Just a few general questions from a new student

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Kenny
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Just a few general questions from a new student

Post by Kenny » Wed Oct 08, 2008 10:53 am

Good day and thank you for taking the time to read this. I'm a new Taiji student, and I have a few general questions. I have a background in a few of the more "external" martial arts, and sometimes I find that what I've learned in the past can step in and interfere with what I'm learning now.

When I came to Taiji and took a few classes from Mr. Rodell, I found that I enjoyed learning the art, and after some thought I decided to stick with it and learn it as best I could. I figure, for me, it's probably better to just learn one art and try to learn it well rather than learn a few different ones in a half-assed kind of way.

Anyway, I'm learning Taiji now, and I'm trying to learn it with the "empty teacup" state of mind.

But a few questions have arisen.

Things like "intent" were never really spoken of in arts I've learned before. From what I can gather, the "intent" is a little like the "mindfulness" we talk about a lot in Zen Buddhism. If I have the intent in my hands, for instance, it means that I've placed my mind there, in my hands and I am aware of the state that they're in... that formative state, or state of potential. Is that relatively close to the mark, regarding intent?

Concerning Qi; well, Qi confuses me in terms of martial arts. Reason being, when I think of Qi in terms of what I've learned in Wing Chun a while ago, and what my priest at the Sangha has taught me regarding Zen Buddhist meditation, it makes sense. There's an energy within us, it animates us, and this energy travels along defined energy meridians. I "get" that. In preparation for the more advanced Chakra activating meditations, I have been instructed to get comfortable "tracing" those energy meridians mentally, during meditation, to "clear" them. That makes sense to me too.

Now, regarding Taiji and Qi, it is spoken of during class sometimes, never in a "magical" way of course, but more-so in a manner describing the way this energy is stored, and released. From what I gather, in Taiji, it is tought that this energy circulates within us and you can store it in your Dantien, and you can use intent to move it around within you, and Fa Jing releases this energy. For instance, intent on the fist moved the chi there, and Fa Jin occurs when you strike with that hand, is that correct?

I want to make sure I have the right idea concerning these concepts, and I also want to make sure that I'm not taking away any grandiose ideas about it. It seems to me, that Qi is sensationalized a lot in certain ways, like, men moving other men without striking them by way of "empty force", etc. I'm rather skeptical of stuff like that; and when you hear about stuff like that, it kind of blurs the lines of reality a little bit. I needed a clear picture in my mind of what its actually all about. I figured, this would be a good place to inquire about it.

Anyway, I'm enjoying learning Taiji with everybody at the GRTC, its a great school, and I'm happy here. My plan is to keep showing up, stick with it and learn it as best I can. It'll be easier when my work schedule is stable again in another few weeks, till then I'll keep trying to come to class every chance I can get.

Thanks for reading, and any input on my Intent or Qi questions is much appreciated.
V/R,

Kenny

Psi Man
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Say Qi's!

Post by Psi Man » Thu Oct 09, 2008 1:56 am

Hey Kenny,

In my experience, any kind of mental focus which increases tension is counterproductive to moving qi. It's easy to think about qi prematurely while doing zhan-zhuang and then quickly tense up. By prematurely I mean before the body is sufficiently relaxed in the day's "practice session." If I don't completely relax everything first, the circulation is naturally much less fruitful.

In Laoshi's Taiji Notebook for Martial Artists, he writes:
"The softer, more song the body/mind is, the more natural and easy it is for the qi to flow and, thus, permeate and strengthen the bones, making them steel-like."
It's a very simple idea but presents subtly profound point: the more tension in the body, the harder it is for the qi to flow freely. So when one neglects doing daily fang-song practices, the qi flow gradually becomes more sluggish, the qi becomes harder to move. The more one consciously "thinks" about the qi moving, the harder it is for the qi to flow freely.

Yi -- the intent that moves the qi, strikes me as something more subtle than merely focusing. Since we have to be completely fang-song, while also aware of our surroundings, there is no static point of awareness. We're not forcing qi, just optimizing it's movement. So I guess that takes accordingly natural mental responses.

But then again, these are only my personal interpretations/explanations. I'm sure Laoshi or other students will have more interesting things to say on the matter.

There are some good threads on the forum on similar or related ideas. Here are a couple:

viewtopic.php?t=216
viewtopic.php?t=604

And here is really fascinating and in-depth overview of Qi: http://northstarmartialarts.com/articles_qi.html


Best,
Simon

Kenny
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Post by Kenny » Thu Oct 09, 2008 9:59 am

Hey Simon, thanks for your input. I'm going to check out those links you sent momentarily, read up a little bit more about this. I appreciate it!
V/R,

Kenny

Robert Bemoras
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Post by Robert Bemoras » Thu Oct 09, 2008 1:10 pm

Kenny,
I am also a external convert. I do not practice with Rodell laoshi, so please forgive me if I contradict any of his teachings. I do study his works and I have a great deal of respect for him. I have found it beneficial, as a beginner, to study the form and basic movements without getting ahead of my abilities and my understanding. I know that I am in it for the long haul and anything other than progressing at my own pace is counter-productive. I understand up front that my knowledge/experience most likely will not be that of a person that has been practicing longer and that anything I do to create tension will inhibit the free flow of qi. Here is a couple of ideas that have helped me:
1) Practice good posture and stretch!! It is the only way to eliminate structural tension.(ie..relax)
2) Learn how to fill and sink. External arts push away from the earth to gain leverage. I don't believe this is the case with internals.
3) Yang is circular. It is not concerned with protecting the centerline. (you mentioned Wing chun.)

Hope this helps and once again forgive me if this goes against the teachings at GRTC. This is not my intent.
Respectfully,
Bob Bemoras

Kenny
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Post by Kenny » Thu Oct 09, 2008 3:12 pm

One thing at a time, definitely.

For me, at the moment, its more like I'm wondering if the initial concepts I had concerning Qi were even in the right ballpark. You hear so much about it, on the Net, on those shows like Fight Quest, etc. and like I said, sometimes the lines get blurry.

You mentioned stretching ... My back and legs are stiff as a board, I definitely need to stretch more. Not just for eventual Qi cultivation, either... but for Taiji practice in general especially right now, while I'm a beginner. I've never studied a system where the dynamics of moving weight distribution around were so precise before; and I notice that if I'm not good and stretched out before I practice, my bow postures aren't how they should be, I have a hard time pouring weight from one foot to the other, etc. and it's not just my legs either, its my shoulders too. I'm hoping that as I practice, that tension will dissipate.

Like I said, I'm new to this, really, really new ... My routine at home for practice is still kind of light, I just do the warmup, then some post standing and then I work on going over what I've learned of the form (up to the first push) several times. I try to give it at least a half hour, and i try to make sure that everything is done as per what I've been taught, because it is very precise. Heh, I may still have stiff legs and knotty shoulders, but mentally I seem to be feeling calmer these days, and that's a plus. Plus, I find doing the form to be enjoyable and relaxing.
V/R,

Kenny

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Muscle Tension

Post by Dan » Tue Oct 21, 2008 11:13 pm

Something that can help with muscle tension is doing the roll down stretches from class, but holding for longer than 20 seconds. Or doing a yoga position like downward dog or a variation on this pose.
Just doing the arms from this pose is great for the shoulders and the arms.

You can browse by anatomical focus for wherever you need to work. Holding poses for longer periods of time is good. Another good thing is to find a solid yin pose, and relax into it for a good long while reading a book.

inflammablefish
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Post by inflammablefish » Thu Nov 06, 2008 8:48 pm

Kenny,

I remember when we talked a few weeks ago about my work as a vision therapist and lot of what I do is movement based work. Something that we've noticed is that a lot of people don't know that they are tensed and when you point it out and tell them to relax they can't because they've never experieced what it's like to relax that part of their body before. They lack the knowledge and experience to relax. So something that has helped me with Fang-Song and letting go of tension in general is the following exercise:

Lay down on the floor on your back. Your arms and legs should be out from your body slightly but not stretched. This should be on a stable surface and not something like your bed that gives in to your weight.

Starting with your toes, you should tense up really tight. Hold this tension for about 3 seconds and then relax. repeat about 3 times. then move up to your calves, then your thighs and butt. your fingers, arms, neck, shoulders, even your eyes and teeth. tense them all up and then relax.

start to get the knowledge and muscle memory of what relaxing feels like. soon you'll start to feel yourself tensed up in certain places you've never realized before and things will start to flow more easily.

once you can isolate individual parts you can do a full body tense up. really squeeze everything together, bring you knees up and cross your arms in front of your chest. once you feel you can't squeeze anymore release everything - shoot your arms and legs out - release your eyes and look up as far as you can - it should be like a miniature explosion. there should even be an audible exhale of your breath.

try it for a week or so and see if you get any results. any feedback for me is great.

feedback from more experienced practicers, in terms of do you think this is beneficial, would be appreciated as well.

-Rich
"When you 'teach' you rob someone of exercising his intelligence, while exercising your own." - Harry Wachs

tennytigers
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Post by tennytigers » Thu Nov 06, 2008 10:19 pm

this is a basic yoga nidra technique.
it is ok for beginners to learn to relax but is limited.
the fact that your relaxation is achieved through exhausting tension is secondary to relaxation achieved through being aware of softness.
this really belongs to the hard styles.
the way that can

inflammablefish
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Post by inflammablefish » Thu Nov 06, 2008 10:52 pm

well, I wouldn't say the relaxation is achieved through "exhausting tension." Our (my work's) philosophy is that a person develops through experience. When we experience something new, we take that experience and connect it to something that we have already experienced in the past and form a new scheme. In this exercise I am not trying to exhaust someone so that they are forced to relax, I am trying to provide the necessary experiences so they a person realizes what it feels like to be tense and to be relaxed.

You can tell someone to put their intent and awareness into their tensions but how can they do this when they don't know what tension is? They have to discover this, learn it for themselves and then be guided so that they know how to properly manage what they know.

my work involves a lot of different techniques taken from a lot of different places (including yoga and even some traditional chinese practices) and many of which we've made up a long the way. I apologize if I ever give an exercise that is an "official" one in some other form and not give due credit.
"When you 'teach' you rob someone of exercising his intelligence, while exercising your own." - Harry Wachs

Kenny
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Post by Kenny » Thu Nov 13, 2008 9:29 am

Rich,

Sorry it took me so long to get back to you on this one, and thank you, very much, for your advice.

I think I could be categorized as someone who doesn't know how to relax. I remember my old Honda civic, the green sedan I used to have. The steering wheel had worn away quite noticeably on the top, where I usually put my left hand. It had worn away from my gripping the wheel too tight. And you've seen me in class, after post standing my legs are shaking uncontrollably during the form... those muscles get all tight. I'm practicing at home and stuff, but I still seem to be having trouble with that "letting go". I mean, I can relax during meditation, but that isn't the same, there, I'm just sitting, not trying to stand, or move a certain way. So I think the exercise you mentioned will definitely help me, and I'll certainly give it a try.

Thanks!


inflammablefish wrote:Kenny,

I remember when we talked a few weeks ago about my work as a vision therapist and lot of what I do is movement based work. Something that we've noticed is that a lot of people don't know that they are tensed and when you point it out and tell them to relax they can't because they've never experieced what it's like to relax that part of their body before. They lack the knowledge and experience to relax. So something that has helped me with Fang-Song and letting go of tension in general is the following exercise:

Lay down on the floor on your back. Your arms and legs should be out from your body slightly but not stretched. This should be on a stable surface and not something like your bed that gives in to your weight.

Starting with your toes, you should tense up really tight. Hold this tension for about 3 seconds and then relax. repeat about 3 times. then move up to your calves, then your thighs and butt. your fingers, arms, neck, shoulders, even your eyes and teeth. tense them all up and then relax.

start to get the knowledge and muscle memory of what relaxing feels like. soon you'll start to feel yourself tensed up in certain places you've never realized before and things will start to flow more easily.

once you can isolate individual parts you can do a full body tense up. really squeeze everything together, bring you knees up and cross your arms in front of your chest. once you feel you can't squeeze anymore release everything - shoot your arms and legs out - release your eyes and look up as far as you can - it should be like a miniature explosion. there should even be an audible exhale of your breath.

try it for a week or so and see if you get any results. any feedback for me is great.

feedback from more experienced practicers, in terms of do you think this is beneficial, would be appreciated as well.

-Rich
V/R,

Kenny

Juan Botero
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Post by Juan Botero » Thu Nov 13, 2008 9:15 pm

On the issue of how to relax, the thread An aspect of fangsong may be helpful.


[/quote]

Roland Tepp
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Post by Roland Tepp » Fri Nov 14, 2008 5:35 am

Juan Botero wrote:On the issue of how to relax, the thread An aspect of fangsong may be helpful.
That would be: viewtopic.php?t=401


I wrote it quite a while ago and at the time it was an epiphany for me to realize that "relax" in the sense of taijiquan is not quite the same relax that one might understand as relaxing when lying on the bed or sleeping or any kind of activity that allows to fully let go of all of the muscle tension...

In the case of zhangzuang, the body must still be kept upright, the spine vertical, the hands must still be held out. All that requires that some level muscular tonus should be maintained. The point of fangsong is thus not in total absence of muscle tension but rather finding the most optimal level of tension. Or talking in terms of body experience - finding the most comfortable and stable position through adjusting your body structure in such a way that minimizes the need for extra muscular tension...

Kenny wrote:I think I could be categorized as someone who doesn't know how to relax.
Well, I must admit I can not much relate to that. Although - from my own experience, it is always the case with every single practitioner to one degree or another. The exercises of tensing yourself up to the extreme and then relaxing are useful to some degree, in order to familiarize yourself to the feeling of relaxation, but they do not help you to willingly just "let go" of the tension whenever you start feeling that. Not unless you recognize that letting go of the tension is just as much a "movement" as flexing your muscles. and to do that you must send a deliberate command to the muscle to release the tension. Which brings me back to the "teacup" example in the thread linked above.

Just as putting own the tea cup is a deliberate movement, so is releasing the tension in muscles. The trouble is often in recognizing the exact muscle group that should receive the signal. In my personal experience, we are often afraid that releasing the tension is a straight on/off switch and as soon as I turn that switch off, I'll crumple down in the limp puddle of flesh and bone. As I found it out first hand, it is not so. :) We actually exercise quite a nice level of control over our body, if we think about it.

I have a baby daughter and it is just fascinating to watch her basically train her every waking hour in order to learn the fine motor skills we take for granted. To think about it - when she was born, she could not really understand a difference between herself and the external world, let alone know how to move her limbs. Now she is already trying to open little kiddie books and picking lighter stuff op with her two fingers... And to think I am typing this response here using almost all of my fingers (I have never formally learned typewriting, but I consider myself somewhat adequate typist).

This little detour was meant to illustrate, just how much can be achieved if you put your mind to it. To recognize a tension you do not really need to do much more than listen your own body and find places that feel ... uncomfortable. To "release" the tension you just need to adjust the position of that body part in such a way that removes that feeling of "uncomfortable". There is no magic and nothing mystical about it. And it never happens on it's own - You can not just wait and see if the tension "goes away" - it does not. Ever. Until you let it go. Yourself. You do that either by giving up and dropping your arms (since you can't hold them up any more) or by adjusting them in such a way that the tension goes away.
Roland

tennytigers
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Post by tennytigers » Fri Nov 14, 2008 3:54 pm

when you can no longer feel the muscles and movement is just a ballon expanding into a shape you are reaching the door of tai chi.
the way that can

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