Monday, September 12, 2016

The Method Is Not The Truth

"The method is not the truth. Once you get the feeling, get rid of the method." This is one of the many Wujifa sayings that I found very difficult to grasp. I cannot remember how many times our instructor would say, "Class, repeat after me, 'The method is not the truth. Once you get the feeling, get rid of the method.'" and we would repeat, "The method is not the truth. Once you get the feeling, get rid of the method."

No matter how many times over the years I would repeat this, invariably I would turn around and ask for another method. It literally took me fifteen years to really understand what is meant by a "method" in Wujifa. Here's what I have learned.

A method is a technique, a set-up, a posture, a stance, an exercise, an “it’s like”. A method is the finger pointing at the moon. A method is a way to allow a specific kinesthetic feeling to be elicited. My job is to simply notice the feeling that is being elicited through the method.

Maybe another way to say this is: Repeating an exercise, posture, stance, or form ad-nauseum for the sake of "practice and refinement" will NOT in and of itself, lead you to discover more subtle feelings of whole-body connectedness. There is a specific kinesthetic feeling that you need to notice which a well-designed method will point you to and once you experience this feeling, then you need to focus on the feeling because this feeling is an opening (to developing the feeling of connection) that you didn't know you were looking for.

From my years of trying to force methods to yield an imagined feeling within my existing kinesthetic paradigm (I think this is what I should feel), I now understand that it is impossible to imagine a kinesthetic feeling that I never felt before especially one as complex and simple as whole-body connection. In this game, the familiar logic of 1 + 1 = 2 is upended and in its place is 1 + 1 = 3 or 5 or 42 or whatever logically does not make sense in my present kinesthetic paradigm. Why do I say this? If you have not experienced the feeling of whole-body connected movement, then you are not familiar with the so-called "logic" involved to get there. Plain and simple! Never having experienced whole-body connected movement, I simply could not anticipate my route to get there. I was not in a position to judge which feelings were pointing in the right direction and which were not. This is where a qualified instructor is invaluable!

Well then, what about feeling? Can feeling in and of itself become a method? Sure! If you develop a feeling into a patterned response recalled from the past, that is, when a feeling becomes isolated, codified, a repeatable goal of practice, then even feeling itself becomes a method and you wind up stuck in the past and not connected in the present. To be present, to notice new feelings is to continue developing. Once you get the feeling of feeling, then there is no THE feeling, then there is FEELING.

Let's for example look at the first Wujifa 1-2-3-4 alignment. Getting into the best 1-2-3-4 you are currently capable of with an little additional coaching or adjustment, can elicit a feeling of more weight dropping into your legs. Once you get that feeling, then using that set-up to elicit dropping into legs becomes a method. If you continue going back to only that feeling, then you are stuck. If you use that method to elicit further relaxing and further dropping and noticing what shows up, that is, following the feeling the method is designed to elicit, then you are making progress.

It is OK to work with a method, to get the feel of something. This can bring a new feeling. If you are willing to step away from the method and follow the path, you will notice the feeling changing.

This is essentially the core of internal martial arts work. However, many internal martial art practices tend to lure in the unsuspecting with flashy qi-gong exercises and so-called "qi feelings". Remember, qi-gong is a method! People can also get lured in by the siren's call of "advanced exercises". These too are simply methods. In fact, the most advanced method is the simplest and the simplest is the most advanced: stand and relax. Anything else should be custom tailored to you to help you to feel more or connect more. This is where a qualified instructor can notice for you, can notice what you are feeling and guide you to opening more to more feeling.

Chasing methods became a trap for me. Please avoid the mistake I made. When the method becomes more important to you than feeling, take this as a sign that you're on the wrong track. When there is no feeling or when you are stuck at one level of feeling, remind yourself, "The method is not the truth. Once you get the feeling, get rid of the method." Then you can begin practicing in earnest... again...

Happy practicing everyone!

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Noticing Language's Impact on the Development of Connection

Have you ever thought about how the language you speak could inhibit your development of internal connection? As I've mentioned repeatedly throughout this blog, we have no words in the English language to describe the various kinesthetic feelings associated with developing internal connection. This linguist handicap is one factor contributing to the difficulty of teaching, learning and explaining the internal arts. And as we say in Wujifa, "Noticing changes everything!"

It is said that the Eskimos have 50 words for snow while we in the English-speaking continental U.S. have only one word; snow.  Similarly, in English we have one word "Love" and we use this one word to express feeling across a wide variety of relations. Does this mean that we have the exact same "love" feeling for a spouse, a pizza, a long-time friend? Probably not, but when a variety of subtle and nuanced feelings are constrained to be expressed through just one word, the result is the generalization and reduction of the complexity of the nuanced feelings to a single overall feeling devoid of its subtle nuances. We numb-down our ability to discern-feel subtle nuances.

This exact same phenomena occurs in the so-called field of "body-mindfulness" exercises of which yoga and Tai-chi are probably the most well-known. The term "body-mindfulness" is used much the same way as our word "love". It is used to describe in vague and ambiguous terms any kind of body-awareness regardless of how superficial or how deep and nuanced the experiences may be.

Now, let's consider the article, The Ancient Greeks’ 6 Words for Love (And Why Knowing Them Can Change Your Life) . Whether there really are six words or not, the proposition nevertheless provides an opportunity to explore nuances of our word "love". Here are the six words from this article:

1. Eros, or sexual passion.
2. Philia, or deep friendship.
3. Ludus, or playful love.
4. Agape, or love for everyone
5. Pragma, or longstanding love
6. Philautia, or love of the self

Take a moment and recall a couple different relationships that might have different nuances in feeling along the lines of the above. Can you notice something that you had not previously felt-noticed before? Even if you only notice a barely perceptible hint of a variation in the "love" feeling, this is a step to feeling a little bit deeper. What you can do in one area, you can apply in another area.

Now, assume that "body-mindfulness" likewise has many subtle kinesthetic-emotional feelings. In the same way that you begin to feel and discern various love feelings, you can begin to feel and discern various kinesthetic-emotional feelings in your internal gong-fu practice. Feeling is feeling.

In Wujifa there is the saying, "The method is not the truth. Once you get the feeling, get rid of the method." This applies here as well. Discovering and identifying various kinesthetic-emotional feelings is a method to help you develop the ability to feel deeper and relax deeper until connection begins to show up. You may want to name the feelings you notice, but it's not necessary. The important point is to notice and build connection between your pre-conscious bodily feeling and your consciousness; I can feel ______ . This is another step along the journey.

Connection will never be discovered if you only have the ability to distinguish the lack of body-mindfulness from a rudimentary body-mindfulness. In many cases, those who speak of body-mindfulness have only peeled the first layer of the proverbial onion and have mistaken the first layer to be the entirety of the onion. Having only one word "body-mindfulness" to describe the multitude of kinesthetic-emotional experiences is like having only one word for "snow" or one word for "love". It is too vague, too generalized, too ambiguous, too numbed-down. It says something and says nothing both at the same time.

And so, rather than looking for that one special feeling that everyone says is "It", invest in noticing variety and nuance throughout your body. The more nuances you can feel is a fair indicator of how deeply you can feel. How deep you can feel is an indicator of how deep you can relax. And in this process, you may discover that our English word "relax", like "love", also has a variety of subtle and nuanced feelings.

Happy practicing everyone!

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Yinyang Body vs. Wuji Body

The most profound insight I've had so far is the recent realization that as the body transforms, so too do the thinking processes and the linguistic expression of those body-based thinking processes. For many, many years I was completely clueless to this. Let's dig in...

First, let's agree to the premise which is:
Thought processes (and their projection through language) are congruent with bodily experience. 
Next, let's define our terms. "Yin" represents emotional-muscular flacidity or limpness and "Yang" represents emotional-muscular hypertonicity or rigidness. Therefore, a yin-yang body is one that is composed of a unique patterning of emotional-muscular flacidity/limpness (yin) and emotional-muscular hypertonicity/rigidness (yang). This is the typical or usual body of almost everyone (even many so-called internal-martial arts practitioners).

In terms of thought processes and the linguistic expression of these thought processes, the yinyang body-mind (person) operates from a position of duality or polarity. A body that is composed of a mix of emotional-muscular flaccidity (yin) and hypertonicity (yang) creates a perspective that is fundamentally dualistic (yinyang).

The second premise is that:
Everyone begins their Wujifa training with a yinyang body and through Wujifa training, progresses toward developing a Wuji body.

The Wuji body is one, unified body. Through years of practice, the state of flaccidity and hypertonicity (yinyang) resolves into a state of relaxed connection (Wuji). This means that emotional-muscular flacidity/limpness and emotional-muscular hypertonicity/rigidness are slowly* transformed into a unique state of relaxed connectedness. This is a different lived-experience of the body as compared to the lived-experience of the yinyang body.

( * Let me clarify "slowly". If a practitioner has a lot of resistance to changing existing emotional-muscular patterns, then working-through and getting rid of these patterns could take a long time. In fact, "getting it" happens spontaneously, instantaneously, like an on/off switch. You don't train to "get it", rather you train to get rid of that which prevents connection from showing up. This is a crucial distinction to understand!)

In terms of thought processes and the linguistic expression of these thought processes, the Wuji body-mind (person) operates from a position of connection or unity. A body that is composed of a unified structured connectedness creates a perspective that is fundamentally unified.

The student (with a yinyang body) who is able to grasp this concept will realize that it is misguided to believe that someone with a Wuji body is somehow "on the same wavelength". For example, a Wujifa student asking a question from a yinyang perspective may be answered from a Wuji perspective. Sometimes the answer makes sense and sometimes it doesn't (from a yinyang perspective).

And so now, after years of training, I am beginning to understand why my instructor thinks and talks so differently from the way many beginning students think and talk; from the way I used to think and talk. With each advancement I make, I realize that I am still just beginning to learn about the power of Wujifa internal gong-fu.

Happy practicing everyone!

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Wujifa and Iron Shirt: Journal Notes #143

Notes from my March 2016 Zhan Zhuang Training Journal. I train with The School of Cultivation and Practice which practices Wujifa.

(Note: There are as many interpretations of iron shirt as there are methods to train iron shirt. My understanding is that iron shirt does not make you Superman where bullets bounce off and pointy metal objects cannot penetrate. My understanding is that iron shirt can make you impervious to the effects of punches. Some systems train to numb the body to pain, others train to harden the body against pain. The internal Wujifa way is to relax with structure to allow the impact energy a clear path to ground. It all comes back to effective zhan zhuang training.)

* Feeling leads to understanding. Understanding without feeling is data. What do you find interesting; data? or feeling, empathy, connection? It's easy for me to say "that's interesting" when I encounter a new conceptual factoid but not have the same response when encountering a new or different feeling. Isn't that interesting?

* Tell you the truth... often an hour of class will pass wherein we get into some very deep emotional-muscular work and the "a-ha" moments are streaming in at a subconscious, kinesthetic feeling level that to stop the flow and organize a thought to write it down is both an interruption to the body-learning in progress and somehow an abomination to the purity of the interaction. When a kind of natural conclusion is reached where I can write, I don't know what to write! Really! It's a real struggle! When it comes to this whole feeling thing and the multiplicity of topics and subtopics and sub-subtopics and how each interacts and reacts and influences the other up a level and down a level and across and back and, and, and... I don't know what to write about. And what I do ultimately write about is but a mere shadow, a phantom of the lived experience. Here's an example...

* Following up on February topic, we had a long talk about connecting with people. The conversation wended its way into revealing that I'm interested in connecting with some people and not others, or the "not others" in particular situations. For example, I'm not interested in connecting with the bedraggled panhandler on the street that I pass by every day but if I'm serving food in a soup kitchen and I see that same bedraggle soul, then I am interested in connecting with him. Why would I be willing to connect in one situation and not the other? Judgment. The point is that this illustrates how my internal categorization (yin-yang) system is still intact and I am not operating from a principle of connection. As long as I continue to put people and situations in conceptual "boxes", this too shows up in my kinesthetics and my ability to feel my body kinesthetically. Connection is connection. There is no such reality as "conceptual boxes" and "kinesthetic unity". A break is a break. A numb area is a numb area. You're either connected or your not.

* If you don't feel and are not immersed in it, then you can't understand it. Reading someone else experience, collecting and analyzing data about the experience will not lead you to the experience. In fact, the latter path only creates roadblocks to the actual experience. Data, expectations, judgment are barriers that will eventually have to be addressed.

* If you got rid of "I have to", would you do "I choose to"?

OK. Now here's where we get to the iron shirt stuff...

* In today's class I watched my 300+ pound instructor punching (barehanded) my 180 pound school brother in the chest, that is, on his pectoral muscle, and he stood there, relaxed with structure, and didn't even flinch from the punches! (Video is on the Facebook Wujifa Practitioners Training Logs.) Next, I was invited to punch him in a similar way. I started light, being afraid to hurt him but was repeatedly encouraged to punch harder until I was truly giving him the strongest Wujifa punch I could muster. Each time, the same result. He just stood there, unflinching, relaxed. He did comment that he was surprised how hard a skinny geek like me could punch.

* Truth be told, he's been practicing receiving punches like this for a while. What I noticed is that his body was not hard. It was soft, relaxed and yet he did not move at all; he maintained structure and absorbed the punch impact. He then asked me to punch him each time as he incrementally hardened his body. This was a huge, dramatic demonstration of how soft can mimic hard but hard cannot mimic soft! Sure, I've been to workshops and I've seen demonstrations of "punch the master" but I've never known anyone personally who I've worked with and watched move from a grossly tense and twisted body to one that was relaxed with structure. What he demonstrated today was not possible when he first started. He's made amazing progress!

* This kind of punching exercise is really good at bringing into awareness the quality of my punch when giving a punch and the quality of relaxation with structure when receiving a punch.
  • On the giving side... Is my punch disconnected? (It probably is.) Where? At the shoulder? Does it have the feel of anger? or love? This will undoubtedly sound bizarre but in fact, I notice a me-body transmits emotional content. The more angry-tense, the more superficial the punch. The softer the emotion, the more solid the punch. It takes some time but it is possible to calibrate the emotional content to the power of the punch. If you've never experienced this and you think this is crazy-talk, I understand.
  • On the receiving side... If the recipient's body is too hard, it could get broken. If it's too limp (no structure to transmit the energy), it could get hurt. Most likely, in both cases, the structure will "break" somewhere and the receiver will fall back from the punch because there is not a path to ground. Also, being punched (as a training method) helps to notice anger and tightness, and thus where the breaks are. By learning how to relax and receive a punch without experiencing pain serves as a calibrator to the amount of tension and anger released.

* When I get punched, I still tense. I can relax some when my tension is noticed for me. For example, when told to relax my pelvic floor and legs, the net effect is that this relaxed my upper body and helped me to ground the punch. Another time, I was focusing on relaxing through my pectorals and pelvic floor, but I was getting knocked over. I was told that I was tensing my back muscles to brace against the punch. I didn't notice this. Why not? It's part of my unconscious compensatory pattern. Consciously relax here. Unconsciously shift the tension there.

* When I think about all that I've read and seen about Iron Shirt training, somehow, I've never seen relaxing with structure and Iron Shirt mentioned together. And yet, if one objective of iron shirt is to  become impervious to punches... there are many methods.

* You are not an onion!  I mentioned how I'm working on the next layer of tension and was immediately called to the mat for it. People who use the onion analogy are making excuses to hold onto tension. They feel comfortable to let go a little in one area but in effect they drive the tension deeper into their body because their self-identity is tied to the tension and they are not willing to completely let go of whatever is the root of the tension. Tension is tension! There is no such thing as "layers of tension". The onion analogy is simply another example of compartmentalizing, of divisiveness, of yin-yang thinking. It's a strategy to maintain control. You are not an onion! You are a human!

* We began another class with an hour of massage to relax the pelvic floor. Upon standing after this session, I was disoriented and unbalanced. I went through the same readjustment pattern that I went through during the massage session, namely: Scared, Discomfort, Tensed, Relax. (See? This is a perfect example of what I mentioned above "Tell you the truth...")

* This month I also returned to my Rolfer for another four sessions of Rolfing work.

Further reading:
Introductory article explaining this "Journal Notes" series: Zhan Zhuang Training Journal
Previous article in this series: Huge Breakthrough! Part Two: Journal Notes #142

Make sure to visit and the Wujifa blog.
And stop by The School of Cultivation and Practice.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

How You Stand is How You Move

I had an interesting insight at the last Wujifa class I attended and I'd like to share this as a quick little post.

One of the new guys was engaging our instructor in a conversation about a problem he was experiencing during stance practice. Somehow the conversation turned to mentioning his Tai-chi Chuan practice and he said something like, "You've never seen my form." and I chimed in, saying "Well, I know how your form will look just by looking at how you're standing."

Of course, he couldn't believe his ears. And rightly so. How could I possibly know? Here's how....

When I see him standing in zhan zhuang, I see shoulders rolled slightly forward due to contraction in the chest. The chronic contraction in the chest (besides restricting his breathing) keeps the chest "relaxed". When he raises his arms (to hold the ball), I see an increase tension in the chest (to keep the chest down) to counter the raising of the arms which is performed with an elevated amount of contraction in the back to counter the tension in the chest. You get the idea? Movement is pretty segmented and there is a lot of tension and counter tension.

So by observing his holding patterns, that is, how he was holding himself in stance, I deduced that he most likely would move with the same characteristic physical pattern that he demonstrates when standing and raising his arms for zhan zhuang.

What I was saying was not that I could know what choreographed routine he did just by looking at him, but rather I knew the quality of its execution would be performed with the same bodily holding patterns as demonstrated in stance.

So, how can you apply this to your practice?

Your body doing any martial art form is equivalently your body standing still and vice-versa. The holding patterns don't miraculously dissolve or disappear when you start moving, if anything they become more hidden from you because you're focusing on some aspect or other of your form or whatever.

One way to discover these patterns is to not move at all (some form of stance practice) or to do simple repetitive movements that are designed to bring attention to and help release a targeted holding pattern.

Rest assured that anyone who has relaxed more than you is able to see your body's holding patterning simply by looking at you standing there. You don't need to demonstrate your form to show what you can do. It's not the what that matters, it's the how.