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.]