Monday, November 28, 2016

More About the Eight Core Skills Part 3 - Expand - Compress

More About the Eight Core Skills  
Part 3 - Expand - Compress
The third Core Skill - Expand and Compress means the ability to enlarge and shrink or condense one’s entire posture, including all the joints and cavities and most especially the spinal column. In order to perform this, we will have already had to ‘Hardwire’ the joints, cavities and spinal vertebra to the spherical expansion and compression of the low Dan Tien. In addition to all that, we will also include all the muscles of the body, stretching them outward from the low Dan Tien or Centerpoint - Expand, and then ‘stretching’ them inward, from the extremities into the low Dan Tien - Compress. 
This inward and outward ‘stretching’ manifests in two forms, generally depending on the family style of Taiji we are practicing as well as the level of experience we have attained. At the beginning, this method will be fairly apparent as each posture will appear to slightly grow as we open and shrink as we close. But later the process becomes far more internal such that the postures don’t appear to have changed in size at all. But this is actually an illusion because the expansion and compression or condensation is still fully happening. Although very difficult to see, the results are easy for an opponent to feel during applications of the various types of Jing.
The third Core Skill - Expand and Compress has its root in the Taiji Classics. “When one part moves, all parts move...” and “If the Yi wants to move upward, it must simultaneously have intent downward.”
This brings us to the 6 directions of Stretching and Compressing. They are, emanating from our center, Vertical (up and down) Horizontal (to the front and to the back) and Lateral (to the left side and to the right side.) When we can Stretch and Compress from, and to our Centerpoint, working all six directions simultaneously, we are essentially creating the beginnings of a Spherical expansion and condensation. However, true Spherical Expanding and Condensing not only includes the 6 directions, but also an almost infinite number of other angles which go into the making of a Sphere. 
In order for the novice to begin mastering this Core Skill, I advise using the technique known as ‘Snaking,’ that is, moving like a snake. This is where each of the segments of a snake’s body undulate, one after another in a linked, flowing sequence. This also means our whole body is acting in unison, either expanding or compressing. This is the first stage. 
Let’s take the posture An or Push as our example. Compression: Start from the tips of the fingers and stretching inward, condense the fingers into the knuckles of each hand. Next condense the back of the hands and the palms into the wrists. This will create a ‘Tile’ hand or hollow palm. (Like a Chinese roof tile.) From there, condense the wrist and stretch the muscles of the forearm back into the elbow. Now condense the elbow joint while stretching the muscles of the upper arms back into the shoulders. Next, close and compress the shoulders inward toward the shoulder blades using the Teres muscles. Finally, stretch the shoulder blades and the Rhomboid muscles further inward until you feel them linking to the spine. Please note, while working from the shoulder into the spine also feel the muscles of the chest condense and stretch upward and inward to the breast bone centerline. This is the basic procedure for connecting the fingers and hands to the spine and centerline of the chest.
Expansion: First release the chest and upper back muscles downward, then relax them outward, stretching the Rhomboids to move the shoulder blades apart, then using the Teres muscles in back and the Pectoralis Minor muscles in front, open and expand the shoulder joints. Next, stretch and lengthen the upper arm muscles down to the elbow. Open the elbow joint and stretch and lengthen the forearm muscles down and out to the wrists. Lastly, open the wrist joints while stretching the muscles of the hand back out to the fingertips. This is the basic procedure for connecting the spine to the fingers.
Next perform the same procedure for the lower body, going from the toes and feet to the ankles, up through the knees, hips, Kua and low Dantien and then back out again to the feet. Once these two procedures (upper and lower body) are mastered separately, they must then be performed simultaneously, remembering to extend the upper body condensation down through the lumbar and Ming Men regions in back and the upper and lower abdomen in front. Although this will not be easy at first, it is certainly worth the effort, the results yielding more powerful Jing for martial arts and greatly enhanced circulation for better health. So to sum this up, eventually whole body condensation begins from the extremities (feet & hands, Baihui & Huiyin) and goes into the low Dan Tien, while whole body expansion goes from the Low Dan Tien out to the extremities. 
Once we have mastered the Snaking or segmented way of compressing and expanding, its time for stage two, Now all the joints, cavities, sinews, muscles and bones compress and expand simultaneously, each to their unique proper proportion or frequency. When done correctly we will have embodied an important part of the Taiji Classics in our form. “When one part moves, all parts move...” 
Later, when stage two is fully mastered, we can then move through our form using stage three. In stage three we create the actual state of Tai Ji within our body,’ that is, half the body is Yin - condensing, while the other half is Yang - expanding. Of course in our Taiji form the Yin and Yang parts of the body will be constantly exchanging as we move through all the postures and transitions. This is actually the modus operandi of Taiji fighting - where the Yin condensing half of the body intercepts and neutralizes the opponent’s attack while the Yang expanding half simultaneously issues Jing, striking the opponent’s vital points. Once again it is important to note that this idea of half Yin and half Yang is already embedded in each of the Taiji movements.
Let’s take ‘Brush Knee and Twist Step’ as our example. We’ll use the first Brush Knee in the form where the left leg is forward and the right palm strikes. Imagine that your opponent attacks with a right body shot or front kick. As the strike extends, our left hand/forearm intercepts and guides the strike or kick beyond our left side. This must also include the left side condensing from the hand and foot into the low Dantien which causes the opponent’s weapon to ‘stick’ to our hand or forearm. While all this is happening on the left side of the body, our right side simultaneously expands from the low Dan Tien out to the right foot and palm, striking the opponent’s left chest just to the outside of his left nipple. This is Tianchi point (P-1) a powerful Tieh Hsueh point which can disturb the Heart’s rhythm and may induce a ‘martial heart attack.’
In the final segment we will examine the fourth Core Skill - Twist and Release, which combines all the previous skills plus the spiral or silk-reeling power so often seen in the Chen family style of Taijiquan.

Friday, November 11, 2016

More About the 8 Core Skills - Pt. 2 Open-Close

More About the Eight Core Skills 
Part 2 - Open - Close

Open and Close is one of the often misunderstood Core Skills. The idea of opening and closing the joints and cavities or Kai/He in Chinese, has to do with the ability to control changes in pressure. This changing of pressure is both a physical and energetic action.

Physically we learn to alter the pressure and eventually even the amount of Synovial fluid in the joints. Synovial fluid is what ‘pads’ the joints, giving them their springlike quality. It is important to note that Open and Close is often intimately linked with the third Core Skill - Expand and Compress or Condense, especially for the novice. 

In terms of the Cavities - Abdominal, Solar plexus and Chest - physically, pressure regulation largely involves the third Core Skill - Expand & Compress. But energetically it’s a different story. Once one has control of the low Dan Tien, that is, the ability to expand and condense it, thus regulating the concurrent volume of Qi, then, using spherical breathing, one is able to inflate and condense the cavities energetically as well as physically.

The actual manifestation of Opening and Closing is rather small and often difficult to see - although the experienced practitioner can feel a clear pressure differentiation. In addition to the center of each joint, Close and Open utilizes the attachments of the related muscles, tendons and ligaments to condense the joint (Closing) and then expand it. (Opening) By attachments I mean the places where the Sinews join or attach to the various related bones.

To get a feel for this, try squeezing (tightening) all the muscles around your elbow. This of course is a gross over-simplification, but it will give you the general idea. To get this to work, you must also contract the upper forearm muscles toward the elbow while simultaneously doing the same with the lower part of the upper arm muscles. This will give a basic feel of closing the joint. In order to Open, simply reverse the procedure and stretch (lengthen and expand) the same muscles away from the joint. For other training methods and a more detailed explanation, check out the book Inside Zhan Zhuang, Pg. 278-283.

What happens with new learners is that at first they must use the bellies of the muscles in addition to the attachments. In a sense this is actually a combination of Close-Open and Compress-Expand. Although this is many times how these skills are used in application, for experienced hands, Closing and Opening by itself is mostly an internal process of changing Qi pressures. For this advanced method to work, the dedicated practitioner must have fully ‘Hardwired’ all the joints and cavities to the spherical expansion and condensation of the low Dan Tien. 

In order to apply the second Core Skill to your Taiji movements, try this: choose the endpoint or finish of any posture. This will be your ‘Open’ position. Let’s take Double Hand Peng for example. Stand at the finish of the posture, then in order to ‘Close,’ while slowly exhaling, contract or condense each of the joints and cavities from the extremities into the low Dan Tien. This will cause the posture to very slightly ‘shrink,’ but with all the alignments still intact. From there, simply inhale from the low Dan Tien out to the extremities. This will cause the posture to ‘Open.’ This method is known as ‘Pulsing the Joints’ and is usually mastered by using many individual repetitions similar to a Qigong exercise. Of course you will need to train this with every posture as well as each transition. After enough experience one is able to Close and Open all the joints and cavities simultaneously, in concert with the condensation and expansion of the low Dan Tien. Also, it is important to remember that Open and Close as well as the other Core Skills, Expand and Compress and Twist and Release are actually already ‘embedded’ within each of the Taiji movements.

In the next installment we will examine the third Core Skill - Expand and Compress which, along with Open and Close will provide a concrete method of expressing powerful Jing as well as generating a vastly increased degree of circulation which tremendously benefits one’s health.