Periodically people ask me how/where/whether Ba Gua figures into the grand scheme of things, internal power development-wise. I don't normally get into BG but when the inquiries top over a critical mass, I guess I can say something. Typical recent query:
Q: My question is related to Ba Gua Zhang: is there any particular subtlety or particular aspect that I should be aware of while practising it? Thank you in advance.
A: A little background, I have learned Ba Gua since way back when, and even used to demo it in public demonstrations. For purpose of this answer, I will restrict myself to talking about the core practice known as circle-walking, though there is a lot more to this extremely complex and elaborate art.
There is one minor reason and one major reason for my general reticence on the subject of Ba Gua. The minor reason is simply that there are so many great existing treatments, in books and films, of the mechanics of the art that nobody needs me to chime in with my lousy two cents on that aspect. And let's face it, that aspect is really what 99% of people care about most: where to put your arm or your leg, how to torque this or that body part, which tendon to twitch - bio-mechanical stuff rules this art perhaps more than any other so-called internal practice. But to do the BG world justice, I will say that the existing crop of books by the various big authors who have treated this are probably the best mechanical treatments of all the tutorials on any of the internal arts by anybody. Just go on Amazon.com and grunge for 'Ba Gua' and the top stuff that comes up will be some of the best books and/or DVD's on any internal martial art, bar none. So why butt in where I'm not needed? People love mechanics and postures and structures and techniques so much, well there it all is - enjoy.
The major reason I don't get into it is that the energetic/internal part of Ba Gua is in my opinion too deep to make it worthwhile for most people who hold that as their primary goal. Obviously the existing treatments I mentioned above as excelling in mechanics also cite lots of internal energy stuff, well sourced through classical channels. But to me, the energetic presentations in those works, while very respectable, don't come close to my own standard for directness, tangibility, immediate workability, clarity and overall no BS clouding the view. They tend to be just more of the same traditional yadda yadda that glaze over everybody's eyes and takes them no closer to the personal experience of feeling, controlling, and intensifying the real internal power. Which is my only interest and goal.
But that said, I do not in the least blame or criticize the various expert authors for not providing that insight. It's because Ba Gua is too advanced for almost anybody who would be the actual buying audience. Too advanced in that until and unless you have direct personal experience and control of the ARC energy torrent, in you own personal self, Ba Gua circle walk will be just a mildly inefficient quasi-aerobic little pantomime. Pointless in my view.
But don't get me wrong. Ba Gua actually is a super/hyper powerful internal training mode. But it only kicks in at a very high level of accomplishment and understanding. In my various training materials, I define the ARC internal energy process model as:
That applies to all my stuff. But after you start to get really advanced with the above, you realize that the next level of sophistication and intensity can be re-coded with the following small yet important change. It's still ARC but with one tweak:
'Activate' here means that you've already 'Accumulated' a hell of a lot through the various basic practices. That's the level you need to be at to get anything much out of Ba Gua. If you understand ARC in the sense above (ARC-2 or whatever) then you know how to instantly 'activate' the pelvic/lower abdomen power state (hint: NOT THROUGH TENSION; WITH YOUR MIND ALONE). Your pelvis can "light up" instantly with the power on mental command and you can maintain that charge, both in the pelvis and extending it down to feet and up through arms and hands. When you can spark up the ARC-2 on command, then and only then will your practice of Ba Gua be totally transformed and it becomes a real wonderland of advanced experimentation and immersion in the full power state.
I can almost hear the chorus at this point: but but but... wasn't Ba Gua circle walking supposed to be an internal practice in the first place, one that if worked diligently over time leads to what's described above all on its own? Yes and no. Yes in that this in theory is indeed the standard schtick of the art. But in practice that rarely works out. Ba Gua is very dynamically demanding and complex in execution. That's distracting. Also as people advance with the mechanics they start to get proud of the cool-looking dancelike elements of the work and that drags their minds (and bodies) yet further in the wrong direction. All told this art just isn't a workable way for a beginner (and by that I mean anybody no matter how many decades of supposed Chinese arts experience they may have who hasn't yet gone way beyond just tasting the occasional little static qi buzz) to get their surge on. Not gonna happens except for the rare occasional total genius.
But does that mean it's hopeless? No, not at all. In fact if you love the dynamic elements of just enjoyable physical circle walking please be my guest. But if you want to someday taste the reality of what BG practice can actually become, you'll have to allot at least some of your practice time to work on the ARC fundamentals. You'll then finally begin to develop the actual power that can later be expressed in advanced BG practice.
So that's a high and mighty way for me to talk, but how does it really cash out? There are two basic energy phenomena that I would need a student to have serious experience and control of in themselves before I personally would say anything at all about BG or teach it to them. This is all stuff in the book 'The Aiki Singularity" which by the way doesn't mention BG at all.
Bottom line: Yes, Ba Gua is cool. Super cool. Maybe just "too cool for school", in my humble opinion.
Posted at 09:14 PM | Permalink
Recently I got good comments from a couple of people who have picked up on my stuff after having experience with various other systems and methods. I want to cherry pick from their correspondence and then riff off that a little. They aren't really Questions per se but that's my normal format.
Q1: I never felt anything much until I started applying your methods. But now that I am applying them, as I work with my old Long Fist stances which can be very hard, I can feel if I am doing the stance correctly or not based on whether or not the ARC will run in the posture. So as I do it I make a tiny adjustment to hips or shoulders or whatever, and sometimes my Daling lights up, or sometimes I feel something in my spine or any random place. It's fun to play with. Sometimes it seems like my body really knows the right posture and it will find it if I can stand the burn and focus on the ARC. Usually the adjustments that activate the ARC are whatever puts more of the physical stress into the legs, not allowing any little cheats of leaning or tilting the spine or elevating the shoulders to distribute strain into the upper body. When the legs burn, the ARC turns on... But again, you are absolutely right to take the approach you've taken. I never would have discovered these subtle modifications without your stuff.
Q2: The interesting thing about your approach, is that for me at least doing a similar program as what you described, I've been able to generate and build a pretty substantial energy experience without spending a lot of my practice time on the whole ZMQ37 form or xingyi fists and animals. I get that it grows over time, but currently it's does have the same kind of drop in the bucket feeling when I compare what I was originally feeling when I first began adopting your methods in my practice. But now, because when I stand in Quiet Standing my whole body lights up -- like those little Fisher Price glow worm toys from back in the day -- the interesting thing is to take this BACK into the ZMQ37 form and xingyi and to try, as you had mentioned in a previous post to try and sustain that charge the whole way through. That is hard, but so interesting because it does make my Quiet Standing at the end feel way different. Maybe more intense.
A: What you guys are describing, how you work it, is exactly what I've been aiming at in all my books, seminars, films, etc. The whole point is that the energy is real and it is not so far from us that we need to BLINDLY follow purely conventional patterns. It's like if you had to find some object in a large dark warehouse. If you believed there was no lighting system, no light switch, no windows then you would be resigned to just groping all over the dark walls and the stuff in there. But, even if the lights were switched off, if you knew that electric light is possible and if you were told that there IS a switch, and you were given its approximate location from the door in terms of which side and how many paces to walk, and turn left/right, etc. then you could combine that straightforward knowledge to guide your own walk into the warehouse and search first for the switch, turn that on, then easily hunt down the target object.
In this analogy, I believe the role of my stuff is first to convince you that the internal power is a real thing, worth pursuing - electric lighting is not a hoax, and the light switch is not up on the ceiling, etc That conceptual work is probably the most important thing in this world of either physicalist pure mechanically reductive materials, or on the other end, overly elaborate and ridiculously parochial methods as 'just so' stories, you must do it 'just so' like [fill in style or master teacher]'s forms prescribe. That was the function of JUICE book and the most important thing.
But then so many people ragged on JUICE cause everybody always wants lots of DRILLS (I predicted that reaction in JUICE book itself actually) so the follow-on books - hey if say you want DRILLS ... !!! So. Those are the two functions of my stuff. BUT the over arching point is where you guys are getting to - that you realize this stuff is real and its development and intensity are under YOUR control, not that of me or your Master Teacher or some Supreme Style or Perfect Form. Finger at the moon. I don't own this power or control the easement to it. And it isn't to be found in Gray's Anatomy or some physio-lab, but nor is it limited to some cave in Tibet or the inner sanctum of the Wudang temple. It's in you already you just gotta work it. As I always say: "Mama may have, and Papa may have, but God bless the child that's got his own".
That's the most important thing. Please re-read the key quotation of my Facebook group, on the header panel: "There is no Tai Chi, Ba Gua ,or Xing Yi" etc. By evidence of your posts you're doing exactly as I'd hoped people would begin to do. As for the lower body physical work, at a certain stage it is good as one way to force yourself to understand that the power comes from below, gets your mind to a place where we normally don't put our minds because we are all so rabidly upper body and arm centric. Later you'll realize the physical effort of that isn't absolutely essential beyond a certain point.
Another thing I want to say is that, just as right now you are realizing that you can re-visit many styles, forms, techniques and drills that you learned in the past, independently of and prior to my stuff, and now you see them with new eyes, and find amazing things in there that you never experienced the first time around (ARC activation etc). OK - now, in that same spirit, you should someday go over my stuff all over again, with that idea in mind, just do the drills and the ideas exactly as I've written them, even when you feel you've may have already transcended them, and the same thing will happen, you'll be amazed at what you missed the first time through.
Ultimately the truth of all this is not any special single little teacher, school, book, style, form, drill, technique or method. The ultimate truth is the simple statement in the header panel of the Facebook group. Transcend!
Horseman, pass by!
Posted at 01:43 PM | Permalink
I got a very good question: practical yet conceptual, hard-hitting yet heartfelt this morning.
Q: I've a (beginner) question how to portion practice time. After 1 year of practicing (starting nearly from zero and with only superficial [internal] martial arts experience) I have a stable feeling of BRUTE and can activate this feeling by will and light up my fingers for a gentle "body-buzz". But I have not reached any milestone you describe (surge feeling, hard/soft wave). With a training time of 1-2 hours/day, how would you divide it between standing (Santishi, Piledriver, Dantien Pole Drill and holding of TCQ poses, physical demanding SLO - all this with 1/2-Minute-QS afterwards), Shiko and BQ (half time quiet standing included) and ZMQ (Catstep, Countersink)? I concentrate on BQ and ZMQ-form - it is fun but it is also convenience.
I remember you told us about Ben Lo's training with sth. like 10% form, 50 % standing, 40 % push hands. So, as a rough orientation, would you see: when practicing you should go for a 50/50 distribution of pure standing and moving practices (with shorter standing intervalls included)?
Maybe some experienced want to share their experience, too.
And for understanding standing practice better: Could you please elaborate a bit about the topic, why dictums like "no pain no gain", "no burn no earn", "if you cannot hold pain, you will never get it" (or similiar, a quote of ZMQ) are so important and not only in external practices valid? Superficially, it seems paradox in a practice emphasizing the importance of feeling relaxed in practice.
A: Very good, there are several things to unpack here. The first thing is for me to back up and say that you are right to ask about this kind of thing. I'm sure you've seen my writing many times here in this blog or in the books where I say something like: [any given method X] is an amazing incredible drill/practice, but not for beginners. There are so many many drills and practices out there! But few of them will work well for people who are not yet relaxed and able to perceive the power. So that right there is the primary paradox of them all: when you are a beginner by definition you can't feel the power and you aren't relaxed. In that case, most of the drills and practices out there (not just mine, all of them: Tai Chi, Ba Gua, Xing Yi, Yi Quan, Liu He Ba Fa, Tong Bei, Qi Gong, White Crane, Mantis - whatever) won't help you. Most of them were originally created by and for extremely advanced inner students and masters who devoted their lives to this stuff and knew and felt what they were doing. Whereas the typical student today (and most teachers sad to say) haven't felt the power, often don't really credit or care that such a power is the main point of the work, or in any case in practical terms work and sell the stuff as theater, dance, exercise, pseudo-combatives (LARP), cultural appreciation or some weird physiotherapy. It can have those aspects. But most of the real goodies in those realms are not to be had by attacking them crudely and directly - they emerge naturally when you have the internal power running, which is the only real and primary point of it all.
That's one half of this paradox - that beginning students can't really benefit from most of the training out there. They don't have the tools to make the tools. The other ironic side of the paradox is that advanced people - by which I mean those who clearly feel the full inner power, can control, move and intensify it at will throughout the body using mind alone - those people don't really need specific little prissy drills like you must move limb X to position Y tracing vector Z or whatever. None of that really matters. Once you get the power running you are free like a snake or like water. Then any gesture or no gesture, every movement or no movement WHAMMO you feel the power slicing through you like a twister through a trailer park. As I say in my latest book The Aiki Singularity: every motion every moment. At that point, you can throw away all my drills and make your own or do any goofy Shaolin thing you learned as a kid or any boring Qi Gong arm waving you picked up at some weekend seminar ... doesn't matter what you do because Every Motion Every Moment.
So that's some conceptual background on why this can be hard to convey. But from a practical point of view, the whole idea of my stuff has been to cut through a lot of the 'classical mess' (apologies to Bruce Lee) and get right down to the workable stuff alone, Streamline, mainstream and mainline the internal training so that you get quick and undeniable results within yourself.
But then I sometimes get a question like the one above, which brings me up short and makes me realize that I myself am on the verge of creating just another version of the Classical Mess, by which I mean, just too much stuff that is mainly workable only be advanced people (who, by hypothesis above, aren't the one who need it anyway). Now with all these books and videos and God know what, aren't I just erecting another Tower of Babel?
The above consideration has actually occurred to me and that's one of the main reasons I wrote The Aiki Singularity. To streamline and simply, and to use as a lens to bring into focus the main issue. The main issue, for the questioner above and for most people is in two closely related pieces:
i. Too tense overall, without even realizing it, or (even worse) realizing it but justifying and rationalizing it to themselves as deliberate thing ("it's not a bug it's a feature" as we used to say at Apple).
ii. Too much focus on upper body and arms. Whether its Tai Chi or Qi Gong, even Ba Gua (which you might think would be naturally immune from this problem), people tend to be way over-invested in working their arms and hands in all the movements and techniques and totally forgetful of lower body - hips, legs and feet. It's not that we discount upper body and arms/hands, far from it. But you need to let the power emerge upward, then just catch it with your mind. Everybody is doing way too much with their arms and hands all the time. It's all just useless unnecessary tension, no matter how you try to spin it to yourself.
I do exonerate myself somewhat in that God knows I have tried to make the above two points about a gazillion times, to the point that people shout me down and say it boring that I mention relax so much (but those people are just as tense as everybody else). I really have tried.
But where I've been at fault is putting out too much stuff that people aren't really ready for and maybe cannot benefit from because of the the two foundational problems above. The deeper problem is that if you haven't felt at all (or much of) this internal power, you will tend to discount it. Assume that it's just my hyperbole, marketing, SEO bullshit and that the reality is just plain physiology - you just haven't felt it so you think and talk like that, even (especially) professional teachers of this stuff. But actually I haven't even stated or shown the half of it yet!
But already it's just too much for people to absorb if they can't feel it in themselves yet. It's like parched ground baked too hard and dry with no water will actually repel water at first until it's softened up. So most readers, even those who want to be sympathetic, are still in that condition.
So in the case of the questioner above, he's doing all that stuff - and feeling like he isn't getting much of anywhere. If I were a typical teacher I would just "grasshopper" the guy. That is for when a teacher just says "Don't sweat it grasshopper, just keep doing my little form and paying my monthly dues and someday long from now you may get it." It's almost like blaming the customer or user. We used to say at Apple (though we didn't really believe in it - we thought a lot of users were bozos ... anyway) "Never blame the user".
So. The first thing I want to point out to the guy, and any other fellow traveler, is notice that he's gotten much farther than he thinks. Notice what he wrote:
can activate this feeling by will and light up my fingers for a gentle "body-buzz".
That, believe it or not, is the (baby version of) what I called in Juice book "Full Body Activation" (FAB). It is the stage after BRUTE qi effects. True it isn't the mightiest manifestation in this realm but that is it and you go in an ascending spiral, revisiting this over and over at higher and higher voltages til it totally zaps you like grabbing a high tension power line with both hands. Never never never discount apparently 'minor' sensations! Paying attention to those and nurturing them intelligently and curiously is THE key to it all. So please pay attention to this point right here, this is already a 24K answer to your question.
The next thing though is that clearly the guy is doing too much. Too scattered, not focused enough. And that is totally my fault. I've put too much stuff out too fast, and have overrun my own stated goal of keeping everything simple, sleek, stripped to the bare metal, eliminate non-essentials... - all the stuff I myself am always preaching. But I've overloaded the plane to the point that some readers can't achieve escape velocity with these kinds of payloads.
A really good shrink, when a new patient comes in with a whole slew of crazy med schedule and dosages and pill for this, pill for that - a really good shrink will STOP all the pills right away. Yes stop every one of them, reset to zero. Then work from there. So my prescription (and this might not be right for everybody, now I am talking more specifically to the OP above) stop ALL that stuff. Now you'll see why I wrote The Aiki Singularity.
What I advise is, don't add exercises until you feel something something from what you're already doing. This for the OP, for others I might prescribe differently. For the OP, what I suggest is that you get your lower body reverberating, to the point are actually experience the energy effects I've written about. Then move on as desired and build on those.
So what would that be? That is focusing on the Accumulate and Rebound drills in The Aiki Singularity almost exclusively for awhile, until you truly being to EXPERIENCE what I'm talking about. Mainly the Cat Step Shiko.
So a typical session for now would be:
Quiet Standing, just focusing on your feet, for 5 mins.
Gently do Constant Bear - but with your mind "at" the two controls points shown for this in TAS book - the outer/lower edges of pelvis (femoral socket area, acetabulum). Don't even worry at this stage if you are "relaxed" in this area, just put your mind there anyway. For 5 mins.
Cat Step Shiko - Version A. Do it repeatedly, slowly gently. Distinguish the 4 basic leg weighting stages very clearly. Work it trying to tangibly experience the 3 basic energy effects I have described (Crack Step Surge - outgoing; Cat Step Surge - incoming/returning; Central Surge - double-weighted/transition). Do this for at least 5 mins but definitely more as you have time.
Then back to Constant Bear 5 mins as above.
End with Quiet Standing 5 mins as above.
That is minimum 25 mins which fits your budget as stated but you could do any stage above longer. Over time, when/if you truly can feel the lower body energy effects as described for Cat Step Shiko A, you should begin to gently incorporate Cat Step Shiko B stuff, bringing the hands and arms very gently into the game. They must be powered and filled from below. This is where the real fun starts because it's totally whole body super-critical fissile mass at this point. Eventually work to where you can actually feel the entire whole body current, from Activation in the dantian/hips, through Rebounding from the feet, to Catching at the daling points in the configuration that I call Da Ling Throttle (DLT) in the TAS book. Then you are nuclear rocking the house! You will be like "... the FUCK !?!? Nobody TOLD me about this !?!?!"
But I do know at this point it's really hard to credit that. It's so amazing but this is what I call the actual Aiki Singularity - when you can do, and properly experience, the DLT as above. And then is when you can go wild and start doing all kinds of any Tai Chi, Ba Gua, Xing Yi any damn thing. You will realize there is no style, that's all meaningless. Please re-read the header panel quote on my Facebook group page.
But what about all my other drills in all the books and vids, etc. ? Yes those are all good. But I'm beginning to realize maybe I've been a little naive. See, I got the internal knowledge from my original Xing Yi training, way back in the day, and got enough internal result from it to keep my interest perking. But I still though my XYQ teacher emphasized it so much, I still did not fully understand, in my body, the meaning and importance and experience of relaxation - just as all of you I've ever taught or met up with still do not (just saying).
And I've come to understand that it was all that really super hardass boot camp type of torture training under Ben Lo that got me to the point I really began to grok the meaning of that and how it relates to the specifics of the internal power - which, talk about paradox, Ben Lo himself barely ever has even mentioned much less specifically taught! And yet, it was his uniquely hardass training that got me to really understanding it when I jammed it together with the prior chunk of Xing Yi teachings WHAMMO the ballistically combined mass went super-critical and fissile - BLAM. And I began to really see it.
So now you realize I'm tiptoeing up to that last thing you asked about. What is all this "eat bitter" and "no burn" stuff which seems to imply all the things that I rail against in my books, like physicality and pain and tension to hold yourself up under stress?
It may be that the above, though it does not directly address the energy, is nevertheless the only actual road that works. Worked for me. But my books are based on several counter hypotheses.
The first counter-hypothesis is that, like it or not, pretty much only Ben Lo has the charisma or drill sergeant toughness or whatever secret sauce he has that can make people work that hard. I mean, his sessions were just tooooo hard, especially throughout the 80's and early 90's my core times with him. If you've experience it you know that realistically, for some reason, we just cannot force ourselves to work that hard with it. Nor can other teachers get us to do it the way he did. I'm not being religious or anything here. I wish it were otherwise. I wish I myself could inspire readers or seminar students to want to work that hard for me. But honestly, I can't. I don't have that talent, that weird atmosphere distortion thing that Ben has that creates that feeling in people. Nor have I know any other teacher who has that. My point is that, even if we wanted to affirm believe that the 'secret' is just long hard super painful endurance and eat bitter (吃苦) training, that belief would not help us much because honestly now - neither you nor I can force ourselves to work like that, nor can any other teacher known to me. Tell the truth! That's how it is. So to me, there isn't much use barking up this tree - even though I openly admit this is what really sparked me off the launchpad - perhaps accidentally!
That leaves me with what has been my leading idea for the books all along. The core concept has been that these powers are NOT so far from you, that with the right understanding, it should be possible to experience, control, and develop them without the super discipline of classical Ben Lo bootcamp mentality and without spending decades on pointless dance pantomimes. It should be possible to do some gaseous diffusion here and filter out the 3% super valuable concepts and associated drills of U235 isotope from the sludge of non-fissle U238 mess of long winded traditional distractions.
It is possible that I've been wrong about this. Not that my drills lack effectiveness but maybe they are, just as I've often said about Yi Quan and other systems, "not for beginners". Maybe I too have been stumped by very problem that I more than anybody have most sharply defined and accused others of fostering. Well, so my readers are the guinea pigs and lab rats. But the lower body, tangible-energy minimal program above, based on book The Aiki Singularity and associated skeletal visual reference film Bare Metal Internals represents my best current thinking on how to keep my initial optimistic hypothesis and leading idea still afloat. If not, my stuff will sink into the large swamp already well stocked, of all the thousands of other pointless little arm-waving Qi Gong programs and elaborate but mostly useless Ba Gua regimens and what not. And that will be that. Nice try sucka! But it's not over til the lady sings so hang in there with me for now and we'll see what happens.
[Notice that in this long response post I did NOT take the cheap and easy way out of pasting some of the hundreds of very passionate testimonials I've received from readers who HAVE begun to experience precisely what I've described, from using the methods in the books. These private communications for some reason tend to be a lot hotter and much more wildly enthusiastic and descriptive than what people post publicly don't know why that is. But anyway, waving those in the OP's face would be 'blaming the user' again. Like asking: Well, what's wrong with YOU? type of thing. The OP's question is absolutely valid for his experience and I'm sure frankly for the majority of readers, feeling the same at this early stage. So we'll see where it goes from here.]
Posted at 07:37 PM | Permalink
I have a bigger post coming up on the overall approach to internal development, given the plethora of styles, methods and teachers out there, not to mention the increasingly dense foliage of even my own stuff, which was originally intended to streamline, mainline, and mainstream these esoteric practices.
But before I get to that, I wanted to quickly field a softball on the perennial topic of flexibility. A lot of people see my yoga pics or they're just interested in yoga anyway, and they write to ask about the relation between yoga flexibility and Tai Chi relaxation - is that the same thing or what?
It's not the same thing. I do Ashtanga yoga just because I like it and because as long as I'm dragging around a human body I need to keep it minimally tuned up. I don't have a whole lot of interest in the physical body - mine or anybody else's. Physical life is fleeting. The body is just baggage that we have to drag around temporarily while serving out our sentence here on the Earth plane. For example, I own a car but just because that's useful/necessary in the USA. I'm not into cars. They don't interest me. I don't watch NASCAR on weekends or tinker under the hood or slaver after a Lamborghini. But as long as I do feel I need to own one, I don't want to crap out on 405 some cold night, thus I do the minimum of keeping it oiled, lubed, tuned and decent enough tires. I don't care but if you own one you have to go through the motions.
In this view of the physical, I'm an oddball yogi in that the vast majority of yogi's that I have met so far (SWEETEST and NICEST people in the universe!) while they pay lots of lip service to Patanjali and enlightenment and all that, frankly for the most part, operationally? They are 100% physical people. They LOVE, WORSHIP and ADORE the physical body (especially their own of course, like all of us in that way). Most people in the game are total Snapchat yogi's and I understand why. It's easy to fall in love with asana porn of how cool you or somebody can do some pose to impress others (supposedly. Actually nobody cares, people are interested in themselves.)
There's a vague genuflection to Rama or whatever, a vague expectation that someday (maybe after 5th Series!) we're gonna hit the big E of enlightenment or permanent bliss or whatever. But in practice most people just wanna get on the mat and sweat and stretch and bind. And we have good doctrinal support for that attitude. After all, Pahtabhi Jois himself famously said: "Ashtanga yoga is 1% theory, 99% practice".
Anyway, the extreme flexibility you seen in advanced Ashtanga yogi's and yogini's in their Snapchat asana porn is the result of natural attribute combined with a lot of hard and sustained work. For example, the photo above shows one of my Ashtanga teachers performing Hanumanasana (front splits, named for the monkey god Hanuman who took a huge leaping lunge between India mainland and Sri Lanka in the Ramayana story). That pose is in the 'Advanced A' (3rd) Series of Ashtanga yoga. From a yoga point of view, it takes some work and doing to evolve to where you perform that routinely.
But that yogic flexibility does NOT correlate at all with the softness that is the bedrock and hallmark of Tai Chi. Most yoga people (SUPER sweethearts that they are!) are very uptight and clenched up both physically and psychologically. It makes sense doesn't it? These are people who believe that if you can just force yourself to do every goddamn little dinky ass thing just PERFECTLY RIGHT then you will I don't know become enlightened or at least get a gold star or something. That's a beautiful community of precious souls.
Tai Chi is totally different. Tai Chi maybe because of its vague and tenuous historical connection to martial arts takes a more practical attitude. Since flexibility per se is not required for pursuing the real goal of Tai Chi (radical internal power!) therefore it is not stressed or prized, nor is it striven for in any explicit fashion.
However, most any professional instructor of Tai Chi, regardless of age, style or gender, is nevertheless able to drop into the splits or any other straightforward (but sometimes regarded as extreme) stretch. For example, forget about yoga and Hanumanasana for a minute. Here is a photo of me snapped this morning doing a simple Chinese-style full 'wall splits' just for the hell of it (I do not practice Ashtanga 3rd Series) just as any professional Tai Chi instructor could do, regardless of age/gender (59/male)
It's not beautiful yoga asana porn, because Chinese don't care so much about that. But as for the 'flexibility' - how can that be done, given that we Tai Chi types don't explicitly train for it? It's because a Tai Chi teacher has become soft. That's more important for internal energy than the rigid extension training of yoga or dance. And this soft quality emerges naturally just due to patient work on the Tai Chi foundation of relaxation. So relaxation brings flexibility as a natural by-product, but the reverse is not true: flexibility (as in yoga) does not automatically and naturally bring relaxation.
Posted at 12:59 PM | Permalink
In the video below, a very excellent, accomplished, powerful and much respected martial arts teacher and author brings up a very interesting question about the Zheng Manqing Tai Chi form's unique hand shaping, the softly extended fingers with flat wrist called 'Fair Lady's Hand' (美人手).
His physical demonstration of the contrasting shapes involved is perfect.
However, the analysis needs more nuance. It is slightly backwards:
"Cheng Manching's rationale for this was, well, most people's hands are just too tense to be able to bend them back."
That is a mistaken view of CMC's rationale. In fact he knew perfectly well that anybody can bend their hand back. As BKF says in the video, ALL the Yang students bent their hands back, presumably from their first class onward. So how could CMC possibly have thought that "most people's hand are too tense TO BE ABLE to bend them back" ?
Clearly it's not a question about physical ability. Any normal human being (who is not totally arthritic/sclerotic) can bend his or her hand back, no problem. CMC's rationale may seem at first glance like the above italicized statement, but is in fact different, it's much more subtle, and the truth of it is also personally verifiable. It's something Ben Lo often had people test when (umpteen zillions of seminar attendees) had asked him about this very same point. Ben Lo would simply say (quoting CMC, who had given this same demonstrative answer when Ben Lo himself had asked this same thing - there's no end to it all... )
Ben would tell the questioner:
"Bend your wrist back. Good. Now look at your hand, and feel your hand, remember the look and feeling. Got that? OK, now, form Beautiful Lady's Hand. Look at your hand. Feel it. Got that? OK now compare the two conditions - which is more relaxed?"
That's all. People (even most professional Tai Chi teachers and authors) are so unbelievably tense - without even realizing it - that Yang Cheng Fu created and transmitted to CMC this small but potent method of both:
(a) helping to make us aware of our tension; and
(b) helping us to actually eliminate it.
The first principle of Tai Chi is "relax". Anything that is demonstrably more relaxed (while keeping conscious mind in the game, not collapsing) is a priori superior to something less relaxed. When you have learned to make all your tons of unconscious tension conscious, and then learned to drop it at will, then and only then you can shape your hand any damn way you please.
(It's also true that - under certain crucial and specific conditions of awareness - a physical extension of the daling point at the inner wrist can complete the full body energy circuit. However, most people who are bending their hands in Tai Chi are of course very far from even the remotest understanding or experience of that. For details please refer to my book The Aiki Singularity).
Posted at 05:14 PM | Permalink
When people start running the ARC process for real, for themselves, not as a conceept or philosophy or word or image or cover term for any fashionable but irrelevant physiological stand-in (fascia anyone?) but as the straightforward, mind-blowing tangible reality that it actually is, then they can circle back and re-investigate practices which they might have just skimmed right on by in their first readings of my stuff.
Case in point: in my books that focus entirely on Tai Chi (PENG and SURGE), I specify details of the Counter-Sink protocol. This is a way to super-charge you standing practice. Standing practice is big these days from another angle, usually called zhan zhuang and in current thinking sourced primarily from Yi Quan and some styles of Qi Gong. It's big but as usual, people both under and over think it. Under think it in that they stand without realizing how tense they really are, so they don't feel even 1% of what they could be harvesting. Over think it in that their minds are all gooped up with elaborate theories of internal this and that process, meridians and organs not to mention all the new fangled emphasis on micro-biomechanics. There's a role for a bit of that stuff but a little goes a long way. A few simple and straightforward points of attention are all you need. You don't need to goop it up as much as people do. That's just drawing legs on the snake 畫蛇添足。 Remember, energy theory as applied to your practice is like medicine - the right dose cures and overdoes kills (by tensing up your mind and body as you strain do it right). Eliminate non-essentials and WHOA HOLY FUCK the energy will just blast right through you like a tornado slicing up a trailer park. You won't need a weatherman to tell you how that wind blows.
Anyway, back to my specific point for today about standing. It's popular to stand upright with feet shoulder width, arms up like embracing a tree. That's big these days. Then of course it needs to be gooped up with all kinds of internal geegaw's and whatnot's. That's good but generally 99% of people are way too tense doing this, particularly their shoulders get super tense without their even realizing it. Anyway it's ok, anything is maybe better than nothing.
Another approach is to use Tai Chi postures for standing. Since most Tai Chi as taught in the major styles is also unwittingly going to tense you up (see my various books for details) I suggest you might want to base longer-timed standing practices on the ZMQ37 Tai Chi poses, which 'do the least harm' in terms fostering built-in tension as most other systems tend to do (not meaning to trash or diss other systems, they all haver their great points, but in this particular area of tension/relaxation most of the time the system as taught is actually fighting your efforts to relax. It's because they are at bottom essentially theatrical, they want you to look elegantly badass - but that goal is totally irrelevant to this post and the energetic process. ZMQ37 pose structures are somewhat better than average in this one department.)
You can work with any or all of the 7 poses illustrated and exhaustively detailed in my book Tai Chi PENG Root Power Rising. Or, if you know the entire form, use any other of the ZMQ37 poses. The point here is how you stand, not what you stand in.
Here's where people have lately asked me about the relation of my latest book The Aiki Singularity, to the earlier Tai Chi books. Short answer: it's all the same energy under discussion. All the same identical model and principles. But when you understand certain points in the Aiki Singularity book, you can circle back and apply those to great effect in the Tai Chi work.
For example, in Aiki Singularity book I point out forcefully that while the overall lower abdomen, hips, and waist area (pelvic assembly) are the internal power battery of the ARC process, within this units you want to work using your mind via the lower/outer edge of the hips, which is the femoral junction (acetabulum). This is really really powerful (paradoxically) addressed mentally. It's a mental practice. I say paradoxical because as soon as I mention any physical structure, everybody starts jonesing like yeah now we can get all phsycal again yay! Which is what people really like to do. But it isn't quite that way. It's the energetic counterpart of a physical area, so you don't really need to 'do' anything much with it, it's a matter of applying your mind and attention to it.
But you do need a bit of mental protocol to make it work, and some (very minimal!) physical process to set it up. A good physical process for working this is what I call the Counter-Sink in the PENG and SURGE books. I talk about a few variations of how to work that in those books. After you've read The Aiki Singularity and got the idea about the femoral junction (acetabulum) thing, you can begin to apply that to your Tai Chi Counter-Sink standing and whoa - liftoff! Escape velocity! A very effective method gets supercharged.
All you need to do is
(i) take one of the 7 pose with external correctness (as in the books)
(ii) do Counter-Sink but using your mind to sink at the two femoral juncture points. It's just a small amount of actual physical lowering. The main thing is to leave all the rest of the pose invariant (arm shape, 70/30 weight distribution, upright torso, etc.) - keep all that the same, and just feel that you are being lowered or pushed straight downward just via the two lower hip edges (outer inguinal points) as the control/contact surfaces.
Yeah, I know it sounds too simple so 99% of you will dismiss but for that one guy (or .6 of a guy or however the math works out if this post has fewer than 100 readers) I'll teach you now - just put your mind on those two points (left and right sides) and feel like somebody is using just those two points to kind of push you lower down (gently, softly, but continuously). That is exactly what Ben Lo used to do to us when we were standing in the class. He'd use those two lower hip points, with his own hands, to push us further down. If you can simulate that using your own mind, and if your poses are otherwise basically correct, you'll get a many-fold increase in the harvest of the Counter-Sink practice.
There are other variations of Counter-Sink detailed in the books, so rotate through them all, play with them all from time to time. This post is just giving you one more highly effective variation. It's an example of what I mean when I say the progression is not strictly monotonically linear, like you do Practice X at Stage Y and then leave them behind, but not flat circular (repeating) either. It's an ascending spiral.
Posted at 12:14 PM | Permalink
Posted at 05:29 PM | Permalink
I've had quite a number of emails from readers of new book The Aiki Singularity, asking whether there isn't a film or video or DVD of the energy drills in there.
The bare-bones basics of the three main drill groups in the book are shown in my Vimeo tutorial Bare Bones Internals:
The film does not show or instruct the many variations, extensions, and refinements covered in the book. But if you want a no-frills basic visual reference, that is it.
Posted at 12:36 PM | Permalink
I got the following question from a very experienced and intelligent reader, who after going over all my stuff, has recently been inspired to delve into Xingyi training:
Q: [From reading your books and blog and videos] I'm beginning to realize that I need to learn Xingyi, which will be very interesting after many years (on and off, mainly off) of Yiquan, given than Yiquan evolved from Xingyi, no? From what I've learned of Yiquan I can recognize similarities, e.g. in Zhan Zhuang, Shili, and Mocabu, in both, though Xingyi seems to have more attention to detail from what I can see, which I have to admit
does appeal to my rational mind. Do you know of any Xingyi teachers in [my area]?
A: Thank you for interesting and excellent 'trigger' question, offering this meat for me to riff on what might be a surprising answer. But the preface is that of course everybody should learn everything about anything, learn as much as we can in our very brief possession of a human body. So I hope you won't be freaked out by my possibly surprising answer about starting up a Xingyi training program. This is NOT 'the' answer, this is 'my' (weirdo) answer.
First of all, there are many great Xingyi teachers everywhere now. Unlike when I began the art there are fine teachers in every major USA metro area, no problem with searching those out. But here's the thing: clarify your goals before beginning any such program. Once you find a teacher and a school you'll be drawn into their program (NOT a bad thing, but stick with me here). You'll be interacting with the teacher, you'll meet your new classmates, you'll go to a studio of some kind, there'll be weapons on the wall, maybe a uniform or at least a t-shirt :)
You'll start to learn lots of new stances, movements, drill, techniques, two-man patterns, maybe use some kind of equipment like pads or bags or mitts or dummies could be almost anything these days. You'll learn Five Fists and Twelve (or more!) Animals and also linking forms, maybe warmups and stretching or supplemental conditioning calisthenics, probably some additional Qi Gong and breathwork will be thrown into the mix. You'll also be making friends, getting together after class, maybe organizing demonstrations for events or helping your teacher make videos, etc.
There is totally absolutely nothing wrong with all the above! In fact, it's good. The more learning the better. The only reason I'm making a thing out of this is to ask you to clarify your goals before beginning. Because you have asked me me me this question, coming from your interest my stuff.
I will tell you straight out that virtually no professional teacher of Xingyi (or Tai Chi for that matter) will talk about the arts the way that I do. Of course nobody is ever identical to anybody else and that's fine, but I'm making a practical point here, which is that you need to decide what your real interest is. My stuff is 1000% energy-centric. It seems like a subtle or maybe meaningless distinction, because after all, every teacher will mention the qi or internal power and kind of imply that it's out there somewhere or as we say in Ashtanga yoga "Practice and All is Coming". But it's vague and distant. You aren't quite ready to think about such things yet, Grasshopper - that's the unspoken vibe.
I repeat there's nothing at all wrong with that! Every teacher should do things his own way, that is their right and their responsibility. I am NOT trying by this post to gouge anybody's income or slam down their school. I wish everybody the best. But again, you have asked me. So here's the thing: all that above great stuff that I listed as what you'll be learning in your new Xingyi school is a distraction.
I keep my eyes on the prize at all times. This is going to vary with every individual. My goal is the universal energy and power. Nothing else. I care nothing, zero, zip, nada about any style or art or culture or practice. The conventional shapes the training takes mean absolutely totally less than zero to me. I pick up only the bare minimum of what I, after extensive experimentation with deep learning of dozens of arts and styles and teachers, bring on the juice. Nothing else means anything to me.
That of course does necessarily apply to you! So that's why I said you need to clarify your training goals. If you ask my absolutely unvarnished opinion, then I say that unless the reincarnation of Li Luoneng is offering private lessons in your area, then you should train on your own to the point of at least beginning to seriously feel the power in the ways I have described, using the extremely simple straight-forward practices I have provided in books and films.
I know that sounds so freaking arrogant and narrow and proprietary and everything. All the bad qualities that I constantly rave against. But again, you have asked me and this is my answer. The reason I say it is not because other programs offer too little. It's because they offer too much. There is basically no other teacher available to you who will talk about the energy as I do. It doesn't make me the best fighter or performer or Xingyi wizard, not by a long shot. But it does means that my stuff focuses you on yourself. On your own experience rather than outward to the art or some shape or movement or culture coming from outside. My stuff is radically internal to the bone in the deep sense of working with the sole and entire goal of getting you to feel, control and intensify your own power, within yourself.
Once you've at least begun to run the juice, on your own, in yourself, for yourself - then you will be in the best position to put your head up and put out your antenna and decide what kind of additional training program can help you to use, shape and direct this incredible energy toward your own specific application goal. Such application goal could be virtually anything, such as combative work of a huge variety of purposes, or healing self or others, or esoteric exploration of the higher non-physical realms, arts of motion or visual creativity such as calligraphy and painting, or just soaking in this amazing power like your own personal portable hot tub. Anything is possible.
But why cramp, and hobble yourself at the starting gate? As I said, every teacher will make some vague noises about Qi, but no other teacher is going to throw you back onto your own self, your own experience, your own reactions and perceptions, as my stuff does. That's just baked into the reality of present day life, their systems are and must be Procrustean Beds, in that they are forced by external pressures to work with the goal of conforming you to their system rather than nourishing and bringing out your own power to shine. It's not that they are 'evil' in any way, but the structure of our current economy and society makes it so. And the good news is: that's not bad at all. It's wonderful to have such a vast and colorful variety of training options.
All I'm saying here is two things:
(1) Clarify your actual goals. If you are primarily interested in the internal power, if you're ready to be truly energy centric at least for the moment, then see (2) below.
(2) Put off joining any Xingyi group or teacher or school just for now - until you have truly begun to experience the power from the very simple and focused drills, based on the simple energy model, that I have provided. Once you've at least gotten a taste of that you'll be in a far better position to choose a 'real' teacher, school, or program for yourself. Maybe not even Xingyi, maybe something totally different, or maybe a return to your prior system or program but seeing it with totally new eyes.
It's like somebody who has no actual operational experience of math, but the person hears about "calculus" and that just sounds cool to the ears, doesn't it? Calculus... such a power word. So the person gets all excited to learn "calculus". But what you realize later is that in practice, calculus operations are just 99% doing algebra. If you have no operational experience and proficiency with algebra, it's totally meaningless to think about calculus. The calculus is a particular application of algebra, it's a kind of organizing principle or coherent framework for thinking about certain kinds of problems and applying algebra to them in a creative way. But it's meaningless to try to get into calculus without having the power of algebra at your fingertips.
Most so-called internal martial arts training can be compared to a calculus teacher who, teaching a roomful of beginner students with no training at all in algebra, trig, or analytic geometry, might mention algebra once or twice in the introductory lecture, but the class time was actually filled with having you copy over and over and over the symbols for differentiation and integration and copying the fundamental theorem of the calculus over and over again and you never understand what the power is that animates the operations - that makes them come alive.
In the same way, it's meaningless to learn a big deal "style" of practice without having at least some command of the power. Though the style itself is usually advertised as being the means of developing that power in the first place, in practice it just doesn't work that way any more. Not because there's too little training offered but because there's too much offered. It's all just a big distraction, done for other purposes.
Li Luneng trained with the Dai brothers for years, practicing just a couple moves before they finally taught him the "full" art. At that point it wouldn't have mattered, as he got the essence from the initial bare bones work.
Frankly the very last or worst effect I would wish my books to have is to inspire a reader to jump right into any training program, before they have tasted the power for themselves and in themselves. Any conventional training program is working to produce something like this, through hobbling and forcing and clipping and binding:
When you understand and work the power in yourself, for yourself, it's more like this:
Some guidance but a whole different spirit.
There is nothing super magic in Xingyi per se, as a system. My energy model and principles are just using the drills and movements as a tempoary expedient vehicle. All conventional structure, any fixed pattern, is a limitation. I have quoted Ramana Maharish many times in my books: Walking in the jungle, if you get a thorn in your heel, you use another thorn to dig it out - then throw both away.
The spirit and purpose of my training is beautifully stated in the quote from Xingyi supermaster Zhe Yizhai, which can be read as the header panel in my Facebook group here.
That's all any particular style or pattern can ever be. Water has no prescribed shape, only certain aspects of its nature that enable it to do cool things. Be water.
Posted at 09:16 AM | Permalink
Below is one of the best student descriptions of a good level of intermediate attainment of the practices and energetic results I've been writing about in my books. This man has been a long-time veteran student of both Tai Chi and Xing Yi, with several other teachers for some decades, and a hardcore fighter type also. By his report, he had no experience or understanding of internal power in my sense before happening onto my book Juice and subsequently taking some in-person training with me. This is his recent report. 'DT', in his way of writing, is dantian (丹田).
Posted at 11:04 PM | Permalink