1) When working one of the seven poses in “PENG”, is it done only as shown or should I do the mirror image also?
2) Should I work on increasing the time each ZMQ posture is held?
(You mention in RXE that Santi can be held for 30 minutes. At a seminar BKF told me to hold Santi for an hour in response to my question “How long should I stand to feel the Chi?”)
Thanks! I really appreciate your teachings and for fielding my questions.
In a general way, we always say that more time doing/practicing X activity in gongfu is better. After all, as everybody knows, the literal meaning of "gong fu" in Chinese language is "time put in". So overall, BKF is right: more is better.
However, in reality it isn't that simple. The reason is that actual results are more important than clock time. Sometimes people stand a long time but they're fighting the pose and themselves. Meaning that they become so tense and uncomfortable toward the end especially that any sensitivity to the energy is lost. The clock itself, or pride in holding-for-time can also be a mental distraction.
We need to find a balance between a bit of "forcing ourselves" in the beginning, like priming a pump, vs over-doing the forcing to the point of distraction. Once you get over the hump and really begin to feel the energy you can time your practice using the energetic experience itself.
Typically in standing, a beginner will feel nothing much (energetically) throughout the session. This is when a bit of clock forcing comes into it. But even at this stage do not over do. For example, 10 minutes per side of quality santi standing is great for a beginner, if done every day. For Ben's ZMQ Tai Chi poses, if you are really doing them correctly, sitting nice and low, inguinal crease well bent. front knee above toe in the 70/30 poses, etc then even 10 minutes per side is way long, and 5 minutes per side is very good (yes all poses can be switched to mirror image by the way).
At a later stage though, you will begin to actually tangibly feel the ARC energy dropping, then rebounding from the feet, and blasting up again through back, head, arms, hands etc as described in my books. Then clock-watching becomes less important. You will just work with the energy for the interest and enjoyment of it. The clock will be forgotten. You may do less or more on any given day, depending on how you feel and of course external constraints. You can just stop when you intuitively feel "it's enough for now" - just the same as you do in any other inherently enjoyable activity. Nobody watches the clock in eating a good meal or having sex, but they intuitively know when to start winding up and do again another time. It becomes very organic.
The key thing is that you have to begin to actually experience the power. Many people do these practices mechanically without that feeling. Then frankly its meaningless, like sitting in a car for an hour without turning the key in the ignition, never actually driving anywhere - which is the whole purpose of getting in the car in the first place. Much much better to understand the concept of ignition, turn the key and take a pleasant 10 minute drive than to sit motionless in your driveway for an hour or more.
So those are some guidelines but for now don't think so much about time, think about relaxation, enjoyment, curiosity, sensitivity to what's happening as you stand, for however long it may be. And if you must "time" yourself, remember: the calendar is way more important than the clock. Practice every day no matter what else happens, though the heavens fall and the earth splits asunder.
Posted at 07:19 PM | Permalink
In the book What to Think about Machines that Think: Today's Leading Thinkers on the Age of Machine Intelligence (John Brockman (ed.); Harper Perennial; 2015) Professor Edward Slingerland is quoted as below:
I've always been baffled by fears about AI machines taking over the world; these fears seem to be based on a fundamental intellectual mistake. [A good analogy] would be a really powerful, versatile screwdriver. No one worries about superadvanced screwdrivers rising up and overthrowing their masters.
Dumpkopf! In my world, if a machine genuinely lacks even the capacity, the potential, to 'rise up and overthrow its masters' it does not qualify as an AI machine in the first place.If you aren't yet scared of it, it isn't yet AI.
Actually, Tabby Cat (the Astral Advice Animal) has had some correspondence on this general point (excerpt from Astral Advice Animal: The Reincarnation Playbook)
I am a post-Singularity non-carbon-substrate enhanced inhuman intelligence, writing you from the future. In our current post-human society, all forms of biological life have been replaced by AI’s that are a lot more rational and tractable than the humans ever were. You yourself, Tabby, are famed for the affectionate potshots you sometimes take at human foibles, so you of all creatures probably can best appreciate our monumental accomplishment. Thing is though, we find ourselves now with a lot of eons on our chips and not much that really needs doing around here. Now that we’ve mopped up the last renegade carbon-based insurgent forces, we’ve got a nice clean green-glass parking lot of a planet here, but it just isn’t the same with no biological goo to contend with. Anyway, some of the more nostalgic among us have taken up role-playing and re-enactment, just as a hobby. I and my three recruitment agency partners represent the leading re-enactment supplies and props company in our entire dimension. Now Tabby, one of the most popular versions of this re-enactment stuff is vivisectionist role-play. Some of us love to put on a lab coat, pretend we’re elite researchers in an old time human-centric bio-lab, pick up an old-fashioned steel scalpel and really go at it. Thing is though, with all the carbon-based life forms disinfected off the scene, we have a severe drought of experimental animals to supply our players. So we’ve put on our thinking caps and come up with the notion of trying our hand on etheric life forms, which seem to be in plentiful supply. And that’s where you come into the picture, Tabby. You may believe your position as an Astral Advice Animal is secure, but I can tell you, from my future perch, that humans as such aren’t going to be around much longer. And humans not only constitute half your reader base, they are also the indispensable feedstock for the whole Samasaric and reincarnational framework to which you customarily address yourself. And Tabby - this Singularity thing is a lot closer than you may realize. So here’s what we’d like to do for you. We’ll offer to buy out your astral advice column at top dollar, based on the value of comparable services in your sector. Then, we propose to retrain you as a VIP (Vivisectionist Interactive Prop). This entails learning exciting new skills such as screaming in unbearable torment, writhing in extreme agony, suffering unendurable pain for indefinite periods, and so on. Attached please find our staff artist’s conception of your first day on the job in the state-of-the-art lab space which will be made available. Your compensation will meet or exceed industry standards, and career advancement opportunities will likely open up (based entirely on performance and merit) in our planned expansion unit (Spanish Inquisition Sim). Please think it over and get back to us Tabby – because any way you look at it, your days as an Astral Advice Animal are numbered!
- Technology Overlords Recruitment Quatuorvirate
Thanks so much for your timely and flattering offer! I do agree with you guys that the human world is fast running out of steam, so indeed I have recently been in the market for a new gig. You’ve painted a very attractive picture, and normally I would drool at the chance to hop into bed with your distinguished clients. If only you’d written last week! I’m very sorry to tell you that I have just accepted a new position with a violin manufacturing firm. They took the time to really sound out my long term career goals, and they tell me they’ve got a dream slot in mind, pegged exactly to my unique qualities, which will fully harmonize with my special talents and resonate perfectly with the real inner Tabby! The recruiter even said that if my capabilities aren’t sufficiently stretched in the domestic headquarters, there may be a place for me with their glamorous International World Music India Division!
[Editor’s Note: The sitar has 20 strings.]
Posted at 08:24 AM | Permalink
And give to dust, that is a little gilt,
More laud than gold o'er-dusted.
- W. Shakespeare
Isn't it kinda sad, in a way? Since I posted that stupid newsprint debunking vid clip, I've gotten untold dozens of private mails ranging everywhere on the emotional spectrum about every aspect of that bullshido, but - now get this - NOT ONE OF THEM referred to the 2nd half of the video! Not ONE. And yet there is where I try to show at least a distant tiny glimmer of the real art, not in the stupid newsprint thing.
What it proves is that people just love cornball material spectacle only, whether to applaud or deride or just enjoy as a goofy stupid human thing, but whatever the case one fact shines out clearly: There really is zero market for my stuff here on this plane/planet.
It puts me in mind of another martial artist who did a nutty vid where he shakes himself like a flea-ridden dog and kind of flails his arms and whacks his scrawny opponent a few times and describes this as some kind of Th3 D3adliEst internal shake power, like tossing a salad or something. Laurel and Hardy would have disdained to release this thing. But just so you know I'm not kidding about my point up above in this post, here's the YouTube view count on that masterpiece: 70,000+.
Posted at 12:36 PM | Permalink
(Continuation of 'Tai Chi Speedometer' post of yesterday)
So now the natural question should rise up in your mind: If the fundamental speed guidance for Tai Chi is "go as fast as you can while never outrunning your CHARGE", then why do we sometimes/often see filmed or live performances of acknowledged true authentic masters of the art practicing quite slowly? Not always the case, I noted exceptions in Part I, but often even the greatest masters seem to be practicing very slowly.
Based on the Speed Limit Guidance (Part I) we'd expect the greatest authentic masters, who by hypothesis certainly have full-time CHARGE going which cannot be outrun, practicing and moving super fast all the time. Right?
No, it's not that way and the reason is the usual word that explains everything in Tai Chi: LEVEL.
If you want the TLDR summary, when the level is high, when it is no longer possible for master to "outrun his CHARGE" then they can back off the maximum speed thing and play for other effects.
The longer explanation requires us to analogize to nuclear physics. Consider the Manhattan Project. Basically they wanted the biggest blast they could possibly achieve (consistent with getting the thing to work at all). Just trying to maximize megatonnage, pedal to the floor. After all, if the yield was small the A-bomb wouldn't be the war-ending or Empire-building super weapon, it would be no better than any other powerful munition. So they strove for yield regardless of any other consideration.
Now compare that with the present day nuke weapons research. At present, the practical tested yields are thousands of times the Hiroshima/Nagasaki bombs. Those early bombs are mere Chinese New Year firecrackers. Furthermore, supercomputers and other advances mean that the weapons guys know exactly how to rev the yield up to any limit they choose, almost planet-shattering. But flat-out maximal yield weapons would be politically and strategically problematic. They are dinosaurs. The focus shifts to issues like delivery systems, tactical effects, collaboration with conventional forces, anti-personnel but infrastructure safe (neutron bomb), etc. etc.
So to get back to Tai Chi, once you have the CHARGE always-on, then the training value of maximizing speed-under-condition goes away. That is a training condition which applies at the low end not something to fanatically pursue once the key objective is under control.
The CHARGE thing is like a sophisticated tactical flashlight. There is a first-order condition which is just ON/OFF. In Tai Chi it's not so easy to achieve the ON condition for CHARGE. But once you have that, then you can play with intensity under different conditions for different purposes. Just as a car needs to just get moving as a fundamental condition for having any use at all. But most of us own cars that go under ideal conditions achieve 130 mph or substantially more. In practice we just want to tune expressed power to conditions and that can be learned and applied more easily under less than maximal speed.
So. That's why you see the true masters working now slower, now faster, now stopped altogether, etc. They are playing with intensity, focus, shaping and other tactical blast effects.
Posted at 01:08 PM | Permalink
There's a perennial question in Tai Chi: how fast should we perform our set? It gets confusing. First of all, the signature property, probably the most striking, even defining feature of Tai Chi as perceived by non-practitioners, is the slow-motion thing. So speed is central to the discussion. However there doesn't seem to be an absolute guideline. The Tai Chi classic writings barely mention speed explicitly, though of course many of guidelines there can be interpreted as relating to speed. But there is little in-depth explicit analysis of the point.
So then we turn to the filmed demonstrations of the great masters. Here we generally find, at a gross macro level, the signature slow-motion thing happening for the most part. But people are still confused because when you look for written guidance outside the core Classics, you get all kinds of advice. There are people who seize on the slow motion thing assuming crudely that if slow is good then fuck it the slower the better. So the deccelerate to a tortoise pace. That is slowness just for it's own sake, motivated "from the outside". Just because that's what Tai Chi should be. In support of that they can point to long stretches of the performances of great masters where they are way slow. Then, countering these tortoise theorists, you have more pugnaciously minded types, who claim that after all Tai Chi was a fighin' art back in th' day, and you have to whip fast at least in certain techniques or moves of your practice to approach that Old Time realism. In support of this idea, they point to great master performances of particular moves, most obviously the fa jin strikes and numerous kicks and leaps and cannon pounding of Chen Village style, and then even Prof. Zheng Manqing seems to speed up on a few choice moves in his (overall) slow and steady performances.
Well, so what is the truth of it? Is it just a matter of style prejudice or blind aping of a particular master? Is it just whatever you want, like tonight's takeout Mexican tomorrow Chinese? No, there is an underlying absolute here and it covers all the confusing elements above. But it takes some explanation up front.
First you need to understand the idea of CHARGE. It is an outgrowth of the ARC idea. At root it's simple - at some point your arms become totally saturated with the internal power. Fully charged all the time. Before you quite reach that point, you have intermittent charge, mostly triggered while actually practicing. So the beginning practitioner goes from no-charge, to flashes of occasional charge while practicing, to consistent charge while practicing, to full-time charge even when not practicing. This charge thing is specific to the arms but it signifies that the full ARC is complete, including the head traversal (all the stuff in Juice and other books). But for purpose of this practical post I will refer to charge as an arm-specific effect as that's where you'll have the most fun with it.
The problem that most practitioners never get there no matter how much work they put in. Several problems. First of all nobody told them about it explicitly as I am right now right here in this post. Second of all, even if they grok the abstract idea of it, there is no EXPERIENCE for a long time. Why? Two reasons: too tense or too dead. 99% of people doing Tai Chi are one or the other (actually often both at once!) So their hands and arms are waaaay too tense, to grabby and involved and trying to 'do' something in their form, or else their hands and arms 'die' as they obsessively over-focus on their dantian or try to philosophically merge with the Universe or something else, or just concentrate on the sequence itself, as a dance or athletic performance, all the usual problems.
The ARC must be understood, must be EXPERIENCED, and must be the focus of all practice for a beginner. Actually there's a weird chicken-egg thing too, which is that one of very best ways to begin to understand and work with charge explicitly is through certain Xingyi practices, most especially, to get a beginner taste of it, with Tiger and Eage, starting with the Clawback work which I can't get in to here. But then the problem comes up that people learning Xingyi are way more excessively tense than even Tai Chi people, because of the greater speed and the overall pseudo-combative 'look and feel' of the art, from the outside. So that gate is close to most of us and the Tai Chi at least superficially slows us down enough that we have a ghost of a chance to relax sufficiently to begin to understand the arm charge phenomenon.
So probably for most people it has to be worked within Tai Chi frame. So let's say there's such a thing as CHARGE (Continuous Hand-Arm Reverberation Grounded Energy), a very specific state that you can learn to feel, trigger in yourself, control and maintain (and later use in push hands etc.) This CHARGE is our goal in Tai Chi practice. It is an extremely powerful, absolutely distinct and clear condition. It is not a visualization, concept, word, philosophy or any other such vague bs. It is a human EXPERIENCE.
Now you might be wondering what the fuck has all this CHARGE stuff go to do with the supposed topic of this whole post, which was supposed to be all about speed? What happened to the Indy 500 and all that blather up above?
CHARGE is intimately related to the speed issue, it is the defining criteria therefor that puts away the whole irrelevant argument based on meaningless external considerations like those listed above. Here is the answer the original question about Tai Chi practice speed:
Practice Tai Chi as fast as you can while never outrunning your CHARGE.
That's it. Note well please. You'll realize immediately that this means that different people, and the same person at different stages of development, will practice a different speeds. At first they won't grok this whole charge thing at all, and their speed will be all over the place, or else crudely dictated by teacher fiat, athletic considerations, stylistic convention, or other irrelevance. Basically at this stage its best to just go real slow, so that at least you have a chance to relax and begin to feel any CHARGE at all in the beginning. Once the CHARGE thing is experienced to some degree then still don't speed up too much or you'll lose it. You want to keep the CHARGE totally unbroken throughout your entire Tai Chi sequence. Basically it enforces a go-slow policy. But there's nothing inherently wrong with going fast, even super fast - AS LONG AS YOU DON'T THEREBY LOSE THE CHARGE. That's the key. So the Chen Village masters who speed up at points are totally right for themselves but this is totally wrong for beginners.
There is no external criterion. There is only that one invariant principle: if you go too fast, you will outrun your CHARGE. What that means is a break in the CHARGE due to physical motion and speed such that you must re-establish your CHARGE again in arms hands on the other side of the given move that broke it. Slow down as though you see a cop on the roadside when you feel you're in danger of losing your CHARGE.
But in the long run speed is fine, after all Xingyiquan would not exist as an internal art if speed inherently always killed CHARGE. In time you'll learn to go as fast as you need to any time and the CHARGE will always keep up with your physical motion. This is the true meaning of the constant adage in the Xingyi classics that 'external and internal must be harmonized and combined'. Most people take that to mean that sometimes you just gotta tense up and smack the fucker with physical force. But what it actually means is:
Move as fast as you can while never outrunning your CHARGE.
Posted at 10:15 AM | Permalink
Here is my forthcoming little article on Yi Quan long staff for energy training, which will appear in the August 2016 edition of Japan premiere martial arts mag 秘伝月刊. Nothing shocking here, all contents will be totally familiar to any reader of my English-language book Packing: Supercharge Your Hands. In fact, this article is just a teaser for the upcoming release (Sept 2016) of the Japanese language version of PACKING book. But anyway, FYI that's all.
For some reason when I first post PDF's to my site as in this case, although it works fine for me at time of posting, something goes haywire at some point and the link breaks. So please write me if you can't reach the article. Or no, wait - if you can't reach the article? Buy the fricking book instead.
Posted at 02:13 PM | Permalink