Notes from my February 2014 Zhan Zhuang Training Journal. I train with The School of Cultivation and Practice which practices Wujifa zhan zhuang.
* A beginner coming in with no previous experience whatsoever will simply do what's told without the filters from previous experience. People who come with other or previous experience (and continue coming) typically find that that experience becomes a hurdle they must first overcome. Analysis that is driven from previous experience interferes with noticing what is here now.
* The method always feels contrived. Don't focus on the contrivedness. Notice the feeling that the method is designed to elicit. For example, with lower abdominal breathing, initially mechanically coordinate the muscles to understand how breathing works then later simply breathe.
* As I'm standing and breathing, my instructor grabs my back belt loop and tries to wiggle me but is unable to do so. I'm too rigid. I'm using too much muscle to simply stand. I'm focused on analyzing/thinking the movement.
* Practice this: Lie down and practice breathing. This isolates your attention to breathing by removing your focus on standing. After a while of this, then stand and breathe. Notice what's changed.
* Also do this exercise: Shake belly and butt cheeks without moving upper body / shoulders. When you can get these to flap around, you are closer to having a relaxed abdomen. (When I first tried this years ago, I couldn't do it. So yeah, it can take a while to loosen to this level!)
* Abdominal breathing is a method to unlock the abdominal area. Don't get stuck on this as being anything more.
* I noticed that my school brothers have different personalities and approaches to training. I find it fascinating correlating their progress (or lack thereof) with their personality. How personality influences one's approach to training is a topic to which I will dedicate a separate article.
* When both my instructor and I did the side-to-side exercise facing the mirror, I could see that his movement looked more, how can I say, "alive"? It's not that there was a difference in the quantitative, external aspect of our movement (we were both doing side-to-side) but there was a qualitative difference. His torso looked like there was more movement or flow or something going on whereas my torso looked stiff, dead, and locked in place.
* Compare Trevor's movement when the original side-to-side video was filmed to his latest Wujifa advertisement video. Notice how much he's improved in a relatively short period of time! This is a great video diary of how his training has evolved in three years!
Wujifa Enthusiast Practicing Side to Side (2010)
Mirror Gate School of Wujifa, Santa Cruz: An Internal Martial Art (2013)
* There's a difference between "noticing" and "analyzing". Noticing involves being with the moment and letting it pass. There's an aliveness, a connection here. Analysis is dead-like, cut off from that aliveness. There is a discernible difference between the two in the tone of voice, in the delivery, the emphatics behind or driving the spoken word. There is a difference in the luminosity of the eyes. The eyes sparkle with "Wow! Did you see that?!" The eyes dim with "The square of the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the squares of the two shorter sides." Play at being dramatic. Allow feeling to be expressed. Connect with the emotion more and more as a way to connect with more and more subtle kinesthetics.
* Thinking and analysis are indeed human functions but not the sole function. It's just one tool in the toolbox to be applied at the appropriate time and place. It is not something to use as a shield, to hide behind to avoid all the feelings of life. And yet there are people do this.
* Lots of people hunch (carry a burden). It is a mistake to "fix" this simply by forcing the student to stand up straight. Without first resolving the underlying cause of the hunch and opening and relaxing the front, the the two counter-tensions set up an isometric pattern which can be driven to deeper and more subtle levels as the student hides the hunch under layers of what looks like a correct structure. Thus, this kind of "corrected" pattern becomes more difficult to detect and resolve. The intricacies of the emotional-physical body are beyond the abilities of the casual teacher.
* When using push-hands as a training method, don't compete. If you win by using force, then you've lost an opportunity to learn where your connection is weak or broken. For me, because I'm tall, I use my height to my advantage to "win", and by "winning" I miss an opportunity to learn.
* Push-hands training is meant to help you notice your own structural tensegrity and connect with the tensegrital structure of the other person. Find connection to ground and maintain your own ground while feeling for a break in your partner's path/structure.
* "You're using too much muscle" is a short-hand saying or metaphor indicating that isolated muscular components and not whole-body fascial tensegrity is being employed.
* Regarding the stretch through the back, the tendency is to hunch or roll the shoulders slightly forward which creates a (faux) feeling of stretch through the upper back. And the tendency is to tuck which creates a (faux) feeling of stretch through the lower back. Both these tendencies can be corrected and yet the difficulty is to connect the two at their narrowest point.
Introductory article explaining this "Journal Notes" series: Zhan Zhuang Training Journal
Previous article in this series: The End of the Road: Journal Notes #118
Next article in this series: Be More Humane with Yourself: Journal Notes #120
Make sure to visit Wujifa.com and the Wujifa blog.
And stop by The School of Cultivation and Practice.