Category — Taiji
That's not a political statement — I was singing this morning (and realizing that my life doesn't involve enough opportunities to really open up and sing; I need to fix that!) — it's a literal one.
Taiji (or more broadly the internal martial arts) is, I often find myself saying, a lot like bene gesserit training, especially in one particular way: It involves gaining mental access, voluntary control, over all* of the muscles in your body. It is also, as my sifu often says, really just one giant complicated abdominal exercise.
That exercise is "complicated" because, unlike to do a basic/normal situp or what have you, this one requires you to "find" (haptically map, I guess) and gain control of much more than just your "upper abs", "lower abs" and "obliques". There are rib-muscles that need flexing, soaz that needs accessing, and more funny little muscles and tendons** in your hips than I could describe in three posts.
My abdominal area has always been this really…fraught thing, psychologically. I've noticed tons of body- and mind-patterns that obviously grew out of trauma that my mind and body have associated with my stomach, especially my lower abdomen. Besides the psychological load from a childhood as a bullied pudgy kid and some near-misses with eating disorders, there's also physical trauma there — I have a five-inch or so scar on my lower abdomen, an emergency surgery which landed me with more than 250 stitches and a severed abdominal wall. So that muscle had to heal, and I had to re-learn to walk and sit up and do a plank, and those things have always felt weaker since then.
So for me, this realize-ation, this mental and physical, feeling and controlling, access to my stomach is kind of an incredible thing. (I still have miles and miles of work to go in this area, mind you — even without any initial handicaps, it's something some people study for a lifetime anyway. But what I've achieved so far is really profound and worth appreciating in words!)
And there's more, too. As a woman, and as I mentioned a pudgyish one, I've always been super-sensitive about the layer of fat on my stomach. Trying to un-train myself from the automatic tension of trying to look skinnier is a brutally tough part of my martial arts, and just in general my lower stomach is always the thing I've tried to hide when I want to look attractive. Amusingly but predictably enough, losing enough weight to go from barely-pudgyish to woah-don't-lose-more-weight (and let's not get hung up on numbers; I barely weigh ten pounds less than I used to, but I'm four sizes smaller in the pants — muscle is heavy)…didn't make me feel any better about my stomach.
But taiji did.
As I get more…access to those muscles, as I can more and more control them, relax them, feel them twirl and slide and wind up and release energy (and relaxing my shoulders and chest and arms to let it pass through, maybe with any luck out into some innocent punching-bag ;) — it's been a revelation. I love my stomach now, inch or two of fat and all. Not to be TMI, but the other day I took a racy selfie centered on my stomach, and not for any reason other than that *I* thought it was sexy. If you'd told me even five years ago that that would happen, I'd have laughed in your face.
I guess the greater point here is that having a body can be pretty great, and it gets greater when you (gasp!) pay attention to it. There are beginner and advanced levels of paying attention, as I think I've made clear by now; a dash of advanced attention to my stomach has not only done wonders to repair an old injury — to the point where those muscles are now in better shape than they ever were; under my inch of fat I have a hell of a six-pack — but resolved a fistful of psychological hangups I'd been dealing with since childhood, transforming them — if I may get a little flowery — into sources of joy.
*shorthand; maybe not exactly all but I don't care for now
**tendons matter: because they're connected to the ends of your muscles, they can (and sometimes must) be relaxed. And if relaxing a specific part of a specific muscle sounds really tricky, you're starting to get the idea. ;)
March 21, 2014 2 Comments
Oh my god why isn't there more art like this?? I love this.
The scrolling is just so…peaceful to me.
Yes, yes, I have That History, of tinkering for hours and watching make scroll its deliciousness and feeling that rush of pseudopower, of moving through a dimension in which I'm barely an avatar. But I think it stands as an awesome artistic element even without that — it just says so much, with so little, it reminds me of taiji.
February 25, 2014 No Comments
Why are so many kungfu styles named after animals?
It's actually simple. What do animals have less of than humans? Right: Psychology; self-referential thinking-constructs. What are animals? Examples of evolution expressing itself as complex biology, similar in many ways to our own complex biology. But what don't they have? Self-generated, psychologically-generated, tension. They don't (generally; or if they do, much less than us) "worry themselves sick", or get so hung up on regrets about the past that they can't unslouch their shoulders or un-knot themselves enough to sleep well.
An animal is a machine. We are too (we're animals too), but they're a level more "purely machine" than we are, not having that emergent self-consciousness thing going haywire in their software all the time. And as a result, they can do physical feats that astonish us: Cats can fall or leap huge distances and land gracefully; rodents can move and carry many times their body-weight; snakes can do a pull-up with their f*cking chin and move like greased lightning — and none of them have ever taken a single Pilates class, or done a single crunch to "get/stay fit". Why?
The answer is simple physics: It's because they're *not using any more effort than they mechanically have to*. A muscle doesn't fire in a leaping cat unless it needs to fire, and to tense just that much: A catbody that tenses its back muscles 15% more than needed to execute a leap is less evolutionarily-successful than a catbody that only burns the calories it needs to to catch the next meal.
"Show me a cat that can't relax," said a master once. And of course, what's rule one of kungfu? *Relax.*
Kungfu takes its movement cues from animals for a simple reason: They're examples of what efficiency looks like. If we want to learn to use what the human body can do in its best capacity as a conduit of perfect physics, we need to unlearn the things that prevent us from moving like animals. Those things, those habits of civilization and domestication, cause tension, and unnecessary muscle tension is the great ruiner of all physical activity.
January 30, 2014 No Comments
So, I've been kind of loose and flapping about what to do with blog-type postings of stuff lately. I've lost my organizational thread, I think; there's both too much to put AND too many places to put it. I have the same amount, or possibly more, "readers" on Facebook than here; yet I don't want to talk about the same stuff with them, and branching out from either is problematic. So if you've been wondering where the overhaul that I've been talking about is, well, it exists, but it keeps getting halfway and then getting changed. Do I want a main portal page that can split off into The Everything? Or a carefully curated set of URLs with different content?
I have no idea yet, but if there's one thing I've learned it's that carefully studying a question, holding it up to the light as it were, for long enough always attracts the answer. So I'm still pondering that.
I've also taken on a HUGE short-term project, so expect me to disappear a lot in long-form, but since I'll be in front of my computer a lot, possibly get pretty verbose on Twitter and/or Tumblr. (Thanks to IFTTT, Twitter gets auto-posted to Tumblr. I can't *really* figure out what to post on Tumblr yet, but I have a few friends who run *great* feeds, so I often repost their stuff if I suddenly find the time.)
I have to figure out where to put Ubersleep (the easiest, as it has its own URL at ubersleepbook.com already), my taiji stuff (especially as I gradually move towards teaching(!!!)), this writing project (if it works; will need it's own page and URL and all that shit), other writing (to avoid pseudonym issues with any of the other two) and just B.S. (though possibly I should cut back on that, or make a page for — just thinking aloud here — taiji and fiction that can hold the occasional hey-community B.S. post? Maybe move my tendency to get poliphi over shit to a forum like the rest of the world? (Actually that's not a bad idea…if I impress anyone I can pull them "into" my writing site(s); could be a good source. There's a writer I really like who just about used Something Awful as his launch-pad to success, and at least two have done it with Reddit…). I own puredoxyk.com but don't want to rely on it too much for Reasons; I also own yieldandovercome.com, which is a nice taiji URL and maybe OK for something else too? HHMMMMM. LOTS OF H's AND M's.
BUT FOR NOW, while I fill up Evernote and Google Docs trying to figure that out, here's a video of one of the Chen Grandmasters (his name is Chen Bing, and I know I shouldn't find it funny that such a big guy with such a ridiculously intimidating line of work — I mean, "Hi, I'm a Grandmaster of one of the most terrifying kinds of kungfu, how are you?" — is named "Bing"…but come on it totally is funny) doing the form I'm currently trying to learn. It's very short, so watch it and get some Culture, damn it. ;)
I know this sounds silly because that doesn't look like an easy form to anyone I've showed it to, but trust me when I say that It's a lot harder than it looks. I mean a) Grandmasters kind of make everything look easier but also b) all that force you're seeing thrown around is 100% internally-generated. You could get your strongest kickboxer-Crossfit-muaythai-weightlifter-whateverbadass and he'd be ohhhh, at least two years from being able to throw a single one of those punches correctly? Those are all the kind of punches (and elbows and knees and everythings) that I've been writing about, which have taken so much study to be able to even do *basically* correctly, and which are done INcorrectly the world over by both the 90% of people who don't know what internal force is and the 75% of those who do know who are just doing it wrong. Chen Bing's style isn't the same as my sifu's, who's style descends from Chen Zhenglei's (and I'm not really good enough to have a style yet), but he's HELLA good (duh) and if you've ever wanted to see what internal-style-kungfu's generated force looks like (when it's not actually hitting anything), now you can say you have.
Yay! Enjoy your Sunday. I've got a million words to write. ;)
December 15, 2013 2 Comments
Among the many fundamental things about Taiji that are tricky to grasp and incredibly powerful when you do, lately I'm being blown away by this one:
It is never as powerful, useful, or meaningful to move as it is to be moved.
How do you "be moved"? Simple(ish) — instead of pushing something with your muscles, you shift your focus to perfecting how everything is lined up and balanced so that the energy can flow through you as smoothly, as uninterrupted as possible. (See also "Redirecting Lightning".)
Yes, you do both things all the time: The difference is where your focus is. Try this little exercise: Stand up and lift your arms to straight out in front of you. Great; put them back down. Now, focus on your core (stomach / oblique) muscles, feel them activate, and without doing anything at all with your shoulders or biceps, let your arms float up. The latter is trickier — especially the part about keeping your shoulders relaxed – but the end-result is more graceful/controlled, and because it uses core rather than arm muscles, hella stronger. In the first case, you're just forcing energy through; in the second, you're clearing a path for energy to follow. (Bonus exercise: Try the above and focus on feeling the kinetic energy that drives the motion coming all the way up through your feet and legs to your core-muscles and then floating your arms up. Now drop everything, shake it out and just lift your arms the old way again, and feel the difference. Wild, eh?)
The energy is there already — you have motion in you (unless you're dead), and making more is as simple as putting a little pressure on the ground with your foot — so the challenge is really to make it go the right way. Which is, considering the subtlety of the energy we're talking about — are you with me here, physicists? — an impressive task.
You can't, by the way, learn to do this without learning to feel said energy. There's no shortcut where you just "put your arm at thirty degrees and blah blah blah". There are certainly guidelines, but at the end of the day whether they're working comes down to just one thing: Where'd the energy go? Did it get stuck and/or dissipate, or did it go where you wanted?
Other ways to say it:
Instead of initiating / forcing / "doing the yang", you relax / prepare / "focus on the yin".
The act of moving still has to happen, but it is in essence easy; the hard part, and the part that gives strength and perfection to the movement, is all the space of non-movement around it.
You don't "bring (a) God"; you prepare the altar just so. The god is arguably there all the time (whether because it's omnipresent or a metaphor for energy / existence or whatever); what makes this different from everything else is how it's prepared — the intention and reality of it, and its ability to channel that energy effectively. This is the essence of what we look for in an altar, a ritual, a prayer; yeah? Something that can channel god-energy. It's not your energy that matters, which is why even very inexperienced spiritual people know that the person loudly wishing for a million dollars isn't doing praying right.
(Holy shit guys. Praying–correctly–is taiji training.)
"Moving" in the life-activity sense is pretty easy, too. You can always create change, though anyone can tell you how much easier it is to create bad change than good change. All bad change requires is unleashing some energy. Good change requires aim: In fact, arguably it requires just aim.
You don't "throw a punch" any more than you "bring a God": Even though the act in that case does come from you (well…we could argue that the energy you're channeling is just as validly "god-energy" as the one that's making the trees grow, but let's leave that for another time), acting is 1% of your total effort, the other 99% of which is prepatory stillness.
When you get good, you can do this work quickly (perhaps like a "good" spiritualist doesn't need much in the way of trappings anymore); but when you're a student, you may spend five minutes just standing there, adjusting everything, in service of calling forth a single motion. (Yes, to answer the implied question, I do this. Pretty often. Probably looks seriously weird from the outside, heh.)
Other ways to mean it:
Quick, name your three biggest challenges right now. Better job? Huge goal? Lacking something relationship-wise, or need a new purpose in life?
Do you think the best answer to those things will come from "moving" — from throwing action at them — or from standing still and preparing everything so that the energy that's all ready all over the place can flow through you in the right ways?
You've heard the same ten thousand platitudes I have, about how like attracts like, about how if you do the right thing the right opportunities will come to you. But why? How can you make it happen? Do you "just wait"?
Well, yes and no. You don't just wait, or to say it another way, you don't do nothing; you in fact do nothing. You do the 99% that isn't the action itself — you clear all the blockages; you make the altar, the body, the pathways, the yin bits, perfect. And then, because the force for such changes doesn't come from you, you hold still and wait for a bolt of it to come — which, depending on the force required, usually doesn't take very long; most life-changes are predicated on types of energy that fly around among humans all the time. (Right? We're not talking about preparing the ground for the coming of the next Messiah here; we're talking about getting the right frame of mind together to accept a pulse of finance, or friendship, or luck — all pretty common things.)
This feels totally different.
It's both easier and a million times stronger.
When you do it right, you tend to be dumbstruck, looking at your hands and wondering where the hell that came from.
It's not that there are "things you can't do" in this world. It's that there are things you can't do in this world; that require the kind of power that can only come from yin-doing, from making the situation such that they can happen with maximal efficiency.
The difference is that between a toddler throwing blocks and a student constructing a block-throwing robot: So much more preparation "work" goes into the latter, but what you see, the final outcome, is just a shockingly more powerful and efficient use of the same simple energy that's there all the time — in fact, what you see is one person flailing with all their strength and missing, and someone else sitting back and having a nice drink while perfect shots just happen for them. You wouldn't say the student put in "less work" than the toddler, but because their work was more focused on preparation and efficiency, at the moment of throwing, they're having to do very little — in fact, if they prepared right, then the less they "do", the better.
"Stillness," says the I Ching in places, "is a sacrifice that you make to enlist the help of the Creative."
It is a sacrifice, too — it's difficult, when you desperately want to Fix The Things, to force yourself to focus on the yin-stuff and on being ready for the energy when it comes. When you're hurting or miserable in some way, you want to poke it, to do something about it, not to let it be there; but that's exactly the point. Tensing around it will hold it still, and shoving it will only cause damage. Flailing, in any sense, is never optimal. Even if all you can do is force yourself to relax, even if you accomplish nothing else in either the yin or the yang sense, you're better off for not having made things worse than if you just started throwing (literal or metaphorical) wild punches.
OK, I think I've run out of usefully different ways to say it. But yeah, Internet!
I'm about to go try my punching skills on my job problem.
Wish me luck. ;)
October 24, 2013 2 Comments
Difficulty concentrating today.
Strange bruises up and down my forearms from spinning (staff-spinning! Am learning to spin staves and holy hellfire is it awesome).
I tend to go looking for food when I'm tired. (Yes, when you're polyphasic you have more chances to sleep, but you also have to miss less of them due to stress before you feel ickyshit.) Thankfully apples are tasty and make me feel full, so yay lack of nutritional consequences.
I will be carless again for a while, it looks like. I had gone a year carless, rather enjoying that you can do this in Boston and I'd never done it before, until I bought my last car six months ago. That car (which darnit, I loved) was totaled in an accident this month, and I won't be able to afford to replace it for a while, so back to carless I go! To keep it from being depressing, I will treat it as an adventure, a reason to get better at fixing my bike and skateboarding on the very lumpy streets and sidewalks, and an opportunity to learn some more cultural lessons.
I owe a video to, um, who or whatever I'm doing the videos for. Better be quick before too much else builds up to talk about, I think. One thing I'll put here to save myself some time there: Physical exertion often brings about some degree of 3D; I think that's in part why some people do it, especially the really extreme/scary kinds. BUT it feels TOTALLY different to do it on purpose, for example when you're swimming six inches from the bottom on your tenth consecutive underwater pool-length with twenty or less seconds to breathe in-between, and there's nobody there to make you keep going all the way to the other wall but you need to if you want to get better, so as a last-ditch effort you reach in and twist…and suddenly you're looking at the bottom of the pool in 3D, and your heart-rate drops and you make it the rest of the way clean and easy as underwater pie.
One other interesting 3D thing: What you see in 3D, you remember. Something about that focus writes things really, really clearly into your (or at least my) mind. I can still count the dirt-grains on the pool-bottom, and that was two days ago. Hmm!
Had my evals for taiji today. Am doing okay — fundamentals getting a bit ahead of form, but it's warm out so I'm adding forms-practice in the park some mornings starting next week. Had an AMAZING experience where the instructor is patiently explaining, explaining, explaining how to switch focus (I KNOW RIGHT) from using muscular force to allowing chi-force (later; that's a book and a half) to drive your movements, and I've heard it before but suddenly I get it, it happens, and the whole physical world goes FLIP HAHA and oh my shit, I feel awesome. It lasts about thirty seconds, but it was thirty seconds I'd have gladly paid a year's tuition for again and again. That…well, if 3D is a different dimension of attention, this was the corresponding different dimension of physical control. (And think about how easy it is to control where your attention is — how little effort it takes to move it — versus how easy it is to control your entire body, and you'll realize why it takes decades to learn this thing. The analogy is conjecture of course, but I'll stand by it for now.)
And writing is awesome…I'm 7/10 done with my novella (yup), I think my epic poem about Detroit is finished (yeah I know) and I got an idea for an updated Desiderata-type bit of prose that's only about 1/3 finished but really fun (shut up hehe).
The key to difficult times is knowing where your keys are. Mine are in taiji, in writing, and in being able to communicate with people — having contact and conversations, and maybe also some drinking and snogging if I'm lucky. ;) So however tricky and tired and expensive and etcetera things are lately, I know that I'm doing okay, because I know what lights to measure by.
May yours be known and shine bright, too!
March 29, 2013 Comments Off
Yes, those are warm-ups.
Yes, I know people whose warm-ups look much like this. (Mine look sort of like this too, but only if you take it apart into components and do it at half speed and three-quarters as far. ;)
I've been rededicating myself to my martial studies this past month — with good results; I'm sore in places I can't describe again! — both for obvious reasons and as part of the NYE project, which connection I hope I'll explain in another video soon.
Anyway, the moral of the video is that if you love something and do it well, even the warm-ups will be badass!
(You think I'm joking, but I'm not…)
February 24, 2013 Comments Off
There are approximately ten thousand posts backed up in my brain right now, but I've no idea when I'll get a chance to write them, so instead you get one of the (many!) good bits from the Tao Te Ching:
In dwelling, be close to the land.
In meditation, go deep in the heart.
In dealing with others, be gentle and kind.
In speech, be true.
In ruling, be just.
In business, be competent.
In action, watch the timing.
No fight: No blame.
March 13, 2012 Comments Off
I had one of those tiny physical moments yesterday that explodes into a psychological OH YEAH DUH … that was a moment, literally an otherwise meaningless moment in the shower, of refocusing.
Life is powerfully, powerfully distracting, especially as you slam into full adulthood and all the filters that kept out various influences are removed. This isn't oops-too-much-RSS-browsing distraction; this is full-on fight-or-flight-level hardcore psychological distraction.
- Faced with the insecurities of providing for yourself and others, of economic wibbly-wobbliness and the suddenly finite number of years before retirement, you throw yourself into working and saving money (easily 80h/wk, all told)
- Faced with the heady freedom of being allowed to do anything you can legally get away with, you wind up "trying on" hobby after hobby, filling your free-time and emptying your wallet on lessons, equipment, outings, and materials, all for things you'll probably hardly ever do again;
- Faced with the daunting task of raising a child "correctly", you throw yourself into planning activities, events, and lessons into every possible moment, as well as into cooking and cleaning things into an acceptably perfect childhood environment;
- Faced with the sudden relative lessening importance of social activities (what? I'm old enough to party all I want and now partying doesn't mean much anymore??) as well as, for some people, the sudden ease of actually pulling it off (wait, I used to find this scary? ha!), you grab any opportunity to go to a gathering, eating up your evenings and killing your attempts to wake up early and do stuff;
- Overwhelmed by the 80-hour work weeks, the pile of clamoring social engagements, the kids, the house, the classes and outings, you retreat into television for hours or days at a time, often finding yourself too exhausted to even get dressed if you don't absolutely have to.
…And welcome to adulthood. ;)
When I was young I thought, of course I'll be a writer, writing comes easy to me and I love it. But then…was I going to write instead of working and saving money? Hmm, no. Write instead of parenting? No way. Write instead of going out and doing stuff? Well, that one was easy when I was a bored and scaredy kid, but this weekend I can literally go to three parties and a SolidWorks design class and free-diving in the ocean if I want — all with people I like.
When I found taiji I thought, oh, THIS is the thing; this is the perfect physical component to my philosophic life, the mental components of which are of course reading and writing. I love taiji like I've loved few other things; I often think that if I had nothing else but a life of constant taiji, space to write about it, and some pretty trees to look at, that'd be great.
But when to practice? At home, with the kid bouncing around and things begging to be cleaned? At work, in the five minutes between meetings? Making the time to get to class once a week is epic difficult, though I do it, doggedly, but far too often without having practiced at all in the in-between.
And when to write? I get up around 4:30am, but the writing, it turns out, takes more than just getting up.
More often than not I surf blearily, drinking coffee and trying to gather my thoughts and the day's plans, until it's time to head out for work.
I never wanted to admit that I couldn't do everything, that I was going to have to say no even if something sounded awesome, involved a really cool person, or I'd never done it before. But you just can't have everything all at once; if you want that nice retirement plan and health insurance, it's going to cost you big-time, as is the perfect kids' lesson-plan and the clean house and oh yeah, the novel and the black-belt. There are sacrifices, and some of them really suck. Welcome to adulthood.
But the important thing is to make these decisions as consciously as possible, I think.
So this weekend, that's what I'm doing — I'm refocusing things. I'm putting some recurring plans in place, for writing and practice, that will get absolute priority…even from work, and cleaning, and parenting. (To clarify regarding a common misconception: no, more parenting is not always better; kids need time and activities to themselves too. It's just up to the parents to schedule that so that it gives us time as well — and that's no mean feat.)
This weekend I re-remember what's most important, and I state clearly to myself what I'm willing to bend for (work emergencies? Sudden opportunities?) and what I'm not. This weekend I re-invent my Super Picky Schedule to be super picky about the things I want out of life too, not just the things I feel responsible for.
And there's another element to Refocusing: The Present. By acting intentionally rather than responding to pressures (i.e. all the "faced with"s from the list above), you bring your focus into the moment more. …Make no mistake, this is probably why a lot of people don't do it. Swimming naked in the Now can be a lot less comfortable than a nice ride in a pre-built boat that just goes where the waves push it.
But this is life. It's not about being comfortable. We all get to sleep sooner or later… ;)
July 23, 2011 2 Comments
Boy, they weren't kidding when they said the answers are in you. I'm learning so much philosophically from studying the mechanics of my own body, it isn't even funny; and it isn't funny how angry it's making me that there aren't classes in this in the academic world, either.
Here's something I learned from trying to perfect a Qi-driven punch. (By the way, I capitalize Qi the way I'd imagine we'd capitalize Ocean if there was only one; and I italicize it to note that it's a transliteration of a foreign term and should be pronounced "chi".)
Intentional living is a lot, lot more about letting go at the right time than it is about reaching for anything. Reaching, wanting, desiring things is pushing your energy out into a void, because the thing you're aiming for isn't there yet. It's also, by necessity, neglecting to put that energy into doing the best you can with what you're already holding.
Everything you hold, you will need to let go of. Other things will be placed in front of you and you'll need to let go of some things in order to take new things; sometimes you'll also need to let go because it's just time for those things to enter non-existence (or time for you to). Fearing or obsessing about what that's going to be like is both pointless (you simply can't know what it'll be like) and, again, wasting energy that you could be using to do the best job holding them that you can.
So you throw* a perfect punch* by using your energy correctly: You focus on what you're holding; you be ready to let it go when it's time — not too soon, and not too late. If you're ignoring it to reach for other things, or to fear letting it go when the time comes, you're letting go too soon. By releasing (any energy: physical, emotional, etc) at just the right time, you gain incredible power.
In other terminology, perfect yang is surrounded by perfect yin. Since we move in time, and the yang is a split instant whereas the yin is all the time that leads up to and follows it, the yin is much more accessible to our control.
In other, other terminology, you can make a perfect action by getting all the stillness on either side of it just right.
*insert any verb & noun here
March 26, 2011 2 Comments