Q: You've given out some amazing stuff lately, but at bottom I still need some bit of further handholding, namely when I stand in the yubei shi, after all's said and done, where exactly is my mind supposed to be or be going again??
A: At this point I could either go deeper in to the more esoteric energetics or just give you a practical answer that will work just as well. So let's do it as a line drive rather than a fly ball here. When you stand in yubeishi, assuming you have gotten some baby degree of flow going (in other words, after having your mind blown by Juice, if I ask are you experienced?... the answer at this point better be some version of 'yes') then all you really need to do is distribute your attention lightly, softly, and evenly among the following five key areas:
Be gently aware of all 5 at once.
The beauty of this is that all 5 are surfaces, which are much easier and simpler to attend to than points.
Now we could go on all night adding more and more points and energies and channels and states but having to think of all that is just going to tense you up. Just do as above, wait quietly til it all comes to a boil. If you really want a more blast furnace expedite beyond this simple thing, you'll have to work the real ZMQ 7 poses or full form with all the more elaborate stuff in Peng and Surge.
The book Surge has a lot of gems that people will totally overlook. For example, I've been discussing the ZZP (zip) drill in the 'Advanced Work' chapter of Surge. This drill both relies on and further develops the ability to distinguish yin/yang two energies. The whole yin/yang two energies thing might seem like just moth eaten Chinese philosophy, but no, that's a real thing, something you must feel and use.
But how to get started? I said ZZP is advanced. But you can begin by learning to sense the obvious difference between the weight-bearing and non-weight bearing foot. That's a crude physical different that's easy to feel for real. From working that you'll eventually begin to grok the distinction of energy charge in the legs that goes along with that. Then, you'll be able to unite the energies as they rise from the differently weighted feet/legs. Then you'll be able to split them again as discuss recently, from the ling tai outwards (yang) and upwards (yin) and channel those through the lower and upper surfaces respectively, of the arms. Finally you'll be able to reunite and re-circulate them.
So it begins with working from the crude physical weighting difference, that gives us a mechanical way into this abstruse realm. Now, in the book Surge I talk about Jin Ji Du Li pose, in the Pose Notes chapter. Probably you've overlooked that. But this pose is incredibly powerful if you work it right. You need to really feel the difference between the totally relaxed, totally light unweighted foot vs. the heavy workload and pressure of the weight-bearing foot throughout the move. During all phases (rising leg, holding leg, lowering leg) TOTALLY relax the light leg, imagine the muscles as tofu, the leg as a feather, while you remain TOTALLY conscious of weight, work, pressure, even strain in the strong leg. Really feel that CONTRAST. Then the two energies will be clarified and will burst through your entire body. Yea I say verify unto you, even unto your arms and hands. I know many of you don't believe it but this is written for those who have ears to hear it. You can practice the Golden Rooster as a standalone drill (as described in Surge) either walking it backward through your practice space like Repulse Monkey, one after another you don't have to limit yourself to just two, or you can do it in-place, one leg after the other. Work it slowly and clearly, feel at every moment.
The pic below, from a recent Japanese book about the teachings of Sagawa Yukiyoshi, shows the shiko exercise that Sagawa heavily emphasized and practiced thousands of times every day. The illustration includes a comparison to traditional sumo shiko (left side photo) to clarify that Sagawa's shiko was a modification of the standard practice, with much less emphasis on the athletic high foot raise and forceful down stomp.
From this it's obvious that Sagawa's shiko was serving much the same purpose as the Golden Rooster contrastive alternation function that I have just described above. However, because the Golden Rooster is Tai Chi and we are "allowed" to talk more openly about relaxation and internal energy and practice those attributes as such, I believe the GR version of this has even more long-term potential than Sagawa's special version of shiko. But both are pointing in the same direction, as is the weighting alternation in Cloud Hands and in fact throughout the ZMQ form. I talked about this in Peng book also.
(The text in the pic is comparing the high-stepping athletic style of sumo shiko with Sagawa's more nuanced version.)
- Chen Weiming
Never use strength in Push Hands. If you practice softly for a few years, you'll naturally develop the peng energy. The special feature of peng energy is that you don't have to consciously direct and intentionally apply it. The peng energy will automatically nullify the opponent's strength on it's own, rendering him unable to affect your body. A beginner needs to practice relaxation for a few years, to develop absolute softness. That sets the stage for the emergence of peng energy in push hands practice. As the peng energy operates automatically and unconsciously, it conforms to the configuration of the waist. The energy that arises at this stage is called the Old Ox Power.
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Note: Post partially updated, afternoon 3/18/2015.
Note: While reading this post on advanced peng energies, please do not confuse my use of the term peng (the real internal energy) with the mechanical bracing interpretation of peng that is very popular with other authors and teachers. The peng I'm talking about is not what you see when a teacher stands in a Tai Chi pose and has a student shove on him. While that may serve to bounce away an overly (or intentionally) tense student type (especially a smaller guy) it is only force-against-force in sheep's clothing. It is a mechanical springiness that while attractive to watch has nothing to do with the energetic interpretation of peng that I'm trying to talk about in these books and posts.
The OOP refers to a real stage of development of the peng energy. It's more difficult and advanced than the hard waves and soft waves that I've already discussed, and comes after you've understood how to distinguish and then unify the lateral and vertical yin/yang flows, as discussed in the previous post. Unlike the hard and soft waves, which are inherently time-based effects (with a durational component), the OOP is a slowly accreting permanent and persistent "charge" in the torso: "always-on".
The internal energy is emanating from channels at first, as covered in Juice, Peng, and Surge. At some point, it "overflows" those channels and permeates everywhere. When that permeation thing happens in the trunk (perineal area to collarbone), the trunk is imbued with this Old Ox thing. It's a very distinct phenomenon. If you're wondering whether you've experienced it you haven't.
The reason it happens at a later stage in the game, even after you've felt and integrated a lot of other stuff is that achieving the final degree of relaxation is hardest in the trunk. We can relax and thus energy-charge our arms via the Fair Lady Hand shape, we can relax our legs via constant attention to the Cat Step, but for the torso it's not so easy. Most people are very stiff there, abdomen hard (Ben always says: "Stomach is water, not ice!"), butt, lower back, etc. Not to mention shoulders which also affect the torso. So it's a later stage, but long before you experience the OOP thing, you can feel the hard and soft waves and learn to distinguish and direct the distinct yin and yang channels and all that.
Eventually the trunk channels that are doing the "pass through" of foot-to-fingers energy for all the above-listed work will get so charged and capacitated that they'll overflow and spread the power through the entire torso. lt's like when the Mississippi River overflows its banks completely during the spring floods and just spread out everywhere like a lake, so you can't even tell there was ever an actual defined river there in the first place, it's just water covering and saturating everything. The channels are actually still there and operating underlyingly, just like the persistent river currents. But you'd never know that to look at it:
One way to more consciously work on this and expedite it is the ZMQ Cloud Hands sequence. It's described in Surge and you can find a number of YouTube videos of Professor Zheng's form performance with embedded Cloud Hands. It is based superficially on turning the waist simultaneously with a left-right weight shift but of course the deeper point to it is the energetics. The key thing is to do it with serious sensitivity. By 'sensitivity' I do not mean the currently fashionable physical geek-out approach, like the usual nerve-wracking stuff:
Be extremely careful that your anterior superior iliac spine does not exceed a polar-normalized angle of cos(7π/4) above your obulator foramen on the dorsal side, and that you keep it strictly less than (xcosθ,xsinθ,64−x2) above the intertrochanteric line or else you're TOTALLY FUCKED...
No, what I mean by being sensitive and careful is that you properly negotiate the very fine line between "keeping shape" vs. "tensing up". Remember you need Mind without Tension. More difficult than it sounds. The power train for the motion of Cloud Hands needs to be always:
Mind ==> Energy ==> Waist ==> Everything Else
Here more than anywhere else in the form you have to really pay attention to keeping your hands full of mind and full shape but with no physical tension whatsoever. Most people are way too tense doing this and it turns into just a mild physical calisthenic.
Anyway, when the OOP happens for you - WOW what an amazing phenomenon! You'll know it when you got it. As for functionality, the OOP helps with the automatic manifestation of protective peng power as Chen Weiming pointed out, and it strengthens the trunk and internal organs overall. But mainly it's just such a cool feeling to experience. Better than the greatest massage you can possibly imagine.
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There's good news and bad news about this post from yesterday, below. The bad news is that if you haven't got the whole foundation of basic ZMQ principles, postures, transitions and form, preferably from Ben Lo himself, or at least one of his direct senior students, plus a concrete experience with, and understanding of, all the basic grounding, relaxation, extension, mindfulness and energy stuff I've been presenting in my books and videos, there's only a vanishingly small chance that you'll have enough internal flow to even begin to perceive the (initially) subtle effects I'm talking about in this drill. Remember this drill is from the 'Advanced Work' chapter of Surge. But the good news is that once you get the feel of this, you'll have it for life. Then it's just up to you how far you want to take the energy. Remember what the Tai Chi Classics promised you a long time ago? Here it is: 運勁如百鍊鋼, 何堅不摧 (temper your internal energy like steel hammered, folded and forged a hundred times over, til it's capable of penetrating any resistance). If you keep working the energy process of the ZZP drill, eventually your arms will pack out with this internal peng power and they'll really feel, as the Tai Chi Classics promised, when the 'soft' yin energy becomes absolutely adamantine 純剛.
People have written asking me to elaborate further on the energetic structure of the ZZP thing (yesterday's post and recent video showing the Zhang Zhuang (Pinned) drill presented in new book SURGE Radical ZMQ Energetics).
I wasn't going to get much into that because if you haven't begun to feel the actual power current for yourself, there isn't much point in explain the theoretical minutia. And if you have then you don't need me or these books or anything here to begin with. The energy will teach you all you need.
But since people have asked, I'll lay out the bare bones of it. Remember that what I write here is not ancient Chinese philosophy or state-sponsored Tai Chi theory or a quaint medieval metaphor for what we enlightened ones now understand as fascial tissue mechanics, nor is it a word, concept, or image. It's a direct "physical" (physical in the sense: as palpable as something physical like pain or any other overwhelming sensation).
So. The energetics of the ZZP (zip) are:
1. As I've already said in the video and transcript, the physically strong leg is our proxy and vehicle for the activation of the yang energy rising from the front foot in 70/30. I hope that was clear? Then the physically weak leg is our proxy vehicle for the activation of the yin energy, rising from the rear foot. It doesn't mean the energy itself is "weaker" from there, you have to clearly distinguish the physics and mechanics of this from the solid-state energetics. Yin energy will be felt as such, just as sharply and clearly as the yang. As you initiate the ZZP in any given pose, the two energies surge up from their respective legs very obviously and concretely, and they merge beginning at the hui yin point (see Radical Xingyi Energetics for discussion of this point) and intertwine throughout the lower abdomen / hip / waist region to form a single power flow rising from there.
2. Then, you should have noticed that the "physical" pivot point of the ZZP (and also basic Zhang Zhuang) is the ling tai spot on the spine, discussed at length in Juice and Peng books. The physics of the ZZP drill serve as an igniting nudge for the interesting energy process of re-differentiation of the two energies, temporarily splitting back to their yin and yang components (hey don't blame me if this is getting too esoteric. People have asked for it, here it is.) The ZZP process naturally encourages the yang component to branch outwards and ripple laterally from the ling tai (the spinal energy hot spot between the lower edges of the should blades). The ling tai has been extensively discussed in both Juice and Peng books. Anyway the yang strand of the combined rising energy branches out directly to your arms from your back, sourced at the ling tai. The yin portion continues to rise alone to the ni wan and yin tang centers in the head. (That's why ZZP doesn't blow out your brain :) The yin current then lowers along the front.
3. The yang thread from the ling tai sideways branch extends along the outer edge of your arms to the hand. The yin thread descending from the yin tang flows along the inner face of your arms, through the crook of the elbow, then the da ling point and on into the palms. The energies actually have already begun to blend as they flow along the lower/outer and inner/upper faces, respectively, of the arms, and they achieve full reunification at the fingers, where you can apply them for kuzushi play if you understand the Tailor's Touch thing, also presented in book Juice. In other words, once you got the knack of this, (and it is a 'knack' - i.e. a real thing that you just need to grok one time for yourself, like bicycle riding etc.) then of course you can mentally control it any time, in any pose or no pose, without the external mechanics of the ZZP drill per se. That's just training wheels.
Just work the drill and you'll feel all this for yourself, no need to debate me on it. Basically the ZZP uses just a small dab of physical 'structure' and mechanical process to kickstart a purely energetic process. That's the right way to think about physical structure and mechanics in Tai Chi. Not as some kind of be-all, end-all as many authors/teachers present it, but as just a dab of necessary evil, a bit of medicinal poison that in a small dose cures, but in an overdose - kills. In real Tai Chi, a small bit of external mechanics goes a far long way.
In the book SURGE, I have a section on 'Advanced Work'. These are drill modes that require some foundation in the postures and principles of the form. I cover a number of practices there. One of the very best is the Zhang Zhuang - PINNED (ZZP). Now that people are more familiar with the basics, I want everyone to have a chance to play with it, so I recently made a free video showing and explaining it. Below is the text transcript of that new video. Beyond what's discussed in the book and this video, there is a lot more that can be done with the ZZP framework, but it's too difficult to explain all that here. And not much motivation either, for general readers here many of whom I suppose haven't invested in the books. Next book! Always remember our motto: Today the world; Tomorrow Tai Chi!
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ZHANG ZHUANG PINNED (ZZP) VIDEO TRANSCRIPT
Today I’m going to present the most advanced and most powerful of all the drills based on the Zheng Manqing Tai Chi form. This drill is probably the most powerful internal energy method based on Tai Chi, any style or version of Tai Chi. I often present other internal drills, and I refer to them as the most powerful, the greatest, and so on, and I’m saying the same here. The difference, and the reason I’ve waited a while to show and describe this particular drill, is that it requires some understanding, some foundation in the Tai Chi method, the basic postures and the energy ideas that are presented in my books: Juice, Peng, and Surge. You need some foundation in those methods to really appreciate and understand this. The other methods I’ve shown have been things that anybody can do instantly. For example the long poles that are used in the Xingyiquan drills. Anybody can grab two poles and start that work immediately. But this work requires some foundation.
70/30 Front Stance
The main foundation for this work is the 70/30 pose, which has 70% of your weight in the front leg, and 30% on the back. This is the characteristic stance of the Zheng Manqing Tai Chi form. Probably 90% of the postures in the form that have names are this 70/30 weighting, a front-weighted posture. So we’re going to have to review the basics of that. Later though, we won’t need to restrict the practice to those (front-weighted) postures. You can do this with the back-weighted poses. In fact you can do this in daily life, simply with your mind, once you understand it. We’re simply going to use the front-weighted Tai Chi posture as a way to begin to generate the energy and learn to control it with our mind. Once you can do that, anything goes. As Bruce Lee, the great martial arts exemplar has taught: Be water my friend.
You’ve got most of your weight, the majority of your body weight on your front foot. I’m indicating that with the white shoe, that’s going to be the strong foot. I’m going to maintain a yin/yang difference of weight. So the strong foot will be the white foot. The back foot will have 30% of the body weight. That’s indicated by the black shoe on the back foot.
In this pose, you need to keep your front knee directly over your front toe. Not exceeding it, not too far behind it, not to the left or right, just directly above it. The thing you need to do is keep a good angle between your front thigh and upper body. You don’t push out the hip joint. You need to bend the hip joint [at the inguinal crease] as much as you can. Keep your body upright, as though you’re sitting in a chair, we don’t lean forward in this pose at all. There’s no forward lean. Keep upright, keep the angle here, keep the front knee over the toes.
The rear foot needs to be flat on the ground, not rolled forward. Keep that rear foot flat and then the rear knee will track naturally without any conscious effort, in the right vector. Crucially, the waist needs to be aligned with the vector or the direction of the pose. In many styles of Tai Chi, the waist is canted to the side. Though the orientation of the pose is forward, the waist is canted 45 degrees sideways. We never do that in the ZMQ form. The waist must be aligned straight with the vector of the nose, the front knee, and the general line of the pose.
Fair Lady’s Hand
The hand shape is very important in the ZMQ Tai Chi. Not because it has any functional attribute for combat, like you’re karate chopping the guy’s neck. It’s just that this is the minimal conscious shape we can make using our mind to create a definite shape. So it’s not just any mindless, dead shape, it has a definite form. But it has the absolute least amount of tension that’s compatible with keeping mental engagement. We can create the shape by placing the elbow, forearm to the fingertips up against the wall. The gentle shape that results, without pressing the wall with any tension, is our Fair Lady’s Hand shape – the minimal physical form that still keeps the mind engaged.
70/30 as 80/20
I have talked about this stance in the classical way of describing it, as 70% of your weight in the front – that’s the strong foot, with the light, bright ‘energy’ foot in front, and 30% in the rear. But mentally it’s better for you to think about it and feel it as 80% in the front and 20% in the rear. That way you’ll keep a very clear distinction between the heavy foot and the light foot, which is what we need for this work. We need a very clear physical difference between the two, in terms of the work they’re doing, the weight they’re bearing. And also, later, energetically the difference between them has to be clear. So if you think of this stance as 70/30, you’ll probably do it as 60/40. Because we’re always not quite as good as we think we are. But if you think of this stance as 80/20, so you’re really doing some work with this front leg, and the rear is mainly for balance, and it bears it’s own weight, the weight of the leg alone. If you think of it that way, as 80/20, you’ll probably do it as 70/30.
Zhang Zhuang (BASIC)
You can use the pose for simple Zhan Zhuang standing practice. You can hold this pose (e.g. Left Wardoff), for long periods. You’ll certainly begin to feel the energy. This is one of the best methods of Zhan Zhuang in existence. However, we can amp it up hundreds or thousands of times beyond what you’d get from standing for years and years in the basic Zhan Zhuang. If you understand the internal structure of the pose you can do a lot more with it. The first thing you can do is described in my book Peng Root Power Rising. There I call this method Zhang Zhuang.
In Zhang Zhuang, the upper body to de-form itself, to drop some or all mental and physical engagement. We could call that slumping. And then we will re-inject energy with our mind, starting from the strong foot and filling the entire body.
That will look like this: first, we establish the Left Wardoff pose [as an example – any front pose will work for this]. Then we allow our arms and upper body to slump and de-form so there’s no more mind in this part of the body. Then, we engage our physical power from the strong front foot, the white shoe, and we bring it all back. We bring the energy back and the physical form also. It’s done without tension. We simply re-inject ‘mind’ back into our upper body. That will lead the energy up through the feet and both legs and it will re-inject. This is called Zhang Zhuang, and it’s described in detail in the earlier book Peng and also on the Peng DVD.
When you do this, you must begin with the strong (front) foot. You must feel as though you’re squashing a bug with the front foot. You’re driving through there physically. A bit of physical effort is needed in the beginning to kick this process off. You’re driving up through this front foot, this energy foot. The rear foot does not physically participate – it feels light. It’s the off-foot, the yin-foot. But mentally, you keep an equal mental share [emphasis, consciousness] on both feet. So physically, the front foot is dominant. But mentally you’re aware of the difference. The strong or yang foot contrasts with the weak or yin (rear) foot. As you then integrate the two mentally, the energy will hugely surge up through both feet – not only through the strong foot. The physical effort is from the strong leg, but the energy rises through both legs. The energy begins with the strong foot, but the internal power from the yin leg quickly catches up and forms a huge sphere of energy that rises through you. So feel the front foot and leg as a pile-driver, that’s pushing through the ground.
You don’t rise up. Your lower body doesn’t rise up, like this, as you drive off the front leg. That would be wrong. Only your upper body is refilling. See how the front knee stays at the same angle. The inguinal angle at the hip is the same. The upper body fills, the eyes look forward strongly. You end in the correct stance. That is Zhang Zhuang, and it’s a process of using the lower body to re-fill the entire upper body, including the arms.
It’s a process of [first] draining the upper body of energy in the arms, then re-filling from below. It’s an extremely powerful practice. But it may trigger your prejudices. You may think “Oh this doesn’t look quite like Tai Chi as I envision it should be” or it’s not what your teacher showed you and so on. That’s OK, you don’t have to do it, and you’ll just sacrifice whatever years and decades are involved in taking that loss. But you may prefer that, for aesthetic reasons.
Zhang Zhuang (PINNED)
There’s another variant, and it is the most powerful way to work the front stance of ZMQ Tai Chi. That is based on the same drill I just showed, the Zhang Zhuang, but with your arms “pinned”. To understand PINNING, it’s best to review the book or DVD of Peng [‘Relaxation Protocol’]. There I show the teacher supporting the arm of the student. So that she could release all tension. That’s the concept of pinning, but in this drill you’re going to do it for yourself. You’re going to imagine that your arms are pinned or fixed in place. So you can’t move them, you can’t de-form them or let them sink as we did in BASIC Zhang Zhuang. The rest of the upper body can still ‘slump’, to some degree. That gives us the final refinement, the final turn of the screw to generate the maximum energy possible from this stance and in Tai Chi overall.
So what that looks like is the same as the beginning of Zhang Zhuang. If I do it as Zhang Zhuang BASIC, you’ll notice that [as I slump] my hands have lost the Fair Lady’s Hand shape, they’re just going to “die”. Also, my elbows droop, my head and spine droop then next, we bring it all back. But if somebody were holding your arm, and even holding your hand in the Fair Lady shape, and supporting yours arms in every way, so that you couldn’t even move them, you could imagine they’re pinned in place. Then your upper body could still slump, but your arms would stay the same, so there’d be no difference in the arm and hand positions. They’d stay just as relaxed and in exactly the correct shape [throughout the whole motion of the drill]. The lower body, as before, is not going to change. You aren’t going to rise up with your lower body.
So we’ll do the ‘slump’, keeping our arms exactly shaped as they should be. Again, put your mind in the strong foot. Begin with that and “drive” upwards through the front leg. Mentally staying conscious of both feet, but physically using the drive from the front foot/leg only. In this version of ZZ, only the upper body, the spine and head, are participating physically. But energetically, you’ll feel that gigantic sphere of power surging up from both legs – even though the physical effort is primarily in the front leg. That’s like squashing a bug, or a cigarette. But energetically it will come from both legs, fill your body with this tremendous surge of energy. And that is as far as you can go, pretty much, with Tai Chi. It will really knock you into the next county.
Beyond Zhang Zhuang – SOLID STATE TAI CHI
I call this next thing ‘solid state’ Tai Chi, because now there’ll be very little emphasis on physical movement. Of course you can go through the entire form, doing the physical mechanics, but [increasingly] the emphasis is on the energy movement. The mechanical/external moving parts are no longer the focus. That’s why I call it ‘solid state’ Tai Chi.
In the beginning you can use any pose to feel this energy. More and more you’ll trigger it with your mind, with less and less physical involvement. When you take any of the Tai Chi poses, you can use your mind to control the energy in three different ways in this ‘solid state’ practice.
The first mode is PULSE, where you’ll use your mind to trigger the energy starting from the strong foot, but quickly surrounding both feet, coming through the lower body and out through your arms. This is a single pulse, one surge of energy, what I call the ‘soft wave’.
When you’ve gotten more advanced, you can generate multiple pulses as you stand in a single pose. You trigger them with your mind, one after another the pulses come up. You start them with your mind [alone] and you can stop them with your mind [alone]. You won’t see an outward, visible effect of this because it’s the ‘soft wave’ not the ‘hard wave’ where [I’ve shown] the keychain shaking.
The next mode is STREAM. When you generate the pulses very quickly they can merge into a single stream of energy, constantly rising from your feet., through your arms without any break. So it’s no longer a wave or a pulse effect. It’s a continuous stream of energy.
The final state is CRYSTAL. This is a fully solid state of energy, without any movement of the energy. [It’s everywhere at once,] and again, that is controlled, started and stopped [solely] by your mind. That is ‘solid state’ Tai Chi.
Some of my readers are working with the Cat-Step Protocol, and have begun to understand the first stirring of the Cat Step Surge. But after seeing and talking to a few of them, I notice that they still aren't getting the full charge. Don't cheat yourself, this is something amazing and the more you practice it (with resulting full-body Peng energy surge every time), the bigger long-term, persistent charge of Peng energy you are wiring into your body, with each (correct) Cat Step you do in the form. The Cat Step involves several specific stages of foot placement (RAISE, TOUCH, REST, RELAX, *SURGE*, LOAD).
So though the entire protocol is exhaustively explained and vivisected in my book SURGE, and the theory behind it and the basic stances for it are voluminously covered and illustrated in my prior book PENG, I wanted to make a cute little vid emphasizing a further nicety in it, which if diligently attended to will massively amplify whatever Cat Step surge you may have begun to experience.
This is mainly for people who've taken the whole CSP thing seriously and begun to work with it. If you haven't, and if you've been too tricking stingy to shell up and pony out for either of the two super-cheapo little $12 paperbacks above, then I've still got ya covered, in my FREE video which totally explains the whole Cat Step thing, right here. You have to understand these basics before the following shallow but specific little teaching vid here below is going to mean jack to you.
I talk a lot about relaxation and also about actually feeling the energy in yourself. Some people don't like to hear about relaxation, but today let's talk about the opposite reaction: some people will say relaxation is the whole shebang. Why, they ask, should it be necessary to insist on all this internal energy goop? After all, relaxation is a big buzz thing in all athletic and mental disciplines these days. Nothing special to Tai Chi about it any more.
So why not just reduce Tai Chi to the state of trying to physically relax, so that in push hands, you can look good bumping around people who are a little more tense than you are? Isn't that all we need? Occam's Razor and all that rot, isn't it?
This is not totally wrong, ok as far as it goes, but stops way short of anything interesting. Relaxation is merely a pre-requisite, as I've already stated. The key thing is to ignite and feel the power flow, surges, and state.
I really shouldn't need to belabor this. Given that the energy potential is absolutely real, replicable, palpable, and workable, why would any critic want to go out of their way to reduce it, minimize it into their own little Procrustean Bed? That would be a stupid thing to do. But people can be very stupid.
So let me pose the question, even if I accepted the reductionist idea that it all boils down merely to relaxation, now we have a practical question: how am I to know whether I'm relaxed or not? The reductionist teacher's answer will be: that's what your training partners are for.
Oh really? Let's put aside the issue that most training partners are so incredibly tense (unconsciously) that it doesn't take much to use their wildly exaggerated and extreme tension against them for a good bump (which gives you very little useful information on your own state). Let's just consider a practical point - the scheduling and other practical difficulties of relying on other people for your core training. If you consider working with practice partners to be the core of your practice, you are severely limiting yourself. There are huge difficulties in finding good people, with who you can meet and work consistently.
Now here's where the energy comes in again. Aside from being actually the entire point of the project, the internal energy is your best friend as a biofeedback mechanism. Even if the energy had no direct application to 'martial arts' (though in higher stages it does) even so, the first and best use of the direct self-perception of energy is that it flows stronger when you're more relaxed, weaker when you tense up. Just that simple. There you have your totally portable, 100% reliable, cost-and-hassle-free setup for maximizing relaxation.
That's the answer, even for those who wag the dog by the tail and take relaxation per se as the primary goal, still the direct self-perception of the internal energy is indispensable. It's available 365-24-7 strictly on your own terms, nobody can stop you from developing as much as you want.
Poor is the man whose pleasures depend on the permission of another.
In yesterday's post I used a Boolean truth table to define "relaxation" for Tai Chi. But you know my way is never to deal with internal energy as a word, concept, metaphor for something else, image, idea, or abstract philosophy. It's a tangible, blow-you-away, felt experience or it's nothing.
So in that vein, here's the reader exercise that goes along with the logic table. Get familiar with the Fair Lady's Hand shape (presented in my Tai Chi PENG Surf the Soft Wave DVD and Tai Chi PENG Root Power Rising book). That's our workbench.
Then you can easily feel what I mean. First, let your hand go limp. Or just dangling at your side. Don't form it into any special shape, just like you're waiting around, with your mind on something else. That natural crumpled shape is the [-Tension, -Mind] condition in the table, but you don't need to actually be asleep or drunk because we are using the hand as a mini-workspace here, for learning purposes.
Next, put your hand into a stiff, hard karate-shop type of straight shape. This is now the [+Tension, +Mind] condition in the table.
I don't want to have to kill you so take my word for the rigor mortis condition of [+Tension, -Mind].
Now, put your hand into the Fair Lady Shape. Use the wall as in the book and video to get it, then maintain that independently. If you do it right, you've now activated the [-Tension, +Mind] condition. CONGRATS you are doing Tai Chi at last!
Remember that the special RELAXED condition is not an end in and of itself. It only sets the stage for the debut of the internal power that will start to flood in, led by MIND to fill the vacuum left by the eviction of TENSION. Even from the little mind-game of this post, some of you will feel the first stirring of the internal power stream in your forearms and hands. Now imagine that immeasurably amplified through your entire body - as though a million suns were to rise in the sky at once.
When you do the ZMQ37 form, or the advanced ZZP drill in the Surge book, you are doing exactly what this post describes, but on the large scale or stage of your entire body, not restricted to just the hand, wrist and forearm as in the Fair Lady shape.