Thursday, December 21, 2017
During Zhan Zhuang we experience many different types of ‘organic sensations.’ These sensations or feelings reflect the diverse changes and adjustments the body goes through on the way to refining our Zhong Ding and eventually achieving Song.
These organic sensations many times preoccupy the new student throughout the first several years of training. These sensations are often so powerful they drown out our ability to maintain the unified focus of our feeling-awareness in our low Dan Tien.
Eventually however after enough practice, many of the body’s issues resolve themselves and the pull of organic sensations begins to greatly diminish. When this happens, seasoned practitioners often feel an expansion of consciousness followed by an increase in perception that allows them to become aware of a different kind of sensation. Although these ‘new’ sensations are linked to the physical body, they also contain within them elements of what might be called ‘supra-physical’ energy. The Taoists identify these particular sensations as related to the various layers of our ‘energy-body(s.)’
After this transition begins to occur we slowly find ourselves dwelling in this new arena for longer and longer periods. At first we feel both a physical element and an energetic one simultaneously. However, as our training progresses we are able to shift and hold more and more of our feeling awareness solely in the energetic arena. When this happens we find ourselves in a whole new world of possibilities. When asked what he felt while doing Zhan Zhuang, Master Cai Songfang replied, “I feel my energy.” Master Cai’s teacher learned Zhan Zhuang from Yang Cheng Fu and was one of only about a half-a-dozen people to whom Master Yang taught this skill. In his younger days Master Cai was the push-hands champion of Shanghai. His daily Zhan Zhuang training consisted of 90 minutes per session in the Wuji posture.
Although these energetic feelings or sensations vary according to the individual consciousness and are at best, difficult to translate into words, there are a few commonalities that may prove useful in identifying when this transition begins to occur.
One thing that happens is that we feel like our whole body is immersed in a watery-like substance. Although this feeling is a bit more subtle and somewhat different than pure physical sensation, there is a clear and definite substantiality to it. Following this, in the next stage the body’s interior seems to ‘hollow out,’ or loose its feeling of density, all while the sensation of the ‘exterior’ part of the body being ‘immersed in water’ remains present. After this, and often quite rapidly, the deep Central Channel and many times the Left and Right Qigong Channels ‘appear’ or emerge. This is often followed by the Du and Ren meridians opening and linking to this inner architecture such that we can ‘see’ and feel energy simultaneously coursing through all of these conduits while still being peripherally aware of our body’s exterior ‘immersed in water.’ I’ve used the word ‘appear’ to describe the feeling of something manifesting out of apparently nothing. Of course this probably has more to do with a shift or expansion in our perception.
Friday, December 15, 2017
Thursday, December 7, 2017
One of the benefits of daily Zhan Zhuang training for martial arts is the ability to emit strong power in a very short space or distance. The whole-body force happens ‘under the skin’ and only manifests visibly in the wrist and hand. Being a Taiji style punch, the energy begins in the low Dan Tien, instantly travels under the feet, up the spine and Central Channel and out the fist. Although the video examples are self explanatory, a few words will perhaps be useful about how to receive the blows.
Many people have not been struck by a strong internal power blow to their torso, head or neck. Those who have, have no desire to repeat the experience because these types of strikes very often linger (create pain or other serious problems) for hours, days and even weeks after the actual blow. In one case a famous internal martial arts master struck one of my teachers on the shoulder-blade. The strike itself took only a few nano-seconds to deliver, but my teacher suffered serious pain for several months afterward and needed acupuncture and massage to finally clear it.
With that in mind, a method was developed which allows the repeated issuing of strong internal force without damaging the recipient. Firstly, the blow is delivered to the opponent’s arms rather than their torso, head or neck. This allows the force to be transferred to our feet while keeping our structure in tact. The additional force is then absorbed by allowing ourselves to be ‘bounced’ away, bouncing repeatedly if necessary, each time landing firmly on our heels to vent the excessive Qi out of the body. This bouncing back also allows the recipient to fully maintain their structure or frame while receiving the blow. This way we can practice repeatedly with strong internal power and no damage to the one absorbing the hits.
A word to the wise, not following this method or something similar while repeatedly issuing strong internal power will inevitably result in either the recipient’s frame being disintegrated - causing instant and perhaps lasting damage - or at the very least, roughly and unceremoniously losing balance and landing hard on their backside - or both.
Saturday, December 2, 2017
Slow Frame testing, sometimes called Spring Testing, is a basic two-person exercise designed to give experience in the compression and expansion of the joints and cavities and cultivate and strengthen the outer physical frame and the idea of spherical movement. Simply put, one training partner assumes a Tai Chi (or Zhan Zhuang) posture. The other partner then gradually applies pressure (force) while the partner in the Tai Chi posture systematically absorbs the force into the low Dan Tien. At first a technique called “Snaking” (like the undulation of a snake) is used where the force is absorbed step-by-step through each of the joints and cavities.
In the first example in the video, fists are used to apply force to the palms of the Tai Chi posture “An.” (Push). As force is slowly applied, the palms and wrists gently compress followed by the elbow joints, the shoulder joints, shoulder blades and shoulder’s nests and finally the spine. As the partner’s pressure continues, the spine, chest and abdominal cavities also gently compress or condense, taking the force down into the hips, Kua and low Dan Tien region. From there as your partner’s pressure continues, you next compress the feet, ankles, knees and hips into the Kua and low Dan Tien. This in effect creates a compressed version of an energetic sphere with the low Dan Tien as it’s centerpoint.
From there, with the body having properly absorbed the force into the low Dan Tien (and feet) the partner in the Tai Chi posture achieves a moment of ‘stillness’ and then - in one instantaneous movement of release - using relaxation, suddenly drops the Qi (pressure) down under the feet. This instantly generates power which rises up the spine and out the hands, creating in effect, an expanded Sphere.
Once this basic method has been mastered in sequence through the segmented or “Snaking” method, the next step becomes condensing and expanding the joints, cavities and spine simultaneously. Following that, once one has achieved Song, then at first touch the practitioner’s energy automatically sinks to the low Dan Tien and below the feet. This is accompanied by a condensation or compression of one’s Qi or Inner Frame or Sphere. At this stage, issuing Jin is then only a matter of expanding one’s Inner Frame or Sphere. Thus the advanced practitioner shows very little outer movement if any, while the recipient is strongly and sometimes violently repulsed or ejected.
Friday, November 24, 2017
Mao Dun Zhuang or Combat Stance is an essential posture for developing martial power. Sometimes called ‘Shield and Spear,’ it is a fully back-weighted side stance which trains among other things, both lifting and sinking power. There is little or no weight on the front leg and the front heel is very slightly lifted. Because this is a martial posture, the eyes want to be open and focused way in the distance, say out to the horizon.
To train lifting and sinking Jin, imagine your arms around the trunk of a tree. Next, feel you are ‘pushing’ the trunk upward (Lifting Jin) and then feel you are pressing it down, deep into the ground. (Sinking JIn) In order for this technique to be effective, your feeling-awareness must play a leading role along with your imagination. In other words you must ‘mock-up’ the appropriate feelings until they seem almost real, like you’re actually performing the two tasks.
Also while training this posture one often becomes aware of the separating and combining of Yang and Yin. The Yang Heaven energy descends through the back half of the posture down through the head, neck, torso, back arm, the weighted leg and into the foot and especially into the center of the heel. At the same time the ascending Yin Earth energy rises up the front part of the posture, from Yongquan point K-1 up through the forward leg, torso, front arm, neck and head.
Of course, the Mao Dun Zhuang posture and it’s variation must be performed on both sides, generally 15-30 minutes per side. The primary difference between the normal posture and it’s variation is the lower position of the arms. The lower arm position really only becomes possible to do correctly when much of the body has been stretched and opened up through extensive practice of the basic posture.
Saturday, April 15, 2017
For those who train both Zhan Zhuang and Taijiquan, walking is an excellent and important bridge between the two. Why? There are a couple of reasons. The first has to do with the fact that during Zhan Zhuang a great amount of Qi tends to migrate into the Central Channel.
Although this highly concentrated Qi is very useful during our Zhan Zhuang training, both for healing and martial power, this flooding of our Central Channel is often too much for our everyday activities. Therefore it is always advised that we “walk around” slowly for a few minutes after our standing session “as if strolling in a park or garden” in order to help normalize and redistribute the excess Qi generated during practice. In fact, Yang Cheng Fu also advised the same procedure after Taijiquan.
Why and how does this work? The reason is simple. Walking by its very nature helps move Qi out of the Central Channel and into our left and right Qigong Channels as we pace around. This helps to normalize the Qi flow and make it again suitable for our daily life.
Although this ‘random walking’ is highly effective in rebalancing the flow of Qi, for those who wish to develop more quickly, conscious walking, known as Walking Qigong is the preferred method. Why? Because in addition to the basic normalizing and rebalancing effect of moving our weight from one side of the body to the other and back again, Walking Qigong has the added benefits of generating whole body connection and integration, refining balance and promoting greater awareness of the exchange of Yin and Yang, empty and full. Also, this type of walking involves not only moving forward, it also employs walking backwards as well. This builds our agility in both advancing and retreating for martial art applications. In addition, the walking backwards part greatly benefits back and spinal problems and readies us to apply power while appearing to move away from an opponent as well as the normal moving in to strike.
There are basically three stages to Walking Qigong. Method one uses only the legs and the Kua (torso) with the hands resting on the hips or hanging freely at our sides. This stage primarily emphasizes the lower body. The second method is walking while holding various static Zhan Zhuang postures. This stage builds the upper and lower body connection and integration while in movement. The third method involves various arm movements while advancing (walking forward) and retreating. (walking backwards) These can be certain circular movements as well as many of the Taiji movements. For example, walking forward we can use Double Hand Peng on each side. Walking backward we change to Lu - Rollback. The various circular movements and the almost infinite combinations and variations of Taiji movements not only allow us train issuing Jin while advancing, but the backward style walking is very useful for emitting Jin while seeming to move away from an opponent. Naturally, both methods may be necessary in a real life confrontation.
Tuesday, February 21, 2017
ZHAN ZHUANG - Opening the Hard to Get to Places in the Upper Shoulder Girdle and Lower Part of the Neck
ZHAN ZHUANG -
Opening the Hard to Get to Places in the Upper Shoulder Girdle and Lower Part of the Neck
This simple adjustment before returning to the original post - Cheng Bao Zhuang - activates the hard to get to (and feel) areas of where the neck and throat connect to the shoulders (Scalenes and Sternocleidomastoid muscles) the shoulder tops and the uppermost parts of the shoulder girdle including the region surrounding Dazhui GV-14 in back and Tiantu CV-22 in front.
Sunday, January 22, 2017
ZHAN ZHUANG - BENEFITS OF KEEPING THE ELBOWS DOWN
Many years ago I met the late Mr. Henry Look on Maui. Henry trained with Han Xing Yuen, a noted student of Wang Xiang Zhai. He was also the disciple of Guo Lien Ying, a Shaolin Master who also trained Zhan Zhuang with Wang Xiangzhai. (Guo was one the first people to introduce standing meditation to America in the 1960s.)
Anyway, after finding out I’d been training Zhan Zhuang, Henry decided to test my frame by giving me several sharp Fa Li/Fa Jin pushes to “see how well you bounce.” In other words how integrated and connected I was. Fortunately I was able to withstand his hits without my frame falling apart, so he agreed to teach me.
Throughout his visit Henry Look showed me a number ways to improve my training. But among them, one method stands out. And that was an adjustment of the arms in the ‘emperor’ of all Zhan Zhuang postures - Cheng Bao Zhuang. (Holding the Ball or Embracing the Tree posture) Whereas most teachers place their students in the standard position with the elbow tips out to the side, somewhat below the level of the shoulders and lower than the level of the wrists, Henry suggested a bit different approach.
Rather than the traditional way, he had me lower and adjust my elbow tips to 45 degree angles (in relation the ground.) The traditional angles generally range from just below 90 degrees (parallel to the ground) to around 60 or 70 degrees. The effect of this modification was remarkable. Immediately I felt a sinking of the muscles in my neck and throat, tops of shoulders, shoulder blades and chest, and the muscles of my upper arms. (Deltoids, Biceps, Triceps etc.) In short, my entire shoulder girdle seemed to relax and settle into place.
In his wisdom Henry realized through observation and the briefest of physical contact, that certain elements in my shoulder girdle were not fully open. And now many years later, I can say with confidence that his method really worked. The idea of placing the tips of the elbows at 45 degrees or even facing the ground (as in Wu style Tai Chi) is not new to standing meditation, in fact the Taoists have been using these and other postural variations for hundreds of years to great effect.
So what actually happens when we use the 45 degree elbow posture. To get a feel for yourself, try this. Place your arms in the standard Cheng Bao Zhuang. (Elbow tips facing away from the torso.) Now, slowly lower your elbow tips down to a 45 degree angle relative to the ground. Note: (For those who are extremely tight in the shoulder girdle region this angle can even be 30 to 35 degrees.)
As you lowered your elbows down to the 45 degree position you will have immediately noticed a genuine relaxation and a downward sinking of the muscles of the neck, shoulder girdle and upper arms. This feeling will then want to percolate down through the chest and back to the Dan Tien/Ming Men region and ideally, all the way down to the bottoms of the feet.
After enough sessions in the 45 degree posture, something wonderful inevitably happens. When enough of the shoulder girdle muscle structures loosen and stretch, the elbow tips begin, of themselves, to ‘float’ back up in the direction of the standard position. 50 degrees, 55, 60, 65 etc. This is simultaneously accompanied and indeed motivated by a greater sense of space and ease throughout the region. When the body has reached near its maximum stretch, the elbow tips will simply want to stop rising. There is one important difference about this type of opening when compared to just assuming the standard posture by rote. And that is, with the 45 degree method, the stretch has come from the spine and centerline of the chest, meaning all the deep muscles of the upper back, chest and shoulders have opened (at least to some extent) and are initiating the change. In my experience, what actually happens is that we have created a ‘sense of space’ throughout the region and the tissues seem to want to adjust accordingly.
The traditional way of assuming a fully opened posture whether you’re ready for it or not, in other words mimicking the teacher, certainly has a proven track record. But a big part of that process is PAIN, sometimes severe and not for a day or two, but for months or even years. The reason for this is simple. Certain muscles within the body’s structure are much tighter than others, either through injury, overuse or not being used enough. The same is true with the amount of knee bend. Deep sitting, which is the usual method for martial arts training, may be fine when you’re younger or have no injuries. But for those who are middle age or older, or who have sustained lower-body injury, bending the knees too much can easily cause permanent damage.
Of course there are those who naturally have more of a ‘spartan’ temperament and will welcome maintaining the posture and fighting through the pain. The good news for them is that after much training, EVENTUALLY the pains will lessen and disappear. Don’t get me wrong, everyone who practices Zhan Zhuang will have to endure a certain amount of discomfort during their training, as the body tries to relax, release and open up. The difference is, by making some important minor adjustments, we are able to speed up the overall process while experiencing less pain and discomfort and quicker positive results. Try it and see for yourself.
Sunday, January 15, 2017
More About the Eight Core Skills
Part 4 - Twist - Release
Now let’s examine the fourth Core Skill - Twist and Release. Twist and release is essentially an acronym for Spiral energy. It has been said that without Spiral energy there is no real Tai Chi. So what is Spiral energy? To understand this we will first look at the spiral as a geometric shape, a shape composed of two of the most basic elemental forms - a straight line and a circle. We will consider the straight line as Yang, masculine, and the circle as Yin, feminine. The flowing combination of these two forms is not only nature’s preferred way of growth and movement, but also a perfect and continuous blend and exchange of Yin and Yang. That being said, it’s easy to see the importance of spiral movement and its expression throughout our Tai Chi form.
In terms of the most popular Tai Chi family styles, spiral energy has different degrees of outer visibility. The Chen family’s spiral energy or Chan Ssu Jin is the most visible or apparent, followed by the Yang family’s spiral energy which is generally much less visible and lastly we have the Wu family style (Northern Wu) whose spiral energy is almost entirely internal with little or no outer visibility. But make no mistake, a master of any of these styles will always move with a full compliment of Internal Spiral energy.
Spiral energy or Chan Ssu Jin has two forms which must be trained, the outer method which varies depending on style and the inner method, which is a Taoist Nei Gong process, common to all styles. In addition to the external and internal methods, Spiral energy also has two modes; Incoming (Nei Chan Ssu Jin) and Outgoing (Wei Chan Ssu Jin.) Physically, Incoming Spirals have a sense of compression (as in the third Core Skill - Compress-Expand) and Closing - as in the second Core Skill - Close-Open), whereas Outgoing spirals will naturally have a sense of Expanding and Opening.
In terms of self-defense, incoming Spiral energy can be used to absorb, divert and trap or stick an opponent’s attack, causing the person to jerk toward you and/or stick to you without having to actually seize their wrist or forearm. Outgoing Spirals on the other hand are used to deliver penetrating strikes. When an opponent is hit with a Spiral energy strike it is similar to being struck with a rapidly rotating drill bit. (Zuan Jin -Drilling Power) This can have the effect of making the opponent’s whole body wobble and or shake if the point of focus is more diffuse or generalized. However, if a Spiral blow is sharply focused at a Tieh Hsueh point, such as with a Penetration punch for example, the result can be devastating, causing a major disruption of Qi and blood to the brain or actual organ failure, depending upon the location.
The basic physical method of spiral energy is to combine the many rotational forces of the body into one coordinated flow. The spiral twist and release power of the legs, hips, torso and arms results in an exponentially greater force than could be generated by only using one part of the body. There are many fine examples of the physical aspects of Silk Reeling available online, but essentially it can be thought of as a Twisting, Spiral form of ‘Snaking.’ (Moving like a snake, discussed in the previous article on Expand and Compress.) Therefore, the incoming counterclockwise spirals of Nei Chan Ssu Jin begin at our extremities and progress through condensation into our low Dan Tien or Centerpoint. Conversely, the outgoing spirals of Wei Chan Ssu Jin proceed in a clockwise manner, expanding from our center out through our feet and hands. Below is a video link detailing the external aspect of spiral energy or Coiling Silk, presented by Master Chen Xiaowang who was born and raised in the Chen village. Although the quality of the video has something to be desired, the info presented is quite worth it. Besides showing a number of the Coiling Silk exercises, there is also a presentation of external Dan Tien rotation as well as the use of Zhan Zhuang to create the proper ‘atmosphere’ in the body for success. https://youtu.be/VS5farj8Q2E
Once we have mastered the external aspect of spiraling which, by it’s very nature produces rather visible movements, it’s time to tackle the Nei Gong aspect. The Taoist Nei Gong method produces an enormous amplification of the Spiral energy by generating a great many more spiral turnings in each segment of the body than are possible with the external method alone. Although this is a purely internal technique which eventually allows our spiraling to move at the speed of the mind and feeling-awareness, in order to learn it, we will first apply a physical exercise to help internalize the correct feeling.
The idea with this method is to very lightly trace a series of spirals from the fingers of one hand, moving steadily upwards to the elbow. These spirals, which will be traced using a counterclockwise direction, should go from the fingers to the back of the hand and palm, up to the wrist, forearm and finally the elbow. Once you have done this, probably several times, stop, close your eyes and then, using your mind and feeling-awareness, recreate the same sensations you felt while physically tracing. Here it is important to note that whereas the physical Silk Reeling procedure only allows for one spiral per segment or joint of the body, the internal method has no such limitation. This means you can trace and then later, internally generate several spirals from the fingertips to the palm, a few more across the back of the hand and palm to the wrist, once around the wrist itself. and then 5 to 7 spirals up the forearm ending with once around the elbow joint. Using multiple spirals for each segment will lay the groundwork for eventually amplifying your spiral power. Now, once you can internally trace and FEEL the multiple spirals (which should be done at a fairly slow speed at first) it then becomes possible to use the mind to speed up the rate. When we deliver a spiral strike to an opponent, the spirals will be internally generated at a phenomenal speed. Think of it as ‘Super-Speed.’
So to sum up, internally generated spiral power is based on two factors - the number of spirals per body segment, and the speed at which they rotate - either inward as with the exercise described above or outward using the reverse formula. Please be aware that the method I’ve detailed covers only one part of the body. Of course this must eventually be expanded to include both legs and arms as well as the torso. Once you are comfortable with the basic Nei Gong process that is, using the mind and feeling-awareness from the fingers to the elbow (or from the elbow to the fingertips for outgoing spirals) use this ability to go from the extremities back into the torso, finishing in the low Dan Tien for Nei Chan Ssu Jin. Then go from the Dan Tien, starting with Dan Tien rotation, back out through the torso to the feet and hands for Wei Chan Ssu Jin.
All this being said, truth be told, the details of the Nei Gong Spiral energy techniques really require one-on-one instruction from a competent teacher...