cultivating relaxation with an eye to resolving blockages and achieving whole-body-linkage. This includes everything from the basic alignment of the bones through the stretching, wrapping/unwrapping of the tissues, all the way to working with the bone marrow and brain at the deeper levels. 

So, with enough proper Zhan Zhuang training, we eventually find the body transposes the sense of Zhong Ding (Central Equilibrium) we have achieved in our standing practice and applies it subconsciously in our everyday lives. Many people have told me that while waiting in line at the supermarket, Starbucks or the bank, they find themselves adopting a relaxed subtle variation of a Zhan Zhuang stance without any conscious effort on their part. This is relying on the body’s innate wisdom and desire to heal itself.

One confirmatory sign of correct practice in this regard is the fact that after some months’ training we find that in relationship to relaxation for example, what used to take us a whole session to achieve, now occurs within the first 5 or 10 minutes and for the remainder of the session we find ourselves delving deeper into more and more subtle states of relaxation.

So... we have various instincts that we are born with and others which are acquired experientially, in other words - connatural. But what is instinctive for one might be completely antithetical to another. Witness the ‘fight or flight reaction to the sudden increase of adrenalin. The point of this is to realize that the definition of ‘being natural’ in a very real sense is unique to each individual. And this definition can be further refined to include our interpretation of ‘natural’ varying during each session, and indeed really from one moment to the next.

And it is this ability to be flexible and change from moment to moment while ‘remaining natural,’ that is exactly what is meant by the expression (for fighting) “...let go and use your natural strength.”

And just what is ‘natural strength’ anyway. One aspect is the ability to use the whole body linkage we have attained through Zhan Zhuang in a viable way while moving and issuing power. It is this subconsciously fused unity that allows us to manifest strength from any part of the body at will, instantly. But natural force or strength can only come into play after we have mastered our ‘fight or flight’ reaction triggered by the adrenals during either vividly simulated or real-life ‘threatening’ situations. The idea with this is, the more intense, wild and angry the attack is, the more we become centered, calm, charged, and focused as our Qi automatically sinks in preparation for instantaneous action. It is from this and similar states of consciousness that our ‘natural strength’ can spontaneously emerge of itself.

Here’s one example. A friend of mine was standing in an airport lounge waiting for his flight to board. Suddenly out of nowhere a huge person appeared, moving fast, heading right for my friend whose back was turned. Just as the oblivious behemoth was about to unknowingly make contact, my friend sensed something and pivoted slightly at the moment of impact. What happened next is most interesting. With no time to consciously react, my friend’s Zhong Ding and ‘natural strength’ took over and in an instant the 250-300lb individual was bounced off. Standing 6 or 7ft away the burly passenger had a glazed look in his eye, obviously wondering what the heck had just happened. My friend too, when he described the incident also had no recollection of doing anything. Such is the nature of ‘natural force or strength.’  

Another important aspect of ‘natural’ in the context being discussed, is the idea of being uninhibited, that is, not restricted by any mental concepts or emotions. Grandmaster Lee called this optimal state - “Mind of No Mind,” in other words - Wu Wei. This state can be reached in terms of the connatural aspect after all martial techniques necessary have been mastered and then interred deep in the subconscious so they are ‘as natural as breathing,” and things seem to happen ‘automatically’ or without conscious thought.

From the examples iterated above we can see that the natural state so often talked about is actually a fluid one, rather than static or fixed. And so it is also for the manifestation of natural force or strength.

As Wang Xiang Zhai once said, “... After a long time of training, the instincts unveil and the rays of the spirit will shine, one will have gained the basis of combat even without having thought of them...”

Wang has also said, If one does not have the basic mechanical ability, (experiential-connatural) then no matter what the movement is like, it is all wrong.” 

“The movements of an ordinary person cannot have strength without constant unilateral tension... Every kind of strength based on constant unilateral tension is stiff and inharmonious, and besides that, harmful to health. Having strength without constant unilateral tension is namely having strength without using strength... (Wu Wei) That is what the natural instinctive strength is like. It is like seeking all kinds of real things from the unreal, which is hardly possible to express in words.




Inside Zhan Zhuang eBook